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Goodbye To A Legend

November 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Cricket has come to that period where a generation says goodbye to the legends they grew up with. A few years back the world said farewell, albeit a little later than they expected, to Sanath Jayasuriya. Last year India’s most underrated batsman, Rahul Dravid, bowed out of international cricket; and today the world prepares to say goodbye to Ricky Ponting.

Ponting has been in an up-and-down patch in his career for the past year. Averaging less than 15, he had a superb summer against India which included a double hundred before being shored up against the West Indies and now South Africa. While most supporters of the man have called for his inclusion, many others (including himself) knew that time was running out.

He did what all great sportsman do and called time on a career that was reaching its end.

Ponting can leave international cricket behind with his head held high knowing he was only second to Sachin Tendulkar in both runs and centuries, while he also has the mantle of having won three successive World Cups leading his team in two of those. He was also one of the most successful captains in test and one day cricket, and while people argue it was the team that gave him this, his record as captain speaks for itself.

Of course his career will be pockmarked with the three Ashes losses, including one at home, while a couple of hiccups against India and South Africa also surfaced in his time at the helm. His last bout as captain came in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup against eventual winners India. Ponting shrugged off the criticism to play a great hundred, but was unfortunately unable to deliver his team to a fifth consecutive final.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ricky Ponting a couple of times and from a personal point of view was certainly impressed with him. Despite having a hectic schedule Ponting took time off to get a game of golf in during their World Cup campaign in Sri Lanka. Even better was the fact that I got to play with him. The game gave me an insight in to the man off the field and away from the public spotlight.

Friday will be his last test match, and ironically it is Australia’s opportunity to regain the number 1 mantle (a spot Ponting did a great deal to secure for Australia in the first place). I will certainly be watching the match, and no doubt be hoping to see him produce that great last innings (similar to Greg Chappell) to help his team take the series and the number one spot.

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Political Dynasties

“Political Dynasties”, a term that is as old as politics. For the ancient civilisations their rulers were concerned with maintaining their legacy, the crown would be passed from parent to child to ensure the family name continues on down the ages.

In today’s political spectrum the idea of dynasties is not too far away (especially in Asia). Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all pay homage to the idea of a political heritage being carried forward through their leaders. For me, the question that comes to mind is why do we (the voters) continue to decide who will lead us depending on their last name?

In Sri Lanka if you belong to the Wijewardena or the Bandaranaike family you are immediately accepted into the inner politics of the country, whether you take off from there is dependent on your actions but certainly the name will give you that stepping stone. Similarly in India the Nehru-Gandhi family name continues to rule the country, despite its people (and much of the rest of the world) claiming that they are the world’s largest democracy. The Bhutto’s in Pakistan have played prominent roles in shaping their political culture, while in Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes from a family of political leaders.

When the Western World talk’s about “Political Dynasties” they refer to them as “misappropriation of power”, an example being the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un succession of power in North Korea. However, for America a family succession in politics is no alien idea with the Kennedy’s and Bush’s being examples (and to a lesser extent the Clintons).

So now that we have determined that “Political Dynasties” are no regional phenomenon, we can look at answering why they are so prevalent around the world. When Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 the voters connected this feat to D.S. Senanayake (our first Prime Minister). So naturally, when his son came into politics the people flocked to his side, expecting him to carry out the same work his father did (whether or not he did I will leave up to you to decide). From that point onwards the country was open to the idea of politics being carried forward by the family name.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike started yet another political legacy in the country when his wife, daughter and son all took to politics (like him both his wife and daughter went on to lead the country). Similarly, as the Senanayake’s before him, his contribution to politics in the founding of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party gave himself a legacy that the people wanted to see continued through his family.

Similar such stories can be shared with the rest of the political families seen throughout the world, but the real reason that these dynasties continue (as I see it) is that the voters hold strong to the notion of not letting the past go. The success of the initial politician has always led to their family continuing on with automatic support of the people. Perhaps the voters feel that their descendants can continue the work they started, or perhaps it is simply a yearning to return to what their parents (or husbands) had done in the past.

A friend told me that this is not so in the UK, their political circles do not see such a trend. I disagree with this remark. In the UK, unlike many other nations, they have retained their monarchy. With this age old tradition of family succession already in place, the people’s yearning to cling on to the idea of “passing the torch down the line” has not been transferred to their politics. The Royal Family may not hold any political power of note, but they are in a public enough position to satisfy this quota.

“Political Dynasties” are, to me at least, not Democracy’s finest moments. The voters choose with their heart rather than mind. While prevalent in Asia it has certainly not died out elsewhere in the world. Whether it will in the future remains to be seen.

I have certainly rambled on in this post, but after discussing this topic till 5 am on a Saturday morning with friends I felt like an outside perspective was needed.

The “Myths of Cricket”

For all those who have sat down to a broadcast of a game of cricket, you would have at some point or another been exposed to what I like to call the “Myths Of Cricket”. These in reality are simply comments or ideas that commentators and the media have instilled in the viewers of the game. Below are the top six myths (I chose six to change it up from the traditional 10 or 5) as I see them.

6. “20/20 cricket is the new format that is being rapidly accepted by all those in the cricketing world”. This is a false assumption on the part of many people. while the format has brought about some exciting match-ups it has been unable to truly challenge test cricket. While many people use the example of its popularity in India, we should remember that Indians are not fans of test cricket. Prior to T20s One Day Cricket was their favourite, this is true for the entire sub-continent. Back in England, Australia or South Africa Test Cricket continues to prove that is the pinnacle sport with sellout crowds turning up at every game (take a look at the ongoing West Indies-England series).

5. “Left handers are the more stylish batsmen”. Another false theory; Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid. All three of those players are not only the best in the business, but also the most stylish to watch. On the other hand; Shiv Chanderpaul, Simon Katich and Graeme Smith are all highly accomplished left handers, but you would not want youngster mirroring them when batting

4. “A spinner needs variations”. The verdict on this argument has not come in yet, but personally I disagree with this theory. Graeme Swann (and to a lesser extent Nathan Lyon) have proven that a spinner with an orthodox delivery and good control is capable of being a match-winner. In fact Muralithan, prior to the introduction of his doosara, was considered a more lethal bowler. In this case less mean more.

3. “Fast bowlers do not make good fielders”. Ten years ago this comment would not have drawn a second glance, however, in today’s modern game more and more fast bowlers are doubling as excellent fielders. Jame Anderson for England is one such example, in fact his safe hands often see him employed in the gully or slip region. Brett Lee of Australia is another example of a fielder who is a brilliant catcher with a rocket arm.

2. “Tailenders coming out and slogging is entertaining”. This is by far one of the worst told lies I continue to hear from commentators. Gone are the days when cricketers could get away with throwing their wicket away. Muralitharan was one such player who never put any effort into his batting and more often than not swung wildly across the line. Today, apart from the iconic Christ Martin, no team possess what you would call a traditional number eleven. That being all eleven players are capable of holding a bat and contributing in way or another. In fact solid defending and grafting of runs by the tailenders are far more satisfying for the supporters, seeing a tailender play a loose shot often brings about a groan of frustration.

1. “Cricket is a batsman’s game”. This, in my view, is a blatant lie and one which must be called out every time it is mentioned. Yes the spectators love to see centuries and boundaries hit, but it is wickets that will draw a crowd to its feet, and it is wickets that will reignite a lazy Sunday at a test match. A game could be dragging on with the batsmen dominating the bowlers, when suddenly that elusive wicket comes about, the crowd is drawn to its feet and all eleven players converging on the bowler in celebrations. Low scoring games dominated by bowlers have more often than not produced a far more exciting contest than one which is dominated by the bat.

Wickets bring both the players and crowds to their feet faster than runs” 

Sri Lanka’s Shambolic Foreign Relations

With the focus in Sri Lanka directed at the domestic situation, namely the rising cost of living and political instability, the country’s foreign policy has been forgotten with continual blunders on the part of the government.

In March this year the country was faced with one of its biggest challenges on the international stage as they prepared for a vote on the adoption of a US resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC summit in Geneva. The resolution was designed at addressing growing human rights concerns in the country. It was a challenge that was poorly met as the Sri Lankan delegation, who was led by the Minister of Plantations, was unable to sway the vote in the country’s favour.

While sentiment remains high that the vote was a close affair and would have gone the way of Sri Lanka had India backed them (24 countries voted in favour of the resolution while 15 voted against and 8 abstained). It is clear that the delegation, or the government for that matter, did not have a clear strategy at tackling the situation. Success at the summit appeared to have depended on India’s support, and in turn the canvassing of other nations was done too little too late.

The countries who voted against the resolution are those who looked more likely to oppose US interference in the region than having specifically supported Sri Lanka (China and Pakistan). The extent of Sri Lanka’s poor international lobbying is the fact that India, who usually does not vote on country-specific resolutions, did so against its neighbour.

The Sri Lankan government expected India to either vote with them or at the very least abstain, they failed to lobby the Indian government and assure them of progress in regards to the issues being discussed.

India’s opposition to Sri Lanka at the summit was a sign of disapproval at the current state of affairs; the country has chosen to take the resolution as a personal slur and its government has not made any progress in rebuilding its relations with its neighbour.

In fact Sri Lanka went further and responded to this resolution by announcing that it would be closing several of its embassies in Europe, while opening new embassies in Africa. The decision was clearly based on anger with the Europeans and their decision to back such a resolution. Ironically, the proposed new embassies in Africa will be in those countries that supported Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka looks uninterested in pacifying the situation by addressing the issues brought up at the vote.

Last week a delegation led by the Minister of External Affairs visited the US to present an action-plan on the implementation of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. However, such a plan had not been prepared in time for the visit and local media was abuzz with the news that the Minister would be travelling empty handed to the US.

Their meetings with US representatives appeared unfruitful as US media reported that their government was impatient with Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in addressing the human rights and reconciliation concerns.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s office stating that they were impressed with an action-plan that was presented, an action-plan which was a secret until now, it is clear that the delegation had not done enough. The meeting with members of the House of Representatives was an opportunity to impress upon them that the Sri Lankan government was serious in tackling these issues. The lack of clear planning in this regard was evident with the Minister choosing to repeat the sentiment they have continually expressed, without producing any hard evidence to support it.

With the US heading towards an election, it was of utmost importance that they satisfied all parties concerned.

As Sri Lanka faces mounting international pressure a focussed approach is lacking. The government will need to re-strategize if they are to avoid any further resolutions and opposition by its one time allies. Rebuilding of diplomatic ties must be on top of its agenda.

Why the US involves itself in Sri Lanka

The US involvement in Asia has come about with the ever growing presence of China. From the 1950s onwards America has shown an unwillingness to return to their old ways of “isolationism”. The Cold War being the biggest attribute to this.
In the 21st Century the Cold War, I believe, is still going strong only the theatre has changed. We are no longer witnessing the progressive America battling their perceived threat of communism, but rather a battle is being drawn out over a super-power unwilling to let’s its position in the global hierarchy change. In this case the old power being America and their foe being China.
Sri Lanka is but an insignificant dot in the grand scheme, however, it is also one which will provide the US with the opening it needs to Asia. Their old ally in India is slowly but surely being surrounded by the Chinese; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indo-China and now Sri Lanka are all falling into line behind China. India is finding itself low on support in the region, and in turn so to is America. Their poor military involvement in Pakistan has cost them that ally, now they are presented with an opportunity to regain lost territory by involving itself in Sri Lanka. The political goings on and well being of the Sri Lankans is of little interest to the Americans, the growing influence of China is far more worrying.
An unstable Sri Lanka opens the door for India to exert influence on its neighbor, and in turn the US has yet another country returning to its sphere of influence.
China has shown itself unwilling to involve itself politically in Sri Lanka or any of it’s “satellite” states, they recognize the fact that a political battle with India at this point in time would be foolhardy. The US’ decision to involve itself in Sri Lanka is not for the Sri Lankans but to ensure that India’s standing in the country remains firm.
The US may have learnt a lesson from open conflict in the Middle East, but Libya and now Syria show that they are still willing to pull the strings from behind the curtain. A safer ploy and one which the voters will not have to decide on. This is election year, the Obama administration has needed a win and right now anything will do.

Why Indian sporting culture is damaging the world of sport

My last article on the Indian Grand Prix was attacked by an Indian the other day, and in his comment he mentioned that I was biased when it came to India. I feel I should set the record straight, I am biased when it comes to Indian sport.
So why do I have this biased attitude towards Indian sport? Well to be honest it is because they have been able to take a culture that is built around rivalry, tradition and gamesmanship and have turned it in to a money making venture. The IPL is a perfect example of this. Cricket has been and, in some parts of the world, still is a Sunday game. That being an all day event that will be considered a family outing. The scenes of kids playing their own mini-games of cricket on the embankments during a test match are slowly fading, we are no longer seeing the old gents seated back carrying on their own scoring during a test match. Now in India, courtesy of the IPL, test cricket is dying out and being replaced by a faster, more glamorous and less sporting event. The Indian Premier League has seen countries replaced with state teams comprising of international players, those who fight with such ferocity during the Ashes and the Border-Gavesaker trophy are now ‘team-mates’. Yes yes unity and friendship and all that jazz are important, but lets face it true sports lovers watch the game for the competition between players. Something that is dying out due to the IPL.
That is not all that the IPL has done, instead of cricket and avid followers, we are treated with cheerleaders, celebrities and giants of the Indian business world all looking for some extra cash. Who can forgot the first IPL when Sha Rukh Khan decided that the attention needed to be on him and danced the entire match on the balcony, there was actually a game going on but nobody remembers that. The cheerleaders jump up every time a boundary is hit, and rather than focusing on the celebrations of the supporters we are forced to view a poor excuse for ‘cheerleading’.
At the end of the match the focus turns to the team owners, a moment given for the players, and then the reactions of the walking wallets and whether or not THEY are happy.
So really the IPL has systematically killed off a sport that has a tradition dating back over a 100 hundred years. The likes W.G.Grace will certainly turning in his grave to see his beloved sport turned in to a glamour show for the rich and famous of Bollywood.
The problem’s go further than cricket, India hosted the Commonwealth Games last year. And it can be described in a single word, ‘pathetic’. The stadiums were empty, those that were completed, athletes were forced to stay in hotels because of snakes in the village and overall there was no atmosphere. True the commonwealth games can never be compared to the Olympics, but having experienced the Olympics I can honestly tell you Delhi and India could have put on a better show. Once again they claimed to be attracting the masses, but only catered to the upper classes.
This past weekend saw the inaugural Indian GP, and despite what the drivers and the organisers say I am sticking by my original evaluation. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the only reason India got the race was because of the potential market they hold. But for those real racing fans they will know that an Indian GP will never match up to the tradition of a race such as Monte Carlo or the Nurburgring in Germany. Those are races that were built on tradition and legends of the sport. Unfortunately for India, they have ditched their true culture for a fusion of Western and Indian and in doing so have lost all essence. What is more disappointing is that once again, money has been the controlling factor in this event. Now I know that Formula 1 is built around money, but FIA and Eccelstone used to be able to do it with class. In Monte Carlo you’d have the yacht owners lining their boats up against the track to watch from the comfort of their floating mansions. India, with all its money and class, chose to pack in thousands upon thousands of fans in to a stadium which had been built on the grounds of a ‘planned sport city’.
It is sad that India, who has given us sporting spectacles in the past are unable to repeat the feat. Cricket lovers around the world must really miss the noise from a packed Eden Gardens, it has now been replaced by subdued fans who are bored and rich team owners whose only concern is how much more they can squeeze out before the final ball is bowled. Looking at what Indian sporting culture has done to world sport I guess the cliche saying ‘money is the root of all evil’ certainly is accurate.

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The Indian Grand Prix; A less than satisfactory debut

October 30, 2011 1 comment

The Indian Grand Prix was held today, and as an F1 fan I can promise you it was the last race I would want to see on my calender. For those who do not I am biased when it comes to India and their sporting events. This grand prix lived up to its expectations, and those expectations were pretty low.

When India was finally given the go ahead for the race a few years back, it was not an announcement that had been welcomed in the highly selective world of Formula 1 racing. Looking at the tradition and European influence on the sport, you can understand why the followers were not all too impressed.

In the recent years, the sport of racing has seen a greater emphasis placed on money ahead of tradition, this was seen through the increased races in the Middle East and Singapore. It has now moved to what is being described as the largest market possible, India.

After controversy and problems existing in the construction of the track, the race weekend was finally upon us. For most people, the interest in the season has dropped with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull securing the driver championship and the constructor championship. The only real interest in the race stood with how India will handle this glamour filled sporting event.

So what did India have planned for the race weekend? They were certainly going all out, similar to Singapore they were going to have a concert including the performance of rock legends Metallica. The event was being built up all over the city with vendors getting in to the mood.

Unfortunately the race did not go according to plan, the first big incident was the cancellation of the Metallica concert, which enraged thousands of fans. True to Indian tradition, disappointment was followed by vandalism as the fans ransacked the stadium. A sad showing for Indians, the world’s attention was on them and they certainly slipped up.

The situation only got worse when the first practice session was delayed due to non-other than a stray dog running on to the track. A situation that is common in cricket matches seems to have transferred to the racing track. Apart from the funny side, the dangers of such an incident seems to have been missed.

We’re only lucky know drivers were on that stretch of the track. For all you animal lovers the dog was safe, probably the biggest relief for me this whole weekend.

The track itself was a state of the art affair, certainly India can be complimented on that. Just make sure you do not look outside of the stadium, a barren wasteland lies in view. The dust and sand was so intense that on TV the race was at times difficult to see. Of course, to maintain the tradition Indian ticket prices were on the slightly higher side, but that was too be expected. Whether or not that will keep the standards remain to be seen. India ended the weekend in a fashion that was both embarrassing and sums up their mentality. Sachin Tendulkar was given the opportunity to wave the chequered flag, I mean why would he be given it? Yes he is a sporting god in that country, but he has no connection with the sport nor is he from New Delhi. Its a shame such a emphasis was placed on this man in a sport where few will know his name.

So the race is over, and the event was not as exciting as many of the other tracks. I guess now it waits to be seen how its following seasons go. Of course one thing we are assured of is that money rules all things sporting.

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