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February - March 2007

India Sport Scene

Cricket & Tennis

by Ramesh Seedhar, Dr C. P Dalvi & Sudhir Misra

India in South Africa: The First Test

India crush South Africa - Script History

The indian team celebrated what captain Rahul Dravid described as a special moent in the country’s cricket history after beating South Africa by 123 runs on the fourth day of the first test against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium. “The boys have gone a bit berserk”, said Dravid of the scene in the Indian dressing room. “It is a great feeling for the group to have come to South Africa and win a test match for the first time. We are celebrating appropriately”, said Dravid. He knew many people had written off India.

Indian’s coach Greg Chappell said that some senior players could be under pressure following the team’s defeat in the series after the third and final test at Newlands. South Africa completed their 2-1 series victory with a five wicket win dspite rain causing a delay of three hours 46 minutes before they reached their target of 211 runs.

Greg Chappell, obviously, was disappointed at India’s batting. Singling out the second innings collapse to 169 all out, he said that the team had failed to capitalise fully on winning the toss when they made 414 in the first innnings. He said that some hard choices had to be made after this ignominious defeat. “There are more questions than answers. In the nextg week or so when we get to India and have a chance to digest what happened and discuss it’ we will have to make some decisions about which way to go in the future”, said the Coach. There will be some guys under pressure without a doubt. Despite the defeat, Chappell had praise for former captain Sourav Ganguly. He’s done what he was chosen to do, which is to get in there and get runs. His performance in difficult circumstances, having to be rushed in at the last minute, was exceptional. He’s done a good job.

Ravi Shastri’s comments, “I have to admit my disappointment from this game is no different to what most of you feel. Paul Harris isn’t the kind who turns a mile but on the fourth afternoon, India accorded him the title of Lord Harris which wasn’t in sync with the team’s position as well as the front-running they had done in the series. Someties I get the feeling that knowing India hasn’t performed well overseas tends to play on the minds of our senior players. In crunch situation, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to push some one who does not carry a baggage. A couple of things too stick out like sore thumbs. Sachin Tendulkar should have been brought on to bowl with at least 100 runs still left to chase by the South Africans. His leg spin turns a mile and South Africans have admitted they have problem in spotting his googly.”

Anil Kumble did not use his judgement carefdully. He preferred to bowl over the wicket on the final morning, when by going round the wicket, he could have stifled the scoring if not picked up a wicket or two. Kumble’s reluctance to go round cost India too many runs from both ends. India perhaps will never get a track like this abroad certainly not in this part of the world. It was more of an indian kind of wicket than one sees in South Africa. So in that respect a golden chance has been wasted. I wasn’t impressed by Munaf Patel’s fitness at all in this test series. it was pathetic to see him in the field in this test. But he had to devote bit of time on his fitness if he wants to do justice to himself and the team. Looking ahead, I would be the Devil’s Advocate and urge for Virender Sehwags’s retention. In India’s plans, he is a key player, a treasure who must be protected and spoken to. It wouldn’t be too long before he rediscovers his lost art and so he must be kept in the mix. Sourav Ganguly will be important to Indian’s plan in the world cup - as would be Zaheer Khan. There are some spunky youngsters in the side who donot care for big reputations in other camps and guys like Dinesh Karthick and Sreesanth are suffused with positive attitude. It adds invaluable energy to the side and I do feel very strongly about India’s chances in the next world cup.

There is no denying the fact that Pakistani Umpire made some wrong decisions by giving out some Indian batsmen and then not giving out Kallis when he was caught behind by wicket keeper Dinesh Karthick. Tendulkar was also unlucky, given lbw out, where the ball was going away from leg stump - a very poor umpiring by Asad Rauf indeed.


Indian Cricket Team in South Africa

by Sudhir Misra

See-saw made me giddy and shaken.Victory and defeat may be two sides of the same coin. Yet, the emotions generated by either are so different that one finds in a whirlpool of contradictory feelings lost for words and even numbed sensations. In the course of two weeks, the Indian players were found spraying beer, running around like wild boys and seemed to be a happy unit in Johannesburg.

Till the morning of Saturday December 30 morning, the Indian team looked happy and on top of the world; the South African players, on the other hand, were looking anxious and concerned. Even their wives and girlfriends sat in the dressing room ignoring each other.

By the evening, everything had changed. As the last wicket fell, and S Sreesanth stormed away angrily, the South Africans were hugging and squeezing each other wildly. They danced and joked around too; but didn’t spray the beer or champagne on each other; they just drank it.

For the first time, there was no sign of the support staff. The most disappointed man, however, was coach Greg Chappell. In the morning, he was hopeful and confident; in the evening he was bewildered and incredulous. How could a line-up boasting of Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly and Dhoni not last 50 overs? How can they keep collapsing like this on fifth day. Chappell just couldn’t take it: after spending about 15 minutes with his boys, he went back to the team hotel to drown his sorrows in solitude.

Chappell will have to rejuvenate himself and infuse some fight into the Indian team. He has to be daring. If he could put his foot down at least now and bring some important changes at the top of the order.

Over the last few years, with the emergence of One-day cricket, a lot has changed in managing a cricket team. There is no place for single-dimensional players anymore. Everybody needs to bat, bowl and field. The three Tests here in South Africa have shown that bowlers win matches.

In the first Test, the South Africans collapsed against the fury and precision of Sreesanth for 84, despite Andre Nel’s heroic 21. The one who steadfastly held the lower order was Shaun Pollock.

India had slipped to 188 for seven in the first innings; but they managed to make a modestly domineering 249 thanks to some unbelievable strokes from VRV Singh. His 29 off 19 deliveries broke South Africa’s spirits. In the second innings too, India were down to 148 for seven; but they fought their way to 236 on ZaheerKhan’s dogged 37. At one stage India had crashed to 183 for 8. But they brought some semblance of respect thanks to the push given by S Sreesanath ‘s entertaining 28. The second innings, however, was disastrous. The top order crashed to 85 for six. South Africa seemed to be racing away to a resounding win.

But then MS Dhoni dug his heels in. Batting with a bruised finger, he cut out his strokes and happily defended. He got able support, first from Anil Kumble and then Zaheer. With bad light looming ominously, it looked like their resistance would save the day for India. Sadly, Dhoni played a mindless slog just a few seconds from tea to squander the chance of becoming a hero. Zaheer prolonged the fight with Sreesanth for another half hour or so. But by this time, South Africa had sniffed blood; nothing could stop them after that. Interestingly, South Africa have also been well served by their own tail. Pollock scored a valiant 40 in the second innings. In the second Test, however, Pollock played a killer role. He smashed an unbeaten 63 to lift South Africa to 265 for eight just when they seemed to be sliding towards disaster.

In the final test, India, after their first respectable start so far, collapsed from 99 for no loss to 143 for six. Another couple of wickets would have given India a reasonable target to flirt with. But Pollock’s crunching knock, in the company of Andrew Hall (21) and Morne Morkel (27) threw India out of the game. To score 354 on the last day in South Africa is not only difficult but impossible.

S. Sreesanth: Known as the new Mammootty thanks to his acting and dancing skills, was the bowling find for India this year. And it’s not just the record books that suggest he’s here for a long haul.

Former cricketers are impressed with just about everything they’ve seen of him-that smooth run-up, flawless action, upright seam position and easy follow-through. His temperament-often the cause of Sreesanth’s downfall-is an asset too. Malayalees have a new cine star, Team India have a new swinging star.

MS Dhoni Maybe it had something to do with the shorter, black mane he sported in 2006. The law of averages caught up with Mahi this season but with a little bit of luck (and longer locks?), the Jharkhand dasher could well turn out to be the hero next year. His technique may be jiffy and the shot-selection whimsical at times, but there’s no doubting the innate talent.

Dhoni put up a mediocre show in West Indies this year, so he will be itching to set the record right in the World Cup. One bit of advice for Dhoni: Carry a pouch of prudence in that huge bag of bravado.

South Africa - Third Test

Wasim Jaffer led India’s batting renaissance with a century as the visitors seized the early initiative in the series-deciding third and final cricket Test against South Africa here today. Jaffer, barely lucky to make the eleven, slammed 116 to power the Indians to 254 for 3 at close on the first day, the highlight of which was the 153-run opening stand the Mumbai batsman shared with a new partner in Dinesh Karthick.

Karthick, playing a Test after a gap of 16 months, made a gritty 63 from 240 minutes and 170 balls inclusive of seven fours and did not allow the hosts a wicket till the first two sessions.

Although India lost three wickets in the final session, including the one of Jaffer, they looked set for a good first innings total and putting the hosts under pressure.

There is a huge rough, abrasive area around the good length spot for a left-hander which could be of absolutely lethal assistance to ace spinner Anil Kumble, more so since India would be bowling last on this track.

Captain Rahul Dravid (29) did his side a huge favour by winning the toss and asking Karthick to step in the opener’s slot, necessitated by Virender Sehwag’s poor form.

Jaffer went into his stride early, leading India to 61 for no loss by lunch and reaching his half century, as well as 1000th run in Tests, by driving Shaun Pollock (1-32) straight down the ground on resumption.

Karthick too reached his landmark, though he had a slice of luck on 32 when Graeme Smith at first slip dropped a catch off Pollock with the score on 95 for no loss.

The two openers duly completed the first century stand by Indian openers ever in South Africa and advanced the total to 153 for no loss by tea. Karthick was dismissed soon on resumption by debutant left-arm spinner Paul Harris, caught close to the wicket by Hashim Amla, as South Africa finally managed their first success of the day.

Dravid got into his stride quickly, driving and flicking boundaries at will before Pollock tied him down with the most incisive spell of the day. Pollock bowled with great heart and accuracy at the fag end of the day and finally had his man when Dravid edged him behind the stumps for 29 runs, made from 63 minutes and 58 balls and including five fours.

Just before Dravid was out, Jaffer completed his century by flicking Harris for three, the relief on his face being as evident as he knelt on the turf in thanksgiving.

Jaffer batted for six hours and hit 15 fours from 244 balls, this being his third century in his 17th Test.

Sachin Tendulkar (28) looked assured in the final hour he spent at the crease and negotiated the South African quick’s, armed with the second new ball, with a measure of confidence.

On Friday, India batted like philanderers; on Saturday, they bowled like millionaires. It’s no surprise, then, that they will go back home on Sunday as paupers, losing almost everything they had gained over the last month in a gripping and oscillating battle.

South Africa, who amazingly capitulated in the first Test at Johannesburg, clinched the three-match series 2-1. They came back strongly to first hoodwink the rain and a brittle Indian batting lineup in Durban; here, they just held on to their coolest nerve to outwit them by six wickets in a bone-tingling encounter.

On the last day of a nerve-racking tour, the threat of rain loomed over Cape Town. South Africa, chasing 211 for a sweet victory, had already stolen the edge by racing away to 55 for two in 16.2 overs on the fourth evening. India needed to cut off every run, bowl a string of maidens, squeeze the pressure and strangulate them.

They had to play it like a game of chess, plotting every move slowly and carefully; they should have played a game of patience. Instead, they bowled like they had a thousand runs in the bank, like they had a flight to catch in the evening (which incidentally, they had to). Worse, Rahul Dravid’s field-settings were baffling, if not unfathomable and totally inexplicable. He spread his fielders everywhere, leaving huge gaps near the bat and in the middle. Yes, he was defending a small total but by having just two on the off-side for Kumble, and leaving the entire on-side open for the pacers, he telegraphed his fears to Pollock and Smith. Both exploited the openings to pick up free gifts.

Kumble just couldn’t pull out his miserly line and length, often dropping too short, too full or just too ‘hittably’. He bowled 25 overs but went for 74 costly runs and had just one wicket for his painstaking efforts. India had one fast bowler too many (Munaf Patel bowling just one over) and were one spinner too short. Oh yes, the second spinner, Virender Sehwag, too bowled one. In the end, when it was all over, Tendulkar too got a couple. But by then Jacques Kallis (32) and Andrew Prince (37 not out) had already done all the damage. Playing coolly but aggressively and running for everything, they hustled to a 77-run partnership for a fitting finale to a hard-fought series. They attained the target in the 65th over, with just 15 minutes and 12 overs to go.

It all started in the morning, though, with South Africa springing a stunning surprise: they promoted Pollock to open the day while India had happily made all their plans for Kallis: how to stop him; how to ensnare him quickly and how to apply the pressure on them.

It was a brilliant move wrapped in a bold gamble. Pollock is their best player against spin; he bats aggressively and gets runs super quickly. It was an attacking tactic but it wouldn’t have hurt them too much in failure either.

Pollock got off the blocks, clipping Kumble for a double. India needed some luck to come quickly back into the match after their disastrous collapse on the fourth day. They didn’t get it. Graeme Smith drove Zaheer Khan’s first delivery and managed only an inside edge: the ball missed the stumps by a lot less than an inch and even went for a four.

That was the cue South Africa were waiting for. Flicking, driving, cutting and making the most of every loose delivery, they kept the score card moving on all four wheels. By the 26th over, they had clocked 100, and were gliding away. Luckily, for India, the clouds finally opened up at 11.20.It was a welcome respite for them. They were clearly rattled by Pollock’s controlled belligerence and Smith’s disciplined strokeplay: they couldn’t have handled even two-three overs at that stage. The break allowed them to regroup, re-plan and come back with calmer nerves and some hope.

Eventually, play started at 3.05, with the skies still looking sad. In the new equation, South Africa needed exactly 100 runs more in a maximum of 49 overs; India still needed those eight wickets. They got one with Zaheer striking in his third over. 127 for three. A glimmer of hope. Four overs later, he struck again. Pollock had gone. It was 132 for four.

The match had come alive again. But India needed Kumble to quickly step into the picture. He had taken only one wicket till then while he was expected to wipe them out with one tiny spell. He didn’t. There were a few moments of tension, pressure and screaming; but you don’t win Test matches riding on them. You need wickets. And you don’t bowl like millionaires while defending a small total; or bat like philanderers while setting a target on the fourth day.

CAPE TOWN, Jan 6: Like a new baby, Sourav Ganguly came back into the Indian team exactly after nine months. But his arrival wasn’t marked by joy or euphoria; rather, it was greeted with scepticism and cynical laughs: India had just been battered in the One-day series and his recall was seen more as an appeasement ploy.

Out here, in South Africa, it was worse: the under-currents and hidden fears had started simmering even before he landed in Johannesburg. Nobody really knew how Ganguly would blend with the others; nobody dared to think how the old differences would be tackled.

Worse, nobody really believed he would last long on the hard and bouncy pitches here against express speed and raw aggression. Later, when he eventually melted into the team smoothly, coach Greg Chappell revealed that it was indeed a volatile situation for the first few days: it could have exploded on anybody’s face.

But Ganguly steadied himself and was more than ready for the next bouncer. He went on to make a most extraordinary 83; he may have missed out on the first century of the tour but his knock became the rallying point for India. Suddenly, almost every batsman (apart from Virender Sehwag, of course) started looking as good as his reputation.

Since then, of course, Ganguly has got hit in virtually every other match; he has taken blows on his body, on his shoulder and on his elbow too. He flinched almost every time but he didn’t look harried or uncomfortable like he used to earlier; if anything he looked much more determined and eager to keep going.

Indeed, he batted much better after each hit. That, according to people close to him, is his new philosophy: ‘‘It’s better to get hit than to get out.’’ More importantly, for the statistically-minded, he is the highest run-getter for India in this series. This second coming, of course, wasn’t easy; it has come after months of immense pain, tribulations and a million doubts. In fact, every single former cricketer and expert was absolutely sure that he was finished as a player; he alone believed that he still had a few days left in him.

So while the Indian team floundered, and the world laughed, he worked hard on his fitness, corrected his thought process and waited for his turn. When it finally arrived, he came prepared: he took middle-stump guard, unlike the leg-stump one that most prefer on such tracks; he also tried to get forward instead of the normal tendency to go on to the backfoot. Both worked.There is one critical flaw though: he crouches too much at the time of delivery; this is not allowing him flexibility to weave his body backward or forward against short-pitched deliveries. That’s one of the reasons why he’s getting hit so many times.

Ganguly wouldn’t worry about these little things though; he has proved everybody wrong and has also scored more runs than anybody else. Now, there is no doubt that he will be back in the One-day side too. It’s just ironical that he will probably replace the one man who was most vocal in his favour: Virender Sehwag.

Sania Mirza

The 2006 season was one long lesson for the colourful Hyderabadi. Lack of fitness and consistency were believed to be Sania Mirza’s chief sins.

She tackled the first by hiring a South African fitness expert. Sania armed with a meaner game turned out at year-end events in Hyderabad and Doha, serving notice of what is to come. She has done her homework well and she is going to have some memorable highs in the new year. After a shaky start to her second year on the Tour, she did well to finish at 65 on the WTA rankings, giving herself good ground to launch her 2007 campaign. She reached the semi-final.

Saina Nehwa

The teen badminton sensation has in her what many Indians lack: the traits of a champion. Saina loves to dominate; derives pleasure in decimating opponents; she hates to lose and has the guts to fight; has the ability to learn from mistakes and is ever-willing to improvise; she has the humility to take success in her stride and her simplicity allows her to remain firmlyontheground.

Having made a grand entry into the senior level in 2006, Saina is convinced that the only way to sustain the tempo is to get fitter and speedier which, she says, are the secrets of the East Asians’ success.

Rajyavardhan Rathore

We expect Olympic silver medallist shooter Rajyavardhan Rathore to emerge stronger and better at the end of 2007. He has chosen to devote the first half of the year to training which means he will be missing two World Cups. It will adversely affect his ranking.

It also means that Rathore has that much more time to get used to his gun which he changed after the Athens conquest. His performance at the Asian Games showed that Rathore is gradually getting into peak form. “My best is yet to come” said Rathore.

DOHA, Jan 6: Defending champions Leander Paes and Martin Damm of Czech Republic suffered a heart-breaking upset defeat at the hands of an unseeded pair in the $1 million Qatar Open ATP tennis doubles final on Saturday.

The third seeded pair of Paes and Damm were defeated 1-6, 6-7 (3-6) by Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Serb Nenad Zimonjic, in the season-opener, a build up to the AustralianOpenGrandSlam.

A total of eight break of services were witnessed during the match with Paes-Damm, the reigning US Open champions recording three breaks and Youzhny-Zimonjic five. Paes had also won the trophy in 1998, with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi. Youzhny, a Doha doubles runner-up in 2005, won his second career ATP doubles title, while Zimonjic claimed his fourteenth. “This is a great start to the New Year. I was without my partner (Fabrice Santoro) but I am happy to have won with Misha,” Zimonjic said.

“We are sort of undefeated because this is only the second time we are playing together and we had to retire in St. Petersburg last year when we were winning. We just got better as the week went on, just like the weather,” he added.

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