Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tendulkar's batting - a form of genius

Sachin Tendulkar completed the most extraordinary feat yesterday in scoring a double-hundred in the second game of the ongoing one-day international series against South Africa. More than a decade has gone by since Saeed Anwar scored a magnificent 194 against India at Madras, a knock which I had the great privilege of watching, yet although Charles Coventry playing for Zimbabwe matched that achievement against Bangladesh last year, no cricketer has surpassed the mark laid down by the elegant Pakistani. Although teams have scored and chased more than 400, as an individual milestone, the 200 run-mark, although conceivable seemed insurmountable, until Tendulkar attained it yesterday in a display of imperious batsmanship.

Tendulkar’s knock contained everything that one can hope to see in a one-day international innings – a rollicking start, drives hit on the up with supreme technical excellence, front foot flicks of rare precision, an array of improvised modern-day strokes, masterful consolidation in the middle overs, a sudden surge of runs approaching the ‘death overs’ and even a nervy stint in the 190s, for a change. The nature of the wicket and the size of the ground at Gwalior, certainly played its part in making the mark attainable, but the extent of Tendulkar’s gargantuan effort cannot be underestimated.

Any tribute to Tendulkar, often stresses on the sheer weight of his records, which although incomparable at the moment, may not be entirely incapable of being bettered. Even if some day surpassed, his records will certainly stand testimony to his greatness, but statistics will always remain only a part of the story. Tendulkar’s batting has to be seen to be believed. Endowed with impeccable balance, a technique of pristine excellence, a sense of exquisite timing and more than anything else an insatiable appetite for success, his batting is a true joy to behold. There have been batsmen of prettier elegance, of superior grit, of greater power, but Tendulkar outshines all, for reasons that cannot be explained, if not viewed. Oscar Wilde once famously said that “beauty is a form of genius - is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.” Maybe, Sachin Tendulkar's batting, much like ‘beauty’ is a form of genius.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Milan succumb to Rooney's brilliance

On Tuesday night, Manchester United overcame both glaring inadequacies on their own part and a patchily classy performance from AC Milan to secure a definite advantage in their Round of 16 Champions League tie. The fact that both teams were beset by ill-judged manoeuvres all over the pitch and the fact that they were both capable of producing intermittent moments of brilliance, meant that the game made interesting viewing. In the end, it was a virtuoso performance from Wayne Rooney in the second half, which tipped the tie convincingly in favour of Manchester United who will return to Old Trafford, knowing that Milan will at the very least have to score two goals to progress to the next round.

In what enhanced an already flustered opening to the game, United’s carelessness at the back coupled with Ronalidinho’s willingness to take on the volley, when lesser players would have been prone to needless deliberation, saw AC Milan take the lead as early as in the third minute. Evra’s miscued clearance from a David Beckham free kick, fell kindly for Ronaldinho, whose volley seemed to be covered by Van der Sar, but a deflection off Carrick, meant that the ball found its way into the far corner. If they weren’t already rattled by the intimidating San Siro atmosphere, the goal certainly put United completely off their track giving rise to a period of stunning dominance from Milan. The Italians dominated possession in typically refined fashion and could have easily scored two or three more, if not for their profligacy in front of goal. Ronaldinho, in particular, spurred by his strike was in dazzling form and treated his compatriot Rafael to as torrid as time as the young right back would have experienced in his short career thus far.

Although comprehensively outclassed in the first period, United were able to go into the break, level on goals, courtesy an embarrassingly fortuitous finish from Paul Scholes, who sought to volley a Darren Fletcher cross with his right foot, only for the ball to strike his standing foot and trickle wide of Dida into the Milan goal. Even as the players were celebrating the equaliser, Sir Alex Ferguson tore into Jonny Evans who had been shockingly dreadful up until that point. Much of United’s initial sloppiness though, may have well been Ferguson’s own doing as he lined his team up in a strangely asymmetrical manner. Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes formed a midfield three to match Milan’s central midfield, but with Park Ji Sung starting ahead of the trio, Fletcher was forced into performing the role of a left winger as well as essay the task of a conventional central midfielder. Fletcher though showed every bit of his consummate professionalism as he went about the task with supreme verve and even managed to create two of United’s three goals.

Pursuant to what must have surely been a heated half time talk, the second period saw a resurgent Manchester United take the game to Milan, in a manner more befitting of the English champions. Antonio Valencia who was sent in place of Nani with the specific mandate of attacking Milan’s thirty eight year old left back Giuseppe Favalli, did that and more, when he beat Favalli on the outside and crossed into the far post, for Rooney to finish impressively with his head. Buoyed by their lead, United exuded greater confidence in their passing and movement and may have been forgiven for thinking that they had settled the tie entirely in their favour, when Rooney completed his brace after some neat interplay with Fletcher. Having expertly controlled and held up a long ball from the back, Rooney immaculately laid the ball back to Fletcher, whose delightful chipped ball back into the path of Rooney, was headed into the back of the net with newfound aplomb.

Having gone up 3-1, one would have expected Man United to show adequate nous and retain possession in a more assured manner, but the Reds were guilty of being incautiously adventurous as they allowed Milan to claw one back. Clarence Seedorf, who came on for Beckham, conjured a moment of sublime magic to finish past Van Der Sar with an elegant back heel after a smart cutback from Ronaldinho. In the end though, in spite of having huffed and puffed for large periods, United must be satisfied for having not only beaten Milan at the San Siro, but also for having scored three away goals, which makes Milan’s task in the second leg exceedingly difficult, if not utterly impossible.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Reminder of Cricket's Allure

Lately, I have been spending time watching odd cricket games, the scores of which, I may have at best, glanced at in the past, but regardless, it reminded me of why I am so beguiled by the game, which I have joyfully grown up watching. Among the myriad pleasures that cricket offers, watching an innings of elegant and authoritative batsmanship stands desperately close to the perch, if not on it. The game between Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the first round of the Subbhai Pillai Trophy may not have been the most enticing of contests, but it contained an innings of captivating beauty from K.B. Arun Karthik.

With Tamil Nadu, chasing a mere 190 for victory, Karthik walked in to bat after the early loss of opener S. Aniruddha. Having taken his time to settle down, Karthik unleashed a storm of scintillating strokes on either side of the wicket. Assured with the movement of his feet, Karthik drove with consummate and delightful ease through the offside and any delivery erring on the shorter side was dispatched over midwicket with dismissive simplicity.

The size of the target may have had much to do with Karthik’s approach to the innings, but in spite of an efficient spell from Sreesanth, Karthik was supremely poised and in complete control of his bearings throughout his ebullient knock. Left arm spinner P. Prashanth, was treated with particular disdain, as he was hammered in a single over for a six over midwicket and for a brace of boundaries through the same area. Unable to find gaps through conventional means against part time off spinner Rohan Prem, Karthik remained composed and resorted to the scoop behind the wicket keeper, every time the shot was on.

Of all the pretty strokes that he played, a back foot cover drive off Sreesanth to bring up his half century stood out for its immaculate placement and exquisite timing. Having reached his fifty off just forty deliveries, Karthik showcased tremendous temperament in consolidating his innings with the effortlessness of an established professional. Just, when it seemed that the scantiness of the target, may cause Karthik to miss out on a deserved ton, he launched a huge six over long on and followed it up with a sumptuous drive over extra-cover to reach the three figure mark.

Possibly, my eulogies are a touch excessive for an innings played against an almost amateurish Kerala team, but the pleasures that Karthik’s knock invoked in me cannot be ignored. It may not have been an innings of atypical grace or extraordinary authority played against the best of opponents, but it was certainly littered with strokes that were as gorgeous as they were effective. I am not sure what future Karthik has in store for himself in the game, but his century certainly proved a reminder of cricket’s truly alluring charm.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Capello rules on England's captaincy

The decision to remove John Terry from his post as captain of England’s football team may not have required much deliberation, but the manner in which the decision was arrived at, reemphasises Capello’s managerial judgment and authority. Terry’s position had become utterly untenable, not merely because of his latest moral transgression, but due to a series of imprudent actions. As easy as the decision may have been, Capello must be lauded for acting as swiftly as he did and for exerting his control in typically imposing fashion. The value of a captain in international football has been slightly overstated and it would have been a dreadful misjudgement to retain Terry as the skipper, purely for his supposed on-field leadership qualities. The captain of England’s football team is more a face of the team than a leader of men as some may have you believe and Capello’s choice of ridding Terry of the armband comes as no surprise.

Equally unsurprising is Capello’s decision to hand the mantle to Rio Ferdinand, who has matured tremendously, both as a player and as a person since the indiscretions he famously manifested when he missed a drugs test in 2003. Ferdinand who was often criticised in the past for his failure to make most of his precocious talent has improved both the physical and mental aspects of his game and is no longer blighted by the lapses in concentration that disrupted the early phases of his career. Besides ironing out deficiencies in his game, Ferdinand has developed as a fine role-model, particularly through the stellar work that he has performed in relation to anti-racism campaigns. Although Gary Neville has been the club captain for Manchester United over the course of their three successive championships, the influence of Ferdinand, both on and off the field cannot be underemphasised. The only concern is the injuries that have bothered him over the course of the present season, but Capello probably believes that the worst of his troubles are now behind him and that he should be amply fit to lead England out in the World Cup finals.