SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
S P O R T S

Paes-Bhupathi duo lifts Toronto Masters crown
New Delhi, August 2
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi marked their reunion after a gap of more than two years by winning the doubles title at the $ 2.5 million ATP Tennis Masters Series in Toronto, Canada, last night.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes hold up the trophy after winning the doubles final at the Tennis Masters Series in Toronto on Sunday Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes hold up the trophy after winning the doubles final at the Tennis Masters Series in Toronto on Sunday.
— AFP photo

Federer enters record books
Toronto, August 2
Roger Federer captured his eighth title of 2004 and earned himself a spot in the tennis record books alongside Bjorn Borg with a victory at the $ 2.56-million Masters Series.  




Roger Federer of Switzerland looks up through the trophy as he hoists it after his 7-5, 6-3 victory over Andy Roddick of the USA in the final match at the Tennis Masters Series Canada Tournament in Toronto on Sunday. — AP/PTI photo
Roger Federer of Switzerland looks up through the trophy

Plan to choke Indian batsmen clicked: Atapattu
Colombo, August 2
Sri Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu has said that his plan of choking the Indian batsmen and curbing run flow worked “brilliantly” during their 25-run victory in the final of the Indian Oil Asia Cup cricket tournament here last night.


Lindsay Davenport smiles as she holds the trophy after beating Anastasia Myskina of Russia at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad
Lindsay Davenport smiles as she holds the trophy after beating Anastasia Myskina of Russia at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., on Sunday. Davenport won the final match 6-1, 6-1.
—AP/PTI

EARLIER STORIES
 

Dropping Kumble was a wrong decision
T
he defeat against hosts Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final on Sunday will give rise to many questions about the Indian team management. The team think-thank will also have to face the harsh realities of cricket.

Videos:
Indian cricket board chief blames poor form for team's defeat. (28k, 56k)
Cricket fans disappointed as Sri Lanka lifts Asia Cup. (28k, 56k)
Ludhiana page: Cricket fans disappointed over India’s defeat

3 Lankans fined for foul language
Colombo, Aug 2
Sri Lanka’s Upul Chandana, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara have been fined for using obscene and abusive language during their team’s Asia Cup final victory over India. ICC match referee Mike Procter called a disciplinary hearing today after the players’ behaviour was reported by umpires David Shepherd and Billy Bowden.

Bob has brought discipline: Shoaib
Colombo, August 2
New Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer has received the thumbs-up from fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar after the team’s Asia Cup campaign. “He has certainly brought about a positive change in the team. There is now more focus on cricket and related issues,’’ Shoaib told Reuters.

Asian Cup Soccer
China wary of dangerous Iran

Beijing, August 2
Playing on home ground in front of massive support, a steadily improving China needs every advantage it can get in its Asian Cup semifinal tomorrow against Persian Gulf powerhouse Iran. Dutch-born coach Arie Haan’s team have looked stronger with every game of the 16-nation tournament that began July 17. But it will need to first puncture Iran’s surging confidence after the past champions’ 4-3 defeat of highly favoured South Korea on Saturday.



China's goalkeeper Li Jian (L) and striker Hao Haidong chase a loose ball during a training session in Bejing on Monday. China plays Iran in the semi-final of the Asian Cup in Beijing on Tuesday. —Reuters photo
China's goalkeeper Li Jian and striker Hao Haidong chase a loose ball during a training session in Bejing on Monday.

With prayer on their lips Indians wait for Athens
New Delhi, August 2
A podium finish after a gap of five Olympics would be what every Indian be praying for when the eight-time gold medallists start their hockey campaign in Athens, putting behind the controversies in the run up to the mega event.

Stint in Europe very useful: Shirur
Mumbai, August 2
Air Rifle shooter Sumar Shirur has returned home for a short break after a 20-day training stint in Europe, which she termed as highly satisfactory, before embarking for the August 13 to 29 Olympic Games at Athens.

Indian paddlers aim to break new grounds
New Delhi, August 2
Even as medal prospects look dim, Indian table tennis stars Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das are hoping to break new grounds in the Athens Olympics by making it past the preliminary group stage in a discipline where none of their compatriots have so far been able to clear the first hurdle in the quadrennial games.

British boxer fights lonely battle
Paris, August 2
Amir Khan is Britain’s youngest Olympian in Athens. He will also be the loneliest being the only boxer from his country to qualify for the Games. The 17-year-old lightweight faces a huge battle if he is to achieve his dream of bettering his hero Muhammad Ali’s feat, who won Olympic gold at the age of 18.

Hisar athletes overall winners
Mandi Dabwali, August 2
Securing the highest 301 points teams from Hisar emerged as the overall winners in the concluding day of the 19th Haryana State Junior Athletic Championship. Athletes from Bhiwani got second position, securing 183 points.

Brazilian players celebrate with their trophy after beating Italy in the women's volleyball World Grand Prix final in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy Brazilian players celebrate with their trophy after beating Italy in the women's volleyball World Grand Prix final in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, Sunday. Brazil beat Italy 3-1 and won the Grand Prix. —AP/PTI

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Paes-Bhupathi duo lifts Toronto Masters crown

New Delhi, August 2
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi marked their reunion after a gap of more than two years by winning the doubles title at the $ 2.5 million ATP Tennis Masters Series in Toronto, Canada, last night.

Paes and Bhupathi, world number one pair at their peak in 1999 when they won the French Open and Wimbledon titles, defeated Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Belarussian Max Mirnyi 6-4 6-2 in the final.

After going down a break in the second game, the ‘Indian Express’ bounced back with a double break in the third and seventh games to take the first set. The pair gained a break in the very first game of the second set before extending the lead to 5-2 with another break in the seventh to wrap up the title.

It was the 23rd title for Paes and Bhupathi together and their fifth Masters title. Interestingly, their first title came at the same venue seven years ago.

Individually, it was Bhupathi’s 36th career title and Paes’ 30th. Bhupathi was also the defending champion, having won last year with Mirnyi.

The duo ran into fine form in the tournament that saw them gobble up three top-10 pairs — including Mark Knowles of Bahamas and Canadian Daniel Nestor — on their way to the title and the win should make them a strong contender for the Olympics gold at Athens in a fortnight’s time.

The Toronto win gives the duo 500 ATP points each and will push Paes upto Number 20 on the doubles entry ranking. Bhupathi’s ranking will stay at his current Number 5.

Mirnyi, who won the US Open doubles crown with Bhupathi in 2002, caused a flutter when he said at the presentation ceremony, “Congratulations to the dark boys over there!” But Paes diffused a potntially explosive situation with his sense of homour: “Max, this is North America. I can probably sue you for discrimination.”

The Indian duo will not proceed to Cincinatti in the USA where they play another Masters event before flying to Athens for the Olympics beginning on August 13. — PTI

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Federer enters record books

Toronto, August 2
Roger Federer captured his eighth title of 2004 and earned himself a spot in the tennis record books alongside Bjorn Borg with a victory at the $ 2.56-million Masters Series.

The Swiss world No 1 performing to perfection on his country’s national day yesterday, needed less than 90 minutes to defeat Andy Roddick 7-5, 6-3, duplicating his Wimbledon final victory over the American.

The win left Federer with a 57-4 record for the season, including 23 match wins in a row. He also became the first player since Borg in 1979 to win three titles in a row on three different surfaces — grass, clay and hardcourt.

In his four-tournament winning streak, Federer’s last three came at Wimbledon (grass), Gstaad (clay) and Toronto.

“Bjorn Borg is my hero,” said the 22-year-old. “I’ve met him once, and I’d like to do so again. He’s a great player and a great person. This is something for the history books.”

Federer admitted that he was exhausted after another trophy-lifting performance, with more challenges looming in next week’s follow-on Masters Series in Cincinnati and then the Olympic Games in Athens.

“The tournament is over, and I’m relieved,” he said. “It’s all over and I can relax for a day. I’m very surprised that I won. I came here hoping to get through the early rounds, I was just hoping to get my feel back for the game. — AFP

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Plan to choke Indian batsmen clicked: Atapattu

Colombo, August 2
Sri Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu has said that his plan of choking the Indian batsmen and curbing run flow worked “brilliantly” during their 25-run victory in the final of the Indian Oil Asia Cup cricket tournament here last night.

“We knew 229 is not easy to achieve as it was a difficult wicket. We prevented them from getting runs of the fast bowlers. We knew it will be difficult to score of spinners. The plan worked brilliantly,’’ he said after the match.

He said they were keen on getting Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket. Sachin top scored for India with 74 before being bowled by T.M. Dilshan as the eighth batsman when the score was 147.

To a question, he said he was happy that the team met the expectations of the people by winning the tournament. In Sri Lanka expectations were high and reaching finals was not sufficient for them.

Asked whether he was disappointed with the team score of 228, he said, “Both yes and no. Yes because people thought it was a 260-plus wicket. But no because it was slow and not easy to bat on.

He was happy to have won a title on home soil. However, Atapattu said he cherished the series win in West Indies against the hosts. — UNI

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Dropping Kumble was a wrong decision
Javagal Srinath

The defeat against hosts Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final on Sunday will give rise to many questions about the Indian team management. The team think-thank will also have to face the harsh realities of cricket.

The Indian team that came back from the death on Tuesday was viewed as a resilient side only to be proved wrong on Sunday. While making an honest assessment about themselves, it is important for them to take into account the growing worthiness of the Sri Lankan cricket as well. Today, the Indian team members must stand up to take the responsibility and accept the defeat.

But the amendments that the team would be doing in terms of chopping and changing the players have to be closely monitored. Any defeat would call for some drastic measures. There are experts who may come out with some strong opinions. But one should not give too much importance to these alarmists and rather look for more positive solutions that would help the team do better.

After the fall of Sangakkara’s wicket, the hosts could manage only 70 odd runs for the last seven wickets. It indicates that the dropped catch of Sangakkara proved too costly for the Indians.

In any match, the horses for the courses remain the basis of selecting the team. On a square turner at the Premadasa Stadium, there was not much to differentiate between a regular off spinner like Harbhajan Singh and the non-regulars like Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar. The way Sachin bowled his leggies would have made Shane Warne watch him in awe.

But it also leads to the debate whether excluding Anil Kumble out of the playing eleven was the right decision. Skipper Ganguly had somehow reposed more confidence in the combination of three seamers and one spinner. It works well in most parts of the world. But the last ICC Cup in Sri Lanka provided ample evidence why the team could have relied more on spinners. After all, the team calling the coin right always holds the advantage in these grounds. I think the team management should have done their homework better.

Sunday’s match reminded me of the 1996 World Cup semi-final in Kolkata. We hoped to win as long as Sachin was there at the crease. The Indian batsmen have only to blame themselves for the defeat. It only required a game of singles and twos to win the match.

The Indian batsmen should have realised that scoring shots would be dangerous on such tracks. The focus from ones and twos shifted to the scoring shots because of some acrobatic and agile fielding by the Lankans. It was the Sri Lankan fielding that really put the pressure and forced Indian batsmen to commit mistakes.

Yuvraj and Kaif always come at the crucial stages of the game. They can only do their job better if the top order batmen have laid the right platform. Blaming Kaif for his dismissal is not the right way to assess his efforts.

It is natural to see the positive side and ignore the blunders when the team wins. Similarly, a defeated side mostly fail to see the positives and get too immersed in their own cup of woes. Indians must be serious about Balaji and proper care should be taken to improve his fragile confidence. The youngster should also take lesson from Pathan’s progress to sustain himself at the international level. And, Virender Sehwag by now, I am pretty confident, must be doing some introspection about his own batting.

The Indian team has some time before they embark for the tri-series in Holland. The time is ripe for the team to make the necessay corrections. — PTI

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3 Lankans fined for foul language

Colombo, Aug 2
Sri Lanka’s Upul Chandana, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara have been fined for using obscene and abusive language during their team’s Asia Cup final victory over India.
ICC match referee Mike Procter called a disciplinary hearing today after the players’ behaviour was reported by umpires David Shepherd and Billy Bowden.

Shepherd was forced to step in after Sangakkara exchanged words with India batsman Mohammad Kaif and later became embroiled in a heated row with India spinner Harbhajan Singh.

Procter found the wicketkeeper guilty of a Level 2.9 offence under the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct and fined him his entire match fee.

Sangakkara’s offence, which could have resulted in a suspension, refers to the use of ‘’language that is obscene, offensive or of a generally insulting nature’’ to another player, official or spectator.

Chandana and Dilshan were fined 50 per cent of their match fees after being found guilty of a Level 1.4 offence which deals with the more general use of offensive language. Sri Lanka won the match by 25 runs. — Reuters

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Bob has brought discipline: Shoaib

Colombo, August 2
New Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer has received the thumbs-up from fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar after the team’s Asia Cup campaign.
“He has certainly brought about a positive change in the team. There is now more focus on cricket and related issues,’’ Shoaib told Reuters.

Pakistan won four out of five games in the Asia Cup, including a victory over India, but missed out on a place in the final by failing to earn a bonus point.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) brought in Englishman Woolmer, a former coach of South Africa, to replace Javed Miandad after a home series loss to India in April.

“I think the positive results will come soon but it will take some time. Bob has already got discipline in our nets, training and during matches,’’ Shoaib said.

Pakistan next play a triangular one-day series in the Netherlands against India and Australia followed by the ICC Champions Trophy in England.

Pakistan host Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in October before setting off for a full tour of Australia.

“Woolmer knows there is a lot of talent in our team and he wants to blend this with discipline in our performances,’’ Shoaib said. “His style is very professional and he knows what he wants to achieve. I think after one tournament every one of us is also aware what is expected off us.’’ — Reuters

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Asian Cup Soccer
China wary of dangerous Iran

Beijing, August 2
Playing on home ground in front of massive support, a steadily improving China needs every advantage it can get in its Asian Cup semifinal tomorrow against Persian Gulf powerhouse Iran.
Dutch-born coach Arie Haan’s team have looked stronger with every game of the 16-nation tournament that began July 17.

But it will need to first puncture Iran’s surging confidence after the past champions’ 4-3 defeat of highly favoured South Korea on Saturday.

“We are in good form and we have the total support on home soil but they are dangerous for sure,” Zheng Zhi, who scored two goals in China’s 3-0 drubbing of Iraq on Friday, said in the eastern city of Jinan where the semifinal is to be played.

Defending champions Japan, who defeated newcomer Jordan on penalty kicks on Saturday, meet surprising minnow Bahrain in the other semifinal in Beijing tomorrow.

Iran won the Cup — Asia’s premier soccer tournament — in 1968, 1972 and 1976. Coach Branko Ivankovic said he intended to update that winning record.

“Iran did not come to lose. We came to win the title for the first time in thirty years and all things being equal, we will be playing in the finals Saturday,” the Croatian-born Ivankovic said.

Iran will look to the scoring ways of forward Ali Karimi, who scored a hat-trick against South Korea and is tied with South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook for the most goals in the tournament with four. The team will also benefit from the return of defenders Rahman Rezaei and Ali Badavi who were given two game suspensions for slapping each other during an argument in the team’s group round match against Oman.

Although Iran started the tournament looking shaky, they have since scored nine goals and conceded five, battling to a 0-0 draw against Japan in the group round.

China have given up just two goals while scoring 11.

“We have real confidence in ourselves,” Haan said. Japan survived a tough match against debutantes Jordan in its quarterfinal, winning 4-3 on penalties after the match ended 2-2 in regulation time. The drama was interrupted after Japan missed its first two shots when the referee accepted Japanese skipper Miyamoto’s request to move the shootout to the opposite goal, a controversial decision that the Asian Football Confederation defended in a statement today.

“After the second kick from Japan, the referee realised the penalty spot was uprooted and, therefore, the spot was not suited for subsequent kicks to be taken,” AFC referee inspector Mohd Nazri Abdullah said.

“Changing sides during a penalty shootout is completely within the jurisdiction of the referee,” Abdullah said.

Japan has had to contend with Chinese crowds who have cheered on its rivals and booed Japan at every opportunity — even during the pre-game playing of Japan’s national anthem. Chinese resentment over Japan’s World War II invasion of much of the country is kept constantly fresh by Communist Party propaganda.

Japan’s Brazilian-born coach Zico has said the jeering only spurred the team to fight harder, although he criticised Chinese fans who booed during the playing of the national anthem.

Bahrain, also coached by a Croat, Srecko Juricic, is the semifinals dark horse, having not played in an Asian Cup in 16 years. The team fought to a 0-0 draw against China in the tournament opener.

“The Asian Cup has created a huge amount of interest in Bahrain and people have gone out on the street to show their happiness after each success,” team manager Abdul Razzak Mohamed Abbas said. Representing a nation of just 600,000 people, Bahrain also had to endure a penalty shootout in its defeat of Uzbekistan on Friday after the match ended in a 2-2 draw in regulation time. — AP

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With prayer on their lips Indians wait for Athens

New Delhi, August 2
A podium finish after a gap of five Olympics would be what every Indian be praying for when the eight-time gold medallists start their hockey campaign in Athens, putting behind the controversies in the run up to the mega event.

The team, desperate to set things in order to recapture lost glory, is arguably the best bet to win a medal for the country, which has for long starved of laurels at the Games.

But it is unlikely to be an easy outing for the side that has of late struggled to live up to its potential, which led to many questionable changes being effected by the Indian Hockey Federation.

The shocking removal of Rajinder Singh as chief coach and installing the team’s first-ever foreign coach — Germany’s Gerhard Rach — at the eleventh hour has put a serious question mark on India’s performance at Athens.

The first Olympics in the new millennium provides the best opportunity for the former champions to again stamp their superiority in the game despite some below-par performances in the last one year.

But if India were to collect one of the two slots for the semi-finals from Group A, they have to perform a few notches higher and to upset either the defending champions Holland or the strong Australians.

Besides beating either the Dutch or the Aussies, India also need to win all their other clashes against former champions New Zealand, South Africa and the upredictable Argentina, who seem to be performing a shade higher than the Indians in recent times.

But things seem a little difficult for the Indians going by their performance in the recent past.

After managing to earn a berth for the Olympics finishing fourth behind Pakistan in the Madrid qualifying tournament in mid-March this year, the team’s performance in Azlan Shah tournament and the four tours abroad for multinational tournaments have been pathetic.

The recent shows were a far cry from last year as the team won four titles, including the Asia Cup. It gained an automatic berth for the 2006 World Cup and won 14 matches from 26 games against 12 countries. The team kept up the momentum by ending the year beating Pakistan in the final of the inaugural Afro-Asian Games.

But that was India’s last title win before the start of a lean patch for the team which began with a home series loss to Holland, poor placing in Madrid, losses in Australia and last-place finish in the Rabobank Trophy in Amsterdam.

The thrust in India’s attack is transparent as Dhanraj Pillay, Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur, besides Prabhjot Singh have been proficient with their individual brilliance, though undoubtedly both Pillay and Gagan would be marked closely.

Thakur, who was the highest goal scorer in the Madrid qualifier with seven compared to Gagan’s six, has been in some good nick. Veteran Baljit Singh Dhillon and newly capped Adam Sinclair are expected to add venom to the attack.

Scoring goals would be meaningless, if the defenders and the goalkeeper do not raise their game to guard the gains.

Much would also depend on captain Dilip Tirkey, who has played in more than 315 international matches, as the team would heavily rely on him to organise the defence.

He must work in tandem with the strong mid-field consisting of Viren Rasquinha, Vikram Pillay and Ignace Tirkey.

On paper, the Indian team is one of the best balanced sides on par with favourites like the Netherlands, Australia and Germany. As for the other teams, Pakistan would be banking heavily on the goal scoring abilities of penalty corner expert Sohail Abbas to return home with a medal.

European champions Germany, ranked on top in the FIH world ranking, had reached three finals for two silvers (1984 and 1988) before winning the title in 1992 Barcelona Games.

The Australians have never been their happiest at the Olympics despite for many years being touted the pre-Games favourites.

Surprisingly, the most feared team in the world since the eighties has never won a gold and this would spur the Aussies to break the jinx this time around.

A medal at Greece for the English will help them revive the heady moments they enjoyed winning the gold at Seoul in 1988.

Netherlands, consistently ranked among the world’s leading nations, had a dismal Olympic record — just a silver and two bronze medals since the second world war. But they ruled the roost in the last two Games beating Spain 3-1 for the gold in Atlanta and managed to oust Korea (3-3 and 5-4 in tie breaker) in Sydney.

The football crazy Argentina regularly produce sides which promise much but rarely earn any rewards beyond their continent. But when things work their way, their game is an impressive mixture of South American flair with European ruggedness. Grouped along with India, they are expected to at least finish above the bottom four.

Spain, having played in 12 Olympics, are in Group B along with Korea, Germany, Pakistan, Britain and Egypt. They usually look capable of doing great things but crumble all too often.

The third country from Asia, Korea, is the dark horse amongst the dozen teams in Greece. Form book predicts that they would be a serious threat to teams like Germany and Pakistan in Group B and are capable of causing an upset or two.

South Africa, New Zealand and Egypt are unlikely to finish on the podium, but no team can afford take these sides lightly in the high-profile competition. — PTI

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Stint in Europe very useful: Shirur

Mumbai, August 2
Air Rifle shooter Sumar Shirur has returned home for a short break after a 20-day training stint in Europe, which she termed as highly satisfactory, before embarking for the August 13 to 29 Olympic Games at Athens.

The shooter, who is based in Panvel, nearly 50 km from here, was also happy that the Sports Authority of India has sanctioned her the cost for training abroad, which she was apprehensive would poke a hole in her pocket to the tune of Rs 7-8 lakh.

“I am very happy and satisfied with my training stint in Austria and some neighbouring countries. More important was the presence of (Hungary-born) coach Laszlo Szucsak during the stint. He was there to tell me where I was going wrong. Having him with me at the training camp was very important,” Suma told PTI today.

Suma said the training stint included friendly matches with over 60 shots each in the preliminary stage and some finals too to compete under pressure from the rivals, which is generally lacking when she trains at home.

“At home, I am hardly under pressure, but there I had to perform under some pressure which was very important. There were shooters from Austria, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark and I trained at four different ranges with electronic targets. It was a very good experience and a good tune-up for a major event, like the Olympics,” Suma said.

“It was a good chance to test my skills in the presence of other top shooters. I came up with some good scores of 598, 597, 594 over 60 shots and 104.2 and 104.3 in the finals. In Athens, we would be shooting over 40 shots (in preliminaries of 10-m air rifle),” she said.

“At this point of time I am very confident after the training stint. I will be focusing on my technique now. I am hoping for the best (in the Olympics) and will give it my best shot,’ the Air Rifle shooter said. Suma said she had every intention of interacting with Laszlo in Athens when he comes there as Japanese team coach.

“I will certainly try and do so,” she remarked. About the funding from SAI, she said she had got an assurance from SAI before she left for Austria.

Suma said she was hoping to leave for the Games after a short break. “But I don’t know my travel details yet and awaiting the same (from the authorities in Delhi),” she said. — PTI

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Indian paddlers aim to break new grounds

New Delhi, August 2
Even as medal prospects look dim, Indian table tennis stars Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das are hoping to break new grounds in the Athens Olympics by making it past the preliminary group stage in a discipline where none of their compatriots have so far been able to clear the first hurdle in the quadrennial games.

Sixteen years since table tennis made its maiden run in the Games in Seoul, 1988, Chetan Baboor continues to be the only Indian to have won matches in his group, though he too fell by the wayside before reaching the knockout stage.

With the Olympic record giving little hope, Sharath and Mouma are pepping themselves up by drawing inspiration from India’s - as well as their - scintillating display this year in the international arena.

National title holder Sharath had a good outing at the Qatar world championship where he won five of his six matches.

But his career graph soared high at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship in Kuala Lumpur where he claimed a double crown, playing a key role in India’s first ever men’s team gold in the meet before defeating compatriot Soumyadeep Roy to clinch the men’s singles honours.

On the other hand, 20-year-old Mouma gained entry into the Games by humbling a Chinese girl at the Beijing qualifiers to finish tenth and contributed significantly in Kuala Kumpur as the Indian team culled a bronze before she paired with Poulami Ghatak for another bronze in the doubles. She was also a vital cog at the world championship, where the Indian eves scripted history by picking up the gold in the second division to gain entry into the premier tier for the first time.

“Olympics is a tough competition. But I am confident that if I can cross the first round then I will do well. I only hope I get a good draw in the group league,” said Mouma, who has been practising for six hours a day under Chinese coach Yin Wei here. Sharath, on the other hand, was aiming a top 16, and even a more ambitious, first eight finish.

“I know its tough. But I am trying for that. I have been working for six hours daily,” the unassuming player, who has his father Srinivas Rao as coach, told PTI from Chennai.

Table Tennis Federation of India President M C Chauhan was, however, candid about the chances of the two singles players at Athens.

“If they manage to clear the group, that in itself will be a very big achievement. But that also won’t be easy, as the standards in the Olympics is very high,” Chauhan said.

It was in Atlanta eight years back that Baboor raised the bar by becoming the first Indian to win a match in the Olympics, and went on to win two more in Sydney.

However, Poulami Ghatak, the other Indian competitor in the 2000 Games, returned winless.

“She suffered as she did not get to play international tournaments ahead of the Olympics. But I have taken part in four international events,” said Mouma, Poulami’s close friend and twice national champion.

As part of last minute preparations, both Mouma and Sharath are making good use of video technology to rectify their shortcomings and also assess where they stood in comparison to the big guns.

Meditation is also part of daily routine for both.

“I think, besides physical fitness, we Indians lag behind the Chinese and the Europeans in terms of mental toughness. So, I’m also concentrating on positive thinking,” Sharath said.

But with the prospects not looking as rosy as one would have liked ahead of the Athens mega show, where does Indian table tennis go from here? Sharath seems to have the answer. — PTI

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British boxer fights lonely battle

Paris, August 2
Amir Khan is Britain’s youngest Olympian in Athens. He will also be the loneliest being the only boxer from his country to qualify for the Games.
The 17-year-old lightweight faces a huge battle if he is to achieve his dream of bettering his hero Muhammad Ali’s feat, who won Olympic gold at the age of 18.

That’s because the undisputed king of the 60 kg division is Cuba’s Mario Kindelan, world champion and the gold medallist from Sydney in 2000. But the boy from Bolton, whose cousin Sajid Mahmood made his international cricket debut for England this summer, is not fazed.

“I know about Mario Kindelan but I think he’s beatable,” said Khan who will become Britain’s youngest Olympic boxer since Colin Jones in 1976 and is fighting in a lightweight category where former champions have included Oscar de la Hoya and Pernell Whitaker.

“I’ve also seen a couple from Asia and Africa and they have looked good but I think I will be alright against them and beat any of them.”

Khan, the son of a Pakistan-born scrap metal merchant and who booked his place in Athens by winning the Strandja Cup in Bulgaria in April, is not short on confidence.

Originally, the British Amateur Boxing Association did not want him to try for the Games fearing he was too young (he is still not old enough to fight in the country’s amateur championships).

However, Khan responded by threatening to box for Pakistan instead if he wasn’t allowed to compete under the British flag.

Khan has also had his Athens build-up disrupted by seeing his regular coach Mick Jelley banned from his corner as rules state only one designated coach is allowed.

That honour goes to Terry Edwards, the head coach of the British amateur boxing team.

“Mick can’t come in my corner in the Olympics because he’s a domestic coach,” said Khan.

“It’s the biggest tournament I’m going to be in so he was a bit upset and so was I. But he’ll be in Athens and hopefully I’ll see him before I go in the ring.”

Britain won one gold in the ring in Sydney in 2000 through Audley Harrison’s super-heavyweight victory - but at least he had company with the team boasting two fighters in the tournament.

Light-heavyweight Courtney Fry also made the line-up but lost in the first round. Lonely Amir will be hoping for a lot better. — AFP

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Hisar athletes overall winners
Tribune News Service

Mandi Dabwali, August 2
Securing the highest 301 points teams from Hisar emerged as the overall winners in the concluding day of the 19th Haryana State Junior Athletic Championship. Athletes from Bhiwani got second position, securing 183 points.

In the three-day athletes meet, championship as many as 16 new state level records were set by winning Hisar teams. Mr D.S. Dhesi, Commissioner and Secretary, Sports and Youth Welfare, presided over the function and gave away the prizes.

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 BRIEFLY

Pak beat India in SAARC golf
Lahore:
A three-member Pakistani team beat India 2-0 to win their maiden SAARC golf championship title in the final of the sixth edition of the event at the Royal Palm and Country Club here.
The host team, comprising Shahid Javed Khan, Aimal Zaman and Vaqas Ahmed, came up with a brilliant show to win the best-of-three match finals yesterday. Shahid earned the lead for the hosts beating Jaskirat Singh Dullet in the first final by a lead of two holes. Top Indian in the tournament Simarjeet Singh put up a better show and drew with Vaqas in the second final. Finally it was Pakistan skipper Aimal who beat Manav Das by a two-hole lead in the crucial third finals to take Pakistan to victory. The Bangladesh team won the third prize while favourite Sri Lanka finished poor fourth. — UNI

Boxing nationals
Hisar (Haryana):
Arrangements have been finalised to stage the 51st Senior National Boxing Championship which open at the Mahabir Stadium here on the evening of August 3.
Over 300 boxers, coaches and officials from all over India are likely to take part in the six-day championship. The pugilits of the country will vie for honour for 44 modals in the 11 weight categories. A spokesman of the organising committee of the championship said today that teams from Punjab. Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chandigarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Nagaland, Orissa, BSF, GSCB, Assam Rifles, Railways and host Haryana, etc, are taking part.— PTI

Laloo’s incentives
New Delhi
: Taking a lead in announcing incentive for sports fraternity, the Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav on Monday announced complimentary First AC rail pass for life to medal winners in the coming Olympic Games to be held in Athens from August 13.
All those who win gold, silver or bronze medals for the country in the Olympic Games would be entitled to avail of First AC pass along with one companion for life, a Railway spokesman told UNI. Incidentally, the Railway Ministry is the first department to take such morale boosting step for the sportspersons of the country. — UNI

Satta racket
Jaipur:
Police on Monday claimed to have busted a satta racket running into Rs. 2.50 crores on Asia Cup final with the arrest of six persons.
Police party raided a posh hotel here and nabbed six persons, including alleged gang leader Rakesh Modi, taking bets during the final match between India and Sri Lanka in Colombo last night, Superintendent of Police Sanjay Agrawal told reporters. Besides betting slips, 11 mobile phones, same number of land line phones, a computer, a TV and a recording device were also seized from satta operators, he said. — PTI 

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