SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, December 29, 2001, Chandigarh, India

A quiet year with some sex, drugs and teams that rolled
Gavin Evans
HE impact of three airplanes on two towers and one military command centre may have no connection with fairways and fields, baseball diamonds and boxing rings, but its ramifications affected them all profoundly.

A year of domestic competitions
Ramu Sharma
OR once Indian athletes generally stayed home. The hectic schedule of the last two years gave way to a quite season of domestic competition and though in terms of records the returns were of a rather modest measure there was much that could be projected as encouraging.

Leander, Mahesh Bhupathi battle on
M.S. Unnikrishnan
EANDER Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi continue to shoulder Indian hopes in tennis as there is no sign yet of replacements for them though a new crop of players are adding a streak of silver lining to the otherwise grey horizon.

Indian cricket mired in controversies
Qaiser Mohammad Ali
HE Indian cricket team has very little to look back upon in a year which was mired in controversies, poor showing and politics, the only bright spark being the Test series win over world champions Australia.



A quiet year with some sex, drugs and teams that rolled
Gavin Evans

THE impact of three airplanes on two towers and one military command centre may have no connection with fairways and fields, baseball diamonds and boxing rings, but its ramifications affected them all profoundly.

The events of September 11 meant that at first events were cancelled or postponed — to show respect, or because the players and viewers were too stunned to care about matches or too spooked to travel.

Among many others the Ryder Cup — the most prestigious event on the golfing calendar — was rescheduled for 2002, while the year’s biggest boxing event, the middleweight unification fight between Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad in New York’s Madison Square Garden, was postponed or a month.

Soon, however, with the refrain of “let’s show we’re not giving in to the terrorists”, it was back to business, albeit with minutes of silence, words of tribute and renditions of the Star Spangled Banner, the American national anthem.

One of the many touching moments came in Britain when the Olympic Super heavyweight gold medallist, Audley Harrison, donated some of his purse money to his sponsors, Cantor Sports, who lost several hundred of their top managers and staff in the World Trade Center attack.

American sport suffered after the terrorist attacks with many spectators deciding that watching sport was not a priority, although some believe the attacks merely exacerbated a downward trend.

Empty seats at major basketball and ice hockey games, staff layoffs in major league baseball teams, the withdrawal of sponsors from golf’s PGA tour and the failure of several leading NASCAR motor racing teams to find sponsors are all symptoms of this downturn.

Ripples from the attacks spread to cricket. England prevaricated about sending a squad to India. After receiving assurances of their safety from the British Foreign Office, most agreed to go on what became a truncated tour — that too with a team of specially trained security guards.

In 2001 the Olympics finally saw the end of Juan Antonio Samaranch’s reign after 21 scandal-rich years as President of the International Olympic Committee. The former Spanish fascist functionary is credited with keeping the Olympic movement together and building on its status as the world’s biggest and richest sporting event, but this came at a high cost.

He ruled through nepotism, assembling a team of committee members with dubious political pasts. He also turned a blind eye to massive corruption in the bidding process and allowed drug scandals to be swept under the rug.

Samaranch lobbied hard for Belgium’s Jacques Rogge to succeed him, and in July he got his way when Rogge beat off challenges by Kim Un-yong of South Korea and Dick Pound of Canada to win the right to head the IOC for the next eight years.

Rogge, a surgeon and former Olympic sailor, has been untouched by scandal. As IOC member Craig Reedie put it: “If ever anyone came in with a blameless character, it was Jacques Rogge. There are no skeletons in his cupboard.”

One of his major challenges will come in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs. The IOC introduced an effective test for the endurance-improving drug EPO in time for the Sydney Olympics, but rather suspiciously backed off when an IOC-funded team of scientists came up with a test to catch cheats using synthetic Human Growth Hormone — a drug many sprinters, swimmers, throwers and weightlifters use with impunity.

The dubious reason given at the time was lack of funds. Many suspect the real motivation was a fear that stars in blue ribbon events like 100-metre swimming and sprinting finals would be caught out. Either that, or times would fall which would lead to a drop in sponsorship funds.

The IOC promised to pursue HGH testing after Sydney, but in 2001 they determinedly kept it off the agenda, while stepping up their efforts to catch EPO cheats in the less prestigious endurance events.

Results at the World Athletics Championships in Edmonton in July may have reflected this. Athletes in the sprint and throwing events performed according to expectation while those in the distance events delivered times well short of world records.

The exception was the Russian 5,000-metre runner Olga Yegorova, whose performance has improved dramatically over the past two years. When she tested positive for EPO before the games the reason for this improvement became clear. She managed to slip through the net on a legal technicality to win the gold medal, but was booed on her way to the finish line.

There was, however, one area where long distance running has made remarkable strides, apparently without the help of illegal stimulants: the women’s marathon.

Some said it was impossible for a woman ever to break the magical two-hour 20-minute barrier. But on September 30, Naoko Takahashi was watched by almost 60 per cent of the Japanese population as she smashed the world record with a winning time of 2:19:46 in the Berlin Marathon. A week later Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba obliterated that record with a time of 2:18.47 in the Chicago Marathon — fast enough to have won her every men’s Olympic final until 1960.

In general, the public response during 2001 to performances like Takahashi and Ndereba in running, the Williams sisters in tennis, the American women’s football team and even Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Hyde in boxing, suggest a narrowing of the gap between men and women in sport — in support as well as performance.

In the world of men, the Athletics World Championships confirmed the absolute dominance of Kenyan, Ethiopian and Moroccan men in distance running. These three countries won all five men’s running gold medals from 1,500 metres up, as well as five silvers and two bronzes. This hold is also reflected in the international marathon calendar and there is undoubtedly more to come. This year’s entry to the 2002 London Marathon by the great Ethiopian track star, Haile Gabreselassie, may even see the 2:05 mark broken for the first time.

In other sports, however, we have seen what might be a changing of the guard in 2001. Rugby saw a break in the usual pattern of service — Ireland beating England, England beating Australia, France and England beating South Africa.

In football too, there was the hint of change. For several decades Germany has ranked as one of the game’s strongest nations — not far behind Brazil when it came to a record of international success. However, both showed signs of significant decline in 2001, having a harder-than-expected run before qualifying for the World Cup.

A picture of the sporting world in 2001 would not be complete without following up on the scandals of 2000. Thankfully, there seems to have been some progress here — at least in two of the worst hit sports, cricket and boxing.

The major scandal in boxing centred on the exposure of the corrupt practices of the International Boxing Federation, Whose head, Booby Lee, sold ratings for bags of cash. Lee was jailed for two-and-a-half years and the IBF placed under court authority.

In cricket the corruption centred on teams throwing matches or providing assistance to syndicates in return for cash payouts. Although the former South African captain Hansie Cronje was the only leading player to receive a lifetime ban, the allegations covered most of the major cricketing countries, causing significant damage to the reputation of the game — a view confirmed by this year’s report of the International Cricket Council’s own investigation.

It would be naive to think that corruption in cricket has been eliminated but the robust response of the ICC and its members has restored some confidence to the game.

However the cricketing year ended with a controversy of a different nature — one reflecting something of its historical roots as a game which spread from the white English colonisers to the black colonised.

It concerned the rather high-handed approach of British match referee Mike Denness to six Indian players after a Test match against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Overall, however, 2001 was a quiet year for world sport, made quieter by the events of September 11. It will be bigger and busier in 2002, with football’s World Cup, the Commonwealth Games, the European Athletics Championships and the Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson boxing ‘superfight’.

We live in hope that they will all be exempt from the ramifications of war. — Gemini News


A year of domestic competitions
Ramu Sharma

FOR once Indian athletes generally stayed home. The hectic schedule of the last two years gave way to a quite season of domestic competition and though in terms of records the returns were of a rather modest measure there was much that could be projected as encouraging. It could have been much more productive had all the major players of the previous years taken part in the domestics meets but their absence. However, helped quite a few others to present their cases. The most important aspect, however, was the keen interest displayed by the participants in the string of circuit meets, the inter-state at Lucknow, followed by the National Open at Chennai and the National Games in Punjab.

On the international front there was that one big meet where a handful of Indians always manage to be sent. The world championships at Edmonton was a waste of time as India was concerned with none of the selected lot reaching their potential. All the big deeds that qualified them for the trip abroad only proved statistical exercise for buoyed up ego at home. Not one of the men and women who represented the country in the world championships came anywhere near their home performance. In addition to the world championships a handful of Indians were seen in institutional meets on the world level. Some of them took part in the World Railway Championships at Krakow, Poland, and a few others at the World Police and Fire Games at Indianapolis, USA. The general standards in these meets tend to be average and the only notable showing was the 19.69 m in shot put by Bahadur Singh in the police games. His rival, Shakti, the national record holder at 20.42 m his 20.60 m is still to be accepted) missed out the whole season only to make one appearance in the National Games in Punjab, where he finished behind Bahadur who won the gold at 19.34 m. The one positive aspect of both Bahadur and Shakti seems to be that both have now been consistently throwing over 19 metres. That in it itself should be considered a measure of improvement.

Perhaps the most laudable showing this year was Gurpreet Singh’s 14.07 seconds for the 110 metres hurdles in the inter-state meet at Lucknow. This updated Gurbachan Singh Randhawa’s Tokyo Olympic Games performance of 14.09 seconds in 1964. Gurbachan Singh was reportedly on the spot and congratulated the youngster. This was Gurpreet’s first competition of the season and the improvement from his 14.19 seconds clocked two years ago was indeed creditable. The 20-year-old youngster then became ambitious in the following competition, the national open at Chennai, where he did a hurdles double by also giving over the 400 metres distance. At the National Games in Ludhiana he was to repeat the double and clocked a fairly decent 14.10 seconds and 51.66 seconds, respectively, a performance which augur well for this youngster. Progress recorded in four other events were all by women. Anju (Markose) George was involved in two of them, the long jump and triple jump, both her own to fiddle with. She reached new distances in both, the best in long jump being 6.74 m at the domestic circuit meet in Thiruvananthapuram on June 4 and 13.61 m for the triple jump at the National Games in Ludhiana. Anju, in fact, took part in only these two major meets in India.

In addition to her record in triple jump she cleared 6.61 m in the long jump, which was the third best in her career. Anju did go on a short European tour, but did not perform well.

Karamjit Kaur, the only woman pole vaulter clearing over 3 m retained her steady progress, going from 3.15 m in the Federation Cup at Bangalore to 3.17 , at the inter-state in Lucknow to 3.25 m at the National Games. This event, as well as the hammer throw, in which Hardeep Kaur set new standard with a heave of 61.56 m in the National Games, are events in which the standards are yet to stabilise and will continue to be improved in the coming years. While some of the known figures like Neelam J. Singh, Sunita Rani, Paramjit Singh, and some others kept away from competitions for one reason or the other, other tested stars were there to give the competition some sort of glitter. Anil Kumar in the 100 and 200 metres, winner of both the events at the inter-state and open, was prevented from a clean sweep by Ajay Raj Singh, who won the 200 metres in Ludhiana to lend the sprint events a touch of class. Sanjai Kumar Rai, the only man to clean the 8 m mark after T.C. Yohannan in the long jump, was a clear winner in each of the three meets. Beenamol, who broke Usha’s mark in the 400 m missed out Lucknow but made amends by winning the competitions in Chennai and Ludhiana.

By and large it was a fairly satisfactory year and could have been even better but for the news that Seema Antil, gold medal winner in the Junior World Cup last year, had to give back her medal because of a minor indiscretion. She had taken curative measures for a bad throat, a medicine which contained a prohibitive drug. A harsh measure for a girl who won India’s first gold in international competition.


Leander, Mahesh Bhupathi battle on
M.S. Unnikrishnan

LEANDER Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi continue to shoulder Indian hopes in tennis as there is no sign yet of replacements for them though a new crop of players are adding a streak of silver lining to the otherwise grey horizon.

Leander and Mahesh kept the Indian flag flying by winning the French Open doubles title and bringing India back into the elite World Group of the Davis Cup when they humbled China and Japan in their own backyards, though they made early exits from Wimbledon and the US Open.

But they did well in other tournaments, when they won back to back titles in Atlanta and Houston, and annexed the Masters series crown in Cincinatti in the run-up to the US Open.

Leander and Mahesh were the backbone of the Indian team, in Davis Cup as well as other international competitions.

Unlike in the days of yore, when the playing and infrastructural facilities were minimal, today’s players have everything going for them, yet very few break into the top bracket, to bridge the gap between the top two and the rest.

In this scenario, the performance of 15-year-old Sania Mirza of Hyderabad, who has so far won six ITF titles, to be ranked 28 in the world junior circuit, is something to be proud of. Fourteen-year-old Karan Rastogi is another young talent who has done remarkably well in the ITF circuit by breaking into the 200 group, from somewhere down in the 400.

The All-India Tennis Association (AITA) has been doing a lot in improving the facilities and playing conditions, but the results have not been commensurate with the efforts put in.

The emergence of big-serving Rohan Bopanna as a name to reckon with in the senior circuit is an encouraging sign, though the dipping form of Sunil Kumar of Chandigarh, who had created a sensation two years ago when he lifted the DSCL Open National Hard Court title in Delhi at the age of 16 years, is a cause for concern. Much was expected of Sunil, but the year that was, was not very successful for him. In fact, it ended on a disappointing note for him, when he was blasted asunder by Rohan Bopanna in straight sets, on his way to the challenge round.

Sunil was expected to break into the top ten of world’s juniors, but his ranking was hovering around 30 as the year drew to a close.

Vijay Kannan’s title triumph in the DSCL Open at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association court was a welcome augury, though Kannan is no spring chicken and his title triumph came after two abortive shots at the national title in 1998 and 2000.

The junior players, by and large, have done quite well in the past few months, thanks to the opportunities provided to them by the AITA.

India hosts the sixth highest number of ITF tournaments in the world, and this great gesture by the AITA has given the Indian youngsters a lot of opportunities to compete against quality opposition from all over the world, and log valuable points. The points thus earned have helped them compete in events abroad.

The Mini Tennis Programme launched by the AITA is already a great hit. AITA secretary Anil Khanna disclosed that 10,000 mini tennis rackets have been imported from China, which will be distributed to the state associations to popularise tennis among school children.

“The idea is to get the kids initiated into the game, to teach them the rudiments of the game. Twelve schools in Delhi have already adopted the scheme. Krishna Bhupathi in Bangalore, and the State associations of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have also taken steps to popularise Mini Tennis”, explained Anil.

The AITA now pins its hopes on the proposed National Tennis Academy, which is coming up on a five-acre plot in Gurgaon, to churn out quality players. Anil Khanna said the academy would be all-encompassing one, and the trainees will get the best of facilities, though the thrust would be on tennis, and not on academics.

With the Tata Group coming forward to sponsor India’s only ATP event, the $ 400,000 Tata Open in Chennai in December-January, and also a series of Futures Tournaments for Under-18 players, Indian tennis is in for a golden phase. Another good news is that the AITA has drawn up a calendar with a large number of international events and a total prize money in excess of $ 150,000, for the benefit of the boys and $ 100000 worth tournaments for girls.


Indian cricket mired in controversies
Qaiser Mohammad Ali

THE Indian cricket team has very little to look back upon in a year which was mired in controversies, poor showing and politics, the only bright spark being the Test series win over world champions Australia.

Towards the end of the year, ace leg-spinner Anil Kumble and batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar reached personal milestones that brought rare cheers.

While Kumble became the second Indian after allrounder Kapil Dev and the first Indian spinner to take 300 Test wickets, Tendulkar scored 1,000 Test runs in the year. Both landmarks came in the third Test against England at Bangalore.

The high point of the Saurav Ganguly-led squad was a stunning 2-1 series win over Steve Waugh’s Australia in February-March. After losing the first Test in Mumbai, India bounced back winning at Kolkata and Chennai to halt the Kangaroos’ record 16-Test winning streak.

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh captured 13 wickets, including India’s first-ever hat-trick in the first innings, V.V.S. Laxman cracked a majestic 281, the highest-ever individual score by an Indian, and Rahul Dravid made 180 to guide the team to its most remarkable win of the year at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

Harbhajan tormented the Australians in the next Test too, bagging 15 wickets at Chennai’s Chidambaram Stadium to end up with a series haul of 32 that proved decisive. He was named Man of the Match at Kolkata and Chennai as well as Man of the Series.

India, however, lost 2-3 the one-day series that followed the Tests.

During the year, the team went on three overseas tours, all of which turned out to be disastrous. The first was against Zimbabwe in June-July. Zimbabwe rallied to draw the two-Test series, after India won the first Test in Bulawayo - its first Test win outside the subcontinent in 15 years.

India suffered more humiliation in the one-day triangular series that followed, losing to the West Indies in the final. It was India’s seventh straight loss in the final of a limited overs tournament.

On its next assignment in Sri Lanka, India did no better. South Africa, India’s next destination, brought no change in the luck. After failing to win yet another final of the truncated version of the game, it lost the two-Test series 0-1.

The six-wicket defeat by South Africa in Durban October 26 was India’s ninth consecutive slip in the final. It was the fifth straight title match India lost under Ganguly, the sequence beginning with the ICC knock-out meet in Kenya.

India’s woes continued. South Africa thrashed the visitors by nine wickets in the five-day first Test at Bloemfontein, despite centuries from Sachin Tendulkar (155) and debutant Virender Sehwag (105).

If India managed to save the second Test at Port Elizabeth, it was because of resolute second-innings batting by vice-captain Rahul Dravid (87 in over five hours) and wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta (63 in over five-and-a-half hours). Their efforts, V.V.S. Laxman’s first-innings 89 and Javagal Srinath’s six-wicket haul meant that South African opener Herschelle Gibbs’s brilliant 196 (442 minutes, 25x4s, 1x6) went in vain.

This was the Test in which match referee Mike Denness of England penalised four Indians. IANS