Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a start, got to score…

End of the year is always a time for stock taking. What we achieved in the year; Where we failed; How much could have been done and How much is left.
But it's also a time to think, what we could do more. As a year ends, another one begins. That's the beauty of time. That's the beauty of sport. After every year, another one has to follow. After every match, despite failures, another is always in waiting. Life goes on.
But some years leave their mark. Some delible, some indelible. Nepali sport saw a few of those. Both of the popular team sport, Football and Cricket, saw changes. Both sport got new coaches, foreign bred, tested. Graham Roberts in Football and Pubudu Dassanayake in Cricket. Both aggressive in their own styles. Both deserving respect because of their past deeds. And if initial performances – especially the mindset of players – are anything to go by, both look capable enough to take their respective teams to another level.
Coaches come and go. Their contribution is judged with performance of their team, as long as they stay. But one thing that has long term effect on the sport is its infrastructure. And that, thankfully, is likely to change with the beginning of football's National League.
All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) could not have chosen a better time for the league, as it falls, right at the end of one year and start of another. This could be the best transition in football that we have seen yet. It has been long that centralized structure of football has been criticized in Nepal and rightly so. The game's structure has hardly given much to the players from out of the valley to ply their trade. Since the leagues, for years, have been played only among clubs of the capital, it has made the players from countryside toil harder to make the cut. Likewise, the fan base of the game has also dwindled. This has been seen several times in Dashrath stadium, which has had to host close to hundred matches a year. Apart from matches where some big clubs play, spectators have refused to come to the stadium. One visit to Dharan, where Budha Subba Gold Cup is held, and Pokhara, where Sahara Cup is held, is good enough to show you how much football is loved outside capital. The fan base is there, and unless they see their teams playing at the biggest stage possible at the national level, European football will take them away from Nepali football.
Although ANFA hails it as the first ever National League, football pundits would remember that such similar tourneys were held in 1998 and 1999. In these two editions, four clubs from mofussil played with the biggest clubs in Nepal. Valley Sporting from Pokhara and Munal Club from Jhapa had participated in 1998. In 1999, The Boys Group from Dharan and another club from Rupandehi participated in 1999. The Police Club took the title on both occasions, but if you ask players from these four clubs about the best experience they've had on football field, they'd tell you these tourneys meant a lot for them. They played with who's who of Nepali football, and after the matches, they came back richer in experience, skill and temperament. Everyone associated with the sport will tell you, there's nothing like playing at the highest level. No matter how much drills you have, it's nothing compared to match practice.
Mitra Milan Club of Dharan and Sangam from Pokhara have the potential to change the game forever in Nepal. If they play hard, which football lovers would want them to, they might register a strong case in favor of matches being played out of Kathmandu more often. There could be a strong case of having home and away matches right now, but at least this is a start.
This would be a very good opportunity for football fans in Pokhara and Butwal to enjoy nation's best footballers showcasing their skills. It should, but doesn't happen very often in Nepal. So fans, as the New Year begins, go to the stadia not only to enjoy matches, but to make sure you put up a strong case that there are venues outside capital for football in Nepal.
The league is being organized outside the valley, since capital's venues are being readied for AFC Challenge Cup. Hopefully, ANFA organizes more such tourneys outside, even when the stadia in the capital are in good shape.
If that happens, we know for sure, Nepali sport will be happy in the coming years.

(This post, unlike other posts on Sports by yours truly, did not appear in anywhere and is exclusive on Verma's Perspective)
Pic courtesy:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poem? You must be kidding!

Yours truly had never ever attempted a poem, let alone write one. The idea was simple: You should not ruin something you respect. And never ever try to malign the field. Never ever, for a moment, I could see myself up to it. It was sacrosanct, beyond touch, beyond reach.
At the age when you start thinking more about receding hairline than the lines of verse, there has been an attempt. This is a naive, silly attempt and should not be mistaken as anything serious. Whether yours truly tries any further, should not be an issue of speculation. The idea is: Enjoy it, if you can...


अपने धड्कन को सुना है आजकल ?
घडी सी, टिक-टिक...
मेकानाइज्ड सा, नन-स्टप सा...
कभी खतम होने वाली, बोरिङ सी धुन कि तरह...
लेकिन अब, दो टिक टिक के बीच का वक्त...
लम्बा होने लगा है...

इन्तजार, अब मुश्किल हो चला है...

(for my babe)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

If everything goes well…

"If everything goes according to the plan, we might qualify for the World Cup," said Nepal's cricket coach Pubudu Dassanayake, in a conversation to yours truly recently, before he was to present his 3-month plan to Nepal's cricket leaders.
The point that the Sri Lankan born coach means well for Cricket Nepal could be denied here. For the line is an optimist one. But the catch, for many, would be the big 'if' present there. Many would say: If everything went according to the plan, we would have played previous world cup. For around a decade ago, we were 'readying' ourselves to become the next big thing in Asian Cricket.
The fact is, not many things went according to the plan. It was not us, but Afghanistan, that rode that 'elite' bus, becoming the next ODI team. For there was no plan, on our side. So there was no following it. Promises were made. But the promises made were not translated into plans.
But now, Cricket Nepal has a coach, who's not just followed player's manuals, but has gone through modern coach's manual too. And a modern day coach plans and helps players execute them. It's a regimen he has to lives through. It's a talk that he has to walk. It's a routine that he has to follow.
Incidentally, Dassanayake's plans coincide with the historic change in Nepal's cricket. Historic change being the first ever election in Cricket Association of Nepal. The historic change being a non-cricketer coming to lead cricket.
And this event itself needs some reflection, ahead of scrutinizing whether the plans will be executed or not. The sports journalists are like any other journalists, except that they're not cynical. We might be skeptic, but cynicism eludes us. At worst, we still believe in guarded optimism. No wonder yours truly has taken pride in saying, "Sports page is the one that records achievements. The front page is full of failures."
To reuse the phrase, 'If everything goes according to the plan', Cricket Nepal will now be led by Tanka Angbuhang for four more years. President of CAN has already told media about 'his' plans, which he expects to carry out during his tenure. And the plans include, National Cricket Academy as well as development of cricket infrastructure across the country, among several others. These are noble plans, even if we were to say they're not new. Oft repeated, they've just not been put into proper implementation.
The point here would not be contesting the plans, but the manner in which the first ever election at CAN happened. If you ask Pawan Agrawal, the Presidential candidate who withdrew at the last moment, he'd tell you, "I withdrew, but I would continue working for cricket." He might also tell you, the cricketers will get a chance to lead CAN, when the next election comes, or if the present committee fails.
But the insiders will tell you, what kind of people went to convince Agrawal to withdraw his candidacy. How some other big names were sidelined, prior to the election. Here, we would not even go to the extent of talking about the venue chosen for election. Some would see a plan there, but that's not the point.
Despite the start, which obviously has not send good signals, Angbuhang has some credentials that can help. At 30 odd years, he's young and comes from a regimented background not much different from modern day cricketer's drills. He's got an organization that could back him to the core. Not having cricketing background could also help at times, as he would be free of bias that comes from representing certain regions.
He has plans, he says, which obviously is a good start. But then, he has to realize, not everything goes according to the plan.
If everything went according to the plan, Sachin Tendulkar would have become a decent medium pacer (Given his height and the fact that, at young age, he registered himself to a fast bowling academy).
And if everything went according to plan, Angbuhang would have become Sports Minister and not CAN President (Given the background he has).
About Dassanayake's plans? Well, we'd definitely know in 3 months whether they work or not!

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Will to Win

"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
Perhaps the adage exemplifies how sports changed in the latter half of the 20th century.  Attributed to UCLA coach Henry Russell Sanders and/or American football coach Vince Lombardi, the saying exemplifies how professionally sports began to be taken post 1950s.
There was a clear shift from the Olympic spirit from then on, which preached us that 'The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle '. While the Olympic spirit gave us a 'chance to celebrate our shared humanity', Sanders and Lombardi taught us how to be 'winners'.
This line made the marketers (read mega brands) crazy, and the players; along with them the administrators, and also the fans, the enthusiasts. Players, for their wins, needed more money, administrators needed more money to sell the sport to mega brands, and mega brands wanted to collect all the money from the fans. The fans, paying more than ever now, wanted result of their payment in the form of wins and were desperate for that. And the cycle continued. The only problem was it happened mostly in the nations that were ahead of us, in terms of development.
As we lay behind in development, so were our sports administrators. They found an excuse for their lethargy, saying 'at least we are participating'. We took the bait, we felt that's true. We knew we deserved better, but we were ready to wait… eternally.
But now, with the turn of the century and reach of media, thing are no more same. Tiger Woods' failing marriage is watched as eagerly in Nepal as in USA. Globalization has made sure same things are offered on platter everywhere. It has made sure Nepal has F1 enthusiasts, despite knowing hosting such races in the country would require a miracle of gigantic proportions.
With the change, demands of the fans have changed. They no longer want their players to lose, nowhere. They back their players, so that they finish top of the podium.
They become disappointed when their cricket and football team lose semi-finals on the same day (ACC T20 Cup and SAFF Championship). They also resort to throwing stones at opponents, in hope and in frustration. Unpardonable, but something that needs to be understood... The administrators may need to improve security, but they also need to understand that wins actually help in these cases.
For that, it needs to be instilled in the players that they can win. If Nepali footballers can play good enough to be in semi-final and dominate possession, they can surely win.
Till now our performance shows that: If points were given for ball possession, our side would edge out many, except perhaps the world cup winning Spanish side. Likewise, if points were given for crowd presence (and missiles hurled by them to the visiting teams), Nepal would edge out Australia (and perhaps, India – unless the match is played in Eden Gardens).
The belief, the push for the win was not visible from the players' body language – both in football and cricket. Their shoulders drooped with every advancing moment, fear evident on their faces. Winners prowl with pride and not crawl in fear.
We saw New Zealand side beating Australia in Australia after a gap of 26 years. For these many years, they could not, since they did not have enough belief.
One should note that we have teams better than what the results has shown us, in both the games. And we need results now to prove the skill, the class they have.
Before new lines are written in these columns, we are likely to have new executive committee of Cricket Association of Nepal, following its first ever election. Whoever leads it, regardless of the political affiliation, he will have to work on the will to win for the players. Sooner, than later…
Underdeveloped and developing may not be excuse anymore. Some insiders say, CAN has more money in its coffers than Sri Lankan Cricket Board. And Sri Lanka, we know, have been the world champions.
Winning isn't everything. The will to win is the only thing.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 17rd December, 2011)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The 'F' Factor

2001: An important year in history of Nepali sport, especially cricket. The year was to change how cricket was viewed in Nepal. As Kathmandu played host to Youth Asia Cup (later termed as ACC U-19 Cup), the home team defeated Malaysia in the final, with Roy Dias – former Test Cricketer from Sri Lanka – in charge of young boys that were to form a core for the senior team later.
As Malaysian Colts faced Nepali boys in the final, the Malaysian coach – incidentally a Sri Lankan – told yours truly, during the innings break, "It’s difficult for my boys playing against a good team and such a huge crowd. When they play at home, not more than 100-150 people watch them."
That quote sounded like a forfeit already, although half of the match still remained. Indeed, the size of the crowd at the Tribhuvan University Cricket Ground was many folds that the visiting team had ever seen. And they were vociferous too, making it very clear whom they supported. Every delivery that Lakpa Lama tweaked, every ball Binod Das swung, were cheered and made even more difficult to face for the batsmen. For they all came with a roaring noise in the background. And the Malaysian team succumbed, handing Roy Dias and his wards the biggest trophy for Nepal till then.
That is what fans can do. Make their heroes look larger than life, turn them into invincible beings. The clapping hands and roar can create doubts in the opponents' mind, making them falter at the slightest opportunity.
2011: A decade has passed and Nepal stands at another crossroads. There is a change in the team, the in-charge is different. New Coach Pubudu Dassanayake is definitely a breed that the previous coach was not. The players have grown up, and are not slaves to teenagers' anxiety anymore. And together they are working to modernize their approach to cricket. They are ready to turn a corner.
But the fans are the same. They still want the trophy. They still want their players to play like invincibles. They still are ready to back their team, with their claps, with their roars and quite possibly, with their aggression.
Sports watchers, across the world, have a sense of solidarity with their teams. While watching sport, their blood pressure rises, just like the players, and you can see them yelling even at the television screen at home. Crowded by identical beings, their behavior on the ground can go awry at times.
Here, we've seen the best of the fan factor; we've also seen the worst of it. We've seen them queuing up for autographs; we've also seen them invading the pitch.
Fans, as they are biased, can be a double edged sword. They can kill for you, and sometimes they can get you killed. For every cricket enthusiast, it would be wise to remember the incident of February last year and the embarrassment it caused us internationally. The pitch invasion by the crowd during Nepal's match against US in ICC World League Division 5, would always remain as a dark spot in Nepali cricket. As the match was disrupted, Nepali cricket was shamed. ICC, following its own investigation, slapped a conditional ban on hosting matches at the Tribhuvan University Ground.
None, who love cricket in the country, would want a repeat. And for that, the onus is on the spectators themselves. They don't want to be taken as a bad host. For that, they have to prove that they've matured, just as their players have over the years. They need to ensure that the opponent team has to be respected, even if they don't receive moral support. After all, they're also trying to prove themselves, as much as our team does.
And the day fans start being just, nobody can stop cricket development in the country. Not even political interference.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 3rd December, 2011)
Photo: taken by self