Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sports unlimited

This Sunday there was an overdose of good sporting action on the sports channels, notably the ESPN Star Sports duo. After several hours of mind numbing re-runs of the precious few India victories on the cricket field it was a real pleasure to watch three good matches of three different sporting disciplines.

1) The Afro Asian Cup match three: For a tournament that was held with the grandiose promise of “Cricket for Unity” to raise funds for the development of Africa cricket, I wonder how much money was actually raised judging by the sparse crowd that turned up for all the matches and near absence of advertisements that indicated acute apathy to a “showpiece event”. The fact that many of the “superstars” were absent did not rob the final match (in fact the entire tournament) of some thrilling moments. After Shaun Pollock came so agonizingly close to winning one match single handed, the third match was played purely for African pride having already lost the series. The African skipper Justin Kemp after almost going to sleep during the middle overs woke up at the end of the 34th over to realize that his team was in pursuit of yet another 300+ score. Maybe Shaun Pollock gave him a kick up his backside on the sly or maybe he just woke up by himself a flurry of boundaries brought the Africans agonizingly close to victory only to run out of overs to achieve the target. “Early to bed and early to rise…” may make you win a match Mr. Kemp. So Asia huffed and puffed after one slam-bang century by Dhoni and another poetic effort by Jayawardhene the victory was achieved by only 13 runs.

2) The French Open Men’s final: As the newspaper put it, this was a match between two men, one on the thresh hold of history and the other simply trying to get some more silverware to deck up his mantelpiece
(a 3 piece set). To those who missed it, it was the much awaited clash between the Spanish Matador (or is it the Spanish bull?) Rafael Nadal the world No 2 and the FedEx the Master himself Roger Federer world No 1. The commentators repeated that Nadal considered Roland Garros as his second home not dissimilar to Federer who loves Wimbledon. After the first 6 tight games the matador broke the master's serve and promptly wrapped up the set. He went on to loose the second set courtesy a break of serve and surrendered it by 4 games to 6. When it seemed that all seemed even the matador reached deep within himself and found huge reserves of self belief, stamina and whatever he needed to wrap up the match in over 3 hours. Having watched the FedEx steam roll his opponents with sublime skill and beautiful all court play it was with a wicked streak of delight that I watched him being dismantled by Nadal, but good players become great by doing that much more than others and so the French open will not elude Federer for too long. It was a wonderful match and a fitting finale to the tournament.

3) The Canadian Grand Prix: I did see history being made at Montreal the same night (actually it was early morning on Monday IST) when the wonder kid and the rookie of the year of the F1 world Lewis Hamilton claimed his first ever win in an incident or rather accident filled race. After 5 consecutive podium finishes in his first five races of his F1 career it did not need any expert to predict that the big one was just ahead and it was only a matter of time. And so it was sixth time lucky, well luck is such injustice to a perfect drive that Hamilton showed the world. On the other hand Fernando Alonso the two time champion seemed to have some weird liking for the grass on the kerbs and kept making repeated passes over the kerb almost like he was driving a motorized lawn mover and not a F1 car. Having been an Alonso fan, simply because of his daring driving skills my loyalty has promptly jumped over to Hamilton. As Michael Jackson said “It don’t matter if your black or white” Hamilton is the first black to win a F1 race proclaims the Western media, colour be damned, it simply doesn’t matter and a day will come when the first brown (Indian) will win a F1 race too. When nearly one third of the pack kept piling their cars with monotonous regularity on the walls of the race track Hamilton drove one of the most composed races seen recently leading from the pole to the finish. Nico Rosberg was involved in one of the most horrific crashes televised and he survived partly due to the robust cars that are in F1. Though the podium winners raised a few eyebrows,especially the presence of Alex Wurz (who I’m told made his debut in the same place a decade ago) having started from 19th ended 3rd, partly from good fortune and also a good team strategy. Incidentally the Williams are powered by the Toyota engines and yet the Toyota team had the usual dismal performance! (Maybe Mallya will rethink his sponsorship of the team) . But my moment of the evening was the absolutely stunning pass that Takuma Sato of the Super Aguri Honda team made over Alonso. Having watched Alonso do this to many others seeing him at the receiving end was so wickedly delightful. Now please note that Sato pulled off this manoeuvre with a Honda powered car while Jenson Button driving the Honda team car never even left the starting line!

Sports can be a great leveler.

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