Robert Lewandowski resides in bite-sized moments of brilliance

Tottenham Hotspur v Bayern Muenchen: Group B - UEFA Champions League
Tottenham Hotspur v Bayern Muenchen: Group B – UEFA Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur v Bayern Muenchen: Group B - UEFA Champions League
Tottenham Hotspur v Bayern Muenchen: Group B – UEFA Champions League

Think of Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski’s name will automatically come to mind. It certainly would not be an overstatement to say that this star striker from Poland has been one of Bayern Munich’s most consistent performers in recent times. During the 2018-19 season of the Bundesliga, Lewandowski could be seen eating goals for breakfast. He finished as the season’s leading goal scorer (22 goals).

Lewandowski was bought by the Bavarian Giants in 2014 to bolster the club’s attacking lines. Since the Polish striker’s arrival, they have enjoyed a lot of success. Bayern Munich have been winning the German Bundesliga since 2012-13. In 262 matches for the German powerhouse (across competitions), the Polish star has scored 206 times. Wow, these are staggering numbers. Those following him closely would be aware of the difference he makes every single time he takes the field. He is expected to score the moment he takes control of the ball. No matter how formidable the opponent’s defence lines are, Lewandowski will decimate them within no time.

The moment he misses a scoring opportunity, several media outlets across Europe can be seen losing a lot of ink. Earlier this year, the Bayern Munich forward was criticised by Didi Hamann, an ex-Germany midfielder, for failing to score against Hertha Berlin in the DFB-Pokal round of 16. Lewandowski termed the criticism aimed at him as “flat-out stupid”.

 What does Lewandowski bring to the table?

He is the axis around which other rotate

It has to be said that Lewandowski’s scoring rate is phenomenal. Every time he comes out to play, he ends up making a difference. He spearheads the club’s attacking lines, sometimes almost single-handedly. Also, there is a circle of energy and enthusiasm that surrounds Lewandowski from all possible sides. He brings along a lot of energy and optimism into the side.

The go-getter

No matter how precarious the situation is, Lewandowski will find a way to tackle it. If Bayern Munich is in need of an equaliser, he will come out all guns blazing and score a goal for his side. The opposition’s defence lines can be seen running for cover if and when the Polish great is on song. He scored 14 goals in the first 10 matches of the 2019-20 season. After looking at his numbers, he can be easily counted as one of the contemporary greats.

His ability to soak all the pressure makes him an intangible asset. Bayern Munich have been winning the Bundesliga since 2012-13, all thanks to Robert Lewandowski and his on-field brilliance. He wants to score the moment makes his way out. He wants to win matches for his side.

The fighter

Just one or two bad games do not seem to have much of an impact on him. The moment you write him off, he tends to strike back. Criticism makes him stronger. He is not known for launching verbal attacks and lets his on-field brilliance do the talking. Different people have different ways to counter criticism, and his way is to come out all guns blazing.

The impact player

Robert Lewandowski happens to be the heart and soul of Bayern Munich’s attacking lines. He keeps on scoring consistently.  In numbers are phenomenal, but Lewandowski’s game has never revolved around numbers. He wants to help his side win matches. That is what makes him different from other strikers. His on-field persona happens to be his biggest strength.

To conclude the argument

He too feels bogged down and frustrated at times. He overreacts and makes silly mistakes. Well, he isn’t a wish-granting fairy. Lewandowski doesn’t really care much about being judged by others. This lad from Poland just goes about his business. Simply put, he resides within countless moments of brilliance.

Is India Paying Attention To Medals Brought Home By Sportswomen?

It goes pretty much without saying that life isn’t a bed of roses for women athletes in India. Despite their best efforts, the gulf between male and female athletes in India keeps widening rampantly.

Take this for an example: The likes on Twitter and Facebook erupt like a volcano, the moment a male athlete wins a medal. Also, it is quite unsurprising to note that male athletes are paid way more than their female counterparts. Back in 2008, Abhinav Bindra turned into a national icon after becoming the first Indian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal (individual sport). On the other hand, countless women athletes are struggling to keep their bodies and souls together. Nobody talks about their achievements. Consequently, they end up fading away into the depths of oblivion.

Almost all of us know that R.S. Rathore won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, but not many of us know that MC Mary Kom has won as many as six Boxing World Championships. Women athletes keep exceeding our expectations, but we hardly pay heed to all the good work done by them.

It is heartening to note that a considerable number of women athletes have made their presence felt in recent times. The likes of PV Sindhu and Hima Das have taken the sporting world by storm. Today, both these women have turned into role models and cultural icons.

Let us take a look at some of the rising women athletes who have made us proud in recent times:

PV Sindhu (Badminton)

She seems to have answered all her critics with her racquet. In the recently concluded Badminton World Championships, she decimated Nozomi Okuhara in straight sets to win her first gold medal. The world number 5 has won as many as five medals in six appearances at the world championships. Boy, that’s no mean feat.

Hima Das (Track and field)

They say the size of your success is always measured by the strength of your desire. Hima Das, the 19-year-old sprinter, broke quite a few records during the 2018 edition of the Asian Games held in Jakarta by covering 400 metres, in a fraction over 50 seconds. Also, she won a gold medal in a track event during the IAAF World U20 Championships. She is the first Indian athlete to bag four gold medals in 15 days. Wow, these are staggering numbers!

Dutee Chand (Track and field)

She made journalists lose a lot of ink, after winning a gold medal in the women’s 100-metre sprint at the World University Games (Napoli, 2019). The 23-year-old smashed quite a few records after clocking 11.32 seconds in the final and became the first Indian athlete to bag a gold medal at the event. One has to say that this lass from Odisha knows how to handle extreme pressure.

Mithali Raj (Cricket)

The seasoned and wise ‘yodha’ of the Indian Women’s cricket team became a household name after leading her team to the finals of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. In a career spanning over decades, she has scored more than 6,000 ODI runs. Also, she is the highest run-scorer for India in all three formats of the game.

Also read: How A Community Of Writers Showed Up To Bat For Our Women In Blue!

Sania Mirza (Lawn Tennis)

With three mixed doubles titles in her kitty, Sania Mirza is one of the finest female tennis players the country has ever produced. At the very height of her powers in 2015-16, she ranked number one in the WTA doubles rankings, becoming the first Indian to achieve the feat.

After going through all of the aforementioned examples, I believe, it certainly wouldn’t be wrong to say that women athletes in India are outplaying their male counterparts. For centuries, women are being told that they are, and will always remain, inferior to men. I, however, feel that women are way stronger than men (they have always been). Most of us find it hard to come to terms with this fact.

The piece was first published on Youth Ki Awaaz

Rediscovering Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma was seen dominating the batting charts in the recently-concluded edition of the World Cup. For Indian fans, it was an absolute delight to watch Rohit going after the bowlers; he made batting look ridiculously easy.

His hundred against South Africa at Southampton kept India afloat even as wickets kept tumbling at the other end. The skies overhead were murky. The batting strip wasn’t a belter either. In the simplest of terms, it wasn’t an ideal day for batting.

The likes of Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris were spitting venom. After a few early wobbles, Rohit decided to knuckle down. He, along with KL Rahul, steadied the ship and kept the scoreboard moving.

During the game against Pakistan, the 31-year-old was at his imperious best. A scintillating 140 off just 113 deliveries helped his side post a formidable 336-run total at Old Trafford in Manchester. The bowlers had a hard time as Rohit kept batting tirelessly.

With 648 runs in nine matches, he was the tournament’s leading run-getter. He also became the first batsman to score five centuries in a single edition of the World Cup.

Rohit Sharma during the match against Pakistan
Rohit Sharma during the match against South Africa

Rohit showcased a lot of promise as a 20-year-old. He played his first-ever T20I innings against a high-flying South African side in the 2007 edition of the ICC World T20. Batting at five, he stitched a crucial partnership with MS Dhoni to get his side to a respectable total.

All of the strokes that Rohit played were conventional. The lad from Maharashtra kept milking the singles to keep the scoreboard ticking. He was calm and composed and didn’t try to overhit the ball.

After his batting heroics, he showcased his fielding prowess too by pulling off a memorable run out to get rid of Justin Kemp.

Rohit’s talent was never in question. Those who saw him bat back then knew that this lad was tailor-made for the game’s biggest stage. But the beginning was tough.

Rohit struggled to perform consistently as a middle-order batsman. Almost every good innings was followed by a string of low scores. Consequently, he was dropped from the side.

Rise as an opener 

Rohit was asked to share the opening duties with Shikhar Dhawan during the 2013 edition of the Champions Trophy in England. In five matches Rohit scored 177 runs (including a couple of fifties), signalling that he was ready to welcome the promotion with open arms.

Shikhar Dhawan kept going all guns blazing at the other end and Rohit was happy to knock the ball around. These two men gave India solid starts throughout the tournament, and the team eventually ended up getting their hands on the silverware.

The ODI series against the Aussies in October 2013 brought out the best in Rohit. In the second ODI, he and Virat Kohli spearheaded a miraculous run chase.

Chasing 360-odd in 50 overs for an unlikely victory, both these men scored centuries and helped India reach the target in the 44th over. Rohit remained unbeaten on 141, but his best was yet to come.

In the seventh and final ODI of the series, Rohit once again took the Aussie bowlers to the cleaners. He scored a double century in the match (209) and ended the series with an aggregate of 491 runs.

How has he become so consistent?

Of late, Rohit has transformed into an ODI monster. He is arguably the best opening batsman (ODI) in world cricket right now, with seemingly a lot more success to come.

With three double hundreds in his career thus far, Rohit is the undisputed king of ODI double hundreds. But have you ever wondered what makes him such a formidable force in limited-overs cricket?

Rohit’s strength lies in his ability to play the waiting game. He spends a lot of time in the middle in order to get his eye in.

Those who follow Rohit closely would have noticed that he is willing to play a few dot deliveries early on in his innings. He doesn’t go bang-bang right from the word go. But once he gets set, he scores freely by unleashing a wide range of strokes.

Take the 208 he scored against Sri Lanka in Mohali (2017) for example. The first hundred came in 115 balls while the next 108 runs came off just 38 balls. He smashed 13 fours and 12 sixes in the innings.

This has been a striking feature of Rohit’s batting exploits of late. Every single time he goes on to score a hundred, he tries to convert it into a ‘daddy hundred’.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma

 

Ironing out the chinks for the future 

Some might disagree, but Rohit does look vulnerable early on in his innings. He has a habit of throwing his bat at deliveries outside the off-stump and has been caught in the slip cordon on a number of occasions.

But the good thing is that despite his limitations, he seems to have got better with time. At present, he is getting more and more assured with each passing game. Above all else, he seems to have made peace with the fact that no matter how many he may have scored in the previous innings, each innings is a fresh start.

That bodes well for his short-term as well as long-term future. Rohit already an ODI great, but he is on the cusp of attaining legendary status. If he continues to be as consistent as he has been lately, there’s no reason why he won’t get there.

 

The pros and cons of being Ben Stokes

Boy, that was an absolute screamer. He had pulled that one out of thin air. Former England captain Nasser Hussain ran out of adjectives. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen. In all fairness, none of us could. It was a spectacle. Ben Stokes had caught everybody’s imagination. The 2019 edition of the World Cup was got off to a rocking start.

Back in 2006, when Jon Lewis was in charge of Durham’s second XI, he saw a young Ben Stokes. In an interview with Cricbuzz, Lewis recollects how Stokes nearly ended up killing himself while attempting to win a game of squash against Durham teammate Gordon Muchall.

Early on, Ben Stokes’ hard-hitting ability made him a popular figure inside the dressing room. Soon enough, he was seen rising through the ranks. After a forgettable test debut in the 2nd test of the 2013-14 Ashes series, he notched up a belligerent ton in the 2nd innings of the 3rd Ashes test. England ended up on the losing side, but Ben Stokes had announced his arrival in grand fashion. He kept scoring quickly. Wickets kept tumbling like ninepins, but he kept steamrolling on his way to a stupendous 120.

England lost the match and went on to concede the series, but in Ben Stokes, they had found a gem of a player. Here was a player who could turn the game on its head. The number six conundrum was finally sorted.

The highs

Over the years, Ben Stokes’ persona has become one of his biggest ‘weapons’. On the field, he keeps running around. At times, the ball just tends to follow him. He drops dollies but takes some spectacular catches. There are days when he gets out without troubling the scorers. He’s not someone that’ll score 70 odd in every game but will end up turning the game on its head with a 15-ball 30. He’ll follow it up with a couple of wickets. He resides in those small patches of brilliance. He’s eccentric, almost uncontrollable at times, but eccentricity is precisely what makes him lethal. That’s the kind of player Ben Stokes is. You can feel the traces of energy that he leaves behind.

The lows

In all fairness, being Ben Stokes isn’t easy. The aggression that surrounds him happens to be a double-edged sword. There are times when aggression and jubilation, and ecstasy can be misunderstood. Don’t worry; it’s pretty much normal. Those tattooed arms make him look like a high-school bully.

Carlos Brathwaite took him to the cleaners during the World T20 final in 2016. Stokes was hit for four consecutive sixes. As a bowler, your confidence is bound to go for a toss, and Ben Stokes’ case happened to be no exception. He was down, but he always had the courage to get up and fight.

2018 saw Ben Stokes diving into the depths of oblivion. After an ugly brawl at a pub in Bristol, this lad from Durham saw his career falling apart like a house on fire. He invited further controversy when he mocked Katie Price’s disabled teenage son. Geeez! Nobody knows what keeps cooking inside his head. Stokes made a lucky escape after he was found ‘not guilty’ of affray. Soon enough, normalcy was restored.

There have been times when controversies have overshadowed his on-field brilliance. One can say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Well, he’s no angel.  He has made blunders. There are times when his enthusiasm overpowers him, but he’s someone you can always count upon during crucial moments.

To top it all, Ben Stokes is not an attention seeker; he’s a game changer.  You can call him aggressive, arrogant, and egoistic. There certainly is no dearth of adjectives. As a viewer, you are free to love him or hate him. He doesn’t care much. He’s a man who lives by the sword and dies by it.

Can a change of name trigger a change in fortunes?

After more than a decade of sheer disappointment, the think tank of the Delhi Capitals has made quite a few changes. Sourav Ganguly has  been roped in as the adviser to infuse a sense of optimism and purpose into the team. The veteran would be joining forces with the Australian great Ricky Ponting. Ironically, it is a scenario wherein a childhood hero has teamed up with a childhood villain. Continue reading “Can a change of name trigger a change in fortunes?”

Nostalgia, Sorrow, and Everything in Between…

For many years, the state of Mumbai was known to dominate the Indian first-class cricket. Not long ago, the state of Mumbai had produced some of the finest cricketers who have gone on to represent the national side. Be it the legendary Sunil Gavaskar or the tiger-eyed Dilip Vengsarkar, or the great Sachin Tendulkar, the state of Mumbai ruled the Indian domestic circuit right from the early 1970s up until the early 2000s. As far as the numbers go, Mumbai has won the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class competition, a record 41 times, but of late, the emergence of the cash-rich Indian Premier League is luring the youngsters to play for franchises while ignoring first-class cricket. Continue reading “Nostalgia, Sorrow, and Everything in Between…”

Kerala’s Life Away From the Featherbeds

Not many would have thought that Kerala would make it to the Semi-final of the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class competition before the season got underway. It certainly would be no overstatement to say that before the season’s commencement, the team from India’s far south was caught in dire straits.

The team was in shambles as a bunch of players, including the likes of Rohan Prem and Sandeep Warrier, had shown dissent against the captain (Sachin Baby). Also, it goes without saying that Kerala’s cricket association does not have an abundant pool of resources at its disposal. Not many domestic cricketers want to join Kerala cricket. Mumbai and Karnataka are the envy of most first-class cricketers because of the kind of perks and facilities the players are provided with. Continue reading “Kerala’s Life Away From the Featherbeds”