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Football Sports

Chelsea, take a bow!

Last night, I witnessed a sporting spectacle. Chelsea football club, consistent in Europe over the last decade but perennial underachievers, finally fulfilled their dream of winning the UEFA Champions League, and by doing so reached the pinnacle of European club football. Legends were made, ghosts of past failures exorcised, fading stars of the old guard went out in one spectacular bang. And one man’s ruthless ambition was finally realized. It was a glorious European night, and for most part, Bayern Munich, playing at home at the Allianz Arena, did most of the talking on the pitch.

I feel for Bayern Munich, they were the overwhelming favourite in the build-up to this Champions League final. Playing at home was dubbed as the biggest advantage in their favour, and they almost made it count. They had the lion’s share of possession, controlled the pace of the game, and ran Chelsea ragged all over the pitch. Ribery, Gomez, Mueller, and Robben, especially, were a constant threat for the Chelsea defence. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable first goal, such was the Germans’ dominance of the game.

To their credit, Chelsea defended beautifully, Ashley Cole putting in a stellar performance on the wing, David Luiz and Gary Cahill coped brilliantly in Terry’s absence, and between the posts Cech was looming large, difficult to get past, denying Bayern single-handedly on several occasions. Cech was instrumental in ensuring Chelsea won their first ever Champions League crown.

But there was no stopping Bayern Munich, firing on all cylinders, throwing everything they had at Cech’s goal. And when it looked like one goal would be enough to seal the game’s fate, Thomas Mueller’s header finally broke through Cech’s defenses. Pandemonium erupted in the red half of Allianz Arena, as the partisan crowd sensed their team’s victory. Chelsea’s shoulders slumped, left to reflect in their darkest hour four years ago in Moscow, their only previous Champions League final fixture which ended in defeat.

This is where it gets really exciting (for a neutral like me). Against the run of play, Didier Drogba hammered home a header past Manuel Neuer’s giant hands in the opposite goal to throw Chelsea a lifeline in the dying moments of the game. Against all odds, undeserved, but with dogged determination, Chelsea equalized. Bayern Munich players were shell-shocked, their supporters struck dumb by what Drogba had just conjured. They had every right to feel that way because Chelsea were absolutely horrible till that point.

On to extra time, Drogba quickly turned from hero to villain for stupidly tripping Ribery inside the penalty box, a mindless tackle from behind. Bayern earned an unlikely penalty, with that a chance to win the game. But Arjen Robben, a former Chelsea player, had his penalty saved by the safe hands of Petr Cech. The effect inside the stadium was astounding. Suddenly, Bayern Munich started feeling nervous for the first time, for try as much they did Chelsea refused to give in. On the other hand, Chelsea’s players seemed uplifted by Bayern’s misery, buyoed by Cech’s heroics they found reserve energy to continue their battle where Bayern were clearly struggling to keep pace with the game. There was a definite shift in momentum.

As fate would have it, the game dragged on to the penalties. It seemed Chelsea had to exorcise their demons of Moscow if they were to be crowned European champions. Mata missed the only penalty from Chelsea’s lineup, whereas Olic and Schweinsteiger choked for Bayern, both brilliantly saved by Petr Cech. And as John Terry’s ill-fated slip that guided his penalty onto the right post against Manchester United in Moscow back in 2008, so would Schweinsteiger — the final kick taker in Bayern’s lineup, just like John Terry four years ago — stop on his way and eventually find the post blocking his way to glory (it got the faintest of touch from Cech before it hit the post). Hero against Real Madrid in the semi-final, Schweinsteiger was inconsolable from the moment of his mishap. Football can be so cruel sometimes.

Chelsea’s tryst with destiny was finally fulfilled when Didier Drogba — the man who kept them in the game with his equalizer — stepped up and coolly slotted his penalty into the bottom corner of the goal, sending Neuer the wrong way. From villain four years ago for getting sent off for slapping United’s Vidic in the final of 2008, Drogba instantly wrote his name in the legends of the game, and Chelsea football club, for striking the winning shot that sent West London into uncontrolled ecstasy. It may well have been his last kick as a Chelsea player, we will have to wait and see — if it turns out so, what a way to leave a football club! On top of the world! A fascinating final, one that finally brought Chelsea redemption. Money can’t buy the sights, the scenes, the memories of that memorable night.

Chelsea’s season has been epitomized by two things: Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment as interim manager (after Andres Villas-Boas was sacked in February) and Chelsea’s old guard — Drogba, Terry, Lampard, Cole, and everyone in the squad assembled by Jose Mourinho — and their desire, determination and belief to go out on a high. As it turns out, this Champions League final success may well be the last hurrah for a lot of ageing stars in Chelsea’s team.

Oh, and yes, I still feel this Di Matteo fella has done some sort of deal with the Devil. How else would you describe Chelsea’s roller-coaster season?

Originally published: May 20, 2012

Categories
Football Sports

I miss the EPL

I’m suffering from serious withdrawal. It isn’t something that a visit to the roadside dealer or checking into rehab will fix. You see, I’m a football fan in India, hooked on to the most intoxicating drug of all — my weekly dose of “football”. And no, I’m not referring to some new designer joint doing the rounds of late, I’m referring to the actual sport. Twenty two blokes running like hounds behind a piece of inflated rubber, that pretty much sums up the world’s most keenly followed game. Yeah, that football. I miss it like crazy.

Last English Premier League season ended in May, ever since my weekends have just been dreary and lackadaisical. There’s only so much reading one can do, what with Google and the Internet affecting my attention span. I tried watching the IPL but who was I kidding? I detest every form of cricket now unless it’s a test match. I tried following the tennis action at Roland Garros and Wimbledon but it failed to capture my attention for long — how I wish every game was Sharapova vs. Ivanovic! And F1, it just doesn’t have enough pit babes to keep me on the track. Game of Thrones has been a revelation of sorts but I digress.

Nothing else will cut it for me, I miss English football like crazy — I can’t say it enough. Okay, I think I can reminisce a bit: What a great season it was! Manchester United lifted their record 19th league crown to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch,” fulfilling the prophetic words of manager Alex Ferguson when he took over at United back in 1986. But they managed to so with the lowest point tally for a winning club in recent memory. At one point of time, it seemed no one wanted to win the title, it was that open a race for the championship. Topsy turvy, full of drama, excitement, heartbreak and joy. Arsenal and Chelsea were in it at the start but floundered and lost their footing midway through the gruelling campaign and never really recovered — like an embarrassed runway model suffering a wardrobe malfunction, never to be seen again in a hurry. But along with Tottenham and Manchester City, they pursued the Red Devils close to the finish line. So much so that it took United a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers to seal the deal on the penultimate weekend, such was life at the top of the table. Definitely one of the best title races in a number of years.

But the relegation battle was as intense, if not more. Going into the final month of the season, it looked like any of the bottom eight teams could face the agonizing drop back into second division. I can never forget the unbelievable scenes of jubilant madness at Wolves and Wigan Athletic as they survived relegation, and the stunned faces of Birmingham and Blackpool fans as their team failed to make the cut — oh how cruel! Darwin’s survival of the fittest witnessed at the most unlikeliest places, and all this high tension drama right on the final day of the season was a script that just couldn’t have been written. It was memorable.

The past season had its moment of distraction, too. Rooney’s off-field one-two with Juicy Jeni, angry swearing into a live camera, and shocking desire to leave Manchester United before doing a dramatic U-turn provided extra entertainment than Shebby Singh’s squeaky voice during the pre-match build-up show on ESPN. Fernando Torres’ bank-breaking 50 million dollar transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea and his subsequent loss of form — re: goalscoring mojo — was equally intriguing. But probably the best moment came when Arsene Wenger refused to shake Kenny Dalglish’s hand after a brutal 1-1 draw at home, only to be told to “fuck off.” That was just priceless, better than any retort in those ageing Ekta Kapoor soaps. How can you not miss such drama?

Right now, it’s still vacation time for most of the club’s players and management, enjoying a much-deserved break from the crazy game. It won’t be long before the madness begins, though — preseason training has already started for some clubs. But currently it’s time for stadium repairs, buying leftover season tickets, and more importantly player transfers. Amidst contract renewals, clubs are busy serenading future stars, facing endless negotiations with player agents, and inking complicated deals. The press is having a field day reporting every rumour and speculation, which means football (news) isn’t completely off the air. But that’s small consolation and a poor substitute to live action. August just couldn’t come any sooner.

As I write this, the season opener is just a month away. The bitter rivals of Manchester (City and United) will lock heads for the one-off Community Shield trophy as FA Cup and Premier League winners, respectively. Mouthwatering prospect. That will open the proverbial floodgates for nine months of non-stop football action. Seventeen teams from the previous season and three newly promoted clubs (QPR is back!) will get the 2011/12 season underway on a fine Saturday afternoon.

And the universe will make sense again. Funny, isn’t it?

Originally published: July 16, 2011

Categories
Football Sports

Ancelotti & Mancini: Squeaky bum time

It’s a tale of two famous English clubs led by two modern Italian stalwarts of the game. There is no question about Chelsea and Manchester City’s ambition. But in their desperate quest for silverware this season stands a team that keeps defying critics time after time. In the coming week, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United can seriously wreck Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini’s season, ensuring it ends in disarray and self-doubt for the two Italian men who promised so much at the beginning. An Italian job gone horribly wrong.

Carlo Ancelotti’s illustrious managerial career requires no mention here. He led Chelsea to a historic Premier League and FA Cup double in his debut season of 2009-10. However, he arrived at Stamford Bridge with one objective: to capture the crown jewel of European club competition, a trophy steeped in Chelsea’s recent history, the UEFA Champions League. Ancelotti knows his work and legacy at Chelsea is incomplete if the European Cup fails to grace the West London club.

Roberto Mancini made a name for himself with Inter Milan, earning three successive Scudetto for the Italian giant before moving to England. He took over the reigns from Mark Hughes in late 2009, knowing fully well what Manchester City’s wealthy owners expected of him. To drop City’s “noisy neighbors” tag and elevate the club to new heights, with domestic and European success. While Ancelotti has delivered some modicum of success to Chelsea fans and Abramovich, Mancini has yet to earn any silverware for Manchester City, despite a side filled with superstars. More than anyone else Mancini knows he has to deliver something this season, least of all a Champions League spot.

Arise the common nemesis! Manchester United holds the key that could unlock the fortunes of both these teams. They play Chelsea in Tuesday’s Champions League quarter final and Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final on Saturday. This five-day span is the most noteworthy this season in English football; United can keep their treble dream alive, Chelsea and Manchester City can give their fans something to cheer about. Or face the aftermath of agonizing defeats that could quickly spiral down to a season gone horribly wrong.

If United get past Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final on Tuesday, Carlo Ancelotti will have to come to terms with a barren Chelsea season without any silverware during his short stint as manager. How that will go down with Abramovich, only time will tell. Chelsea’s hunger and appetite for success will be questioned, and doubts over an aging squad will receive fresh attention. Ancelotti and Chelsea will have their work cut out.

Mancini’s cause is more desperate compared to Ancelotti’s, in my opinion. Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners aren’t big fans of cultivating success over time, relying on fat cheque books to buy it for them instead. But success has eluded them so far and it isn’t going to be easy on Saturday. If Manchester City’s outwitted by United–not for the first time this season, who knows how short a leash Mancini will be on? Will the owners be patient with him–if so, for how long? So much rides on Saturday’s FA Cup semi final result for Manchester City’s manager. For all his big name signings, Mancini’s City remains a far cry from upsetting Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal’s stranglehold over English football.

Of course, there’s every chance that Chelsea and Manchester City will trounce over United in the coming week. But so awful have United been this season that the scribes will only feel vindicated in their prediction of doom for the club from Old Trafford. Nothing more.

The repercussions of defeat for Chelsea and Manchester City will not just stop at acrimonious press coverage. It may have deeper ramifications for Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini than any oracle or football pundit could’ve predicted at the beginning of the season.

Originally published: April 9, 2011

Categories
Cricket Football Sports

Sachin & Fergie: Two sporting greats

Sachin Tendulkar and Sir Alex Ferguson have achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve in their respective sport. Success, fame, adulation, and respect. Both remain relentless in their effort to further greatness, showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

On Sunday, December 19, 2010, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th test hundred, the first ever to reach that milestone in cricket history; the same day saw Sir Alex Ferguson surpass Sir Matt Busby’s time at Old Trafford to become the longest serving manager in the history of Manchester United, over 24 years of coaching one of England’s elite football club.

What football is to the English, cricket is to Indians. Two games that enjoy immense national interest and are a constant subject of discussion and debate for the two people. Tendulkar’s been delighting cricket lovers since 1989, while Ferguson took over the reigns at Old Trafford back in 1986. And in their time they have rewritten record books.

That the two geniuses should reach their personal milestones on the same day is a pleasant coincidence indeed. As a cricket and football fan, I consider myself privileged to witness the era of Sachin and Fergie, and thankfully there seems no immediate end in sight.

Boost is the secret of my energy too, Sachin; and Fergie, thanks for knocking Liverpool off their fucking perch.

Originally published: December 20, 2010

Categories
Football Sports

Derby day drama

Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City (Old Trafford)

Didn’t blog about United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal or their 3-1 triumph over Tottenham Hotspurs, but I’ve been forced out of hibernation by the sheer class of this game. Easily the best game I’ve seen for a long time, with terrific passing, great attacking play from both teams and snatches of individual brilliance.

I have a million things to say about this game, but some other time. Suffice to say that I never in my wildest dreams imagined Michael Owen would play any part in a Manchester derby, let alone win one–courtesy of his last-gasp shot six minutes into extra time. The guy’s a genius!

Originally published: September 20, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Football Places Sports

We are back!

Yeah.

That headline is for all the naysayers out there, and their jittery kneejerk reactions, daring to write off United after only their second game of the Premiership campaign. Second game!! Granted Burnley was a slap on the face—but what a cracking volley that was from Clarke—and defeat not the best result, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless. United have traditionally been slow starters, but that doesn’t give them license to be sloppy, which is what they were away at Turf Moor. The Clarets were better in all departments, and Carrick’s slip-up during the penalty chance was unfortunate.

I’ve never seen Fergie as red-faced as he was after that midweek game. The hair-dryer surely must have been thrashed around in the dressing room, and the players given a deserved earful. Wonder what the Gaffer says during times like these. Be that as it may, it surely seems to have worked. Wigan resisted well in the first half yesterday, but they were brushed aside with ease in front of United’s attacking prowess in the second. Nope, brushed aside is too tame to describe the proceedings: Wigan were annihilated, decimated, in the face of sheer brilliance. Rooney—who finally scored his landmark 100th goal for United—scored a brace, while Berbatov, Owen, and Nani, all scored one apiece. Owen’s first goal for the club was a special one, and probably off the hardest chance he’s had since the start of the Premiership. That’ll help ease his nerves and give his confidence a big boost, and the same holds true for Berbatov. All three strikers need to hit the right note early on for United to have any chance of winning a record fourth straight Premiership title.

The scoreline in the end was 5-0 in favour of United. Quite a way to silence those retarded critics, eh? Oh and Arsenal won their match 4-1. It’s going to be an exciting game next weekend. Wenger or Good Ol’ Fergie?

—-

That headline holds true for England as well. They defeated Australia by 197 runs to regain the Ashes, winning the series 2-1. The Poms did the Oz—again!

—-

Nice weekend, here in Bangalore. Had the pleasure of introducing an unsuspecting South Indian family of the nuances of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations—bumbaiya ishtyle. Oh yeah, they were amused.

Originally published: August 23, 2009

Categories
Football Sports

Premiership kickoff

A blog post after two months, boy am I getting lazy or what? Blog was ignored on account of many reasons: I was as busy as a hamster on a wheel at work, then I fell horribly sick. So sick in fact that the doctor advised me to go home; “There’s no hospital like home, and no better doctor than your mother,” he said. Cheesy, yet true.

As a result, I’ve returned from an 18-day vacation in rain-swept Mumbai, and apart from sitting around and doing nothing—which is what most sick people do on an enforced holiday—I devoted myself completely to watching the telly with unbound exuberance. I was on a healthy diet of cooking shows—Nigella Lawson, Kylie Kwong, Jamie Oliver, the lot—the movie channels, EPL flashbacks, and VH1 (MTV and Channel [V] are just hideous nowadays!). What I’ve noticed is that adverts are getting better, and news channels waste no time in labelling every cough and sneeze a “breaking news”. But they aren’t half as stupid as English movie channels, and their dim-witted attempts to weed out swear words and kisses from a movie, so that pimple-faced brats and their parents alike can watch movies like Cocktail and The Mummy together with a straight face.

But let’s keep all that craziness for the crazies. I don’t have to bear with it anymore as football is back from its hibernation, and weekends will never be the same. United are left with a big hole after Ronaldo’s record-breaking departure to Real Madrid, and one thing led to another, as Michael Owen—the one man I never imagined at United—has embraced the mantle of the #7 jersey. Carlos Tevez has gone across to Manchester City, and with no major name signed in the transfer window, there’s a big banter over United’s depleted forces and how it’s Liverpool’s season this year. We’ll wait and see about that.

So, the pre-season friendlies are gone, the Community Shield hiccup against Chelsea forgotten, everyone expected a United win over newly promoted Birmingham City on the opening weekend of the new Premiership season. And win United did, Rooney scoring in the first-half, but it was a scrappy victory—the 1-0 scoreline not as convincing as Arsenal’s 6-1 demolition job of Everton on Saturday. However, Liverpool’s 1-2 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Tottenham Hotspurs was nice to see—and so was the post-match interview of Rafa Benitez, the Man with a Thousand Excuses. But these are still early days.

Yay, for the Premiership. I missed you.

Originally published: August 17, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Places Sports

Run maadi run!

What do you get when you combine reckless exuberance with an unfulfilled ambition? In the context of this post, a physical meltdown. As I furiously press the keys on my laptop’s keyboard, trying to show my body who’s its daddy, I have completely surrendered to the mutiny of my lower limbs, that pain and shriek—yeah, I hear them—at my tiniest attempts to move them. To be fair to them, they have every right to complain, after the torture they’ve endured. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy—but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Sunday mornings are seldom as demanding—get up late, have brunch, laze around some more, you know the drill, right?—but having signed up for the Sunfeast World 10K Bangalore, what else was I expecting? In the end the experience was both exhaustive and enriching at the same time. The event is a yearly marathon that takes place in Bangalore, which, coupled with its lovely, inviting weather for outdoor activities, saw a turnout of over twenty-three thousand enthusiastic runners this year. And they came in all size and shapes, age-groups, and demographics. I saw the modern runner—complete with sweat bands, Nike sneaks, an iPod, energy drink, the whole nine yards—and an appreciable foreign contingent setting the pace for the rest of the pack. There were ladies running in tracksuits, small kids, pudgy men, middle-aged-out-of-shape aunties, grannies and grandpas, even a baby in a pram! I also saw some costumed crusaders: Ghajini-inspired runner, a Yamaraj-lookalike, and several confused caped men. The mass exodus was flagged off from Kanteerava Indoor Stadium at 8.10am, the track snaking its way through Kasturba Road, Cubbon and Dickenson Road, before reaching its farthest point at Ulsoor Road (the 5-km mark) and turning back. People along the way were cheering us—heck, even traffic and regular cops were clapping their hands together, shouting Run maadi run! whenever they saw someone falter or slow down. It was also good to see Bangalore’s roads devoid of automobiles of any kind—you can hope to glimpse Santa on Christmas Eve before witnessing such a miracle, if you weren’t running.

I had received my bib (no. 8916) and goodie bag on Wednesday, and, although unprepared, I was really looking forward to the showdown. Apart from not being in the best of shape, and getting found out physically in terms of stamina, I take great personal joy and pride in completing the damn thing in just over two hours—2 hours 10 mins—without a single break! I winced, huffed and puffed, thrust an endless amount of fluid down my throat (knowing all too well it wasn’t the best thing to do), and I winced some more but I got the job done. Another personal highlight was bumping into Dav Whatmore—the ace Cricket coach, a stone’s throwaway from Chinnaswamy Stadium during my retreat on Cubbon Road. Said a few words, shook his hand, felt good. That was the only distraction throughout the race, apart from a band of runners chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya! at the top of their lungs. Ganpati Bappa in Bangalore? Don’t see that too often.

The event was well-organized, with ample water-medic stalls stationed throughout the course. At the time I reentered Kanteerava to finish the race, my feet felt like they were getting poked by needles all over. I relaxed and recouperated with friends at a pub on Church Street, but reaching there was another long, arduous trudge which my feet were unwilling to make. Once home, it was a long session under the hot shower, before tucking myself into bed at 2pm. Having woken up at 6am on a Sunday morning—which is nothing short of blasphemy—and walked to the tune of 12-13km, what else do you expect?

Originally published: June 1, 2009

Categories
Football Sports

A Catalan fairytale

Ah, well, a disappointing end to the season. Manchester United went to Rome with great expectations and a chance to create history. Barcelona had a similar agenda, trying to be the first Spanish club to win the treble. With the La Liga title and Copa del Rey already in the bag, they capped off a fairytale finish to a historic fortnight by winning the Champions League final in Rome 2–0, and, in the process, thoroughly outplaying their opponents. The prospect of making history proved too much for United on the night.

It wasn’t a vintage United performance by any means. Apart from a cracking start in the opening ten minutes of the game, they conceded a soft goal against the run of play and never recovered from that initial blow. Samuel Eto’o went past Vidic far too easily and beat Edwin Van der Sar—despite getting a touch on the ball—at his near post. Panic set in, far too many passes went astray, and we never had much possession. Ronaldo was the only United player who provided a few sparks on an otherwise forgettable night.

Having said that, I don’t want to take anything away from Barcelona’s performance. They were simply spectacular on the night, making life difficult for United’s stars to flourish. Much was made of their depleted back line, and United’s stellar pair of Ferdinand and Vidic were expected to be the telling difference between the two sides. And in a way they were, only opposite to expectations. Apart from a few half chances, United never really posed a goal threat, and I don’t remember Victor Valdes—the Barcelona goalie—ever making a save throughout the game. On the other hand, Barcelona’s attacking prowess was a treat to watch. Henry, Eto’o, and Messi—the holy trinity—hovered around United’s penalty box like hungry scavengers, and Iniesta and Xavi constantly kept feeding them with an endless supply of passes. The second goal, a brilliant header from Lionel Messi, where he seemed to be airborne forever, underlined Barcelona’s overall supremacy in the game. The scoreline could’ve been 4–0 but for a couple of very good saves from VDS.

What went wrong for United? The tactic of playing Rooney on the left flank just didn’t work, as he was severely under-used and failed to make any impact. He should’ve partnered Ronaldo as the second striker, and Fergie realized this a touch too late. The crucial difference between the two teams was the midfield, in my opinion. Barcelona’s pair of Iniesta and Xavi were unstoppable and almost telepathic in their passing, while their United counterparts in Giggs and Carrick completely lacklustre. They gave too many balls away far too easily, and United never really came to the party, forced to chase the game by Barcelona.

They were well and truly outplayed on the night, and the players accepted the fact at the final whistle. Not a tear was shed, their faces shell-shocked more than anything else. Fergie had a melancholy look on his face. Personally, it was sad not to see United lift the trophy, but Barcelona were deserving winners on the night. And as Carlos Puyol lifted the most coveted trophy in European football, even Fergie couldn’t help but stand and applaud the new European Champions.

Congratulations to Barcelona! I would’ve enjoyed the game a lot more had I not been tense with nervous anticipation for the whole length of it. Pep Guardiola deserves every accolade in his favour, delivering a season that is nothing short of magical for a rookie manager. Lionel Messi was better than Ronaldo on the night, and his goal was a true masterclass. I should also mention the solid performance of Gerard Pique in defence, his was simply outstanding, and obviously thrilled for winning the trophy twice in two years with two different teams—he was a United player until last season, if any of you don’t know.

Knowing Manchester United, they’ll bounce back after this defeat. They always do. Until next season then, aye?

Originally published: May 28, 2009

Categories
Cricket Football Sports

Foot over Bat anyday!

A thankful break from a monotonous Sunday evening—which usually begins with an abrupt end to extended siestas, closely followed by EPL’s Super Sunday (minus John Dykes’ prematch sound bytes), only to conclude with open-ended conversations with online friends, deep into the night—I found myself skipping my habitual weekend football fodder, getting dragged into witnessing the IPL Twenty20′s finale between Deccan Chargers and Bangalore Royal Challengers instead.

Was I excited? Not really. I was looking forward to a cosy evening with some good friends more than anything else. To be honest, this was the first game I watched in IPL’s 2009 season. While sitting in the stands, witnessing the first test between India and Australia, back in last October, I remember being all amped up over the prospect of watching some of Royal Challengers’ home games at the Chinnaswamy. I wasn’t prejudiced against watching the IPL from the beginning, just felt disappointed and robbed over the tournament’s hosting in South Africa.

When I ended up at my friend’s place, who was kind enough to host the evening’s get-together, I was looking forward to some good cricket. Food and drinks accompanied the festive spirit (Go Challengers!), much to my surprise; and with likeminded sports-loving, couch- and beanbag-hugging maniacs, what else did they mean in the “Watching the game, having a Bud” adverts? Perfect setting. All the game needed to do was match the expectations.

Deccan were asked to bat by Kumble, whose second-ball dismissal of Gilchrist was flukely predicted by yours truly, moments before the delivery, and followed by an uncontrolled tizzy immediately after. But that was all the excitement as far as cricket was concerned. The rest of the game was hopelessly lackadaisical, and failed to keep my attention. And others around me felt much the same—in varying degress, of course—peeling their eyes off the television screen, allowing themselves to get distracted easily—whether it was a song, a joke, or the long line of adverts that filled gaps between overs.

At some point, I realized that curtains were also falling on the current Premier League season, and that United were away at Hull City—who still weren’t completely safe from relegation—fielding a reserve team, with both eyes firmly set on Wednesday and Barcelona at Rome. I later found out they won the match 1-0 despite fielding a weak team, and that Hull were safe. Weird not to see a football game on its last weekend.

But as I left for home past midnight, watching Akon lip-sync his own number at the Wanderers, I couldn’t help thinking—what if we had switched sports, opting to watch football instead of cricket? Somehow I get the feeling it wouldn’t have been such a bad proposition, and Blueberry—my new best friend—seemed to agree.

Note to self: try to convert your friends into watching more football.

Originally published: May 26, 2009