All eyes are on the new-look Indian cricket team as it begins the season with the tri-series in Sri Lanka starting today, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
A new coach. A new captain. A new opening pair due to the forced absence, for different reasons, of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. India indeed have a lot to prove in the season-opening tri-series in Sri Lanka.
This is the tournament where Greg Chappell will be testing his cricketing philosophy and ascertaining whether the team has imbibed all that he taught during the conditioning camp at Bangalore.
The new coach knows that the Indians have it in them to be the world champions, but for that to happen the players would have to give their best every time. The desire to excel, perforce, would be Chappell’s battle cry. At least in this tournament, with most of the players returning to competitive cricket after a long lay-off.
In the tri-series, India would be playing under a new leader after a long time. It is good that the selectors did not name Rahul Dravid as a stand-in captain till the time Ganguly reclaims the captaincy after serving out his ban. Instead, he has been named captain for the series, with the selectors ready to wait and watch how Dravid (as captain) and Ganguly (as a batsman) progress. This progress would probably decide the future course of action of the selectors. But they have left an "escape clause" by naming Ganguly as the 16th man.
For Dravid, the tournament is an acid test. He has just four games to prove that he can lead India on a regular basis. If he is a success in Sri Lanka, then Indian cricket is bound to see a fierce competition for captaincy, with the 2007 World Cup not very far away.
Although Ganguly has a lot of detractors, especially after his miserable showing in the home series against Pakistan, he has many supporters not only due to his record as an aggressive captain but also for his efforts to bring in several youngsters by convincing the selectors. His recent return to form in the English county cricket augurs well for his future. Playing away from the prying eyes of the Indian media, Ganguly came good several times for Glamorgan, a team which had nothing at stake in the county league.
Captaincy, of course, is not new to Dravid. He has led India in 12 one-day matches, winning five and losing six, with one no result. But to be fair to him, in all these matches he did not have the time or the opportunity to chalk out his own strategy as he was handed over the mantle of captaincy at the last minute. This time he has been given enough time by the selectors to form his own gameplan.
However, Dravid has not allowed the burden of leading India to affect his batting. In his 11 innings as captain, he has scored 368 runs at an average of 33.45 (with three scores of 50 plus), which is not far behind his career average of 39.70 in 251 one-dayers. In quite a few of his matches as captain, he has also been the wicketkeeper.
India’s main rival in the Indian Oil Cup would obviously be hosts Sri Lanka, who are a very formidable side at home. India’s track record of late in Sri Lanka has not been good and Dravid’s team, which includes two new faces in Suresh Raina and Venugopala Rao, besides in-form all-rounder JP Yadav, would have to strive hard to come up trumps.
Sri Lanka’s confidence is very high after their thumping victory over the West Indies in the recent Test series. But one-day cricket is a different ball game.
For the third team in the contest, things are not looking good. The second-string West Indians, missing many top players, including master batsman Brian Lara, due to a sponsorship row, surrendered meekly in the Test series and would have to come up with something extraordinary to upset Sri Lanka or India.
TO have gone where nobody had gone before by winning seven Tour de France titles is in itself an unprecedented contribution to cycling. Lance Armstrong’s legacy reaches even further.
The American’s human story, his victory over cancer that led to the much more prosaic victories over the hardships of the Tour, is his greatest achievement.
That Armstrong became the most successful Tour rider in history after a near-fatal illness gave hope to millions and the yellow wristband worn by cycling fans around the world to help Armstrong’s cancer foundation bears testimony to his leading role in that respect.
Armstrong’s entry in the history books should not, however, be reduced to his successful battle against cancer. He is simply one of the greatest champions of all time.
To win seven Tours requires 150 days on the bike, riding some 200 km each day, in rain and in intense heat, up the highest mountains in Europe and down into windswept valleys at more than 50 kmph. It involves 200 other riders out to beat you, months and kilometres of exhausting training in the cold of winter and in spring, far from home.
Taboos at play
PAKISTANI sportswomen have become caught up in a struggle between conservatives and liberals over what kind of Muslim country Pakistan should be. Twice in recent weeks, mixed-sex road running races have been disrupted because conservatives, who say women and men should not play sport together, objected.
Television images of women athletes and their supporters, including a prominent human rights lawyer, being roughed up have put the issue of women in sports squarely on the political agenda.
"We don’t believe in gender discrimination. We are not against the progress of women, but women need to adhere to Islamic and social values while taking part in any walk of life, including sports," said conservative politician Liaquat Baloch.
Baloch is secretary general of an alliance of conservative religious parties known as the Muthaida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
Members of the MMA, the main opponents of President Pervez Musharraf’s doctrine of moderate Islam, were behind the disruption of recent mixed-sex races in two cities in the Punjab province.
Officially, there are no restrictions on women in sport in the predominantly Muslim country of 150 million.
But in reality they face a range of religious and social taboos that other women do not have to contend with.
Pakistani women athletes, for instance, must almost always wear the traditional salwar kameez, a long, loose shirt and baggy trousers, or full track suit, no matter how hot or restricting.
Many Pakistani women only go out in public with a male relative so it can be difficult for women to train or travel to tournaments alone.
Such issues, along with government indifference, mean Pakistani woman have never made a mark at the international level, sports fans say.
"Pakistani women have taken part in the Olympics and international cricket tournaments but have never been taken seriously," said a woman cricket player from Peshawar, capital of conservative North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Madeeha Abbasi, captain of a women’s cricket team from another conservative city, Quetta, said there was a range of views on women in sport.
"The attitude of parents towards allowing their daughters to take part in sports differs from class to class and city to city," Abbasi said.
"Those belonging to the upper or middle class normally don’t have problems. But the situation is different for those from Quetta or Peshawar."
North West Frontier Province, which is ruled by the MMA, is the epicentre of the controversy over women in sport. Liberal activists say the provincial government is intent on the "Talibanisation" of the province, a reference to Afghanistan’s hardline former rulers.
Rashida Ghaznavi heads a recently formed separate provincial sports board for women. She has to tread carefully — trying to encourage women while not offending the conservative government and community.
A Peshawar team recently played in the first women’s national cricket championship. Matches were held in Karachi and Lahore under the supervision of male umpires and coaches. But Ghaznavi had to send a woman manager and coach with the Peshawar side in the hope of averting a damaging fuss.
"Controversies will only be detrimental to women’s sports." Ghaznavi’s sports board has organised a cricket tournament between teams from some of the province's districts, which was held in Peshawar.
But the tournament had to be held behind the walls of a women’s college with only women allowed to watch and supervise.
The MMA’s Provincial Minister for Sports, Raja Faisal Zaman, denies discrimination."There is no gender bias in our sports set-up ... There is no ban or restriction on girls in sports," he said.
"We’re encouraging and giving
them opportunities to take part in sports," he said. Zaman said
women’s sports had to be separate because parents didn’t want their
daughters training with male coaches. — Reuters
THE hockey team announced by the IHF for the Mini World Cup to be held in Holland seems to be best from the available talent, but the omission of drag-flicker Sandeep Singh is baffling. India has not been able to find a good penalty corner expert in recent times, and this drawback has let them down in international matches.
A majority of these short corners are wasted by Indians and thus they are deprived of wins in crucial matches. The IHF should reconsider its decision and call up this talented penalty corner expert who gave an excellent performance in the recent Junior World Cup.
The recall of Kanwalpreet Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh is welcome.
Pritpal Singh, Patiala
Lanka on top
Tom Moody began his stint as Sri Lanka’s coach on a winning note as the team crushed West Indies by six wickets in the first Test of the two-match series. Incidentally, this was Sri Lanka’s 150th Test. In the second innings, Lankan batsmen survived a scare from Germaine Lawson, who took the first four wickets, to romp home.
However, his effort went in vain as his depleted side, despite taking a first innings lead of 58 runs, crumbled before Vaas and Muralitharan, who shared all 10 wickets in their opponents’ second essay.
The West Indies were whitewashed even when they had Brian Lara, who hit 688 runs in three Tests the last time they visited Sri Lanka. How can they think of putting up a semblance of a fight without Lara?
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala
There is no rule regarding the dimensions of a cricket field. In countries like Australia, the fields are much larger than those in the Indian subcontinent.
All playgrounds, whether fields or courts, have fixed dimensions. It should be the same for cricket also. The ICC has recently amended certain rules. It should also fix the dimensions of the cricket field.