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Sport

Excuse me, are you losing it?

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Pakistan team during the Australia tour

Lighton Ndefwayl, a Zambian tennis player, provided a stunningly insightful analysis for his defeat to a lesserknown player from his own country. "Bwayla is a stupid man and a hopeless player, " he offered. As if that didn't explain it all, he went on: "He has a huge nose and is crosseyed. Girls just hate him."

To be fair, Ndefwayl accepted part of the blame too. "I lost because my jockstrap was too tight for the two-hour match," he said. "Also, each time he served, he farted. So, I lost my concentration, for which I am famous throughout Zambia," he added.

The young lad may or may not have been much of a player;but, clearly, he was not much of a sport. He didn't go far in his career;but his 1992 statement has made him a kind of a legend: it is rated as the mother of all excuses in the world of sport.

As any coach worth his white hair will tell you preparation is the key for excellence in sport: the player who spends time on tactics and in deconstructing the opponent, stands the best chance of winning the next day.

The smarter ones, though, go one step further: they also arm themselves with the right answers;they think up of excuses just in case any of the plans go awry.

Sadly, very few pay heed to this golden rule. Look at Pakistan, for example: we all know that they are capable of beating any side, anywhere on any given day;but the opposite is equally true: they can lose for all kinds of reasons too. Infighting, out fighting, don't like the face of the skipper, hate the coach, met-a-bookie-last-night, who cares etc.

The incumbent captain, Shahid Afridi, however, took the cake when his side recently got thrashed in all formats of the game Down Under: indeed, he inspired this piece with his highly innovative, indeed original, explanation. "The boys were busy ogling at girls and loafing around the boundary line," he told the PCB during an inquiry into their disastrous show.

Afridi, however, failed to explain how the boys ended up loafing around the boundary line while the match was still in progress;if nothing, as captain, couldn't he have posted the particularly blatant ones near the bat, far away from the pretty girls in the stands? No. And he had an answer for that too.

"Some players, after making a few runs with the bat, would think their job was done. They would then go and field in the deep," he said. "They would get busy chatting with the crowd, ogling at girls and giving autographs, " he added. Hmmm. How could anybody stop that?

Ogling, of course, is a great sport, as most Indian cricketers too would testify; the trick is to play it in a subtle manner, better still after taking the captain into confidence.

Grey area

Some people, however, have converted excuse-giving into an art: they have a justification for every defeat, for every failure. Manchester United's high-profile, big-talking manager is regarded as the king of excuses in the English Premier League.

Alex Ferguson, after being 0-3 in a Premiership game against Southampton in 1996, ordered his team to strip down during the lemon break and slip into their third kit: blue and white. "The players couldn't pick each other out, " he later explained. "They said it was difficult to see their team-mates in the distance when they lifted their heads. " He was referring to the all-grey colour that was introduced that season for MU's away games; incidentally, the switch didn't do much for the team, even though they managed a consolation goal in the second half. They, however, did go on to win every match after that, and along with it the title too.

Maybe, it wasn't superstition at all.

Ferguson, of course, has often gone from one extreme to another for any dip in form. Famously, he attributed a poor spell last year to the changing rooms. "Everton's are so narrow, it is unbelievable. Portsmouth's is not great either and the one at Craven Cottage (Fulham ) is smaller than my office."

He has a valid point, of course. "When you have 18 players stripping down, plus coaches, physios and kit men, it is ridiculous really. " Ridiculous indeed. Now why would all of them - including coaches, physios and kit men - indulge in this activity, all at the same time too?
Ferguson, however, is not the only one who has become an expert at the bizarre;there are other Englishmen too. Ted Dexter, when he was chairman of selectors, once settled for nothing less than the stars. After losing one more time at Lord's, in 1993, he said: "We may be in the wrong sign. . . Venus may be in the wrong juxtaposition with somewhere else." Of course.

Isn't that why Mike Gatting too, the same year, became victim to Shane Warne's ball of the century? No, actually, Gatting saw stars only after the dismissal.

Dexter, though, came down to earth during a particularly bad tour to India: first, it was the Calcutta smog, then Delhi belly, and finally the dust in Mumbai.

A few teams have also suffered due to external forces. Mervyn King, for one, believed his chances of making the World Darts final in 2003 were literally blown away. The air-conditioning, he claimed, were taking his darts off course. He didn't explain why it was not doing the same to his opponent's darts; he didn't even mention that the air-conditioner had actually been switched off on his own request during the match.

Paranormal activity

Maybe, some supernatural force was at work, like it was in the case of the New York Knicks earlier this year. The formidable NBA outfit spent two nights at the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma and promptly blamed the hotel for their defeat to Thunder. How? Well, it was haunted.

One player said he just couldn't sleep;another squeaked that it freaked him out. The rest, apparently, complained too. To give due credit to the over 6-foot five-inch giants, the Skirvin is indeed reputed to be haunted. Guests have allegedly heard women's voices, oftenpropositioning them;a few others have even seen a naked woman in their room too. Sadly, it cannot be confirmed whether it was merely wishful thinking or truly an apparition.

But then, it's not always ghosts or even real women who keep the big men awake at nights. During the 2006 football World Cup, Ukraine defender Vladislav Vashchuk had a perfectly valid reason for the 4-0 defeat to Spain. "Frogs croaked outside the team's hotel all night, leaving the team without a wink of sleep, tired and out of sorts. " Investigations are still on if it was a conspiracy hatched by the Spanish team, if it actually hired the frogs to do the dirty work for them. The Ukraine team, at one stage in the night, even decided to pick up some sticks and go hunt the frogs down.

The manager, presumably, vetoed the idea: they needed the rest, you see? Blackpool manager Sam Allardyce, though, was happy to go with the good old ghosts, when his team failed to get promoted in the Premiership, despite having a two-goal lead in the playoffs at home to Bradford. "The Blackpool boardroom, " he claimed, "was haunted by the ghost of Lord Nelson. " How did he know? "Its oak paneling was salvaged from his flagship that was destroyed by a violent storm in 1897. " A hundred years later, Lord Nelson got his revenge.

You can't really blame someone for seeing or hearing things, especially if he or she is partial to a pint or two. But former Australian Open champion Petr Korda blamed his eating habits for the nandrolone that slipped into his blood sample in 1993. "I had too much nandrolone-fattened veal, " he said, just a day before the blood test.

He was probably right. The only hitch was that he had to eat 40 calves a day for 20 years to achieve such high levels of the banned stuff in his body. Believe us, it isn't all bull: he was last seen, according to unconfirmed reports of course, in a restaurant hidden behind a mass of calves, with knife and fork in hands.

Sportsmen, especially those who play with toys and machines, have to be more careful with their hands. In 1991, Formula One racer Nigel Mansell was on course for his first Grand Prix win in Canada. But unfortunately his car connived against him, suddenly coming to a standstill in the very last lap.
He, naturally, blamed the Williams car and its engineers for the catastrophe. Later, though, it transpired that as he slowed down to wave to his cheering fans, he accidentally hit the cut off switch. The car, like a true dumb machine, immediately stalled. Mansell could only watch as Nelson Piquet and four others went past him.

Cycle of life

One debate that can never be resolved is the early-to-bed-earlyto-rise - no pun intended - motto. Many football coaches insist that their players should stay away from wives, girlfriends and in-betweens too before the big games. Some feel that they can be a distraction while others insist that it's better to hold on to the pent-up energy, rather than expend it the previous night.

The South Africa-headed coaches, who are still contemplating their final course of action, can learn from this eventuality though: ace sprinter Dennis Mitchell discovered that a night of sprinting, in bed of course, could lead to excessive levels of testosterone in the body. He wasn't sure, however, if it was just the sex or the five beers that led to this dramatic rise and his eventual fall.

American cyclist Tyler Hamilton had a more plausible explanation for the alien blood in him. "I would never do something like this, " the till-then clean boy said in 2004, after failing a blood doping test. "The foreign blood cells might have come from my twin who died in the uterus. "Or, " he conjectured, "maybe, some of my mother's blood got mixed when I was still in the foetus. " No doubt about that.

Thankfully, cricket doesn't need to worry too much about high levels of testosterone or hyper hormones. Despite the advent of IPL-laced parties and late nights for the usual things, the players give simple and easy-to-relate-to excuses. Bad food. Bouncy wickets. Too cold etc.

Sri Lanka, though, after losing a One-day series final to Pakistan in 2001, took it out on their ill-fitting clothes. Captain Jayasuriya said their shirts were too tight and restricted on-field mobility. "The shirts were like ill-fitting men's blouses, " he said. Imagine, grown up men, with bulging muscles, in blouses;or maybe, they should have been given skirts and bangles too to complete the attire. If nothing, their movements would not have been restricted.

We can't say the same for Ndefyawl, though, thanks to his tight jocks.

(With inputs from Partha Bhaduri, Moushumi Bora, Ruhi Batra)

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