|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, September 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Are athletes ready for Asian Games?
THE Amateur Athletics Federation of India concluded its preparations for the Busan Asian Games with the National Open Athletics Championships in Delhi. It was a good idea to give the top athletes another chance to polish their performances at this juncture. It was a pity though that some of the top stars were unable to take part because of nagging injury problems.
Sunny days ahead for Indian cricket
Short shrift for hockey as cricket prospers
Are athletes ready for Asian Games?
THE Amateur Athletics Federation of India concluded its preparations for the Busan Asian Games with the National Open Athletics Championships in Delhi. It was a good idea to give the top athletes another chance to polish their performances at this juncture. It was a pity though that some of the top stars were unable to take part because of nagging injury problems. One of them, Anju George, recovering from fever, however, did take the field and managed to equal her national record of 6.74 mts in the women’s long jump.
Anju is one of the finest athletes on the Indian scene and more importantly she has proved to be a very good competitor. A little over a month ago she had testified to her skill by winning a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. She was in fact worthy of a gold there but could not reach up her own standards. Her performance in the open meet, however, should be seen as a confidence building measure in preparation for the tougher battles in Busan.
Anju George apart there was the showing of the smooth flowing Beenamol who easily won the women’s 800 metres and the confirmation of credentials by Saraswati Saha (100m, 200m) and Anuradha Biswal (100 m hurdles). There were some other notable performances too but overall the meet, if it had to be considered as a trial meet, was not very encouraging.
In normal circumstances before the switch to the new calendar year, an athletics meet in September would herald the beginning of the season. But things have changed and India has had to keep its programme in tune with the rest of the world. And this being the Asian Games here, it was all the more important that the athletes would be somewhere nearing peak performance during this period.
But somehow one gets the feeling that somewhere down the line the AAFI has erred. With rare exceptions India’s top athletes gave the impression that the season was just at the beginning and they have enough time and competitions to prepare themselves for the more important assignments. Even allowing for the extra pep for performances being accepted as an essential requirement, not only by Indian athletes but athletes all over, it is difficult to visualise the Busan bound athletics team as a bunch nearing the best form.
One of the main reasons could be that the men and women have not had sufficient international exposure to prepare themselves. This premise is built on the generally accepted theory that Indian athletes are essential training-fit but only rarely competition-fit. This is not a new belief. This point has been stressed in earlier years also.
This year the AAFI could perhaps have availed itself of the opportunities provided by the Commonwealth Games and later the Asian Athletic Championships at Colombo. In the normal course one cannot visualise India sending a fully representative team to the Commonwealth Games since the overall standard is far too high. But given the proximity of the Asian Games and the need for exposure for some of the athletes, it would have been a good thing if more athletes had been given a chance to compete in the Commonwealth Games. It certainly would have helped the quarter-milers in particular. India has four men (Ramachandran, Paramjit, Bhupinder Singh and Satbir) who have done the distance under 46 sec. It would have been a fine chance for these athletes to have get some experience, both individually and as a relay team.
The AAFI could have also used the Asian Championships in Colombo to help the athletes tone up. Instead it sent what is considered as second string. This policy is difficult to understand at this juncture. China and Japan generally do not expose their top athletes in the Asian championships and instead use it to groom their second string. India by following the same policy has rather denied itself. It has neither class not depth that Japan and China have. It is a luxury which these two countries can indulge in. But the AAFI has show poor judgement in following the example of Japan and China. In the process it has denied its top athletes of getting some much needed competition.
One sincerely hopes that despite the
lack of enough international competition and the generally lacklustre
showing in the few competitions at home Indian athletes will figure
prominently in the Busan Asian Games.
Sunny days ahead for Indian cricket
INDIA might have been forced to draw the four-match Test series against England 1-1 but their performance raises visions of better days ahead, specially after their fantastic win in the one-day tri-nation series which preceded the Test matches. Of course, a win in the Test series would have been a lovely icing on the cake but then things do not always go the way one imagines. At the end of England’s tour last winter the visitors had claimed ‘‘moral victory’’ although the series was drawn but this time around the ‘‘moral victory’’ belongs to the Indians who not only clawed back to level the series but nearly upset the applecart of the hosts with some wonderful cricket. More important, the Indians were able to draw the paying spectators back to the grounds, a phenomenon which the English authorities have acknowledged. It was the third occasion in less than two years when the Indians had won a Test but failed to grab the series in a tour outside the subcontinent.
The Indian batsmen all came good and the showing of Rahul Dravid in particular, who had a double century and two centuries against his name in the four matches, shows that in the Karnataka batsman the Indian middle order has someone who is as good as super star Sachin Tendulkar and captain Saurav Ganguly. Dravid, who has been scoring consistently in recent months, finished the series with an average of 100.33. He batted for 31 hours and three minutes, longer than the playing time for a Test. He was rightly named ‘‘Man of the Series’’ for India.
That Dravid has been able to come out of the shadow of his two illustrious team-mates behoves good for Indian cricket. The one weak link in the Indian batting was the opening slot. But the way Sanjay Bangar batted in the opportunities he got could well make him a permanent member of the Indian squad, specially as his bowling is a plus as far as the Indians are concerned. Certain critics have already compared him to Manoj Prabhakar but unlike Manoj it seems that Sanjay is not willing to let success go into his head. The Railways allrounder could well turn out to be the find of the series.
But it can be said with a fair amount of conviction that the Indian bowling attack was mainly responsible for India missing another opportunity to win an overseas series outside the subcontinent in 16 years. While the spinners did reasonably well, the medium pacers have yet to learn a lot as far as bowling out the opposition is concerned. Despite missing a match due to injury Anil Kumble emerged as the highest wicket taker of India with 14 victims, two more than off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.
The team missed the services of Javagal Srinath, who announced his retirement from Test cricket immediately after the Indians returned from the West Indies. Why he took such a step when he still had some cricket in him is difficult to answer but in his absence the three medium pacers in the squad, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar, shone only in patches. These three bowlers will have to tighten up their game if they hope to bowl out the opposition twice in every game. May be coach John Wright will have to give a pep talk to his bowlers who now know that Srinath will not come of retirement to share their burden. Skipper Ganguly did make an appeal to Srinath to consider his decision but the Karnataka bowler has insisted that he is available only for one-day matches!
Wicketkeeping is another department
where India will have to improve. Ajay Ratra, the first choice for
keeping wickets on the tour, did not impress in the first Test and his
replacement, teenager Parthiv Patel, did shine in patches but it was
apparent in the two Tests that the Baroda youngster played in that he
still has a long way to go before he can be considered a regular in the
squad. But if these two are groomed they should be able to serve the
nation for quite some years.
Short shrift for hockey as cricket prospers
IT would be fair to reckon Dhanraj Pillay and Sachin Tendulkar to be about the same height, weight and size. What if these two sport eminents were to lock horns in say, boxing or wrestling or, for that matter even athletics? Surely, the outcome of these imaginary encounters can be readily forecast by any Tom, Dick, or Harry. Few will disagree that sports is all about speed, strength, agility and endurance. Dhanraj has all these in abundance. Isn’t it paradoxical then that he hasn’t had the fame and fortune Sachin enjoys?
Sports personalities are often self-effacing and modest and Dhanraj is one such individual. He’s happy with a house and a car like any ordinary guy. He is struggling to muster funds for his hockey coaching academy. He is full of patriotic fervour and television viewers may have spotted him surreptitiously wipe a tear when the team lost — the very thought of the past defeats brings tears to his eyes.
In Dhanraj’s own words: "I hate to lose when I am wearing the India shirt"! How many cricketers have been seen shedding a tear on losing? The loss is subscribed to the pitch, outfield, the sultry weather or even Saurav’s distraction by a slight movement at the opposite end of the spectators gallery (it could actually have been a fleeting glimpse of his last night’s date for all we know).
You may recall that when the hockey team led by Dhanraj returned after winning the Asian Championships (after more than a decade), they were received at the Mumbai airport by a haunting vacant night! They hung around to be picked up on the empty airport tarmac! It is rumoured that Dhanraj was again spotted wiping a tear in secret shame. Hey, we are talking about our national game here! What happened to our sterling hockey players of yore, like Ajitpal, Leslie Claudious and many others who brought us fame with golds in world Olympics? Nobody knows — or cares ! I suspect that television’s presence then would have altered the scenario dramatically, nor would there have been such a shortfall of interest in our national game as there is today.
Cricket wasn’t even at par with hockey in the seventies. It only surged ahead dramatically after the TV sets mushroomed in the eighties which also coincided with the advent of the one-day game and our well trumpeted win at the World Cup in England. Overnight, cricketing legends like Kapil, Gavaskar and Sachin were created. The problem with hockey is that it is lacklustre entertainment on TV which is due to inadequate foresight given to its projection on the small screen. The inherent potential of hockey as an entertainer (and money spinner) on the small screen awaits to be tapped by some enterprising technocrat.
The artistic style of hockey played in the subcontinent with its delectable flicks, swerves, feints and body dodges (the kind Baskaran was famous for) if captured from close quarters would make the images as entertaining as those of football or cricket. For achieving this, special cameras will have to be stationed that can move with zip to capture the fast-paced game that uses a ball much smaller and faster than football. Perhaps shielded miniature cameras on rails and electronically controlled on the flanks of the comparatively small hockey field, and perhaps overhead too could do the trick? If accomplished, rest assured the future of field hockey worldwide and the plight of hockey players like Dhanraj would sparkle like the rising sun.
A warning for hockey team
Although India could not win any medal in the 24th Champions Trophy at Colonge, it created a lot of enthusiasm amongst hockey fans. During the initial matches, it was hoped that India would emerge at the top but luck did not favour them despite their good game. It revived the days of 1970s when Indian hockey was at the peak. The Asian Games are being held from September 29 this month in Korea. Though the Indian team looks strong, the fact that both Korea and Pakistan have beaten India in the Champions Trophy should serve as a warning.
PRITPAL Singh, Patiala
The devastating defeat of the hockey team at the hands of Pakistan was not surprising. No doubt, Pillay exhibited exemplary courage and strength in the earlier match but we have to go far. The coaches should come forward with a new strategy to neutralise and combat the tactics of Pakistan which cause dismay to us. We should not praise any player as it proves counter-productive.
P.S. CHAWALA, Amritsar
There were three glaring mistakes on the part of umpires in the match between India and Germany in the hockey Champions Trophy. The first pertained to not awarding a penalty corner when Pillay was fouled. It was inside the striking circle but the umpire gave a free-hit outside the D. The second was a foul by the German right-winger but was not shown any card. Pillay, Gagan Ajit, Prabhjot, Deepak Thakur and Jugraj put up a good fight.
P.N. MENON, Amritsar
Our boys were leading 3-1 up to the 62nd minute against Pakistan but suddenly they collapsed and conceded three goals by allowing the rivals enough space to strike. What a pity!
DR SHARDA, Chandigarh
Failure of two senior Indian cricketers, namely Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, in both the innings of the first Test at Lords resulted in India losing that Test by a huge margin of 170 runs. If a tailender like Agarkar could produce an unbeaten century on the same pitch and against the same set of bowlers there is no reason why Ganguly and Sachin should have thrown their wickets.
NATHA SINGH, Ludhiana