IN THE NEWS
leads the way
LEANDER Adrian Paes has done it again for India. The 5-0 whitewash of Uzbekistan in the Asia-Oceania Group I second round tie has taken India a step closer to a berth in the elite World Group of the Davis Cup tennis tournament.
Leander made light of his 31 years, and an incredibly low singles ranking of 1074, to crush the hopes of the teenage Uzbek team on the scorched grass court of the Jai Club, and set India up for a World Group playoff after a gap of two years. India will take on Sweden in a tough away playoff.
Leander, who last played a singles match in the Chennai ATP Open in January, took the calculated risk of playing himself in the singles against Uzbekistan, by making the difficult choice of benching the better-ranked Harsh Mankad (245). But Harsh is not a natural on grass, though the Jai Club court, with uneven bounce, and grey patches all over, was an apology for a grass court. In hindsight, Leander made the right decision as India sewed up the tie in two days to take an unbeatable 3-0 lead.
Playing the sheet-anchor role in the Davis Cup for the umpteenth time, Leander seized the ‘home advantage’ to sweep aside the Uzbeks, who had found the broiler-like weather in Jaipur too hot to bear, coming as they did from the cool climes back home.
Leander beat Uzbek No. 1 Farrukh Dustov in straight sets, after weathering some early hiccups, while Prakash Amritraj consolidated a dream start by pipping Denis Istomin in straight sets, as India led 2-0 on day one.
Then Leander and Mahesh Bhupathi, once the No. 1 doubles pair in the world, who now pair up only for national duty like the Asian Games, the Olympic Games and the Davis Cup, teamed up to post a quick doubles victory against Istomin and Murad Inyatov in a business-like, no-frills three-setter to give the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead. It was the 17th Davis Cup doubles victory posted by Leander and Mahesh, which is the best record for any pair.
With the tie firmly tucked away in the Indian pocket, Leander could have played for personal glory as he was on the threshold of scoring his 75th Davis Cup victory, had he opted to play in the reverse singles. But he chose to field Harsh instead, as the team interest was paramount in his mind. He had also committed to Harsh that he would be given a chance in the reverse singles if it was a ‘dead’ rubber.
Leander stuck to his word, and Prakash and Harsh scored regulation victories against Dustov and Istomin, respectively.
Though the reverse singles were only of academic interest, Prakash and Harsh played with grit and determination to carry forward their good work against China (India won 5-0) in New Delhi a few weeks earlier. Prakash’s fourth consecutive singles victory in Davis Cup bodes well for the Indian team as the long search for a second solid singles player, to shoulder some of the burden of Leander, seems to have finally found an answer.
Prakash’s serve-and-volley game seems to be what exactly India are looking for in a singles player, and coupled with his positive attitude, Vijay Amritraj’s son is all set to make a long journey on the Davis Cup road.
With Harsh also coming of age as a Davis Cup singles player (he has now played in 10 Cup matches) — hard courts being his forte — the Indian captain has the option of fielding any of the three for the singles. Leander sees Prakash as a good doubles prospect too, who, in the coming years, will be groomed to don the mantle of Leander. The captain’s intention is to inject depth into the team.
The Jai Club has been a happy hunting ground for the Indians as they have beaten the likes of South Africa, Holland, Indonesia and now Uzbekistan here. Paes, whose Davis Cup journey began at the centre court of the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association in 1991, when he was fielded in the doubles tie by the then non-playing captain Naresh Kumar, has not looked back since. He is now four wins shy of Ramanathan Krishnan’s record of 50 Davis Cup singles wins.
In 37 Davis Cup ties, Leander has scored an incredible 74 wins, with India emerging victorious on 25 occasions.
His infectious enthusiasm for Cup play keeps the young brigade motivated to record exciting wins, after a few forgettable outings in the not-too-distant past when they had struggled to come out of the Asia-Oceania Zone.
GOOD start, ordinary finish — that sums up Arjun Atwal’s performance in the Zurich Classic in Lousiana last week. After leading the field at the midway stage, Atwal faltered in the last two rounds to end up tied fifth. Still, it was his second-best finish of the season on the US Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, following his tied second finish — an all-time best — in the BellSouth Classic last month.
It was also a superb comeback for the 32-year-old Indian after his 55th-place finish in the recent Houston Open. Atwal’s showing in Lousiana was all the more commendable since the field included world number one Vijay Singh and US Masters runner-up Chris DiMarco. While DiMarco was joint third, Vijay finished a poor tied 21st.
Atwal began with a bang, firing seven-under 65 and four-under 68 in the first two rounds, but carded one-over 73 in the last two. Had he remained consistent throughout the tournament, he might have pipped eventual winner Tim Petrovic to the post.
The BellSouth Classic in April was another case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for the 32-year-old, who turned professional in 1995. In the 54-hole event, Atwal began badly with five-over 77, but fought back with 67 and 64 in the next two rounds to enter a five-way playoff between winner Phil Mickelson, Rich Beem, Brandt Jobe and Jose Maria Olazabal. He was eliminated on the first extra hole, but the tied-second finish was the best of his career so far, bettering the solo sixth place at the 2004 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro.
Atwal already has recorded seven international victories — the 1995 DCM Open, 1997 Classic Southern India Open, 1999 Wills Indian Open, 2000 Hero Honda Masters, Star Alliance Open, 2002 Carlsberg Malaysian Open, and the 2003 Caltex Singapore Masters.
Atwal has several firsts to his credit. He was the first Indian to join the PGA Tour after his tied seventh finish at the 2003 qualifying tournament. He also became the first player on the Asian PGA Tour to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 2003. He achieved the feat with a one-stroke victory in the Hero Honda Masters on home soil. In 2002, he became the first Indian, and only the fourth Asian, to win on the European Tour when he registered a five-stroke victory in the Caltex Singapore Masters.
With such a track record, and on
current form, a maiden victory on the US PGA Tour doesn’t seem to be a
pipe dream. Watch out Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal
is fast stealing the limelight from you two.
WHEN Jose Mourinho introduced himself to English football as the "special one" last June, he met with scepticism, even mockery.
This upstart from Portugal with his smooth Euro wardrobe, brooding good looks and gift for one-liners would never cut it in the toughest league in Europe.
After all he had never succeeded as a player, the league he had dominated with Porto was second tier and wasn’t his 2004 Champions League triumph something of a fluke?
By taking Chelsea to their first title in 50 years, Mourinho has proved those English sceptics emphatically wrong, though the "arrogant" epithet has stuck through a turbulent season marked by clashes with soccer officials, fellow managers and the media.
True, the 41-year-old had fine raw material to work with. After a huge injection of cash from billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich, Claudio Ranieri had left his successor with a talented, improving side who finished second in the Premier League and reached the Champions League semifinals.
Mourinho added strikers Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman and brought with him Portuguese trio Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Tiago.
It was the task of the "special one" to turn this band of big egos and individual skills into a fighting unit capable of breaking the Arsenal-Manchester United title stranglehold, a feat last managed by Blackburn Rovers 10 years ago.
For Mourinho the team ethic rules supreme. He had achieved outstanding success with much less talent at Porto and, with characteristic attention to detail, he set about teaching what he described as his "methodology" to players he considered technically skilled but tactically naive.
"Joe Cole is a good example," Mourinho said in a recent lecture on football management in Tel Aviv.
"He has learnt to play for the team rather than as an individual. The most important star is the team."
Players describe Mourinho’s training sessions, with the emphasis on tactics, as intense, concentrated and exhausting.
Mourinho’s highly organised and controlling nature may explain the run-ins he has had with footballing authority.
Sources close to him say some of his outspokenness, at least earlier in the season, was calculated to draw attention from his players so they could concentrate on their game.
Back in November he remarked: "Compared to many other managers, I am an angel". Then he ran into trouble.
Criticism of a referee and describing Manchester United after a League cup semifinal as having cheated led to a fine.
However, Mourinho accepted he had to change his ways to fit into the ethos of English football and, with uncharacteristic deference, he refers to United’s Ferguson as "the boss". The Scot, no stranger to controversy himself, has welcomed Mourinho’s impact.
"He’s brought something to the Premiership; he’s got a humour about him," Ferguson said.
Sachin not yet over the hill
Apropos of the news item "Time for Tendulkar to quit, says Richards" (The Tribune, April 23), I disagree with the views of the West Indian legendary batsman Vivian Richards that time has come for Sachin to bid adieu to international cricket.
Richards, who dominated world cricket through his enormous batting prowess, may have reasons to believe so but Sachin, a phenomenon, has still a few years of cricket left in him. His reflexes have not become feeble, rather he is slightly out of form which he will regain sooner than later. Moreover, form is temporary, class is permanent and he is a player par excellence.
However, the batting maestro should not open in the odis but should move down to number four at which he should bat permanently in both versions of the game. Look at Brian Lara — he used to open in the ODIs, then shifted to the number three position and now bats at number four in both forms of the game and scores a lot of runs. Sachin should emulate Lara to prolong his illustrious career as he is still very good.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala
In bad taste
During the recently concluded India-Pak cricket series, a private TV channel aired a programme titled "Match ka mujrim kaun?" after every match and "Series ka mujrim kaun?" after the conclusion of the series. In the programme, viewers were asked to name the player who was the real "culprit" of the match/series. The invited guests as well as some veteran cricketers were made to air their views about the villain of the match/series.
In the programme aired after the last one-day international, angry participants, including former Indian skipper Bishan Singh Bedi, made potentially inflammatory remarks while criticising Indian players for their poor show. I found some of the remarks totally irrational and illogical.
I request TV channels not to telecast such programmes as in a cricket-crazy nation like ours, such remarks can ignite cricket lovers’ passions and even instigate them to indulge in violence.
Let us not forget that some ugly incidents took place when the Indian team did not fare well in the few initial matches of the World Cup in 2003. Significantly, some scribes and commentators later opined that angry remarks by some TV commentators after India’s poor show played a big role in instigating the people to resort to arson and violence at certain players’ houses?
Surendra Miglani, Kaithal
Ganguly must go
Sourav Ganguly should hang his boots and say goodbye to international cricket. He should look for honourable retirement and make room for talented players like J.P. Yadav and Sanjay Bangar. Even Sachin Tendulkar seems a pale shadow of his former self.
Y.L. Chopra, Bathinda
Congratulations to the Railways cricket team for besting Punjab on the basis of first innings lead in the Ranji Trophy final at Mohali. The credit goes to J.P. Yadav and Yere Gaud. The absence of Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia was felt by Punjab.
Mandeep Singh Sikka,