Saturday, September 24, 2011

Of Departure and Arrival

"I really respected him" – This remark may neither raise eyebrows nor would it register very strongly on anyone's mind. But if you know that it was Sachin Tendulkar making such a remark, you would stick to the word 'really' and start admiring the person, whoever the great batsman is referring to.
Tendulkar was referring to Former Indian captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who passed away on 22nd of September 2011. It would be interesting to know that Tendulkar was barely a 2-year old when Pataudi played his last International match. It needs sheer genius in a person to earn respect, in the heart of a cricketer who started playing serious cricket, a decade after he had retired.
Most of us, who have grown in the constant shower of cricket, just because we are close to India, have heard of him. Hardly a few have seen him play. Yet we know of him. Probably, among the cricketers who played before the television era, he was the only icon that we knew, with the exception of Sir Don Bradman and Great Garry Sobers. Not many can boast to have such a long shelf-life after retiring, something most sportsmen would envy.
Having seen him only in interviews, except some grainy black and white television footages, yours truly learnt that cricket is just an extension of this princely being. The aura of the Republican Prince – as termed by a cricket writer – was overwhelming. A desire to interview the person behind Ray Ban glasses grew. It's perhaps not worth mentioning that yours truly could only get to as far as meeting Sharmila Tagore, his wife for 4 decades.
As I asked her, how it felt to have been married to a Rockstar cricketer, she would reply, "I married a human being. His cricket never interfered our lives." A line with a smile, which used to floor millions during her film days, now with added affection... A lesson you learn, in life – Keep things simple.
We've seen a lot of cricketers who could not carry the weight of their lineage. Ask, Rohan Gavaskar (son of Sunil Gavaskar) and Liam Botham (son of Ian Botham), how difficult it could be. Mansoor Ali Khan had a proud lineage to live up to, cricket historians and writers still write about Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi's leg glance and his famous opposition to Douglas Jardine's Bodyline tactics.
Yet he became the youngest Test captain of the world – the record remained till Tatenda Taibu became Zimbabwe's captain in 2004 – and made India a team that could win matches abroad (India won its first abroad series under him). He is the one credited with giving Indian cricket a new and proud face, 4 decades before Sourav Ganguly patented the style towards turn of the century. Khan would be remembered for developing Indian spin quartet as a force, akin to what the West Indians developed in form of the pace quartet, albeit much later. All this happened, after he had already lost vision in one of his eyes. Interesting to learn that he donated another one, a week before he died…
One reason why the great Imran Khan said, "… he was a genius of great proportions."
While the cricket world pays farewell to Pataudi, we wait for our next coach, Former Sri Lankan Cricketer Pubudu Dassanayake, who's due to arrive coming week. He has already said that he would want to take Nepal to higher rank and possibly into the World Cup. We would love to see that. He has already proved his mettle, taking Canadian team into the World Cup.
One thing Dassanayake would do well to remember is that his compatriot, Roy Dias has already done the groundwork. He would rather not reinvent the wheel and try to add on to the achievements we've already had. Much will also depend on how 'localized' he gets and tries to earn the respect of the players, who sometimes get complacent and carried away.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 24th September, 2011)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Art of Losing

Nepali youth team did not do well at the AFU U-16 Championship group D Qualifiers at home, despite our best wishes and sizeable crowd support. First two matches, the boys were blanked. Never a good sign if you are pinning your hopes on young talents, when some of the youths in the national team are showing signs of fading early.
Before the start of the series, Coach Sunil Shrestha told us, 'There's not much difference among the sides at the age-group level'. That meant we had a good chance, and we grew hopeful. Of the four countries participating, we were the lowest ranked side. Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria are ranked ahead of us by FIFA, well 30 places or more. But these were age-group matches. Our boys did not appear too weak, in front of them. And at this level, skill is considered ahead of physique.
But we were blanked.
Losing matches is part and parcel of the game, and would always remain so. It should always be taken that way. Win some, lose some – is a mantra many sports stars reiterate. To top it, we had some important players who were injured. Those who would rally the midfield, Bibek Basnet and Umesh Thapa were out of the team before the tourney began. Some others also picked niggles while in the play.
But the manner of loss should be studied, scrutinized. And maybe a little bit of history too.
The boys, right on the first match against Syria looked out of sorts. There seemed to be no plan. The hold on the ball was not seen. And things hardly improved in the next matches.
But this is one tourney, so that is not important. A few bad days on the field do not make players any lesser.
What the football administrators should actually look into is the fact that our youth team has not won a match against any other nation in last 4 years. After 2007, when the boys defeated mighty Jordan 3-1, we have lost 7 matches and were blanked in 6 of them. The last people to score a goal for Nepali U-16 team were Nirajan Malla and Sujal Shrestha, against Kuwait the same year. Both are in the national team now.
That basically means that the present U-16 players haven't heard of Nepali U-16 team winning, while they've been at the Academy. That doesn't do good to their morale. Losing, like winning, is a habit. You practice for it, everyday. And if you haven't heard of winning ways, the loss creeps into your system, and you start accepting any result as 'it was to be'. The drills become rituals, and players – especially the young ones – do not see a point in them. They just follow orders. The losses start hurting less and less.
Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
And the greatest disservice ANFA could do to football would be ignoring this. This should be the time they do not let this failure look like an orphan. For players would need support from their administrators, especially after morale shattering losses. Otherwise, they would start becoming machines produced to serve substandard products. There is every chance that mediocrity could become their way of life, if left unattended.
There are fears that these young minds may start thinking that winning or losing is not personal. It actually is, despite what Don Corleone said in movie The Godfather. Thinking otherwise may derail them. Unless the loss hurts, one can do nothing about changing the result. They should be told, the sport is played more in mind than on the field these days.
The administrators, Coach included, could do well to tell them the importance of fitness. How to avoid injury at such an age would go a long way in preserving good talents for the future. And we could have our best boys taking the field against any opposition.
Or else, our boys will perfect what we could say: The Art of Losing.
(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 17th September, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Of Awards, Missions and 'My People'

Jess Owens once said, "Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust."
And Owens was arguably one of the most influential athletes of all time, winning 4 gold in Berlin Olympics in 1936, when Hitler staged the game to showcase the Aryan supremacy.
Despite what Owens said, awards do, and would continue to, mean a lot to the athletes. These are the reasons why they play for, when the game they play is not enough to buy them sustenance. Probably that's why Pulsar Sports Awards gets a lot of publicity. So much that players go ahead players or their fans go ahead getting pamphlets printed and paste it around the walls. So much, fan groups rally around requesting for SMS votes. The national football team went to the eastern region, to play friendly matches against Sunsari, Morgan and Jhapa – with the permission from ANFA – to gather support for its captain, who happens to be one of the nominees for Popular Player of the Year.
At the risk of irritating a lot of sports journos, yours truly would also like to argue that the awards have become popular also because it is organized by Nepal Sports Journalist Forum. Most sports journos are affiliated with the forum, and the news gets month long (or more coverage in popular newsprint), making it widely read, and thus popular. One question could be asked here: Would it get as much coverage, if some other organization covered it?
If the answer is yes, there is nothing wrong with it. But if the answer is no, rethinking is needed. Are we overdoing it?
Despite this criticism, it has to be reaffirmed that the award has done more good than bad to the morale of the players, and should be lauded along with the players who receive the trophies.
As far as Nepali sports sector is concerned Yuvaraj Lama is the man to watch (and it is being said after a lot of deliberation). The Member Secretary of the National Sports Council, since his appointment, has rarely missed the headlines for more than a week.
And now he's back to it again, announcing Mission SAG 2012. Commendable, if you notice this is 2011 and never did we announce preparation for South Asian Games, this early. Probably this is the first time, NSC has a plan, with a four-phase training programme, with each phase having quarter of a year implementation schedule. Probably this is the first time, science has taken precedence over guess work. Probably this is the first time, determination, psychology and suitability to the sport, is to be recorded. These were the words alien to sports practice.
Histrionics is Lama's forte, and many who have watched him in filmdom will vouch for it. He loves a big stage, and makes the best use of it. This is evident from his goal of 40 gold medals for Nepal, in next year's SAG. Quite a climb, you would think, if you remember we bagged 8 in the last edition in Dhaka, last year.
Daydream? Not exactly… But, maybe ambitious, if not unattainable… The Member Secretary will have to get his entire team – which includes of groups and subgroups with different interests, occupying spots the NSC – on one point agenda, if we were to reach close to his goal.
We have not forgotten the promises he made when appointed to the post. Of transparency, good governance and keeping slate clean as far as political appointments are concerned. He has failed once already, by appointing 'his men' at NSC, giving in to political temptation of doling out jobs to party cadres. This is interesting, if we take into account some of the employees at the organization were removed, as too many people were considered 'unnecessary'. No competition… No openness… No transparency…
Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them”… We believe, so does one's good deeds… The Member Secretary may well decide what lives after he says goodbye to his position. 

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 10th September, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy: