had a ball
IN THE NEWS
India took too long to get their act together in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament, writes M.S.Unnikrishnan
THE Indian hockey team has been struggling for quite some time, and the fifth-place finish in the Azlan Shah Cup at Kuala Lumpur has not cheered up fans.
Critics have been pouring scorn over India’s "miserable" display in the tournament, and the knives are out for new coach Rajinder Singh Jr and his deputy Narender Pal Singh. It was Rajinder’s first major tournament after taking over as the chief coach, and in hindsight, he didn’t do a very bad job.
True, India deserved to be among the medals, being three-time champions, if not for anything else. But they improved their performance too late in the championship to earn a semifinal slot. India shrugged off their lethargy to pip their tormentors Malaysia to claim the fifth spot, which was better than their bottom finish in the 2004 edition of the tournament.
Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) President KPS Gill, mercifully, has taken a holistic view of India’s outing in the Azlan Shah Cup, and has given the assurance that Rajinder would stay at least till the 2006 World Cup in Germany. This is sweet music to the ears of Rajinder, but the coach has a tough task on his hands to mould the team into a winning combination.
The IHF is in the process of rebuilding the team, and is trying out various options to arrive at the perfect combination. And the Azlan Shah Cup was used as a testing ground for some ‘raw’ talented players, who had acquitted themselves creditably in the inaugural Premier Hockey League in Hyderabad last year.
With the exception of defending and Olympic champions Australia, who packed 11 Olympians in their squad, other teams fielded experimental squads with a mix of youth and experience, with encouraging results in most cases.
Australia expectedly retained the title, their fourth triumph in Kuala Lumpur, when they pipped South Korea in the final. But their journey into the final was far from smooth.
Asia Cup champions India did not have the pressure of qualifying for the next World Cup, having already achieved that feat, while most other teams were still looking for a place in the World Cup line-up.
In that context, India should have played better, but the team composition had certain drawbacks, and the coach and his associates could do little about it, other than promising to improve things in the coming months.
India had begun well, defeating South Africa, but after that things started going wrong.
The team lacked cohesion in the absence of some key players in various positions. The IHF also used the tournament to blood several players who played in patches, though some of them did acquit themselves creditably.
India’s surprisingly huge 1-4 defeat at the hands of Malaysia was indeed the turning point, and Rajinder Singh lamented that the forward line was doing an inadequate job. The poor bench strength also added to his woes.
India, who had beaten South Korea 5-2 in the Olympics, lost to the Asian Games champions 1-4, despite taking the lead through a Len Aiyappa penalty corner conversion. As the match hotted up, India simply could not match the speed, precision and stamina of the Koreans. The attackers lacked coordination with Sandeep Michael struggling, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh muffing their chances, and Rajpal Singh not getting the support he needed, despite his fine forays down the flank. Eventually, it all boiled down to skill and stamina as the defenders, too, wilted under pressure as the match wore on.
In the match against Australia, India held the Olympic champions goal-less for 65 minutes before dropping their guard and letting in a goal. The Indian defence played solid in patches due to the presence of captain Dilip Tirkey and Ignace Tirkey.
Goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, despite bringing off many a good save, was still short of confidence. The forward line comprising Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Arjun Halappa did little of note, other than squandering virtual sitters while Inderjit Chadha failed to measure up to the task. The absence of Vikram Pillay and Viren Rasquinha weakened the midfield, but Ignace Tirkey and Bimal Lakra almost made up for it.
Australia, on the other hand, struggled at the outset in all their matches before roaring back and squaring up. They recovered twice to hold Pakistan to a 2-2 draw in a crucial league match and enacted a similar feat against South Korea while settling for a 3-3 draw.
Pakistan fielded 12 junior players to
train them for the Junior World Cup at Rotterdam later this month.
Malaysia, the nemesis of most teams, beat Pakistan to deny them a place
in the final. The final standing of Australia, Korea, Pakistan, New
Zealand, India, Malaysia and South Africa in that order was quite
appropriate, and Indian fans need not lose sleep over the team’s show
at Kuala Lumpur.
had a ball
THE French Open is regarded as the most unpredictable of all Grand Slam tennis events. Pre-tournament crystal-ball gazing often comes to nought at Roland Garros as underdogs get the better of the front-runners. This year, however, there was no stopping the hot favourites. Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin-Hardenne were tipped to triumph on clay and they did it in style.
Some people had put their money on world number one Roger Federer, who seemed determined to win the only Grand Slam title that had eluded him so far. His passage to the semifinal was pretty smooth, but then he ran into the wunderkind from Spain, Nadal, and that too on the latter’s 19th birthday. The ‘match of the tournament’ hardly lived up to all the hype as the teenager dashed Federer’s hopes with a superb display of power tennis. Nadal did not repeat the mistake he made in the final of the Miami Masters in April, when he wasted a two-set lead against the Swiss to lose in five sets.
Nadal was stretched by Mariano Puerta in the final, but he held his nerve at crucial moments to seize the initiative. Mental toughness aptly complemented physical strength as he became the first man since Mats Wilander in 1982 to win the French Open on debut. (The Spaniard had missed the last two editions due to injury).
With the title victory, Nadal extended his winning streak to 24 matches. Incidentally, ‘comeback girl’ Henin-Hardenne, too, stretched her unbeaten run to 24. An ailing back did not deter her from winning her second crown at Roland Garros. She completely overwhelmed Mary Pierce in the final, much to the disbelief and disappointment of the French crowd.
Skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq led from the front yet again as Pakistan recorded their first Test victory in the Caribbean since 1988. The 136-run win in Kingston also helped Pakistan level the two-match series. It was a sort of encore by the team that had bounced back to draw the Test series in India a few months ago.
Inzamam, who did not play in the Bridgetown match due to a ban for excessive appealing in the Bangalore Test against India, reasserted his indispensability by hitting 50 in the first innings and a fighting 117 not out in the second.
It was the 22nd hundred of his career and the second successive after his 167 against India in Bangalore.
His knock gave Pakistan bowlers a decent total to defend and they did not let him down. Leg spinner Danish Kaneria ripped through the West Indies top order, while rookie pacer Shabbir Ahmed mopped up the tail.
The Pakistan team, as mercurial as ever, played as a cohesive unit. The Younis Khan-Shahid Afridi episode seemed to have been forgotten.
Younis, in fact, ably supported his captain with a hundred in the first innings.
It was a disappointing end to the series for the West Indies, who failed to maintain the momentum after the Bridgetown win.
Brian Lara made another big hundred, but he went for a duck when the West Indies needed him badly for the run chase. Fast bowler Corey Collymore’s 11-wicket haul also went in vain. — V.J.
Give past champions their due
WHILE today’s sportspersons are getting a lot of attention, honour and money, the heroes of yesteryear are being neglected. The media often highlights the plight of sportspersons who won laurels for the country but are now suffering hardships.
There is a need to set up a sportspersons welfare association, which should be financially aided by the Central as well as state governments. This organisation should register all players of yesteryear and help them to live with dignity.
The performance of the Indian cricket team in one-dayers has been miserable in the past year. The main reason for this has been a lack of quality allrounders. India have bits- and-pieces cricketers who on a given day can prove to be more than useful, but they are not consistent.
The team badly needs quality allrounders like Chris Crains, Jacques Kallis, Abdul Razzaq, Jacob Oram and Shaun Pollock. These players make a huge difference to their team. It is surprising that in a cricket-crazy nation like India, it is hard to find a genuine allrounder.
Kapil Mohan Pal
Greg Chappell, the new coach of the Indian cricket team, has some experience of working in the subcontinent as he was a consultant for the National Cricket Academy in Pakistan last year. He also shares a good rapport with captain Sourav Ganguly, whom he helped in solving his batting problems before India’s last tour Down Under.
The author of the book ‘Cricket: the making of champions’, Chappell has deep insight into the fundamental of the game and there is no doubting his considerable technical understanding and tactical awareness.
Vivian Richards has rightly rated Gundappa Viswanath among the top cricketers of the world. Viswanath was known for his sportsmanship and he had an unblemished image. Andy Roberts once called him one of the best players of fast bowling. Many a time he bailed the Indian team out of trouble.
After losing the first two matches, Pakistan performed wonderfully well in the next four one-dayers to win the series. It was a fantastic comeback. They outsmarted India in every department of the game. On the other hand, India lacked fighting spirit.
Navdeep Singh Bhatia