On top of the World: Carlos Moya guided Spain to their second Davis Cup win in four years.
IN THE NEWS
It was Carlos Moya’s dream to be part of Spain’s Davis Cup winning team. When Spain pushed Australia down under at Barcelona in 2000 to record their maiden Davis Cup triumph, Moya was not around to savour the success.
Since then, he had been waiting for an opportunity to be part of Spain’s winning combination. It came his way this time and he made the most of it to guide Spain to a stunning 3-2 win over the USA 3-2 in the final at Seville.
A record 27,000 fans, including Crown Prince Felipe, heir to the Spanish throne, and his wife Letizia, erupted into frenzied celebrations at the Olympic Stadium when Andy Roddick netted a clever return from Moya in the second reverse singles to give Spain an unbeatable 3-1 lead.
Moya, a former world No. 1 and French Open champion, bested World No. 2 Roddick, the best bet the USA could offer in the absence of Andre Agassi, in two hours and 29 minutes to take Spain to a podium finish for the second time in about four years.
"For many years, this has been my goal, my dream", he said. "It’s a moment I have been waiting for, for many, many years. I don’t believe there is anything bigger than what I have lived through (in the cup clash)", Moya said.
Roddick, without being petulant, put the contest in perspective, when he observed that "Spain were better than us. They beat us. It’s as simple as that."
The USA learnt the bitter truth that being bigger did not mean better. They were gunning for their 32nd Davis Cup bowl, known as the "salad bowl", though they had had no cup triumph since 1995. And this time, they simply fell into the Spanish trap.
But the Spanish victory was not as simple as that. They had to battle with team selection before zeroing in on the right combination. A rookie teenager like Rafael Nadal was preferred over the experienced former world No. I Juan Carlos Ferrero for the singles slot. It was a great gamble as Ferrero was a key figure of the team when Spain beat Australia at Barcelona.
But coach Jorch Arrese stuck his neck out to favour current form and his gamble paid off. After Moya beat Mardy Fish in the opening singles to put Spain ahead, Nadal, who at 18 years and 185 days beat the record set by Australian Pat Cash in 1983 by 30 days to become the youngest player to don the Davis Cup cap, displayed his amazing potential to upset Roddick as Spain took an unbelievable 2-0 lead on day one.
The Bryan twins — Bob and Mike — however, saved the blushes for the USA on day two by winning the doubles, beating the Spanish pair of Tommy Robredo and Ferrero.
Ferrero only managed to hold his serve once in three sets, to prove the coach right about his form. The Bryan brothers thrived to take their cup record to 5-0 without dropping a set. Now the tie hinged on Moya’s reverse singles tie against Roddick.
Moya, basically a baseliner, took the gun shots of Roddick stoically and then charged at his opponent to wear him out systematically, albeit after a great struggle in the second and third sets, to register his first win over Roddick after three defeats.
Moya’s win over Roddick gave Spain an unassailable 3-1 lead, though Fish scored a straight-set win against Robredo in the inconsequential reverse singles match.
Spain’s victory proved that quality did not necessarily emerge from quantity. Even if the quantity was less, what mattered was quality as the two brilliant players from the Mallorca island — Moya and Nadal — bore out for Spain.
India can learn a great lesson from Spain’s triumph as the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) has been struggling to knit together a combination to build up a second line to replace Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
India, after beating New Zealand in New Zealand, lost to Japan in Japan after a gap of several years. Now they are gearing up to face China in India (most probably in New Delhi) in February-March to make yet another attempt to get out of the Asia-Oceania Group.
It was a long time ago that India figured in the elite World Group. They look wistfully at the past as an ageing Leander and Mahesh struggle to keep India’s Davis Cup flag aflutter while the new players have not blossomed up to expectation despite getting all the backing.
AITA secretary-general and executive vice-president Anil Khanna is at a loss to explain why India do not produce quality players despite spending enormous amounts on the game. Lack of commitment on the part of the younger lot, and their unwillingness to slog it out, are cited as reasons for India’s promising talents not really hitting the peak.
Here India can draw lessons from the Spanish experience. Give truly talented players their due, nurse them properly, and they will make it to the top.
Gagandeep was barely able to control his emotions at the felicitation ceremony organised by the Punjab Cricket Association. His selection to the Indian squad for the two-Test series against Bangladesh was the realisation of a long-cherished desire to be selected to play for the country. The athletic Gagandeep had been rewarded for all the hard work he had done over the years.
The selection of the 23-year-old Ludhiana player, in fact, looked logical in view of his stupendous achievement with the ball in domestic cricket.
He was the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy championship last year. He already has 25 wickets in his kitty from three matches this season, including a hat-trick against Assam in Amritsar. This was his second hat-trick in the key domestic championship.
By sheer weight of performance, Gagandeep has forced his way into the India squad.
Bhupinder Singh Sr, under whom Gagandeep developed as a seamer, says strict work ethic, dedication and determination are the qualities which have played a major role in making Gagandeep the bowler he is today.
"He started primarily as an outswing bowler. Later, he added inswing to his repertoire. He also has the ability to reverse swing the old ball. Due to this ability, he has been quite successful even on placid tracks," says Bhupinder. "If needed, he can bowl a good yorker too."
Gagandeep took a five-wicket haul in his debut Ranji Trophy match against Hyderabad. His victims included the prize scalp of Mohammed Azharuddin, whom he had caught behind the stumps.
Gagandeep, states Bhupinder , may not be an out-and-out quick bowler. Or someone having a wicked bouncer to scare the wits out of the unsuspecting batsman. But he has the ability to bowl wicket-taking deliveries. He is the type of bowler similar to Manoj Prabhakar.
His figure (144 wickets in 31 matches with 12 five-wicket hauls, nine of these on the trot) testify to his excellent strike rate.
Bhupinder further says that the 23-year-old has the right aggression needed by a pace bowler. His never-say-die spirit has stood him in good stead. Being a hard worker, Gagandeep is among the fittest players in the Punjab squad.
"There comes a phase in the life of a bowler when the ball lands where he wants it to land and it does what he wants it to do. So, better give him a break in the team when he is going through such a phase and is at the peak of his powers."
Gurminder Singh was at school when he chose to take up weightlifting. It was a bold decision as he belonged to a family of wrestlers. However, instead of forcing him to follow the family tradition, his parents and other relatives wished him success in the sport of his choice.
Living up to their expectations, Gurminder has made them proud with his achievements in weightlifting over the years.
The All-India Police Games held at Jalandhar in October saw Gurminder lift the bar above the 200kg mark in the 105+ open category, becoming the third Indian to cross the mark after Arjuna Award winners Dalbir Singh and Tara Singh.
The international weightlifter has taken the family tradition from a tiny village to new heights. Gurminder generally competes in the 105kg category. His persistent hard work as well as determination have made him the topmost weightlifter of the country in this category.
Hailing from the village of noted Punjabi poet Hasham Shah, Jagdev Kalan village, near Amritsar, his family is famous in the village for producing wrestlers.
"In my childhood, I saw wrestlers in action and visited the village ‘akhara’ with my father and grandfather," he recalls. "I developed a passion for fitness and inculcated the habit of working hard to keep myself fit and strong."
However, in his teenage he was drawn to weightlifting. While doing matriculation in a city school, he brought weightlifting equipment from the market and kept it in an empty room of his house and began practising.
His mother, Sukhbir Kaur, says that in her family only wrestling was taken up, and that too without any professional motive. Farming is the family’s occupation. "It was Gurminder’s choice to pursue weightlifting, which all of us accepted and extended full support," she recalls. According to her, Gurminder follows his schedule religiously.
A sub-inspector in the CRPF, Gurminder represented the country in the Asian Senior Men’s Weightlifting Championship in China last year. Participating in his maiden international tournament, he missed the medal by a whisker and had to be content with the fourth position. But he feels that participation helped him to evaluate himself at the international level.
Improving upon his fifth position in the 2003 SAF Games, he was the runners-up in this year’s SAF Games in Islamabad.
In the domestic circuit, he was the champion in the All-India Inter-State Weightlifting Championship for three consecutive years from 1999. His record of 185 kg in clean and jerk in the All-India Inter-University Championship in 1999 is still intact.
His father, Kulwant Singh, a farmer, is very happy that his son has made a niche for himself in sports. He feels that Gurminder has kept the family tradition alive, in a way.
His coach, Jaswant Singh Warraich, says Gurminder has been his student since he took up the sport. Jaswant has a lot of expectations from him. He admires his dedication and hard work.
Gurminder admits that weightlifting is a costly sport but he gives credit to his family for supporting him in every way. He has set himself the goal of surpassing the 202.5 kg national record in the next six months. For reaching the target, he is putting in three hours of training twice a day.
IN THE NEWS
After being frustrated by the South African batsmen in the Kanpur Test, the deadly duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh came back with a vengeance in the second Test in Kolkata to give India their first home series win in two years. Harbhajan’s 7 for 87 wrecked the Springboks in the second innings and turned India’s way a match that seemed to be heading for a draw.
Kumble, playing second fiddle for a change, ably supported the Turbanator and in the process equalled Kapil Dev’s record of 434 wickets. While Harbhajan was declared the man of the match, Kumble walked away with the man of the series trophy.
The overall performance of these two world-class spinners in the recent series against Australia and South Africa has also been commendable. Harbhajan took 21 wickets in three Tests against Australia and 13 from two matches against South Africa for a total of 34 wickets in just five Tests. Old warhorse Kumble took 27 wickets in four Tests against Australia, his biggest haul ever in a series, and 10 in two matches versus South Africa, thus accumulating 37 wickets in six Tests.
With the Indian pace bowlers being inconsistent and injury-prone, Jumbo and Bhajji remain India’s trump card(s). And they are inseparable too, despite the presence of left-arm spinner Murali Kartik.
He should have been carried off the field by ecstatic team-mates on their shoulders, not on a stretcher. He should have been jumping with joy, not lying cold in a hospital. Just when his moment of glory came, Cristiano De Lima Junior, popularly known as the "magician from Brazil", breathed his last.
India had become second home as well as a happy hunting ground for the 23-year-old Brazilian. Cristiano overtook Ghana’s Yakubu Yusif as the top scorer in the recently concluded National Football League. He set a record of scoring in the first nine matches he played on Indian soil in the NFL. He was also the top scorer for his previous club East Bengal in the Asian Football Confederation Cup.
His flamboyance and prolific scoring had made him the linchpin of Dempo Sports Club. In Indian football circles, he was regarded by many as a better striker than the celebrated import from Nigeria, Cheema Okerie.
A born-again Christian, Cristiano attributed his success "first to God and Jesus, because they are the inspiration of my life, after that to my wife and my family, and of course, my fans."
What has deepened the tragedy for his family and fans are the accusations of medical negligence and the Mohun Bagan goalkeeper’s ‘unsporting play’. However, no matter who is responsible for his death, the fact remains that a career that looked so promising was cut short.
South Africa get raw deal
The South African cricket team is not getting the respect it deserves in world cricket. The BCCI invited them for a tour of only two Tests and not a full series, and that too without any one-dayers. South Africa came to India in 2000, and even then there were only two Tests.
Agreed that the schedule was tight as South Africa are hosting England in December, but why the Australian team was given four Tests in the recent series, instead of three, considering that they had already played two three-Test series here in the past six years (1998 and 2001). Australia got to play the fourth Test probably at the expense of South Africa.
To make matters worse, a politicised selection policy is leading to the downfall of cricket in South Africa. It has been going on in that country for some years now. The racial politics has given little encouragement to this talented team. And it is a pity that the best years of these gifted players have been (and are being) sacrificed. If something is not done promptly to restore the faith of players and the younger generation of cricketers in South Africa in the system, it might go the Zimbabwean way in a few years.
Congratulations to Anil Kumble for equalling Kapil Dev’s record of 434 wickets and bagging the player of the series award against South Africa. He needs only one wicket to become India’s highest wicket taker. The way he is going on, he can play international cricket for a few more years.
The Indian team led by Sourav Ganguly also deserves praise for beating South Africa in the Kolkata Test to win the series.
GURUDEV SINGH JAIN