New innings for Alam
on a roll
Traditional rivalry apart, Indo-Pakistan hockey is clothed in a delicate fabric of friendship which has stood the test of times. The two-nation hockey series, revived after more than a decade in 1998, sought to drive home the point that foes, too, could turn sparring-partners.
It was in the backdrop of the lacklustre performances in the preceding years that the Indian Hockey Federation and the Pakistan Hockey Federation sought to revive mutual contests and gain from each other’s experience.
The 2004 series has also witnessed a spirit of bonhomie and camaraderie. The first leg played in Pakistan’s four major cities passed off without any unsavoury incident. Once again jam-packed stadiums greeted the two teams at Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Lahore. In fact it was a pleasant sight to see the Tricolour fluttering in the stands at Quetta. Many enthusiasts also waved the Tricolour to cheer good moves by the Indian players.
Indian skipper Dilip Tirkey, overwhelmed by the treatment in Pakistan, said it was a great feeling playing there. "In Quetta and elsewhere, it was nice to see people cheering us," he said adding: "It is good for hockey in the subcontinent."
However, the Friendship Series, as it is known today, came under severe stress soon after revival and had it not been for the farsightedness of the organisers and well-wishers of the game, it might have met a premature end — in 1999.
On February 20, 1999, when the Indian hockey team was touring Pakistan, the sporting ties faced the most severe test. Incidentally, on that day while India and Pakistan clashed in the seventh hockey Test at Peshawar, cricket teams of the two countries were engaged in a grim battle in the Asian Test Championship at Calcutta.
Having reached Peshawar a night earlier, I had got wind of the tension in Calcutta following star Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s controversial run-out. The following morning, which was the last day of the Asian Test Championship match at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens, cricket was being hotly discussed on the streets of Peshawar. Live coverage of the match on television and sporadic gunfire added to the tension.
As I walked down Saddar Road on my way to Peshawar’s Lala Ayub Stadium, where the India-Pakistan hockey Test was scheduled to be played that evening, I was accosted by enthusiastic Pashto-speaking youngsters, who were following the proceedings at Calcutta with keen interest. The general refrain was that the Calcutta crowd was least sporting.
A shop owner, Syed Shahanshah Jilani, had just been talking about the role of cricket and hockey in improving relations between the two countries when another gentleman, Mohammed Amin, butted in. "Look what they are doing in Calcutta," he exclaimed in an exasperated tone. Gesturing me to follow him, he turned the TV screen towards me for a first-hand account from Eden Gardens.
There it was. The match had been temporarily halted as groups of young men with no sense of history, were engaged in the common effort of subverting history. Wasim Akram and his team-mates sat in the middle after steering their team to the threshold of victory even as the crowd violence seemed to be increasing. As flames from bonfires leapt into the sky and missiles aimed at the Pakistani squad rained endlessly, the organisers ordered eviction of the spectators from the stadium, something unheard of in the annals of Indian sports. The match was later completed in-camera.
"Is this behaviour and violence justified?" asked Amin. "Your players come here and go back with a bountiful of affection. Look what our players are getting – missiles and abuses," he said.
Contrary to expectations, the atmosphere at Peshawar’s hockey stadium was relaxed although discussions centred around the happenings in Calcutta. The jam-packed stadium in the backdrop of Jamraud hills reverberated with cries of joy and every single move from either side was applauded. With Pakistan trailing 1-2 , the odd bottle-thrower did give vent to his feelings but a mild appeal by skipper Atif Bashir was enough to restore calm in the stands.
At the end of the contest, incidentally won by India, there were hardly any bitter feelings. The forced eviction of spectators from the Eden Gardens was being condemned. "Why should such an eventuality arise when sports is a means to bring people closer," asked some.
Others felt a sporting gesture like recall of Tendulkar by Akram after the controversial run-out could have strengthened the bonds of friendship. Some cursed Akram for his interest in clinching the rubber.
At Rawalpindi’s Army Hockey Stadium it was the same story. People had forgotten the Calcutta happenings and had come in droves to watch the eighth hockey Test. The Director, Schools, Rawalpindi, Mr Talib Bokhari, revealed that Pakistanis in general were happy when India won the Asian Games gold at Bangkok. After all,we are part of the same continent, he said. The Indian team was repeatedly applauded for the fightback and received a standing ovation. Lahore was a similar experience with the then Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, driving to the stadium to cheer the players.
An ugly turn at the conclusion of the 1998 series also threatened to jeopardise the hockey ties between the two countries. The first leg of the series, incidentally drawn, which ended at Karachi on March 7, nearly ended on a sour note but for timely intervention of the former PHF president, Mr Akhtar Rasool. With India beating Pakistan 2-0 to square the series, the announcement that the Habib Bank Trophy was being awarded to the hosts on better goal average came as a surprise to many of those present. can they do this when the series has been drawn," asked many in the Indian camp. However, Olympian Akhtar Rasool over-ruled PHF secretary Mudassar Asgar’s contention and said the trophy would be shared.
The match also witnessed stone pelting
by a section of the crowd but soon after the tie ended, damage-control
exercise was launched with members of the Pakistan hockey team offering
heartfelt apologies to the Indian team.
New innings for Alam
The Punjab Cricket Association wanted to do it with a bang. The performance of the Punjab Ranji squad, not on the upswing, was not going downhill either. Hiring of a prominent or a foreign coach was on the agenda for the past one year.
The PCA wanted to do something different. In fact, it was out to stage a coup of sorts.
The recent series against Pakistan presented it with an opportunity. Not the one to let it go, the PCAtop brass rushed to Pakistan. A meeting was arranged with the charismatic Imran Khan.
The PCA was on the lookout for someone great. Peerless Wasim Akram would have been a prize catch. Unable to rope him in, the PCA set its sights on Aquib Javed. But when they stumbled upon redoubtable Intikhab Alam no time was lost in clinching the deal.
After Punjab won the Ranji Trophy under Bishen Singh Bedi in 1992-93, team performance had remained steady. Under Bhupinder Singh the team made the semifinal grade twice — in 1998-99 when they lost to Karnataka and in 2000-01 when they came unstuck facing an inspired Zaheer Khan at Baroda. The last year they were denied an entry into the semifinal by Mumbai, the eventual champions.
"It is a historic occasion for the PCA," gushed Mr ISBindra, PCAPresident, while announcing the joining of Intikhab Alam as coach-cum-manager of the Punjab Ranji squad to the media. Big occasion it indeed was.
Punjab has emerged the first state in the country to have a foreign coach. Intikhab had also handled Pakistan’s World Cup-winning team. Besides, the former Pakistan chief national selector had also been involved with the West Indian cricket as well as English county Surrey.
During interaction with the media after his arrival in Mohali, the former Pakistan skipper looked like a person well aware of the expectations and responsibilities he faced.
Intikhab said, "There is no dearth of talented cricketers in India or Pakistan. If there is a regular exchange of visits by cricketers of the two countries we can achieve wonders.
"There is no place for being No 2. You have to be No 1," he stated. He dwelt at length on mind games the Australians love to play. "You need to have complete knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of each and every player of the rival team. If vulnerable, disintegrate him mentally. It will only benefit the team." This is the theory Intikhab believes in. Stressing upon the importance of discipline, Intikhab said in order to give their best to the team discipline was of foremost importance. "They (the players) must know the value of adequate sleep and proper food. Minor niggles heel naturally during sleep. They should be equally concerned about the upkeep of their tools and behave like professionals."
In an unprecedented gesture, the government of India has granted Alam an unrestricted visa, enabling him to travel through the country.
Welcoming the increasing interaction in various fields Alam felt interaction between cricketers of both countries would benefit the teams immensely.
Rishu Thakur, adjudged the best athlete in the Himachal Pradesh Inter-district Middle Schools Athletics Tournament, could be a future star for the state. A student of class VIII at Government Middle school, Sarahkker, in Hamirpur district, 13-year-old Rishu was the best in the under-16 category.
She won the 100m and 200m sprints with new meet records, running barefoot. Her times were even better than the senior category.
Rishu was first spotted by her aunt Veena Thakur, a former national hockey player, and her husband Bhupinder Singh, an athletics coach. The couple brought Rishu to their house, where she started training.
In 2002, Rishu finished fourth in the primary schools meet at Nadaun, after which she felt disheartened. However, Pushpa Thakur, Himachal’s best athlete, took her under her wing. Last year she won the 200m at the middle schools games at Chamba.
Her coach, Bhupinder Singh, is optimistic about his ward’s performance in the coming years.
on a roll
Chandita Kamboj started playing roller hockey four years ago when she was 11. Four years later she stole the limelight from her team-mates at the world championship.
The high point of the Indian roller hockey team during the seventh World Women Roller Hockey Championship held at Wuppertal, Germany, last month was Chandita Kamboj.
Chandita had to her credit all the four goals scored by the Indian team in its five matches. At 15 she was already an experienced hand. She was the only player in the team with the experience of having played in a world championship earlier. She had participated in the world championship at Pacos De Ferrera, Portugal in October 2002.
A student Blue Bird High School, Panchkula, Chandita also participated in the Asian championship held at Akita, Japan, where India had won the bronze medal.
She won the skating gold medal at the National School Games in December 2000. Later she won gold medals in national skating meets held at Faridabad and Vishakhapatnam in 2000 and 2001, respectively, besides winning the gold medal in the 2002 National Games.
Besides roller hockey, Chandita also plays cricket. She has participated in the U-19 North Zone Women Cricket Championship held at Sangrur last year as well as the National Women Cricket Championship.
Ganguly’s bowler howlers
The Indian team, of late, has suffered a number of defeats in tournament held in Sri Lanka, Holland and England. The latest defeat was against Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy. It seems captaincy has gone into the head of Saurav Ganguly. He was out for a duck as opener in the opening over itself. Such a bad shot is avoided even by school boys. He could not deploy bowlers to the best advantage of the team. His field placings were too erratic. He took charge of bowling himself around the middle overs fruitlessly. Had he deployed Yuvraj Singh from that stage, it would have not been possible for Shahid Afridi to tilt the match in favour of Pakistan in the slog overs.
NATHA SINGH, Ludhiana
The Indian skipper has blamed poor form of his top-order batsmen for the team’s dismal run in the last few months while maintaining that Dravid was the best person to keep wickets in one-day internationals. Out-of-touch Sehwag needs to change his approach a bit in one-day cricket to strike form again. It does not matter whether Dravid keeps or Sehwag bats at number six or Yuvraj opens.
It is the team which needs to be built up for which every individual should be batting or doing things which are good for the team. Fresh from a good show at the ICC Champions Trophy, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh served a warning to Australia saying he was looking to recreate the magic of 2001 in the upcoming Test series.
PRIXIT SHAKYA, Shimla
The Champions Trophy held in England has proved that cricket to unpredictable. The Indian team lost because of poor batting. Sehwag, Yuvraj, VVS Laxman, and Rohan Gavaskar did not show their worth. We have a good new crop. Why not select the second best team to replace the ageing players?
PROF Y.L. CHOPRA, Bathinda