SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Perfect partner
Mahesh Bhupathi is the man whom leading ladies of tennis can bank upon  to win Grand Slam titles, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan
W
hen comeback girl Martina Hingis won her first mixed doubles crown at the Australian Open last week, she thanked Mahesh Bhupathi for taking a “huge risk” and showing faith in her.  It was nothing short of a privilege for Hingis to play along with Bhupathi. That shows how big a reputation he has in doubles. 
Mahesh Bhupathi with Martina Hingis at the Australian Open; with Mary Pierce at Wimbledon; and flanked by Daniela Hantuchova at the US Open
“Ladies’ Man”: (clockwise from left) Mahesh Bhupathi with Martina Hingis at the Australian Open; with Mary Pierce at Wimbledon; and flanked by Daniela Hantuchova at the US Open. — Photos by AFP, Reuters

Colts ready to gallop
Ivninderpal Singh
I
t is an ideal platform for promising cricketers to show their mettle in the international arena and break into the big league. It was the ICC Under-19 World Cup where Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh first made their presence felt.

Jumbo effort
Rubinder Gill
W
ith support and dedication, a sports club can go a long way. Backed by the Army, MES Cricket Club at Patiala was founded on January 26, 1986, by Senior Barrack Store Officer Fatehullah Khan, a former Ranji Trophy player for Uttar Pradesh. The objective was to train children of defence personnel and provide them good facilities, bringing experienced coaches to teach them the nuances of the game.

Players of the Patiala-based Black Elephant Club during a training session. — Photo by Rajesh Sachar 
Players of the Patiala-based Black Elephant Club during a training session

Corus singer
V
iswanathan Anand’s victory in the Corus Chess Tournament promises another great year for the Indian ace. Anand won the event for a record fifth time and will cross the 2,800 ELO barrier for the first time in his career. In all, Anand scored nine points out of a possible 13 and tied for the first place along with world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria.
Viswanathan Anand has made a rousing start to 2006, winning the first major event of the year.
Viswanathan Anand has made a rousing start to 2006, winning the first major event of the year

   

 

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Perfect partner
Mahesh Bhupathi is the man whom leading ladies of tennis can bank upon to win Grand Slam titles, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan

When comeback girl Martina Hingis won her first mixed doubles crown at the Australian Open last week, she thanked Mahesh Bhupathi for taking a “huge risk” and showing faith in her. It was nothing short of a privilege for Hingis to play along with Bhupathi. That shows how big a reputation he has in doubles. Bhupathi has six Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to his name, each with a different partner. Add to that the four men’s doubles titles and you get a “perfect 10”, three more than those won by his former partner Leander Paes.

It used to be said of Anand Amritraj — in jest, of course — that “he has a girl at every port of call”. Anand was a flamboyant player who partnered younger brother Vijay Amritraj in many a memorable doubles win, particularly in the Davis Cup. He rarely struck gold in mixed doubles, but the new “Ladies’ Man”, Bhupathi, seems to have acquired the Midas touch.

Bhupathi had been trying to team up with Hingis for the past seven years, but things did not work out. In the meantime, Hingis took a three-year break from tennis. When Bhupathi heard of her decision to return to the Grand Slam circuit, he expressed his interest in teaming up with her, and this time the 25-year-old Hingis agreed. The rest is his-(s)tory.

The Indian-Swiss pair struck up instant rapport to produce one good performance after another, culminating in the straight-set victory over Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Russia’s Elena Likhovtseva in the summit clash. Ironically, Likhovtseva was Bhupathi’s partner when he lifted the Wimbledon title in 2002.

The Australian Open mixed doubles win was ample compensation for losing in men’s doubles as Bhupathi and his South African partner Wesley Moodie, ranked 11th, were ousted by the seventh-ranked Indo-Czech pair of Leander Paes and Martin Damm, who fought back from a set down to clinch the match. Paes and Damm went on to reach the final, where they lost to the Bryan brothers.

Bhupathi, however, fared much better than Paes in mixed doubles. The latter and his French partner Nathalie Dechy were shown the door in the semifinals. The exit was particularly galling for Paes as he had partnered Martina Navratilova to win the title at Melbourne in 2003. Moreover, Leander and Dechy had toppled the top-seeded pair of Kevin Ullyett and Cara Black of Zimbabwe in the opening round.

Bhupathi and Hingis, on the other hand, went from strength to strength. Their victims included second seeds Jonas Bjorkman and Lisa Raymond. For Hingis, her 15th Grand Slam title victory brought some consolation for her unfortunate exit from the singles event, where she retired in the quarterfinal against Kim Clijsters.

Bhupathi’s success is mainly on account of his focused attention on doubles, though he was no mean singles player either. He realised long ago that his forte was doubles, and he gave undivided attention to reap the rewards and emerge as the most successful tennis player of India. Paes, on the other hand, has done a lot of singles duty for India over the years in the Davis Cup, besides the Olympics.

Having won the Wimbledon and US Open titles last year with Mary Pierce of France and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, respectively, Bhupathi got a hat-trick by clinching the Australian Open with Hingis. Incidentally, he achieved this feat on the day pacer Irfan Pathan got a hat-trick against Pakistan at Karachi.

Bhupathi had started the Grand Slam boom for Indians when he teamed up with Rika Hiraki of Japan to capture the French Open title in 1997. Then he and Leander got together to notch up some amazing wins, but they split when both were going great guns. Though their performances in men’s doubles have not been the same after parting company, Bhupathi has done quite well in mixed doubles.

Hingis was his 14th mixed doubles partner in the past 10 years but this time round, Bhupathi is keen to prolong the association as he has made known his intentions of teaming up with her in the French Open and the Wimbledon as well.

Bhupathi partnered Ai Sugiyama in four tournaments, Elena Likhovtseva in 10, Mirjana Lucic and Lisa Raymond in three each, Rika Hiraki in two, and Caroline Vis, Rennae Stubbs, Anabela Ellwood, Martina Navratilova, Jelena Dokic, Irola Tulyaganova, Mary Pierce and Daniela Hantuchova in one each. But it looks like his association with Hingis, former World No. 1 in singles, will last longer.

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Colts ready to gallop
Ivninderpal Singh

Led by Ravikant Shukla, the Indian under-19 team is among the favourites for the World Cup
Led by Ravikant Shukla, the Indian under-19 team is among the favourites for the World Cup. — Tribune photo by Pradeep Tewari

It is an ideal platform for promising cricketers to show their mettle in the international arena and break into the big league. It was the ICC Under-19 World Cup where Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh first made their presence felt.

Other stars like Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Graeme Smith, Michael Clarke and Danish Kaneria have also distinguished themselves in this biennial event, whose sixth edition begins tomorrow in Sri Lanka. Several potential stars are likely to be spotted this time as well.

The tournament began with a one-off event in Australia in 1988, when it was won by the hosts. After a 10-year gap, South Africa hosted it in 1998. Since then it has become a regular fixture in the international calendar.

Sixteen teams divided in four groups are scheduled to play 44 matches over 15 days at five venues in Colombo culminating in the final on February 19 at the R. Premadasa Stadium.

India, who won the tournament under Kaif’s captaincy when it was previously hosted by Sri Lanka in 2000, are in Group C with Scotland, Namibia and the hosts. Group A features New Zealand, Bangladesh, Uganda and defending champions Pakistan; Group B has West Indies, South Africa, Australia and USA; while England, Zimbabwe, Nepal and Ireland are in Group D.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super League, while the bottom two from each group will play in the Plate Championship.

Apart from their title win in 2000, India qualified for the Super League semifinals in the 2002 and 2004 World Cups.

This time, the Indian team is being led by Ravikant Shukla and coached by former Indian seamer Venkatesh Prasad.

India’s form ahead of the tournament make them one of the favourites. They beat Australia 4-1 in a one-day series at home last September and followed that by winning the six-nation Afro-Asia Under-19 Cup in Visakhapatnam in November. India won all six matches they played in that tournament, including a comprehensive eight-wicket thrashing of Sri Lanka in the final.

The Indian squad has up-and-coming players like opening batsman Gaurav Dhiman, who amassed 423 runs, including two hundreds, in the Afro-Asia Cup at a strike rate of better than a run a ball, and all-rounder Piyush Chawla, India’s most successful bowler against Australia (eight wickets) and in the Afro-Asia Cup (15 wickets).

With Scotland and Namibia being in their group, India should advance easily to the Super League stage along with the hosts.

India face Namibia on February 6 , Scotland on February 8 and Sri Lanka on February 10. The Super League quarterfinals will be played on February 11 and 13, while the semifinals will be held on February 15 and 16. The final is slated for February 19.

Would the Emerald Isles again prove to be a happy hunting ground for India’s talented youngsters? We will get the answer in two weeks’ time. 

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Jumbo effort
Rubinder Gill

With support and dedication, a sports club can go a long way. Backed by the Army, MES Cricket Club at Patiala was founded on January 26, 1986, by Senior Barrack Store Officer Fatehullah Khan, a former Ranji Trophy player for Uttar Pradesh. The objective was to train children of defence personnel and provide them good facilities, bringing experienced coaches to teach them the nuances of the game. The name was changed to Black Elephant Cricket Club on September 17, 2005, as the centre had children from all sections of defence background.

The centre started on a modest note with 15 boys. With Army assistance, the centre has spread its wings and the number of players has increased to 70. Impressed with the good work, the Army authorities provided a full-size ground to the centre in 2004. Encouraged by the assistance, the centre started two tournaments for boys in the age group of 11-13 years. Teams from all over the 
country participated in both 
tournaments.

The centre faced a hard time as it grappled with a resource crunch. The only source of income was the monthly fees paid by boys who took admission in the centre.

The funds thus generated were not even enough for the salaries of three coaches and three groundsmen. At this juncture the Punjab Today Foundation extended financial help to the centre.

Today, the centre has made a name for itself in North India. It got affiliated to the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) on February 27, 2004. The PCA provides the centre Rs 50,000 every year to buy equipment. Slowly and steadily the centre is accumulating the required equipment. Last year the centre bought a grass-cutting machine with the funds 
provided by the PCA.

The players are taught the finer points of the game by three coaches — P.D. Shukla, H.S. Arora and Kailash Kumar — who hone the skills of fledging players. Shukla is a former Ranji Trophy player for Punjab, while Arora represented Agra University. Young Kailash Kumar plays for local Khalsa College. Coach Parmod Kumar Kush of the Sports Authority of India is also at hand to attend to the needs of the young wards.

The centre ground is used through the year by various agencies. The all-India under-16 national championship for Kendriya Vidyalayas for boys was also held here, besides many inter-district matches. The centre also conducted the Prof Gursewak Singh Memorial Tournament (under-14) and the Dhruv Pandove Trophy recently.

The financial situation may be tight but the staff ensures that talented players don’t lag behind in terms of training and coaching. Budding players are nurtured with care to take the game forward. 

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Corus singer

Viswanathan Anand’s victory in the Corus Chess Tournament promises another great year for the Indian ace. Anand won the event for a record fifth time and will cross the 2,800 ELO barrier for the first time in his career. In all, Anand scored nine points out of a possible 13 and tied for the first place along with world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria. However, the Indian won the title as his tie-break was superior than the Bulgarian.

Anand will next participate in the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Chess Tournament to be held at Monaco in March.

It turned out to be a tough contest between Anand and Topalov right from the beginning of this first major event of the year.

With just a round to go, Topalov was leading the table with 8.5 points . It was an amazing photo finish by Anand, who defeated Boris Gelfand of Israel to catch up with the leader, who was held to a draw by last year's winner Peter Leko of Hungary. — PTI

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SPORTS MAIL

Hats off to Pathan

Irfan Pathan made history in the Karachi Test by taking a hat-trick. It was virtually a “golden” hat-trick as he reduced Pakistan to 0 for 3. He became the second Indian bowler after Harbhajan Singh to perform this feat. Harbhajan took a hat-trick at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata against Australia in 2001.

Pathan has become the first bowler in Test history to do it in the first over of a match.

Gurdershan Singh, Chandigarh

Popat’s record

Olympian Aparna Popat continues to rule the roost in Indian women’s badminton. Recently, she won the National Championship for the ninth consecutive time by defeating Saina Nehal in the final. With this win, she also equalled Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone’s record.

In the men’s final, Anup Shreedhar defeated Arvind Bhatt to bag the national title.

With several players performing well at the national and international levels, badminton is set to emerge as a popular sport.

Tarika Narula, Patiala

Raw deal

There was a hue and cry over the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the Indian team. However, there has been no protest over the unfair treatment meted out to Dhanraj Pillay, who has served Indian hockey for over 15 years. No outstanding player should be made to leave the scene in anguish.

Nirmal Kumar, Panchkula

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