Beyond the boundary
IN THE NEWS
Tier II of the Premier Hockey League saw a pitched battle for supremacy in which Sunil Ekka’s team came up trumps, reports Akash Ghai
It takes a good team to win when it matters the most. Before the start of the final Tier II match of the Premier Hockey League, Orissa Steelers were one point behind the leaders, Chennai Veerans. The Steelers had to beat Imphal Rangers to emerge outright winners, and that’s exactly what they did.
The triumph not only brought the team a purse of Rs 4 lakh but also promoted them to Tier I in next year’s PHL. The icing on the cake was that their skipper Sunil Ekka was named the player of the tournament for his brilliant performance and he became richer by Rs 75,000.
The Steelers topped the tally with 21 points, followed by the Veerans with 19 points. The team played eight matches, winning seven and losing only one against the Veerans (0-1). They scored a total of 20 goals and conceded 10.
Throughout the tournament, the Veerans gave the Steelers a run for their money. The runners-up, too, won seven matches out of eight.
Sunil Ekka was the man who inspired the Steelers to victory. He was also the top scorer for his team with five goals.(Drag-flicker Raghunath of the Veerans was the overall top scorer with 10 goals).
"We have achieved our goal, though we faced some problems as there was no practice or preparatory camp before the league started", said the captain after winning the trophy.
Talking about the other teams, he said, "The Veerans were the toughest side in our Tier and they beat us with a golden goal. The other team which posed problems for us was Imphal Rangers".
Stressing the need for a preparatory camp before such a major tournament, Ekka said, "Such camps increase understanding between the captain, other players and the coach. We came to Chandigarh without any practice session, so it was difficult for the players to gel as a team in the initial matches".
Ekka, who belongs to Lulkidihi Nwapara, a village in Sundergarh district (Orissa), represented the Indian team during the Formation Cup in Australia in 2004. He is a havildar in the Army at Bangalore and plays for Services XI.
Ekka gave credit for the win to the entire team. In spite of the Steelers’ promotion to Tier I, he thought there was still room for improvement. "Our midfield was weak in terms of ball rotation. But the coordination among the forwards was our strong point", said Ekka, who wants to be part of the Indian squad.
Steelers’ coach A.K. Bansal, who was the assistant coach of the Indian team in 2000, expressed satisfaction over the team’s performance. "My boys played very well and did the job", said Bansal, who also coached the Indian women’s team from 2001 to 2003.
Bansal admitted that the team was weak in defence. "Our defence was not good, but all that matters is winning the top honours," said the coach, who has also been the chief coach of the under-16 and under-18 boys’ teams.
On the team’s chances in Tier I next year, Bansal said, "Changes will be made in the team as some big names will be included for the PHL’s next edition. A clear picture will emerge when the team is formed."
Beyond the boundary
It’s a moment every batsman dreams of and every bowler dreads. Dancing down the track to a spinner, or fearlessly hooking a pacer, the batsman stamps his dominance with a majestic hit. Even the dullest match comes alive when the ball sails over the ropes and the umpire raises his arms to signal a SIX.
Contemporary cricket is privileged to have fearsome blasters like Shahid Afridi, Andrew Symonds, Chris Cairns, Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist. An ideal blend of power and timing has seen them belt the ball time and again beyond the boundary. A generation ago, the likes of Vivian Richards, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham used to hit sixes with gay abandon.
Savour these facts and figures about the "six" maniacs (but do spare a thought for the bowlers who suffered at their hands).
l Cairns and Gilchrist hold the overall Test record for the most number of sixes — 87. While the Kiwi all-rounder played 62 Tests, the Aussie wicketkeeper has so far figured in 80 matches. Viv Richards is second with a tally of 84 (from 121 matches). Among the Indians, Kapil Dev is the leader with 61 in 131 Tests. Shahid Afridi has hit 47 sixes in only 22 matches (including the first innings of the Faisalabad Test against India). The rate at which the powerful Pathan is going, he can smash the record sooner or later.
lIn a Test innings, Wasim Akram is on top with 12 sixes in his unbeaten 257 against Zimbabwe at Sheikhupura, 1996-97. At the number two spot with 11 hits are New Zealand’s Nathan Astle (222 against England at Christchurch, 2001-02) and Matthew Hayden (380 versus Zimbabwe at Perth, 2003-04).
IN THE NEWS
For Sania Mirza and her fans, 2006 began on a disappointing note as she made an early exit from the Australian Open in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Sania could not match her last year’s performance at Melbourne when she became the first Indian girl to enter the third round of a Grand Slam event.
Last year, she arrived at the Australian Open as a virtual nonentity, ranked 166th and needing a wild-card entry. She progressed to the third round, where she went down fighting to No. 7 seed and eventual champion Serena Williams. Sania’s performance helped her climb up the ranking to No. 132.
This year, the 19-year-old Indian was seeded 32nd. Before the start of the Australian Open, Sania said: "It all started here. It’s always going to be very special for me to come back here."
But she had to depart on the eighth day of the tournament after losing in the first round of mixed doubles partnering Stephen Huss of Australia. The pair went down to Bob Bryan of the USA and Vera Zvonareva of Russia 3-6, 3-6.
She had already lost in singles to lower-ranked Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands 3-6, 5-7 in the second round and bit the dust in doubles as well after she and her American partner Corina Morariu were thrashed 6-2, 6-1 by 14th seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Amelie Mauresmo of France.
Her only success in this year’s Australian Open was the 7-6, 6-2 first-round victory over qualifier Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. She needed 81 minutes to brush off the challenge from the world junior champion who was making her maiden appearance in Melbourne.
Going by her last year’s performance in Grand Slam events, she has been doing well in singles but missing out in the doubles. At Wimbledon, she defeated Morigami of Japan 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 in the first round before losing 4-6, 7-6, 4-6 in the second to Russia’s Kuznetsova, seeded No. 5.
On her US Open debut, she became the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam event. She defeated Mashona Washington of the USA, M.E. Camerin of Italy and M. Bartoli of France before going down to Maria Sharapova of Russia. At both these Grand Slam tournaments, she bowed out of doubles in the very first round. It was only at the French Open that she managed to go past the first round in doubles.
Sania needs to concentrate on singles to realise her dream of breaking into the top 10. Singles is her strength and there are several important tournaments coming up in which she can excel, such as the Hyderabad Open, which she won last year. It will help her to be consistent as the style and strategies used in doubles are different, just as cricketers need different temperaments while playing in Tests and one-dayers.
Playing in Grand Slam events and facing the likes of Lindsay Davenport and Sharapova is not easy, as she herself admits: "The top-10 players are very tough. They don’t give you easy points."
For tackling top players, she has to put all her energies into singles, rather than trying to do too many things at the same time.
It is just the beginning of the year for the teen sensation, who has boosted the popularity of tennis in India and made a dent in cricket’s supremacy as the number one sport. To climb up the WTA ranking and bring home coveted titles, she should not rest on her laurels. Three Grand Slam events and other high-profile contests will give her several chances to bounce back. Let’s see how she recovers after a shaky start.
Pillay still an asset
Apropos of the news item titled "I have nothing left to prove: Pillay" (The Tribune, January 20), it is true that Dhanraj Pillay, the veteran of four Olympics, four World Cups, four Asian Games and four Champions Trophy tournaments, still has much hockey left in him.
At 37 he is amazingly going great guns. He can be termed as an ageless player who is still agile and fit as a fiddle. Moreover, he has not been found wanting in skills and artistry. This mercurial forward can be an asset to Indian hockey rather than a liability. But the IHF has chosen to ignore him.
Watching Pillay spearhead Maratha Warriors’ campaign in the PHL has been a delight. His extraordinary performances in Nehru hockey, Surjit hockey and the PHL have silenced his detractors. Along with Baljit Dhillon, he can form a formidable duo which can breach any defence of a national outfit, but the IHF has kept them both out, thus depriving the nation of the services of the two versatile players. Consequently, the biggest loser is Indian hockey.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala
Last year’s runners-up Punjab disappointingly failed to reach the semifinal stage of the Ranji Trophy this year. The entire team is to blamed for this because there were hardly any strong teams in Group B. To some extent, the BCCI played a part in Punjab’s exit. Whereas Zaheer Khan was allowed to play for Baroda, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh were not permitted to play for Punjab. As a result, Punjab could not gain any point in the crucial encounter against Baroda.
In subsequent matches also, the board directed Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Parthiv Patel to play Ranji matches and join the team later in Pakistan. Why were Harbhajan and Yuvraj not allowed to do so?
Punjab won the Ranji Trophy in 1993 when former spinner Bishan Singh Bedi was the coach. The Punjab Cricket Association should utilise his services again.
Pritpal Singh, Patiala
Eves on song
Kudos to the Indian women cricketers on their victory in the Asia Cup. The team lived up to the expectations and emerged as the best team in the tournament. Jaya Sharma gave a scintillating performance all along and bagged the player of the series award. She played a wonderful knock of 138 not out against Pakistan and also shared a record 223-run partnership with Anjum Chopra (86). Openers Karuna Jain and Monica Samra gave India good starts.
The bowlers performed excellently, not only taking wickets but also maintaining an impressive economy rate. Bowlers like Neetu David, Varsana Raphael, Amita Sharma, Rumeli Dhar, Nooshin-al-Khadeer and Jhulan Goswami were all in splendid farm.
Captain Mithali Raj lead from the front and scored useful runs in virtually every match. She guided the team to victory in the final against Sri Lanka with her knock of 108 runs.
Tarika Narula, Patiala