Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning from the Tiger

And Tiger Woods got divorced, officially. The man, who has dominated the sport - till date this century - cuts a lonely figure now on the greens, where once he prowled sans fear.
From the day he turned pro, he towered over all other sportsmen of the generation. A beacon for those who wanted to take up sport professionally. He was perfect, and made us feel that he could do no wrong. And we asked, "Is he human?"
Interestingly, almost on the eve of 'International Year of Tiger', he showed us signs that he was like one of us, giving in to the temptations. The frailty of human mind, and body, and the heart – just like us – could be seen in the Tiger. Woods was no longer the Tiger we knew, for his smile just before the putt, and the wave of hand just after, disappeared. The smiling assassin on the greens had lost his killer instinct. And soon, those who vowed to always stay with him disappeared too. A champion had become a challenger, a competitor, a mortal.
Woods was the biggest earning sportsperson in the world, and still retains most of it. But none of the millions he made teeing off can help his fall from grace. Many would talk of morality lessons, but the Tiger story tells the youngsters not to take their position for granted. The 'magic' that he created with his clubs has not left him, for they did not follow the sponsors – it was the sponsors who followed that 'magic'. But the problems that surround Woods would make it doubly hard for him to recreate the same aura that once made other competitors categorized as 'also ran'.
This is a case study, perhaps for sports psychologists. But also a case study every aspiring sportsperson should read. It tells you that nothing is permanent, neither success nor mental toughness or mental focus. In sports, everything is always on the verge of disintegration. You just need to blink your eyes a little longer.
The case is relevant in the Nepali context, as most players – even if they're national champs – are still, the 'aspirants'. In our participation at the World Cricket League Division 4, we were 'aspiring' to enter the World Cup.
Despite a couple of 'misses' at crucial matches, our cricketers have not fallen from grace, at least for now (Those who thought the World Cup berth was ours already, were daydreaming). But as we aspire to enter the World Cup, our players need to start thinking like the players at that level should. So far, this has not been seen. Right at the airport, after return, Nepali captain told the media, cricket has to be restructured in Nepal. Bravo Paras Khadka! Yes, cricket in Nepal has to be restructured, but airport is not the place to discuss it. And nor it is a smart idea to discuss it with the Press.
Paras is a smart cricketer, who believes in giving his best all the time. But he won't go very far, if he's not careful about what to speak and when, and of course – to whom. Any soundbite given to camera, any quote given to newspaper, goes in public sphere and does not remain your own. Cricket Association of Nepal may not be the best cricketing authority in the world – and needs restructuring for sure – but the dirty linen should not be washed in public. The national team captain definitely should be worried for facilities for cricketers and improvement of cricket in the country, but he also needs to be careful about every word he utters in public.
The batting debacle seen in recent championship has to be scrutinized, and tactics followed in Italy should be discussed, but with relevant people. Press will always question, but it is you who decides what to answer.
For now, Tiger Woods has chosen to remain silent, despite tabloids filling pages and selling extra copies talking about him. And who knows, one day – sooner than later – he may also bounce back, given he keeps his focus on the game.
Our cricketers too, will get another shot at the World Cup entrance.
But the question is, for Paras Khadka, how do we keep that focus?
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 27th August, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recent Coloumn on TKP

Of Diminishing returns and Hopes
- Somesh Verma

The past week was notable one for Nepali sports, where the two most popular team games in the country kept its viewers glued to news.
Our national cricket team, for all we might have written, showed us how inadequate we are, assessing our opponents. At the risk of vilifying our cricketers, we must say, we proved to be inadequate in our batting and the boys' temperament at foreign venues.
 It must be said that the problems lie more in the boys' temperament than the skills because USA, Italy, Cayman Islands, Argentina or Tanzania – who are playing in the World Cricket League Division 4 – are not a better team than ours, but are equals. The chinks in the batting line-up and their mental make-up have been exposed, and probably needs a careful dissection now, before it is too late. Already, the bunch of cricketers who participated at the Youth World Cup in 2002 in New Zealand and won quite a lot of accolades there, are ageing, and do not look a certainty in the line-up two years from now. Some of them are on the way out, due to diminishing returns they've shown lately, despite a bright start to their cricketing career.
The other and potentially promising was the story of football. The governing body of football in Nepal, ANFA, has announced its calendar for two years. But, as most our football stories go, it is potentially promising. And like every potentially promising movie, it also has chances of becoming a dud at the box-office.
The most promising part of the story was organizing a National League next year. For many football fans it may have come as a relief, as it was announced earlier, but due to 'various reasons', as ANFA statement read, the national league looked like never coming. For that at least, ANFA deserves to be praised – Better late than never.
The National League is to be played by top 10 teams within the country. And the most interesting concept in it is the introduction of 'Home and Away' games. The idea would sound great to the football romantics, as it also shows some intent on the part of ANFA that football in years to come, would be decentralized. This is one good way to expand the fan base of football, which already faces challenge from cricket fans, to the rural parts too. The bigger the fan base, the more number of youngsters would be trying to learn the game. The bigger the young player base, the better the competition. The better the competition, better would be the players representing the country. In long term, the idea would definitely bring in results, given everything goes the way fans dream of.
The announcement is definitely a move ahead from the status quo. This is one plan that aims to include clubs from outside the valley, make football more democratic. But there are several questions that spring up to the mind, even before championship is yet to be held.
The problem is, hardly much goes the way fans dream of, especially in Nepali football. In this plan too, there is every likelihood that it may not. Although a step in the right direction, 'Home and Away' is a tough management issue. It means more responsibility, more delegation of authority within the football governing body, and a challenge to bring in spectators to the stadium. The quality and the conditions of stadia out of the valley are not hidden from anyone. While many are used as grazing spot for uncared domestic animals, others are used for political purposed round the year. We cannot forget how many matches were played at the Dashrath stadium in Shahid Smarak League last time, and what became of the standard of game once the grass started to refuse to resurface, fearing pounding from boots round the clock, for weeks on end. The other question is  - How many teams have their own grounds to make it 'Home and Away'? Perhaps you don't even need to answer that.
Apart from the issue of the grounds, to manage National league, on the format that ANFA has promised, ANFA needs to restructure. The opaque working style and highly centralized character of the game's governing body is an impediment to make the game decentralized, and expanding its base. More and more people need to be involved in the decision making process, if we want to see 'smarter' decisions.
ANFA has kept the budget at 37.5 million, which looks like a little less money, given what it wants to achieve. The football fanatics fear that ANFA may say tomorrow that money wasn't enough to meet all the objectives stated.
But then, are we going to forgive it?