Friday, October 31, 2008

A More Detailed Fiver

1. The aspect that pleases me most about the ‘Harry Houdini’ like acts at Tottenham Hotspur is the greater freedom offered to Luka Modric by Harry Redknapp, the new manager of Spurs. Tim Vickery of the BBC in a fascinating article describes how contemporary football’s emphasis on strength, pace and athleticism is destroying the role of 'foot on the ball' playmakers such as Juan Roman Riquelme.* Vickery talks about Riquelme’s role in keeping alive two unfashionable concepts in football, viz. (i) change of rhythm, the idea that the game can be slowed down before the application of the killer pass and (ii) surprise - the ball that no one was expecting that wrong foots the entire defence. Modric in my belief is capable of a similar impact as he finally seems to be coming into his own at Spurs. By playing him alongside Jenas and Huddlestone in the center of midfield, Redknapp has offered a greater deal of freedom to Modric and this is already reflective in his performances over the last couple of games. For reasons well documented, I certainly hope Modric can shine and bring back memories of the great playmakers of the years gone by.

2. I am extremely surprised that Rio Ferdinand does not find himself in the list of players nominated for either the Ballon d'Or or the FIFA World Player of the Year award. Ferdinand’s reading of the game and his positioning ability is second to none. One doesn’t see Ferdinand make last ditch tackles like a Carragher or a Terry largely because his superior positioning ensures that there is no need for such a tackle. I am not for one moment suggesting that Carragher and Terry are mediocre defenders, but their poor positioning at times requires them to come up with fantastic tackles. Paolo Maldini during his prime hardly ever went to ground and that is a hallmark of a truly great defender. Even as late as 2007, Maldini was at his imperious best in the Champions League semi final against Manchester United as he nullified the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo with minimum of fuss. Ferdinand’s form over the last couple of years should surely have at least got him a nomination for the awards.

3. ‘Compact’ is a word that Rafa Bentiez loves and Liverpool certainly displayed compactness in their highly impressive victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Chelsea sorely missed their ‘bully’ up front, Didier Drogba, who affords them a different avenue when they are unable to break their way through the midfield of an opposition. Against Liverpool, Chelsea were neither able to get their passing going nor did they have the option of knocking the ball up to Drogba. Liverpool however were brilliantly marshalled and although they were somewhat lucky with their goal, Benitez’s tactical nous shone through as they maintained their lead in typically resolute fashion. The performance at the Bridge was certainly more than a statement of intent from the Merseysiders.

4. Sachin Tendulkar rolled back the years to produce an innings of great style against Australia at the Kotla on Wednesday. However even as he was stroking the ball with great aplomb, there was always this feeling that he wouldn’t make a ton. Tendulkar has recently developed a bad habit of not converting his starts, which it must be said, is very unlike the Master Blaster. The quality of the innings though was very much like the ones we were used to seeing from Sachin at his best in the mid to the late 90s.

5. News has just filtered through that Gautham Gambhir has been given a one match ban for his needless elbow on Shane Watson. Having previously committed a similar offence, the match referee is thoroughly justified in banning Gambhir. This is where Gambhir needs to learn from his fellow double centurion of the first test, V.V.S. Laxman. In spite of having made the Aussies look almost pedestrian at times, not a single word of disrespect has been uttered by Laxman towards the Aussies and that is what wins the admiration of fans around the world.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Suhrith's Fiver *

1. Amit Mishra: A pleasure to watch
Watching Mishra bowl brought back memories of the recently retired Mushtaq Ahmed. Mishra mixes his deliveries wonderfully well and he possesses a canny googly, which makes him lovely to watch. I hope he can go on to play many a game for India.

2. Emile Heskey: The missing piece
I read somewhere that the common factor between Amr Zaki, the BPL’s top scorer and Wayne Rooney, the joint top scorer of the European qualifying groups for the 2010 World Cup is that both are partnered by Emile Heskey. No wonder Rafa Bentiez wants him back at Anfield.

3. David Villa: Can do no wrong
Six goals from six starts for Valencia and five from four for Spain means that David Villa is the top striker in Europe at the moment. Rooney has been superb over the last few games, but Villa has been even better.

4. Newcastle, Tottenham: Bottom two
Newcastle and Spurs are in serious danger of relegation, unless they can amend their ways soon enough. Everyone knows that both these teams are too good to go down, but since when has that mattered?

5. Team orders: Why no hue and cry?
Even as Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory at Shanghai, Ferrari team orders ensured that Felipe Massa finished ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Team orders had been outlawed by the FIA after Barrichello handed victory to Schumacher at Austria. This time however not a single eyebrow was raised as Raikkonen let Massa pass him. I wonder why?

* Inspired by Tony’s Fiver at:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lack of Quality

It was a case of ‘Bravo Bravo Fantastico’ for the second race running as Fernando Alonso stormed to his twenty first formula one victory at the Fuji Speedway earlier today. Alonso’s victory at the Japanese Grand Prix was as close to a perfect race as one can expect from a driver in a season which has thus far been characterized by the ineptness of the title challengers in sealing the driver’s championship. In spite of the fact that the title is far from decided going into the final two races of the season, this season in my opinion ranks as one of the worst ever of the recent past. Yes, we have had the spectacle of the night grand prix at Singapore and some swashbuckling action on the track, but the fact that neither Felipe Massa nor Lewis Hamilton has been able to close out the championship by taking advantage of the other’s mistakes has for me taken much of the glow out of this season. At times it has seemed like neither of them really wants to win the driver’s title with both electing to make ruinous decisions on the track as was evidenced with Hamilton’s move in the opening lap and Massa’s idiocy on the next at the Japanese Grand Prix today.

In my belief, if it had been either Schumacher or Alonso in Hamilton’s place, the title race would have been done and dusted by now. Would Schumacher have tried a daring move on a driver who was not competing with him for the title on the opening lap of the race? I think not. Sir Jackie Stewart once said that a driver cannot afford to make more than one blunder in a season if he harbours hopes of winning the championship. Hamilton and Massa though in spite of their numerous slip-ups this season are the main title challengers with two races to go and this is down to the simple fact that neither of them possesses the capabilities to close a championship out in the manner in which a true great can.

Hamilton for all his racing abilities rarely comes close to flawlessness on the track over the course of an entire race and often seems to crumble under pressure as he did today. He must be warned that he runs the risk of turning into a Jacques Villeneuve unless he can learn to make the right choices under pressure and curb his instinct to race when not necessary. Massa has never ever been considered at par with the likes of Raikkonen and Alonso and his performance at Japan clearly showed why. The manner of the performances from Hamilton and Massa over the last couple of races suggests to me that Robert Kubica who is only twelve points behind Hamilton may well be in with a chance going into the final two races of the season. At least Kubica has displayed the ability to perform under pressure and even if he fails to pull of an unlikely driver’s title, it would only be fair to describe him as the best driver of what has been an appalling season of formula one racing. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ponting Leads Aussie Charge

I was privileged to witness Ricky Ponting’s thirty sixth test match century yesterday at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore and I must say it was a knock which was filled more with substance than style. Ponting has erased all the demons of his past with this fighting knock and has more than set the tone for what should be an extremely fascinating series. He is usually an instinctive batsman who plays his shots when the ball is there to be hit, but yesterday he showcased a different aspect to his game and personality, one that is packed with grit, determination and commitment. After having lost Hayden to a poor umpiring decision in the first over of play, Ponting provided his country with just the kind of knock that was required of him. He saw off the new ball with untypical circumspection and then handled Harbhajan Singh in a manner which far from suggested the fact that Harbhajan had scalped him on eight occasions before the start of the first test match.

There is no doubt that Harbhajan's and Kumble's innocuous bowling made it rather simple for Ponting to get his first test match ton on Indian soil, but Ponting’s approach clearly suggested that he had come to India with a specific game plan on how to handle the spinners. He refrained from lunging outside the off stump and consciously played the ball as late as possible and most importantly as he himself pointed out in an interview at the end of the day, he trusted his technique which had got him thirty five test match centuries prior to the commencement of the ongoing test match. Once he had settled down, the crowd got to witness some gorgeous extra cover drives of the back foot and a couple of majestically executed lofted flick shots of Harbhajan. With Hussey taking off from where Ponting left off and considering the surprisingly slow pace of the Australian innings, India have their task cut out, if they want to get anything out of this match.