IN THE NEWS
All for a
Up against the best
India have their work cut out as they take on hockey powerhouses in the Champions Trophy beginning today, writes Prabhjot Singh
FORMER skipper Dhanraj Pillay feels that India can reach the final of hockey’s premier annual tournament. It seems he is being over-optimistic, since the home team will face tough rivals in every match.
To be played on a new Polytan pitch laid at the flood-lit SDAT Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium in Chennai, the 27th edition of the Champions Trophy will have Australia back in the reckoning for the top spot. Australians had withdrawn from the last edition of the tournament in Lahore due to security concerns.They replace New Zealand, who finished sixth and last in Lahore.
The return of Australia may make it tough for defending champions Spain to retain their title. However, the Spaniards, richly deserving their newly earned title of a hockey giant, have not looked back since their Lahore triumph. They have pocketed the European championship crown and are determined to do an encore under coach Maurits Hendriks in Chennai.
The old powerhouses — the Netherlands and Germany — have found it tough against the Spaniards, who dominate not only in skills but also in converting penalty corners. The strength of the new European champions lies in their ability to score more field goals than penalty-corner conversions. Not many teams can match the agility and fitness of the Spanish players.
This year’s Champions Trophy will be primarily a testing ground for the 2006 World Cup to be held at Munchengladbach in Germany. Most of the teams are likely to try out new players while aiming to blend youth with experience.
As both Germany and the Netherlands have already secured berths in the World Cup, they would be experimenting with rookies, giving them exposure of top-level hockey in Chennai.
Australia have just qualified for the Munchengladbach tournament and will bring a strong outfit to Chennai. They have a very good side and are strong contenders for the Champions Trophy title which they last won on home turf in Brisbane in 1999.
Pakistan suffered a reverse just 10 days before the start of the tournament as their captain, Mohammad Saqlain, has been suspended for three international matches by the FIH Judicial Commission. He has been found guilty of deliberately raising his stick at the Hamburg Masters Tournament in August this year which left Australia’s Craig Victory with a broken jaw and facial injuries.
Due to the suspension, Saqlain would not be playing in Pakistan’s opening three matches in the Champions Trophy. Even then, Pakistan, winners of the Rabo Trophy at Amstelveen in August this year, can upset the applecart of any team on their day.
Of the 27 editions of the tournament held so far, hosts India have been on the victory podium only once, a bronze-medal winner in the 1982 edition at Amstelveen. In the last three editions, India have been maintaining the fourth position.
Germany hold the record for the most Champions Trophy victories (eight), followed by the Netherlands and Australia with seven each. Of the other competing teams, all except India have lifted the trophy at least once.
All Indian eyes will be on young Sandeep Singh, a drag-flicker, who of late has matured into a near-replacement for Jugraj Singh. Dilip Tirkey’s absence would no doubt be felt, but stand-in skipper Gagan Ajit Singh should avail of this opportunity to show his worth as a leader. Gagan, along with Prabhjot Singh, need to be at their goal-scoring best if India are to finish among the top three, if not better.
Coach Rajinder Singh Jr also has a point to prove, especially after the team’s disappointing show in Malaysia (Sultan Azlan Shah tournament) and Holland (Rabo Trophy) earlier this year.
The elite six-nation
tournament has returned to Chennai after nine years. Back in 1996, India
had finished fourth. With an eye on the World Cup next year, one hopes
Chennai will prove to be second-time lucky for India.
TRUE to its name, Centre of Excellence, Patiala, is a state-of-the-art nursery which aims to produce players who can dish out fast-paced technical hockey. Boasting of the best junior talent in the region, the centre came up trumps recently in the fourth All-India Jagtar Memorial Hockey Tournament at the Prithipal Singh Stadium, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
The Patiala centre boys romped past 11 other teams of top hockey academies. Almost the whole junior talent of the northern region was on show at the tournament. Namdhari XI, Air-India Hockey Academy, Punjab and Sind Bank Academy, Speed Fund Hockey Academy (playing as Prithipal XI) and Surjit Hockey Academy were all steamrolled by the Patiala juniors who notched up one win after another.
Coach Inderjit Singh Gill, who is responsible for grooming the players, has 25 budding players under his charge. His team began with a bang in the Ludhiana tournament, with Kulbhushan Sharma slamming in a hat-trick in the first match. The drag-flicker was the highest goal-scorer for his team, hitting six past rival goalkeepers. Sharma is from Shahbad, the hub of women’s hockey. Gill rates the player highly.
Other youngsters who shone at the tournament and could be prospective players for India are centre forward Pawan Bassi, goalkeeper Shakti Singh, left-in Sundar Singh, centre half Sachin Kumar and Bikramjit Brar of Muktsar. Shakti was chosen for the under-18 national probables camp, while Pawan is a junior international, having played against Bangladesh. He hails from Deepak Thakur’s home town Una.
Besides the current crop, Gill had played a huge part in the development of India forwards Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur and drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, who still train here. All are products of the centre, developing their skills on the NIS grounds.
The trainees enroll under the Special Project Development Area, progress to the SAI Training Centre and finally graduate to the Centre of Excellence scheme. The final 25 are the best of the young talent.
With the game going hi-tech, it is imperative to teach and expose the young players to the physical and mental rigours of modern hockey, says Gill. Trainees are in the 16-20 year age group, with most of them being closer to the 16-year mark. "We try to catch them as young as possible, so that we can tap their potential soon. Till they come to us the players have generally played in the traditional 5-3-2-1 format. Then we start grooming them to develop them into allrounders, who can play at various positions."
This grooming is itself multi-dimensional. The focus is on modern trends. Training involves physical and psychological aspects. Scientific conditioning and training are the hallmarks of the developmental process. The Psychology Department at the NIS steps in with psychological tests and toughening. The game is played on the field as well as in the mind.
The physiological parameters are constantly monitored for optimum output on the field. The players undergo high-performance level tests three times a year, wherein their muscle mass, girth and body fat content are measured and monitored. The players also benefit from yoga.
a big break
UNFAIR imposition of taxes by state governments and a paucity of tournaments are to be blamed for cue sports not being much popular, feel snooker and billiards champions of yesteryear.
Seven-time world billiards champion Geet Sethi says that in spite of cue sports being part of the Asian Games and former champions from India like Wilson Jones and Michael Ferrera making it big in the world arena, the sport had failed to gain mass popularity.
"A few years ago, the sudden emergence of pool parlours in every neighbourhood of major cities in India was seen as a kind a resurgence for cue sports," Sethi said.
"But today the scenario has changed. The parlours which had sprung up in cities mainly in Maharashtra and Karnataka have vanished overnight," he said, adding that heavy tax levied on these parlours led to their disappearance.
"Today we are facing a shortage of infrastructure with regard to the number of tables available for cue sports in the country," said Sethi, who had been the backbone of Indian cue sports before the 20-year-old sensation from Bangalore Pankaj Advani made it big in the international league.
With pool parlours disappearing, the number of tables have fallen dramatically and the those surviving are restricted to expensive clubs, Sethi said.
According to Sethi, pool parlours were a low-cost form of entertainment for cue enthusiasts.
Former national snooker champion Yasin Merchant also says India have failed to cash in on the pool parlour boom.
"We failed to spot probable champions of the future when a large number of aspiring youngsters had taken up cue during the (pool parlour) boom," Yasin remarked.
Yasin felt that encouraging the development and growth of pool was one way of popularising and moulding players who could become future champions.
"More and more tournaments should also be organised so that the sport gains more popularity inside the country," he said. "Few years ago in Mumbai, a series of squash tournaments were organised at different levels and the popularity of that game, at least in the city, picked up," he said.
"But now after a large gap there is a series of tournaments lined up including the CCI billiards tournament (currently being held) in Mumbai, the international doubles tournament coming up in Mumbai from December 13-17 and the national championships of billiards and snooker slated after that," he said.
Experimenting with different formats also seems to be an attempt aimed towards popularising the sport.
Sethi, one of the organisers of the recently concluded Indian Cue Master League 2005, has designed a new spectator-friendly format which will be tried in the Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai legs of the league in the coming months.
As per the unique format, all three
games, including nine-ball pool (race to three), snooker (single frame)
and billiards (50-points first), have been clubbed together. The league
has been introduced to generate spectators’ interest. And it did
achieve its desired result during the final on November 27 when Yasin
Merchant, cheered on by a young crowd, beat current IBSF world billiards
champion Pankaj Advani in a thrilling encounter. — PTI
Lara at his best
HATS off to Brian Lara, the dashing West Indian batsman, for becoming the leading run-scorer in the history of Test cricket. Lara hit a magnificent 226 in the first innings of the third Test against Australia at Adelaide. During his epic knock, he overhauled former Aussie captain Allan Border’s Test aggregate of 11,174, boosting his own tally to 11,187 runs.
Border amassed those runs in 156 Tests, while Lara did it in 121 Tests with a healthy average of 54.04. He is the fastest to reach the 10,000 as well as the 11,000-run mark.
The Trinidadian superstar also holds the world record for the highest individual score in Tests (400 not out) and first-class cricket (501 not out). Not only that, he also holds the record of maximum runs scored (28) in an over in a Test match. The record-breaker is truly a living legend like Sachin Tendulkar.
Lara, who inexplicably could not score runs in the Super Series, toyed with the Aussie attack in hitting his double ton, a rare feat at the Adelaide Oval. He treated all bowlers with utter disdain in his superb knock, tearing their reputation to smithereens.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala
Brian Lara has done it again. By eclipsing Allan Border’s record of most Test runs, the great Caribbean batsman has added another feather to his cap. He already holds the records of highest individual score in Tests as well as first-class cricket.
Rajan Malhotra, Nurpur
Congratulations to the Indian cricket team for coming from behind to level the one-day series against formidable South Africa. Credit goes to Rahul Dravid for playing a captain’s innings in the final match at Mumbai, which was a must-win encounter for India. Dravid came to the crease when the team was in a spot of bother, but he played level-headedly to score an unbeaten 78, thus guiding India to a series-levelling victory.
Gurudev Singh Jain, Baltana