SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Ready for the Masters
Making his debut at the Augusta Masters will be a dream come true for Jeev.India’s No. 1 golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, who had a glorious 2006, writes about his determination to make his presence felt at this year’s biggest events
It has been my lifelong ambition to play at the Masters. Walking down the 18th green at the Chandigarh Golf Club in my early years, I would often tell my caddie about my dream of walking the 18th at the Masters and he would simply shake his head and ask me get on with my hitting.

Making his debut at the Augusta Masters will be a dream come true for Jeev. — AFP photo


Last of the titans

Australia’s Shane Warne (left) and Glenn McGrath, two all-time great bowlers, played their final Test against England at Sydney.
Australia’s Shane Warne (left) and Glenn McGrath, two all-time great bowlers, played their final Test against England at Sydney. — Reuters photo

Saina: The untold story
Amanpreet Singh
What does it take to make a badminton star like Saina Nehwal? Ask her father Harvir Singh. If Saina battles it out on the badminton court against the world’s best players, it has been no less a battle for her father to let her do the same. Rarely a middle-class family can think of spending half of the monthly income on an eight-year-old child’s training without knowing if the gamble would pay off.

IN THE NEWS
Ball of fire
Ivninderpal Singh

Indian cricket witnessed many ups and downs in 2006, but the player of the year was undoubtedly Santhakumaran Sreesanth, who played a key role in India’s historic Test wins over the West Indies and South Africa. The 23-year-old Kerala speedster has cemented his place in the team as well as in the hearts of Indian cricket fans.

  • Eves rule the roost

  • Unfortunate spat

  • Bout of success

 

 

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Ready for the Masters

India’s No. 1 golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, who had a glorious 2006, writes about his determination to make his presence felt at this year’s biggest events

It has been my lifelong ambition to play at the Masters. Walking down the 18th green at the Chandigarh Golf Club in my early years, I would often tell my caddie about my dream of walking the 18th at the Masters and he would simply shake his head and ask me get on with my hitting.

Top Four

April 5-8 Augusta Masters
June 14-17 US Open
July 19-22 British Open
August 9-12 PGA C’ship

Last week, I got the perfect Christmas gift — my invitation to the Augusta Masters. That capped a perfect year, the kind I have been dreaming about since the day I first picked up a golf club.

So, what changed in 2006? The most important change has been that I am more focused on my routine and processes; and that I have felt calm and composed, both personally and professionally. I am no longer result-oriented; I just want to play my best and I know every time that happens I will be in contention.

I started last year feeling it would be great if I could get just one win. By the end of it, I had four wins and a place in the world’s top 40.

On January 1, 2006, I set myself the goal of securing a win that had eluded me since 1999. I knew I had it in me but I was not ready to make any more goals till I attained this one first.

All things fell in place at the Volvo China Open in Beijing. When I walked off the 18th green, my first feeling was one of relief — the monkey was finally off my back. It was also a reward for hanging in there despite so many close calls. It was an emotional moment for me. I am ever grateful to my family, friends and all those who had stood by me in the tough years in between. I am quite strong mentally — a gift I have from my father — but it is still difficult when things are not going the way you want them to.

In the years before the amazing 2006, I had been coming close. There was one good round in a tournament, and then it became two in a week and it rose to three in a tournament. But to win a tournament, you need four good rounds and I always believed it would happen.

While getting ready for 2006, I had worked on some technicalities with my close friend, Amritinder Singh. The improvement showed. When I won the Volvo China Open, I got back my confidence. I had stuck to the process and maintained my mental strength.

Once that win was in the bag, a few doubts had been set right. Now I needed to reassess my goals. Now I was looking forward to a top-100 ranking in the world. I was getting great results — regular top-10 finishes and the Volvo China Open had put me on top of the UBS Asian Tour Order of Merit.

I was a little disappointed at not having made it to the British Open, but I did make the US Open and for the second time I made the weekend rounds. That gave me more confidence.

The Volvo China Open was the start. But the defining moment was the Volvo Masters of Europe. I had never seen the golf course at Valderrama, except on TV, and the field was star-studded.

But the way things happened, I was always in contention and on the final day I was proud of the way I played. The shots towards the end of the round, especially on the 17th, are something I will never ever forget. And there was a win, the biggest one of my career, waiting at the end of it.

The Volvo Masters of Europe is the biggest event after the British Open in Europe. And suddenly the whole world had opened in front of me. That night was one of the most emotional ones for me. My struggle and hard work seemed to paying dividends.

A place in the top-100 was there, but now I wanted to carry on further. I came close to another win in Japan in the first week of November but ended second. That’s when I felt I could pull off wins on three different tours. I was playing a lot and my wrist was hurting a bit, but I was playing very well. I had committed to some events in Japan, which is where I have my big sponsors, GMA, who make my irons.

Then it happened again in Japan. I won at the Casio World Open. A week later, I won again in Nippon Series JT Cup, making it four in a year and I was in the top 50 of the world.

God, it was like a dream. I didn’t want it to end. And it carried on till the Volvo Masters of Asia, which I wanted to win, if only to make it a unique Volvo treble. But I finished sixth, which frankly would not have sounded too bad at the start of the year. I was now 37th in the world.

The Asian Tour Order of Merit, the prospect of playing all the Majors and WGC events and being chosen as the Players’ Player of the Year made it a dream year for me.

What of 2007? There is a saying that it is difficult to get to the top but even more difficult to stay there. I finished as No. 1 in Asia and No. 2 in Japan. I will be playing with the very best this year on a regular basis. But I am not going to be overawed by emotions like making my debut at the Masters or playing with the best in the world.

There will be pressure to stay in the top 40 or go even better, but I am not going to put any pressure on myself. I am just going to get out there and play my best and let everything else happen by itself.

I know I have a whole lot of true friends out there backing me at all times and it is to them and my family and God that I want to be most grateful for all that happened in 2006. — PTI
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Saina: The untold story 
Amanpreet Singh

The unstinted support of her family has helped Saina Nehwal emerge as a force to reckon with in world badminton.
The unstinted support of her family has helped Saina Nehwal emerge as a force to reckon with in world badminton. — PTI photo

What does it take to make a badminton star like Saina Nehwal? Ask her father Harvir Singh.

If Saina battles it out on the badminton court against the world’s best players, it has been no less a battle for her father to let her do the same.

Rarely a middle-class family can think of spending half of the monthly income on an eight-year-old child’s training without knowing if the gamble would pay off.

But Harvir Singh, a Scientist with the Directorate of Oilseeds Research Hyderabad, opted to go by the advice of PSS Nani Prasad Rao, the then badminton coach of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP), who saw immense potential in the girl.

“I met Nani Prasad Rao in December, 1998, at Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad. Saina was standing with a badminton racket on the court and he asked her to play. After watching her game, he said,‘She has the potential and if you want to train her, bring her to me as a summer trainee,” Harvir said.

The tough journey had started. Saina had to be taken to the stadium every day early in the morning and the distance from the house was 20 km.

“It was a challenge for both of us because I had to wake up early so that we could reach the stadium by 6 am. The training session used to last for about two hours.

After attending the training session, Saina had to attend school. This way I had to drive my scooter around 50 km daily as Saina, apart from attending rigorous practice sessions, had to concentrate on studies,” her father explained.

The impact of this tough routine began to show in the first week as Saina would often fall asleep on the back seat.

Sensing the danger, Saina’s mother started accompanying them on the two-wheeler. This continued for three months.

Ultimately, the family had to arrange a house near the stadium in 1999. This time the distance was about 7 km from the stadium.

But the travelling ordeal did not end here as Saina was asked to attend evening training sessions as well.

“With an extra training session, the travelling expenditure rose to Rs 150 per day. Added to this was the cost of training. Shuttles, racket, shoes, guttings and what not had to be purchased regularly. I spent around Rs 12,000 every month to keep her going those days,” Harvir said.

But how did the family manage such high-cost training? Saina’s father revealed that he had to sacrifice his savings.

“I started withdrawing money from my provident fund. Sometimes it was Rs 30,000 and other times it was nearly Rs 1 lakh. It happened more than five times when I had to shell out money from my PF savings due to Saina’s various requirements,” said Harvir.

He stated that the tight-rope walk continued till 2002 until Yonex Sunrise sports offered to sponsor Saina’s kit.

“It came as a big relief. Fortunately, she got BPCL support late in 2004. Ultimately, she was spotted by Mittal Sports Trust in December, 2005.

“But I had never disclosed to Saina my financial difficulties fearing that she might get disturbed knowing that her father was left with no savings for the future,” he said.

When asked if they got any help from the sports authorities, the answer said it all.

“Till 2003, she was getting Rs 600 per month from the Sports Authority of India (SAI). It was raised to Rs 2,500 in June, 2003. You can understand how I could have managed,” Harvir said.

Apart from the training cost, hefty telephone bills put extra financial burden on the family when Saina started touring foreign countries for events.

The byte-crazy media played a part too. Wherever she went, be it the Philippines or South Korea, her phone kept ringing.

“A major part of the prize money that Saina got from big competitions like the Philippines Open and World Junior Championship was utilised in paying her mobile bills, which were between Rs 40,000 and Rs 50,000 in the touring months,” he said.

But was the prize money enough when she began her career? “Saina was given just Rs 300 as prize money after winning the under-10 state level competition, held in Tirupati in 1999. The period between 1999-2004 was very trying for the family as we did not get any sponsor for her,” Harvir said.

It was not only the financial burden but the risk of lagging behind on the educational front which added to the pressure.

Saina had to skip examinations twice. She did not take her first year intermediate exams because of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and later in May, she could not write supplementary exams as she was in the Philippines.

At present she is studying in the second year at Saint Ann’s College, Mehdipatnam Hyderabad. Ironically, the family, despite her big success at the international level, has not been able to celebrate much.

“She has never been to any party, any restaurant or cinema in the past seven years. When the electronic media personnel visited my home in May last year for shooting of a programme, I could not even offer them sweets. Do I need to explain why,” he asked. — PTI
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IN THE NEWS
Ball of fire
Ivninderpal Singh

Sreesanth is making waves for his fiery bowling as well as his antics.
Sreesanth is making waves for his fiery bowling as well as his antics. — AP/PTI photo

Indian cricket witnessed many ups and downs in 2006, but the player of the year was undoubtedly Santhakumaran Sreesanth, who played a key role in India’s historic Test wins over the West Indies and South Africa. The 23-year-old Kerala speedster has cemented his place in the team as well as in the hearts of Indian cricket fans.

Sreesanth, who made his debut in March last year against England, not only bamboozled the South African batsmen with his disciplined seam bowling at Johannesburg but also gave hyper-aggressive pacer Andre Nel a taste of his own medicine by clouting him for a six and then dancing down the pitch.

Watching Sreesanth’s fiery spells and his “war dance” was a treat for cricket lovers who were feeling low after India’s dismal performance against South Africa in the one-dayers. He took 16 wickets in the first two Tests against the Proteas to take his tally to 35 wickets from seven matches at a good average of 24.40.

At Johannesburg, he bowled with such precision that the opponents were bundled out for 84. He claimed five wickets for 40 runs in 10 overs, scalping South African skipper Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock. In the second innings too, he showed the door to Smith, Amla and Kallis.

At Durban, too, Sreesanth bowled his heart out, even though he couldn’t save India from defeat. He sent AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs, Ashwell Prince and Boucher back to the pavilion in the first innings, and took four more wickets in the second.

Known for his aggression from the day he donned national colours, Sreesanth was picked in place of Zaheer Khan for his debut in the home series against England. He claimed 4-95 in his first match at Nagpur, opening the bowling with Irfan Pathan. He was ruled out of the second Test in Mohali due to illness, but recovered well to capture five wickets and score an unbeaten 29 in the third Test in Mumbai.

On the tour of the West Indies, Sreesanth became India’s leading pace bowler with the axing of Pathan. He missed the second Test due to injury but claimed five wickets in the fourth Test in Kingston, Jamaica, which India won to record their first Test series win in the Caribbean in 35 years.

Branded as a match winner, Sreesanth has impressed all with his out-swingers. Even Smith, who fell to him three times in four innings, heaped praises on him. He has also shown his mettle in the shorter version of the game, claiming 29 wickets in 22 matches with best figures of 6-55.

He is the player to watch out for this year. Team India is banking on him to win more matches.
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SPORTS MAIL

Eves rule the roost

Kudos to the Indian women cricketers for their resounding victory in the Asia Cup held at Jaipur recently. In the final, they routed Sri Lanka by eight wickets to romp home with their third consecutive Asia Cup. Sri Lanka finished runners-up, like the perennial bridesmaid, on all three occasions.

Sri Lanka, who opted to bat first on a benign pitch, were skittled out for a meagre 93 in 44.1overs. They might have rued their decision to make first use of the pitch as they kept losing wickets as regular intervals. They had no clue how to handle the Indian bowling trio of Jhulan Goswami, Romeli Dar and Devika, who ripped apart the rival batting line-up by keeping an accurate line and length. Such was their bowling impact that only three Lankan batswomen could reach double figures.

India, too, faltered when they commenced their innings as they lost their openers cheaply. But Sunetra Paranjpe and skipper Mithali Raj rose to the occasion to guide their team to an emphatic win. The former hit an unbeaten 35 which fetched her the player-of-the-match award. The Lankans had the consolation that their opener De Silva shared the player-of-the-series award with India’s Trish Kamini.

Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala

Unfortunate spat

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi played superbly to win the gold medal in men’s doubles at the Asian Games, but their bitter conflict has saddened their fans. Bhupathi justifiably felt aggrieved about the bad treatment meted out to him by coach Nandan Bal and Leander, but such a matter should have been settled amicably behind closed doors and not made public.

The Tribune has aptly pointed out in the editorial “Tarnished gold” (December 15) that Leander and Mahesh may have their problems but they can put these aside for the nation and the good of Indian tennis.

Subhash C. Taneja, Rohtak

Bout of success

Congratulations to the Indian women’s boxing team for their mesmerising show at the World Championship in New Delhi. Though Russia were the favourites, the Indian eves bagged the team title with four gold, one silver and three bronze medals.

MC Mary Kom won her third championship gold in a row. She has undoubtedly become the golden girl of Indian boxing. Even severe cold could not stop this sturdy girl, who has proved her mettle time and again. Jenny RL, Lekha and Sarita proved to be surprise packages, bagging gold medals.

Tarika Narula, Patiala

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