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February - March 2008


India Sport Scene

Sport in 2007 - An Indian Perspective

by Ramesh Seedhar


As we look back at the year 2007, each of us will have their own highs and lows. What has left as a lasting imprint in my memory may just be a trivial something not worthy of permanent niche in other peoples memory.

Yet there will be obvious candidates jostling for pre-eminence as we consider 2007’s honours list. The genius of Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, and Anand, the heroics of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the single-mindedness of Sourav Ganguly will always be in the forefront. However, talking about genuine heroes in 2007 one cannot think of any heroes greater than the members of the Iraqi football team that won the Asian Cup in Jakarta in July.

Shiaties, Sunnis and Kurds from a war-torn nation came together to put on a magnificent show of attacking football. There was no greater instance during the year of a triumph of human spirit. It was as uplifting as sport can get, and work of genius apart, few things in sport rise above the banality of the quotidian.

Chess

From India’s point of view few people have reached the status of Viswanathan Anand. Twenty years ago, as a teenager, Viswanathan Anand redefined excellence for Indian chess player. He combined speed with skill, imaginative ideas with intuition and reeled off results that did not go unnoticed by some of the best brains in the game.

With the passage of time, his phenomenally consistent performance put him among the elite of this sport. His tireless work paid off this year and he realised two of his long cherished goals. He captured the world number one spot in April 2007 and went out to regain the World title that he first won in 2000.

Seldom has an individual made such a lasting impact on the future of any sporting discipline in India. His talent apart, what caught the nation’s imagination was his pleasing ways. His smile, wit and the ability to simplify the complexities of the game made him an instant hit.

Anand has contributed more than any other Indian sports person in their chosen discipline.

Football

The highs of Indian sport were manifest in various ways. If it was the tournament victory that boosted the image of football in the country then the Nehru Cup victory stands out.

For Indian football it was time to rejoice once again as the host nation won the Nehru Cup for the first time in New Delhi. The euphoria following the triumph was reminiscent of the year 2002 when India won the LG cup in Vietnam.

At a time when India was falling in the FIFA rankings, the Nehru Cup victory came as a tonic. The success was perceived as a positive sign giving indication that things had come under control under the new coach Bob Houghton. The future of Indian football looked brighter under him, but the performance at the Olympics in Beijing will finally tell that if Indian football is back on the road.

Archery

Dola Banerjee made history by becoming the first Indian to win an archery gold medal at the World Cup final in Dubai. Just one point separated India’s champion archer from her Korean rival Eun Young Choi, but that was good enough for Dola and getting India a gold medal.

A product of the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur, Dola now has a sponsor in Samsung. Her next target is the gold in Beijing, having missed a medal in Athens Olympics

Squash

Squash’s latest success story came at the World’s men team Championships. Though India did not win the title it made history by entering in the last eight stages. The Indian team comprising of Saurav Ghosal, Ritwik Bhattacharya, Siddarth Suchde and Gaurav Nandrajog confounded the critics by defeating the high ranked Wales in the pre-quarter finals stage.

India finished eight in the championships which was very creditable. Moreover, they finished one place above Pakistan who used to be world number one and boasted legendary players like Jehangir and Jansher Khan.

In India, following this success, squash is beginning to gain visibility as a sport

Badminton

India has always been a badminton nation. Following the success of Prakash Padukone and Gopichand who put India on the world map there has been no new successes. Now a new name is emerging. Anup Sridhar has brought some cheers to the badminton fans. In the early phase of the World championships in Kuala Lumpur, Anup captured the imagination of badminton lovers with a superb display that silenced some of the big guns. His victory over Taufik Hidayut, the Olympic champion, was the highlight of his career. However his dream run at World championships ended with a defeat against the eventual champion Lin Dan of China, but not before he had given the world number one the jitters by extending him to the full.

Anup’s effort helped to climb to Number 25 in the world rankings.

Formula One

Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula One driver won the AGIP race in Zhuhai, China. His victory was a historic moment in motor racing as Team India grabbed its first ever victory in AGIP. India thus became the 14th nation to win a race in AGIP.

Expectations of India are also on Karun Chandhok, who could well be India’s next Formula One driver. Karun has successfully tested for the Formula Team Red Bull.

Hockey

In hockey 2007 was the year of hope, quite in contrast to the mood of despair at the end of 2006. The pain of humiliation suffered at the Doha Asian games lingered even after 2007 had dawned.

The Indian hockey Federation had to take drastic steps if hockey had to survive as a sport in India. They moved Vasudevan Bhaskaran out and replaced him by the Olympian Joaquim Carvalho as a coach of the Indian Football team. Carvalho realised the seriousness of the task, and faced the challenge with fresh ideas. He shunned the media criticism by bringing back old players and was able to explain each one of his choices and why the player he chose needed to be where they were.

The success of Prabhjot Singh was his greatest success, so was the selection of the goalkeeper Baljit Singh. By the end of the year Prabhjot grew in stature to be in the best 18 in the world.

A bronze medal in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament at Ipoh, Malaysia, gave rise to hopes of resurgence of Indian hockey. Another Bronze medal winning performance in Champions challenge in Boon Belgium raised fresh hopes that Indian team was capable of achieving a lot more. India’s performance in Boon was inconsistent but the back to back wins against England showed that India was now ready to take on European teams with equanimity.

India’s finest moment in 2007 was its Asia Cup triumph in Chennai. The demolition of South Korea by a margin of 7-2 in the final in front of a huge home crowd, with thousands cheering outside was a very sweet moment

2007 proved that Indian hockey continues to glow and grow with striking vibrancy.

Golf

The dominant figures in 2007 in golf were Tiger Woods and Lorean Ochoa. Although the Majors produced their fair shares of surprise winners, Tiger Woods of America and Lorena Ochoa of Mexico remained the respective world number ones in the sport.

A new person by the name of Daniel Chopra is now coming to the forefront. Chopra’s father is from India and his mother from Sweden. He was born in Stockholm and at the age of seven moved to the subcontinent to be with his grand parents. His recent win at the 2008 PGA tour opener the Mercedes Benz Championships at the Kapualua Plantation course on Maui in Hawaii rewarded him with $1.1million (£555,000) as well as a Mercedes CL550

Nick Faldo is Europe’s the most successful golfer. He loves to win and to this end has launched the Faldo series, designed to produce the next generation of champions. Its most successful graduate to date is Nick Dougherty and teenage sensation Rory McIlroy. Both hope to be in contention to play for Europe in Ryder Cup 2008 with Nick Faldo as captain.

The Faldo series has also produced Britain’s outstanding young golfer Kiran Matharu. According to Nick Faldo she is a precocious golfing talent and budding role model and with a bit more experience will be in a position to challenge for the highest honours.

Kiran is the youngest woman to win the English Ladies Amateur Championships and also secured a place in 2006 Curtis Cup team. While many 18 year olds are waiting to pass a driving test Kiran got a new Volvo after winning the 2007 Volvo cross Country Challenge in her first season as a professional on the European tour.

Cricket

India’s World Twenty 20 win was an advertisement for joy in sport. Twenty 20’s biggest gift to Indian cricket in 2007 was to prove that cricket was a game, and that cricket could be fun.

It was not just India’s performance and close matches that turned the nation on, it was the format itself. For those two weeks in September, cricket was what was being played in streets, skewed, sometimes silly, featuring compulsive hitting. Six sixes, often witnessed in paper ball bus cricket were achieved against an international bowler. It was full of charm

India’s championship win came not just at the right time for world cricket as well as for Indian cricket. It was a wake up call for the Indian cricket and the Indian cricket fan. In South Africa the Indians played the game as it should be played, with passion, joy and healthy desperation, brilliantly managed by the unnerved captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

What this win will come to mean to Indian cricket, one has to look at what cricket is in India. The sport is just not entertainment but nationalism. For an average Indian fan cricket is one team sport where India belongs to an elite bunch. India appeared to be groping in the dark despite going up in the test ladder with inconsistent performances abroad. The year 2007 was undeniably the most successful in test cricket for India.

However, Australia still remains the top team in cricket and it is one team that everybody aspires to beat.

The fact that Australia have been able to consolidate and motor ahead is due to the fact that their side is a well settled unit and in harmony. Perhaps the most authoritative measure of how good Australia really is can be found in its unity of purpose. No other cricket sides are so fully committed to winning. Some sides can get caught in the enhancement of skill but to Australia everything is directed at winning with whatever means available to them whether they are fair or foul.

In the current India Australia series, there was only one winner in the first test at Melbourne, Australia. It will never be possible to determine how much India’s conservative approach with the bat was responsible for their defeat or how much was it dictated by the patient and the disciplined Australian attack.

By the second test played in Sydney India had learned from its mistakes and took Australia head on with centuries from Laxman and Tendulkar. Yet the Sydney test will definitely be remembered more for consistently shoddy umpiring that cost India dear, than for anything else.

After Ricky Ponting got a reprieve on the first day of the Test, when on just 17, the next umpiring horror came when the Aussies were again in desperate trouble at 191/6. Symonds got a healthy nick to one from Ishant Sharma and Dhoni comfortably took the catch. The jubilation in the Indian camp quickly turned to stunned disbelief as Steve Bucknor sagely shook his head to signal not out. Symonds was then on 30.

Worse was to follow. With Australia on 238/6, Kumble drew Symonds forward and beat him with the turn, allowing Dhoni to whip the bails off. Bucknor referred the appeal for a stumping to third umpire, who ruled him not out when all the experts on TV, including Aussie great Ian Chappell were convinced he was out. Symonds, then on 48, ultimately finished on 162 not out. The seventh wicket, that should have fallen at 191 but took the score to 307. Had there been no errors by the umpires in the Australian first innings, they would have struggled to get past 250.

It is interesting to note that none of the umpiring errors went in India’s favour and Australia managed to get a healthy score. Should one call it error or prejudice against a team? While India’s score would have been much higher if the umpire had no-balled Lee, the delivery that beat Wasim Jaffer’s defences and rocked his stumps. Lee had clearly overstepped. Even discounting that, India should actually have had a first innings lead of at least 239, perhaps closer to 280 if the Umpires had played ball. As it is, India had to settle for a 69-run lead.

In the Australian second innings with the home team on 133/2, just 64 runs in the lead, the umpires struck again. Kumble spun one into Hussey who was deep into his crease and struck on the pads. The huge appeal was turned down with Benson deciding that the ball was missing leg stump. TV replays showed it hitting the inside not the outside of leg stump. Hussey was then on 22.

A little later, with Australia on 188/2 Umpire Benson did his bit again. Hussey edged one RP Singh ball and Dhoni took the catch moving on the leg side. The umpire had other ideas and ruled it not out. Hussey was then on 45. The third wicket which should have fallen at 133 finally fell at 250, when Kumble got Hayden.

Hussey went on to make 145 not out in Australia’s 401/7 declared. Once again, an extra123 extra runs were granted to Hussey by he Umpires. In the match, the umpires had contributed extra 293 runs to the Australian batting by their blatant mistakes. Against India’s 532 that would have meant they would have just about averted an innings defeat, but would still be staring down the barrel.

In the Indian second innings, the umpires again intervened when Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were batting. The score was 115/3; with Dravid batting on 38 was given out when he had not played the ball. At 137/5, Ganguly on 51 edged one from Brett Lee into the slips where Michael Clarke, diving to his left, grabbed the ball. Ganguly waited, unsure whether the catch had been cleanly taken. Benson, the umpire at the bowler’s end didn’t seem too sure either but then settled the issue by asking not his colleague Buckner but Ponting. It was no surprise, when Ponting said yes, which was good enough for the umpire. It is definitely against the rules of critic. One does not ask a player.

Poor umpiring decisions at the expense of the Indians and the poor sportsmanship by the Australians created a tinder dry climate. The Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh was alleged to have called Andrew Symonds a monkey. India’s captain Anil Kumble made a personal appeal to Ricky Pointing his opposite number not to take the accusations of racial abuse to the authorities. Harbhajan was allegedly accused to insult Andrew Symonds following an incident in which Symonds failed to walk when given not out, despite the fact, as Symonds admitted later that he knew that he had been caught and was out.

Harbhajan’s punishment of a three test ban, under Level 3.3 of The ICC’s code of Conduct, plunged the sport into crisis, as the Board of Cricket Control of India briefly suspended the tour. India appealed that the ban handed out by the match referee was undeserved and was handed out after a hearing that was light on credible witnesses. In seeking the players vindication BCCI put out a statement in which it said “the avowed policy of the Indian government is to fight racial discrimination at every level and the India Board has been at the forefront to eradicate it from the game of cricket.”

The commissioner to hear Harbhajan’s appeal is John Hansen, a High court judge from New Zealand. Hansen sits on the ICC’s code of conduct commission.

In the meantime Harbhajan is allowed to play in remaining tests pending his appeal. ICC has also agreed to replace Steve Bucknor who had shown a miserable understanding of fairness in sport.

Cricket is supposed to be a gentleman’s game but the cricket world knows that Australians have been the leaders in sledging for a long time and have been dishing out for far worse for years. That is why the Australian media is unsympathetic towards Andrew Symonds.

For some reason the Australian team think that it is their right to lord it over every opposition, to disparage them and mock them. Australia is the world champions, exceptionally talented and consistent side. But it does not give them the right to behave like gods and have one rule for themselves and the other for everybody else.

In an article for Daily Telegraph Geoffrey Boycott comments that the Australian administrators have long known that their players were developing a reputation for abusive language. If they had sat down and laid down an acceptable code of behaviour and then warned the Australian team that anyone who crossed the line would be dropped. We would have seen an end of it.

If you keep abusing people, sooner or later someone is going to turn around and talk back to you. Boycott’s message to Symonds and to his captain Ricky Ponting , who reported Harbhajan to the umpire is “Don’t cry baby” If you dish it out you should be prepared to take it in return and not go running to the teacher. It is surprising that umpires like Bucknor and Benson instead of having independent mind as umpire, seem to be overawed by the Aussies bullish tactics.

It is sad that the second test at Sydney will be remembered for its allegations and not for the silky excellence and magic of VVS Laxman and a memorable not out century of the master cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar.


India-Pakistan Series: India End 28- Year Wait

Hosts win 1-0, bad light rescues Pakistan after Kumble’s 5 / 60

Bangalore- After a prolonged wait of 27 years, India clinched a home series over Pakistan on a dramatic evening that witnessed a bright spell from Anil Kumble blighted by a dark cloud cover. Having lost 7 wickets for a paltry 162, Pakistan found a bright spot amidst the literal pall of gloom to escape from playing out the remaining 12 overs. With that said, the final match of the three test rubber at the Chinnaswami Stadium was drawn, after the home team declared their second innings, to set Pakistan a target of 374 in 48 overs. As India resumed their second innings from an overnight score of 131 and declared at 284/5 an hour before lunch, a tame draw seemed inevitable. Being aware of the arduous task ahead on a crumbling pitch, Pakistan’s openers went on the defensive to save wickets, till Anil Kumble pitch-forked himself into the attack to run through their order. On a fifth day strip that hardly offered any spin, bounce or pace, he was rewarded sooner than he expected. As a quick delivery in his third over bowled Yasin Hameed on 39. It was the beginning of a collapse, with skipper Younis Khan the next man to depart in another two balls of the same over. Kumble took a return catch to dismiss Younis, who tried playing an on-drive, misjudging the delivery. Faisal Iqbal threatened for a while with a 29 run partnership between him and Salman Butt, and a free flowing association with Misbah-ul-Haq. A miscue from Iqbal off a pitched in delivery from Kumble ended his stay after he reached his 50. Kumble removed Butt with a slight variation in length and Dinesh Kartik accepted the catch with ease. The chances for an India victory brightened when Kumble returned with a vengence to dismiss Kamran Akmal with his very next delivery to dislodge off his stump. Then inspired Yuvraj took a leaf off his skipper’s book and got the wickets of Misbah and Yaseer Arafat, to leave Pakistan stranded perilously at 164/7. The birthday boy got the Man of the Match Award for his brilliant 169 in the first innings, besides picking up the crucial wicket of Misbah. He could not read Yuvraj’s line that was angled in to knock off the bails.

India 1st Innings - 626

Pakistan 1st Innings - 537

India 2nd Innings - 284/6 declared

Pakistan 2nd innings - 162/7

Man of the match - Sourav Ganguly

Man of the Series - Sourav Ganguly

Match Draw - India clinch the three match test series.

India also clinch the ODI series 3-2.

India were much happier with their retreats. Batsman Yuvraj Singh, recalled after 17 months, blasted 169, highest of his three test centuries, in the first innings at Bangalore. He was followed by Irfan Pathan, back after 18 months, whose 102 were his first 3 figure score in tests. Still more spectacular was the performance of former captain Sourav Ganguly, who spent most of 2006 in exile, after his fallout with the then coach Greg Chappell in September 2005. The day belonged to Ganguly. He is a worthy senior to have in the team when he thinks and plays like a Dada. He hit his maiden test double hundred 239 runs and 91 in second innings.


Viru is shock Pick for Australia Tour

The influence of Captain Anil Kumble can be seen in the selection of the Indian test squad to Australia for the four tests. He delayed the declaration on the final day of the third test against Pakistan to ensure that Dinesh Kartik made his first half-century of the rubber. Every captain must have the right to have a say in the final selection of the squad, and here the decisive hand of Kumble can be seen. Though the dashing Delhi opening batsman, Virender Shewag, was not included in the initial list of 24 probables, he is in, and this can only imply that Kumble put his foot down and demanded Shewag’s inclusion and also that of Karthik


Kirsten to take over in March - to be Aussi tour Consultant.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India heaved a sigh of Relief with former South-Africa opening batsman Gary Kirsten agreeing to take up the job of Team India coach, but not before the candidate had second thoughts. Kirsten has now said he will start full time in March, and act as a consultant in the later part of Australia tour.


Chennai Superstars clinch ICL T20 Title

Chennai superstars claimed the inaugural ICL Twenty-Twenty Tournament after defeating local favourites Chandigarh Lions by 12 runs in the final match at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula. Former Pakistan pacer Shabeer Ahmed sparkled with a hat-trick as the Lions chasing 165 for victory, could manage only 143/8, as a late onslaught by Andrew Hall 30, and Sarabjit Singh 27, failed to save them from defeat. The winning team got richer by Rs.3.9 crore while the runners-up got Rs. 1.9 crore.

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