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Indian hockey on sticky turf again
Amardeep Bhattal
I
ndian hockey’s pace in courting controversy is something akin to the chameleon changing its colour rather frequently in consonance with its surroundings. For how else does one explain the sack of chief coach Rajinder Singh at Dusseldorf with the Olympics hardly three weeks away?

Never-say-die Devers
Vikramdeep Johal
T
he irrepressible Gail Devers has done it yet again. At the age of 37, this American sprinter-hurdler has qualified for her fifth Olympic Games. Her crucial lean at the finish line enabled her to win the 100- metre hurdles by two-thousandths of a second at the US Olympic trials. 

IN THE NEWS
The Wall stands tall
Haas has the last laugh

 
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Indian hockey on sticky turf again
Amardeep Bhattal

THOSE WERE THE DAYS
THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Rajinder Singh (right) and captain Dhanraj Pillay with other team members at the Palam airport in New Delhi after their Asia Cup victory over Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur, 2003. — PTI photo

Indian hockey’s pace in courting controversy is something akin to the chameleon changing its colour rather frequently in consonance with its surroundings. For how else does one explain the sack of chief coach Rajinder Singh at Dusseldorf with the Olympics hardly three weeks away?

The dust over the row involving the initial omission of internationals Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon had hardly settled when the Indian Hockey Federation dropped another bombshell. Germany’s controversial coach Gerhard Rach, who faced 30 criminal charges of fraud and forgery and was convicted and jailed for eight months for tax evasion, was named the chief coach while his compatriot Oliver Kurtz, a member of Germany’s gold-medal winning squad at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 who had tested positive for cocaine and was banned from the sport from October, 1995, to August, 1997, was brought in as his deputy along with former Olympian Jagbir Singh.

Rajinder’s sack, according to the IHF, was mainly due to the unsatisfactory coaching and poor performance in the Rabobank Trophy in Holland, where India finished last in the four-nation tournament. But the mute question is why take such a drastic action when the Olympics are so near ?

No doubt India fared poorly in Holland and suffered one of the worst defeats, losing 1-6 to Pakistan. But the team was practically the same which performed wonders against the same Pakistanis in the final of the first Afro-Asian Games at Hyderabad on October 31, 2003, clinching the gold with an emphatic 3-1 victory.

What has gone wrong in a short span of nine months? Is Indian hockey today a victim of whims and fancies of the national federation?

Since that fateful night at Hyderabad when members of the Indian team lifted Rajinder Singh and his deputy Baldev Singh on their shoulders following the title win, things have undergone a dramatic change.

First Baldev Singh was shown the door and Harendra Singh was brought in, only to be replaced by Jagbir Singh, and now Rajinder’s services have been dispensed with and a foreigner has been inducted to coach the team. The reasons being attributed to the frequent change in support staff hardly appear convincing.

What emerges from the whole affair is that the IHF acts with clinical precision in pursuit of its whims and fancies even if it means loss of national prestige. Sample this: In the four-nation tournament at Dusseldorf immediately after the disastrous outing in the Rabobank Trophy, India finished second behind Germany with a 3-3 draw. The officials were quick to point out that the improved showing was mainly due to the change in guard in the team management and the role of the German experts was sought to be highlighted.

This was not the first such instance. In the 2002 World Cup at Kuala Lumpur, where chief coach Cedric D’Souza was sacked midway, a similar drama was enacted. The move was planned, timed and executed to precision after the IHF officialdom made it amply clear that it was unhappy with Cedric’s way of functioning. Under Cedric’s charge, the Indian team had suffered a series of upsets in the initial stages of the World Cup. Before India clashed with Cuba, perhaps the weakest team, Cedric was given marching orders and the reins were handed over to CR Kumar, his deputy. Subsequently, India’s 4-0 victory over Cuba, which was more or less on expected lines, was sought to be projected as a consequence of the IHF’s corrective measure in removing Cedric from his post.

Rajinder Singh had proved his credentials as coach ever since he took over under trying circumstances following India’s debacle in the 10th World Cup in 2002. The historic title win in the junior World Cup in 2001 had propelled him into the realms of fame after which he guided the senior team’s destiny with dedication along with his deputy Baldev Singh, the guiding spirit of hockey in Haryana. In fact, it was Rajinder’s acceptance of the assignment and the subsequent induction of Baldev Singh as his deputy which proved to be the turning point in Indian hockey.

Under Rajinder Singh’s guidance, India won the Asia Cup for the first time last year, the four-nation tournament in Australia, the Panasonic Cup at Hamburg and the gold in the inaugural Afro-Asian Games at Hyderabad last October. The other notable achievements include victories in the junior World Cup at Hobart in 2001, Youth Asia Cup (Ipoh) in 2001 and the Akbar-el-Yom tourney in Cairo.

The humiliation heaped on Rajinder is not the first instance of the IHF acting on its whims and fancies. MK Kaushik, who had coached the Indian team to the Asian Games gold at Bangkok in 1998, was summarily dismissed.

With time running out, one can only hope and pray that the Indian hockey team now training in Germany emerges unscathed from the crisis that has gripped the squad with the challenge at Athens looming large. The youngsters do have the capability. But as Franklin Roosevelt said : "We have had the lesson before us over and over again — nations that were not ready and were unable to get ready, found themselves over-run by the enemy," the showing at Athens will be a test of the team’s preparedness, both mental and physical.
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Never-say-die Devers
Vikramdeep Johal

Gail DeversThe irrepressible Gail Devers has done it yet again. At the age of 37, this American sprinter-hurdler has qualified for her fifth Olympic Games. Her crucial lean at the finish line enabled her to win the 100- metre hurdles by two-thousandths of a second at the US Olympic trials. She won in 12.547 seconds while Joanna Hayes clocked 12.549 seconds.

Devers also stood fourth in the 100 metres race, in which doping suspect Torri Edwards was placed second. If the latter is banned, Devers will move up into the three-member 100 metres US team for the Olympics. However, Devers is keen to focus on the 100-metre hurdles, an event in which she is yet to win an Olympic gold. She has to her name two gold in the 100 metres. Devers won in the 1992 Barcelona Games and retained her title in Atlanta four years later, becoming only the second woman to do so after Wyomia Tyus. She was also part of the team that clinched the 4x100-metre relay gold in Atlanta.

Her indomitable spirit has helped her overcome many hurdles over the years. While training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, she suffered migraine headaches, fainting spells and occasional vision loss. She was detected with Graves’ disease, a chronic thyroid disorder. However, with plenty of hard work, determination and faith in God, she resumed training and regained her health.

Less than 17 months after doctors had considered amputating her leg, she won the 100-metre gold in Barcelona and was declared the "world’s fastest woman". By her own admission, the word "quit" has never been part of her vocabulary.

One hopes she makes the Athens Olympics her glorious swansong by adding the 100-metre hurdles gold to her kitty.
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IN THE NEWS
The Wall stands tall
Vikramdeep Johal

Rahul Dravid raises his batIndia again had to rely on The Wall, Rahul Dravid, to save them the blushes in the first phase of the Asia Cup. Dravid scored a fluent 104 in the first match against UAE, even as most of the other batsmen looked rusty after a three-month hiatus. In the second match, against Sri Lanka, chasing a total of 283 looked virtually impossible when India were tottering at 71 for 4. However, it was ever-dependable Dravid, ably supported by Yuvraj Singh, who brought India to just 13 runs short of the target. Rahul again was the top scorer for India with a knock of 84. Needless to say, India’s Asia Cup hopes rest on Dravid, the fulcrum of their much-vaunted batting line-up.

Tommy HaasHaas has the last laugh

Former world number two Tommy Haas of Germany defeated countryman Nicolas Kiefer 7-6 (6), 6-4 to win the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles. 

He ousted top-seed Andre Agassi en route to the final. With this victory, Haas has bagged his second title of the year after the US Clay Court Championship in Houston in April. 

Incidentally, this was the first all-German final of an ATP tournament since 1994.



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