The Predicate

Tuesday, 11.03.08

R.I.P, Indian Hockey

"Saddest day for Indian hockey", cried Hindustan Times. "A tragedy of Olympian proportions", noted The Hindu. The Indian hockey team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years. Fifty officials who were planning on a Beijing vacation with their wives and mistresses now will have to just watch the Olympics from their living rooms. The news jolted all avid sports lovers who were surprised that someone in India was still playing hockey. The loss in the qualifiers came as a big shock to even Sania Mirza, who was working towards losing in the third round of the upcoming French Open. L.K.Advani blamed the Manmohan Singh Government for the dismal state of affairs in hockey and claimed that the defeat was because the players didn't want to play for a country that didn't give Vajpayee the Bharat Ratna. The person who seemed to be the most affected was Dev Anand, who was going to play a 23 year old hockey player in an upcoming film in his own direction also starring Rakhi Sawant. CNN-IBN and NDTV had detailed wall-to-wall coverage, both channels trying hard to find anyone who had seen the whole match. Times Now went a step further and announced a prize to anyone who had seen any hockey game live in the past two years.

Complete Article

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balaji - pencil 13:31:00 - Sports - pencil permalink -

Sunday, 09.12.07

Armchair Psychology and the NFL

Armchair psychology is always interesting, especially when we can't muster up enough cells in our brain to think about more important things. It is also something that comes naturally to us - Just look all the tabloids and their analysis of Britney Spears' psyche. We love to reason out and find root causes (Britney must have had terrible experiences in the child seat when she was a kid) and insights into all actions (Surely Dennis Kucinich must have something right in bed to still have that hot girl as his wife).

So, as I was watching all of Sunday's NFL action, I couldn't help but notice that Armchair psychologists were running amok. It all had to do with the undefeated New England Patriots and their dominating win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A quick summary of what happened so far - The Patriots started off the season against the New York Jets. During that game, they got caught "cheating", videotaping the opponents' defense signals. "Beli-cheat" controversy hit the roof and questions were raised about their past seasons and three Super Bowl wins. NFL slapped the coach Belichick with a hefty fine and the team lost a pick in the draft as well. Somehow, this turned out to be a "motivating" factor for Belichick's team, which played off from the allegations about their past performances and seemed determined to prove that they can win without any cheating. So out came one of the most dominating offenses ever.

The Patriots then won game after game by ridiculous margins, running up the score and thoroughly beating teams into submission. Armchair psychologists were quick to point this to the Patriots being driven to prove a point to the world. Article after article reasoned out that the team was hurt by all the cheating rumors and week after week they used it as a motivating tool. Of course, no one said a word about whether their opponents used the same thing to motivate themselves, to prove a point that the Patriots cannot prove any damn point they want to prove.(Whew!)

The turnaround came over the past two weeks when New England barely won their games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore ravens. The team suddenly looked weak, old, couldn't stop the run. Finally a blueprint to defeat this team emerged. They were hobbling and the time was ripe for an upset (as Peter King from Sports Illustrated predicted). During the week, the Patriots went down from 14 pt favorites to 10 pts, a jump that is pretty rare.

The interesting twist came when a peripheral player from the Steelers, Anthony Smith, "guaranteed" a win this week. From the reactions that followed, it looked like he might as well have said that he was Hillary Clinton's illegitimate son. Armchair psychologists thought that the Patriots would use to motivate themselves, and that this would give them the advantage over the Steelers, as if, if not for the guarantee, the Steelers would be giving the Patriots a run for their money.

As it turned out today, New England thoroughly outplayed Pittsburgh, routing them 34-13. They specially handed out some humble pie to Anthony Smith, who probably won't even speak about a guarantee in his life again. Armchair psychologists were thrilled. "Do not taunt the Patriots, Steelers found out the hard way", wrote SI's Don Banks. So, just some fringe player saying that he guarantees a win was enough to make a difference to an otherwise billed to be a close game, if not an upset? Hah, that's armchair psychology for you.

If Patriots got "motivated" and irritated with this guarantee taunt, and used it to bring out their best, as the media projected all week long, why didn't the Steelers do likewise? Why didn't the Steelers put this up on their bulletin board and motivate themselves to make the guarantee true? Why were they not determined to stop the Patriots? They had more riding on this game than their opponents. A victory here, combined with a Colts loss might have given then a second seed in the playoffs, crucial to a team that has been underperforming on road all season long. So, if anything, the Steelers should have been motivated by this guarantee thing and should have brought their A game to the table. So much for motivation.

Picking Steelers to win the game, Peter King wrote one of the reasons was "Hines Ward's will to win. The dude leads the league in it." Hines Ward ended up with 4 receptions for 39 yards. Why didn't his "will to win" motivate the Steelers enough to win? (Never mind the rarity of a wide receiver making or breaking the game).

Of course, these angles are always conveniently forgotten when it comes to armchair psychology. The win should be attributed just to the fact that the Patriots are a vastly superior team, better coached and with better talent. Pittsburgh is just a poor team on the road. All this talk about added motivation is just baloney. It just reminds me of the innumerable times in movies when the young hero, a student, would make a promise to his mother that he will finish his studies in flying colors and bring respect to the family/avenge his father's death/prove a point to the world/bring them out of poverty. The next scene would invariably show the hero running into the home with a gold medal or an outrageously big cup in his hands and would exclaim, "Look Mom, I've won the gold medal!" Ah, the rewards for getting motivated!

And I would be sitting there, just wondering what happened to all the other students in his graduating class who probably made similar promises to their mothers! For once, will a hero run in and say, "Look Mom, I won the silver medal, the gold medal went to a boy who made twice as many promises"?

Hmm.. may be the powers of motivation only help the Patriots and the gold medal winning heroes.

- Balaji Srinivasan.

balaji - pencil 16:09:32 - Sports - pencil permalink -

Wednesday, 24.05.06

Barry Bonds

Tags: Barry Bonds, baseball, Giants.

Where were you when Barry Bonds hit Home Run No.715 yesterday against the Cardinals? I was at the Giants ball park, right field, with my son watching the first live baseball game of his life. What a way to be a part of history.

Oh, well.

We did go to the Giants game last night, but Barry Bonds remained stuck on 714. No passing the Babe in that game. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Instead, we saw Albert Pujols hit yet another homer, his league-leading 23rd of the season. Thanks for not hitting that big homer, Barry. Thanks for nothing.

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balaji - pencil 00:07:00 - Sports - pencil permalink -

Thursday, 09.02.06

The sport of strained similes

David Salter writing in The Australian has a great article on sports writers and their similes.

THERE'S nothing in print journalism quite so silly as pretentious sport writing.

Here's Peter Roebuck, cricket columnist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, describing Damien Martyn as he "threw his bat with the abandon more often seen on the decks of ocean liners as the band strikes up and the boat starts to sink". Out at the tennis his Fairfax colleague Richard Hinds found the prospect of one match "about as enticing as sticking your head in the tournament laundry bag after an extreme heat day". What a fine pair of wordsmiths.

He goes on to give more examples. Peter Reobuck's cricket articles are usually pretty banal, but his similes are apparently quite extravagant.

Hinds mused that Kim Clijsters looks at Martina Hingis's second serve "like a rottweiler looks at a T-bone steak". Roebuck countered with the equally carnivorous "as comfortable as a slab of sirloin on a vegan's table" (referring to the Sri Lankan top order). Lame phrase-making for its own sake, from laptop jockeys enchanted by their own cleverness.
No allusion is too remote for this pair of sporting smarty-pants. Hinds: "had her back massaged more often than a IOC official in a city bidding for the Olympics", "wider than Kim Beazley's mouth at a parliamentary smorgasbord", and "the staying power of a pair of post-apocalyptic cockroaches". Roebuck: "ran between wickets like a man fleeing Lee Van Cleef", "harder to read than Finnegans Wake", and "as thin on the ground as hair on a leg spinner's head". How these soggy similes survived the sub-editor's desk is a mystery.

Read the whole article. It is quite funny. It is too bad that David Salter doesn't read Nirmal Shekhar!

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 10:03:28 - Sports - pencil permalink -

Monday, 30.01.06

Federer, Anand and more

1. Viswanathan Anand won Corus tournament for the fifth time yesterday. With that win, his ELO rating crosses 2800 for the first time in his career. This is a big moment in Anand's career. Crossing 2800 is a magnificient achievement. I think, over the years Indians have taken Anand and his achievements for granted. We don't appreciate him enough, for what he has done and achieved. He has stayed in the top of the rung for so long now. He is just the fourth person in history to cross 2800. I picture him as the lone Indian against the onslaught of Russian/East-European chess machines, going on and on, year after year, scaling new peaks and constantly improving his game. Since he made it big, Chess became a big fad in India, but the fact that no one has even come close to Anand's stature shows how ahead of the pack he is. That said, I frequently read articles on Anand's tournaments and somehow, PTI and UNI constantly refer him as the "NIIT brand Ambassador". Wonder why. Why do they find it necessary to mention in a chess article that Anand endorses NIIT? Will they refer to Tendulkar everytime as the "Boost promoter"?

2. Roger Federer won the Australian Open and no one batted an eyelid. I missed watching the match live Saturday night. Early Sunday morning, while driving, I was listening to Fox Sports Radio and ESPN, and it took more than half an hour and a couple of sports bulletins before they mentioned in passing that Federer won. I know Tennis is not popular enough, but the lack of coverage and emphasis on Federer's performance was disappointing. Watch out, Federer is on his way to become one of the best Tennis players ever. He has won more titles than other superstars of the game like Becker, Edberg. His win-loss record in each of the past four years is 12-0, 81-4, 74-6 and 78-17.

3. Enough with Jerome Bettis and his homecoming and his parents and all that.

4. I don't really care for who wins the Superbowl. I will probably just catch the highlights of the game instead of sitting through a six hour ad-fest.

5. After pre-season hype and optimism that this will be the year of the Warriors turnaround, it is back to familiar turf. Warriors are losing as usual, Byron Davis & co are not heading to the playoffs, they have a losing record yet again, and talking heads are quickly jumping off the bandwagon. May be next year.. May be with a different coach.. Anyway, I will be going to the Spurs-Warriors game this thursday.

6. Winter Olympics.. huh, whatizzit?

7. On the India-Pakistan series:
a. The series has not been worth the hype.
b. They should ban the use of heavy rollers at each innings break. The pitch yesterday was behaving very differently when Pakistan came to bat. This causes unfair advantage for the home team.
c. There should be a ban on the likes of Moin Khan from writing syndicated articles.
d. Let's skip the ODIs, I can't wait for the India-Eng Tests to start.
e. Gambhir, Jaffer and Parthiv Patel, hope you guys did at least a good amount of sightseeing.
f. Apparently, Shoaib Akthar's action has gone from bad to worse. It is high time chuckers are sent out of the game.
g. Irfan Pathan's first over hat-trick not withstanding, I think he is still a disappointment as a bowler. If Zaheer Khan gets his act right and Balaji gets healthy again, let Pathan stay as a batting allrounder!
h. Yuvraj/Ganguly will have competition from Mohd.Kaif, especially if Kaif leads his team to victory in the Ranji Trophy finals (Kaif scored 92 yesterday against Bengal).

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 17:14:07 - Sports - pencil permalink - [01.02.06 07:43]
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