Rafa: My Story

In the open era(till 2004) 5 Spaniards had won the French Open 6 times. Sergei Bruguera was the only man  who repeated the feat twice. From 2004 on, Rafael Nadal won the French Open 6 times in  7 attempts. No wonder he considers his game to be tailor made for the clay courts. Though he loved clay- which also explains his love for Monte Carlo- it was his dream to win Wimbledon

For a person whose game is entirely based on the power that he generates from his strokes, it is natural to go for every match as though it’s his last. When he lost the 2007 Wimbledon final to Federer, he wept under the shower for close to half an hour. What does the man do? He goes back and trains even harder. His belief in training has been steadfast from childhood

It was Toni Nadal, who made him revere him training with unconventional motivation. That Nadal had a no-nonsense approach towards winning helped Toni. When he saw the effort dipping, he would fire him up with more practice. Nadal remembers clearly that when he lost a match in his early days, he was gutted because he thought that a vacation with friends should have been spent on training instead. In his words “the fun I’d had with my friends during a carefree August could never compensate for the pain I’d felt at losing a match against a player I should have beaten. The pain came from the knowledge that I had given less than my best, that if I’d trained instead of played that August, I would have won my match”. All this was at the age of ten

It became easy for Nadal to win the age tournaments and almost everytime, Toni would put down the achievement. It was Toni who acted as a grounding base for Nadal all his life. Everytime he got onto the court he would see the opponent across the net as an equal who had to be vanquished. According to him, it was not Tennis that attracted him, but the competition associated with it

Members of family and people who know him well attribute his killer instincts on the court to his insecurities off it. They believe that since he found a lot many things that were beyond his control, he sought to put it in order in things that were under his control. It is this yearning for orderliness that makes him draw sips from two bottles at his side on the court, wear his socks at the same level on both legs

In stark contrast to autobiographies, he actually talks a lot lesser about himself and his choices and concentrates more on how training helped him. Toni mentions in the book that you are special, not because of who you are but because of what you do. It also veers off from  the beaten track in that, Nadal does not criticise his opponents but is full of praise for his two biggest rivals. He could have said a word or two about Berdych and Soderling. He would not have been setting as a precedent as Agassi did it in his book. Instead he sets a precedent by not talking about them

This grace and the ability to take things as they come are also attributed to training. He felt that one had to endure to go to that extra level. Endure did not just mean bearing but it meant stretching oneself beyond the capabilities, taking oneself to the next level

It was this single minded devotion towards training that helped him overcome a lot of obstacles in life. It is this training that he believes, helped him win the biggest match of his life- Wimbledon 2008 final

He rates the win highly. Two-thirds of the book is dedicated in how he achieved his childhood dream. He also rates the US Open 2010 final as it helped him in achieving the career grand slam. The narrative in the book almost revolves around these two triumphs

As he started out early in life for the pursuit of glory, there might be a feeling that he missed out on the joys of childhood but he does bring the child out of him as he speaks exuberantly about Davis Cup and Olympics

Final word: This book is not breezy as it goes about monotonously at places. Overall it’s an inspiring tale of a young boy who grew the ranks and went on to feature in debates of the ‘greatest player of all time’

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Australia v South Africa: 2nd T20 International

Once the think tank of Australia sits down on the table after this match, there are three points that would stand out

1) After winning the first T20 International game ever and then proceeding to lose the very next game, comprehensively. From that day on till today, Australia has neither got a stable game plan nor have they got the winning culture that they have in the other two formats

2) As much as they would deny it, the ghosts of that game in Johannesburg still remain and comes back to haunt them from time to time, when they play South Africa. Notably, in throwing away winning causes

3) Shane Watson is central to their fortunes in all the formats of the game. When it comes to Limited overs it is his bowling that stands as a differentiator between the teams

 

At the toss, White was asked if it was individual efforts that counted in the T20 games or the team effort. His answer was “In this format, individuals can win you the match in a ball or two. When it boils down to tight situations, it is the team effort that counts, whatever that means.” Though it sounded confusing, the words held a lot of value after Theron hit the winning six

 

It was Theron’s arrival at the crease that heralded big shots. Once Theron got the confidence going, Parnell to joined in the fun as he took apart O’Keefe. Things didn’t seem as easy for the Proteas in the first 14 overs of the game

 

Tsotsobe started the match in the best possible way for South Africa- by tying down Warner. Warner would have realised that form counts for nothing. He came into this series with two consecutive centuries behind him but failed to get off the mark in both the games. Law of averages as they say

 

Till Parnell came on to bowl, Australia found it tough to force the ball of the square and their run-rate was a pathetic 3.4 runs/over at the end of the fifth over. It was Shaun Marsh that started to get things moving as he flicked one to the fine-leg boundary and cut one over covers for a six. He found the going tough against Botha as he was not given the room to go inside out and the pace did not allow him to adjust late. He compensated for that by feasting on Parnell again as he drove one past covers and then played a beautiful lofted drive

 

That aggression was not to be sustained as Marsh was dismissed by the returning Theron. Once Hussey was dismissed, the initial gameplan of Australia to keep the wickets for the end and attack towards the end also failed. With the dismissals of Smith and White, it seemed that Australia would be atleast 80 runs short of the par 200 suggested by the curator

 

T20 is a game of momentum and debutant Mitchell Marsh ensured that it was in Australia’s hands going into the break. The way he dealt with Parnell and Morkel was refreshing. He picked their lengths early and was in position for every shot that he hit. The 35 runs of these final two overs could have made a lot of difference in the final analysis

 

Theron and Parnell ensured that going into the final overs they would eclipse the hard hitting efforts of Marsh. It was an error of judgement by White that he did not have either Bollinger or Pattinson to bowl one of the final four overs. That two overs were to be bowled by either of the two spinners or Marsh made the task easier for the pair

 

Once they attacked O’Keefe, the shoulders started to droop which was evident in Cummins bowling the wides in the penultimate over and the frenetic field changes by White. It was here that Watson’s absence was felt the most. With him in the team, it was him who would have bowled at the death

 

South Africa have headaches of their own as in the absence of Kallis and de Villiers, the middle order is virtually non existent. Though Tsotsobe showed the way to bowl on the pitch, Parnell could not quite grasp it as he went wide or short most of the time. Morkel had a good time on the field till the final over when he was taken to the task by Mitchell Marsh

 

In the absence of Watson, Theron finally found his groove and got back to his parsimonious ways at the death. Even Amla erred in sending Botha up the order. Though Botha and Miller seemed to have the chase in control, they both fell to ambitious strokes at crucial junctures of the match. If not for the partnership between Parnell and Theron, it would be them having all the round table meetings heading into the ODI series

 

Though Australia seemed to have unearthed a couple of individual talents in the series, they have quite some way to cover in becoming a force at T20

Uthappa- Forgotten hero or Rising star?

Do you have any memories of the man who scored 86 in his debut game against England and also had his biggest moment to savour against them? To drop further clues would mean to reveal the identity of the man

 

In his most popular ODI innings, he bought India back from the dead to actually level the series. It was a game in which Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the Man of the match. He hasn’t played an ODI for more than three years now

 

Now to make the identity of the player a giveaway, he bowed down in front of a packed stadium after leading India to a win over arch rivals Pakistan, in a bowl out. Yes it is Robin Venu Uthappa. After exploding into India’s collective senses in that match at Oval, he quickly slipped down the favourite charts

 

Yet people believe that he has it in him to knock a few bowling attacks over. It must be him and Irfan Pathan, whose non-selection remains a mystery to their followers. While Irfan’s slide is mysterious, Uthappa’s is crystal clear

 

The stubbornness or the unwillingness to change the natural game or harness the abilities is the reason behind the people who matter, not favouring him. One of the shocking statistic about him is the fact that after that path breaking innings at Oval, he crossed 50 only once in  25 matches. The first conclusion to be drawn from this damning piece of statistic is, Uthappa doesn’t have it in him to stay put at the crease for a long haul

 

Perhaps it is his bad luck that India unearthed a player of similar mould in Rohit Sharma. He promised a little more solidity than what Uthappa did. However both these players were consigned to sidelines when Kohli came onto the scene. Kohli displayed the nerve by performing time and again in tight chases

 

In this context, it was refreshing to watch Uthappa take on the bowling of India Green yesterday at Nagpur. What it put beyond doubt was the fact that if he stays at the crease for some period of time, he has the ability to take his team to large totals. The treatment that was meted out to Ojha and Mishra- India hopefuls both- would stay in the mind for a long time to come

 

After giving Mishra the stick, he unfolded his entire repertoire for Ojha to see. He attacked him from the word go. He started by lofting him against the turn to long-on and then stayed beside the line as he played a couple of magical inside out strokes. For greater effect, he swept and reverse-swept powerfully. The joy on reaching the milestone was evident as he raised his arms up in celebration and let out a roar

 

This is the Uthappa that the average Indian wants to see. One who takes the attack to the opposition camp and comes out trumps. If he can do that consistently, he could yet be one of the pillars of the Indian batting. He has age and talent on his side. Its just the consistency that needs to be honed

Australia and its way up

After the Argus review went public, Australia’s graph has started to rise. At the forefront of this rise has been the new captain, a new settled opener and a new middle order find

Michael Clarke took over the reins of the captaincy at what seemed to be a turbulent time for Australian cricket- Ashes loss, World Cup loss, and the general distrust in people over the team. Though he started out in Bangladesh as the captain, it was in Sri Lanka that his skills as a captain, would be analysed. It was here that he impressed the pundits. He grew strength by strength, as he won both the ODI’s and the Test series, in what was called as a stern examination

His able handling of the spinners was refreshing and so was his marshalling of the youngsters in the squad. It wasn’t surprising then, to find the dwindling players make a foothold in the team. Recently Watson said that he saw a shift back to the middle order, in view of his increasing burden with the ball. Clarke was as fleet footed in his response, as he is to the spinners. He stated that Watson would open in all formats of the game. His decision making was also evident during the Test series as he ensconced Marsh at one down even after Ponting’s return in the third Test. It must have been quite an effort as Ponting went public with his intention to bat at number three

After the question marks on his captaincy started to subside, Clarke perhaps, settled down as he answered his critics with a ‘Man of the Series’ performance in ODI’s and a masterful century in trying circumstances in the final Test. Century in the final Test must be particularly satisfying as it came after a gap of 18 months. In what provides us a glimpse into the state of the mind of the captain, he did not get a single run through an edge in that innings

His batting style complimented that of his partner in that innings- Phil Hughes. Hughes was under immense pressure coming into the series as the Katich saga unfolded before his eyes and he was expected to fill the big boots of his predecessor. The pressure seemed to get to him as he failed to convert on the starts that he got in the first two Tests. When he got a blob in the first innings at SSC, it seemed as if his place was consigned to be on fringes. He answered all of that with a superb century. Till Clarke came and established his mastery, it was Hughes who was making all the runs. He played to his strengths as he was quick to get back and cut the ball and lunge forward in slog sweeping the ball. In the process he crossed fifty for the first time in ten innings and a century after his twin hundreds at Durban

Hughes can lay claim to be worst managed player in the Australian team, apart from the spinners. He was dumped quickly in the 2009 Ashes after Flintoff claimed him twice in three innings. His suspected weakness against the short ball led to a number of opinions cropping up. Hughes even tried to change the method that earned him a lot of runs. A poor season with New South Wales did not deter him. Sessions with Langer ensued and he now seems a touch settled in encountering the weakness as he tends to get the bat down quickly to the knee level and weave away. What remains though, is a weakness against the ball leaving him. He has the tendency to open the face of the bat and edge it in the arc between the keeper and the gully fieldsman.

Shaun Marsh was handed an unexpected debut in the wake of the birth of Ponting’s second child. How well he utilised it , is reflected in the fact that Ponting has started to bat at four, upon his return to the team. He cut his teeth in the then demanding Sheffield Shield. When he scored his maiden first-class century, Steve Waugh was excited enough to call him a future Test player. With such potential, it seemed as if Marsh was throwing away all his opportunities until IPL came calling. Along with Shane Watson , he grabbed the opportunity and burst into national reckoning. He was awarded with a spot in the ODI squad which he repaid well with good performances against West Indies, South Africa and India. Then followed injuries to his back and he was back to playing the musical chair along with other contenders. Tests were a different matter altogether as he seemed to have thrown away the chance to get into the team with a feeble performance in the tour game at Colombo. At Pallekele, he showed his determination as he grinded out a hundred with his dad in the audience

With tough series against South Africa and India lined up, the mettle of each of these players will be tested in the coming six months