SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Huddle in a muddle
Fitness problems, inconsistent form and frequent chopping and changing have taken Team India to a new low, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
Fitness problems of key players, poor team selection, pitches not made to order and the weather all conspired to take Indian cricket to a new low. Sachin Tendulkar, skipper Sourav Ganguly, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh missed crucial matches due to one injury or the other, even though the cricket board is spending money by the bucketful on fitness specialists, physios and doctors for the team.

Viswanathan Anand helped India finish sixth in the Chess Olympiad, their best-ever show.Viswanathan Anand helped India finish sixth in the Chess Olympiad, their best-ever show.Making the right moves
M.S. Unnikrishnan
Viswanathan Anandís heroics in the Chess Olympiad took India within striking distance of a medal. India put up their best-ever show in the Olympiad at Mallorca, but missed the medal bus as the other players could not measure up to Anandís standard.



Viswanathan Anand helped India finish sixth in the Chess Olympiad, their best-ever show.

Shammi is an exponent of taekwondo, a non-graded sportNon-graded sports get raw deal
Neeraj Bagga
Players pursuing sports under the gradation system enjoy benefits by the state government while those practising
non-graded sports are left high and dry. One per cent seats are reserved in educational institutes and for jobs for players of graded sports.


Shammi is an exponent of taekwondo, a non-graded sport

IN THE NEWS
Braveheart Butt
Vikramdeep Johal
H
e was playing his first match against arch rivals India, and that too at the Eden Gardens before a mammoth pro-India crowd. To make things even more difficult, he had to contend with cramps.

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Huddle in a muddle
Fitness problems, inconsistent form and frequent chopping and changing have taken Team India to a new low, writes Abhijit Chatterjee

Fitness problems of key players, poor team selection, pitches not made to order and the weather all conspired to take Indian cricket to a new low. Sachin Tendulkar, skipper Sourav Ganguly, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh missed crucial matches due to one injury or the other, even though the cricket board is spending money by the bucketful on fitness specialists, physios and doctors for the team.

To make matters worse, the skipper declared himself unfit just before the start of the third Test against Australia at Nagpur, after being involved in a running feud with the curator for preparing a pitch on which he thought there was too much grass. Nobody is doubting Souravís injury but it would have been much more graceful if he had declared himself unfit a day before so that stand-in captain Rahul Dravid could have prepared himself better.

Although the fissures in the Indian team have not surfaced, straws in the wind suggest that members of the team are no more united. And the recent 1-2 defeat against Australia in the four-Test series as also the loss in the platinum jubilee match against Pakistan has made the division in the team all the more sharp.

The much-famed Indian batting line-up failed to click time and again against an Australian pace attack which was consistent rather than hostile as the visitors notched up their first series win in India after nearly 35 years. And when Pakistan beat India yet another time this year at Kolkata, there was very little that the team management could do to bolster the playersí low confidence.

The one major problem of the team, which boast of a world-class middle order (it is a different matter that it failed to deliver time and again in the series against Australia) is the opening slot. The selectors tried all sorts of combinations without being able to settle on any one pair: If it was Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag in the first Test, it was Yuvraj Singh (an acknowledged middle-order batsman) and Sehwag in the second and again the Chopra-Sehwag combination for the third. For the fourth Test, Sehwag partnered Gautam Gambhir. None of the combinations clicked, barring the century which Sehwag scored in the second Test at Chennai.

Another area of concern for India is the job behind the stumps. Parthiv Patel, who has been given enough opportunities to prove himself, played in the first three Tests in spite of a string of poor performances before Dinesh Karthick replaced him in the Mumbai Test. Dinesh did a fair good job both behind the stumps as well as in front.

Inexplicably, the wicketkeeping job in the platinum jubilee match was again given to Dravid even though time and again he has said that he is not interested in doing it. The argument given both by the selectors and the captain is that playing Dravid as a keeper allows the team to play an extra batsman. But if six batsmen cannot deliver in a one-day tie, then even seven cannot do as was seen, not for the first time, at Kolkata.

Anil Kumble was included in the list of 14 but not played against Pakistan. A player of the class of Kumble with over 400 Test wickets under his belt cannot be treated the way Sourav is treating him. This will certainly do no good to the spirit of Team India. Photo: Reuters


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Making the right moves
M.S. Unnikrishnan

Viswanathan Anandís heroics in the Chess Olympiad took India within striking distance of a medal. India put up their best-ever show in the Olympiad at Mallorca, but missed the medal bus as the other players could not measure up to Anandís standard.

Anand has been on a roll well before the Olympiad. And he has maintained his form ever since the gruelling and tiring Olympiad. He played like a "fresher" to lift the Corsica Masters Rapid Tournament title in Buslia for the fifth time in a row, just two days after the Olympiad.

Anandís collection of trophies over the past few months include the tournaments at Wijk Aan Zee and Dortmund, the rapid titles of Melody Ambers and the Mainz Classic. These wins have pushed Anand closer to the Chess Oscar.

Anandís presence in the Indian team for the Olympiad was an elevating experience. But the gap between Anand and the rest was very wide. Anand played as well as it was expected of him. But the others did not.

The Indian men finished sixth in a field of 128 nations ó a remarkable jump from the 29th slot they had occupied at Bled in 2002. Indiaís previous best was the eighth slot in 2000.

Anandís fine display helped him earn a couple of rating points, taking him closer to the 2,500 mark. Only two Russian Grand Masters have achieved this feat before ó Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

Missed chances cost India dear at Mallorca. The players also got tired of the exhausting experience as the Olympiad stretched them beyond the limit of endurance. India beat Armenia and USA, but lost to powerful Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Cuba. Anand was happy that "overall, we played well".

He admitted that the Olympiad was gruelling and long...and it was a fortnight of tough contests. "The schedule was crowded, too," he noted.

But the Mallorca experience would stand the Indian players in good stead in the next Olympiad in at Turin, 2006. Fifth-seeded India won five matches, after playing against nine of the 10 toppers. Only champions Ukraine had to encounter such tough opposition, and emerge unscathed.

Second seeds Ukraine won the menís title while China emerged triumphant in the womenís section.

The Indian women lost to England 1-2 to take the ninth position. It was ironical that China beat India 2-1 to consolidate their position, and then went on to win the crown.


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Non-graded sports get raw deal
Neeraj Bagga

Players pursuing sports under the gradation system enjoy benefits by the state government while those practising non-graded sports are left high and dry. One per cent seats are reserved in educational institutes and for jobs for players of graded sports.

One non-graded sport is taekwondo. Despite putting years practising the game, Shammi, a 26-year-old international player, canít get the benefits enjoyed by other sportspersons.

He took to taekwondo after watching the game in early high school. Before that he was interested in karate. He had won gold medals at the All India Full Contact Karate Championship in 1995 and National Karate Championship in 1996.

Thereafter, he switched over to taekwondo. Shammi was in the squad for the 13th Senior World Taekwondo Championship in Poland in 2003. In all, 47 countries participated in the championship and India stood seventh to qualify for the next world championship to be held in Germany in 2005.

Shammi feels saddened that ĎĎendeavours of sportspersons practising certain games are acknowledged while other games have not been given due recognition.íí Son of a dhaba owner, he invested his fatherís savings to pursue his passion.

Harinder Singh Malhi, District Sports Officer, says the department keeps on incorporating new games in the gradation list. This year nine games ó rowing, softball, netball, roller skating, canoeing, powerlifting, body building, yachting and golf ó have been added to the gradation list.

Veteran sportspersons feel that one per cent reservation is too little, considering the number of players. They are of the view that it should be restored to its earlier proportion of two per cent.

A large number of promising players are unaware of the gradation system. They learn about it when their chances of changing to another sport became limited.


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IN THE NEWS
Braveheart Butt
Vikramdeep Johal

Salman Butt He was playing his first match against arch rivals India, and that too at the Eden Gardens before a mammoth pro-India crowd. To make things even more difficult, he had to contend with cramps. Yet 20-year-old Salman Butt defied all odds to score his maiden hundred that took Pakistan to victory ó their fourth in succession over India.

True, he was dropped by Yuvraj Singh off Irfan Pathan on 29, but he capitalised on this slip-up by showing maturity much beyond his years.

Butt remained unbeaten on 108 off 130 runs, surpassing by a mile his previous best of 57 against Sri Lanka in Lahore in October. He was involved in two big partnerships ó113 with Shoaib Malik and 98 with skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq.

In the 28th over, he got cramps and had to return in pain to the pavilion. However, this amazingly determined young man came back with a bang to complete his hundred and hit the winning run.

It wonít be easy for him to come up with another innings like this, but he seems capable of proving that his great knock was no flash in the pan. Photo: Reuters


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SPORTS MAIL

Indian spinners entrap Aussies

Australiaís dream of a 3-0 victory over India failed to materialise at Wankhede Stadium as India registered a stunning 13-run victory in the fourth and final Test. Thus they salvaged some pride after having lost the four-match series. In fact the spinners made the all-conquering Aussies bite the dust. They spun a web to trap the Aussies. Harbhajan, Kartik and Kumble made them bleed profusely. Consequently they had no option and folded up for 93 in almost 31 overs. All was well that ended well for India who rejoiced over their stupendous victory but truly speaking, it was the substandard pitch, not fit for a Test match, on which 40 wickets fell in a little over two days, which made Indiaís task easy.

TARSEM S. BUMRAH
Batala

Select fairly

In order to improve the performance of the Indian cricket team, the selection of players should be fair. Boys from villages should be given a chance to prove their worth. Boys from a rural background have immense stamina. The team should have an efficient psychologist who can boost the morale of the players. Players should play for the country and avoid pursuing personal records. Indian players do not appear flexible on the ground. Hard work, tough training and right approach are the need of the hour.

SANJAY KUMAR
Shimla

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