SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Titanic clash
There is little to choose between India and Pakistan as they get ready for another battle royal, writes Vikramdeep Johal
The more the merrier ó thatís the adage for cricket fans as the third India-Pakistan series in less than two years gets under way.   Pity the people who lived through times when the two countries didnít play for almost two decades.
Both Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq have several match-winners at their disposal.
Both Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq have several match-winners at their disposal

IN THE NEWS
Big shot
Arvind Katyal

B
athinda girl Avneet Kaur Sidhu is developing into a fine shooter. She shot 400 out of 400, equalling the world record score in the womenís air rifle event, at the recently held selection trials. The icing on the cake was that she replaced Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games to be held in March this year.

Itís PHL time

 
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Titanic clash
There is little to choose between India and Pakistan as they get ready for another battle royal, writes Vikramdeep Johal


The more the merrier ó thatís the adage for cricket fans as the third India-Pakistan series in less than two years gets under way. Pity the people who lived through times when the two countries didnít play for almost two decades.

This series, however, doesnít have much in common with the two previous ones. When India went to play in Pakistan in 2004, it was their first full-fledged tour in about 14 years. History, diplomacy and bonhomie almost overshadowed cricket. When Pakistan paid a return visit a year later, it was the turn of the Indians ó right from the Prime Minister to the common man ó to reciprocate the hospitality. They did it with aplomb, making the score level.

Indiaís current tour has no frills ó it is all about cricket. There is much media hype and public interest as on earlier occasions, but it is all focused on the game. Both teams are in good nick, even though rival captains Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rahul Dravid think current form doesnít count in an India-Pakistan series. The two squads have many strengths, but there are also a few weaknesses which can be targeted by the opposition.

Indiaís strengths

  • The gelling of the Greg Chappell-Rahul Dravid combination. It was similar coordination that saw John Wright and Sourav Ganguly help India win both the Test and one-day series on the 2003-04 tour to Pakistan. Dravid has experience of leading the side in Pakistan, having captained India to victory in the Multan Test (followed by a loss in the Lahore match).
  • The emergence of Irfan Pathan as a quality all-rounder and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a valuable Test player. These two are proven match-winners and can take any match away from Pakistan. Pathan did well on his last tour to Pakistan, claiming 12 wickets in three Tests, while Dhoni blasted a big hundred against them in a one-dayer last year.
  • The resurgence of Harbhajan Singh augurs well for India. He missed the Test series on the 2003-04 tour, and would be determined to do the damage this time in the company of the evergreen Anil Kumble
  • Yuvraj Singh is in super form, and the fact that he performed very well on the last tour should further boost his confidence.
  • Sourav Gangulyís experience of leading the side in Pakistan might come in handy. With Mohammad Kaif out of the picture, both Sourav and Yuvraj can play in the Test team and strengthen the middle order.

Indiaís weaknesses

  • The erratic form of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Sehwag was Indiaís leading run-getter in the past two Test series against Pakistan, and it is imperative for him to come good again. Tendulkar will hope Dravid wonít deprive him of a double hundred (or a hundred), the way he did in Multan by declaring the innings
  • Missing from the squad is Laxmipathy Balaji, who has taken 26 wickets in the past six Tests against Pakistan. Hopefully, Pathan and Zaheer Khan wonít let his absence be felt.
  • An unstable opening partnership may see India getting poor starts.

Pak strengths

  • Inzamam-ul-Haq has hit a purple patch both as a batsman and a skipper. With the assistance of the shrewd Bob Woolmer, he has united the disparate personalities in the side to form a formidable team. Gone is the laid-back approach for which he was criticised when his side went down to India in 2004.
  • Tearaway pacer Shoaib Akhtar is going great guns. His wretched form was a major reason why Pakistan lost the Test series at home. We might see lively pitches being prepared both to suit him and to unsettle the Indian spin duo.
  • Danish Kaneria remains a big threat, despite the Indian batsmen being very good against spin. He took 19 wickets in three Tests during last yearís Test series, and was instrumental in Pakistanís series-levelling win at Bangalore.
  • If India have an all-rounder in Pathan, Pakistan have Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq (and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan).

Pak weaknesses

  • Only two frontline bowlers in Shoaib and Kaneria. The rest are struggling and may fail to ease the burden on the duo.
  • Their fielding has improved of late, but it is still not very reliable
  • Their opening partnership is also a problem area for Inzamam.

On the whole, we have two fairly strong teams. A cracker of a contest is on the cards. May the best team win.


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IN THE NEWS
Big shot
Arvind Katyal

Avneet Sidhu is going great guns in the air rifle event
Avneet Sidhu is going great guns in the air rifle event

Bathinda girl Avneet Kaur Sidhu is developing into a fine shooter. She shot 400 out of 400, equalling the world record score in the womenís air rifle event, at the recently held selection trials. The icing on the cake was that she replaced Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games to be held in March this year.

Avneet, who took up shooting only five years ago, is from a farming community. Her father, determined to make her a top shooter, accompanied Avneet to various shooting ranges.

Avneet has become the third Indian shooter to shoot a perfect score after Abhinav Bindra, who shot 600/600 in a shooting event at Colorado Springs in the USA in 2003, and Suma Shirur, who shot 400 out of 400 (world record) in the Asian Shooting Championship at Malaysia last year.

However, Avneetís record might not be considered an official world record as the trials were not a registered event on the ISSF (International Shooting Sports Federation) calendar.

Avneet honed her skills as a student of Dashmesh Girls College, Badal (Muktsar), in 2001. Later, she shone at inter-college, inter-university and national championships, besides the National Games. Since last year, after she was picked by Indian Airlines, she has been able to take part in various tournaments.

Her selection in the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games has signalled the emergence of another sharpshooter from Punjab after Sabeeha Dhillon and Abhinav Bindra.

To prepare for the Melbourne games, Avneet will be heading for Germany on January 24 after attending a camp in New Delhi. The way she is going, she is Indiaís medal hope in shooting not only in the Commonwealth Games but also in the Doha Asian Games. 

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Itís PHL time
The premier division of the hockey league features five squads

Maratha Warriors, Hyderabad Sultans, Bangalore Lions, Sher-e-Jallandhar and Chandigarh Dynamos

After 20 group matches, the top two sides will play best-of-three finals on January 30, 31 and February 1

January 5 Maratha Warriors vs Hyderabad Sultans

January 6 Hyderabad Sultans vs Bangalore Lions

January 7 Sher-e-Jallandhar vs Maratha Warriors

January 8 Chandigarh Dynamos vs Sher-e-Jallandhar

January 12 Sher-e-Jallandhar vs Hyderabad Sultans

January 13 Maratha Warriors vs Chandigarh Dynamos

January 14 Bangalore Lions vs Sher-e-Jallandhar

January 15 Chandigarh Dynamos vs Bangalore Lions

January 19 Bangalore Lions vs Maratha Warriors

January 20 Hyderabad Sultans vs Chandigarh Dynamos

January 21 Sher-e-Jallandhar vs Chandigarh Dynamos

January 22 Hyderabad Sultans vs Maratha Warriors

January 23 Bangalore Lions vs Chandigarh Dynamos

January 24 Hyderabad Sultans vs Sher-e-Jallandhar

January 25 Maratha Warriors vs Bangalore Lions

January 26 Chandigarh Dynamos vs Hyderabad Sultans

January 26 Maratha Warriors vs Sher-e-Jallandhar

January 27 Bangalore Lions vs Hyderabad Sultans

January 28 Chandigarh Dynamos vs Maratha Warriors

January 29 Sher-e-Jallandhar vs Bangalore Lions

January 30 First final

January 31 Second final

February 1 Third final

(Matches begin at 7 p.m.)


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SPORTS MAIL

Eves in great form

The Indian womenís cricket team deserves congratulations for winning the ODI series against England 4-1. The team deserves plaudits for its wonderful performance. Defeating a top-class side like England was no cakewalk. The team has shown its competence and proved that it can defeat tough teams by working as a unit.

Bowler Jhulan Goswami, the top wicket-taker in the series, showed that she could single-handedly win matches for India. She was well-supported by Amita Sharma at the other end.

Openers Karuna Jain and Monica batted well. The middle order consisting of captain Mithali Raj and Anjum Chopra was rock solid.

The team is going great guns. Now it is the turn of their sponsors and the government to do the rest for promoting womenís cricket in India.

Tarika, Patiala

Gangulyís return

A hue and cry was raised over the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the Indian team despite his reasonably good performance in the New Delhi Test against Sri Lanka. There were protests from all quarters over his omission. The issue was even raised in the Lok Sabha. Whatever may be the claims of Sharad Pawar and Kiran More, the fact is that all such protests forced the selectors to recall Ganguly for the Pakistan tour.

The question is: Why do we take such a stand only for cricket players? Why donít we show the same kind of passion for ďdiscardedĒ players in other sports? Undoubtedly, politics has made keep inroads into most sports disciplines in the country.

We often hear about deserving players being meted unfair treatment. In 2004, Dhanraj Pillay was brought in only at the fag-end of a classification match against South Korea at the Athens Olympics. There could not have been a worse way of bidding farewell to a great player who was playing his last Olympics. We even saw Pillay crying on TV after the match. Surprisingly, it failed to move the nation.

We all must show passion vis-a-vis all games and rise in unison against any high-handedness by the people managing sports bodies in the country. The wrong-doers must be brought down to their knees just like what happened in Gangulyís case.

Surendra Miglani, Kaithal

Lanka laid low

Kudos to skipper Rahul Dravid and stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag for leading India to victory in the Test series against Sri Lanka. India outclassed Sri Lanka in all aspects of the game, be it batting, bowling or fielding. However, in most of the innings, the top-order batsmen fared miserably and it was the lower order that gave respectability to the score. The bowlers, especially the spin duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, wrecked the Sri Lankan innings.

It is heartening to note that India now stand second in the ICC rankings and Irfan Pathan is considered to be one of the top five all-rounders.

D.K. Aggarwala, Hoshiarpur

Pathetic show

India put up a pathetic show in the Champions Trophy, much to the chagrin of hockey lovers. They lost all but one but one league match. In the clash for the wooden spoon, they lost to arch-rivals Pakistan 3-4 from a very good position and failed to qualify for the 2006 event. The forwards were leaden-footed and miserably failed to make use of the gilt-edged chances that came their way.

The defenders were sluggish and tactless. Through his faulty tackling, Harpal Singh conceded too many penalty corners. First choice goal-keeper Adrian DíSouza did a horrible job under the bar, especially against Australia, when he was at his witsí end as how to defend his citadel.

Goalkeeper Bharat Chhettri, who played in the subsequent matches, put up a spectacular performance. But for his numerous saves, India would have conceded several more goals. Gagan Ajit Singh agonisingly failed to perform and inspire his team-mates.

Coach Rajinder Singh Jr must have rued his decision of leaving out experienced players who are still a force to reckon with. A fit and speedy player, irrespective of his age, can make a big difference to the fortunes of an outfit.

Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala

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