|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, May 11, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Death lurks in high-risk arena
Football coaching his mission
Indian hockey on slippery turf
New dimensions to Indian athletics
INDIAN athletics has always had some specialist events in which the country has managed to build itself a reputation. First there was the 400 metres, an event taken to idyllic heights by Milkha Singh. He was followed by Makhan, Jagdish and Ajmer and others. Then there was the 800 metres with the long striding Sohan Singh setting the trend and Barua and Sriram Singh imprinting it in medal terms at the Asian continental level. And lest we forget the event which dominated most, the men’s shot put. India is perhaps the only country to have placed three men on the victory podium. This was in the Asian Track and Field in the early 70s.
Shot put continues to be a preferred Indian event even today with Shakti Singh towering over a field which has some ten athletes doing around 18.50 metres and four approaching the 20-metre mark. There is both depth and quality in this event now and one can hopefully expect a windfall in performances at the Asian level in the coming years.
While the progress and the following in shot put is only to be expected as it has always been a traditionally strong Indian event, what is matter of immense satisfaction is the increase in the number of hammer throwers. This is an event which has normally not always attracted Indian athletes. Parveen Kumar, the 6ft 7in, 240 pound giants dominated the field in the 60s and the 70s. His very presence drove the others out. He was doing 60 plus ( his best was 65 plus metres) and the others were midway through the 50 metres range. Before the Mexico Olympics Parveen Kumar was even fancied as a medallist but the tall strong man lacked speed and had virtually no one to push him in the home cage. Thus for all his domination on the local front he could not match the international throwers.
Then, after a very long time, came Raghubir Singh Ball, perhaps more consistent than Parveen. Still it was a field restricted to two or three athletes. But all of a sudden things have changed now and hammer throw has become very popular with Indian athletes. Thanks to the Russian coaches and a systematic build up through camps from the junior stage, India suddenly finds itself with an embarrassing richness of hammer throwers. It is not only the numbers which is gratifying but also the quality of these hammer throwers.
The progress in this event has been amazing. The competition level has been so raised that today it is not easy to predict the winners till the last round of throws. A statistical survey reveals that at the moment there are nine athletes constantly throwing the hammer to distances of 60 metres and above and the tenth, Anoop Poonia on the verge of hitting the 60-metre mark. In fact he may well have crossed the mark during the camp at Patiala.
Leading the pack is Istiaque Ahmad of Uttar Pradesh who holds the record at 70.13 mts. Pramod Tiwari (67.35 mts), Virender Poonia (65.93 mts) and Subhdeep Singh (62.20 mts) are all established throwers and older than Istiaque Ahmad. The others are in their twenties and are expected to last another decade on the field. In addition to these lifters the Amateur Athletics Federation of India has a standby list of juniors all rearing to break into the senior company, all of them consistently throwing between 55 mts and 59 mtrs.
Apart from the systematic coaching and
training programme which has helped increase the tribe of hammer
throwers is the change in approach. So far the throwers had been
following the conventional pattern of fitness programme and throwing
technique. Now that has reportedly changed. One of the most important
lessons brought home is the need to do away with the extra turn at the
ring. Normally Indian throwers, like most others in the world, would
release the hammer at the end of the fourth turn. Now they are building
speed and power in three turns. That saves time and energy and has, it
is understood, contributed considerably in the throwers reaching out to
longer measures. Whatever the reasons what is welcome news is hammer
throw in India has both depth and quality and there is every possible
chance of the country’s athletes doing well on the Asian circuit in
the coming years.
Death lurks in high-risk arena
IT was not long ago when reports appeared in the press about the Taliban used football fields as killing grounds in Afghanistan. And it was again not too long ago when Brazil wept when the genius of ace Formula-1 driver Ayrton Senna lay shattered on the tracks of Imola (Italy) in 1998. Ayrton Senna had transformed car racing into an art when his Ferrari spun out of control at a mind-boggling speed of 340 mph. His death and that of every other sportsman who dies in pursuit of advancing his profession somehow reminds one of yet another genius, Pablo Piccaso, who once said " It must be realised that there is a price on everything we do in life-be it sport, painting or poetry. Anything of great value carries a shadow zone with it. Every positive value has its price in negative terms and anything great can never be imagined which, at the same time, is not horrible in some respect. The genius of Albert Einstien leads us to Hiroshima."
Any sporting activity also carries a shadow zone alongwith it. There is no escaping it. Boxers are being jabbed to death in the ring and Spanish matadors are getting maimed. A Japanese runner became a legend in his death. Training like a man possessed for the Seoul Olympics, Kokichi Tasaburya injured his left leg and was stunned to know that he could not make it to the Olympics. Purity of passion took over. Tasaburya cut his cartoid artery and besides his body was lying a note that read " No use living. Can not run anymore."
Basically, sport and death lie at two ends of the spectrum. Death signifies the end of life. Sport is synonymous with youthful exuberance. It is a celebration of youth, of the seemingly endless throbbing of life. Sometimes sport also acts as a ventilating channel of those turbulent times. No wonder, it is during the ‘sudden death’ shootouts in hockey and football, the tie breaks in tennis that sport is at its bustling best. Ditto for almost all other sports. In limited overs cricket, it is ‘at the death’ that the game turns irresistible, coming alive in all its dramatic intensity even as the players and the crowd die a million deaths before the chalk is finally separated from the cheese.
In the locker room just before a fight, a top class boxer might let his thoughts stray towards death. In the pits, a Formula-1 driver, like Senna, might have pondered over the capricious character of life in his adopted sport.
Noted sports writer Hunter Davies once wrote, "Once behind the steering wheel, death is a thought Formula-1 drivers throw out of the side window. Off the track they take out huge insurance policies." How true Davies was. Senna’s biography now reveals that the driver had insured himself for 5 million dollars. Perhaps, he knew it was coming.
High speed racing, bullfighting, mountaineering, rock climbing are some high risk sports where the performers are more familiar with the inevitable than players playing badminton or billiards. One wrong move in the ring, a moments hesitation hanging from the cliff, one wrong turn at 340 mph can lead a sportsman into the valley of the unknown. Yet, men who revel in such sports are adults and know what may hit them anytime.
When Senna died, there was national mourning. Trading in Brazil came to a halt and the sensex dropped sharply. There was a sense of both shock and grief. Shock not so much that a driver had lost his life-motor racing has seen more such gruesome tragedies- shock because it happened to the most gifted man ever to have tied a seat belt behind a steering wheel.
Football coaching his mission
MAHILPUR'S contribution to Punjab football is matchless. Most of the internationals who have donned India colours have sprung up from this soccer nursery. The legendary Jarnail Singh, who belonged to Panam village, learnt his basics at Mahilpur. And so did Arjuna awardee Gurdev Singh, former internationals GS Parmar and the late Manjit Singh. Among the current lot, Hardip Sangha, Hardip Gill (both JCT), Parveen Kumar, Sher Singh (Punjab Police), and midfielder Tejinder Kumar have also honed their skill on the grounds of the famous Sri Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College, Mahilpur. Among the persons who have helped catapult Mahilpur to the international stage is coach Ali Hassan, who over the years has almost become an inseparable part of Punjab’s soccer nursery.
Born on October 15,1952, at Malerkotla, Ali Hassan, son of Mohammed Yaqub, has trained countless youngsters at Mahilpur ever since he joined there as coach in1975. While other coaches have been transferred at frequent intervals, Ali Hassan has had the good fortune of sticking there continuously for the past 27 years.
Having begun his career as a player at Islamia High School, Malerkotla, Hasan went on to represent Punjabi University in the All-India Inter-University Football Championship where his team finished third. A diploma in football coaching in 1974 from the NIS, Patiala, strengthened his credentials and he was duly selected as coach by Mr Milkha Singh in 1975. Ever since he has remained at Mahilpur training youngsters, many of whom rose to don national colours.
"Over the years I have received tremendous public support. People say they will only let me go when I retire," he says. Ali Hassan has been associated with Punjab school teams who won honours in the National School Games since 1976. Punjab have so far won six gold, six silver and five bronze medals. The last gold came at Srinagar in 2000-2001.
The veteran coach accompanied the Indian team to Brunei for the Asian School Football Championship in 1995 and three members of the team were from the Mahilpur academy. He also accompanied the Indian team to Bangkok for the Asian School Football Championship in 2000 where India finished fifth.
A coach’s success is measured in terms of trainees who make it to the top and Ali Hassan can claim credit for training over 300 players who made a mark at the national and international level. Star midfielder Hardip Sangha, strikers Hardip Gill and Jaswinder, goalkeepers Arvind Kumar and Baljit (JCT), Dabara Singh (BSF), Narinder Thapa (Mohammedan Sporting) ,Yashpal (East Bengal) Parveen Kumar and Sher Singh (Punjab Police), and Tejinder Kumar( Churchill Brothers) are some of the well known faces in Indian football who have benefitted while undergoing training under Ali Hassan, for whom football has always been the first love.
Indian hockey on slippery turf
THE Indian hockey team went to participate in the 10th edition of the World Cup with a baggage of high hopes. However, they frittered away all prospects and promises at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, and returned empty-handed, with nothing to declare.
In the opening match against Japan, ‘the wizards of the orient’ walked on borrowed legs wearing ‘defeat syndrome’ caps. Within minutes they conceded a goal and one more in the 17th minute. Jude failed to stop, Jugraj couldn’t convert and Prabhjot fumbled. So did Baljit. On the whole, they played poor hockey. In frustration the coach resorted to shuffling, with no effect. The draw against Japan rubbished all the tall talk indulged by everyone from the IHF president to the manager of the team.
What followed was a string of humiliating defeats, reducing the team to a non entity, a street football every one could kick around. As the matches progressed performance of Indian team acquired a mystery that baffled everyone. Their play became more defensive; they conceded soft goals and committed silly mistakes, their form consistently indifferent.
But Cedric though blaming luck for the defeats, remained hopeful of recovering and assured the team was "well strung and the boys were in a mood to make up". Pillay called the first defeat a wake-up call. But the alarm was too feeble to take them out of slumber. Yet he said, "We are on the right track". Even after derailing!
Even after losing to Korea, Malaysia and England Dhanraj never said anything against the coaching technique of Cedric in his column (surely ghost written). After losing to Korea he said, "Our attack, not at its sharpest — our defence was sluggish and we committed elementary error... gave away easy balls and made silly error..."
On the style of play, "we are on the right track while playing attacking hockey, a style that suits us Indians most", Dhanraj had said. And when our cup of woes was full to the brim he lamented, "We have nothing left to lose as we have already lost it all in this World Cup".
When disgrace was written in the capitals on the wall and all over, Mr K.P.S. Gill panicked and found a scapegoat in Cedric lest the whole blame came on him. To add insult to injury, he did it in the midst of the matches and in a round-about way that was unbecoming of a proud cop. He could have at least invoked disciplinary action or declared fake encounter and put the guillotine.
The blame was deflected. All the guilty sighed relief. They heaped rubbish on Cedric. "His methods have been academic. He plays hockey on the black board. He is autocratic. He is unfit."
What was more, even win against Cuba — who never won against anyone, was flaunted as result of Cedric going. Kumar, the assistant coach claimed credit for the win. "He never listened to my advice," he revealed. If that was so, why didn’t he resign?
Before commenting on sacking of Cedric or coaching methods he applied, let’s see some more facts. That the Indian defence was inconsistent, the team couldn’t combine and lacked rhythm was the talk of the town. You name the shortcoming and the Indians had it in plenty. So much so the players could not even trap passes. Against Japan, Indian players sent 52 passes to rival players. They fed the opponent with 63 passes while playing South Korea and gifted 53 such blunders to Malaysia. The midfield was hesitant, unsteady and in disarray.
Now tell me, can a coach instruct players not to trap a ball or give it to the opponent? Did he tell the players to concede soft goals? Did he tell Judge to commit unpardonable errors against England? Did he conspire with Baljit to muff a stroke? No. Definitely not.
India is infamous for passing the buck when it comes to owning up responsibility for any failure or bungling. And the easy way out is to find a scapegoat. And see how we switch the argument and change our stand. For example not exposing the Indian players in to many practice sessions was quoted as a strategic ploy. But once the disaster struck we blamed the coach for not giving enough practice to the team!
Cedric’s coaching was not a secret plan. And all these worthies who shout it was not effective and appropriate should have protested and stopped him. Pillay’s volte-face is most surprising. His diatribe against Cedric puts the ace in poor light and dents his image and standing. And if Kumar was never consulted and his services not utilised, he should have simply come away.
The crux of the problem is that all the selectors, and that includes Mr Gill, are responsible for relying too much on the juniors, forgetting that junior World Cup is different from seniors’. Dhanraj’s views, "The current crop of juniors must combine effectively with seniors to score goals. — team work is lacking in us," are relevant here.
The original sin was committed by Mr Gill after the Asian Games gold, won after a gap of 32 years when he sacked six top players including, Pillay. The players gathered dust, became rusty and subdued, except for Balal who remained steadfast in his condemnation of the system. The IHF has always been inconsistent. Imagine changing eight coaches in as many years! We have experimenting even with the style of play, which in fact should be decided by the players and not the administration and not even the coach.
"We are unable to change to the European style of play," says Dhanraj. And trying to do that has been our undoing. We don’t have their speed and stride. India played 5:3:2:1 formation against England when they did show some good hockey. We should concentrate on dodge and passing and use more brains when we cannot match the Europeans in brawn.
Pakistan has brought back Shahbaz Ahmad after realising the indispensability of the brainy inner. Vasudevan Bhaskaran, the winning captain at Moscow Olympics and a victim of the IHF sacking has faith in traditional 5:3:2:1 formation that suits the Asian touch, technique and tactics. (Remember, he restored some pride in hockey at junior World Cup in 1998?) He is confident that India can once again emerge at the top provided we play traditional hockey. But let’s shed our doubts first and reaffirm our faith in it.
Of course it is easier
said than done. We should keep in mind that with the change in rules and
the playing conditions and the European players getting fitter by the
day competition too has become tougher. The coach, therefore, has to be
well versed in traditional as well as European styles, so as to
consolidate our strengths and assimilate and improve upon positive
aspects. At the same time he has to innovate newer strategies after
in-depth analyses to fox the Europeans, surprise and shock them. For
this to happen, the IHF should pick up a coach with impeccable
credentials to accomplish the task.