By Anand Philar
For sure, it has been a rip-roaring week in more ways than one. The shocker was Tour de France ace Armstrong's decision to stop fighting charges of doping, something that would have broken many a heart, but in my eyes, he is no less a cyclist or a legend.
By all accounts, Armstrong is a victim of his battles with the doping authorities and a system that did not return a single positive test of his samples year on year. And for the authorities to go on and on and on only indicated that they were targeting the cyclist who had successfully fought and beaten testicular cancer. I would say that it was witch-hunt at its best!
If at all Armstrong got away during his career, then blame the system. Like he has often said, Armstrong was the most tested professional cyclist during his days and if his samples didn't return positive, then how can be declared guilty of cheating? Shockingly, USADA's accusations were based on "eye witness accounts", and if that is so, then why for goodness sake do we have a anti-doping test at all?
Worse still, stripping the man of seven, not just one or two, titles and publicly disgracing him by calling him a "cheat" without a shred of scientific proof or evidence smacks of vindictiveness of the authorities against a professional cyclist who been an inspirational figure to a generation of not just cyclists but ordinary mortals who took heart from his successful battle against cancer.
It was a sad day that Armstrong gave up the battle against USADA. May be, he got fed up with endless accusations and denials, and would rather focus on his cancer foundation for which he has already raised USD 500 Million. It has been made out as if Armstrong is guilty until proven innocent. Whatever, Armstrong's poster will continue to adorn my study wall.
For us Indians, cricket of course provided equally big news of the senior team drubbing the touring Kiwis by an innings at Hyderabad in the first Test and the Under-19 side winning the junior World Cup in Australia by defeating the host nation. The two stunning triumphs did set off celebrations and yes, the tongues wagging.
The Hyderabad win was to be expected given the Kiwi batsmen's inability to deal with spin and it was good to see Ashwin coming away with 12 wickets for the match to play a lead role in the sorry execution of New Zealand whose players were virtually like lambs taken to the slaughter house.
No surprise that India won under four days, and frankly, it will be no different in the second Test at Bangalore later this week, though with wet weather over the Garden City, it remains to be seen whether we will get to see a rain-free game. With Dhoni harping on "home advantage", it will be no surprise if the pitch at the Chinnaswamy stadium starts turning from Day One.
That apart, Ashwin has enjoyed a good start to what promises to be a long Test career, but then, he should be judged more by his performance abroad than on the turning tracks of the sub-continent where he has taken a majority of his wickets. However, the wily off-spinner can only improve and looking at the big picture, it will not be a surprise if Harbhajan is wondering whether he would ever be able to regain his spot in the Test squad. I think, Ashwin is up to the challenge.
I was happy for Pujara too as the youngsters silenced a few critics with a big hundred and looks set to cement the No.3 spot in the Test squad. Rather than compare him with his legendary predecessor Dravid, we should leave the boy alone and let him work his way up the ladder. Comparison is not only odious, but grossly unfair for someone who has just begun his international career. Pujara seems to have the right ingredients.
Talking about young guns, there is understandably a lot of noise over the Under-19 team’s triumph Down Under. No doubt, it was a great achievement, but it should be viewed in the correct perspective. Chappell, for instance, has already pushed for inclusion of couple of the boys in the senior team, but I feel that is akin to trying to run before learning to walk.
I am all for the under-19 boys to go through a period of internship at the first class level for at least two seasons before being considered for the senior team. I agree with Madan Lal that these youngsters should be shielded from the IPL so that they will focus on correct technique and basics rather than become indulgent.
More importantly, it is about time the BCCI introduces a counseling or mentoring system that will help these young guns to deal with fame and fortune. In the recent past, we have seen far too many youngsters losing their way, especially in the wake of success in the IPL that is full of distractions and pitfalls.
Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa are as good an example as any of talented young players leaning towards the good life while wasting their talent until realization dawns on them rather too late in the day. Both these batsmen promised a lot at the start of their international innings, but could not bridge the gap between potential and performance.
So, while we celebrate the Under-19 triumph, it is best to retain a sense of balance and proportion. Ditto, the likely series win over the Black Caps.