Lessons from the
vs Australia: The disillusioning aftermath?
a Pakistan hockey legend
signals exciting year ahead!
top Leagues are becoming too emblematic!
injuries and physical conditioning
By Asif Iqbal
Seldom has Pakistan cricket been as totally down and out as it finds itself now after the 3-0 whitewash in the Test series and a 5-0 blanking in the ODI series against Australia. To be honest, whereas the scoreline may suggest that Pakistan was incapable of competing at all, that was not the case and there were instances when we had the Aussies under serious pressure, most notably in the second Test at Sydney. But such instances were few and far between and in the final Test as well as second, third and fourth ODI’s, the side looked completely beleaguered as if their cause was utterly hopeless and the sooner they got out of there the better.
Afridi turned things around in the final ODI with a brilliant display of captaincy, marred by an unforgivable piece of childish foolishness which perhaps in a cynical sort of way, gave the tour a pretty appropriate postscript. The ultimate disgrace of having the captain of Pakistan caught tampering with the ball crowned the performance on the field.
Perhaps the turning point was Sydney. It is almost impossible to comeback from a setback like that for it completely crushes a team’s morale and confidence. For that matter, there did not appear to be much of either as Pakistan took the field on the fourth morning poised on what most thought would be a fulfilling victory. The tactics on display that morning almost beggared belief, for if the captain did not think we could win from that position; there was hardly any point in taking the field at all. One cannot believe that these tactics were implemented without a thorough prior discussion with all the support staff — coach, bowling coaches and manager — and therefore they too have a lot to answer for. In fact, right through the tour, it was difficult to see their impact on anything going on in the field, except perhaps in the much reduced incidence of no balls by Pakistani bowlers, a long standing ailment.
That there has to be a change in captaincy is without doubt. Yousuf is simply not made for the job and one hopes that when he is relieved of this burden, his performance with the bat will improve. On this tour, both in Australia and New Zealand, he was all but a shadow of his former self and while it may not be possible for him now to retain his form of 2006, this was not anywhere near those glory days. Yet, for all that, it made no sense whatsoever for the PCB chairman to announce that the captain would be changed after this tour while the tour was very much in progress. Nothing would have been lost if the announcement was delayed till the return of the team from Australia and much would be gained in terms of saving face for Yousuf and, perhaps more importantly, in terms of the badly tattered image of the PCB’s administrative competence. After all, other cricketing authorities do not trumpet such decisions midway through a tour and our authorities could do worse than learn a few things from others.
That said, notwithstanding Afridi’s most immature decision to miss his breakfast and eat the ball instead in full view of 26 television cameras, he is clearly the man to lead Pakistan. There was a visible change in the attitude of the players and in their body language in the final ODI even though they were defending what was a small target. He led from the front, the bowling changes he made came at the right time and he was always there for encouragement and advice. He must be persuaded to come back to Test cricket and lead the country in all three formats of the game. There will be some questions asked about his place in a Test side but I believe there is clearly a place for him as a leg-spinning allrounder. On most wickets, this will mean that Danish Kaneria will have to sit out and I think the time has come for this issue also to be tackled. Kaneria tries too many varieties and invariable ends up giving too many runs. Although he does take wickets, they come at a huge price and at that sort of cost, he can very seldom be a match winner. His fielding and batting skills are negligible and he therefore brings nothing apart from his bowling skills to the side. He is a luxury that Pakistan cannot afford any more.
The three positives that Pakistan can take from this tour are Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer. Asif and Aamer make a truly top class seam bowling pair, comparable with any in present day world cricket; it is a shame that they did not receive anywhere near the support they deserved from the field for if they had been so supported, this tour may have told a different story altogether. On the batting side, the young Umar Akmal provided the only ray of hope but even he is not the finished article yet. He has to learn that cameo fifties and sixties are not good enough and that at this level of the game, what is expected of you after you have got to that stage is a big innings. Too many Pakistani batsmen give one the impression that once they have secured selection for the next Test, they think that they have done enough and with the Pakistan batting in its current state, 40 is enough to do that. The opening pair seemed to think — and so apparently, did the rest of the team — that an opening partnership of 50 amounted to success whereas that is not even nearly true. It is just that given the dismal starts Pakistan has been getting, anything seems a bonus. In spite of the odd good innings from Salman Butt, the problem of the opening pair remains and added to it is also the problem of the rest of the batting with Younis apparently in terminal decline and Yousuf not far behind. One only hopes that these two stalwarts regain form soon for otherwise the problems Pakistan faces would be of dire proportions.
Sarfraz Ahmad too has been a disappointment for while his wicketkeeping may be marginally better than that of Kamran Akmal, his batting seems to be non-existent. The decision therefore to play him ahead of Akmal in the fifth ODI, when Akmal arguably had his best match behind the stumps for years in the fourth ODI —cannot possibly have a cricketing reason behind it. Sarfraz is simply not a one-day player and I for one refuse to believe that the tour management could not see that.
The Under-19s did much to wipe away Pakistani tears by their spirited performance in the Under-19 World Cup which saw them going down to Australia in the final. There are some good players there, although here again one saw many of the same problems as with the senior squad. This is the level they have to be corrected if they are not to carry them to the senior level, which is so much less forgiving. However, here again I think the PCB shot itself in the foot by announcing a financial reward for the players after their victory over India, giving all and sundry the impression that this was all that mattered and that it was of little consequence if the boys got knocked out in the next stage. The minimum of administrative acumen would have made it clear that it would have been better to wait till after the tournament and then announce the award not just for beating India, bit for their overall performance which saw them reaching the final — a much more important achievement.
The writer is the former captain of Pakistan and Kent.
By Dr Nauman Niaz
That Pakistan would surrender to Australia’s overbearing superiority in the field and the competition shall be ‘awash with white washes’ was a moral certainty. Hardly any devotee worth his salt had harboured any illusions of Pakistan finally breaking the jinx and turning the tables on their favourite opponents, in their own backyard. The pessimism was quite justified; how and why to expect miracles from midgets in a land, which even the colossal found too treacherous to tread?
How and why should the straw packed super stars come up trumps, where the legendary showstoppers had come a cropper? How and why should mediocrity reign supreme where greatness had faltered? How and why should Muhammad Yousuf succeed, where Imran Khan and Wasim Akram had failed? Why and how should glory proffer itself on shoulders drooping with paranoia and hemmed in by uncertainty? And why should Pakistan Cricket stage its biggest coup since 1992, with weak, unthinking, prejudiced people their custodians?
On the day, an ex-cricketer was appointed as Chairman of the PCB, everyone had great expectations. Though, the early expectancy was short lived, it was still perceived that the Pakistan Cricket Board could develop in its new role. There were so many, sympathizing with Ijaz Butt, because he was inheriting a politics ridden team hostage to power-share, sycophancy and self-preservation, he had to deal with and reform PCB’s image that had been botched by his predecessor. He had to negate an amorphous from ego filled and financially-impregnated neo-power, the BCCI. He had to re-synthesise plans for the game development and to reproduce methods to re-structure school, college and university cricket. Main product, the Pakistan team aside, he had to end negativity from the first class cricket, and to disseminate finances to make it qualitative attracting youthful players to become part of it.
Thanks to decades of unabated loot, misrule, and unrestrained ravages; PCB has been reduced to a house of forsaken beliefs and impossible loyalties. The chariot of the cricketing empire has been wrecked the last vestige of whatever is left in the name of prestige is being frittered with callous abandon by the schlemiels.
A nation, once a blue eyed baby of adoring fans worldwide, proudest exponent of the most sensational of all skills now cuts an orphaned figure. Long shorn of its splendour, stripped of its glory, this once rich nation now looks like a straggling bunch of destitute. The Rome of Pakistan Cricket has continued to burn for years, only for the fiddle to be passed from one Nero to another. This is what happens when those who are needed to play ball, instead choose to play the truant. This is what happens when those asked to stand in prayers, fall into grovelling prostrations.
Butt’s regime was required to minimise the environmental hostility by evolving a definitive and internationally accepted foreign policy. It was also required to identify the wilful method of governance. They were needed to conduct himself with dignity and intelligently by staving off cricket’s another great depression and potential eruptions.
Much was slimy about our conduct on the tour to Australia. Right from the atrocious selection of the touring team, to the ever inert and effete management failing miserably in instilling discipline and esprit de corps among the players; from the ever-ageing Chairman of the PCB at his witter and ham-fisted best to unimaginative and faint-hearted captaincy by Muhammad Yousuf; from the timid performance of the straw packed superstars to the inability of the youthful to rise to the occasion, the series proved to be an interminable nightmare for us. The fact sheets were always expected to register a skewed and unfavourable result, but the kind of depths of humiliation we plumbed, left even the most cynical utterly staggered.
This was our greatest chance of turning the tables on our biggest challenger, in their own backyard; of wiping the slate clean; of sweeping a sponge over the bitter memories of the past; of propelling ourselves through the rankings; of bringing a smile to the saddened lips of a tormented nation.
The PCB top-tier must have known real reforms required supreme self sacrifice. It appeared their hierarchy tended to assume that the over-ambitious and frenzied cricket public in the country was incapable or unwilling to the challenges that real reforms demanded. The hotchpotch PCB disseminated an ugly message, to an extent of conceit. It wasn’t any wonder that there was so much public anger.
Their supporters, if any left by were not incensed so much as disappointed. During his early days in power Mr Butt mobilised a likeminded group that was less distinguished on talent, and didn’t capitalize on the energy, honesty, and will of all those people who were savants and not self seekers. It indicated, from the very beginning that their intent wasn’t right, and even it was honest, it wasn’t explored in to its real moral worth. Instead we became spectators to the appalling side show that the PCB had become.
People are skeptical because they think, Butt was the one to cut through the cant — but he didn’t. Nonetheless, the card carrying realists contemplate that ousting regimes and replacing them with something better is easier said done. They also believe that the PCB, in most cases, doesn’t have the luxury of trying.
A dynamic and a visionary chairman PCB is required-the one who isn’t typically emotional and a self-conceited. Times have changed-now is an era of neuromanagement which combines brain science and management dynamics.
People have been speculating indignantly about the churlish ways of the IPL but a counter question is in order here; what else can one expect from our inveterate adversaries, when we have such ineffectual and meek hands to defend our cause? How and why should we expect our rivals to be benevolent when our supposed benefactors are being delinquent and negligent? Why should Lalit Modi come to our rescue when the PCB fails us day in and day out!
Times gone by fail to furnish an example of a nation, more adept at squandering national pride than us. Our chequered history is replete with sordid episodes of shameful disasters; with our cricketing memoirs being a mere tragic part of this sorry tale. This latest humiliation at the hands of novae riche has caused tremendous consternation to us, but it should not come as a surprise to us. When you allow yourself to fall out of step with the inexorable march of time; you get trampled by the onrush of ruthless forces of nature. Nobody respects a nation, which does not know how to respect itself. An ordinary citizen’s indifference towards national causes, in a democracy, is far more detrimental for national progress, than the tyranny of a dictator in an autocracy.
If the nation is indeed that solicitous about national pride and honour, then it better mobilise its opinion and make it heard across the power corridors of Pakistan. Time for the democratically elected, publicly mandated and consensus President of the state, the patron in chief of PCB, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, to start translating his grandiose, lofty and majestic declarations of transforming the fortunes of the nation and revamping the rancid and antiquated system of misrule into concrete practical action.
It is time for him, to come into his own, to summon all powers of leadership, cognizance and statesmanship to his assistance in formulating a revolutionary strategy for transforming the dwindling fortunes of our cricket.
It is time for him to stay clear of the beaten path; to sacrifice exigencies of the present for futuristic ramifications; to lop off the aging skin and injecting young blood in the decaying veins of our cricketing body. It is time for him to prefer vibrancy, youthfulness, exuberance and suavity over rugged experience, stale veteran ship and sterile conventions.
Pakistan Cricket Board is not a poor organization; it is merely a poorly organised organization. The reason we got humiliated by the Indians was that we had too many chiefs and not enough Indians in our ranks.
By Ijaz Chaudhry
Hockey Olympian and World Cupper Zahid Sheikh who breathed his last on the 29th of January was a gifted left-in and represented Pakistan from 1969-76. Born in Sialkot, a town renowned the world over for its exports especially the sports goods, Zahid had a hockey atmosphere right in his home.
His father Shafiq Sheikh was the first person from Sialkot to come into the national limelight. He was the stand by full-back for the Pakistan team of the 1956 Olympics. In fact, Zahid’s hockey career ran almost parallel with his nephew, the great Shahnaz Sheikh. Both got selected for the Mission high school, Sialkot’s hockey team, the same year, and then it was the city’s Islamia college side. The two also played for the famous Independent hockey club together.
Zahid gained his first selection in the national team for the European tour of 1969. His mega tournaments were the 1972 Olympics (silver medal), the 1975 World Cup (silver) and the 1970 & 74 Asian Games (both golds) — a reasonable medal cabinet.
He also appeared in other tournaments and test series. In the 1974, Christchurch tournament, Zahid was indirectly involved in the emergence of arguably Pakistan’s greatest left winger. Samiullah made his international debut as a left-in during the 1973 World Cup. He again appeared on the same position in the initial matches of the Christchurch tourney. The left-out Safdar Abbas wasn’t impressive. Zahid was introduced at the left-in position with Samiullah switched to the left wing. Zahid sent beautiful diagonal through passes in the left gallery and Samiullah’s wonderful speed enabled him to control these balls and thus a legend was discovered rather rediscovered.
Not very athletic, his stick work and body dodges were of the highest class. Very wristy, he seldom employed hit to pass the ball and always pushed or flicked in the true sub-continental style. He spent most part of his international career on the bench. Initially he was reserve to the veteran Asad Malik and later to none other than his own nephew, the incomparable Shahnaz, for the left-in slot. The 1975 World Cup was the only title tournament when Zahid was played as a regular (that too mainly due to Shahnaz being unfit).
And there in Kuala Lumpur, he hogged the headlines. Zahid was one of the real stars of the 1975 World Cup. His body feints and dribbling mesmerised the onlookers, and the press remarked, "Zahid shows Dhyan Chand’s class". No tribute could be greater than that.
He found the net five times, the most among all the Pakistani forwards. In the final against India, Zahid put Pakistan ahead with a beautiful flick sent to the far corner of the board, only to see his team go down 1-2 under controversial circumstances.
Zahid was dropped from the Pakistan squad for the first big international event on the Astroturf, the 1976 Olympics, and never got selected for Pakistan again.
Apart from Shahnaz, another nephew Tariq Sheikh (left-in/centre forward) also donned the Pakistan shirt from 1987 to 1992 including the 1988 Olympics and the 1990 World Cup.
Zahid served the police without showing any of the traits normally associated with this service in our part of the world, reached the rank of the superintendent and retired on the 31st of December last year. The nature didn’t give him time to enjoy the retired life and he left the world within two months.
The connoisseurs and the lovers of the game will remember him for scoring one of the most memorable goals ever witnessed in the final of a World Cup.
By Abdul Ahad Farshori
Although, the Australian Open saw tennis greats Roger Federer and Serena Williams prove their mettle all over again, there was a lot more to the year’s opening Grand Slam. There was a lot of drama, not many surprises and a comeback which stands out the most.
At the time of the draws, one could have predicted that Maria Sharapova will at least make it to the semifinals of the tournament; after all she is about to complete a year of her comeback. And she landed in the same quarter as the ailing second seed, Dinara Safina, and the slumping eighth seed, Jelena Jankovic.
Sharapova clearly had plenty of work to do after exiting to a friend and fellow glamour girl Maria Kirilenko in a 3 1/2-hour slugfest that kicked off the tournament. The losing Russian delivered 11 double faults after struggling with her serve last summer.
Not the best start in the wake of signing a reported eight-year, $70 million extension with Nike.
Another catastrophe of the tournament other than the three women mentioned above was Ana Ivanovic, who — as hard as it is to believe — was the world No 1 in June 2008. She continues to slump, much worse than her pin-up counterpart Sharapova.
The Aussie press would have loved an extended stay from Ivanovic, since she’s dating Australian golfer Adam Scott. She was even dubbed ‘Aussie Ana’. Ivanovic hasn’t reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal since claiming the French Open in 2008.
Who’s the second-best American man out there, behind Andy Roddick, who was again impressive in the tournament and made it to the quarter-finals? Well, based on recent results, it’s John Isner — not James Blake or Sam Querrey.
Isner began the season by winning a first title in New Zealand, getting a pat on the back from Federer. Despite being tired, the 6’9" Isner still got to the fourth round by upsetting 12th-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils.
The 33rd seed pit up a great fight against the eventual finalist Andy Murray in the last 16, earning a set point in the opener.
Blake lost a five-set thriller to US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, with Querrey continuing to struggle since suffering a freak arm injury in September. Querrey lost to 33-year-old German Rainer Schuettler in the opening round.
Caroline Wozniacki, not that high on the glamour quotient, although owner of a wonderful smile is great for the women’s game. But it is evident the 19-year-old Dane needs to get more aggressive if she wants to remain in the top 10.
China’s Li Na swept past Wozniacki in straight sets. Wozniacki, with an inflated seeding of fourth, struck all of three winners coupled with 22 unforced errors. Wozniacki, however, was nursing a slight injury to her right leg.
No one in his camp admitted it, but Andy Murray’s clash against Rafael Nadal was a defining moment in his career and maybe the best match of the tournament.
Murray played more offensive than ever before, hitting big with his forehand, serving and volleying, and stretching Nadal out of position with his compact two-handed cross-court backhand.
Nadal’s ailing right knee, which forced him to retire in the third set, had little to do with the outcome.
Nadal is supposed to be gone for a month with the knee injury, and his ranking dropped to fourth. If he’s out longer than expected, a tumble to fifth — or worse — is not out of the question as the season develops.
Can you imagine a Federer-Nadal quarter-final at Roland Garros?
When Federer obliterates his opponents, just like what he did to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 90 minutes, it gives him more time to chat courtside.
The Swiss turned comedian in a five-minute post match interview.
First up was how much he works in the off-season.
"It’s all talent. I don’t work," Federer began, drawing laughs from the crowd at Rod Laver Arena. "I just sit on the couch. All I do really is take care of the kids."
On facing Murray in the final: "I know he’d like to win the first (major) for British tennis, for what is it, 150,000 years?"
Federer, however, had the last word on the court as well.
Justine Henin was playing only the second tournament of her comeback, and she will get even better as the season progresses. But Williams, far from her best, too, proved for the umpteenth time how big her heart is.
Williams saved a flurry of set points and won the first set, which was vital given she’s never lost a match at the Australian Open when taking the opener.
She struck a horrible-looking passing shot, sent a serve past the baseline and lost 15 straight points from the end of the second set to the start of the third. Earlier in the second, Henin reeled off eight consecutive points. Did we mention Williams had a bad hamstring, calf, ankle and wrist?
When it really mattered, though, Williams came out firing early in the third.
Williams racked up a 12th major to pull into a tie for sixth with one of her mentors, Billie Jean King. Next on the list are Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (18). Don’t bet against Williams to catch the duo!
And how can you forget the Chinese duo at the tournament — Li Na and Zheng Jie — who stormed through to the semifinals only to be undone by Henin and Williams, but they announced their arrival on the world stage and they are ready to kick on to repeat the feat at the next major tournament.
Other signs of hope for the future can be Sam Stosur, who made it to the fourth round and stood toe to toe with Serena. Another young star to give Serena run for her money was Victoria Azarenka who kept Serena on the run for 2 1/2 hours in the quarter-finals.
Maria Kirilenko had her best result at a grand slam — quarter-finals, where she was beaten by a combination of Zheng and a leg injury.
In the draw of the gentlemen, while the established stars have held sway in the last few years the younger hopes have been trying to claim their moment in the spotlight. They have looked good in spells —and some of them have looked very good on the front covers of magazines — but none has managed to launch a serious challenge for the top.
The Australian Open has set the standard for the year and if the other Grand Slams can match it, we are in for a cracking season.
And from the players’ perspective the experience couldn’t be better — they’ve voted the Australian Open the best Grand Slam for the past three years.
The proof of Australian Open 2010’s success was in the tournament’s attendance figures. The event attracted a record crowd of 653,860 people through the gates, smashing the previous record set in 2008 by 50,000 fans. The tournament twice posted the world’s highest-ever Grand Slam combined day/night attendance (on the first Wednesday and middle Saturday) with Saturday, 23 January attended by 77,043 fans, 11,000 more than the previous record.
Prince William and Roger Federer during the Australian Open 2010
By Umaid Wasim
Last season; Manchester United were crowned Champions of England after their resounding English Premier League win, the Spanish League title was a part of Barcelona’s incredible treble while over in Italy, Inter Milan raced to their fourth straight Serie A title. A look around Europe’s top three leagues this time around illustrates that not much has changed. With the current season more than half-way through in each of the competitions, Inter lead Serie A by eight points over second-placed Milan, Chelsea have a two-point advantage over United in the Premier League while Barcelona are five-points clear of Real Madrid at the summit in Spain. If the last couple of weeks have to give an idea of what would happen next, then last year’s title-holders look primed to repeat their achievements.
Before the Milan derby at the end of January, AC Milan were in red-hot form. Ronaldinho’s resurgence had been a major part in that along with the arrival of David Beckham. Inter were already on top of Serie A with their city rivals looking the only possible challengers. However, what ensued at the San Siro on the night on January 24th reverberated all across Europe.
A magical performance from Jose Mourinho’s men in Milan saw them go down to nine men but still come out triumphant by a score of 2-0 in the Derby del Madoninna. A body-blow to Milan’s title ambitions; Inter followed that performance four days later by dumping Juventus out of the Italian Cup to progress to the semifinals.
Juventus briefly threatened Inter’s stranglehold on the title last season and they have lost their early season swagger. With the sacking of rookie coach Ciro Ferrara, a fourth-placed finish would be their main goal. Milan seemed to be the one side capable of challenging Inter but the derby loss seems to have put the Rossoneri off the trail.
Inter’s performance had one English club worried while it sent another one rejoicing and incidentally both of them are very much in the fight for the honours in England. Inter Milan and AC Milan play Chelsea and Manchester United in the Champions League first-knockout stage later this month. While the Red Devils would be eager for a prospect to go up against a Milan side which has lost quite some of its momentum and also has an old friend in David Beckham in its ranks; the Blues would be wary of an Inter backlash especially with the return of former coach Jose Mourinho.
Manchester United has during the last couple of weeks come out of the shackles to first prove city rivals Manchester City that they are still the big boys of Manchester and then recorded a resounding 3-1 win over Arsenal last Sunday which almost signaled an end to the Gunners’ title challenge.
Wayne Rooney inspired United to a Carling Cup final place with a last-minute goal in the second-leg of their semifinal after a lot of claims had been made by City Chief executive Garry Cook that City with knock United off their perch. Then came the match against Arsenal where United played their big rivals off the park in what looked like a repeat of last year’s Champions League semifinal between both sides.
Then, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who was leading the line for a rampant United and this time around it was another Portuguese winger in Nani who displayed just why Ferguson paid a whopping 17 million pounds to lure him away from Sporting Lisbon in 2007.
For many, it seemed Fergie would never be able to replace Ronaldo after selling him to Real Madrid in the summer for a record deal but their performance against Arsenal illustrated the fact that for Manchester United, only Ferguson is indispensable.
Now the English Premier League seems to be a two-horse race for the title with United and Chelsea in the running. Arsenal plays Chelsea on Sunday (today) in a match that the Gunners need to win in order to keep their flickering hopes of winning their first title since 2004. After promising so much, it seems that Wenger’s young men have again fallen short along with the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa — all teams who showed a lot of early season promise.
United, meanwhile, finally seem to have shrugged off the loss of Carlos Tevez and Ronaldo in the close-season and a title surge cannot be counted off especially since United usually start to blossom at this end of the season. Chelsea’s morale looked down in their match against Hull on Tuesday with probably John Terry’s scandal getting on the minds of their players. Same story like last season; only it was Liverpool who threatened to come into United’s way.
One team that did come in United’s way last season were Spanish champions Barcelona. The Catalans ended United’s dream of winning back-to-back Champions League titles but now look set for doing the same. Absolutely ballistic in the Spanish League, Barcelona have not lost any of their rhythm from last season.
Even though the start of the season was dominated by Real Madrid’s big ‘galactico’ signings of Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema, Real seem to have lost their way. Ronaldo’s two-match suspension for reacting to a challenge has seen Spanish critics slam the Portuguese winger and that surely does not help Real’s cause.
As the late Sir Bobby Robson once said, "When you have millionaires in your dressing room, they are bound to cause problems," Real are facing a similar situation with players dissatisfied over the lack of playing time.
Barcelona, meanwhile, has capitalised on the situation and look to be heading for back-to-back La Liga titles. League teams seem to have no answer to the mercurial Messi, the giant Ibrahimovic and the majestic midfield duo of Iniesta and Xavi and are torn apart by the Catalans.
Europe’s top football Leagues seem to be getting monotonous. Calls for a European Super League have been talked and discussed for quite some time now which would feature top clubs from Europe in a season-long competition rather that the Champions League. UEFA President Michel Platini, who has changed the format of the Champions League to allow for clubs from lesser-known European countries, now needs to ponder over this issue to stop Europe’s top Leagues from becoming totally emblematic!
Ronaldinho (right) trudges off while Inter pair Esteban Cambiasso (left) and Goran Pandev celebrate during the Milan derby on January 24th
By Aamir Bilal
Many outstanding players exhaust their sports careers prematurely due to injuries that are not very serious, but in fact they are not well managed due to lack of basic knowledge and awareness of conditioning methodologies and timely and effective management of sports injuries.
Most of the people participate in sports to attain physical fitness, which is an amateurish approach towards sport and games. Those interested in professional sports should learn the value of proper conditioning before taking up the concerned sport seriously. Functional conditioning in sports consists of exercises that incorporate balance, flexibility, stability, acceleration, and deceleration. In essence, functional conditioning trains movements rather than isolated muscles. The specific exercises that help condition of the body must meet the following four criteria.
First of all it should include frontal and transverse movements. Secondly it should properly condition the body’s nerves and muscles to develop "muscle memory" and help make movements "automatic". Third, it should prepare the body to respond to external forces such as gravity and momentum. And lastly it is important that the exercise should build the bio-motor ability of an athlete to develop his or her flexibility, strength, power, endurance, agility and coordination. In our culture, most of the sportsmen start playing games without proper conditioning, as they believe that they would achieve fitness and conditioning through participation and playing the sports automatically, this is a fallacy.
If the athlete is not properly conditioned, it is likely that he or she will break down or get injured under stress and would not be able to give a 100% in spite of being talented. In order to get superior conditioning it is not necessary to visit state of art gymnasiums, but it is the correct use of basic exercise equipment and techniques that gives an athlete superior conditioning and fitness required for optimal performance in the concerned sport.
In order to develop strength and stability of shoulders, hips and core and to improve the activation and elongation of muscles, physioball exercise is a must which is usually missing in the inventory of our expensive gyms. Exercise with physioball improves nervous system response to movement and stimulates the muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems. It also improves balance, coordination, flexibility, stability and strength necessary for playing any professional sport.
Along with physioball the second most important is the correct use of stretch shortening cycle, as it improves both muscular and neuropsychological mechanism. Training this feature stimulates changes in the neuromuscular system by enhancing the ability of the nervous system to recruit muscle groups and to respond to both slight and rapid changes in muscle length more quickly and powerfully. Training of muscles in this fashion increases the power of movements, using the muscles and tendons elastic elements in addition to stretch reflex. Stretch shortening cycle includes jumping drills, single leg squats, standing bench press, high hurdle jumps and clapping in the air while performing push ups.
If athletes concentrate at their flexibility, coordination, plyometric and activation training using skipping rope, physioball, stretching, jumping and jogging exercises, eat nutritiously, take carbohydrates, necessary vitamins specially Vitamin C, antioxidants like spinach and broccoli, fats with more omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acid, use of bananas during training to recover quickly from fatigue and to compensate loss of potassium and pre-hydrate at least two hours before exercise with 500 to 600 milliliters of fluid, there is no reason why they are not well prepared to take on the grueling sport season ahead.
In spite of proper conditioning, injuries are part of sport. Different types of injuries occurs to bones, ligaments, joints, tendons, muscles and other parts of the body while participating in contact and non contact sports. Treatment of injuries is a specialised area that should be left to a qualified physiologist or a doctor who is trained in the area of sport medicine; however the coach, trainer and athlete should be educated about the nature and initial treatment of sport injuries for the early and better rehabilitation of the players.
PRICE is the acronym for the principles by which injury is initially managed. The first letter in PRICE stands for protection. The word R in PRICE indicates the importance of rest, where as I is for the application of ice that must be applied to effected area as soon as possible with exception to the injuries of scrotum or testicular injury of males that occurs due to direct contact of hard objects like cricket or baseball or direct body blows, where hot wet towels are applied so that blood clotting in the area of impact can be reduced or avoided.
The last letter of PRICE is E which means that the injured limb should be elevated above the level of heart to allow gravity to reduce swelling by returning fluids towards the heart.
Along with PRICE the principle of HARM should also be kept in mind by the player that consists of factors which are harmful if ignored in initial treatment and recovery.
H of harm is for heat treatment, which if used early can increase internal bleeding and swelling. A is for alcohol that leads to inappropriate postponement of treatment. The R of harm is to indicate that running of any form should be avoided at least for 72 hours after injury unless a medical professional says otherwise. Lastly it is the vital M for massage which is applied extensively in our orthodox way of treatment that may cause bleeding and swelling. There are different types of sport massages but the deep nerve massage has to be avoided for 72 hours at all cost.
Taking a few examples of the common sport injuries, Rotator cuff tear is a common shoulder injury in the athletes of over 40 years who have a long history of involvement in repetitive overhead sports such as swimming, volleyball or throwing sport including cricket.
Athletes also suffer from tennis elbow but mostly fail to distinguish between the tennis and golfers elbow injury. The golfer’s elbow can occur due to poor swing mechanics and it occurs mostly in the trailing or dominant elbow. The player usually complains about the pain along the inner side of elbow and pain worsens with wrist flexion and pronation.
The tennis elbow on the other hand is a common sports malady that effects more than just tennis pros and weekend tennis warriors. Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis occurs as a result of repetitive twisting and torquing of the forearm and elbow from activities such as tennis, golf, squash and cricket ball throwing.
Wrist sprains, wrist tendinitis and fractures to the area of hands are also common but a very common injury to the finger is called mallet finger, when it is struck at the tip and the phalanx at the fingertip is forced down. This commonly happens in sports as basketball or volleyball.
Knee is another highly suspected area of injuries amongst the professional players. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB) frequently occurs in cyclist and runners, whereas meniscal tear is a common cause of locked knee amongst players when they cross 50 years of age. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear (ACL) is also common in the players who play pivoting and cutting sports like football and basketball, whereas Posterior Cruciate Ligament Tear (PCL) is more common amongst the athlete who participate contact sports such as rugby or American football.
Most of athletes specially cricketers, distance runners, tennis players and field hockey players suffer from hamstring strain which is infect the tearing of muscle fibre. Although a complete tear can occur, most tears are partial. Poor running mechanics in which the athlete has excess forward lean causes it primarily. This results in over-striding, increasing the hamstring length and making strain more likely.
Pakistan has an acute shortage of sport medicine experts. Like any good sport psychologist it is also difficult to find a good sports medicine doctor or physio. The rarity of this commodity has given way too many quakes and self presumed experts in this field to flex their muscles and are making bucks and playing havoc with the future of budding, talented and professional players.
It is therefore imperative upon the sports boards and federations to acquire services of professional sports medicine experts and establish biomechanics labs in each province along with the education of athletes about sports conditioning and management of sports injuries, so that the performance of players can be made trouble free and the valuable playing life of athletes can be enhanced manifold.
Aamir Bilal is a qualified coach