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June - July 2008

India Sport Scene

Sports International

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


India’s new Sports minister M.S. Gill.has made it clear that his sports ministry will uphold the Olympic charter and refrain from tinkering with the autonomy of the national Sports Federation.

M.S.Gill who replaced Mani Shankar Aiyar as the new Youth Affairs and Sports Minister ruled out any government intervention to oust K.P.S. Gill led regiment in the Indian Hockey Federation. The new minister said that he has followed the current controversy and all what has happened. He is aware of the hockey’s plight in the country and that when the time comes he will of course look at hockey but the moment it is up to the federation to put their house in order and restore Hockey to its old glory.

Having failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, this year India should now focus on other major events ahead such as the World Cup, Commonwealth games and the Asian games. The people connected with the running of the hockey federation have to change their attitude in order to put the sports back on the rails.

They must re organise the National Championships, and focus on training the players in their formative years. India must recognise that there is a new order as regards the surface and rules of the game, and that the other countries are approaching the game in a more professional manner than India has been. India and Pakistan can no longer consider themselves as super powers in Hockey. There are a lot emerging countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia who have trained and adapted well to the synthetic surface and new rules, with a strong focus on the game.

India needs to develop the same skills for the synthetic surface that they had on grass. Hitting, trapping, dribbling, slap shots and penalty corner conversions are different to those that India used to do on the grass. As most of the players in India still come from middle income groups and play on grass with little exposure on the synthetic surface, and the institutions that play hockey should be encouraged to provide astro-turf for emerging hockey players Although there many more synthetic surfaces now, particular at the national academics, the coaching and the quality of training still remains inadequate and this needs immediate attention.

There has to be a change of attitude towards the game, if Indian hockey has to improve. The trainees have to be coached by people with the knowledge of the latest techniques and tactics. They should also have access to modern infrastructure and video analysis. Priority should be to provide specific training in order to improve and harness the talents of the players at a young age. Skills should be allowed to blossom to enable the growth of the player and for that opportunities have to be created. Financial security to the players, even though they are employed is also very necessary. When a player gets employment, he should see it as the second stage of his career with priority being that he should develop and mature as a player. Tennis, badminton Golf and of course cricket can attract huge amount of money for corporate sources. Indian hockey can also do it but first it must put its house in order and show results.

Badminton is there a light at the end?

At the Indian Open Badminton Championships, the national badminton Champion of India Chetan Anand missed his date with history when he lost to Ponsana Boonsak of Thailand in the men’s singles final. The tournament, with Rupees 1.2 crore prize money, is the first Grand prix Badminton tournament hosted by India. This year the tournament had added dimension for players were viveing for points to gain entry to the Olympics.

In the final Ponsana (the world number 12) proved too good for the Indian as Chetan failed to produce the form that he had shown in quarter and semi finals. In the semi finals Chetan who is ranked 71 in the world outplayed Andrew Smith (World Number 35) of England. However the best match of the tournament for Chetan was his quarter final win over Chen Yu of China the world No 10. It was his first win over the top Chinese player.

Anand Pawar India’s other hope could not sustain the form that he had shown in Europe and went down tamely in the quarter finals to Andrew Smith of England. In the ladies event Saina Nehwal could not maintain her consistency and went out in the second round against Hirose of Japan. It was the similar story with Adyta Muttatkar who showed flashes of brilliance during her second round loss to Hong Kong’s Yip Pui Yin. The biggest upset of the tournament was provided by Chong Wei Feng of Malaysia who knocked out the reigning All England Champion Chin Jen of China.

The tournament played in Hyderabad, had lost some sheen by the withdrawal Chunlai Bao and Xie Feng of China, however it still showed how India’s best players compare with the big guns in world badminton. It showed that they have a long way to go but there are some promising prospects. It is still the story of Chinese domination as China had a representation in the finals of Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles. Besides China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taipei, Japan and Germany provided the other finalist. Europe that once boasted of supremacy in Badminton has now given over to the dominance of Asian countries.

The Tata Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore is doing a great work for aspiring Indian players. The latest sensation coming from the academy is V Ruth Misha aged 18. Misha recently won the Junior National Badminton crown at Nellore. In the past two years Misha has played in the Singapore Open, Malaysian Open and Polish Open.

Ruth had an unusual start to her career after she was initiated into badminton by her father, who felt that playing badminton would give her a better appetite for she was a poor eater. Though she trained under a few coaches, her stint at the Tata Padukone Academy under Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar has pushed her game forward to the world stage.

For the sake of Indian Badminton, it is hoped that she will develop and fulfil her potential and be a role model for the other girls to follow.

Indian men’s tennis is slowly coming back to life.

India has taken a first step to enter the elite World group of 16 Tennis playing countries when they beat Japan 3-2 in the first World Group play off.

Leader Paes managed to sooth the ego of his players and bring the best out them in the Davis Cup tennis with a superb display at the Davis Cup Regional tie in New Delhi. In what could easily be termed as one of the best days in recent Indian Davis Cup history, Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj played like champions and showed a steely resolve in beating the Japanese in hard fought battle.

Rohan Bopanna made light of his ranking (325 on the ATP list) to out play the 118 ranked Kei Nishikori in the fifth set to put India ahead. Prakash Amritraj ranked 261 saved two match points in the fifth set before finally beating Go Soeda 8-6. Prakash, who was trailing 2, sets to love before recovering and taking the next two sets to take the match to the fifth set that he won to win the match.

With a lead of two matches after the first day Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati clinched the victory by winning the doubles.

If one thought that the eternal conflict between Leander and Mahesh would affect the morale of the Indian team, they have to revise their opinions. In fact the two are doing a good turn to the Indian team. In the tie against Japan Mahesh and Leander teamed for the first time since they played together at the Asian Games in Doha in 2006. They need to play a few more tournaments before the Olympic Games in Beijing and the two have given assurance that they would prepare very well for these games.

With Harsh Mankad showing a good progress, Somdev set to turn professional after completing his University education in US, and provided if Bopanna and Prakash can maintain their intensity of approach and improve their performance the future is bright for Indian tennis.

Indian Premier League – A defining moment in International Cricket that threaten to shake the spirit of Cricket

Nearly a decade ago, the late Madhvrao Scindia had planned an inter –city league with foreign players. He had invited Rahul Dravid and Venkatesh Prasad as guests to a function at the Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior to announce his plan. Dravid and Prasad had welcomed the idea. However the Board of Control for Cricket in India shot down the idea.

The Indian premier League owes its conception to the Indian Cricket league. The former Indian captain Kapil Dev, with the aid of Essel group launched the ICL with players being offered lucrative contracts. It was the threat of ICL of luring away the top players that forced BCCI to act and in no time they announced a league with international flavour.

The biggest irony was that BCCI had staunchly opposed Twenty20 cricket and had even refused to participate in the World Twenty20 Championships in South Africa. The win by Dhoni’s young Indian players brought the game fame and fortune and made BCCI climb abroad the IPL bandwagon.

Although there have been many critics it must be said that IPL has shaken the game of Cricket. The twenty 20 cricket certainly seems to be growing in popularity. It also has the support of young generation of cricketers as the league must include players under 19 years in age. As Daniel Vettori, Captain of New Zealand cricket team currently touring England put it, the opportunity to play with, rather than against some of the greatest player in the world is amazing. Sitting in dressing rooms with likes of Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly, discussing tactics is just mind boggling. You cannot buy this experience.

Although many English players have not embraced it, the glitz glamour and the money of the IPL, have turned the attention of crickets collective heads eastwards. According to Daniel Vettori, the English boys would love it, and if they get an opportunity in the future they will cherish it as much as we have. While the money is fantastic, everything that goes along with it is a big spectacle. Vettori said that he did not realize how big it was going to be until he arrived in India. I cannot say a bad word about and I think that we will look back at it as the defining moment in international cricket.

Admitted it is early days but so far the IPL has been a rip roaring success and Twenty 20 has caught on. The crowds have spoken and the cricket has been vibrant. Even if people think that Twenty20 is just mere smoke and mirrors without stirring cricket are surprised. Modern crowds demand the best and ignore the rest. IPL has grasped that point and signed the best players and pit them against each other in a reasonably meaningful contest.

The viewers have been offered Matthew Hayden, Andrew Symonds, Virendra Shewag, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and company and in turn the great players have delivered the goods. No cricket match could be too short or too long for them and they never had to go through the motions. High scores have also helped to entertain the crowds. It was no so very long ago that teams aimed to score 80 in the first 20 overs in the ODI. Now ambitions are altogether higher. In Twenty20 sides expect to reach 200 on a reliable pitch.

Obviously the boundaries are shorter, batsmen are stronger and more imaginative and their bats are thicker. Bowlers are less accurate but they are still skilful and mean. Spin has not been sidelined and in Shane Warne they have an artist that keeps spin in the forefront. They keep writing spin’s obituary but spin keeps bouncing back.

In pace, Glen McGrath has shown that what line and length is all about. He has been his old niggardly self; landing the ball on thought and making it dart about. It has been a real battle between bat and ball and the crowds have loved it.

The critical point is not pace, spin or style but quality and this have been abundance in IPL.

It has also got its own drama. Harbhajan Singh has been banned from IPL Twenty20 Championships after being found guilty of slapping S. Sreesanth. He was also fined 100% of his match fees and Mumbai Indians coach Lalchand was fined 50% of the match fees for failing to prevent the incident.

The bowler could also face further punishment from the BCCI which announced a separate probe into the incident that took place in Mohali. BCCI have said that they will not hesitate to take further action against Harbhajan just because he has already been punished by the organisers.

The semi finals and the final will be played at the May in Mumbai. And the evidence is that cricket around the world has put up a fight to attract viewers attention similar in a manner as football does.

IPL has transformed Cricket into business and biggest beneficiaries have been cricketers same as the European Football league has done with footballers around the world. Although still years away from challenging Football as a world draw, Cricket through IPL has made an excellent start. According to Sachin Tendulkar, IPL has taken the game to virtually every house in the worlds. This may be an exaggeration, but the competition has certainly made a strong start in the battle for the viewers. With half way stage reached, its average live audience in India is equivalent to the number of people that watched India play Pakistan in the World Twenty20 Championships in South Africa last year.

Money too has flowed into the coffers. World Sport Group, who paid $1billion for the TV rights for 10 years in partnership with Sony.

BCCI insist that IPL is aimed at garnering money that could be used for the betterment of the game. The aim is to use the money to improve the overall infrastructure in the country and to popularise the game by taking to the rural areas

IPL is a reminder that the game can take many forms without losing its spirit. Test cricket will survive for the same reason that movies have survived many supposed challenges. These are interesting times for cricket and the success and failure pf IPL will have bearing on the game’s future. Until now it has been making the right noises.

India –South Africa Future Cup Test Series

India drew with South Africa in the recent tour of South Africa to India. South Africa and India each won one test and one was drawn.

The highlight of the Future Cup series was the batting of Shewag that infused some life in to the series. His knock the fastest triple hundred in test was a resplendent innings that showcased his still head, bat speed, hand eye coordination and audacious shot ability. It set Shewag from others. In a glittering field of great performers Shewag carved a niche for himself. What keeps Shewag apart is that he is not selfish when it comes to giving spectators their money’s worth. He does not wait for the bad ball to be hit and there is no grater sight than Shewag in full flow.

The test series will be remembered for his innings of 319 runs at the Chennai test.

India launches ICC Women’s World Cup 2009 campaign in style

Mithali Raj delighted with team’s performance in Asia Cup and hopes her side will be ready to challenge Australia next year

India launched its preparations for ICC Women’s World Cup 2009 in style by winning the Women’s Asia Cup for the fourth successive time in Sri Lanka on Sunday.

India defeated Sri Lanka by 177 runs in the final in Kurunegala which meant it extended its winning streak in the history of the tournament to 22 matches.

Such was the dominance of the second-ranked team in the world that during the competition it won most of its matches without even breaking sweat. In the lead-up to the final of the tournament that was played on a double league format, it defeated Bangladesh by 182 runs and five wickets, Pakistan by 182 runs and 207 runs and Sri Lanka by 29 runs and eight wickets.

India’s supreme performance in Sri Lanka highlights it as one of the teams to watch at the ICC Women’s World Cup that will be staged in Sydney, Australia in March next year. Besides India, defending champion Australia, New Zealand, England, West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will take part in the event that will be the first to be played under the auspices of the ICC since its merger with the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) in 2005.

Captain Mithali Raj said: “I am delighted with my team’s performance in the tournament. It was a nice start to what is going to be a tough season for us.

“We tried new players and experimented with different combinations during the competition. I am glad that everything worked well for us and we maintained a high level of consistency which was the perfect icing on the cake.”

India unleashed four newcomers in the tournament – top-order batter Priyanka Roy, fast bowler Snehal Pradhan, left-arm spinner Gouher Sultana and wicketkeeper-bater Anagha Deshpande. It also included left-arm spinner Neetu David, who took 11 wickets in the tournament, and batter Asha Rawat who was declared player of the final for her knock of 97.

Explaining the reasons for including new faces while also recalling two experienced players, Mithali said the tour was planned keeping in mind Australian conditions.

“We wanted to provide the right platform for the youngsters to show their talent and Sri Lanka was the best place because of the similarities in the Asian sub-continent conditions which made it relatively easy for the new players to show their skills.

“I am happy to say that we have a good pool of players with whom we will work over the next nine months not only to give them the required experience but also to find the combination which will help us in Australia.

“We know that the World Cup will be staged in conditions that will be friendlier to the fast bowlers, and that’s precisely why we gave more opportunities to the fast bowlers without relying heavily on the spinners.”

The 25-year-old, who was also the captain of the India team that lost the 2005 World Cup final to Australia by 98 runs at the Centurion, believed her team was capable of pushing Australia. “I think we are a good enough team to challenge Australia and give a tough time to the world champion.

“The World Cup is still nine months away and every team will try to improve its performance. As I see things, our chances in the tournament will depend on how good we prepare according to Australian conditions and how quickly we adapt to those conditions.

“We will have to be careful in our preparations as they will vary from tour to tour. Our next assignment is in England and the conditions in England are different as compared to Sri Lanka or Australia.

“But the basics remain unchanged and the bottom line is that we have to train and work hard in every single match we play in the lead-up to the World Cup. We have a talented pool of players and over the next nine months I would like to see improvement in fielding and match planning,” she added.

During the course of the Asia Cup, Mithali and fast bowler Jhulan Goswami achieved personal milestones.

When Mithali reached 62 during her knock of 66 in the final, she became the first Indian and fifth overall in the history of women’s cricket to complete 3,000 ODI runs. She joined the Australian duo of Belinda Clark (4,844) and Karen Rolton (4,261), New Zealand’s Debbie Hockley (4,064) and England’s Charlotte Edwards (3,304)

Jhulan, who won the ICC Women’s Player of the Year Award at the ICC Awards in Johannesburg last year, became the second India bowler and fourth after Australia’s Cathryn Fitzpatrick (180), team-mate Neetu David (141) and Clare Taylor of England (102) to take 100 ODI wickets.

Commenting on her own achievement, a humble Mithali said: “I consider it as a great honour and privilege to be bracketed with some of the biggest and most respected names in women’s cricket.

“I didn’t give it a thought while I was batting in the final as my focus was on collecting as many runs as possible in the final overs until I got a message from the dressing room that I was close to the 3,000-mark. To be in the top five leading run-getters’ list is a big honour and I hope to score many more runs for India,” said Mithali.

Bangladesh may not have reached the final but it secured its first victory against a Full Member when it defeated Pakistan by four wickets. Captain Salma Khatun was the star performer of the match when she scored an unbeaten 53 as Bangladesh achieved the 135-run target with little over five overs to spare.

Pakistan won the return match against Bangladesh by 38 runs to end its 12-match losing streak in the history of the tournament. Javeria Khan stole the limelight with figures of 8.1-4-8-6.

Sri Lanka won all its matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh but failed to break India’s stranglehold in the three clashes.

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