1391798853906.cachedThe Olympics, the biggest sporting event in the world is close by. Most of us have been bitten by the Olympics bug, and if it hasn’t reached you, the Star Sports campaign on Olympics, ‘Isse bada kuch nahi’ definitely would have. The 2016 Rio Olympics is a little extra special for India, after all we are sending our largest and strongest contingent ever to the Olympic games, around 120 athletes from India will be in Brazil to represent our nation.

The expectations are extremely high and it’s natural. The nation which had won only three Olympic medals from 1996-2004, saw their tally doubled in 2008. India won 3 medals in Beijing, the highest ever till then in a single Olympic games. All records were thrown out of the window four years back in London. The Indian contingent bagged six medals in 2012. The aim is to break the record of medals tally yet again.

As usual, most hopes are attached to the shooting team. All eyes will be on 2008 gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, but Jitu Rai is India’s biggest medal hope. Rai has a habit of stepping up his game at big tournaments. The 2014 Common Wealth Games and 2014 Asian Games gold medalist is in fine form having won the silver medal in the men’s 10m air pistol event at the ISSF world cup held this year.

Another big hope for India is in tennis, the mixed doubles pairing of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna is expected to give tough fight to Roger Federer-Martina Hingis and Rafael Nadal- Garbine Muguruza pairings. Nobody would be surprised if the pair returns home with medals hanging down their neck.

India was primed to win a medal in archery four years back in London, however things didn’t go according to the plan. Then world no. 1 Deepika Kumari succumbed to the pressure of expectations. She is more experienced now and with some luck, India could very well win its first Olympic medal in archery.

If it’s the Olympics, wrestling cannot be ignored. After all, we have been winning medals consecutively in this event from the last two games. India’s best chances of winning a medal in wrestling rests with Yogeshwar Dutt. He’s been away from the limelight and has been training hard. Also watch out for Vinesh Phogat in the 53 kg women’s freestyle section.

Sania Nehwal is the only badminton player to ever win a medal at the Olympics, and the 2012 Bronze medal winner will be hoping to go the distance this time. Her form saw a dip last year as she struggled with injuries. However, things have improved since then. The fifth seed in the singles competition for the Rio Olympics won the Australian Open Superseries this year, and that would have given her the necessary confidence to excel in Brazil.

Last but not the least, it is the right time to expect a medal from the Indian men’s hockey team. The team has been on a path of resurgence, and recently won the Champions Trophy silver for the first time recently in London.

The Indian contingent is better prepared for Rio 2016 Olympics than London. And I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a record tally of medals for India in Brazil.

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Virat Kohli hit his first double century in Antigua, he also became first Indian captain to score a double hundred overseas. No cricketer in recent years has captured the imagination of cricket followers as Virat Kohli has done. Simply put, he is presently the most popular cricketer in the world. 

Consistency is the word that now defines the prolific batsman, but things were not the same for the Delhi lad in 2015. His form dipped and he looked less self-assured than before. In 2014, Kohli scored over 1000 runs in 20 ODIs, whereas in 2015 he managed only 623 runs in the same no. of innings. 

The dip in form raised concerns, but more perturbing was his lack of ability to lead from the front. Kohli, who was already considered India’s best batsman by then was regularly falling short of fulfilling his potential. The guy entered the 2015 World Cup after making three Test centuries in Australia, but struggled for form in the tournament. His 107 against Pakistan in the WC opener gave us a flying start. However, he did little of note after that. He was disappointing during the business end of the tournament. In the quarter-final and the semi-final — he was dismissed for 3 and 1 against Bangladesh and Australia respectively.

It didn’t stop there. He failed again in the ODI series played in Bangladesh. He was ordinary against Sri Lanka and South Africa. He was accused of being irresponsible, playing unnecessary risky shots. It was felt that Kohli was not at peace with his game.

He has been a completely different player in 2016. After a disappointing 2015, Kohli is back to his high-scoring ways. He scored 381 runs the ODI series in Australia. Won Player of the Tournament award in 2016 T2o World Cup after he single-handedly took India to semi-finals. Led his IPL team, Royal Challengers Bangalore to the IPL final, scored the highest amount of runs in the tournament and also won the Player of the Series.

So, how did he bring about this transformation? He has reinvented himself as a cricketer. But it would not have been possible without reinventing Kohli, the man. He has changed himself both at physical and mental level. Kohli is now more at peace with his game, and it has brought more consistency to his game. Talking to a media house about his performances, Kohli said: “I went through the same stuff that every cricketer goes through when he comes in. You are insecure about your place, you make mistakes in your desperation.

But as time progresses, you settle down and make consistent choices in your game as well as off the field which gradually helps you be on the top of the game,” said the flamboyant batsman. Kohli also spoke about how he always tried hard to change people’s perception, but now have learned it’s more important to be honest and concentrate and be dedicated to your work.

He has learnt the trick to channelize his aggression into match-winning knocks. He’s good at batting first, but becomes the best when he bats second. He loves to take control of the situation and rarely buckles under pressure.

He’s recently developed new shots to compensate for his lack of ability to regularly clear boundaries and to play ‘360 degree cricket.’ Now he is targeting the gap between deep cover and short cover, cover and long-off to hit boundaries. He’s also less involved in silly fights that take place on the ground. He’s worked very hard on his fitness as well.

According to India’s fitness coach Shanker Basu, Virat wants to become the best athlete in the world, Kohli has completely revamped his eating habits. He now avoids eating out and prefers eating freshly cooked meals. All the junk has been replaced by low carb food. He works out 5 days a week and gives his body two days to recover. All that hard work has made him the fittest Indian cricketer. A hallmark of Kohli’s career is relentless self-improvement, but this time Kohli went a step further. He improved as a person, allowing him to reinvent himself as better cricketer and a human being.

Pink ball

8,500 people at Eden Gardens, each one of them deeply engrossed in the test game undergoing at the iconic venue. Who’s playing? We are not talking about India playing Australia, instead, the crowd was there to witness the CAB Super League Final between Mohun Bagan and Bhowanipore, the first day-night test match hosted in India.

8,500 is a big number for club cricket. The healthy crowd at Eden Gardens is just an indication of the huge potential day-night test format has in revitalising test cricket. The format, which is considered as the pinnacle of the game is losing the popularity contest to T20 cricket.

Frankly speaking, it is impossible for a sport to have a future without a live audience. Over the years, Test cricket has witnessed a significant drop in number of the live audience as well as TV viewership. There is a fear; the format will soon become redundant for ICC, governing body of cricket, which makes the majority of its revenues through TV viewership. The new format will help in addressing many problems of test cricket: it will be an attractive product to market, more people can come to the stadiums on weekdays and ticket prices can reduced for those coming after work. So, why is day-night game still far from becoming a regular feature?

One of the biggest concerns about a day-night match is the pink ball. The first day-night match between Australia and New Zealand ended in three days, with seamers taking 29 wickets. There is bit skepticism that the pink ball only favours fast bowlers. However, in the Super Cup final, we witnessed a completely different story. One century and 4 half-centuries were scored during the game. It was evenly contested, and we also had a winner, Bagan defeated Bhowanipore. Maybe, the 2015 Adelaide test match was just an aberration.

The other major concern is that the concept has not been enthusiastically welcomed by the international players. Few former cricketers and fans of traditional cricket are resisting the change to retain the piousness of test cricket. International Cricket boards however are taking positive steps; India is set to host their first international day-night game against New Zealand later this year. South Africa has confirmed they will play a day-night test match against Australia in November.

The innovation is also gaining support from some of the cricketing greats. Rahul Dravid has urged cricketers to have an ‘open mind’ about playing day-night test cricket with the pink ball. Dravid feels if playing under lights attracts bigger crowds to the game, then tough playing conditions should not stand in its way. Earlier, legendary Aussie captain Steve Waugh has also lent his support to day-night game. Waugh has advocated playing day-night games regularly to save test cricket. And that has to be our top priority, it shouldn’t matter how the pink behaves until it popularises the game.

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The West Ham attacker Dimitri Payet produced a stunning goal as the hosts beat Romania 2-1 in the opening game of the Euro 2016.

The game seemed to be headed for a draw as both teams cancelled out each other in the first half. It came to life in the second half, which witnessed three goals. Olivier Giroud gave France the lead with a header in the 57th minute but it was cancelled out shortly by Bogdan Stancu with a penalty.

The decisive goal came in the 89th minute, when Payet curled in a brilliant left-footed effort from 25 yards to seal all three points.

France struggled to breakdown Romania

Payet was the deserved winner last night, but France probably didn’t deserve to win. It was an emotional night for France, Didier Deschamps said before the game that he wanted his players to use the emotion. The team however failed to rise to the occasion.

The first real chance fell to Romania, Stancu’s close range effort was denied by Hugo Lloris. France had their first chance in the 10th minute, Payet’s cross into the box was headed wide by Giroud. Next it was Antoine Griezmann’s turn, the Atletico Madrid forward hit the post with a header. Griezmann came close again when his first-time shot from Payet’s cross was deflected past the post. Just before the break, Payet picked out Giroud again, with the striker failing to control his header.

Romania applied a narrow high line approach in the first half making it difficult for France, it struggled to breakdown the Romania’s compact formation and failed to take advantage of the width provided to them. It could be because France didn’t have a genuine winger in their ranks, while fullbacks Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna do not offer a lot going forward.

Goals galore in the second half

The balance of power did not change much in the second half, however minor tactical changes certainly made it more entertaining for the viewers, as we witnessed three goals in the second half. Payet was again the catalyst, his delightful cross was met with a firm header by Giroud. Their joy however was short-lived as Stancu pulled one back for Romania from the penalty spot, courtesy a poor challenge by Evra in the box.

A draw would have been a perfect start for the Romanians and the visitors looked set to claim a draw, but Payet had other ideas. The attacker, who has made a habit of scoring memorable goals, produced yet another screamer to help his team cross the line.

Tactical analysis

Romania had the best defence in the Euro qualifying, they conceded just two goals in qualifications. They might have conceded the same no. of goals in the opener, but the 2-1 scoreline is not a true reflection of the game.

Contrary to popular belief, the first half was surprisingly open. The visitors did not sit back and played a high line with a 4-2-3-1 formation. They pressed high and made it difficult for French players to retain the ball. And even though their defence was caught out at the back on a few occasions, for large part of the game the centre-back partnership of Vlad Chiriches and Dragos Grigore was impressive.

France on the other hand deployed a 4-3-3 formation and their game plan didn’t look feasible in the first half. The narrow midfield was not able to create freely due to consistent pressure from the visitors. They changed their shape in the second half, with midfielders moving much higher and wider. Payet who started the game on the left was brought infield and that boosted France’s creativity. The cross from the first goal came from wide right, while the winning goal was scored from the central midfield position.

France: Lloris, Sagna, Rami, Koscielny, Evra, Pogba, Kante, Matuidi, Griezmann, Payet, Giroud

Subs used: Coman, Martial, Sissoko

Romania: Tatarusanu, Sapunaru, Grigore, Chiriches, Rat, Hoban, Pintilii, Stanciu, Popa, Stancu, Andone

Subs used: Torje, Alibec,Chipciu

Man of the match: Dimitri Payet

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Basketball is a popular sport. It’s among the top three most popular sports in the US, the biggest sports market in this world. LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant made $680 million just by playing basketball, only athletes ever to earn more than him are Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher and Floyd Mayweather. But for us Indians, it’s not the same. Guys here love to boast about their balling skills in front of a girl, but that’s it. However, things are changing in India. Basketball and NBA are slowly gaining ground.

NBA has seen a huge jump in viewership this season in India. TV ratings for season’s opening week was up by 26%, almost a million people watched the opening game week between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The overall highest time was spent on the Golden State Warriors vs the Memphis Grizzlies game. Clearly, GSW is garnering most of the attention and support in India. And that’s obvious considering their stupendous rise. Last season, GSW won their first title in 40 years. On the way to the title they broke numerous records. This season, they are already in the Western Conference Finals and are the favourites to repeat their feat.

It’s never fair to credit an individual for a team’s good performance, but I am happy to make that mistake. Stephen Curry has largely been the driving force behind GSW’s rise, the player who is the helping the game push the envelope. Curry has been well assisted by Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and others, but Curry is the ‘difference maker’. Curry now holds the record of most three-pointers in a single season, which he created by breaking his own record, set last year. He’s easily the greatest shooter of all time, one who can score at his will. In the 4th playoffs game against the Portland Trail Blazers this season, Curry dropped 17 points in overtime to take his team to victory, highest by a player ever in an NBA overtime. And remember, he wasn’t even fully fit, Curry hadn’t played in two weeks before the game due to a knee injury and started the game on the bench.

It doesn’t stop there, Curry recently became the league’s MVP for the second consecutive season but old habits die hard. He just didn’t earn the ‘MVP’ title, he is the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. This is the same league in which LeBron James plays, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan played. But there’s more to his charm than just the talent.

I remember watching Michael Jordan, he was magic, the best ever. He played with an anger, there was this fury that fired him. Curry has an aura of calmness about him, he plays with joy. LeBron James is another great player, 4 time MVP, 2 time NBA champion. He’s the best athlete in the league, he’s fast and smart. He bulldozes his opponents. Curry does the same, but in his own style.  In a style which is far more beautiful. In a way Curry is like Lionel Messi, the Argentine footballer who is the ruling the sport with elegance.

Both Curry and Messi are the best player in their respective sport, both of them are more relatable for us Indians than other athlete. They are short but hugely successful in a sport which is supposed to be about strength and stamina. I know Curry is 6-foot-3 tall, but he is short for a basketball player. Like Messi, Curry is the best ambassador a sport can hope for. A player who’s got style and dominates his profession

Basketball and GSW now features more in our conservations, and more often features the name ‘Steph Curry’. More and more kids now want to be like him. And for people like us, who enjoy watching sports, Curry is making us fall in love with basketball.

 

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Home defeat to PSG and the Champions League dream of Chelsea fans came crashing down. Not that there was much belief in the first place, but an ardent Chelsea fan always had the hope. The defeat means more than elimination from UCL, considering Chelsea’s league position the club would not be able to participate in the elite competition next season.

The biggest worry however is not the elimination or the failure to participate in UCL. It is the feeling that this exit marks end of an era. The era in which Chelsea have been hugely successful in Europe. Two seasons back when Chelsea and PSG met in Europe, blues were the clear favourite. Even last season, there was not much to choose between the two teams even after PSG eliminated Chelsea. But this time, PSG bossed the blues at Stamford Bridge.

It looks like Chelsea have gone backwards after 13 years of success and a major rebuild work is required. Guus Hiddink resonated the same, the coach said “Chelsea must consider their short-term future,” after the PSG game. At least three or four players from the Chelsea line up of other night would not be there for the blues’ next Champions League appearance, same is the case for captain John Terry.

The club over the last few seasons changed their style of play from long balls to tiki-taka, the transfer policy was simultaneously changed. However, Chelsea’s recent performance indicates they have messed up things badly. This team is neither able to control the tempo of the game through their passing nor are they a physical menace anymore. The club is in need of urgent introspection and immediate action.

13 years of success allowed Chelsea to overcome dependency on Roman Abramovich’s money. The club adopted a sustainable model, where money from players sale is used to buy new ones. This allowed the club to get ahead of the game in many ways with financial fair play. And it is time for Chelsea to make use of this advantage.

There is a need of some serious investment. Moving early in the market would not be a bad idea. Premier League’s mega TV deal means all 20 clubs in England’s top flight next season will make the top 30 of the Deloitte Money League. More money means more competition in the market. Besides that, moving early has served the club well. Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, who were pivotal in last year’s league title victory were acquired in similar fashion. At the same time, the club also needs to appoint a new manager as soon as possible to give him enough time to assess the present team and to firm up his transfer market plan.

Next season is only going to be more competitive, Pep Guardiola is coming to Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Jose Mourinho most likely joining Manchester United. These clubs also don’t have nay dearth of money. The only way forward for Chelsea is to change to challenge for titles.

There’s no two ways about it. This Chelsea team is in disarray. But for some reason I can’t digest it, after all Chelsea are the reigning champion. Whatever, it is, it’s agonising. But above all, the big question is still unanswered – what is wrong with Chelsea?

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All those who saw Jose Mourinho’s post-match interview after the Southampton game would know that he was furious. Chelsea’s league position is an embarrassment and the pressure is mounting on him. He even tried to make a case for himself, the Portuguese manager said, “No way I resign. *NO WAY*. Why? Because Chelsea cannot have a better manager than me.” But does he have to? Is he the sole reason behind Chelsea’s slump? No, if anything is certain it’s this ‘no.’

I don’t buy this theory that Mourinho is struggling with the ‘third season syndrome.’ What rubbish! He has completed three years of coaching only twice, once at Chelsea and at Real Madrid, and his third season record is fabulous. In 2006-07, at Chelsea he won the League Cup and the FA Cup, in his third season at Real, the team reached the Champions League semi-final and the Copa Del Rey final. If anyone tells me today, that Chelsea’s fate this season will be same as anyone of those seasons, I will happily take it.

Mourinho is responsible, but I will come back to it later. Jose complained about the refereeing in his interview, but I feel, he needs to move-on. Some may feel there are merits in that argument, but in this league every team faces this same problem week in, week out. Mourinho needs to come to terms with Chelsea’s debacle, and should start sorting them sooner rather than later.

Mourinho, in his interview, did make a reference towards the bigger issue. The manager pointed out that the players have to take the responsibility and they have to respond. The slump is unimaginable, but there cannot be a bigger rationale for it than the player’s form. Sadly for Chelsea, quite a few of them are out of form, including the very best from the last season.

It is the players, who have largely let the club down. The team is a shadow of what they were. The Chelsea of last decade never collapsed like this. Jose in his interview said that his team is low on confidence, and they collapse at the sight of first negative. But how could they? Some say Mourinho has lost his ‘golden touch,’ but how is that possible. I am sure he still remembers the defensive drills, but then why are they conceding so often. ‘Lack of attention’ can be one of the answers. The crosses are not going through, they are not pressing hard. Some even look disinterested. Honestly, I don’t know the precise reason, but I am certain it largely lies with the team. 

At the same time, we should also not rule out the externalities, the slump in Terry and Ivanovic’s form was unimaginable two months back. Matic was the best in his position last season, but now he’s playing like a retard. Hazard’s poor form is also one of the big reasons. Doesn’t matter how much we ignore it, we all know that each team has a talisman, and the talisman is important than all. Chelsea is missing their talisman. Hazard is clearly putting-in less in every shift; I don’t know whether he’s jaded or injured. But that is proving to be very costly.

It will be highly unfair to blame the players alone. The manager also needs to take the responsibility. Jose has been adamant about Ivanovic, but it’s about time he starts putting some trust in his new and younger players. After all, Ivanovic now is no better than a Sunday footballer. Chelsea have just spent millions of Euros to capture the talented Baba Rahman, about time we put him in the mix. Kurt Zouma needs to be picked regularly. Matic is merely a melted version of himself, John Obi Mikel and Ramires are not Chelsea quality, the transfer window is closed and that means Ruben Loftus-Cheek is our best bet. But above all, the players have to react to the situation and they need to take it upon themselves.

The Chelsea side of 2004-05 are called conservative, they are known for their boring style of play, remembered for winning the game by a margin of one goal. But they are also known for their character, their mental attitude. They are remembered as true champions. This present team is also made up of title wining players, but to win the league is one thing, to retain is another. If this bunch of players wants to remain in memories for long, they have to rise, and they have to rise now.