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The World Cup - Cricket - Tennis

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


Cricket

The ICC Cricket World Cup

The Indian cricket team is in the Caribbean with a dream to reclaiming the World Cup after nearly quarter of a century. The prayers of millions cricket enthusiasts in India and the Indians world over are with them to bring home the Cup.

The World Cup 2007 is very open and the team that plays better on the day can win the Cup. India is one of the seven teams that can go and win the ICC Cricket World Cup. Besides India, there is South Africa, Australia, England, West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Australia who looked set to walk away with the trophy, suddenly look vulnerable after recent defeats in the ODI’s. But this could be just the tonic they need. They still remain the favourites as they have a well knit unit despite the absence of Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds.

The host team, West Indies, always seem to do well in the World Cup tournaments. They have also an added advantage of playing on home pitches.

New Zealand and Sri Lanka like a chance to play on small grounds as it suits their power hitting.

South Africa enters high on confidence after the series triumph against India. They are the current leaders in the ICC rankings having 128 points against Australia’s 125. Let us not forget for a moment that it was South Africa’s historic chase at the Wanderers last year pursuing mind boggling score of 435, in a match that shattered several barriers.

The other team that could have been in the contest is Pakistan. It is however, currently suffering from the loss of their two pace duo. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohd Asif. Although they have withdrawn from injuries, the two bowlers remain under a cloud since being banned and reinstalled after failing doping test last year. Since neither had taken the compulsory in-house dope test ordered by the Pakistani authorities for their entire world cup team, both could face a life ban for a second positive test and experts have warned that illegal substance could still be lingering there. It is hoped that they are truly injured and it is not a repeat of their previous role.

India has begun in right earnest after their victory over Sri Lanka and the warm up games in the Caribbean. It is hoped that the team will live up to the high expectations. The Indian squad of fifteen players that has been named is full of experienced players with the inclusion of rejuvenated Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Abbas. It is now the time of finding the right eleven.

In this era of startling experimentation, tactical novelties and constantly changing role and order in the team of cricketers nothing is static. India has been one of the more adventurous in being radical in their approach. Hence, one can speculate incessantly on the team composition and batting slot of the players.

The continual decline of Shewag as a one day batsman has been a cause of concern and still remains, but now, Sourav Ganguly previously written off as an alternative opener has credibly reclaimed his place as an opening batsman. The expectations are high seeing Ganguly’s current form and intent but the question still remains that who will partner him on the other end. Shewag or Robin Uthappa. Shewag appears to have been lost in his own morass while Robin Uthappa has very little experience at playing at the top level.

Every other major cricketing nation has a settled opening pair with the exception of India. It is probably the most puzzling issue. There was a possibility of reuniting Ganguly and Tendulkar, who between them have made sixteen centuries and twenty-one half-century stands. However the present circumstances dictate that Tendulkar drops down to number four. Tendulkar’s steady guiding hand in the middle, especially if the innings is in need of repair, would be invaluable. He is still the team’s bulwark.

The team management including the captain Dravid have fought hard for Sehwag’s inclusion in the squad and would like him to open. The logic is sound for Sehwag was the highest ODI scorer in the West Indies and on his day can be a match winner. His form shows signs of recurring and the warm up games against Bangladesh and Bermuda should give him an ideal platform to ease himself in. There is no sense for him to bat in the lower order, as he looks there distinctly uncomfortable. So if Sehwag is the obvious choice than what of Robin Uthappa. He offers a refreshingly explosive option and India should not decline a gift horse. Although the jury is still out on whether Uthappa can replicate those quick starts in alien conditions and whether he has a cool head to mould an innings. If he can show the form that he has demonstrated in domestic cricket, then the presence of Ganguly may work wonders with Uthappa. This may necessitate that Sehwag bats at number 3, where if an early wicket falls he can still come in and play when the ball is relatively new.

Team India now needs to decide where Mahendra Sigh Dhoni should bat during the world cup. Should he keep coming down the order at No.6 or should he be sent higher up at No. 3. The dazzling brilliance of Dhoni and his importance to the Indian team does not need emphasizing. His resourcefulness, competitiveness and his growing maturity make him critical to India’s chances. The same virtues also make him useful in more than one position in the batting order. Dhoni has managed to adapt to the demands placed upon him, excelling at various positions and lending flexibility to the team. Dhoni has been phenomenally successful batting higher up and has scored two centuries. His strike rate at number 3 is 102.39 runs and at four 122.31 runs. However, Dhoni has also proved invaluable lower down the order where he has often guided the team to victory with an exotic mix of cheekiness and power. Dhoni says that his role has changed and it his now his job to finish the game. He states that he has matured a lot and is trying to add a few more to his range of strokes. He accepts his new responsibility at number 6 or7. It is a specialist role as there are not many in the team that can clear the field and get seven runs an over consistently. With the likes of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Sehwag, and Yuvraj it is difficult to see Dhoni bat earlier. He can play a blazing innings that can knock the stuffing out of the rival attack and demoralize the opposition. He can be relied upon to keep his head in a crunch situation when earlier batsmen have failed. More often than not, India will require Dhoni to settle out issues and close chapters. Yuvraj Singh who has just hit form is also in the same category, thus giving Team India more options.

However the position is not so clear about Irfan Pathan. A left arm seamer. Who began his international career with great promise has seen his career take downward fall. He is one player who was left to prove his form and fitness before his departure to Caribbean was assured, for he had recently suffered loss of form, fitness, rhythm pace and striking power. Pathan’s role should be seen not just as a strike bowler but as an all rounder like Mohindeer Amarnath and Ravi Shastri. Both Amarnath and Shastri began their career as bowlers and went on to become premier batsmen. India’s Captain Rahul Dravid remains optimistic about Pathan’s prospects and reminds that number of Man of the Match Awards won by Pathan are a testimony to the fact that he is a match winner. Chappel too has identified Pathan as an all rounder. The tall elegant left hander strikes the ball with grace of top class batsman. He is also solid in defence, keeps a cool head in crisis and if the situation demands can also be a punch hitter.

Captain Dravid is happy with his pace attack. Munaf Patel had a bit of a problem with his injury, but he has come out of that very well. He has also been the most economical bowler for the Indian team. Sreesanth is a wicket taker and has developed nicely. He has also been fit through out the last season. . Sreesanth, a fluid aggressive run up, has been India’s biggest gain in recent years. The right handed bowler’s late out swing fired India to its first victory on the South African soil. He has the ability to swing the ball into batsman and mixes his length and pace to deceive the batsman. Ajit Agarkar is a pace man that remains an enigma and on his day is a match winner. Zaheer Khan has staged a comeback in both types of bowling. This left arm bowler is a fitter, meaner bowler who has been humming on the recent tour.

India has a lot of options. It has a balanced side, good openers and a reliable wicket keeper. The middle order is strong and there is the best combination possible of seamers and spinners. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan are both world class spinners. India will need them as it is rumored that the newly laid wickets in the Caribbean are slow and low. They are the biggest assets for India.

The only area of concern with the Indian side is their fielding. India needs to tighten its fielding if it wishes to reclaim the World Cup.

The 2007 World Cup might herald a new era for cricket in terms of commercialization and globalization. It would also mark the end of several stalwarts of the game.

Standing tall among the golden oldies is India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin has been the face of Indian cricket for nearly two decades. Compared to Sir Donald Bradman by none other than Don himself, Tendulkar is cricket’s most prolific run scorer. With 10,668 runs from 135 tests and 14,783 from 381 ODI’s, he is also the world record holder for most test centuries. India’s premier batsman has stamped his class in the cricket’s show piece event by participating in 33 matches. From 4 World Cups Tendulkar has scored 1,732 runs including four hundreds. He would be celebrating his 34th birthday in Caribbean this year.

Sourav Ganguly might not have struck terror in bowler’s hearts like his more illustrious team mate, but the Prince of Kolkata has the gift of timing that others envy. Over ten thousand runs from 286 ODI speak for themselves. However, he will most be remembered not for his run making ability but for the fact that he took India to the World Cup final in 2003. The 34 year old Ganguly has been the most successful cricket captain of India in modern years. Under his tutelage India won 21 tests and 76 ODI’s. The former skipper, who fought his way into the side when everybody had written him off, can inspire India to its second world cup success.

Another giant who in all probability may be playing his last limited over tournament is Anil Kumble. The 36 year old leg spinner has gone from being a venomous top spinner to the most durable all weather bowler for India. He has represented India in three world cups. He is India’s highest wicket taker in both forms of the game with 547 test wickets and 334 wickets in ODI’s.

Beside the Indian trio there are others who are in the twilight of their careers. The host captain Brian Lara who has scored 11,953 runs in tests and 10,136 in ODI may also be making his last appearance in ICC World Cup. At present he is looking for the West Indies resurgence by leading them to a World Cup triumph.

Sri Lankan opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya, who is 37 this year, is another player who would leave an indelible mark when he hangs his boots. His teammate Marvan Atapattu, a contrast to Jayasuriya with his stylish and copy book shot is now 36 year old. The right handed batsman, whose tally of six double centuries is the fourth highest in the game after Bradman, Wally Hammond and Lara.

The Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq remains as ever a nightmare for the bowlers as he did fifteen years ago when piloted to Pakistan’s maiden world cup triumph. Inzy who is now 37 years old is Pakistan’s leading run scorer. He has scored 8,813 runs in test cricket and also holds the record for highest individual score 329 runs. With 11,665 runs to his credit, he is not far behind Tendulkar in the one day arena.

Bangladesh upset India by 5 wickets  

     Port of Spain (Trinidad): Bangladesh created the first upset of the World Cup by beating India by 5 wickets here on 17 March. India managed to score only 191 batting first after winning the toss on a lively wicket.

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Indian National Games.

Almost everybody was sceptical about Assam hosting the National Games this winter and not without reason. Along with the security threats there were doubts if Guwahati could conduct an event of such magnitude. In the end it was a great success underlined by the fact of huge spectator turn out.

The 33rd National Games produced some exhilarating action. Services were the toast of the games, winning 59 gold, 46 silvers and 39 Bronze. Manipur that normally does well in contact sports came second with 51 golds, 32 silver and 40 Bronzer, while the host Assam finished third.

In the swimming event Karnataka, the cradle of Indian swimming won 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 Bronze. The toast of the swimming pool was Rohan Poncha, a 20 year old swimmer who won nine gold, six of them in individual events apart from three silvers and three bronzes. In doing so he also accounted five games record.

With India hosting the Senior Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi and the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune in October 2007, the National games were the right platform for the Indian sportsman to show their mettle.

Tennis

In the absence of its top players, India was left with a team of debutantes Sunil Kumar, Karan Rastogi and Vivek Shokeen to battle it out in Davis Cup against Uzbekistan. Rarely has India fielded a side far below its strength and this was reflected in the 4-1 defeat. For one reason or another, India did not have the services of Rohan Bopanna, Prakash Amritraj Harsh Mankad and Mahesh Bhupati.

Sania Mirza, the darling girl of Indian tennis, is hoping that 2007 is a better year than 2006. She was plagued with injuries and lost her ranking. Now with semifinals and one quarter final appearances she is back on the stage. Doha was a turning point where she played well to beat the World number 22. She has also started playing more doubles and is currently ranked 26 in the Worlds Doubles. She is entering the mixed doubles event at Wimbeldon with Mahesh Bhupati as her partner.

Vijay Amritraj has a towering presence at any tennis event. He showed that he also has a big heart by donating $10,000 to a NGO Mithra Jyothi who works for the welfare of the blind. The chairman Madhu Singhal requested Vijay to visit the school for the visually challenged persons and Vijay obliged. He became very emotional when handing the cheque, stating that they are making the lives of visually challenged children a meaningful one. They wish to construct a building for them so I gave my little contribution.

Badminton

Conditions were ideal for Sania Nehwal, 17 year old girl from Hyderabad who won her first Women’s National title. She displayed wonderful anticipation speed and power to claim her maiden women’s title. In the absence of Aparna Popat, nine time Indian champion, who withdrew citing an injury, the women’s field lacked depth. Fresh from her remarkable run in 2006, when she won the Philippines Open, and came runner up in the Junior World Cup Sania has come a long way. This year she won the Indian Open. And reached the semi finals of the German Open and the second round of the All England Badminton Championships. In the super series she lost against the third seed Wang Chen from Hong Kong. She gave the third seed a scare by winning the first game and eventually lost after a hard fought battle that lasted 51 minutes. Wang won 17-21, 21-13,21-16. She has the potential to excel in international tournaments and is currently ranked in the top 30.

Chetan Anand, the current National Champion, and Jwala Gutta make an ideal husband and wife pair. Jwala, an excellent doubles partner, kept motivating Chetan whenever she was not playing. Jwala with her partner Shruti Kurien have been India’s number ladies doubles pair since 2000.

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