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October - November 2005


India Sport Scene

Euphoria, Hopes & Disappointment

by Sudhir Misra & Ramesh Seedhar


Athletics

In the 16th Asian Athletics Championship that concluded in Incheon on Sunday the 4th of September 2005, India finished fourth with a haul of 13 medals, including four gold. The stars of this meet were the World No. 9 long jumper Anju Bobby George and the women’s 4x400m relay team, who set up a new meet record. China finished on top of the table with 32 medals including 15 gold followed by Japan and Qatar, who both won six gold medals each.

On the final day of the four-day competition at the Incheon Munhak Stadium, India added five more medals to its kitty. Navpreet Singh (men’s shot put) and S Santhi (women’s 800) winning silver medals and the men’s 4x400m relay team winning a bronze medal.

The women’s relay team comprising of Rajwinder Kaur, Sathi Geetha, Chitra K Soman and Manjit Kaur clocked a record time of 3:30.93 seconds. Kazakhistan came second with Japan third. The earlier record for this event was held by China with 3:31.30 seconds. India was however unable to better their own national record of 3:26.89s which they had set while qualifying for the final at the Athens Olympics in 2004. The record was set by the same team, with exception of KM Beenamol in place of Geetha.

In women’s long jump, the World’s No. 4 long jumper Anju finished on top, surviving a strong challenge from her Filipino opponent Marestella Torres. Anju, a Customs Officer, who had finished fifth at the Helsinki Worlds Championships in August with her seasons best of 6.66m, came close to that as she leaped to 6.61m on her fourth attempt to win the gold. Anju, the 2003 Paris World bronze medallist underlined her status as the best in Asia with her next jump and further confirmed her position by getting a silver medal at Monaco.

In men’s shot put, Navpreet’s silver medal made up for veteran star Shakti Singh’s disappointing show. Navpreet had to wait until his fifth toss to reach his best which measured a season’s best for him at 19.40m. Incidentally, Khaled Al—Suwaidi of Qatar also came up with his best on the fifth effort that gave him the gold with a heave of 19.45m. Qi Zhang of China finishing third with 19.02m.
In the Women’s 800m, S Santhi came home in her career’s best time of two minutes and 4.01 seconds to win the silver medal. She was never in contention for the gold, which went to Miko Sugimori of Japan who clocked 2:01.84 seconds.

In men’s 4x400 relay, India’s Anil Kumar Rohil, Bhupinder Singh, Satbir Singh and P Shankar clocked 3:07.45 for the bronze medal.

In the team event of the Asian Clay shooting championship in Bangkok, Thailand, Manavjit Singh Sandhu did the star turn for India by winning gold at the trap event. Sandhu set a national record (145/150) on way to win the gold medal in the individual event. He then won the team gold in trap.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the Olympic silver medallist at Athens, recorded his best performance with the new Perazzi gun as he easily won the men’s double trap gold medal in the Asian Clay Shooting Championships in Bangkok.

India continued to reign supreme at the event winning four gold medals. After annexing both the individual and team gold medals in the men’s trap event on Saturday, India rode on Rathore’s superb show to win the individual and team gold medals in men’s double trap. .

The performance of the athletic team has been very encouraging and raises high hopes of medals from the Commonwealth Games that are to take place in Melbourne Australia in March 2006.

Tennis

Roger Federer defended his US Open title on Sunday the 11th of September and thus became the first man to win both the Wimbeldon and Us Open titles in successive years. His opponent was Andre Agassi, the oldest man to play in the final of the grand slam event since Ken Rosewell in 1974. Agassi who has been suffering with inflammation of the sciatica nerve this year gave an extraordinary display, playing some astounding tennis. This, despite the fact he had played three consecutive five set matches for the first time in his career to reach the final.

In the women singles final Kim Clijsters finally won a grand slam final and a purse of £1.5 million.
For the Indian players the Us Open was a success story enhancing their careers and rankings. The star of the show was none other than Sania Mirza from Hyderabad.

The poster at the US. Open stating “She came, she saw and she conquered our hearts.” echoed all our thoughts. Sania with her pert fighting spirit and audacious T-shirts, showed the mental strength required to fight on equal terms with the best in the business. The 2-6, 1-6 score line in her fourth round of the US Open against the top ranked Maria Sharapova does not do justice to the match. What let down Sania was her serve. She managed just 52 percent on her first serve. While that figure on its own was not entirely poor, she only managed to win 28 points on her second serve. Playing at the Arthur Ashe stadium with a festive atmosphere, music before matches and between games, is quite a compromising situation for any player who is playing there for the first time. However, Sania did not let all this affect her and matched Sharapova stroke for stroke. Sania’s groundstroke brought praise from John McEnroe talking to Jim Courier.

The top seed at the US Open, Maria Sharapova, queen of the catwalk and champion of the courts, spoke highly of the fast climbing Indian “She is definitely great asset for the sport. Tennis is a global sport and it is amazing how we have such great athletes. She is young, has a very big game and a great future ahead of her. She needs experience and with time will learn.

When the WTA rankings come out after the US Open Sania Mirza will certainly find her ranking in mid thirties. The 18 year old is the fastest climber in the rankings today. At this time of the year, last year she was 148 in the rankings. After her display at the Australian Open early in January this year, she was ranked in the top 100 and since then has not looked back and has kept on improving her rankings and her bank balance

She is also the hottest Indian property in the market with the media and brand merchants chasing her to promote their products. She has also managed to bring Tennis in the forefront of sports in India eclipsing the popularity of Cricket.

Another Indian stalwart, Mahesh Bhupati with Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova won the mixed doubles title at the US Open. This was Bhupati’s ninth Grand Slam doubles title and the fifth mixed grand slam title. The 31year old Indian tennis idol, Mahesh Bhupati has yet to win more than one title with a single lady partner.

Another new star which has come on the scene is Shikha Uberoi, who along with her sister Neha received a wild card from the USTA for the qualifying event.

As a qualifier ranked 275 in the world, Shikha was expected to be as much a threat to former champion Venus Williams as Bahamas is to Brazil in football. The way the April-born Arian set about changing that impression was enough to wipe out the smirk, from New York to New Delhi.
“Last year was incredible. I know I’m going to be thinking about that but I know I won’t put any pressure on myself just because I reached the second round last year,” an audibly excited Shikha said over the phone from Florida.

Maturity and optimism have seen her through a few rough patches. Shikha knows it is your mind that makes you a champion. “Tennis is not just about hitting the ball. Anybody who has reached this level is capable of doing that. What is important is to work on your mind. Years ago, it was all about the physical aspect. I was so immature and childish last year but I have come a long way since then. I have matured and. proud of the fact that I am 22 and still improving.

It is not just her mind that Shikha has been working on. A couple of weeks ago, Shikha caught a few lessons with tennis guru Robert Lansdorp, the man who made Maria Sharapova the Wimbledon champion. “We were in California and thought it would be a good idea to take his advice on my forehand. He is such a great coach, having worked with the likes of Pete Sampras and Sharapova. He liked pretty much what he saw and I liked what he had to say... With a new forehand and fresh desire to succeed, Shikha has indeed come a long way since that magical evening.

Badminton

The Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia captured his first badminton World Championship title at Anaheim by dismantling Lin Dan. Lin Dan who is currently the world number 1 and the pre-tournament favourite to capture the coveted crown lost in straight sets. The World no. 6 Hidayat blitzed China’s Lin Dan early in the match by winning the first 13 straight points of the men’s singles final, en route to a 15-3, 15-7 victory.

The 24-year-old Indonesian, thus became the first man to hold the Olympic and world titles at the same time. “I am very fortunate and grateful,” Hidayat said. “All of my targets of winning the prestigious tournaments have been achieved. ”Not everybody gets an Olympic as well as a World Championship medal. This proves I am one of the best in men’s singles.”

Hidayat led the Indonesian domination on the final day of the 2005 World Championships. Indonesia also took gold medal in mixed doubles with Nova Widianto and Lilyana Natsir defeating China’s Xie Zhongbo and Zhang Yawen 13-15, 15-8, 15-2.

It was a disappointing day for pre-tournament favourites Chinese who were seeded first in three of the five events. They picked up just one gold on the final day when Xie Xingfang beat defending World and Olympic champion Zhang Ning 11-8, 9-11, 11-3.

Formula one

With the experience of just 24 laps of practice behind him, Narain made a quick start and maintained the momentum through the 58 laps at Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul. “I lost so much time by not being able to drive that I had to learn the circuit all over again. Moreover, we were using a different compound of tyres for the race and that did not help my case. It took me nearly 10 laps before I got the hang of the circuit and the corners. I kept pushing and I just wanted to finish the race,” a somewhat satisfied Narain said.

After the disappointment at the Italian Grand Prix, where Narain finished last it was great to see Narain do well at the Belgian Grand Prix. The Jordan Grand Prix driver impressed all as he drove a storming race to finish an impressive eleventh at the Belgium Grand Prix in Monzo.

Cricket

The only story in the cricket world today is the story for the battle for the Ashes. The Ashes series has been a terrific contest and what a wonderful thing it has been to witness such a clash played in such a spirit, and what a magnificent side England proved to be. The Ashes test series had an epic grandeur capable of making all other big sporting events seem puny by comparison.

For a number of years it used to be a dream for England that disappeared on waking, the yearning that had no release and the trophy that England could neither win, borrow or steal since 1989. This England side after the defeat in the first test, when everybody wrote England off, turned England’s mounting despair into instant joy by winning the second test by two runs. Suddenly the battle for the Ashes came into a proper contest for the first time in sixteen years with the tide swinging in favour of England.

The rest of the test matches were a stuff of fantasy with nail biting finishes and then finally in the fifth test at Oval, a draw saw England win the Ashes.

The battle of the Ashes caught the imagination of the cricket world and took the focus away from other international cricket series that were being played elsewhere.

The Indian Cricket team started their international campaign in Sri Lanka followed by a tour of Zimbabwe.

India were up against the mighty Sri Lankans in the tri-series final. They qualified when Yuvraj and Kaif justified their star billing as India beat West Indies in a closely contested match. The Sri Lankans, who have always been difficult to beat on the home soil, proved this once again came when India lost to them in the final.

Only a few curious onlookers and the media were there to receive the Indian Cricket team that arrived back from Colombo. The boycott by fans was understandable. The Indian team had again failed to reach its potential. The coach Greg Chappell answered most of the questions that were raised by the media, though not all his answers were convincing. The Sri Lankan team played better cricket was all that he could say on India’s debacle in the final. He added that although fielding looked good, a consistent batting performance by the Indian team was an area of concern.

The coach also accepted that the overall standard of the team has to improve to maintain consistency. The team combination, which came under scrutiny during the tournament, does not seem to have upset the coach. The good things that the team has been doing for the last month will continue and future results will prove that the progress has been made. In the meantime experiments will continue. Chappell said that the Sri Lankan have been winning recently and their team is full of confidence and is playing for each other as a team. The Indian team is presently low in confidence and this has been a contributory factor in their defeat.

India came thrice close to beat Sri Lanka in the triangular series and on all occasions ended up losing quite unexpectedly. We have got a crisis of confidence otherwise I do not think there is much difference in the two teams.

Chappell said that the players needed to analyse all aspects of their game and try to rectify the mistakes they are making. We definitely need to sit down and look at all aspects of the series and review it and come up with some fresh thoughts about how we could move forward.

When India lost by 18 runs against Sri Lanka, in the triangular series final, Greg Chappell made his feelings clear and said that he was hardly impressed by his team’s performance and after the match. Rahul Dravid blamed the batsmen for throwing away a good chance of victory by leaving too much to be done by the lower batsmen. Lack of consistency is apparent in the team.
India had looked the better team on the field. The pity is that there was so little separating Sri Lanka and India other than the result. There are already echoes of the infamous choker tag that once hung over the Indians. The questions are being asked why Team India fails in big matches. At present, they are the unchallenged choking champions in ODIs. But is this a general feeling or only of some specific individuals ?

In India’s four preliminary games it was also the lack of an effective and consistent fifth bowler that was costing the team heavy. In the final the damage was done when the frontline bowlers as Kumble and Irfan Pathan went collectively for 123 runs from their 19 overs. It was unexpected, particularly when Pathan had operated consistently right throughout the preliminary rounds and Kumble had made a successful comeback to one day cricket. In such a scenario, Dravid had looked to his batsman to come up with the answers. Only Virendra Shewag replied by shedding the blues of his earlier scratchy appearances with an astounding counter attack that saw him smack Sri Lanka’s pace bowlers, Mahroof and Lokuhettige all over the park. Shewag in his short innings wasted no time and waded into Maharoof taking three boundaries. He reserved his best for Dilhara Lokuhettige, with an amazing sequence of 4, 4, 6,4,4,and 4 in his first over, with breath-taking strokes. Everything that came before and after paled in comparison.

Though he fell only in the seventh over Shewag had scored 62 runs. From that point on, the experienced line up of Indian batsmen should have seen it home comfortably. Instead, what we saw was a gradual throttling of the game. Playing like novices and not the mature cricketers, the middle order and the tail came and went, being dismissed in the silliest fashion. It confirmed the statement that the team that does not find consistency cannot achieve results.

India were in the driving seat in the final with the score 203 for 3 and only 78 more runs were required for a win. Rahul Dravid was well set with 69 on the board and the game looked beyond Sri Lanka’s reach. Kaif then made two telling blunders; first he ran out Rahul Dravid and then again Harbhajan. These two run outs by Kaif put the rest of the players under pressure and they lost their cool, costing India’s defeat.

On the Sri Lanka tour, Dravid was the lone exception scoring 185 runs from India’s five games underlining the fact that staying at the crease is the pre- requisite to getting runs in large numbers.
Anil Kumble, an outstanding performer for India, when dropped from the one day squad was furious at people hinting that his future in one day international was over.

For the tour of Zimbabwe. Dravid who had captained India in Sri Lanka was dropped as a captain in favour of Ganguly and appointed as the vice captain for the triangular and one day series and two test matches in the African nation. Ganguly stated that he looks forward to forming a partnership with Rahul Dravid and the coach Greg Chappell.

In spite of being plagued by injuries, especially for the past two years, SachinTendulkar still remains a pillar around whom the fortunes of Team India revolve. The news of the provisional inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar, subject to fitness, in the test team for the Zimbabwe tour has given a boost to the team. It has also made Doctor Chris Bradshaw, whom Tendulkar first consulted about his injury twelve months ago very happy. Dr Bradshaw, however, refused to take complete credit for Sachin’s recovery. It is Sachin’s determination, that will make him play again for the country. It was on Doctor Bradshaw’s recommendation that Sachin underwent surgery for his tennis elbow injury with the London’s upper limb specialist Doctor Andrew Wallace. This was in response to the treatment given to Sachin at that time.

In Zimbabwe India lost to New Zealand by six wickets in the Videocon Cup tri-series final. Sachin Tendulkar did not play as he was not fully fit. With a hectic season in store for India matches against Sri Lanka and South Africa Sachin Tendulkar’s presence in the team is essential.

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