Chandigarh, Saturday, December 4, 1999
 

What future has Indian tennis?
By Harbans Singh Virdi
India’s top tennis players Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi must be drawing satisfaction from the fact that the world’s top pair won two grand slam titles together — the French Open in May and the Wimbledon in June — in 1999 the last year of this century. For Mahesh, it was still more rewarding because in partnership with another Japanese girl Sugiyama, he won the mixed doubles Wimbledon title, thus adding another mixed doubles title, to his kitty. He had won the French Open mixed doubles title earlier with Japanese player Hiraki.

Uncertainty dogs Pak hockey
By Amardeep Bhattal
The heroics of penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas and his team-mates at Kuala Lumpur notwithstanding, uncertainty dogs Pakistan hockey following the resignation of the PHF President, Chaudhary Akhtar Rasool, last month. Even though a month has elapsed since Akhtar Rasool announced his resignation in Lahore in early November, the Pakistan Hockey Federation remains headless. The PHF chief while announcing his resignation had cited personal reasons for the surprise move but it is apparent that his proximity to the deposed Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, hastened his departure.

Tough task for cricketers
By Sushil Kapoor
After tasting success in the home series against the Kiwis, India must be keenly looking forward to the series against Australia. Sachin Tendulkar in his second essay as India’s captain is all set to renew his battle with the Australian bowlers but of course, this time, it will be on their home turf which would certainly provide more bounce than what our batsmen are accustomed to at home.

India must improve fitness
By Sandeep Misra
A bronze medal effort at the Asia Cup notwithstanding, India need to do some serious rethinking on their strategy if they wish to improve their performance in the forthcoming four-nation tourney in Spain and the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament next year.

Sport Mail

 

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What future has Indian tennis?
By Harbans Singh Virdi

India’s top tennis players Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi must be drawing satisfaction from the fact that the world’s top pair won two grand slam titles together — the French Open in May and the Wimbledon in June — in 1999 the last year of this century. For Mahesh, it was still more rewarding because in partnership with another Japanese girl Sugiyama, he won the mixed doubles Wimbledon title, thus adding another mixed doubles title, to his kitty. He had won the French Open mixed doubles title earlier with Japanese player Hiraki.

But Leander and Mahesh’s total domination of the men’s doubles event can be gauged from the fact that the two reached the finals of all four grand slam tournaments. That they could win only two is another story. In the ever-competitive world of tennis, it is no joke to stay at top. Other pairs keep having a go at you.

But it must also be conceded that their domination of the event does not remain unchallenged. One pair which is a thorn in their flesh is that of Alex O’ Brien of the USA and Sebastian Lareau of Canada. This was the pair which demolished the Indian challenge in the final of the US Open. And the same pair rose to dash Indian hopes in the year-ending Phoenix ATP Tour World Doubles Championships held recently at Hartford in Connecticut, USA. The top ranked pair of Leander and Mahesh started badly at Hartford when they lost to Wayne Black of Zimbabwe and Sandon Stolle of Australia. The two Indian players failed to force victory. The two won the first set but were later outplayed by the rival pair, losing the next two sets.

Though Leander and Mahesh had lost in the opening outing, yet they qualified for the semifinals. Here they ran into one world’s top pair — Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde of Australia, seeded second in the event. But Leander and Mahesh survived. Though they lost the first set, they did not lose heart, so they kept trying the hard way, as they normally do and this normally pays too. That day, too, the Indians carried the day.

Now they were in the final of the ATP Tour World Doubles Championship. This was a five-setter duel, so the two pairs had equal chances, one who could survive for long duration in the match held a better chance to win. Now this was a repeat of the US Open final against Alex O’ Brien and Sebastian Lareau. But the two Indians failed to click and went down in straight sets to Alex and Laereau. Had Leander and Mahesh won this title, that would have provided the icing on the cake.

Next came the Asia Cup staged in Delhi last week. The event did not begin on a better note for India. First Mahesh pulled out of the event. Leander did land at Delhi but came in for rough treatment at the hands of a Chinese player. Feeling feverish, and suffering from jet lag, Leander too pulled out of the event. Indian were forced to try new players. P. Srinath and Syed Fazaluddin failed to raise Indian hopes and came a cropper against Japan. Realising in what pitiable plight was India, Leander changed his mind, pulled up his socks and entered the battlefield like a warrior.

And like the last hope, he did rescue India when in the play-off for the third place against Thailand, he combined with Fazaluddin in the deciding rubber to give India a 2-1 victory and with it the bronze, after the two countries shared the first two singles. So by that standard, India, who were the champions, ended on a respectable note.

But the performance must compel the All-India Tennis Association to realise that it has no durable reserves. Tennis may have been played on a much bigger canvas in the country, but AITA has yet to produce players who could step into the shoes of Leander and Mahesh. Every time we have to depend on them, but for how long. With Mahesh first and later Leander pulling put, India was in the hopeless position. It experimented with P. Srinath and Syed Fazaluddin in the semifinals against Japan. But the move backfired as both Fazaluddin’s defeat was particularly very heart-breaking as after winning the first set, he led 4-0 in the second, yet he lost the match. Should we say it was lack of exposure against top ranked players? Next, India tried Sandeep Kirtane in the match against Thiland. Though he won, he won very narrowly against Ekkarin Pisuth-Arnonth of Thailand — a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory. It was only the entry. Of Leander when the two counties were tied 1-1 that gave India the bronze medal. As against Japan, Srinath lost his singles match in the Thailand tie.

Leander is already 26 and he may be there on the tennis scene for another three or four years. But what happens next? This question the AITA must address itself to, for, without the services of the likes of Leander and Mahesh, India may be rattled by even lowly-ranked countries in Asia itself, what to say of European players.

So India must prepare to stem the tide in tennis. We have produced top players in the past, we hope to do so in the future too. For Indian tennis enthusiasts who aspire to make a mark, it is a real challenge to step into the shoes of Leander and Mahesh.
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Uncertainty dogs Pak hockey
By Amardeep Bhattal

The heroics of penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas and his team-mates at Kuala Lumpur notwithstanding, uncertainty dogs Pakistan hockey following the resignation of the PHF President, Chaudhary Akhtar Rasool, last month. Even though a month has elapsed since Akhtar Rasool announced his resignation in Lahore in early November, the Pakistan Hockey Federation remains headless. The PHF chief while announcing his resignation had cited personal reasons for the surprise move but it is apparent that his proximity to the deposed Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, hastened his departure.

However, what proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back was the decision of the army authorities to place his name on the ECL (exit clearance list) which put curbs on his foreign travel and as a consequence he had to miss crucial meetings abroad concerning Pakistan hockey.

Akhtar Rasool became President of the PHF for the first time in 1997 followed by his second election last August. In the normal course, Rasool’s tenure was up to the year 2002. But after the army coup, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before he relinquished his post because of his close links with the Nawaz Sharif family. Besides heading the prestigious Pakistan Hockey Federation, Akhtar Rasool as member of the Punjab Assembly was also Special Assistant to the then Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, brother of Mr Nawaz Sharif. He was also the Chairman of the Punjab Sports Board.

Hailed as an outstanding centre-half in world hockey in the seventies and early eighties, Akhtar Rasool played in the Barcelona World Cup in 1971, Munich Olympics, Teheran Asian Games, the third World Cup at Kuala Lumpur, Montreal Olympics, fourth World Cup at Buenos Aires, Bangkok Asian Games, Champions Trophy in 1978 and 1980 and the fifth World Cup at Bombay in 1982 where under his captaincy, Pakistan won the gold.

Besides being an outstanding player, Akhtar Rasool as an administrator was a man of vision. With an eye on the future, he had chalked out ambitious plans, details of which he made known to this writer during a meeting at Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium on the conclusion of the India-Pakistan hockey series early this year. These included the setting up of the Pakistan Hockey Academy at Lahore, an ambitious project by all means.

Speaking at the gathering of parents and boys selected for the academy in Lahore, Akhtar Rasool had said that the endeavour was to make the future of Pakistan hockey secure. “As far as hockey is concerned, I am your father,” he thundered. “Inshahallah, in due course I shall not only make you outstanding hockey players but also good human beings,” he had said.

The idea to set up the academy was mooted by Rasool himself. In all, 50 boys hailing from various parts of Pakistan were selected after trials carefully monitored by the senior selection committee headed by Senator Mir Zafarullah Jamali. Tariq Aziz, who led Pakistan in the Mexico Olympics in 1968, and Olympian Hanif Khan were its members. Akhtar Rasool and Col Mudassar Asghar as President and Secretary of the PHF were its ex-officio members.

The entire expenditure on education, board, lodging and transportation was being borne by the PHF with assistance from the Punjab Government. The boys were admitted to Lahore’s Divisional Public School in Model Town, a premier institution catering to the elite.

The hockey academy experiment, although new, was viewed as a step in the right direction by former Olympians and internationals. Given his immense clout and political links, Rasool would have ensured that the experiment yielded the desired results.

Akhtar Rasool’s exit from the helm of affairs of the PHF is likely to hit the newly set-up academy and in the absence of adequate financial support the academy may ultimately meet the fate of other government schemes which terminate prematurely.

The vacuum at the top in the PHF is also likely to hit the national team’s preparations for the Sydney Olympics. In the absence of clear-cut guidelines from the top, plans for preparing the team for the tough challenge ahead may go haywire. At a time when maximum foreign exposure is needed, the team under the charge of Shahnaz Sheikh may have limited practice and the India-Pakistan series, of which Akhtar Rasool was a strong votary, may also be discontinued.

Though there is no dearth of talent at every level and the senior team which finished runners-up to South Korea at the recently concluded Asia Cup at Kuala Lumpur is capable of delivering the goods, yet lack of proper grooming and planning may spell its doom. To be precise, Pakistan hockey is today adrift like a rudderless ship which may either reach the shores of glory on its own or may sink midway due to lack of direction.
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Tough task for cricketers
By Sushil Kapoor

After tasting success in the home series against the Kiwis, India must be keenly looking forward to the series against Australia. Sachin Tendulkar in his second essay as India’s captain is all set to renew his battle with the Australian bowlers but of course, this time, it will be on their home turf which would certainly provide more bounce than what our batsmen are accustomed to at home. The series certainly provide a fair and even chance to the Indian frontline batsmen like Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, who are natural stroke players and are capable of putting any attack to the sword on their Day. Although the Indian batting will revolve around these three highly accomplished and inform batsmen, they are likely to get adequate support from youngsters like S. Ramesh and Debang Gandhi, and V.V.S. Laxman. If the Indian batsmen are able to post a reasonable total, this in turn would help the Indian-pace-attack of Javagal Srinath, Vankatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar and T. Kumarnan and the guile of the reliable Anil Kumble to have a measure of the highly rated Australian batting line-up which has been further bolstered up by their victory against Pakistan.

On paper, both Australia and India are evenly matched in batting and bowling with the Australians, of course, having an edge in the fielding department. This is the one gray area which the Indian team’s coach, Kapil Dev, will have to seriously address to. Kapil Dev, himself a fitness freak and an athletic and disciplined cricketer in his playing days, must instil the same discipline in his team. Physical fitness will also be a key factor in the final outcome of the series. The Indian have, however, quite a few points to prove against the officially ranked number one side of the world who will be itching to take revenge of their Test series loss during their last Indian tour.

The first and foremost task of the Indians is to put at rest the speculation of the prophets of dooms like the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Mr J.Y. Lele, who has predicted a 0-3 whitewash for the Indians. One wonder at the action of a senior office-bearer of the BCCI who has gone out of the way to put his foot in his mouth. One could never have come across such a damning statement at the start of an exacting and arduous tour which would hit the morale of the young players. No amount of denials at this stage is going to bolster the team’s morale. The nation has a right to know as to how such an individual is allowed to continue at the helm of cricketing affairs.

Sachin and Kapil Dev would in all probability take Mr Lele’s statement as a renewed challenge to prove their detractors wrong. Apart from the team’s performance the Australian fans are keenly looking forward to a dual between the explosive Sachin Tendulkar and wily Shane Warne, the methodical Rahul Dravid, the wristy Saurav Ganguly and the pacy Glan MacGrath. Whatever the result of the series, the viewers will be in for an exciting cricketing affair.

The most important point which the Indians have to prove on this tour is to perform in a crunch situation and make winning a habit by playing as a well-knit team. A recharged Sachin is going to leave his imprints on the sands of the land of the great Don, who sees a lot of himself in Sachin’s batting.Top

 

India must improve fitness
By Sandeep Misra

A bronze medal effort at the Asia Cup notwithstanding, India need to do some serious rethinking on their strategy if they wish to improve their performance in the forthcoming four-nation tourney in Spain and the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament next year.

There is no doubt that India played well in the semis but a 5-4 scoreline in favour of eventual winners South Korea is hardly impressive. Many gaps need to be filled. Ultimately in the archives of the Asia Cup, the record will always say Korea won the Asia Cup and India finished third.

With all the training camps and facilities, the Indian fitness level is still below par. If one looks at the Indian record in the past 10 years, fitness has never been a priority. In the name of fitness, the Indian team plays practice matches. But the truth is that fitness has to be handled by an expert.

A look at the koreans shows that when the ball goes back into their circle, all the 10 players fall back. Even Pakistan is trying to adopt these methods. Forwards like Atif Bashir fall back to help the defence out.

But the Indians refuse to learn. Forwards like Baljit Singh Dhillon, Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur once robbed of the ball don’t even fall back to regain the ball.

Fitness will be the key factor if India want to finish in the top four at the Sydney 2000. Indian hockey has failed to keep pace with the changes taking place over the years.

In the 1990 Asia Cup in New Delhi, India thrashed Korea 5-2 in the semi-finals. Skills alone could, then, beat Korea.

And in the 1999 Asia Cup, fitness had finally beaten skills. Korea outplayed India 5-4, after trailing by 4-3. And they thrashed Pakistan 5-4 again. The reason, sheer endurance.

India, Pakistan and Malaysia have all the skills. If hockey was played purely on skills, these three would be at the top three positions in the world. But that’s no longer true. Today, fitness and endurance go alongside skills. — PTI
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Sport Mail
Indian defeat disheartening

It was a sad experience seeing India being beaten by the not-so-mighty South Korea in the semi-finals of Asia Cup hockey. The defeat of India at the hands of the Koreans is a matter of shame as hockey has been the national game of our country. Why is it that the country which gave birth to Dhyan Chand and Surjit Singh fails to pick up the trophies? It is not bad luck that we get defeated time and again, but lack of attention and concentration. Little media exposure to the national game is a sad commentary. Why are there no frequent hockey competitions? Why no attention is paid to pick up the talented players from every possible nook and corner.

H. S. DIMPLE
Jagraon

II

It was disheartening to watch India crash out of the semifinals of the Asia Cup Hockey Tournament. They went down fighting to defending champions South Korea 4-5 in a thrilling encounter causing dismay to tens of thousands of hockey lovers. On the whole India played a superb game but they were unlucky.

Tarsem S. Bumrah
Batala

Kiwi allrounders

The New Zealand cricket team is full of allrounders. The performance of Daniel Vettori in the Kanpur Test, Nathan Astle at Rajkot and Chris Cairns at Guwahati is noteworthy.

Pearl S.P. Singh
Chandigarh

Kudos to Aussies

Congratulations to Australia for defeating Pakistan 3-0 in the Test series. But indeed it is no good news for the Indian team. Now, they must realise that they have to play extremely well otherwise no one can save them from defeat in Australia. But, anyway they have nothing to lose. Anything good done by them, will be a bonus for them.

Balwant Guleria
Dehra Dun

Kanitkar’s selection

What was the rationale in selecting Kanitkar in place of Ajay Jadeja? Kanitkar failed against the weak West Indies ‘A’ attack but got the nod over Azhar. What a joke! Has he scored 20 centuries like Azhar? Is he a better fielder than Azhar? He is hardly effective as a bowler in Indian conditions. How can you not pick Azhar who has played 98 Tests? It is sad that Azhar who has served the nation for over a decade is being given such shoddy treatment.

Aditya
Mathura Cantt.

Malcolm Marshall

The news of the Malcolm Marshall’s death came as a shock to all cricket lovers. The great West Indian player died from colon cancer at the age of 41. A virtuous man, Marshall, loved cricket intensely and his native place Barbados where he learnt his bowling. He was a man of his own quality who never played for money. Rather he only played cricket because of his great love for the game.

His height was merely 5 feet 10 inches but he was quick and more dangerous than most of his contemporaries. He took 376 wickets in 81 Tests for the West Indies which made him one of the greatest bowlers of his time.

Ajay Bansal
Kuneran (Una)
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