Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SRT - what next?

Turns 40 in less than a month. No Test century in over two years. Even His divine status as 'GOD' has been stolen. Yet despite what Ram Guha feels, retirement is Sachin's decision and his decision alone.

This blog is about what our selectors must do. Yes, free advise to those lucky blokes who get paid close to a crore/year to sit down a few times and select the Indian team.

Here it is: Let Sachin know that He is not in their future plans but they do not have the (for lack of a better word) 'balls' to sack Him. At the same time, they would like Him to continue as a mentor to the team. And if He does not retire select a team of 16+1 to South Africa with Sachin Tendulkar as player cum batting coach & mentor. Thereby passing the buck to the supreme power of Indian cricket - Sir Jadeja Dhoni. Well, make it 16+2, Add Zaheer as well as player cum bowling coach & mentor for good measure.

I am actually quite serious about the suggestion. Here are four reasons why:

A. I don't want SRT to follow his predecessors into the commentary box. While Saurav has done well, VVS and Rahul Dravid both seem out of their comfort one. I would rather see these two heros write articles, books and give talks at MCC, etc - Just my personal opinion. Same with Sachin.

B. India would do well to retain the services of Sachin Tedulkar post retirement. Especially His presence in the dressing room.

C. Sachin and Zaheer will be less disruptive figures and will greatly help to ease the youngsters in. Especially when compared to say Sunny G or Kapil D. Moreover they already have an existing relation & command respect from most 'seniors' unlike say Venky Prasad who was the bowling coach earlier.

D. Both will enjoy the position which has no clear responsibility. Well that's the kind of thing we Indians love isn't it. If it goes right, everyone praises the duo and if it goes wrong sack Duncan Fletcher.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong - My thoughts

From Wikipedia on the Tour de France:

The New York Times said the “Tour de France is arguably the most physiologically demanding of athletic events.” The effort was compared to “running a marathon several days a week for nearly three weeks”, while the total elevation of the climbs was compared to “climbing three Everests.”

My love for cycling as a sport began in 2003. Enamored by the beauty of the French countryside & the intrigue surrounding the success of Lance Armstrong, I started watching the Tour de France back then. At first it was about understanding and getting to love the sport. But pretty soon I realized that doping is a major part of professional Cycling – especially as the sport tests the limit of human endurance.

Having read some of the earlier rumors, I wasn't naive to believe that Lance Armstrong didn't take performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), but I thought that if he took it, everyone else took it too.

The reason then why I watched the sport was Lance Armstrong – To see whether he can win the tour again. and again. and again. Doping was not the reason why Lance Armstrong won those seven tours. Everyone doped – He won it because of the tactics and the strategies he employed, the way he got the entire team to work for him and how he achieved his goal every single year (A bit like Schumacher and Ferrari), his individual work ethic and his single minded determination to succeed. Those were the differentiators. At least, that is what I believed then.

Soon after Lance Armstrong retired in 2005, I found the 2006 edition very difficult to watch. Without a compelling enough story to hook me back into the sport, I haven’t seen the tour since.

Since then I have been following the sport offline – especially as the Lance Armstrong saga rolled on. Despite mounting pressure Lance continued to live in denial and when the weight of evidence that USADA gathered became too much, he cracked. He decided not to contest the USADA charges, (while still proclaiming innocence) meaning USADA stripped him of his seven titles.

This is what the USADA had to say:

“Achievements of USPS/Discovery Channel pro cycling team accomplished through the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”

The volume of evidence is too much to ignore and cycling's worst kept secret is out - That Lance Armstrong cheated. 

Having read Tyler Hamilton’s Secret Race and the USADA investigation I believe that Lance is a cheat but the USADA report (probably to justify its spend) and the subsequent media trial (led by ex-dopers) has gloriously magnified the extent of Lance's crimes. 

First objection: the words “Most sophisticated and professional”

Having read the critical parts of the USADA report, while it is certain that Lance Armstrong doped, it amazes me as to how they could conclude that his doping programme was the most “sophisticated” or even the most “professional” one. I didn’t see any comparison of Lance Armstrong’s programme with Team Telekom’s Jan Ullrich (Also a drug cheat who finished 2nd behind Lance in most tours) or say Team CSC’s Ivan Basso (Yes, another drug cheat who finished second in 2005, Lance Armstrong’s last tour win) or for that matter any random racer in any random team!

You either doped or you didn't. Sadly everyone (A generalization you have to make if you have read Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret race) in that era doped including Lance Armstrong.

I don’t see any proof in the reports to say that Lance Armstrong doped “more” than say Jan Ullrich. Infact there was only 7 mentions of Jan Ullrich in the USADA report and none of them have anything to do with doping. How then is Lance Armstrong’s doping the most sophisticated or most professional?

Second objection: the most one sided report ever

Is Lance Armstong as he claims, a victim of this witch-hunt as a part of a one sided investigation carried out by USADA? I am not sure about the witch hunt - If Lance Armstrong didn't admit to doping someone had to go after him to get to the truth. But what the USADA has come out with is cetainly a one-sided truth. The section on the 1999 tour (about 20 pages long) begins with

“Seven (7) eyewitnesses from the 1999 U.S. Postal Service cycling team have provided testimony to USADA regarding doping on the team in 1999.”

Yet when you read the near 20 page section you feel it has been picked almost entirely from Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. Each and every alleged crime that Lance Armstrong is guilty of has been described in the book.

For me it is very clear that USADA have considered what Hamilton is saying as the gospel truth and have made absolutely no effort in conducting a fair investigation. The entire report is based from two or three witnesses at the most.

Also there has been no effort to uncover doping in cycling in general. As I have said before I would like to know how Lance’s programme compared to Ullrich’s programme.

Third objection: Media trying to paint Lance as the greatest evil. That Hamilton, Landis et al are mere victims in the game played by Lance.

Another thing that pained me is the attempt by the USADA report and the media coverage to paint "scumbags" likes of Hamilton, Landis and David Millar as "heroes" who are telling their story to clean up the sport.

To quote Hamilton, he took everything – EPO, Blood transfusion, testosterone and all other illegal substances. Yet he lost - Even in 2003 when he was leading a different team. And then Hamilton got busted not once but twice. Where was his moral high ground when he was doping for all those years he raced and also those years he lived in denial?

Drug cheats like Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton have seen an opportunity to make money “by coming clean” on the whole doping affair. That’s all they are – opportunistic cheats. It pains me to see Lance Armstrong’s name cancelled out in the pages below while at the same time you see names like Tyler Hamilton (4th in 2003) and Floyd Landis (9th in 2005) still there.

While everyone cheated, Lance Armstrong won. I will stick to what I originally believed about the reasons for Armstrong's success. 

Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs. Nothing less. Nothing more. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Transfer Window - My thoughts

The Real Madrid Perspective

Luka Modric: He was ‘the’ player Real Madrid were after all transfer season. I am not the greatest fan of Modic and would have preferred either Cazorla for half that amount or even Hazard who has had an excellent start to his Chelsea career, but Modric it is. Mourinho has done very well in his two seasons at Bernabeu – So when he says he has a plan, we trust him. Welcome to Bernabeu, Luca! Here’s a superb analysis on what that plan could be - http://www.zonalmarking.net/2012/08/30/modric-and-song-arrivals-indicate-barcelona-and-real-are-thinking-about-each-others-style/

Defensive Midfield: Mourinho prefers to play two pivots with Alonso and Khedira being his first choice players last season. Also, last year he had a problem of plenty on the bench with four backup players. But look what happened - Sahin left on loan, Granero left for QPR, Lass went to Anzhi and Altintop to Galatasaray. While there is delight to see La$$ and Altintop leave, losing Granero is a big disappointment. The four of them have been replaced by just one player – Michael Essien, on loan! Would have loved to keep Grenero, but I guess we will be fine in this department. There is the January window in case of any problems with squad depth.

Right Back: This is the only position where Real Madrid could/should have done better. Selling Dani Carvajal, who was seen as an obvious replacement to Arbeloa, to Bayer Leverkusen for 5M Euros was disappointing. Also disappointing was that Madrid did not buy any replacement – Unless Essien was bought in to play in that role, I am not sure. Dani though could be back in Madrid in the next two years, as we have a buyback clause.

Final thoughts: The nucleolus of the squad remains the same. Modric has arrived to add more options in attack. Despite selling players worth as much as 40 million Euros, none of them were first teamers. Squad rotation has never been a part of Mourinho’s game plan, so trimming the wage bill is welcome.

Overall rate it 8/10 – with losing Granero and Carvajal obvious disappointments. One of those rare summers where we make a net profit is hugely welcome J

The Rest
  • Man City have signed 50 million pounds of rubbish. Chelsea have signed OK, but not enough to compete for the title, especially under Di Matteo. United have bought the premier league title for 24 million pounds, although City will run them close.
  • Arsenal is one of those clubs most neutrals want to see do well. They were really lucky (so were Chelsea) to finish in the Champions League positions. But instead of rebuilding they sold their best two players again and bought just one player worthy of wearing their shirt – Cazorla. They probably still might have enough to pip the 4th spot, but as Liverpool is finding out it is much easier to stay in the top 4 then to get back from a position outside. Apart from the Champions League money involved, attracting players even if you have the money in the bank becomes very tough without CL football. I am still predicting 4th for Arsenal, but sadly the club is all about making more insane profits for its owners, not about winning trophies.
  • Barcelona for all that La Masia greatness they proclaim, continued to outspend Real Madrid. Under the Jose Morinho era, Real Madrid have spent less than both Barcelona and Manchester United. Fact. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Podcast Experiment

India ended its 'best ever' Olympics last Sunday when our flag bearer Sushil Kumar provided the silver lining with a brilliant performance on the wrestling mat. While the media was going Jai ho (well everyone except Karan Thapar) about this 6 medal haul, few of us were debating it on Twitter. Those few of us were Karthik Gadiyar, Nishant Kumar and I from the IIM Indore batch of '08.

And then Boom! An idea to do a podcast. All said yes. Shared a brief rundown and decided to meet at 8PM on the Saturday. Best part was that we were all online on Skype by 7:55 PM!

So here it goes:


More than anything, it was great fun. Probably missed few other sports 'regulars' from our batch and also the Maggi from night canteen I guess!

Music & Editing Credits goes to KCG.

You can follow them here:

Hopefully we will be back much better next time!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Boring" Spain

Flashback 2008. Spain's squad of 23 in Euro 2008 had only 5 players from RM (2) & Barca (3). Spain played with 2 strikers throughout the tournament. Their 3-0 semi finals victory over an inspired Russian team was brilliant! That was the Spanish style we all loved.  

Another stat from those brilliant guys at Opta. Spain's possession during Euro 2008: 56.6%; WC 2010: 65.2%; Euro 2012: 68.2%! Improvement? More possession - Yes. But, also fewer goals. Less fun.

Football in Spain has always been based on the passing game, but now this passing game is used to put a sleeper hold on the opposition players (and the fans) before they finally score in the 85th minute (Which you will realise 30 minutes later when you wake up after having dozed off on the chair). While this passing style is the reason why I enjoy La liga, 'death by Tiki Taka' (which is how I describe the current Barcelona and Spanish style) is painfully boring.

I know it takes top players (not just 1-2, but the entire team) to execute this strategy and Spain has those players. But these extremely talented players can also go and thrash Portugal 4-1 if they play the right way. 

The problem is that it looks like VDB will continue to remain the coach of Spain. If Spain win the Euros, his 4-6-0 formation will become the template for World Cup 2014 as well. Ouch!

Hence for the love of football, I am supporting Portugal. Would love to see this happen again, but this time hopefully the goal will stand! C'mon Ronaldo!! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spain - Loss would have been better!

Few thoughts on Spain post the Italy game.

1. Tiki Taka: Spain and Barcelona are considered the template for everything that is good about football. But where are the goals? 1000 passes and 85% possession without creating a decent chance is more boring to watch than a team parking the bus. To quote Jose Mourinho post game "I don't like it when a team keeps possession just for the sake of it. They should play to score."

2Constant complaining: Another Barcelona trait I hate. VDB, Xavi and Fabregas all came out blaming the pitch and the fact that it was not watered prior to the game. Pathetic.

3. The result: With Torres flopping, VDB can go back and say Fabregas as false 9 worked. Look at it this way, Spain had 1 chance in 75 minutes that Fabregas played and 2 in 15 minutes that Torres played. Spain were infinitely more good to watch with Jesus Navas on the wings and Torres up front. That Torres failed to convert is a different story. Time for Negredo to get his chance. Or Llorente. Or even Pedro. We need a striker please. Don't kill us with anti football. For this reason alone, a loss I think would have been a better wake up call.

4. What Next for Spain? They will defeat Croatia and Ireland and qualify from the group stages, but the lack of quality up front will be exposed if they play France in the quarter finals. 

5. I was hoping that VDB gets back to coaching Madrid after 2-3 years of Jose Mourinho. Now I am not so sure.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prediction for Euro 2012

With just one day to go & the entire nation talking football (or at least as per the Neo Sports ad), here is me in Paul-the-octopus mode with the predictions for all teams in Euro 2012.

Simply put,
Team I support - Spain.
Team that should win the tournament - Germany
Team that will win the tournament - England
< Now waiting while you gather yourselves after the laugh and all that rolling on the floor >

Top scorer - Benzema (4 Goals)
Finals MVP - Joe Hart
Tournament MVP - Ozil

Predicting that England win will take some justification isn’t it? Here it goes...


Well, where do I start? Here is a squad which draws 6 of its players from a side placed 8th in its own league, Liverpool! Its best player is suspended for the first two games. And this whole Rio Ferdinand issue has taken spotlight away from the fact that this squad is just not good enough to compete, let alone win.

But when has consistent failure ever dampened the spirit/expectations of a British sports fan? BBC Sports' Phil McNulty's blog title read "England win wasn't pretty ... but neither were the Greeks" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/philmcnulty/2012/06/england_win_wasnt_pretty_but_n.html). Obviously implying England is going to win the tournament via 1-0 results in the knockout phase! 

But when Chelsea could do it, why not England? Isn't John Terry destined to lift the European prize before his trial? Who needs quality if you have luck? So there goes my crazy prediction for this European Championship - England for the win!!

Where they should finish: 4th in their group. 
Where they will finish: Winners

(Funny Fact: Liverpool has the same number of players in the tournament as Barcelona! Only Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Dynamo Kiev have more representation)


Quietly, Germany is assembling one of the best squads in the world. There is experience in Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Gomez. Talented youngsters in Gotze & Reus. And a world class player to provide that magic - Mesut Ozil.

This year was supposed to be Germany's year. Bayern Munich should have won the Champions League – They blew it. Germany lost the 2008 Finals to Spain and the 2010 Semi Finals also to Spain. A top quality, injury free squad that is hungry for revenge should go in to the tournament as favorites in my opinion. This might well be Germany’s year. But I think fate has something crewel for them again – in the Finals.

Where they should finish: Winners
Where they will finish: Losing Finalists


Spain is bookmaker's favorite. And who would like to bet against the defending European and World champions?

Injuries to David Villa and Carlos Puyol however are both severe setbacks, as these are two areas where Spain does not have quality cover. Fatigue is the other reason why Spain will suffer. And as Phil Ball writes here http://espnfc.com/uk/en/news/1087738/simply-redphil-ball-previews-spaineuro-2012-campaign.html, Spanish media and most people in Spain think this will not be their year.

So, who will their conquerors be? Have to say France or Germany…

France vs. Spain in the quarters is a possibility. Spain before 2008 had a history of losing in the quarter finals. So I am predicting it is going to end there for Spain. Either way, it should be great fun to see how they react and I really hope that they can defend their title they so brilliantly won in 2008.

Where they should finish: Runners-Up
Where they will finish: Losing Quarter Finalists (To France)


They have the squad to compete well and in Benzema a finisher in top form. But still not enough ammunition to get past Germany in the Semi Finals I think.

Where they should finish: Semi Finalists
Where they will finish: Semi Finalists


Basically the draw is such that any two teams progressing from the Group of death should make it to the semis. Good team with some very good players, but their star player whom they are totally dependent on for the goals has a reputation of going AWOL on the really important day. 

Semi Finals (if they get there) will be as far as this squad can go.

Where they should finish: Knocked out from the group of death
Where they will finish: Losing Semi Finalists


Last time the match-fixing scandals raised its ugly head in 2006, Cannavaro led Italy to a famous triumph in the World Cup the same year. I was wondering if this squad could do a repeat. In one word - No. Their defense is not magical any more. Make no mistake, they still have some very good players but their lack of width in the midfield could hurt them in the quarter finals match against England/France. 

Where they should finish: Quarter Finalists
Where they will finish: Quarter Finalists

Greece, Poland

Greece might be headed for an economic catastrophe, but I think their football team will somehow qualify from Group A. Home support might just take Poland through. But Germany and Holland/Portugal in the quarter finals might be a bit too far for any of the teams going through from this group.

Where they should finish: Knocked out in group stages
Where they will finish: Quarter-finalists


For one of the pre-tournament favorites along with Germany and Spain, they are pretty unlucky to be in the group of death.

Sneijder has not been the same player this season. Robben might still be hurting after that poor performance in the UCL finals. Somehow, I am not sure whether this squad is united for the cause. And the Portugal squad is definitely good enough if Holland is not at its very best. 

Where they should finish: Semi Finalist
Where they will finish: Knocked out from the group of death

Denmark, Ireland, Croatia, Sweden, Ukraine, Russia, Czech

Russia should consider themselves very unlucky to be in this list, but I am picking Greece to pull off a minor upset and qualify from Group A. Home support could also see Poland through over Czech in the same group. The rest I guess will be surprised/ thrilled to reach round 2.

Where they will finish: Knocked out in Group Stage.

Phew .. Enjoy the tournament folks!