Australia’s aura of invincibility is vanishing at last. Ramandeep Singh looks at the reasons for the decline
THE fortunes of the mighty Australian team — one of the greatest of all time — are finally on the decline. They were forced to follow on for the first time in 17 years by England at Trent Bridge last week. Now they are in danger of losing the Ashes, something that has not happened since 1987.
Age is catching up with most members of the squad and so are some of the rival teams. After a long time, England is re-emerging as a powerhouse capable of becoming the world’s number one team. The ongoing Ashes series has demonstrated that the gap between Australia and England is narrowing, and the fifth and final Test would show whether the latter is ready to take over as the best Test team in the world today.
The Aussies are sorely missing the services of Glenn ‘Pigeon’ McGrath, who has been dogged by injuries. When firing on all cylinders, his accuracy is mind boggling and he clearly showed why he is the most feared bowler when he bowled Australia to victory in the first Ashes Test at Lord’s. A freak injury — he stepped on a ball during practice — made him sit out of the second Test. But without him the Australian attack looked very ordinary and England scored a very thrilling two-run win.
McGrath somehow made a comeback in the third Test but he was not at his best. What added to Australia’s misery was the form of their fast bowler Jason Gillespie, who was hardly troubling the English batsmen. Shane Warne, the genius that he is, was bowling brilliantly. But the load was too much for him. With McGrath not at his best and Gillespie out of sorts, Australia looked very ordinary in the bowling department. It was a captain’s innings by Ricky Ponting which saved the day for the Aussies.
The Australian batsmen, particularly Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn are not justifying their talent. Hayden, the bedrock of Aussie batting, has 36 as his highest score in the series. Without his contribution a big total to intimidate the English has eluded the Australians.
But what has tilted the balance in England’s favour is the way their bowlers have performed. Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have collectively bowled mesmerising spells. There has been no weak link in the English attack. Neither have they been overawed by the fearsome reputation of the rivals.
They have bowled to a plan and ruthlessly exploited the weakness of the batsmen. So much so that arguably the most destructive batsmen in the world, Adam Gilchrist, has been made to look like a novice. He has not been able to free his arms and as a result has gifted away his wicket in frustration.
In the one-dayers, too, Australia are slipping — their loss to Bangladesh in the tri-series preceding the Ashes was nothing less than an embarrassment. Australia have not won a major tournamemt since the 2003 World Cup. In the ICC Trophy last year, they lost to England in the semifinals. The Australians will find it hard to defend their title in the 2007 World Cup.
The Aussies are an ageing team — McGrath, Warne, Hayden and Martyn are in their 30s and their best playing years are behind them. Once the top stars have retired the big question is — who will replace them?
Michael Clarke is the brightest star in the next generation of Australian cricketers and he is already in the team. Simon Katich is another promising player, though not as talented as Clarke, but an honest trier nonetheless. The picture will be clearer when players of the present generation retire. But it will be very hard to find replacements for McGrath and Co.
However, it will be foolhardy to write off the Aussies just on the basis of their performance in the Ashes series. With a fully fit team and all the players back in form, they can still strive to regain the invincibility other teams dread.
Whatever happens in the near future, Ponting and his men should not sulk but hold their heads high. Their domination has been so complete and for so long that few can hold a candle to their achievements. It has been an awe-inspiring experience seeing them outplay one opposition after the other over the years.
After a long reign, their autumn has begun. Cricket — the great leveller — seems to have got the better of them.
Sania Mirza might be the teen sensation in Indian tennis today, but there are several new kids on the court who have the potential to shine on the big stage. Sixteen-year-old Kinshuk Sharma is one of them.
The lanky Kinshuk is considered to be a cool player who has proved his mettle on many occasions.
Coached by Kawaljeet Singh and Robin Dhingra from the beginning, Kinshuk was ninth in the AITA (All-India Tennis Association) ranking in the under-18 category early this year and reached an ITF (International Tennis Federation) ranking of 277th.
Kinshuk is now 319th in the ITF ranking and 14th as per all-India ranking in the under-18 section. He is of the view that the more you play, the more points you earn. The recent ITF-sponsored tour to Italy and other European countries has been quite fruitful for him.
Kinshuk’s succes story began in 2002, when he won the bronze medal in the individual category and the silver medal in the team event (under-14) at the 47th National School Games in Ahmedabad. He was named the most promising player of the games.
He also reached the semifinal in the AITA Ranking Tournaments (under-14) at Delhi and Chandigarh in 2002. He won the under-14 title in the AITA Ranking Tournament held at Amritsar that year.
Kinshuk achieved the No.1all-India ranking in the under-14 group in June, 2003. He reached the last four in the AITA Super Series held at Mumbai and Chennai. He also displayed his prowess in various AITA talent hunt series.
In 2004, Kinshuk did well in the under-18 events in the AITA (National) and ITF (International) Tournaments. He won the singles title in the men’s category of the Chandigarh State Championship. At 14 years and 10 months, he became the youngest player to win the crown.
Starting 2004 with no international ranking, he reached an ITF junior ranking (under-18) of 322 in the world. He reached the singles pre-quarterfinal of the ITF Grade-4 Tournament held at Dhaka (Bangladesh) in January, 2004. He also made it to the singles pre-quarterfinal of the ITF Grade-5 Tournament held at Colombo (Sri Lanka) in February last year.
Kinshuk also bagged the
doubles title and reached the quarterfinals in singles of the ITF G-5
By October, 2004, he had attained an ITF junior (U-18) ranking of 322nd with 82.5 ITF points. Early this year, Kinshuk reached the quarterfinals in singles of the ITF G-2 Junior World Ranking Tournament at New Delhi in February. He also reached the semifinals in doubles and pre-quarters in singles of the ITF G-3 Junior World Ranking Tournament at Chandigarh in February this year when his ranking rose to 259th with 112.5 ITF points.
He was selected by AITA to represent India in the junior Davis Cup team in April this year. On the basis of his superb performance, he was invited by the ITF to play and attend training for the under-16 junior touring team to compete in Europe for six weeks in June this year.
Kinshuk is keen to continue the good show in the coming months by playing more and earning more ITF points to improve his ranking from 319th to less than 250.
Dhyan Chand’s 100th birth anniversary has been celebrated at a time when Indian hockey is desperately trying to raise itself from a whole lot of problems — inconsistent performance by national teams, far-from-fair selection of squads, a disorganised national federation and perpetual bickering among players and the officialdom.
Amid these troubled times, the archival images — still and moving — of the mercurial wizard who ruled the roost in the 1920s and 1930s give most welcome relief and comfort.
Dhyan Chand was part of three gold medal-winning Indian teams at the Olympics — in Amsterdam (1928), Los Angeles (1932) and Berlin (1936), where he was captain.
His fame notwithstanding, Dhyan Chand, a centre forward, was an innately selfless person. If he felt either of the two flanks was in a better position to score, he would flick the ball to the well-placed player instantly.
For two decades, until he bid goodbye to international hockey in 1948, Dhyan Chand was virtually synonymous with hockey, playing numerous matches and scoring hundreds of goals.
Born in Allahabad, on August 29, 1905, he was named Dhyan Singh. One of his two brothers was Roop Singh, who also went on to become a prolific hockey forward and played alongside his illustrious brother at the Olympics.
As Dhyan displayed his abundant hockey skills, Pankaj Gupta, his first coach, predicted he would one day shine like a "chand" (moon).
"That is how father got his surname ‘Chand’," said his son Ashok Kumar, himself an Olympian who starred in India’s 1975 World Cup triumph.
Dhyan Chand took to hockey in his teens and quickly came to acquire excellent dribbling skills and an uncanny knack for scoring goals, leaving unbelievable statistics in the wake.
At the 1928 Olympics, he netted twice in India’s 3-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. At the 1932 Olympics, when India famously drubbed the US 24-1, his contribution was eight goals. The same year, he netted a whopping 133 goals out of India’s 338.
But Dhyan Chand was probably at his zenith during the Berlin Olympics. The Germans were so scared of him that they resorted to rough play in the final, leading to Dhyan Chand losing a tooth. But the valiant player returned to the field after first aid. When the match ended, his contribution in India’s 8-1 win was six goals.
Even after he turned 42, Dhyan Chand continued to score virtually at will, as he pumped in 61 goals to help India win all their 22 matches in East Africa in 1947-48. It was then that he stopped playing international hockey.
After his playing days, he earned a diploma in coaching from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. But he was not as successful as a coach; he found it difficult to explain things that came to him so naturally as a player.
In 1956, the Indian Government conferred on him the Padma Bhushan — he was never presented the Arjuna Award though — and released a postage stamp on December 3, 1980, exactly a year after he died in hospital. — IANS
MANY an eyebrow were raised when cricketer Sunita Sharma decided to become a coach. In a country where women cricketers got (and still get) a raw deal, it was an arduous task for a woman to establish herself as a trainer.
Against all odds, Sunita became the first woman to receive a diploma in cricket coaching from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, in 1976. Then she was appointed coach by the Sports Authority of India. Now she has added another feather to her cap by winning the Dronacharya Award.
The recognition has come belatedly, with three applications being sent to the awards committee in the past four years. Nevertheless, it is a well-deserved honour for the woman who has produced cricketers like Deep Dasgupta, Anju Jain, Namita Sharma and Anjum Chopra in the past 25 years.
She has an interesting anecdote to tell about opener Deep Dasgupta. Deep was about eight and, unlike some of her other students, came from a family that apparently was very well-off. "He used to come in a car and his driver would come in tow with the kitbag. I told him ‘you better stop this. I want to see the bus ticket. And you’ll have to carry your kitbag.’ If a kid can’t carry this small weight, how can he carry out the responsibilities on the field? All this is necessary. Unfortunately, today’s coaches miss out teaching all this." Well said, Sunita. — Agencies
Bond at his best
HAVING the deadly ability to swing the ball effectively on both sides of the wicket, Shane Bond wrecked the Indian batting order by exposing their weakness against accurate pace bowling. Earlier, recovering from a shaky start, the Kiwis were able to reach a competitive total of 215 runs in the tri-series match in Bulawayo.
Chasing the victory target, the Indian batsmen were never comfortable against the fiery pace of Bond. They lost their wickets while showing unwanted aggression against the fast bowling. The valiant efforts of JP Yadav and Irfan Pathan went in vain.
Apropos the news item "Rajinder asks ‘big headed’ seniors to quit" (The Tribune, August 20), the coach’s outburst against senior players is the result of his desperation as he has himself failed to deliver the goods.
The senior players form the nucleus of the Indian hockey team at present. Not to draw the best out of them shows the coach’s incompetence. He is evading his own responsibility and accountability by passing the buck to the players. He can’t absolve himself of the debacle suffered by India in the Rabo Trophy recently.
Tarsem S. Bumrah
The Indian cricket team conceded a shameful defeat despite a good start in reply to Sri Lanka’s big score in the tri-series final. The Indians had themselves to blame for the loss. Virender Sehwag, from the very beginning, started playing aggressively and wanted to hit every ball in search of quick runs without judging the merit of the deliveries, which ultimately proved fatal.
He should have played cautiously keeping in view the big target set by the Sri Lankans. Unfortunately, the subsequent Indian batsmen, too, met the same fate. They failed to face the tricky Sri Lankan bowlers.