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February - March 2009


India Sport Scene

Year in Perspective CRICKET - HOCKEY - CHESS - BADMINTON

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


There have been many notable achievements in the Olympic year, some of them mind blowing.

The American swimmer Michael Phelps known as the human fish left an indelible mark in 2008 as no other single sportsperson. Phelps came to Beijing Olympics with huge expectations of surpassing Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals that he won at Munich. Phelps rewrote one Olympic and seven world records with in span of eight days compelling Spitz to remark that it goes to show that Phelps is not only the greatest swimmer of all times, the greatest Olympian of all times, but he may be the greatest athlete of all times.

If Phelps held sway in the waters, another advanced creature of speed electrified the proceedings on dry land. The flying Jamaican Usain Bolt with his blinding runs in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m in Beijing became the first man to set world record times in all the three events. After Carl Lewis he was the first man to have swept these races in a single Olympics.

A polite and an unassuming gunman from Chandigarh also made history by winning India’s first individual gold medal in 108 years of Olympic participation. Abhinav Bindra won a gold medal in the Men’s 10m Air Rifle competition with a nerveless shot that nailed him 10.8 points.

After Abhinav Bindra, Viswanathan Anand’s triumph over Vladimir Kramnik for a third world chess title also made history for India. This placed Anand among the legendry names of the game and made even his detractors accept him as the universal champion.

There were other notable achievements for India. Nine days after Abhinav Bindra won the gold medals Sushil Kumar in wrestling and Vijendra Singh in boxing won bronze medals on the same day making it a red letter day for India.

The year also saw boxer M.C.Mary Kom win a fourth world title, Pankaj Advani retain his world billiard’s crown. Jeev Milkha in golf and Saina Nehwal improved their career high world rankings.

In cricket experience and youth blended well. India was largely a vibrant force and apart from a test debacle in Sri Lanka ended the year as powerful unit.

There was a change at the helm as Mahendra Singh Dhoni assumed the captaincy of team India and the sun set on the glorious careers of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly.

The DFL Indian Premier League had all the makings of a summer blockbuster. It did not disappoint as it became the showcase for wares of legends like Shane Warne, who excelled as skipper and player for the Rajasthan Royals. It also reinforced spectator’s interest in the summer months.

As a test team India is being hailed as the team of the year.

Despite what the Australians and the South Africans think India has topped the World Cricket on and off the field. Their 2-0 test series victory over Australia officially ended Australia’s relentless domination. Then it was the turn of England who received a drubbing in the ODI series followed by the defeat in the test series. The Indians have replaced with astonishing ease the retiring legends. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni they have found a man who not only is a natural leader but a wonderful impressive man. There is also depth in every department with young talent oozing out to replace the veterans.

Then there was Sachin Tendulkar’s overtaking of Brian Lara as test cricket’s highest run getter. It was the feat of the year and a genuine confirmation of his greatness.

In 2008 there were many other great feats. A great discovery for Sri Lanka was the emergence of a spinner in A.W. Mendiis. Mendis haul of 48 wickets in ODI and another 26 wickets in the three tests against India made him the highest wicket taker in 2008. Off spinners, leg spinners, googlies and flippers were all in his forte plus the signature delivery called Carrom ball. Sri Lanka has found an admirable ally for Muttiah Murlitharan.

England’s tour of India, split in two by the terrorist attack in Mumbai was pitiful..

While the understanding fan might excuse England’s patchy performances in the tests, particularly as the players had to return home after watching horrors unfold on their TV screen while they sat in their hotel Bhubaneswar. However the mental turmoil and insufficient preparation are not an excuse the 5-0 thrashing they received in ODI as it happened before the horror struck. India showed them just how moribund English brand of one day cricket had become by batting and bowling with a verve alien to the English team

However English cricketers won the heart of Indian cricket followers by their return after the departure following the terrorist attack.

The series also proved that Yuvraj Singh had come of age. His back to back hundreds at Rajkot and Indore was a cornucopia of proper cricket shots played with subtle twists. It was not slogging and there was none of the outrageous improvisation of Pietersen’s switch hit, just batting that thrilled neutrals and zealots alike.

For the first three days the Chennai test did not attract crowds. It was only 10 days since the siege of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. But spectators came en masse on the last two days to witness a sport of the kind that reaffirms life, or at least helps one to forget reality.

After the Mumbai attacks the match had developed a context that sport normally does not have. England’s players donated half their match fees to the victim’s families and the Indian Cricket Board also donated a large sum.

But the players both countries also gave something far more precious for they replaced horrifying images with happy ones.

Several players raised the game to such an extent that the man of the match award should have been shared in four ways. Andrew Strauss deserved a share for scoring a century in each innings. He became the first English batsman to do so in Asia. Zaheer Khan deserved a share as he brought England’s second innings to a stand still with his reverse swing, making sure that India’s run chase remained below 400 runs.

Virendra Shewag also deserved an award for his exhilarating innings that set the run chase and then finally Sachin Tendulkar who programmed his cricket brain precisely to finish the game. Sachin Tendulkar heeded every cue, worked out the percentages and executed his game plan to perfection.

Sachin Tendulkar dedicated his masterpiece century to all Indians and in particular to a couple of parents from his daughter’s school who had been killed in the terror attack.

Chennai was the first test match to be played in India and it provided a thrilling finale with all four results possible. As the game entered into the final session, a victory for either side, a draw or a tie. All were possible. Nobody could have asked more.

However it was India who were victorious having being behind England for most of the test,

India’s victory was set up by flamboyant opener Virender Sehwag, who smashed 83 off 68 balls with 11 fours and four sixes. At the start of the last session with two hours of play, India required 83 runs from 40 overs while England needed six wickets. But it was Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh who survived the second new ball to fashion a remarkable win. Yuvraj chipped in with 85 not out in a fifth-wicket stand of 163 with Tendulkar. After Kevin Pietersen’s men had dominated a major part of the match with both bat and ball, the fifth wicket stand by the Indians dashed England’s hopes

Sachin Tendulkar hit an unbeaten 103 as India achieved the fourth-highest run chase in history to beat England by six wickets in the first test in Chennai. .The Indian team under their captain M.S.Dhoni surpassed the seemingly improbable victory target of 387 on a wearing wicket with 20.3 overs to spare on the fifth and final day. When Tendulkar swept off-spinner Graeme Swann to fine-leg for the winning boundary, the stroke that also brought up his 41st Test century the 30,000 home fans at the Chidambaram stadium erupted into loud cheers and India rejoiced.

It was a very, very special victory, for Tendulkar who anchored India’s chase for five hours, during which he hit nine boundaries. For India to score 387 runs when the ball was bouncing and jumping at the end was a great achievement. After India’s historic win Tendulkar said that cricket is a lesser thing compared to what had happened in Mumbai and that we are all together with those who lost their dear ones. The top three run chases in history are the 418/7 by the West Indies against Australia in 2003, 406/4 by India against the West Indies in 1976 and 404/3 by Australia against England in 1948.

The second test in Mohali saw Rahul Dravid prosper after an agonizing start. After occupying the crease for well over an hour he had only 11 runs to his name at lunch. Gradually the rhythm of old Dravid returned and there was relief when a push for two brought his first fifty in nine innings. From then on runs flowed to give him his century confirming that the old Dravid had returned.

Despite Tendulkar’s achievement in steering India to victory in the first test, Shewag’s the exhilarating performance and Strauss’s century in each of the two innings, the man of the series was undoubtedly Gautam Gambhir.

Gautam Gambhir fell short of emulating Andrew Strauss’s heroic feat of the first test when he was out on 97. Gautam Gambhir gave India a good start in each innings providing a platform for India to build impressive totals He scored 361 runs in two tests at an average of 90.25 runs and now holds the highest match aggregate for an Indian in tests against England by beating Vinoo Mankad’s record.

By drawing the last test at Mohali England at least ensured that they did not suffer a complete whitewash of their international tour to India.

After losing the one day series 5-0 and then the first test, a clean sweep of defeats might have well come to pass, had not persistence fog ruined at least one full day of game at Mohali.

For some the series have been a tale of two new captains desperate to take their young teams to the summit of world cricket. Dhoni has inherited a confident side. Dhoni also showed that he was a team man by not pushing his bowlers with a challenging declaration he settled to allow Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh to score their hundreds.

Pietersen has found his may be more difficult than when he first thought when he assumed captaincy in August. Off the field there appears to be developing stresses Pietersen seeks showdown over his irreconcilable differs with the English coach Moores with the result that both have been relieved of their post. Andrew Straus now leads the England team to West Indies.

Badminton.

Saina Nehwal has set herself a target of reaching in first five in world rankings sometime in 2009.

The Indian, ranked 10th in the world, will be competing in the Malaysia and Korea Super Series in January and a quarterfinal appearance in both events should be enough for Saina to make the grade. With the Chinese boycotting the two Super Series events, the Chinese stand to lose a lot of points while Saina, who lost in the first round in Malaysia last year and didn’t play in Korea, has no points to defend. In Kuala Lumpur Saina is seeded fifth, opens against little known German Nicole Grether and should hardly have a problem reaching the quarterfinals. The world’s top junior could even progress further as she is drawn to face 7th-ranked Frenchwoman Pi Hongyan in the quarterfinals. A quarterfinal appearance in a Super Series event would give her 5040 points (semis: 6420) which means two last eight finishes should see the Indian join the elites.

Hockey

In a tit-for-tat response, Pakistan decided to call off its hockey team’s tour to India for the four-nation Punjab Gold Cup tournament to be held later January, citing “security risks for the players” as the reason for the cancellation. The decision, was expected after India scrapped its cricket team’s tour across the border in the wake of the Mumbai atrocities. Although Pakistan Hockey Federation was keen to send the national team to India, they left the final decision on the Foreign Office. In view of the mounting tensions between the two nations, Minister Jillani said the government had decided not to send the hockey team to India.

Tennis

In 2008 The Indian tennis is still relying on older players as the emerging younger players have failed when the going got rough. The veterans Leaner Paes and Mahesh Bhupati won the doubles earlier this year in the Davis Cup world group play off in Bucharest against India. Since 1997 when Mahesh Bhupati played a brilliant role in helping India to beat Chile on grass in Delhi in the world cup play offs, India has not been able to enter World Group. India currently seems to lack quality singles play. After the dream victory over Japan when Bopanna beat the new sensation in world tennis the tie against Romania was ill organized and there seemed to lack of unity and discipline.

In trying to compensate for the blow on Paes as he was forced to step down the All India Tennis Association dropped one of the revolting players Bopanna. While Bopanna could have helped the team to be on its toes, Prakash Amritraj could have assisted in training well. Though Somdev was in Romania weeks before the tie training and playing in the ATP circuit, the Indian team lacked a purposeful preparation for singles matches. In Women’s tennis Sania Mirza who has been out with a wrist injury is on a come back trail. The cut off ranking for the first grand slam of 2009 the Australian Open is 100. Sania who is currently ranked 99 needs a couple of good wins otherwise she will drop in rankings and the comeback will be that much harder.

Sania who is currently training with Mahesh Bhupati and Rohan Bopanna is also being helped by Sven Groenveld who coaches the World number one Jelena Jankovic. Sania is well aware of the challenges ahead and knows that it is not going to be easy and that competitive tennis is two different things. We wish her luck in 2009.

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