Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sports Greatest Upsets - My take...

Watching a game recently and talking to a friend of mine, we went back and forth on some of the greatest sporting upsets of all times... This pushed me to write some of them, that I've experienced in my life time... Here they are in, in my order:

At #5, Kimi Raikonnen winning the F1-2007 Championship

This was so bizarre, I'm sure if Oliver Stone was a F1 enthusiast, he would have definitely done a movie on this - in the lines of JFK... a 3 hour marathon with a lot of twist and turns along the way, with equally intense players - an upstart Englishman, a petulant Spaniard, an enigmatic Finn, who seemed to be content as a crown prince, but never the king and the fast-speaking, fast-driving-on-a-straight-line-but-non-on-corners Brazilian.

It came down to the last race of the season. Three men battling for the title. Kimi had numerically a chance of winning, but perhaps the least probability. The other two contenders, Alonso, needed Lewis (the most favoured) to complete no earlier than the 8th finisher, and with Kimi not in first position and he finishing 3rd... or something like that.

Given all that, in the final race, Lewis made all the rookie mistakes that he didn't seem to make the whole season; everything fell apart in the final two. He seemed to be beset by anxiety, made wrong decisions, had car problems and faded away out of the title contention - his season seemed to mirror the penultimate race episode - his car stalling at the entrance to the pit-stops and could not get out of the gravel!!!

But it was still not over between the Alonso and Kimi. Alonso was at third place and with Kimi at second behind Massa, the world title was Alonso’s to win. But we know, unlike Mclaren drivers, Ferrari drivers tend to listen to the team orders ! After Ferrari’s last pit stop, that’s exactly seem to happen. Exiting the pits, Kimi went past his teammate Felipe Massa to the disappointment of the Brazilian crowd and perhaps Massa himself.

We had a new Formula 1 Champion in the most extraordinarily freakish alignment of events.

At #4 India defeats WI - WC 83

All the facts on the table - on one side: West Indies undefeated champions of the world. Have pummeled one and all who stood in their way. If they were unbeatable in tests, they were invincible in what was then, the new format of the game - the ODs. Led by a shrewd captain, who commanded respect, with 4 fearsome fast bowlers, who could either take your wicket or head off; with one of the most destructive batman of the modern era on their side, most successful openers at that time and reasonably good middle-order. Possibly, the greatest team to have played cricket in the modern-era.

On the other side, a team captained by a young man - whose strategy for winning any match would be 'kupple of wickets before lunch, kupple of wickets before tea and kupple of wickets after tea and the boys will have the game in the bag'. I wonder how it translated into the ODs. Anyhow, a Team full of trundlers whose bowling speed was slower than speed of the West Indian bowlers run-up.

The result India won by 43 runs - the greatest upset in a WC final. So aggrieved was Clive Lloyd not to have won 3 in a row, when they toured India immediately after the WC, they whupped us 5-0 in the ODs and 3-0 in the tests.

At #3, James Buster Douglas knock-out of Mike Tyson

When Mike Tyson was at his peak (monikered as Iron Mike), he was unbeatable. Not only did he win his fights with ease, he won it with a definite brutality and quickness. He had knack of knock-outs in the first round, with his awesome power - the opponents seemed scared coming into the fight. I recall seeing a bout in televised in India on a Sunday, when all of were all prepared to watch the fight, and it got over in 90s in the first round - was that Spinks ?

On the other corner was James Buster Douglas - who at 30 was fighting a much younger, meaner and most feared opponent in Mike Tyson. Somewhere during all his knock-outs, Tyson had morphed into one-punch-knock-out boxer, rather than using his defensive skills to get closer to the opponent. Through out the fight, Douglas had an upper hand, landing jabs and closing one of Tyson's eyes. The uppercut from Tyson almost ended the fight in the 8th round, but Douglas got up ("a slow 10 count", Tyson's camp alleged) and knocked the heavily favoured (42-1 odds) champ out in the 10th round.

Douglas had pulled off one of the greatest upset in the boxing history.

At #2, we have the Superbowl XLII (that is 42, for Romanically Challenged)

This game was the trigger for me to write this blog. New England patriots were pretty much the champion side throughout the season pumelling most team during the early part of the season and bringing in a perfect 18-0 season the Superbowl. New York Giants on the other side, had all their issues - hold-out, a two-game slide early in the season, a "will live in the shadow of star brother QB and tenative" QB, coach who was second guessed, a wild-card entry into the play-offs, but gathering momentum as they went through the play-offs.

The superbowl was a defensive fight. Going the last quarter, NE was leading 7-3; although for the first time their offense seemed to be on shaky grounds, harried by the quick NY defense all the time - I bet Brady was on the ground the most during this game that would perhaps match the sum total for the season. In the last quarter, the NY drew the first blood, marching down to the field for a TD; and Brady answered back very quickly, putting Patriots up, 14-10. With just over 2 minutes to go, the game seemed to be over.

Then came the stunner. Eli Manning seemed to zone out, take control and moved the ball. But the defining moment came in what some folks call as "The Catch-2". Manning in desperate need to get to first down, hassled by the defense who get to him, eludes 3 of them and throws down; Tyree jumps up, catches the pass and pins it down between his hand and his helmet, brought down in an arch by Harrison, by some magic holds on to the ball. 1st down. And Giants eventually get a TD with 30-something second to go. 17-14 Giants upset the universally anointed favourites - Patriots and their perfection.

At #1, I have the India bt Aus - Calcutta 2001

Yet another cricket. Australia had won 16 tests in a row. It was very clear from the happenings that they were clearly rolling over the opponents ruthlessly, under their unforgiving captain, Steve Waugh. They had just comprehensively beaten India in the previous test match at Mumbai, the first of the 3-test series.

Half of the second test followed the same pattern. Australia bats first, puts up a ~450 score, India folds for 170 odd. Waugh going for the kill, asks India to followon - there was nothing to suggest its going to be different, as India lose 3 at 115 and floundering at 4 for 230, with Laxman like in the first Innings playing the lone warrior. Then came the astounding and amazing innings and partnership - one whole day of play, with Laxman scoring 164* and Dravid 148*; Laxman's innings was one for the lore (it did find a place in the top 10 innings ever played in cricket - iirc, it was at #6 and best innings to be every played by an Indian) - faultless, strokeful, great timing and amazingly amazing. When he got out at 281 and after Ganguly waffled for a while, he declared and India won the match by 171 runs. And the series.

One of the great upsets authored by one of the most artistic batsman in the world cricket. Some would say this is not an upset per se, but to me the fact that we came back so far from behind, playing such an unforgettable innings and partnership, makes it one of the greatest upsets to watch. To understand it, one should understand the collective despair of the cricket fans, when we were 4/230.

Finally... ... the greatest upset of all times; never ever seen before in the history by most of anyone - is how upset my son gets when something does not go his way ! :)