SPORT TRIBUNE Saturday, April 15, 2000, Chandigarh, India
 

Vishal Uppal India’s new find
By Harbans Virdi
By virtue of their victory over South Korea in the Asia Oceania Group I clash, India have earned the right to play the World group qualifying match against Sweden, to be played in Sweden either from July 14 to 16 or July 21 to 23. Sweden are a very formidable foe.

An era ends with Udham’s death
By Jaspal Shetra
With demise of hockey legend Udham Singh, the hockey fields of Punjab will never be the same again. An era has ended, the era that was marked by unflinching and complete devotion to hockey. Udham Singh was not only a great player, trainer par-excellence but an epitome of perfection in every way, the perfection earned through hard work and toil.

Leander and Davis Cup syndrome
By Ramu Sharma
Nine years ago it was Leander, then 17, who inspired India to a fine victory over South Korea at the DLTA centre court in Delhi. He did it when the dice appeared to be loaded against India what with Ramesh Krishnan, the No. 1 star, losing his singles match. And now, last week, Leander was at it again, again playing the star-role as Indian went past South Korea and into the Davis Cup world group play-off zone. It is not exactly easy to remain at the top for so many years. But Leander has done it now for quite some time now, ever since the retirement of Ramesh Krishnan.

 


 
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Vishal Uppal India’s new find
By Harbans Virdi

By virtue of their victory over South Korea in the Asia Oceania Group I clash, India have earned the right to play the World group qualifying match against Sweden, to be played in Sweden either from July 14 to 16 or July 21 to 23. Sweden are a very formidable foe.

The lots were drawn in London on April 12 which pitted India against the mighty Swedes.

The last time India played in the qualifying tie of the World Group was in 1998 when India had been beaten by Britain at Nottingham. Britain had some of the best players in the team like Greg Rusedski, the Canadian import, and their own Tin Henman.

But the victory which India achieved against South Korea was very creditable under the circumstances. First and foremost Leander Paes, on whose shoulders India always carry their campaign, was not playing to the best of his potential. His results in international tournaments point to this. Secondly, and more important, India were without the services of their second best player, Mahesh Bhupathy, who is nursing a shoulder injury and has been out of action. That affected India’s chances since by this way not only did India miss a key player for the second singles, but it also weakened the doubles (team) which was crucial in the tie against South Korea. Besides, South Korea also had a better track record against India, which stood at 4-2 in their favour at that time, now of course it is 4-3.

However, there was a brighter side too. For instance, the match was being played on grass and also at home. These two factors were very important from the Indian point of view.

The Indians knew pretty well that the South Koreans were ill at ease on grass and were all baseliners. So they prepared the grass to suit their purpose. The surface at the R.K. Khanna Stadium was heavily watered so that the ball did not take an uniform bounce as it does on an artificial surface. Besides, at this time of the year Delhi is very hot to which the Koreans were not accustomed. But the visitors too were preparing in all seriousness. Before they landed in New Delhi, they went to Malaysia to practice in similar hot climate. That showed their preparedness. The South Korean suffered from this fact also that none of their main players — Yong-I1 Yoon and Hyung-Taik Lee or Seung-Taik Lee — had played on the ATP circuit. Unlike Japan or Thailand, Korea have none of the players playing in the ATP tournaments. Yet the Koreans were no sitting ducks.

But India pulled off a marvellous victory, thanks to non-playing captain and former international Ramesh Krishnan who shuffled his cards so shrewdly that everyone was taken aback by his move. The move was to bring in Vishal Uppal of Delhi to replace Syed Fazaluddin to partner Leander for the crucial doubles tie. Vishal had never before played for India although he had been among the top players of the country. But there were others too, like national hardcourt champion Sunil Kumar from Chandigarh, and P. Srinath. But Ramesh choice was Vishal Uppal who was unknown to the Koreans. This was a master tactic of Ramesh who suddenly caught the Koreans guessing. This was necessitated because Fazaluddin had not played as good as he was expected. Fazaluddin went down to Hyung Taik Lee 4-6, 6-7, 2-6,. Except the second set where Lee was made to struggle, the Korean was never fully tested. Not many were impressed by his play.

Earlier, Leander had won his opening singles match against Yong-I1 Yoon even though it must also be admitted Leander had not played up to his potential. But his undying spirit and vast international experience carried him though.

To the relief of the Indian camp, Vishal Uppal proved to be a trump card Vishal Uppal is a commerce graduate from Delhi who has been playing tennis full time. Vishal played like a seasoned player and was not overawed either by the occasion or by the South Koreans. At times, he even played better than his senior and seasoned Leander, who found himself in tight situations. How Vishal Uppal played can be judged from the fact that throughout the whole doubles match, Vishal was not even threatened once by the two Koreans. Nowhere did he face the prospect of his service being broken though Leander faced tremendous pressure and conceded break points many times to Lee and Yong. Except the first set which Leander and Vishal Uppal lost in the tie-breaker and the last set the fourth one, which was also decided vie tie-breaker and which the Indians won, both Leander and Vishal seemed to have struck a good combination and were in control this was perhaps the weakest of combinations that had played for India and which had won still.

Truly, India had found a new hero in Vishal who was congratulated from all sides. Ramesh was particularly happy for he had gambled by fielding Vishal in partnership with Leander, a top player and a regular campaigner. By his brilliant play, Vishal underlined the fact in no uncertain terms that talent after Leander or Mahesh was still available in India and given the right time and opportunity any good player could succeed for India.

The victory in the doubles was a great booster for India since the Indian camp knew that Leander was to play the first reverse singles. So everyone had a scent of victory after Leander and Vishal put India in front.

That was what exactly happened. Leander took the better of Hyung-Taik Lee in the third match of the tie to seal the fate of the Koreans who had made all efforts to topple India. But the shrewdness of Ramesh put paid to their hopes. The fifth match was of only academic interest. Still the Korean camp utilised it for giving exposure to their unfancied player Seung-Taik Lee who took on Fazaluddin. But he could only take a set off Fazaluddin in a match which was reduced to best of three.

So India ended on an impressive 4-1 scoreline.

Now since India have found a new player in Vishal Uppal, he must be given as much international exposure as possible. He must play in as many tournaments both at home and abroad. Ramesh has also shown hen is no less a tactician than former non-playing captains like Naresh Kumar or Jaideep Mukerjee. He seems to have found the magic touch for India. This match has resulted in the discovery of Vishal and hence the momentous occasion should be used to further strengthen the team.Top

 

An era ends with Udham’s death
By Jaspal Shetra

With demise of hockey legend Udham Singh, the hockey fields of Punjab will never be the same again. An era has ended, the era that was marked by unflinching and complete devotion to hockey. Udham Singh was not only a great player, trainer par-excellence but an epitome of perfection in every way, the perfection earned through hard work and toil. He was the flag-bearer of the generation of hockey players about whom it said that the game was in their blood and whose love affair with the game did not end when they hung their hockey sticks rather it went with them till they embarked on their final journey.

Hockey was Udham Singh’s passion, the only passion, in real sense. His intensity of love for the game so much that he could think of nothing but the game only, all the time, day in and day out. Other things in his life had little meaning as he ate, spoke, thought, acted and dreamt of hockey. In the times to come it may not be easy to imagine that a player like him ever existed, specifically for the present generations of players, who lack such dedication. For Udham Singh nothing mattered except the game. It was his first and last love and he was scrupulous to it till he breathed his last. It may be interesting to note that even when he was returning from the hospital after getting treatment for a serious cardiac ailment he stopped at village’s school-ground to distribute sweets to his wards.

Karamayogi’ is the real word to portray Udham Singh’s personality. Surely, he was jogi (hermit) of hockey. According to our spiritual traditions, a yogi is such a person who devotes his entire life to achieve his mission in certain pursuit, to whom nothing else matters expect his goal. He has his eyes focused on his target all the time.

Behind Udham Singh’s success was his conviction for hard work and discipline. It was hard work and practice in abundance that reaped rich dividends and turned him into the wizard of the game despite his short height and frail frame. He believed in discipline and throughout his life worshiped it. Those who knew him from close quarters know that he followed his daily schedule like a ritual. The renowned Punjabi sports-writer Sarwan Singh writing about Udham Singh’s self-discipline says that the jawans of Jalandhar cantonment used to match their watches according to his morning run, which was exactly at 5.30 a.m. and without fail.

He was marathon man of Indian hockey. He represented the country in four Olympic Games-Helsinki (1952), Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964) and was also selected for 1948 Olympics where he could not play due to an injury. He devoted his entire life to the game. No doubt he got the Arjuna Award but he deserved much more. May hockey players have been decorated with the Padamashree but Udham Singh was forgotten.Top

 

Leander and Davis Cup syndrome
By Ramu Sharma

Nine years ago it was Leander, then 17, who inspired India to a fine victory over South Korea at the DLTA centre court in Delhi. He did it when the dice appeared to be loaded against India what with Ramesh Krishnan, the No. 1 star, losing his singles match. And now, last week, Leander was at it again, again playing the star-role as Indian went past South Korea and into the Davis Cup world group play-off zone. It is not exactly easy to remain at the top for so many years. But Leander has done it now for quite some time now, ever since the retirement of Ramesh Krishnan.

For a player who has only rarely come below the 100-mark in the ATP ratings, Leander’s Davis Cup performance borders on the unbelievable. He has scalped players even in the single digit bracket. Reputation has had no meaning for this tireless gladiator of Indian tennis. With Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander forms the world No. 1 doubles pair, the two of them having worked diligently and with a single minded purpose to attain that goal. It is a pity that Leander has not had that success as a singles player on the circuit but again what he has achieved without any label is amazing. He is a bronze medal winner in the Olympics held in Atlanta.

There is something amazing about this man. As an individual player, seeking his own betterment in the ATP tournaments, he has not had much success. In fact it is always a puzzle why a player who has been a junior Wimbledon champion, has not progressed in the senior grade of the game. All the bigger a puzzle since he has beaten some of the biggest names in world tennis while wearing India colours in the Davis Cup. The secret perhaps lies in the colours he wear while playing. He is a totally charged person once he plays for the country, whether it is in the Asia Cup, Asian Games, or the Olympics and Davis Cup. And it is this metamorphosis while wearing the country’s colours that he has all but immortalised himself. Thanks to him that India, despite not having a single player in the 100 bracket, is still a power in Davis Cup.

In a way he is carrying on a tradition though his job is more difficult. Ramesh Krishnan before him and Vijay Amrithraj earlier were recognised stars on the circuit and before that Ramanathan Krishnan had carved a niche all on his own, a two time semi-finalist in the men’s singles of the Wimbledon Championships. Ramanathan Krishnan in fact has one of the most successful records in the Davis Cup competition, comparable with the best. And it was a blessing for Indian tennis that the sequel continued, uninterrupted. Ramanathan Krishnan gave way to Vijay Amrithraj who after a few years with Ramesh Krishnan moved out. Ramesh then was joined by Leander Paes who now, on Ramesh’s withdrawal from the active scene, is left to fight alone. Among all these players Ramanathan Krishnan could be said to have fortunate to have had two equally talented players to support his and the country’s cause-Premjit Lal and Jaideep Mukherjea. The one single factor which has goaded and encouraged these players all these years has been Naresh Kumar who is still in the background, always there to boost India’s morale. But this year the time has come to conjure up some other player who could perhaps first play with Leander and then take over his role for India in the Davis Cup. Thanks to the emergence of Mahesh Bhupathy in the past few years, India’s efforts in the Davis Cup has received tremendous boost. But time has come now to look for a possible successor to Leander.

Ten years is a long time for a person to have played a continuously sustaining role and particularly in tennis where, if records are followed, there have been cases of a player winning the junior Wimbledon one year and the senior Wimbledon the next. Not many players last the pace of modern tennis for so many years. Leander has done so but even he has to let up sometime. The importance of Leander was underlined in both the Davis Cup matches so far. Against Lebanon India just about scraped through though Leander did ensure that the rubber was won with the first of the reverse singles on the third day. In the absence of Bhupathy, India lost the doubles, something unthinkable against a country Lebanon which is still to make a mark. Against South Korea too it was the personality of Leander which was all pervasive. This too was a close affair with Leander just about pulling if off in the reverse singles against Lee Hyung-Taik, a tie which went into four sets and could have gone either way. Not many people remembered that Leander played 11 sets in three days and that too in the heat of Delhi to keep India’s flag flying. The positive aspect of the tie was the spirited showing of Vishal Uppal, a surprise choice for Leander’s partner in the doubles. Vishal is a good player on grass and forms with Mustafa Ghouse, the second best doubles pair in India after Leander and Bhupathy. But once Bhupathy is back, his chances of retaining his place in the Indian team depends entirely on the surface the match is likely to be played.

It is time that a hunt was on to select a junior who will be able to first help Leander and then replace him. Reported the Britannia Amrithraj Tennis Academy in Chennai has a number of promising youngsters in its fold and the various academies and coaching centres all over in the country must be flooded with aspirant youngsters. The Satellite , Challenger series and the Masters are regular affairs but have not yet cemented the role of any one youngster of high grade to replace Leander. In a year, two years or three , India will need someone to take over from Leander. Who will it be?Top

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SPORT MAIL

Hansie Cronje issue shocking

It was shocking to learn that Hansie Cronje, captain of the South African cricket team and his team mates — Nicky Boje, Gibbs and Strydom, were involved in match-fixing in the recently concluded Test and one-day series against India. The deal was struck in Taj Hotel in room No 346. All the four have reportedly taken huge sums of money from two Indian bookies. All this was done for the sake of money. Dear Hansie, you have already earned crores of rupees from cricket. Where was the need to indulge in this criminal activity? In my opinion, the minimum punishment for the four should to debar them from playing cricket against any country.

SUBHASH C. TANEJA
Rohtak

II

Everybody with keen interest in cricket was surprised to know about the match-fixing charge against Hansie Cronje and his team-mates. Undoubtedly, the South Africans are known for their hardwork and team spirit, and people have a lot of respect for them. Till now, the Pakistanis, Indians and Australians were known for such work. The match-fixing charge against such a good team and such good players shows that today, corruption is running through each vein. Results of matches are fixed and spectators are mere fools. Whether the charge is proved or not, one thing is certain — results of matches and the future of the game is in the hands of bookies.

DEVI BHUSHAN SHARMA
Shamgarh

III

With reference to the sensational cricket match-fixing racket, I wish to say that the demigods of cricket are as influenced by greed and temptation as are ordinary human beings. Why blame these players when they can make a fortune by losing a match or two? It is very difficult to substantiate that any player intentionally lost a game for pecuniary benefit. The blame really lies on the match fixers or people in the gambling dens. The losers are the spectators (including millions of TV viewers) who spend their time and money and are in return cheated into viewing such unimpressive and unnatural fixed cricket matches. It is high time the state governments and people patronise other games like tennis, football, basketball, hockey, badminton and swimming in educational institutions.

T.S. Chawla
Mohali

Directionless

It was either paucity of food and shelter that people in the primitive age learnt superior physical skills or due to perpetual fear of being eliminated by barbarous fellow human beings or dangerous animals. With the passage of time, competitions like the Olympics, continental games and various other tournaments at the regional level were introduced for the masses to exhibit their talent. Gradually countries with better natural resources put in their might to sharpen their skill so that they could come out victorious. The more medals a country won the greater was the applause it earned for its sound economy, sound health, better planning and, of course, better governance. However, in India’s case, there is no level of qualitative skill to feel proud of, not even the mental toughness of the Pakistanis, Koreans or the Germans Dwarfed by the paucity of funds, directionless policies, scant respect for the nation’s prestige and falling standards, the country can never think of attaining a respectable place in the world’s sports hierarchy. The so-called saviours of sports in education and sports department, federations and associations along with the politicians, bureaucrats, and the Press are playing the most dubious role to bring down the nation’s prestige. They have neither the vision nor the courage and calibre to run the system.

R.S.MANN
Gurgaon

Indian hockey

There are no two opinions about the mess in Indian hockey. In December 1998, when India won the gold after 32 years in the 13th Asian Games there was jubilation. However, it was short-lived. The IHF bosses soon axed six top players. Not to speak of other reverses, India ranked third in the recently concluded pre-Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament at Sydney. Hence Indian hockey is back to square one.

Sunder Singh
Dialpura

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