Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hyperbole about a superlative athlete

More often than not, sportswriters go overboard in their praise of athletes. No matter how fleeting a person's claim to fame may be, the norm these days is to refer to them as "stars", though they are probably more suited to be slotted in the "shooting" kind. Sometimes, however, the article can be informative while still having an adulatory tone.

Roger Federer is an exceptionally talented athlete and tennis player. My admiration for his game goes up everytime I watch him. And it appears that this view is shared by many. One among them is David Foster Wallace, of the New York Times, who wrote a detailed and elaborate piece on Federer. However, unlike most other fluff pieces, if you sift away the gushing words, there is still a lot of enlightening stuff about the man nicknamed the Federer-express.

And additionally informative are the footnotes of the article, which in itself have little nuggets that are interesting to read.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The efficient engine that could

Greg Maddux has had a resurgence in his pitching since he was traded to the LA Dodgers. Here is an article that dissects his most recent performance - an 8 inning, 68 pitch, no result mini-masterpiece - and checks how it stacks up with the best of them, and finds that it comes out quite favourable, actually.

(Cautionary note: if you do not follow baseball, the article is not for you).

Stalking by any other name

Here is a semi tongue-in-cheek article about that diffident and reticent hero of mine - Graeme Hick. Just like Greg Maddux, a mid-season slump has been replaced a little more authority in his recent performances, giving all of us fans of both players hope that there is still some life left in their sporting careers.

And then there were 12

When humans set their mind to it, they can do almost anything. For decades we have been informed that there are 9 planets in our solar system, with Pluto occupying a very special place, inspite of its highly elliptical and off-plane orbit. But if you thought it was set in stone, you were dead wrong. With one meeting of many minds, the International Astronomical Union's specially appointed Planet Definition Committee has decreed that the definition of a planet needs to be revised. Actually, it appears that a planet has never been properly (scientifically) defined and the PDC has put together a proper definition. This definition is also just as arbitrary, but who are we to comment on this? Anyway, this is the gist of the new definition:
(A planet is ) an object...massive enough that gravity has formed it into a sphere and that it circles a star and not some other planet.
With that one decision we now have 12 planets in our solar system. I wouldn't rush to re-write the astronomy books, if I were you. I doubt that this change will be accepted without a little bit of discussion and a vote scheduled for August 24th. In the end, honestly, who cares if we have 9 or 12 planets, except for astronomers and astrologers, of which I am neither.

Window dressing or sneak preview

The BCCI announced the 30 probables for the Champions Trophy to be held later this year in India. Some former ODI stars have been named - principally Ganguly, Kumble, and Laxman.

The feeling I get is that of these three, only Kumble has a realistic shot of playing the Champions Trophy or the World Cup next year. The selectors have quietly avoided controversy by keeping these players in the frame, but are unlikely to pull them back into the actual team.

This does not stop the players from dreaming. Not surprisingly, a reporter was assigned to find out what VVS Laxman thinks of his chances and, once again not surprisingly, Laxman gives the expected responses. In my opinion he can have a strong influence on India's fate in the World Cup and should not be dropped any further.

(If you disagree with my opinion, please just skip this and go on to the next post. I know all the objections that can be raised and I believe his ability to win matches surpass all those negatives).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two sides of a coin

My favourite gridiron football player (National Football League) has always been Troy Aikman. Others like Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Kurt Warner, Randy Moss, and Marc Bulger have occupied my interest but I still rate Aikman as being higher than any of the others. He was the reason I started watching the NFL during the mid-90's.

This past weekend, at the early age of 39, Aikman was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame on his first attempt. While his numbers are not as gaudy as John Elway, Brett Favre or Dan Marino, I have no doubt that he belongs there with them. He was known for his clutch play (not as impressive as Joe Montana or Tom Brady but close enough) and ability to stay calm under the most intense of rushes.

Here is a nice piece about the man, his main accomplishments, and how he got to where he is today.

Not surprisingly, there is a set of individuals who feel that Aikman benefited from the system he was in, the players he was surrounded with, and most crucially, good fortune. Here is a typical article that espouses this point of view, this time by Skip Bayless.

I don't mind the other point of view, actually. Those folks are entitled to their opinion as much as I am entitled to mine, especially as they make some very relevant points along the way.

What I find interesting is the cause-and-effect aspect of all this. Was Aikman lucky that he was surrounded by talent? Or was his presence the glue that made the talent stand out? If he had played on another team, would he have won so many games? Or conversely, would he have been touted as the hero who turned the fortunes of a different franchise by his play? We can never separate the two entities and discussion like this will go on forever.

Either way, Aikman is rightly in the Hall of Fame and I am glad I got to see over half of his glory years at the helm of the dominant Cowboy team.

Not-so-different strokes

Virender Sehwag's batting is not from the coaching manual. He hardly moves his feet and relies mostly on a still head and amazing hand-eye coordination. Yet, he has forged an already impressive record in Test cricket.

Ironically, the very characterisitics that define his batting style, while defying the purist's views, are what holds him in good stead in a different sport. A sport where yelling four (fore, actually) is NOT a good thing. Yes, Virender Sehwag likes to golf, and better yet, the man is supposedly quite good at it, too.

I enjoy watching him bat, but this little nugget has just nudged him a little higher in my esteeem. After all a man who understands what golf is about has to have some substance in him!!

To sell a few copies more

Stoking fires where even embers do not exist appears to be the way to sell news stories these days.

Sanjay Manjrekar, in his capacity as a member of the media, wrote an article wherein he wondered whether Tendulkar's recent dip in fortunes had to do with his fear of failing. The criticism leveled at Manjrekar for writing this was appalling, to say the least. Rather than questioning his statements, most of the critics attacked the man and mocked his authority to raise the issue.

Similarly John Wright, in his soon-to-be-released autobiography, raised a few pertinent points about the policies and motives of some of the selectors of the Indian cricket team. Not surprisingly, he has raised the ire of quite a few folks. Though, in the case of Ashok Malhotra, the lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Sambit Bal wrote a must-read article that puts all this hoopla into the right perspective and shows us what this is all about - the need to create controversy where none exists simply because bland statements do not generate revenue these days.

So long and thank you

There are just a few weeks left in the professional tennis career of Andre Agassi. To honour the man and what he has meant to the sport, especially in the recent past, the official website of the ATP Tour pays a very generous tribute to him.

While on this, most news stations are reporting that Andre is retiring from tennis, which is an absurd statement to make. In reality he is retiring from his life as a professional tennis player. I sincerely doubt that he will never pick up a racquet again, as the reported term implies.

And yes, I have already purchased tickets to watch tennis at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday, September 4th. I trust that Agassi survives the first week of the US Open. For if he does he is definitely going be the featured singles match that night and I hope to be able to tell my grandchildren about the experience some day.