Tuesday, October 30, 2012

India A vs England: Tiwary steals the show on Day One

Manoj Tiwary scored a defiant 93 to guide India A to a competent 369 for nine at stumps on Day One of the first three-day warm-up match of England's tour of India at the Cricket Club of India (CCI), Mumbai.

26-year-old Tiwary, who has always been on the sidelines for a Test spot, gave the Indian selectors a right dilemma in a match that was billed as a slugfest between captain Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh for the coveted no 6 spot. The Bengal lad shared a 110-run seventh-wicket partnership with all-rounder Irfan Pathan (46) in the third session to wrest back the advantage from the visitors.

Earlier, England were asked to bowl by Raina on what seemed like a sporting wicket ahead of the day's play.The tourists, who started with three quicks (James Anderson, Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan) were left in a spot soon in the first session after Steve Finn hobbled off the field after bowling just four overs. However, the Englishmen made the most of their bowling arsenal and picked up wickets at regular intervals, two per session, even as the track lost its nip, to restrict India A to 224 for six at Tea. This, after Abhinav Mukund (73) and Yuvraj Singh (59) shared a 56-run third-wicket partnership following the early dismissals of  Murali Vijay (7) and Ajinkya Rahane (4). 

While Mukund was edgy to begin with before eventually settling into his 83-ball 73 (16 x4), Singh was merciless after being dropped first ball by Ian Bell. The southpaw greeted Samit Patel into the attack with two fours and a straight-lofted six, before bringing up his 50 with a similar maximum. The crack off Singh's bat as he found the sweet spot again-and-again was music to the ears of the crowd swelling by the hour at the Brabourne Stadium. In the 43rd over, Singh decided to have a change of angles and lofted Graeme Swann (23-6-90-3) over the long-on fence before being stumped two balls later.

Raina and keeper Wriddhiman Saha did not trouble the selectors much after being dismissed for 20 each to leave India A reeling at 190 for six in 47 overs. England would have expected a few overs of batting at this point on Day One, but Tiwary and Pathan had other plans.

The duo paced their innings well, clearing the fence 19 times in their 110-run stand and wrested control from the Englishmen. Tiwary was fluid with his strokeplay and seemed in no hurry to get going. The Bengal lad caressed the balls to the boundary, rather than heaving them and scored with a modest strike rate of around 60. Pathan (46, 83b, 5x4, 2x6), always the slugger, was also uncharacteristically patient with his innings and only punished the looseners. The left-hander was eventually to be trapped in front by Swann in the 75th over. The dismissal, however, wasn't to deter Tiwary as he carried on fighting and fending the English quicks into the nineties.

India A had been let down by batsmen who couldn't convert their starts into big scores and here was a man on the brink of three figures who knew that, in all probability, he still might not get that elusive Test cap. However, Tiwary's Terrific Tuesday was not to get the icing it deserved as Tim Bresnan (20-6-59-3) uprooted the former's middle stumps with four overs left in the day's play.

Tiwary might be the hero on paper, but the star of the day, at least for the 500-odd spectators in the North stand, was comeback-king Kevin Pietersen. The swashbuckling batsman, who made a return to the England squad following an autumn of controversy, evoked loud cheers from the crowd as he placed himself at mid-on and deep midwicket during the third session. Pietersen rewarded his fans, both Indian and English, with a few quick waves and even snuck in an over that went for seven runs.

At the end, both teams would be happy with their efforts. India A will hope to get as close to 400 as possible with Vinay Kumar (25*) and Parvinder Awana (11*) hoping to extend their 22-run last-wicket partnership. England, on the other hand, will look to complete their bowling formalities as soon as possible Wednesday morning and exploit Brabourne's small boundaries on a now flat batting track.

Brief scores: India A 369-9 in 90 overs (Manoj Tiwary 93, Abhinav Mukund 73; Tim Bresnan 3-59, Graeme Swann 3-90) vs England.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lights, Camera, Punches!

Founder chairmen of SFL: Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt (Pic Courtesy: www.asportsnews.com)
The Mumbai home of the Super Fight League (SFL), advertised as India’s only professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) organization, is an arena in a dark, dingy building hidden somewhere in the suburb of Saki Naka. The arena, located on the third floor of this building, is accessed by what looks like a 50-year-old elevator and a staircase that is littered with cigarette butts, wrappers, boxes and other paraphernalia. The smell of smoke is evident as you approach the arena, not knowing what to expect inside.

But that’s the beauty of MMA, isn’t it? It’s not football, it’s not followed by millions. It’s not something a kid will tell his parents he is following. It has its loyal base of followers who keep the sport confined to dingy arenas, basements and car-parks. Originally promoted as a martial arts competition with the intention of finding the most effective ways of unarmed combat, fighters are pitted against each other with minimal rules. As the sport grew, fighters employed multiple martial arts into their style, such as Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Wushu and Shotokan Karate. It finally got mainstream acceptance with movies such as Never Back Down and Fight Club; and it’s finally made its way to India via the SFL.

It is said that marshal arts originated in India thousands of years ago in the akharas of North India where pehelwaans grappled with each other in the mud. The sport, along with other forms of Indian martial arts like Kalarippayattu was supposedly taken to the East along with the Buddhist culture where it was modified and excelled at. In India, however, the sport remained restricted to the akharas. “It is rather ironic,” says Kaushik Sen, a 35-year-old bantamweight participant of the SFL, “that the MMA scene in India has just been born. Even though martial arts originated in India, at the end of the day we are a peaceful and docile culture. We’re not a fighting kind of people.” 

That being said, the scene inside the SFL arena gives a lot of hope for the sport in India. Sure, it’s got its glitz and glamour with white, skimpily clad girls dancing away to the IPL tune during the breaks and participants entering the arena dressed like The Prince of Persia, but the quality of the fights inside the caged ring show that the sport is picking up. Raj Kundra, founder chairman of SFL, is excited and claims that SFL has caught the attention of the international audience. “From six months we’ve gone from people laughing at how amateur we were to international fighters tweeting to me that MMA has arrived in India and the quality of your guys is now up there. There are 3000 MMA organizations in the world; we’re the only one to deliver weekly fights all year round,” he says.

Kultar Singh Gill, a fighter in the main event of the evening—a welterweight bout against Egypt’s Amir Wahman—believes that the sport is bound to spread in India. “Aag jaise failegi (It will spread like fire),” he says. “Just wait and watch!” Sen, sporting a giant bruise under his left eye after losing to a 19-year-old in the only bout (out of seven) that lasted all three rounds, agrees: It (MMA) has a fantastic future in India. It’s already exploded in the West and now, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — which is the largest MMA promotion company in the world — is coming to India.”

Sen, who has been fighting since 2004, believes that MMA is an “excellent form of self-defense” and encourages women to learn it. “It should be made mandatory for women; it’s the best way to protect yourself on the street.” Sen plans to open a school in Delhi soon. “I want to become an MMA teacher. Delhi needs a (MMA) school. Me and Ricky, my corner man, are going to open something up,” he says.