Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar - That big question

Writing about Sachin Tendulkar is one of the hardest things to do. On the one hand, I grew up watching cricket in an age where in most games, Sachin's batting decided the result. On the other hand, it has been a painful experience watching him, woefully short of form, scratching about against the likes of Monty Panesar and the Kiwis.

That said, if anyone knows how to work himself out of a bad patch, it is Sachin Tendulkar. For evidence, we need only rewind to Sydney, 2004, where he made that brilliantly attritional 241. Even more encouraging in this regard, is the way he tackled his poor form - by omitting the cover drive throughout that innings.

This brings us to that question - when should Sachin Tendulkar hang up his boots. The answer is actually quite simple. His boots are his own to hang up, so to speak. Nobody can walk up to Sachin Tendulkar (or any player for that matter) and tell him to retire. A player can be dropped, of course. But retirement is a personal choice. This may seem like a technicality, but it is not. If a 37 year old batsman was dropped, went back to the Ranji trophy and rattled off a series of centuries, I would not be completely against him making his way back to the team. This brings us to Sachin Tendulkar.

Like half the cricket fans on twitter seem eager to point out, Sachin Tendulkar is no ordinary batsman. They are absolutely correct. Sachin Tendulkar is a Demigod, plain and simple. Should Sachin Tendulkar be able to pick and choose when to retire? As I said above, retirement is entirely upto him, so yes. This brings us to the unfortunate group of 'wise' men - The selectors. You see, Sachin Tendulkar's job is to worry about Sachin Tendulkar's cricket. As much as we fans would love cricketers to think about the future of the team, it is an impractical expectation. Which is why we have selectors.

Unfortunately for India, the selectors have a history of not planning beyond the next match or the next series. This poses a huge problem. Nobody seems to know what Sachin's plans are. Is this home season his swansong? Is he planning to stay till South Africa? Is he thinking about the Champions Trophy next year? This is where I have a problem.

I love Sachin. When I was 8 years old, I watched him make mincemeat of Shane Warne (live) in this game. It was my first live cricket experience (that I can remember), and he has played a major part in many such experiences since. I would love to see him torment the Australians at Chepauk one last time. That makes it hurt to say this. If Sachin Tendulkar does not plan on making the trip to South Africa, I believe that the 4th test against England, in Nagpur, should be his last. Here is why.

When Sachin retires, I assume that his spot will be taken by one among Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Subramanian Badrinath or Rohit Sharma. Not one of these batsman has ever had more than a couple of games exposure. Handing over a spot in the middle order to one of these batsman in South Africa, on bouncy and/or green tracks, against what is in my opinion the best pace attack in the world, would be a huge mistake. So, if one of these batsmen is to play in South Africa, I hope the selectors have the foresight to blood them in the Australia series. Which means the selectors need to bite the bullet and replace Sachin in the Australia series. On the other hand if Sachin plans to go to South Africa, I would hope that form is a major criteria in that decision. In that situation, it would be prudent of the selectors to take a call on Sachin's place at the end of the England series.

Ultimately though, if Sachin wants to play the Australia series and bow out at home, the selectors have one question to answer. Who is more important - Sachin Tendulkar or Team India? If they believe Sachin is above Team India and let him play out a complete swansong, I will cheer wildly for him at Chepauk. But, deep down I will be disappointed. Some part of me wants to believe that in a team sport, the team counts above an individual, even if that individual is Sachin Tendulkar.

If such a situation does present itself, do the selectors have the strength to make the toughest decision in Indian cricket? Do the selectors have the courage to make the tough (and right) call that will infuriate a large chunk of cricket fans in the country? Going by the history of the 'wise' men, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cleveland Cavaliers - The Return

The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has always had a history of cruel moments in sport, so much so that it’s put down to a curse. “The Catch” (video here), “The Drive” (video here), “The Fumble” (video here) and of course Michael Jordan's "The Shot" (video here) – Four famous phrases that you may want to avoid when you visit the Cleveland area. On July 8, 2010, another body blow was delivered - “The Decision”. He was the Messiah who was supposed to deliver this cursed city a championship. He was the King, a hero of the masses, the son of the state. He turned his back on his people. LeBron James left.

To put the effect LeBron had on Cleveland with his departure in words, is not something that is entirely feasible. The effect on the Cavaliers was evident. The owner, Dan Gilbert, came out with an ill-advised rant (famously using the “Comic Sans” font). The Cavaliers broke to pieces. Suddenly, the support cast of a championship contending team, showed exactly what they were - a support cast without a star to support.
It’s been two hard losing seasons since, and the Cavaliers are well on their way to a third. But, as they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. In the years since LeBron left the city, the Cavaliers management (thankfully) did not look for temporary fixes. They did not try to create a playoff team capable of staying relevant. Instead, they chose to break it all up.

Kyrie Irving, the star point guard from Duke University’s, Mike Krzyzewski coached, assembly line of a team and the talented Canadian Power Forward Tristan Thompson, were picked up in the 2011 NBA Draft, before the lockout. Joining them in the 2012 draft, were Dion Waiters, a talented sophomore shooting guard from Syracuse and the seasoned college center Tyler Zeller of North Carolina. The Cavs have found their core.

The Oklahoma City Thunder built a championship contender around three big draft picks – Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Portland nearly built a similarly strong team around Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden and Nicolas Batum. However, injuries would go on to deflate the Trailblazers. The fact of the matter is, every great team needs a solid core. Occasionally, you will get a team like the current Denver Nuggets side, with a deep roster and no real identifiable core. But rarely, will such a team win a championship. When you think back to all the great sides over history, there has always been a key set of players who hold the key to the franchise’s fortunes.

In Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Zeller, the Cavaliers have assembled the talent they need to contend in the future. In Byron Scott, they have a coach who started for the “Showtime” Lakers side of the 80s, alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. He will also be able to draw upon the experience of coaching Chris Paul, and help Irving develop into a potent force. A strict disciplinarian, and a demanding coach, there could hardly be a better choice of coach, to mentor a group of young budding stars.

Additionally, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson are lucky to be lining up alongside Anderson Varejao. Varejao may not be among the biggest names in the NBA, but you would have to really strain your grey cells, to think of a better big man defender of the pick and roll, than the Brazilian big man nicknamed “Wild Thing”. Varejao came to the league limited as an offensive player. But over time, using his ability to pull down offensive rebounds, and by developing his mid range jumper, Varejao has shown the work ethic and professionalism needed to survive in this league. The 2 young big men could hardly do worse than look to Big Andy as a mentor.

For Cavaliers fans, the past undoubtedly still hurts. The present probably makes things worse. But hope is on the horizon. Another losing season could mean the Cavs landing a lottery pick in the 2013 draft and in the process another talented youngster. Add that to a core of Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Varejao and Zeller, and the future is bright. As a fan of the Cavaliers, I will be waiting in patience along with the other Cavs fans around, with a large dose of hope and optimism, for the Cavaliers re-emergence at the top of the NBA. It's almost time to add to "The Drive", "The Catch", "The Fumble", "The Shot" and "The Decision" with something a lot more positive - "The Return".