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October - November 2007


India Sport Scene

Badminton - Tennis - Cricket

by Ramesh Seedhar


HOCKEY

7th BSNL Asia Cup Hockey Championships.

The Asia Cup brought the best out of the Indian Hockey team as it inflicted a humiliating defeat on Korea in the finals of the Asia Cup. Thus finally taking the hockey crown with an authority rarely seen in recent times.

The other medal winner was Malaysia who beat Japan 5-3 to clinch the third spot and the bronze medal.

Prabhjot Singh and Rajpal Singh led from the front for India, striking twice apiece in the 7-2 victory and assisting in the other goals that came India’s way.

India’s victory celebrations were however marred by the two yellow cards that were handed out to Sardar Singh and Prabhjot Singh. Sardar Singh was cautioned for dangerous play while Prabhjot Singh for violent tendencies.

The situation nearly got out of control when Prabhjot Singh swung his stick with little thought and struck Kim Chul down. The situation remained tense but eventually wiser counsel prevailed and the match continued. The game was contested in a manner that will long remain in the memory of the huge crowd that were privileged to watch at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium at Chennai.

There was one other occasion that turned out to be a poor advertisement for the game. It was when the Koreans walked out in protest against a decision by umpire Richmond Attipoe of Ghana, who had disallowed a goal. The Koreans were convinced that Hong Sung Kweon’s shot was taken from inside the circle; however the TV replay confirmed that the decision was correct

However these blemishes did not disguise the supremacy that the Indians enjoyed. The Indian team launched breezy counter attacks with Rajpal Singh scoring with a thunderous drive off Sardar for the team’s fourth goal.

The Koreans, although they played with speed, accompanied with rapid switch of flank attacks and swift passing bouts however failed to crack the Indian defence.

India defended in numbers and when at times they were beaten the goalkeeper Baljit Singh rose to the occasion. He saved five penalty corners that deservedly fetched him the Player of the award for the final

The architect of success of the Indian team’s performance belongs to their chief hockey coach Joaquim Carvalho.

Carvalho in the post-match press conference gave full credit to his boys for their hard fought victory over the Asian Games gold medallists South Korea. Indians skill -full play always won matches by tiring the opposition with their dribbles and skills. However their fitness always remained a question mark and has been a contributing factor in their losing their games.

Not for many years has seen a hockey coach exercising such a positive influence on the players as Carvalho. Cedric D’Souza was a similar force to those who tended to gloss over his idiosyncrasies but Carvalho has quite overtaken him in terms of universal popularity. The entire Indian team credits him with the success at the Asia Cup hockey tournament

Carvalho has turned a bunch of players who used to excel individually but failed to play as a team into a gutsy outfit in a matter of six months. Under Carvalho the Indian team has jelled as a unit, churning out the magic that would have worked only in dreams.

The days of Indian team losing or drawing a match from a position of strength as they tire in the last five minutes are gone. In modern hockey, hard running is required for results.

Under Carvalho, discipline and performance have become the chief mantras and the sole criterion for selection. A factor that, some of his predecessors did not often enjoy and were often overridden by questionable judgement. The current 18-member team is Carvalho’s choice and that is exactly why he has been able to use them to the best of their abilities.

In a world where coaches demand at least four years to produce concrete results, Carvalho has found the nucleus. That this nucleus has overcome a few big hurdles to win a tournament only proves that he has actually made a lot more headway than many of those who started almost around the same time. Now the next target is the Olympic qualification.

Carvalho has reposed faith in many players who previous coaches were dismissive off. They in turn too have responded in a positive fashion to the trust put in them Prabhjot Singh, William Xalxo, Sardar Singh and Bimal Lakra, relegated to the periphery for strange reasons until March this year, are now the stars of the show.

A slow mover, Prabhjot has hit the front with his fitness, sinuous moves and 15 goals in the tournament. Xalxo, who was not considered, fit for the development in the recent past, is now a positive force in the defence. Sardar and Bimal are the two cogs which move the big, influential wheel called the midfield.

How did they produce this brilliant turnaround?

The answer lies in hard work and little else. The camps in Bangalore were a revelation. The load the boys took on the field as well as off the field with trainer Ganguly Prasad proved very significant. The headway made in tactics, technique and video analysis are now directly reflected on the pitch.

The accent on hard running, attacking hockey and retackling, the exchange of ideas between the players and coach and the abiding philosophy of putting the team before self has also worked commendably well. In short, Carvalho couldn’t certainly have found a magic potion to prepare a set of world beaters in a matter of six months or wielded a magic wand in the past few months. What he has done is to wipe the dust off the team, making it see the reality.

It starkly reflects the truth that has plagued Indian hockey for the past two years, that a player can be only as good as his coach.

The Asia Cup was a preparatory stint for most of the teams as they geared up for either Olympics or its qualifying tournament next year. The teams like South Korea, Pakistan and China had come with a mixture of seniors and juniors. Although this continental tournament was not a qualifier for the 2010 World Cup, the fact remained that those who hid behind the facade called experimentation should know India too were rebuilding their outfit virtually from scratch, particularly after two disastrous outings in the World Cup and the Asian Games last year.

Now comes the big question. Is Indian hockey team ready for the decisive step ahead? Carvalho says, yes but gradually.


TENNIS

The last of the Grand slam tennis tournament of 2007, The US Open finished with Roger Federer hot on the trail of a grand slam record.

At Flushing Meadows in Queens, Roger Federer scored his fourth successive US Open title to take his tally of grand slams to 12. He is now just two short of the record of 14 grand slams set by Pete Sampras. Federer is now in joint second place with Roy Emerson.

Federer has won Australian Open 3 times, the Wimbeldon title 5 times and the US Open title 4 times. Pete Sampras won the Australian 4 times, Wimbledon 7 times and the US Open 5 times. None of these record breakers have won all the five grand slams in one year and the French Open still deludes them.

The earliest that Federer could equal the record of Pete Sampras is at the French Open at Roland Garros next year. This would require him to be the champion again at the Australian Open and then follow up with a win at the French Open. If that should happen then Federer could achieve a new mark at the Wimbledon’s centre court, thus also beating the five consecutive victories at Wimbeldon that he currently shares with Bjorn Borg.

Federer’s opponent at the US Open was none other than Novak Djokovic, a 20 year old Serbian who had recently beaten Andy Roddick, Rafel Nadal and Federer. After a tentative first set the World number one beat the number three seed Djokovic in three straight sets, 7-6, 7-6, and 6-4.

For Indians, although they did not win any trophies, the US Open was quiet a successful tournament.

The Indian and American pairing of Leander Paes and Meghann Shaughnessy reached the Mixed Doubles final. They failed to beat the Belarus pair of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka, who won the US Open mixed doubles title with a 6-4, 7-6 victory over the Indian –American pairing.

Paes and Shaughnessy held five set points in the second set but Mirnyi and Azarenka rallied to claim their first Grand Slam crown together by winning the tiebreak 8-6.

It was 18-year-old Azarenka’s first Grand Slam title. For Mirnyi, it was his third mixed doubles crown at a Grand Slam event and seventh in total.

The Belarus pair who had lost the Australian Open final in January the title could prove to be the start of a long and successful career.

Paes praised Shaughnessy for her efforts and thought they had just about done enough to win the second set but it just shows the calibre of the Belarus pair who came up with the goods when needed. In the semi final Paes and Shaughnessy overcame the challenge put up by Murray and his partner.

The US Open saw Sania Mirza reach the third round and improve her rankings. She is now ranked number 27 and the first Indian women in the top 30 in the world.

Sania Mirza’s victory caravan was halted by Anna Chakvetadze who is ranked world number 6. After the US Open third round loss; the Indian ace is scratching her head over how to clear the obstacle off her way in future.

Every time Sania has met Chakvetadze, the story has unfolded with the same script. Sania lost to the 20-year-old Russian in the finals at Stanford, in semi-finals in Cincinnati and at Hobart in January. So far, in all the four meetings, Sania has been able to win just one set.

Sania was tamed by Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-3 at the Flushing Meadows Sania said after her US Open dream came crashing down that she found it very hard to play Chakvetadze. Chakvetadze is very hard for a lot of players and in order to win I have to do something different. I didn’t change enough,

Recently, Sania has been in great form and has defeated four top-20 players in the tune-up to the season-ending Grand Slam, the US Open. Sania lost to a player who is top 10 in the world in the third round of a grand slam event and that is very commendable.

Sania Mirza’s break through in what had been very much a man’s world arrived two seasons ago. It was the first stamp of the stereotype defiance. There after she proved that Indian women could hit whiplash forehands, speak their minds and successfully deal with systematic malfunctioning that plagues Indian sport.

In the context of Indian tennis Sania ushered a new era when she made the third round of the Australian open on a wild card.

Sania represent a new Indian woman. Still largely middle class creature and in the incubator for far too long in a traditional society wary of letting go. A society with the delusional sense of security provided by obscurantist practices. However liberalisation and globalisation has made her break these bonds. In India you can now see her every where. At the malls, at restaurants, in corporate board rooms and on television

Sania’s is the most visible face of the new Indian women in sport. In the event, Sania’s success in handling her own celebrity is as admirable as her desire to become the best tennis player she can be. A lot of credit for this should go to her father Imran and mother Naseema, who have managed to instil strong middle class values in their talented daughter.


FORMULA ONE MOTOR CAR RACING COMING TO INDIA

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) suddenly hit top gear by inviting the well-known track designer Hermann Tilke to India with the intention of designing a racing track in India. Tilke, who has designed several circuits in the world, including those in Asia, landed in the Delhi in the company of IOA president Suresh Kalmadi, to make aerial survey of some of the proposed sites.

Tilke’s visit is considered crucial as he would be submitting his report to Ecclestone, who will then make the final decision. With the deadline for completing contract formalities, that include finalising the venue, for hosting an F1 race in Delhi looms large and things are moving at a pace.

Currently the business tycoon Vijay Mallya and Kalmadi seem to be locked in a tussle for becoming the face of F1 in the country. Mallya has already taken lead with his successful bid for Spyker F1 team. However, Tilke’s visit will surely give Kalmadi a boost as F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had asked the IOA to identify the venue by September 30.

This is a step forward in realising the dream of having an F1 GP in India.


BADMINTON

In the World Badminton Championships at Kaula Lumper in August this year India waited expectantly as Anup Sirdhar fired the imagination of the nation hungry for success.

A superb display by Anup Sirdhar silenced some of the big guns of the game, notably the Olympic Champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia. The dream run ended in a quarter final defeat by the eventual champion Lin Dan of China, but not before Anup gave the World number One the jitters.

A product of the Paukone Badminton Academy Bangalore Anup represents Pertoleum Sports Promotion Board.

He has been India’s number One and winner of the national mens singles title in 2005 and 2006. In 2007 he was a semi-finalist in the ABC Championships and the German Open before entering the quarterfinals of the World Championships

Following the footstepds of his mentors, Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar, he is looking to train abroad. He prefers to train in Denmark where he has already trained while playing for Skelskor in Copengagen. The Club culture is particularly strong in Denmark and besides training he would get to play some of the top names in Badminton including Pete Gade and Kenneth Johansson.

India is looking to be one of the top Badminton nations and at the moment has a nucleus some very promising players. We look forward to see some of this talent given rein and flourish,


CRICKET

India’s victory in England giving them a Test series win, the first in twenty years and only the thirds in 75 years is significant on many levels. It has busted a number of stereotypes. It has also underlined the shift in dynamic away from the batsman to bowling. The series has been a great spectacle because the art of swing bowling by the Indian bowlers has not been seen since the days of the Pakistani duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

It is also significant of the fact that both sides played vibrant and entertaining cricket. Coming as it did after disastrous World Cup it was a great advertisement for all that‘s great about test cricket.

Indian cricketers have been poor travellers since 2000 and only Australia has toured better. Most victories in this period have been set by magnificent batsman, but in this series Anil Kumble was the only century maker for India, who got his maiden hundred in the 118th test at Oval.

Rahul Dravid who joined Ajit Wadekar as the only Indian Captain to won test series both in West Indies and in England acknowledged the shift from the batsman to bowlers. Indian bowlers Zaheer Khan, R.P.Singh and Sreesanth have looked destructive by swinging the ball. The ball swung on the final day of the third test as it did all series, redrawing the lines of engagement

Commenting on India winning the test series the captain Rahul Dravid said that if you want to win a Test series abroad, your bowling attack must do the job for you. If they can get 20 wickets and win the test match then you can go on and win the series.

England’s top six batsman outscored India’s, but India’s bottom five returned the favour. Most crucially for India, an Indian batsman stepped to the front whenever India needed them. M.S.Dhoni showed at Lords that he can adapt his game, trust his technique and yet make subtle adjustments. Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik at Trent Bridge showed how to play a moving ball. They played the line not forcing but punishing anything loose.

Sourav Ganguly batted as confidently and with as much skill as he has. The time away from the game has served him well and his half centuries both at Trent Bridge and the Oval will be seen as defining innings.

Sachin Tendulkar’s success lay in mastering his will and accepting the limitations of age and injury that has been thrust on him. His innings at Trent Bridge was a model of concentration. Both he and Sourav Ganguly suffered from poor decisions from the umpires.

South African Ian Howell made ghastly errors during the thirds and final test at The Oval. He appeared top be under great pressure than any player. Surely it ids time that umpires were offered help when the heat grows too great.

At the Oval we knew that Sourav Ganguly had been wrongly given out by the time he marched back. There will be vast improvements in the next few years in the new technology. High definition TV will provide a sharper picture. Better cameras are coming along all the time. Public perception of television replays have changed as their influence on the sports has become clearer. So it is time that the technology was accepted to improve the decision making.

Ironically, it was the bowlers that won the test series for India and then failed to deliver in the ODI’s. Every time England won they claimed all 10 wickets, something that India never did. Overall England’s bowlers claimed 50 wickets to India’s 26.

The ding dong one day series that had the pulse rates beating after India beat England by two balls at The Oval to level the matches failed to live to the grand finale at Lords.

If England were apprehensive about possibility of losing the series after leading 3-1 did not show at Lords.

After the many dramas of the earlier games, this was an almost facile victory, one that was all but assured when India was dismissed for 187 in 47.3 overs.

In the ODI’s the England’s batsman scored three centuries to India’s none and they possessed superior fielders. India’s reliance on Tendulkar was marredby poor umpiring decisions. He was most unfortunate to be adjudged caught behind. The snick on which the umpire Dar relied was the sound of brushing the front pad rather than clipping the ball as it passed the outside edge. This was the third time on tour that Tendulkar had suffered a bad umpiring decision. He was given out wrongly at Trent Bridge Test and than again in the ODI at Bristol. Dravid, too looked aghast when given out in a similar fashion. Both the controversial decisions put India on the back foot.

The umpiring decisions has put both the teams on edge and during the series there were many incidents of verbal clashes between the two teams. These could have been avoided had the umpiring been more reliable this summer.

Irfan Pathan back in Indian Squad.

Irfan Pathan who is out of the Test and one day team got a new lease of life by being invited to join the Twenty 20 World Cup Squad. Pathan expressed confidence in getting into lime light and said that the difficult days are over. After a successful tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya and a stint at the MRF Pace Academy’s Pachaiappa College under Dennis Lille, Irfan says if given a chance he is ready to regain his place in the Indian team.

Sachin Tendulkar: The Young Master

Sachin Tendulkar has for the first time admitted that it is increasingly becoming difficult for him to play One-day cricket. His body is in need of long recovery time after matches and as the period in between matches is short it is taking toll on his body. When you are 22 or 23, you recover a lot more quickly. But at 34, it’s not so easy,” he was quoted as saying by The Times

Tendulkar recently opted out of the Twenty20 World Championships but refused to agree that he was old enough to call it quits.

David Gower, the 50-year-old former England’s captain and great batsman-turned-commentator wrote in his column for the The Times that Sachin Tendulkar still has too much class to contemplate retirement from One-day cricket and the judgements being passed on his batting are erroneous and ignorant. Tendulkar looked more qualified to cope under pressure situations than his colleagues at the top of the order during the just concluded Nat West Series against England. There has been mention in the past few days that he might retire from One-day cricket, although he has made it clear that he is entertaining no such thoughts. And why should he.

Gower also did not agree with the criticism hurled on Tendulkar’s batting.

“Some people have carped about his batting this summer. The main accusation is that he has lost some of his dominance over bowlers. They pointed to his dogged approach in that Test at Trent Bridge and suggested that the young, imperious Sachin might have made more of an effort to take control. To me such judgements are erroneous and ignorant,” he said.

Gower, who played 117 Tests and 114 ODIs, in fact appreciated Tendulkar for adapting himself to perform in the changed circumstances.

Some batsmen find it hard to change their method as the years progress. The realistic among them acknowledge that there are new ways one has to learn to make runs when one’s youthful vigour has departed.

That innings at Trent Bridge was a fine exhibition of controlled batting from a man who realised that his team needed one thing more than anything else, and that was for him to remain at the crease. That is exactly what he did until he and, more pertinently, the umpire misjudged a ball that the batsman left alone too close to the line of off stump. That innings oozed determination. It did not deserve to be cut short when a hundred beckoned. What was also important about that knock was that he had adapted to the conditions and needs of his team and played accordingly. That innings was enough to convince me that Tendulkar has it within him to continue for a while yet, even though we should not expect to see him back here in 2011, when India tour next

Sunil Gavaskar expressed hope that Tendulkar would still be playing when the 2011 World Cup in Asia comes around. We all hope but it is hard to envisage. He will be 38 then.

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