Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Security fears cloud India's Olympic dream

NEW DELHI — The gunshots fired at the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3 are still ringing across the border in the ears of India's sports officials.
India's desire to remain a major sporting destination with ambitions of hosting the Olympics one day is being clouded by a perception abroad that the country is not safe.
Only cricket appears untouched as players from around the globe jet in regularly to cash in on the millions of dollars offered in lucrative events like the Indian Premier League.
Australia pulled out of a Davis Cup tennis tie in Chennai in May and England withdrew from the world badminton championships in Hyderabad in August despite no specific terror threats to the two events.
It sent shockwaves across the sporting fraternity since Australia and England are expected to be the main draws at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October next year.
Australian and British officials see no threat of a boycott of the Games, but not everyone in India is convinced. Twice bitten, no one is willing to take anything for granted.
The Indian government released an additional 15 million dollars to secure the Games after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers that followed the Mumbai terror strikes in November.
Paranoid officials have even dropped a proposal to provide high-speed internet wi-fi services across the Indian capital during the Games because they felt militants use wi-fi to link up with their masters.
New Delhi is confident of hosting a successful Commonwealth Games and the preceding field hockey World Cup in February-March, but officials wonder how they can change individual perceptions.
England walked out of the world badminton event, joined later by two Austrian doubles players, due to a stray newspaper report that spoke of an impending terror strike despite assurances from the government there was no threat to the championships.
The report stemmed from a review of the venue by intelligence and para-military officials prior to the tournament, not unusual for any major event in any part of the world.
The Indians were understandably furious at English Olympic silver medallist Nathan Robertson's comment on returning home that he was "just glad to be back in one piece".
The Scottish team, which scoffed at England's withdrawal, later complained there was too much security and felt "imprisoned in hotel rooms."
The tournament passed off without any trouble -- barring a false alarm of swine flu -- with federal home minister P. Chidambaram making a point by attending the final.
The tough-talking Chidambaram said he was "burning inside" when he learnt of England's withdrawal and stressed that "we have the capacity to provide full and complete security to any international sports event."
Canadian players ignored warnings from Badminton Canada to pull out and stayed on in Hyderabad to play in the championships, with coach Ram Nayar saying the team had "no concerns."
"We were aware of the advisory, but had no worries," said Nayar. "In fact, some of the players who lost early took a trip to Rajasthan for sight-seeing."
There are no such worries for cricket either despite it being the most high-profile sport in India with thousands packing stadiums across the country.
Kevin Pietersen-led England returned to play a Test series in India less than a fortnight after the November 26 Mumbai attacks that left 172 dead and more than 300 injured.
Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals continued with their IPL engagements at their home base of Jaipur despite a bomb blast in the city during the inaugural edition of the cash-rich Twenty20 event in 2008.
Their compatriots in tennis and badminton may think otherwise, but England and Australian cricketers see no problem with security in India.
Two domestic English teams will take part in the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League in October and Australia will play seven one-day internationals soon after.
This year's IPL was shifted to South Africa due to the government's reluctance to spare security forces at the time of general elections, and not because any player feared his safety.
"They won't refuse to come to India because of the money they earn," a furious Indian Olympic official said. "But if India is safe for cricket, it must be safe for all sports."

Warner warns England to beware pace barrage

MANCHESTER, England — Australia's David Warner has told England to expect plenty more short stuff from Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson in Tuesday's second Twenty20 international at Old Trafford.
Sunday's first of a two-match series at Lancashire's headquarters ended in a no-result washout, with England's reply to Australia's 145 for four lasting less than two overs.
But that was time enough for England to collapse to four for two with fast bowler Lee bouncing out debutant Joe Denly for a duck and left-arm quick Johnson having Ravi Bopara caught in the slips.
Lee, who missed the whole of England's preceding 2-1 Ashes series win with a side injury, worked up a fearsome pace and hit the 90mph mark in his one over.
Opening batsman Warner, who made 33 on Sunday, said both pace bowlers would be keen to continue from where they left off.
"We'll be targeting them (England) from short of a length as we saw yesterday (Sunday)," Warner told reporters at Old Trafford on Monday.
"Binga (Lee) and Mitch are bowling quick and England can expect more of that."
Warner, 22, is in many ways the prototype Twenty20 cricketer, scoring 89 on his international debut in cricket's shortest professional format, against South Africa in Melbourne in January, before he'd even made his maiden first-class appearance.
And it wasn't until the final match of the last Sheffield Shield season that Warner made his first-class bow for New South Wales (NSW), the left-hander marking his debut with 42.
A middle-order batsman in the four-day game, Warner could struggle to find a spot, outside of international call-ups, in an NSW side that boasts the likes of Phil Jaques, Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Michael Clarke and fellow rising stars Usman Khawaja and Moises Henriques.
But that hasn't stopped Warner from raising his Twenty20 profile with a stint for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League.
Warner, not included in the Australia squad for the seven one-day internationals against England that follow the two Twenty20s, is now looking to another stint in India to bolster his career.
"If I can get some good totals and keep pressing claims I can make sure my name is up there in the list if any injuries come along."
And he added he was keen to play against, rather than for, the Daredevils as a member of the NSW team involved in the Champions League, a tournament for the world's leading domestic Twenty20 sides, in India in October.
"It's going to be interesting. Delhi Daredevils have a very strong team with (Tilakaratne) Dilshan, (Virender) Sehwag, (AB) de Villiers, you name it, but we've watched them on TV and we'll have our plans so it will be a good battle if we come up against them."
But Warner admitted that, for all his globetrotting, he could find himself starting the next Australian season playing Sydney first-grade cricket for Eastern Suburbs.
"I've just got to bide my time, go home and start back in grade again with Eastern Suburbs. I love playing with my mates there, it's home, and I'm in that comfort zone there and hopefully I can put the scores together.
"You can't go to the top of log and stay there for the rest of your career. There will be setbacks.
"I'm only young and I want to play Test cricket. That's always been my dream as a kid and it's what I've always wanted to do. I can't be one of those who just plays Twenty20."

England await another pace barrage

Autumn certainly arrived in Manchester on Sunday as a full house huddled up against the cold and damp before being left unfulfilled when the first Twenty20 was abandoned seven balls into England's chase. However, for the home side it looked like a reprieve after Australia's new ball pair of Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson rattled the top order.
Joe Denly's Twenty20 debut couldn't really have gone much worse - a dropped catch and a first-ball duck - while Ravi Bopara's problems outside off stump continued with a flash to slip. The Australians were pumped, with Johnson enjoying some heated banter with the crowd, and Lee eager to put weeks of frustration on the sidelines behind him.
For Australia this period of one-day action is about moving on from the Ashes defeat, but also about building a side for the World Twenty in West Indies next April. Cameron White, on his return to side, staked a huge claim with the innings of the day and will aim for a repeat on Tuesday. Hopefully, too, there will be a chance to see Dirk Nannes in action.
England are also plotting and planning having never settled on a Twenty20 side. The bowling unit was impressive in the opening match - although Stuart Broad's round-the-wicket attack isn't convincing - but they need to hold all their catches. Denly's miss off White on 12 could have been the difference if the first game had gone the distance.

Monday, August 31, 2009

No grounds for termination, says IMG

The Indian board's decision to sever its IPL contract with IMG continues to generate heat, with the sports management firm indicating that it might take the legal route to resolve the dispute, and three more franchises expressing their concern over the development.
Replying to the BCCI's letter on Friday informing IMG that it would not use any of its services following a disagreement over payments for the second IPL in South Africa, Andrew Wildblood, a senior vice-president at the firm, said that there were no grounds for the termination. IMG, he pointed out, had a legally binding 10-year agreement with the BCCI and would "reserve all of our rights and remedies at law under and in respect of the contract".
The issue will be discussed at the Indian board's annual general meeting (AGM) in Mumbai at the end of the month. The IPL governing council is scheduled to meet in Mumbai on Wednesday but that's expected to be a 30-minute meeting to ratify accounts and reports related to the second season.
The Indian board's decision has been opposed by the IPL franchises, four of whom wrote to the BCCI over the weekend expressing their disappointment at the unilateral manner in which it was taken and concern that the league's value will be diluted. On Monday, two more franchises - Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab - sent similar letters to the BCCI, while Vijay Mallya, who owns Bangalore Royal Challengers, is believed to have spoken to Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI president, over phone. Chennai, which is owned by N Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary, is the only franchise to remain silent on the issue.
"These are all important decisions," Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star who co-owns Kolkata Knight Riders, said on Monday. "All we want is to be kept in the loop. A lot of our sponsorship deals depend on the backbone of the IPL."
Srinivasan had claimed in his letter to IMG that its fee was disproportionate to the services rendered. IMG played a key role in conceptualising the IPL and implementing it, including drafting the Indian and foreign players' contracts, putting the logistics in place and managing the day-to-day running of the tournament. The BCCI claimed to have paid IMG Rs 42.92 crore (US$ 9.54 million approx) for the inaugural IPL edition, with the fee for the second edition said to be around Rs 33 crore (US$ 7.33 million approx).
Reports suggest that IMG's initial contract with the BCCI, which was signed in September 2007, stipulated a commission-based payment of 10% of the board's revenue. The contract was subsequently negotiated to a fixed retainer payment of roughly Rs 33 crore but this was objected to by some members of the BCCI's working committee, who are keen that the Indian board take over the running of the IPL entirely.

"There is a possibility I may not play again" - Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff has admitted there is a chance he may never play at the highest level again after his latest knee surgery but is aiming for a comeback in February 2010. Flintoff underwent routine arthroscopy and micro-fracture to two small areas in his right knee a day after England regained the Ashes, and was expected to be on crutches for a minimum of six weeks.
"There is a possibility I may not play again," Flintoff told News of the World. "It's something I'm going to have to be prepared for in case the operation is not as successful as I hope. There will be a question mark in my mind about whether I have played my last game until I know how the operation has turned out. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind, but the success rate for an operation like this is pretty good. The bottom line is that if it doesn't work, there's nothing I can do about it."
After playing through pain during the Ashes, Flintoff retired from Tests following England's 2-1 victory against Australia but said that he intended to continue playing one-day and Twenty20 internationals for England. He said he didn't want his career "to end like this" and hoped to be fit for the tour to Bangladesh in February-March 2010.
"My Test career ended with a high by England winning the Ashes and I'd like to finish my one-day career by winning the World Cup. The next few weeks are quite crucial in the recovery and I'm not supposed to put any weight on my knee.
"I will see the specialist in a couple of weeks and then have another eight-week check-up. It's only then we'll know the extent of where I'm up to. I have set myself a target of returning for the tour to Bangladesh, which is from mid-February to the middle of March, but whether that's realistic or not, I'm not sure."

Vettori hopes for improved showing on limited-overs leg

Daniel Vettori didn't have a lot to smile about yesterday, but was hoping to start afresh with the two Twenty20s against Sri Lanka after the defeats in the Test matches. Though New Zealand were outclassed in both Tests, there is still plenty of limited-overs cricket for them before returning home - the two Twenty20s preceding the tri-series, also featuring India, with the Champions Trophy in South Africa to follow.
This New Zealand side is better suited to one-day cricket, having won six and drawn one of their last eight series, including come-from-behind wins over England and West Indies. However, they have struggled in one-dayers in Sri Lanka, winning ten of 27 games. Vettori is hopeful of improving that record.
"I'd say we've been stronger in the limited-overs format, definitely," he said. "It suits a few of our guys better. The experiences out here will have strengthened a few of the players for the limited-overs series There's no doubt this is a good group of batsmen and I have high hopes of them."
New Zealand have some personnel changes, such as fast bowlers Kyle Mills, Shane Bond and Ian Butler and relative rookies Brendon Diamanti and Neil Broom, but the core group stays the same. "There's an air of confidence about the team when it comes to this format," said Vettori, "And I hope we'll see a turnaround in our limited-overs performance. We need to win these games as we build up to the Champions Trophy. It's a short and sharp tournament and you need to hit it running."
New Zealand will welcome back Bond, who, Vettori confirmed, will mark his international return in Wednesday's first Twenty20. Bond's departure to the ICL in 2008 was as significant as when Richard Hadlee stepped down in 1990, and while Vettori was quick to allow Bond some breathing room, he knew how important this man was.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on the guy because I can see it building from a distance," Vettori said. "People are viewing him as a sort of saviour to some recent woes but I think we need to let Shane relax and build his way back into the team." Bond will be a vital player for New Zealand in the 50-over games. In 67 ODIs he has taken 125 wickets at the phenomenal average of 19.32.
New Zealand cricket fans have accepted, if reluctantly, that their team can seriously compete in one-day and Twent20 cricket, because from the depths of No. 7 in the ICC Test rankings there's not much room for optimism. Though his immediate aim was to gee this team up for the limited-overs fixtures, Vettori clearly had an eye on the home Tests against Pakistan in November. The two Tests in Sri Lanka were a thorough disappointment and Vettori, when he sits down with the selection panel on returning, will have his plate full. New Zealand does not boast a reservoir of second-tier players presenting a convincing case for selection and Vettori wanted to stick with these players ahead of Pakistan's visit.
"We've learned a lot. Our guys have faced some unorthodox bowlers that they don't get back home, so for them to face that sort of bowling and to be successful, at times, is a very good experience," he said. "They need to take that into the next Test series we face, against [Saaed] Ajmal and [Danish] Kaneria, who are difficult spin bowlers. The experience builds confidence."

IPL franchises protest IMG removal - report

The Indian board's decision to terminate the services of IMG, the sports management firm, for the IPL appears to have snowballed into a confrontation between the BCCI and at least four of the league's eight franchises. The owners of Mumbai, Kolkata, Jaipur and Delhi have protested the removal of IMG and claimed in separate letters sent to senior BCCI officials that the move would destroy the league's value and dilute its success, a media report said.
The BCCI had informed IMG on Friday that it would not use its services any longer for the IPL following a disagreement over payments for the league's second season in South Africa. N Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary, claimed that the fee was disproportionate to the services rendered. IMG played a key role in setting up the inaugural IPL in 2008, for which the BCCI claimed to have made a payment of Rs 42.92 crore (US$ 9.54 million approx), and it also managed the second IPL that was shifted to South Africa.
Mukesh Ambani, the industrialist who owns Mumbai Indians, said that he was shocked at what he claimed was a unilateral move to remove IMG and added it was worrying that the decision was taken without consulting the franchises, the Times of India reported.
The newspaper claimed to be in possession of three other similar letters written by Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star who co-owns Kolkata Knight Riders, and the managements of Jaipur and Delhi. These letters, the report said, were addressed to Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, and Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI president.
The letters are being seen in Indian cricket circles as a collective move by the franchises -- except possibly Chennai, which is owned by Srinivasan -- to back Modi, who is keen to retain IMG for the league and is not in favour of the BCCI's latest decision. Another section within the BCCI is keen that the Indian board take over the running of the IPL entirely. The issue will now be discussed at the IPL governing council meeting on Wednesday.
The newspaper report, meanwhile, quoted Shah Rukh Khan as saying that the decision to remove IMG was a matter of concern and anxiety, and indicating that the private firm had ensured that the quality of IPL was better than that of the recent ICC World Twenty20 in England. Manoj Badale, the Jaipur co-owner, protested against the manner in which the decision was made, the report said, and the Delhi management said they were unaware of any other firm of a similar stature to run the IPL.
"I am personally shocked at the unilateral decision of doing away with the services of the IMG. We are only two seasons old, and we need the continued participation and support of the most capable partners globally to take the IPL from strength to strength," the Times of India quoted Ambani as saying in his letter. "It is also worrying to me that such a significant decision in relation to IPL has been taken without even so much as consulting the franchisees. I strongly believe that this decision, if taken forward, will destroy substantial value for all the stakeholders, especially the franchisees, and dilute the success of IPL in the coming years.''
Shah Rukh said the owners had paid huge sums to the IPL for the franchise rights because they believed that it was a world class event. "It's a matter of sincere concern and anxiety, that IMG, who have been an integral part of the tournament management and it success so far, have been expelled due to failure of commercial negotiations,'' the newspaper quoted him as saying in his letter. "This is evident in the recent ICC World T20 Championships, which took place in England, the delivery of which was nowhere near the quality of the IPL."
The eight franchises had bid a total amount of US$723.59 million for team ownership rights from the BCCI in 2008, and hope to have a significant say in its operations.

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