Singh is King
for makeshift keeper
mid-life blues for this runner
IN THE NEWS
only saving grace
Singh is King
Vijay Singh's rise to the pinnacle of the game will have surprised none of his peers because he has been widely regarded as the best player in the world for at least the last 14 months.
The workaholic Fijian, who officially replaced Tiger Woods as world No 1 on Monday, has clinched 10 PGA Tour titles since the start of 2003, including his third career major at last month's US PGA Championship.
His three-shot victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship at the Tournament Players Club of Boston lifted his 2004 earnings above the $7 million mark.
Remarkably, that eclipsed his previous best of $7,573,907 last year, when he ended Woods's four-year reign as the PGA Tour's leading money winner.
Singh (41) has made no secret of his desire to dislodge Woods as the game's leading player, although on occasions the ambition got in the way of his tournament success.
''It has been my goal and I wanted to be No 1 before I finished playing competitively,'' said the Fijian of Indian descent whose name means 'victory' in Hindi.
''It was my goal at the beginning of last year and the beginning of this year, as well.
''But it kind of interfered with my play. I was too concerned about that and I wasn't focused on what I was supposed to do.
''So I totally refocused myself and said: 'Well, let's not worry about the world ranking. If I play well, win tournaments, it will happen'.''
That strategy has finally worked and there will be very few players who will begrudge the hard-working Fijian, who has plied his trade across the globe since turning professional in 1982.
He clinched his maiden professional title at the Malaysian PGA Championship in 1984 and has gone on to win in England, France, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Spain and the USA, among many other countries.
Since starting out as a club professional in Borneo, Singh has been a byword for dedication and once memorably warned a caddie that he opened up and closed the practice range, routinely hitting 500 balls in a day.
Not surprisingly, until he employed his current bag carrier Dave Renwick of Britain, not many were able to take the pace.
For several years, Singh was a leading drawcard in Europe. He won his first European title at the 1989 Volvo Open and two years later clinched the Scandinavian Masters and Lancome Trophy, ending the season a career-high sixth in the money list.
However, the lucrative pickings and higher quality of the US PGA Tour were a bigger attraction for him and he has played a full tournament schedule over there every year since 1994.
His breakthrough at the highest level of the game came in 1998, a closing 68 earning him a two-shot victory in the US PGA Championship at Sahalee.
Major No 2 arrived two years later when he beat Ernie Els by three strokes in the US Masters but Singh failed to add to his major tally over the next three seasons, despite several close calls.
His putting, he felt, was his Achilles heel and he became the only top player on the PGA Tour to use a belly putter.
Never in doubt, though, was the quality of his game and he proved that with a rich vein of form in 2003, winning four times.
''I don't think I've had this kind of performance ever,'' Singh said of his golden run. ''It's been going on for a long time — I just hope I don't wake up from this dream.''
His only problem in 2003 related to the media, and he refused to speak to US reporters following his criticism of top women's player Annika Sorenstam being invited to challenge the men at the Colonial tournament in May.
Although this should not have been a factor, it might have gone against Singh in the balloting for the 2003 PGA Tour player-of-the-year award, where he was edged out by Woods.
However, all that is now behind him. If his game was mightily impressive last year, it has been even better in 2004.
He completed a run of 12 consecutive top-10 finishes on tour with victory at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February, and has since added a further four titles.
He described his play-off victory in last month's US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits as his sweetest moment.
''I think this is the biggest accomplishment of my whole career,'' he said, after edging out Americans Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco over three extra holes.
''Coming back from a belly putter and winning two in a row, I never thought at any stage that I was going to come back and putt so well so quickly and win golf tournaments.''
Singh switched back to a conventional blade from a belly putter in late July, going on to win the Buick Open and the US PGA Championship in his next two starts.
Even sweeter, he is now the world No 1. — Reuters
for makeshift keeper
"Take wicketkeeping gloves off him and let him concentrate on his batting," fumed Ravi Shastri after India crashed to a humiliating defeat against England in the second match of the NatWest Trophy.
The former Indian captain turned commentator, was livid at continued use of Rahul Dravid as wicketkeeper. Keeping, he felt, had started affecting his batting adversely. Uncharacteristically the vice-captain had taken the aerial route early in the innings. Dravid's batting was weighed down by additional burden of keeping, was the analysis.
Dravid has shouldered the responsibility in one-dayers for two years now. The Karnataka batsman said during the Asia Cup camp in Bangalore that India should consider a specialist keeper for long-term prospects. Dravid had made it clear that wicketkeeping did not come to him naturally and he took it as a challenge.
However, Sourav Ganguly, who favours Dravid as keeper, shot down the proposal, for the sake of "team balance".
"If Dravid doubles up as a wicketkeeper batsman, it serves the team purpose well... If we find someone as good as Dravid for the job, we will consider the option," was Ganguly's retort.
Before the start of the NatWest Trophy matches, Ganguly had said that Dinesh Karthick would play only if Dravid was injured.
When Karthick finally got the opportunity in the inconsequential last match, the diminutive keeper showed his class, effecting an "out-of-the-world" stumping to dismiss Michael Vaughan, who almost put England on the victory path. An irregular wicketkeeper could not even have thought of such an attempt. Debut performance of the 18-year-old Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper would have done a world of good for the confidence.
No other team in the world has a makeshift wicketkeeper. Adam Gilchrist, Mark Boucher, Moin Khan and Tatenda Taibu are all excellent wicketkeepers as also talented batsmen. If India does not have a wicketkeeper-batsman of such calibre it does not imply that team's most dependable batsman has to take up the dual role. Moreover, Dravid has not done the job even at state-level.
The arrangement is fine for a short term as was the case in the World Cup. For the sake of 'team balance' Dravid stood behind the wickets. If it continues for a long period it can prove counter-productive, as Dravid's recent batting performance has shown. Besides, it is a disincentive to young and talented wicketkeepers like Karthick, MSDoni or Parthiv Patel, who undergo the grind in domestic cricket with dreams of donning the national colours.
mid-life blues for this runner
Time is his watchword, fitness his mantra. Come rain or shine, he rarely misses his daily two-hour practice. A veteran athlete who has distinguished himself in national as well as international meets, Amarjit Singh seems free of physical and psychological problems that afflict people in the middle age.
Even at 52, he looks youthful.
Born in Salaudi village, near Khanna, in 1952, Amarjit was inspired by the runners at village fairs. At college, he excelled in the Panjab University meet, winning four gold and one silver. For his performance, he received the university colours and a scholarship. He also represented PU in the inter-university athletics meet in Hyderabad, 1975-76.
Marriage and a job in the Department of Food and Civil Supplies made him rearrange his priorities. Nevertheless, motivated by wife Narinder Kaur and daughter Rupinder, he resumed competitive running in 1995. He was fourth in 400m at the Asian veterans meet, 2000, in Bangalore. At the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, he was placed fifth.
Presently posted as Inspector in the department at Fatehgarh Sahib, Mohali-based Amarjit laments that he has not been able to participate in several meets abroad due to financial constraints. "Neither the government nor the veteran athletics association is bothered about sponsoring our foreign trips," he says, stating that his medal haul would have been much higher had he taken part in these competitions.
He managed to go to Holland for the 10km Leiden Marathon last year thanks to his close friend H.S.Aujla, who resides in that country. His desire to go around the world on a peace mission has not been fulfilled due to paucity of the thing that makes the world go round — money.
He is also not happy about the lack of interest of the media as well as the public in veteran athletics. Most of his colleagues, he claims, are unaware of his achievements. "Cricket is the darling of the masses. Even average cricketers perhaps get more publicity than outstanding athletes like Anju George. And veteran athletes are regarded as nonentities." He thinks the Indian media should take a cue from BBC and British newspapers, who recently saluted the indomitable spirit of Fauja Singh, the nonagenarian "marathon man".
Amarjit’s concerns are not confined to athletics alone. It pains him to see able-bodied village youths falling prey to drugs. "There is so much sporting talent in rural Punjab, but it is getting wasted," he says, adding that deaddiction campaign must be intensified to wean away youngsters from drugs and channel their energies into pursuits like sports. Truly a good Samaritan, he has donated blood several times.
These days, he is preparing for the World Masters meet to be held in Edmonton, Canada, next year. More than winning or losing, it is the experience of running with his peers from different lands and the challenge of keeping himself fit that matter to him. An optimist to the core, he intends to keep pegging away at realising his world tour dream. And also to keep running....
IN THE NEWS
It is not every day that world records are broken but Yelena Isinbayeva is making a habit of going against the norm. Every time she picks up a pole to compete, she vaults to a new high.
In two months she has
raised the bars five times. She has been in sublime form this season. At
Athens she left the field gasping, easily pocketing the gold medal. Not
content with breaking the record before and during the Olympics, she
jumped to the new record of 4.92m at the Golden League meeting in
Brussels. Besides the record,
She is now the unquestioned queen of pole vault. Like the legendary Sergei Bubka she competes against herself and the bar, breaking her own records.
Rathore only saving grace
It was a pity to watch the dismal show of the Indian contingent in the Olympics. The contingent consisting of 76 members cost the exchequer more than Rs 100 crore. Such a performance by our sportsmen hurt every Indian. Instead of improving, our performance has declined. Everyone has to be blamed for the debacle. This obviously includes the selectors, coaches and politicians. It is indeed shameful that our country does not have a single gold medallist.
Hats off to Major Rathore who won a silver in shooting. He was the only saving grace in Athens.
The key to produce top-class athletes lies in tapping talent at the school level.
MAJOR M.L. BATURA (RETD)
As usual the Indians would have returned empty handed from Athens Olympics had Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore not won a silver medal in men’s double trap shooting. Earlier all the blame was put on the government for not giving sufficient funds. This time, this was not the case. About Rs 100 crore was spent but the result was the same.
There is no dearth of talent. What is required is selection of players at a younger age, extensive training and fair selection. Up to some extent, players are also to be blamed. It has been seen that once a player gets a medal in the Asian Games or Commonwealth Games, he stops taking pains.
Players also feel that all games, except cricket, are being treated as second-class games. Many top players have said that they would make their children cricket players and not hockey or football players. Now even NRIs have started criticising cricket. In fact, cricket has been commercialised. Big business houses are only interested in advertising cricket for their own benefit.
ARJUN S. CHHETRI
System to blame
I sympathise with our sportspersons who time and again face harsh criticism over dismal performance in the Olympics.
The fault is not of our players. The performance of our athletes is up to the mark with respect to their own level but is not sufficient when it comes to international arena. India has the potential. All that is required is modification of our outlook and standards.