Mark van Bommel, the footballer, retires. Finally.

From ESPNFC:

Peculiarly, Van Bommel played for all three – Barca, Bayern and Milan. The Dutchman, however, never featured when those clubs were showcasing spectacular, era-defining football. He was instead the awkward alternative they reluctantly turned to during more desperate, cynical moments. He’s the antithesis of proactive football.

Excellent article on van Bommel and what he brought to the sport; a must read.

I for one am not sorry to see him go. I usually don’t follow club football, but do regularly follow the big tournaments. Among all the stars that I remember from the last few tournaments, van Bommel is the only one I remember for all the wrong reasons.

Dutch football can be very beautiful, but not when van Bommel is on the field. He made football in general, and Dutch football in particular, dirty and cheap.

Whatever other talent he brought to the field was overshadowed by this facet, and I think football is more elegant without him.

Denesh Ramdin’s breach of Spirit of the Game

From CricInfo:

West Indies wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin has been charged with breaching the ICC Code of Conduct for claiming a catch off Misbah-ul-Haq during the Champions Trophy match against Pakistan at The Oval. Ramdin has pleaded not guilty and will attend a hearing on Monday.

Ramdin was charged with breaching article 2.2.11 of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel, which relates to "conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game".

Ramdin’s final sentence should be doubled simply for pleading not guilty. He went up in appeal for a catch that he had dropped, and which he then proceeded to collect again, hoping the cameras wouldn’t catch it. (It wasn’t a case of just not taking the catch cleanly and not realizing it.)

Terrible sporting spirit.

Football (soccer) players help clean cricket stadium

This happened in Indore, which will host the 4th ODI between India and West Indies in a few days:

But to beautify the stadium for the game, the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association has roped in a local A division football team that is made up of 5-7 state level players.
[…]
Such is the state of affairs that the footabllers are paid a petty Rs. 2.75 for every seat they clean in a stadium that can hold a 26,000 capacity crowd.

No, don’t tell me it’s about being a poor country with not enough money. It’s not about having the money. It’s about how we use the money that we already have [1,2]. I know, this isn’t a national club, but a local division team. But even they should have better sources of funds than “Rs. 2.75 per seat cleaned”.

Of course, no one watches football (soccer) in India as they watch cricket (edit: and of late, even the soccer craze has been hijacked to an extent by European and Latin American football, which is far superior in quality), but don’t blame cricket for the ailments of other sports either. Cricket is popular—and commercially successful—because we’re actually pretty good at it. We’re terrible at football; we’re terrible at hockey (this account of India’s Olympic successes stops at Moscow 1980—we’ve only recently begun to rediscover ourselves in the midst of a major overall in hockey administration); of course no one wants to watch their teams while they suck at their sport!

If one remembers, India was extremely interested in Tennis for a few years recently when we had players to be proud of—Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, followed by Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Prakash Amritraj. They were—or promised to be—good, and India flocked to their support. They haven’t been doing anything exceptional for the past few years, and once again, interest in tennis has waned in India. (edit: India even loves football, but how many prefer the Indian kind? How many would instead spend sleepless nights watching the EPL, for example?)

It takes great administration, and foresight, and grit, and patience, to invest in a sport in a country and develop it to a point where it becomes successful enough and commercially viable enough to sustain itself. We don’t lack the talent; we’re a big enough nation, with interests varied enough, to engage in a number of sports (heck, we even have a national rugby team!). But we need the right people to administer the sports—and think more of their charge than of their own pockets.

As we’ve already seen in politics, public service, and even daily life, we’re too corrupt for our own good [1, 2, 3]. The same applies for sport administration—which, of course, is done by the government, and its politicians. (Cricket administration is equally corrupt—they’ve just managed to be rich enough that they can function despite the corruption.)

And at the end, the people who suffer are those who have to perform manual labour, at the cost of their chosen profession, to buy supplies. Pathetic.

Why the stadia are empty

So India is playing a cricket Test-series against West Indies. The latest match was played over this week at Kolkata, at what is traditionally known as a majestic cricket stadium: Eden Gardens. Kolkata is known to be cricket crazy, and mostly knowledgeable and appreciative of good cricket. It is almost taken for granted that whatever be the attendance at other stadia around the world, the Eden Gardens would be packed full for a Test match.

Alas. Eden Gardens was virtually empty. This has got the experts worked up once again, as it has been a concern over the past few years that Test cricket is losing interest and relevance in the modern day and age of T20 cricket.

As is the wont, everyone has jumped on to make an analysis of the situation (as, ahem, I am about to). Of the better of them, Harsha Bhogle quips:

Maybe Test cricket ought to be played by fewer teams; maybe, as has been suggested by some former Australian cricketers, you play less, but better, Test cricket; or maybe you seek to market it more humbly.

All of this, I think, is a case of hacking at the symptoms. The issue, I think, can be summed in one sentence: the focus for all cricket administrators has shifted—instead of trying to keep the game healthy, it’s only about making the most money possible. And no, it’s not one and the same. If you’re trying to make money, you make decisions that hurt you in the long run; if you’re trying to do a good job, the money comes in anyway.

Consider the current series: India is playing WI. When did these teams last meet? Only two series ago! Are the two teams very evenly matched, so that back to back test series, in the two nations, would be exciting? No, West Indies is far, far from its days of being a challenging team. Was there a big difference between the pitches at West Indies and in India, which would test the teams’ talents in different conditions? No, the pitches in West Indies, as well as those in India, are slow, low, and without life.

Why, oh WHY, would then hardworking people flock to see this Test series?

Consider the recent past. India went to England for a long series, comprising all forms of cricket. India came home licking its tail. It won, exactly, nothing. It was a big upset by England, over what is currently a “good” Indian side. Immediately following this series, what happened? England came to India for a series. Again, back to back. Well, in this case at least the teams were both good. But did England play Test cricket when in India? No, they played a bunch of ODIs. What difference did that make?

Why, oh WHY, would then anyone care at all about that series?

Consider the current Indian team. How many players have been on the injury list in the recent past? Look it up, it’ll take you a while to make a list. Virtually everyone has missed series because they are injured—even in the current series, where a bunch of players have returned from injury, Zaheer Khan is out with an injury. When was the last time India played with its first choice XI?

Why, oh WHY, would people throng to support its team, when half the team is injured and unable to play to its full potentials?

The focus, as I said, has shifted from running the game well, to making boatloads of money. Shift the focus back, and watch the difference—

  • Trim the international ODI schedule. Unless the teams are evenly matched, don’t play long ODI series; it become meaningless and farcical.
  • India has stumbled on to the IPL; great! Everyone makes boatloads of money in a short period of time. Keep the international calendar empty before and after the IPL. This allows everyone to participate, without having to miss their national duties, and lets everyone prepare both physically and mentally.
  • Space Test series out. Please, no back to back series between the same two teams! Please, no back to back series with no breaks in between!
  • Stop trying to make “batting wickets”!! Yes, the crowds love adventurous batting. But without a contest, even that becomes predictable and dull. Good batsmen can bat even on challenging tracks—and now it even becomes thrilling!
  • Give players time to rest, recuperate, and recharge their batteries. Cricket is not cricket without its best players!

As with everything else, if the people who run it, and make money out of it, don’t care, it shows. And if no one cares, all the analyses won’t make an iota of difference.

From the same Harsha Bhogle article:

I am increasingly fearful that people talk about the glory of Test cricket like they do about world peace and Mother Teresa: because it is a nice thing to be heard saying.

If you think about it, the line about world peace and Mother Teresa rings true because no one really cares about world peace and poor and destitute children. No wonder!

Make cricket meaningful again; let the fans find a reason to watch. And the stadia will be full once again.

Update: A marquee football (soccer) match (it doesn’t get bigger than East Bengal v. Mohun Bagan in Kolkata football) at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium drew a 90000 strong crowd. As I said, it’s all about meaningful sport. Kolkata is as crazy about cricket too, but they’re a discerning crowd, and the game has to be meaningful.

(HT to Dad for the info about the football game.)

Sourav Ganguly and IPL4

So IPL [1,2] season 4 is under way, and there has been controversy about the non-selection of former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly[3,4,5,6].

Today, however, this video is making the rounds.

Translation:

Host: We’ve had countless phone calls [from fans, asking whether Sourav will ultimately be seen playing IPL4].

Sourav: I think yes, you’ll get to see me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though.

Moreover, there’s this quote from Kochi Tuskers Kerala (KTK) management:

But if there is a need [for a replacement player], we may opt for Ganguly.

KTK, will, of course, lose their captain and star batsman Mahela Jayawardene to his national duties in a few days.

Two things:

1. If KTK can recruit him now, why was there all the drama from BCCI and the other franchises before? To be fair, KTK did show interest in him after the auction, but could not sign him (see links 4,5 above).

2. If he does join KTK, Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan should prepare for completely empty galleries at Eden Gardens. He really should.

But every time I see these stories, there’s always one nagging thought: in addition to all his other engagements, I hope Sourav Ganguly has been practicing very, very hard in the off season. For all his fans and detractors that are shouting for him, at him, and at each other, it’s him who has to take to the field and score at better than run-a-ball.

Even though I’m a big fan, I don’t think he should be playing this season. He’s been away from it all for too long now, even though he scored a bulk of runs last season. Well, he’s done it before – come back from the dead. I hope he does it again.

I’ll be waiting to watch him.

Life of a Football

Everyone’s favorite
The football.

Get together,
Play a game;
The football’s game too:
Isn’t this what fun is about?

Kick it around,
Maul it even.
The football’s still game:
As long as everyone’s happy!

And then the game’s over,
The football’s thrown aside.
Licking its wounds, fighting its miseries:
Alone.

Update: Cricket vs Hockey

Remember my earlier post about Indian hockey players ruing the lack of interest in India about hockey?

Well, guess what has happened since that post (of course, if you are Indian and you follow the news, you probably know). The Indian hockey team has failed to qualify for the Olympics. That’s a first in 80 years. How far more humiliating can it get?

Chak de India, anyone?