test in Lahore
IN THE NEWS
Litmus test in Lahore
The new-look Indian
hockey team faces an uphill task in the Champions Trophy beginning
today, writes Prabhjot Singh
After six years, the Champions Trophy returns to its birthplace, Lahore, without one of its attractions, Australia, the only team to have participated in all previous 25 editions of the tournament.
The Champions Trophy features the world’s top six teams, competing in a round- robin format. In the absence of Australia, who pulled out due to security concerns, the Netherlands would defend their title in Lahore.
For India, the 26th edition is special as it is the first time since 1978 that the team is competing for the third consecutive year.
The new-look Indian team is without five of its stalwarts — Baljeet Dhillon, Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur Sonkhla and Jugraj Singh — who had in the last edition of the tournament at Cologne created a sensation with a splendid 7-4 win over Pakistan. Though India lost to Pakistan in the bronze medal match (3-4), yet its performance raised hopes of an Olympic medal.
The 18-member squad for the Lahore tournament is, like Athens, under the German coach, Gerhard Rach, who instead of getting impressed by veteran ‘stars’ believes in building a team from scratch.
Though new faces — Hari Prasad, Sundeep Michael, Girish Pimpale, Tushar Khandekar, Vivek Gupta, VS Vinay and Prabodh Tirkey— hold a lot of promise, the Champions Trophy is too tough a tournament for them to prove themselves as worthy replacements for those who are out of the team either due to unsatisfactory performance at Athens or on medical grounds.
After Athens, where India finished a poor seventh, it lost the eight-Test series against Pakistan 4-2 but shared the honours with Spain (1-1) in two Test matches played in Chandigarh.
"They have nothing to lose. Even if we equal our previous best of finishing third, these youngsters would have proved their worth," says team manager Jagbir Singh, holding that only worry for the team management is "injuries to some senior players which may aggravate because of the new surface at Lahore".
Both Rach and Jagbir remained tight-lipped about their strategy, which they said they would unfold only in Lahore after the tournament gets under way with their match against Spain on the opening day.
Besides the Netherlands and hosts Pakistan, the other main contender for honours would be Germany. The other participants — New Zealand, Spain and India — have never progressed beyond third position in the tournament.
Only four nations have won the trophy between 1978 and 2003: Germany (eight times), the Netherlands and Australia ( seven times each) and Pakistan (three times). India’s best showing had been a third place in the fourth edition. In the 24th and 25th editions of the tournament, India had lost the bronze medal match to finish fourth.
The 22nd Champions Trophy held at Amstelveen was the only time in the history of the competition when Pakistan did not qualify.
Pakistan won in 1978 on grass in Lahore and in 1980 at the then newly laid Astro-turf of the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium in Karachi. Subsequently, it had to wait 14 years to clinch its third Champions Trophy title, again at Lahore in 1994.
Would Pakistan make it to victory podium for their fourth time? Much will depend upon how the world’s top goal scorer Sohail Abbas clicks with his drag flicks.
The newly laid synthetic surface at the National Stadium may also play a crucial role. It has been under severe criticism from various quarters.
"The pitch is bouncy and uneven," complained members of the New Zealand team, questioning the wisdom of getting the new pitch commissioned only 10 days before the start of the tournament. As Australian technicians refused to travel to Lahore for the installation work, the job was left to the local people.
Indian players, too, are skeptical of the behaviour of the turf. "We played on a ‘virgin’ surface at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, in the seventh Test against Pakistan a couple of months ago. The pitch there, too, was bumpy and uneven," says Jagbir Singh.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has opened the proverbial Pandora’s box by its move to bring in changes in the bowling rule. The proposal to allow 15-degree flexing of the arm while delivering the ball has received bouquets as well as brickbats.
Some players, especially bowlers — both spinners as well as pacers — have welcomed the step, while others are of the view that the international body is trying to "legalise" chucking. Shane Warne has said that the ICC decision could cause confusion while his coach Terry Jenner is of the view that "a can of worms has been opened and we might have to pay a price for it later on."
The ICC’s move comes
about after a lot of research, which mainly focussed on Sri Lankan
spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. An Australian scientist, Dr Paul Hurrison,
a human movement specialist, who has also worked with Muralitharan, says
his action is not illegal even though it exceeds the 15-degree limit.
The Australian specialist has also helped England’s James Kirtley and
The bowling law has been subject to the interpretation of the on-field umpire. In certain cases at the international level, some umpires have "called" a bowler who might have passed the scrutiny of another umpire. Muralitharan is the prime example, but he is not the only bowler to have fallen foul with the authorities over his action.
India’s Harbhajan Singh had to seek international help to remove problems with his delivery action. Another Indian off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan, had to step aside prematurely from the international arena because of a suspect action while he continues to play in domestic cricket. Recently, Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar fell foul with the umpires over his action.
Going by the rule book of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Law 24.2 states that "for a delivery to be fair, the ball must be bowled, not thrown" and then refers to a note to explain what "throwing means". The note says, "a ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if, in the opinion of the umpire, the process of straightening the bowling arm, whether it be partial or complete, takes place during that part of the delivery swing which directly precedes the ball leaving the hand." Difficult to understand with all that jargon!
Using more jargon, the ICC recently issued a statement which says that "expert advice has identified that the recommended level of tolerance of 15 degrees will accommodate any straightening that is as a result of the bio-mechanical forces at work in the action".
The move to change the rules of bowling has come about with the game now using the television and computers to help enforce rules. For the past century, bending the elbow has been one of the most frowned-upon methods of cheating in the game. All coaching manuals say that no bowler should ever bend the arm while bowling. Any youngster who bends his arm while bowling is told that he is not fit to play. But now new technology has proved that certain bowlers involuntarily flex their arm during a delivery.
The new ICC law will probably put additional pressure on the already overburdened umpires. The onus for calling for no balls has shifted to the third umpire, who now has to closely watch every delivery. May be the onus for calling a bowler for "chucking", which now is left to the square leg umpire, will also shift to the third umpire.
IN THE NEWS
A couple of days before she led Russia to their first-ever Fed Cup tennis title, French Open winner Anastasia Myskina dropped a bombshell. She threatened to pull out of the team if compatriot Maria Sharapova was selected for next year’s Fed Cup.
For Myskina, the villain of the piece is Wimbledon champion Sharapova’s over-enthusiastic father Yuri, whom she has accused of being disrespectful.
Tension has been simmering since Sharapova defeated Myskina recently in the semifinals of the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles, where the former was reprimanded for a code violation for receiving coaching from her father.
"He was yelling and screaming to her and I thought he just might jump right on the court at one point," complained Myskina.
Sharapova has been staunchly defending her father, even as she claims that off court, she is friends with other Russian players, including Myskina. However, she hastens to add that "on court, it’s a totally different story because we want to beat each other."
Despite Myskina’s threat, Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev has said he would welcome the Florida-based Sharapova next season, while there have been suggestions that he should dismantle the current team and build a new one around the blonde star.
To make matters worse, there are rumours that other Russian players are jealous of Sharapova, who is hogging the limelight and overshadowing them ‘unjustly’.
For the good of Russian tennis, it is vital that things are sorted out amicably. Otherwise, Russia’s defence of the Fed Cup title next year seems to be in jeopardy.
Bowlers must deliver
Indian seamers once again failed to deliver the goods and were responsible for the defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the platinum jubilee match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. As many as 31 runs were given as extras. It is high time Indian bowlers learnt how to contain opposition batsmen. The batsmen should not always be expected to win matches. Bowlers, too, should shoulder the burden.
The Punjab football team faltered at the last hurdle as they lost the Santosh Trophy final to Kerala in New Delhi. It was a disappointing end to a brilliant run. Punjab played superbly in every game as over 20 goals were scored by them.
In the final, luck did not favour hot favourites Punjab. After dominating the show completely, Punjab lost in extra time by a narrow margin. However, despite this superb performance, it is surprising that there is no player from Punjab in the national team.
It is a pity that nothing seems to rattle Indian hockey officials although our team fared poorly this year. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) inducted some new faces but although the players were talented, they lacked field exposure.
The IHF should realise that the recently concluded hockey Test series with Pakistan was a setback for Indian hockey.