Tuesday, October 10, 2006

End it like Beckham?

Column: Back Talk Author: Murali Gopy Publication: Sports Today: Isuue: September/2006

An extraordinarily ordinary month. Wherein Darrell Hair tampered with the truth and Inzamam-ul-Haq trudged out of the match. Wherein David Beckham was thrown out of the team and Marion Jones was trapped in the loo. Wherein Merlene Ottey trotted to yet another bronze coin and Sania Mirza, yet again, took the first door out. Wherein alliteration seemed to suit the pen more than profound observation.

Strange, but it has become impossible for the sports buff to keep himself posted on the latest without simultaneously opening a “urine sample ledger”—a document that demands religious diligence in jotting down the dope history of your favourite star. Doping is no longer a Dog-bites-man story. It has become a Man-bites-dog headline. A portend as ominous as the ice sheets that fell off the berg into the deck of the Titanic. Tragedy is in the making.

Sports has obviously outgrown itself in the sense that it is now beheld as an industry rather than a podium for physical excellence and graceful contest. Gatlin, Landis, Marion—degraded to mere words that denote crass ambition. Where are the good men?

If you are not exactly looking for good men but style leaders and designer heroes, you don’t have to go west beyond the Greenwich. David Beckham, with looks that can substantiate even a myth of direct descend from the Greek pantheon (“Until he talks” is the rejoinder from my colleague), is on his way out.

In a career so greatly overrated, thanks to screaming lasses and globalization, David has been a touch-me-not hunk known for flitting on the right wing, running around like hesitant rabbit, launching an occasional cross, and a kick that came free with him. The only lasting picture of this Brit is his artistic stroll to the dressing room after the final whistle, with an unspoiled puff and a face as fresh as a bluebottle. The star reassured himself with occasional changes in hairstyle, outrageous tattoos, an inventive dress sense and a spice girl. Even when he cried, like on that quarter final night when he injured his Achilles tendon (Greek again), David did it with rehearsed charm. The picture of him sitting on the benches, with his dark blue eyes twinkling in newfound tears, is for the impressionists. The bathos, however, would belong to the dramatist.
That David Beckham led England from the back is too obvious to be stated. His presence inspired no awe. He made the football field look like a ramp. And the English team, under him, clanked on like an indigenous automobile of the Cold War Third World. Well, Steve McClaren is a brother-in-thought. No more belief in bends. He allowed David to end it like Beckham!
Meanwhile, in a hotel launch Down Under, the phantom sees yellow.
Brett Lee and Michael Clarke are spending days cutting cakes that are modeled on the Ashes Urn. One copy editor has given a trenchant caption for the picture: They want I back... Badly”. Yes indeed. The Aussies have a real chance at that, especially since international cricket laws forbid England from exporting winning accessories such as Darrell Hair along with the team luggage.
Back to where it really matters, cricket matches were getting cancelled and postponed, thanks to man’s innate tendency to hate each other. In the land where the Buddha meditates in the midst of flowering bombs, fans were disappointed with the rain gods who prevented Sachin Tendulkar from “coming back”.
The ethnic strife, that suddenly turned bloody, invaded the South African psyche so much so that the board displayed sound symptoms of war neurosis. It is time for the Proteas to browse a few libraries and have eleven paperbacks of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Players of our times are expected to be voracious readers. Or so is the credo of the quirky and quixotic Artist of War, Phil Scolari. Three screams and a war cry for him!.


Cup of Deja Vu

Column: Back Talk Author: Murali Gopy Publication: Sports Today: Isuue: July/2006

You have seen it before.
A goalkeeper launching an inflated leather globe with his foot, as confidently as a spiritual master.
A ball sailing in the sky like some bizarre philosophy.
Its descent like a failed Indian satellite, with two human heads rising in unison to take it home and make a goal out of it.
Despair of the dribbled.
Drumbeats of the dribbler.
The right kick.
The wrong jump.
The scorer running on to the barbed-wire fence like an evangelist who happened to see god.
His indulgence in homeworked gesticulations.
His friends pouncing upon him as if he was an injured antelope and they were hungry wolves.
Moronic multi-coloured faces sitting, squatting, squealing and screaming around like spooky toys.
People roaring in blood lust—a faint sequel to the Roman mob.
The commentator screaming “Gooooooooooooooooool…,” his nationality deciding the number of ‘O’s in it.
Your remote control, the volume switch of which is dysfunctional from time immemorial. The television channel, which had forgotten to paste the score sheet.
Your wife, who had wanted to shift channels to mushy soaps in the beginning, but had later changed her mind to be an uninitiated participant asking silly doubts while clandestinely ascertaining the MQ (Manliness Quotient) of the soccer god in frame.
Your divine kid, who exercises her god-given right to stand in front of the monitor every time your favourite player moves the net.
The recently tried&tested contact lens that fails to get you through to the names printed on the back of the jerseys.
The home-made World Cup in your hand brimming with precious pop corns.
The diabolic allure of the packet in which hides 10 evil cigarettes.
The drooping mezzanine eyelid that alerts you of unconsummated sleep. The mobile that beeps once in very five minutes reminding you of a long-abandoned base—your office.
A heart that hops with the ball.
A throbbing headache that has staged a comeback.
A rocking chair at war with your spine.
And then, after all this sacrifice, the team that you scream for lose in penalty shootout—the dumb charades after a nuclear war. The matchstick combat.
And your favourite hero buries his head in the grass carpet and weeps like a tyke.
Your cause is lost. You turn off the TV, scold the divine kid for reasons unknown to both you and the child, wage a verbal battle with your spouse over the percentage of salt in the vegetable mix, boycott the dinner halfway, march defiantly to the balcony and show the world how to do breathing exercise with a burning cigarette between your lips. You hear crackers go up in the neighbourhood. Obviously, your neighbour hates your team.
Enraged and hurt, you storm the library and browse for books that balm your soul. You emerge with a Henry Thoreau, open a random page and read aloud, trying hard, even in such agony, to sound like Charlton Heston: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what we call the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them for this comes after work. But it is the characteristic of wisdom not to desperate…
Thanks to Henry. You are home.And yes. You have seen it before.


Of head butts & other demons

Column: Back Talk Author: Murali Gopy Publication: Sports Today: Isuue: August/2006

The fever has abated. The world is recovering from the head butt. And it does not seem to complain on less-glamorous-and-more-real head butts, either. Look at what they are doing in West Asia. In a way, the world still reacts to elementary bottlenecks with abuses and head butts. More often, with techniques bloodier than these.

And it is amusing to realize how sports precedes, imitates and reflects life—abuse in desperation, head butt in return!

Cynics are crying foul over Italian ways for what, they believe, is happening behind the lines. Match-fixing scandals and Italian football, it seems, are Siamese realities, whose fortunes share the same food pipe. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what I God’s”, it was said. But the punters are obviously demanding more than what is expected to be rendered unto them. And soccer is paying the price. It has come to pass (sorry for the ecclesiastical pencil) that many things in sports leave us with a strange sense of pre-meditation. Look at the defeat and ouster of Argentina, at the hands of Germany. The guys play like angels under the watchful eye and blaring vocal chord of a god-like coach. They make love with the game. They sing on to victory… And then, all of a sudden, they seem like lost sheep. They decide to invent and enrich their vocabulary of forced errors in “a very important” match”. An ever-attacking side suddenly decides to behave like a battered battalion of brooding Samurais trapped inside a besieged temple. The coach does not allow the youngest gun to join the cannon front. They seem to act out their defeat. How is this possible? Loving in 2006, after all those hours spent reading how heroes turn villains, it is impossible to be of unsuspecting mind. Or, are we fantasizing on a molten memory?
There are eleven guys in this world who would be thanking Fifa for all the noise and drama. You guessed them right. They are the Men in Blue(s). While Germania was erupting, Indian cricket was plummeting into the depths of nonchalance, down under (I mean down under to the left), in the Caribbean archipelago.

They had two basic goals to achieve in the islands. One was to win a Test series after a gap of almost 30 years (In other words, they were going to emulate a Stone Age victory). The second was an exercise in philanthropy—to help the West Indies sweep a One-Day series and rekindle that endangered flame of cricket in the hearts of the West Indians, without whose support and best wishes the 2007 World Cup would die even before it is born. The guys have realized both these goals, with admirable ease and panache, if I am allowed to overstate. And what better time to achieve this paradox of a target, than when even the most zany of Indian cricket fans are lured into the craze pots of Prussia, following a bigger ball.
But how could they even hope to overstep the divine scribes, the sanctimonious windbags of our time, who gather themselves under the most effective four-letter word ever invented? PRESS! Oops, it has five! Columnists and sports writers have been excoriating Greg Chappell and exhuming and parading the Sourav Ganguly cadaver in their attempt to beat each other. Fame-hunters of a different hue, such as Sanjay Manjrekar, are howling at the sun. Others, the watchdogs of propriety, are yodeling in protest. And a third kind, the self-styled know-alls like yours truly, are shooting their pens off in columns like this, on hypothetical conspiracy theories. But that is how we backtalk. We don’t have to think. We presume to have heard an abuse. We pretend to get hurt. And we do the head-butt. As simple as that. As ugly as that.