Monday, July 30, 2012

Indian hockey team not carrying any baggage of medal expectations

One thing Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbs would be heaving a sigh of relief about is the lack of baggage of expectations his team would carry into the London Olympics. Given India’s glorious run at the Olympics (won 8 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals), expectations have been invariably sky-high every time our hockey team steps onto the Olympic arena. 

However, India’s ignominy of not qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (for the first time in its history) – a significant low the sport witnessed – diluted the enthusiasm and interest among all and sundry. However, the clinical fashion in which India qualified for the 2012 Olympics has once again ignited renewed interest in the sport.

Although hockey has once again started to grab the public eyeballs, every hockey fan’s expectation is now tinged with pragmatism. We all know that hockey has changed a lot over the years. Natural grass (where India dominated world hockey) was replaced by synthetic turf, which also brought about a steady decline in India’s Olympic fortunes.

Now the line of thought in Indian hockey circles is that the Olympics should serve as a springboard for our team to regain its lost glory. No doubt, just about everybody would be overflowing with excitement at the lip-smacking prospect of India making a medal finish at London but there is something called ‘Reality Check’ which convinces us that this team can only spring a mighty surprise by achieving a podium finish.

There are hushed whispers that the Indian team’s performance can be termed ‘creditable’ if they can find a spot in the top-6. Indeed, a top-6 finish would be a huge confidence-booster for India and also sow the seeds of our arrival in the top-3 of world hockey sooner than latter.

On so many occasions we have seen teams deliver their best when they have nothing to lose and the same applies for India. This might work in our favour as they can play with a free mind sans the fear of losing and with any self-induced pressure.

The Bharat-Chetri-led side with the world’s best half-back Sardara Singh; one of the world’s lethal drag-flickers Sandeep Singh and two of the zippiest forwards – Shivendra Singh and SV Sunil – is certainly not short on experience.

India has this tendency to lose their opening match at Olympic almost on a consistently in recent times. Given such a scenario, India’s opening game against Netherlands would determine whether the team under Nobbs has been able to rectify the shortfalls that have dogged us for long, and made any significant improvements that can see us once again emerge as a world hockey powerhouse.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will Rohit Sharma be the biggest waste of talent in Indian cricket?

They say possessing talent is one thing and fulfilling it is quite another. Indian cricketer Rohit Sharma pretty much falls in the former bracket and often evokes apprehensions of a talent going down the drain. For someone as naturally gifted as Rohit, it’s been a tale of frustration not just for him, but also for his fans and Indian cricket at large.

The million-dollar question every Indian cricket buff wants to ask is when would our national selectors run out of patience with Rohit? For how long are the selectors going to persist with him at the expense of not blooding other promising players, say someone like Manoj Tiwary who has been warming the benches for a long time after scoring a century the last time he played for India? Quite obviously, the selectors cannot incessantly toe the 'looking-at-the future' line by sticking with Rohit under the guise of giving him a fair crack of the whip.

The Mumbai lad has become an epitome of inconsistency – so frequently we are witness to his flashes of brilliance only to be followed by despair, only to again see our spirits lifted by brilliance combined with a flatter-to-deceive act.

The biggest problem with Rohit’s batting has been his inability to put a price tag on his wicket. He so often gives out a feeling that he has all the shots in the book and can employ them as he wishes without deciding the merit of the ball. There is no question about his wide repertoire of shots he possesses but he must understand that playing the right shot at the right time is the key for a success recipe.

Rohit should also guard against playing unwarranted loose shots early on in his innings. So many times we have seen him chuck away his wicket rather than bowlers really prising him out. He should eschew all these airy-fairy shots and would do well to bring out his full range once he gets his eye in.

  Importantly, Rohit has this knack of picking boundaries off even good balls, and that explains why he should be steer clear of reckless shots at the start of his innings.

Cricket can be such a great leveller. Only eight months back it was this same Rohit, who could hardly put a foot wrong. The ODI series at home saw Rohit unleash his talents on West Indies – he amassed 305 runs, averaging 76.25 with a best of 95.

More than the runs scored, the manner in which Rohit accumulated them were more pleasing to the eye – only underpinning the precocious talents he has. So, when he warmed the benches during the Test series against Australia, there were strong calls from all quarters for his inclusion in the starting XI, something that never happened as one Virat Kohli choose to stamp his presence in the Test arena.

The prolonged period of being consigned to the sidelines (sitting in the reserves during the four-match Test series) seemed to dent his confidence. It showed in the Commonwealth Bank Series, where he did not appear all that convincing. He averaged 15.80, scoring mere 79 runs off five games, averaging 15.80 before he was axed for the final three games.

The 2012 Asia Cup wasn’t exactly a tourney where he hit the high notes. Save for a fine 68 against Pakistan, Rohit didn’t quite set the tournament on fire.

With the season not panning out the way as he would have desired, India’s A tour of West Indies was a perfect opportunity to brush aside the cobwebs of inconsistency.

A similar story unfolded. Save for a 94 in the first innings of the first unofficial Test, Rohit floundered in his next five innings.

Though nobody is saying it on record, the ongoing ODI series against Sri Lanka was a make-or-break chance for Rohit Sharma to cement his spot in the side. Bu his batting woes in the five-match ODI series may only enhance the decibel levels of Rohit-bashers.

After all, we all want Rohit to do justice to his immense potential and not pan out to be the biggest waste of talent in Indian cricket – something we shudder to think!