Is DRS a game changer or a necessary evil?

In the year #1945 the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of #Hiroshima and #Nagasaki. The effects were disastrous in both places with thousands of civilians killed and many other injured but for many who defended this controversial move it was a #NecessaryEvil. For it was done for greater good, the end of the #WorldWar. Sure enough within 10 days of the Nagasaki bombing Japan surrendered signalling the end of War. Point being that sometimes tough decisions have to be taken while looking at the larger picture, cliched as that sounds. And change is something that is inevitable as time passes by. Talking of change, it is something that the game of cricket has been averse to and the connoisseurs have often scoffed at attempts to usher in modern technology. When #ODI cricket first made it’s appearance thanks to visionary media mogul, #KerryPacker the purists were dismissive calling it #PyjamaCricket. Now we all know who is having the last laugh on that one.

Likewise when the #ThirdUmpire was first brought into the fray (in the #1990s) not many were pleased least of all the onfield umpires many of whom felt that the role of such an officiating authority must be as minimal as possible. Not surprisingly, controversy broke out when the DRS also known as #UDRS (short for Umpire Decision Review System) was proposed to be introduced in the longer version of the game that is Test match cricket. The DRS gave players the opportunity to get umpiring decisions(that they deemed to be wrong) to be reviewed. Those supporting DRS talked of umpiring errors that had quite inadvertently changed the course of a match and argue that when there is technology available why not make use of it? It was first tried in #2008, in a Test series between two sides from the subcontinent India and #SriLanka. Though most #Cricket boards agreed to start using DRS technology, India strongly opposed DRS.

The fact that India opposed DRS was worrisome for the game what with the Indian board being one of the most cash rich cricket boards of the world and the team itself drawing huge crowds wherever they went. India’s contention was that DRS was ineffective if it only relied upon #BallTracking (they felt the one field umpires had a better view) and it needed to incorporate others like the #HawkEye, #HotSpot & #Snickometer into the mix for decision making to be more accurate. Both the above mentioned are handy tools in determining where the ball hit the batsman, the bat or the pads. And if it was both then which was first. And with the rule being that both teams had to agree for DRS to be used in a series India’s refusal to use it was a matter of worry for the ICC (the world body of cricket) There are those who question the need for having a limit on the number of reviews per innings and/or match. And some who argue that DRS further diminishes the role of onfield umpires.

Some argue that DRS goes against one of the basic tenets of cricket, that the benefit of doubt in any tight decision must go to the batsman. But fact is cricket, as it is played right now is
already batsman friendly so one rule that helps bowlers cannot be all that bad. Fortunately in the last decade since DRS first came into the game technology has grown astonishingly and DRS in it’s revamped avatar is getting a large number of decisions spot on. Additionally using DRS in real time has only helped the administrators of the game understand shortcomings in the system. So that it is tweaked accordingly. As of 2017 the DRS is still a work in progress, albeit making good progress. So much so that umpires having an off day can get caught on camera. Ask former Sri Lankan offie and umpire #KumaraDharmasena.

Pullela Gopichand – The man with the Midas Touch

The year was #1997. Arguably India’s finest shuttler #PrakashPadukone was on a rampage against the #BAI (Badminton Association of India) and in a rebellion that was backed by all the players formed the #IBC (Indian Badminton Confederation) The reason being that those at the helm of affairs seemed to treating it like their own personal fiefdom. It was also alleged that there was widespread corruption and nepotism in the sport. Players were not being given world class practice facilities and denied the international exposure that was essential in producing world beaters. And with the dismal results in top international tournaments over the last decade and more, the writing was on the wall. #Badminton, in the country was down in the dumps. So when Pullela Gopichand won the #AllEnglandOpen (considered the #OscarAwards of badminton) in #2001 it was completely unexpected. More so because Gopi had undergone three surgeries on his left knee in recent years which is perhaps why he lost quite tamely in the pre quarter finals of the #SydneyOlympics an year earlier. But clearly Gopi had other ideas.

Today almost two decades later, his proteges #HSPrannoy and #SrikanthKidambi have both entered the last 4 stage of the prestigious #IndonesianOpen. This is while the girls coached by him, #SainaNehwal and PV Sindhu (both had surprising early exits in the same tourney) have both gone to win Olympic medals for the country – a cherished dream which Gopi failed to achieve during his own playing career. It has been a long and arduous journey for the champion shuttler ever since he hung up his boots in the year #2003. Looking at the terrible situation that the sport was in, he decided to take up coaching and was soon named the #ChiefCoach of the Indian team. But this move did not go down well with many. After all he was self taught. As a result many senior players refused to train under him. Also Gopi realised while coaching the wards that there was one big drawback which was hampering the growth of Indian players. A world class facility.

Gopi felt he had to take things into his own hands i.e., start an #Academy of his own. But it was
easier said than done and he ran into difficulties in raising the funds necessary. Many corporates felt that badminton was simply not a sport that could attract eyeballs. And lest we forget ours is a #Cricket obsessed country. After five years of struggle, Gopi decided to put it all on the line by mortgaging his family home which finally helped him get the funds needed to start the Gopichand Academy in his native city of #Hyderabad. The year was #2008. Naysayers calling it a self destructive move were forced to shut up and take notice when a 16 year old Saina Nehwal who he had been coaching since 2004 started winning tournaments everywhere. Saina rose to become the first ever Indian world no 1 and her proudest moment came with the bronze medal at the #LondonOlympics in 2012. Life had come a full circle for Gopi.Pullela Gopichand

But the success did not come without it’s fair share of controversies. Critics point out that he seemed inept at achieving the same kind of success with the doubles players. To make matter worse, top doubles player #JwalaGutta openly accused Gopichand of being biased towards singles players (read Saina) In 2014 his star protege Saina split up with Gopi because she felt his training was not ‘upto the mark’. But even before the dust around the controversy could settle down a new name had emerged from the Gopichand stable – Sindhu. In the next couple of years, Sindhu rose rapidly through the ranks and did one better than Saina by winning a silver in last year’s Olympics. Now with the men from his Academy making waves internationally, Gopi has proven it yet again. That he is the man with the Midas touch.

Federer does a Jack Nicklaus, reignites the GOAT debate

Widely regarded as the greatest golfer to have played the game, the ‘Golden Bear’ as #JackNicklaus is fondly called, won a staggering 18 career majors. On Sunday night Swiss tennis legend #RogerFederer belied his years to do a Houdini of sorts and win his eighteenth Grand Slam at Australia. Against seemingly insurmountable odds. There were at least three other players who were all playing as good or better than him – The Serbian #NovakDjokovic (currently world no 1) the British Andy Murray (No 2 in world rankings) and of course his bete noire, the indefatigable Spanish #RafaelNadal. The Big Four of world tennis. But unlike the others, the last time Roger won a Grand Slam was five years back at the Wimbledon. An year ago Federer lost a fierce battle with Djokovic in the semifinals at the same Rod Laver arena. And worse Roger tore his knee during the defeat for which he had to undergo surgery afterwards. Surely this was the end of the road.

The trouble had started much earlier. A shocking fourth round exit at the US Open in 2013 to an unheralded Spanish player was the precursor. That year was the first in over a decade when Federer did not enter any of the Grand Slam finals. And before long he had dropped to a career low of seven in rankings. The ‘Djoker’ with a dozen Grand Slams was snapping at his heels and more pertinently had age on his side too. If it was any consolation, the man nearest to Federer with 14 (Grand Slam titles won) Nadal last won in 2014. And no prizes for guessing where. So when the two greatest players of our times went head to head this Sunday it was for the first time in five years with Nadal having a distinct 6-2 edge in previous Grand Slam finals. At stake was more than just the Australian Open. Much more

For the purists there was the #GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate. For some of the old timers it is Rod Laver the Aussie legend was the only man in the open era to win all the four Slams in one single year. Federer could only muster a career Slam what with Nadal thwarting him repeatedly at the French Open. For some it is the mercurial American Jimmy Connors who had snared a 109 career titles by the time he hung up his boots at the ripe age of 44. What about the other American great, Pete Sampras whose quiet unassuming demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutal serve? He never could conquer the clay courts of Roland Garros. For the #Czech great Ivan Lendl who is one of only three players to win over 1000 tennis matches (the other two are Federer and Connors) the ‘Achilles Heel’ was the Wimbledon.

Yet if one were to go purely by stats, Federer wins the GOAT debate hands down. An appearance in 28 Grand Slam finals, 23 Grand Slam semifinal appearances and consecutive at that, only player to win the US and the Wimbledon both five times each, over 300 weeks at top of world rankings. One can go on. The only hitch – How can one be considered the greatest in the game when you were not even the best in your era? That is right. Nadal and Federer have met 35 times in their career with Nadal winning 23 times. Federer supporters may argue that almost a half (15 to be precise) of these contests have been on clay where Nadal owns Federer with 13 wins. But admirers of the Spaniard will quickly point out the 2008 Wimbledon finals, regarded as the greatest match in tennis history, where #Nadal shut out the Fed Express. Something #Federer could never do on Nadal’s favored turf. A loss on Sunday would have perhaps ended this debate once and for all. But clearly fate and Federer had other ideas.