SPORTS TRIBUNE


Crack shot
With his landmark victory at the world championship, Abhinav Bindra has raised hopes of an Olympic gold medal, writes Akash Ghai
It was on July 13, 1995, when a 13-year-old boy, accompanying his father and a family friend, visited the house of shooting coach Col Jagir Singh Dhillon in Chandigarh.


Abhinav Bindra braved a severe back injury to come up trumps. — Photo by AP/PTI

Abhinav Bindra braved a severe back injury to come up trumps.

Tiger’s tears
K.R. Wadhwaney

Earl Woods was more like Tiger’s friend than father. No wonder Tiger intensely mourns his death. He sobbed inconsolably on the shoulder of his caddie Steve Williams after becoming the first player to win back-to-back British Open titles since Tom Watson in 1982-83.

Comeback man
Ivninderpal Singh

Dinesh Mongia is back in Team India for his second innings. He was not very impressive in his first stint, which began against Australia on March 28, 2001, at Pune and ended against Pakistan at New Delhi on April 17, 2005.

IN THE NEWS
Back on track
Sania Mirza produced her best performance of the year so far to reach the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Open last week. She went down to top seed and defending champion Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, but not before putting up a gallant fight. Despite her shock defeat at the hands of little-known Russian Vasilisa Bardina in the Stanford Open earlier this week, Sania’s preparations for the US Open, which begins in late August, have not suffered a setback.

Sania Mirza’s preparations for the US Open got a timely boost with her quarterfinal-finish at the Cincinnati Open. — Photo by AP/PTI
Sania Mirza’s preparations for the US Open got a timely boost with her quarterfinal-finish at the Cincinnati Open.






 

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Crack shot

With his landmark victory at the world championship, Abhinav Bindra has raised hopes of an Olympic gold medal, writes Akash Ghai

It was on July 13, 1995, when a 13-year-old boy, accompanying his father and a family friend, visited the house of shooting coach Col Jagir Singh Dhillon in Chandigarh.

The family friend was Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi (presently Chief Parliamentary Secretary, Punjab), who hoped that Colonel Dhillon would make the boy a world champion one day.

Exactly 11 years and 11 days later, Abhinav Bindra made those words come true as he emerged the world champion in the 10 m air rifle event at the ISSF World Shooting Championship at Zagreb (Croatia) on July 24. He also became the first Indian shooter to win the gold medal at a world championship.

Despite a severe back injury, Abhinav did it through sheer grit and passion.

The icing on the cake was that the accomplishment also secured his berth for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Abhinav has become the fifth shooter to qualify for the Olympics after Gagan Narang, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Anjali Vedpathak and Manavjit Sandhu.

At Zagreb, Abhinav put up a magnificent show. In the qualifying round, he shot 100, 99, 100, 100, 99 and 99 for a total of 597/600 to enter the final. He fired 102.7 in the final to total 699.7 points that clinched him the gold medal. Before this, only the legendary Karni Singh and Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had made such an impact at the world championships. Dr Karni Singh won the silver medal in the trap event at Rome in 1962, while Rathore had won the bronze in the double trap event at Cairo in 2003.

Abhinav not only triumphed over his rivals but also over adversity. He has been suffering from a back injury, which he developed during the Commonwealth Games in March this year. Despite that, he came back from Melbourne with two gold, one silver and one 
bronze medal.

The ailment started affecting his performance as he could not do well in three World Cup events. In China, he finished ninth, whereas he stood 27th and 42nd in Germany and Italy, respectively.

Taking these failures in his stride, Abhinav came up with an inspired show at Zagreb, raising hopes of an Olympic gold.

Dhillon believes that Abhinav can triumph at Beijing 2008. “It’s vital for him to stay focused over the next two years. The Asian Games in Doha later this year will give him another good opportunity to challenge the formidable Chinese shooters,” he said.

Recalling Abhinav’s formative years, Dhillon said the sharpshooter did not evince much interest in the sport initially. “To motivate him, I promised him that his photographs would appear in newspapers if he excelled. This strategy worked instantly and today, because of his dedication, hard work and full family support, he has managed to make it to the front page of top newspapers”, gushes Dhillon.

Creating records has become Abhinav’s forte. He became the youngest Olympian of the country when he participated in the Sydney games in 2000 at the age of 18. He was also the youngest recipient of the Arjuna Award (2000) and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (2001). He is also a two-time world-record holder.

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, he reached the final but faltered at a crucial stage to lose his chance of winning a medal. If he keeps going great guns, his golden Olympic dream is likely to be realised at Beijing.
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Tiger’s tears
K.R. Wadhwaney

British Open champion Tiger Woods (right) was consoled by his caddie Steve Williams after he broke down on remembering his father.
British Open champion Tiger Woods (right) was consoled by his caddie Steve Williams after he broke down on remembering his father. — Reuters photo

Earl Woods was more like Tiger’s friend than father. No wonder Tiger intensely mourns his death. He sobbed inconsolably on the shoulder of his caddie Steve Williams after becoming the first player to win back-to-back British Open titles since Tom Watson in 1982-83.

Tiger, who is a picture of serenity both in triumphs and tragedies, for once became highly emotional, although he did not encounter any hiccups on the road to victory. His emotions were vastly different from those of the 44-year-old Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina in 1967 on the Hoylake course, which was hosting the prestigious competition after 39 years.

Unlike Tiger, who has won 11 majors, including two successive British Open titles, Roberto had a very difficult climb. He was fourth in 1948, third in 1949, second in 1950, sixth in 1953, third in 1956, third in 1960, third in 1964 and fourth in 1965. In 1966 at Muirfield, the Argentinian said he was not returning to play in the Open as he had played a round of 77 for a total of 294. This was his worst performance.

Roberto, however, changed his mind and returned to the Open in 1967. He was ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, two in-form players. Would he win or fail again, as had happened so often? He was unsure of himself as the fourth and final round began. But his luck held out.

It is said the scenes at the finish were among the most extraordinary ever seen on a British golf course. The new champion was accorded an ovation that belied the old notion that the British were undemonstrative people.

A remarkable incident took place as Roberto was signing his card. Time and again, a kid had handed the golfer a sweet. The boy shyly asked: “Mr De Vicenzo, will you have another of my sweets?” Touched by the boy’s request, Roberto put his arm around the kid’s shoulder and replied: “Of course I will. You know, if it hadn’t been for your sweets I don’t think I would have won.”

Such are the emotions when renowned golfers like Tiger Woods participate in prestigious competitions. According to reports, Tiger had not even seen the Hoylake course or its pictures before the event.
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Comeback man
Ivninderpal Singh

Dinesh Mongia is expected to strengthen the middle order as well as provide crucial breakthroughs
Dinesh Mongia is expected to strengthen the middle order as well as provide crucial breakthroughs

Dinesh Mongia is back in Team India for his second innings. He was not very impressive in his first stint, which began against Australia on March 28, 2001, at Pune and ended against Pakistan at New Delhi on April 17, 2005.

He has played 51 matches and scored 1073 runs at an average of 27.51, crossing the 100-run mark just once and that too against Zimbabwe at Guwahati in 2002, when he hammered 159. On the bowling front, too, he has taken just eight wickets at an average of 46.25 — no way near regular bowlers like Harbhajan Singh (154 wickets at an average of 31.19) and Ramesh Powar (16 wickets at 34 runs apiece).

However, the selectors have given the 29-year-old another chance, probably the last, to prove himself at the international level. He has got this golden opportunity because of his performances on the domestic circuit as well as in English county cricket. The Punjab player was chosen ahead of Robin Uthappa, who averages a bit higher than him (98 runs in three matches at an average of 32.66), because of his experience and bowling ability.

It seems the selectors were over-cautious after India’s 1-4 drubbing against the West Indies and they wanted to strengthen the middle order with an allrounder like Mongia, who can also bowl and break partnerships.

Mongia’s selection has also invited widespread criticism as Zaheer Khan’s performance in county cricket has been far better than the former. Mongia has eight wickets at an average of 42.5 in nine matches, whereas Zaheer has 48 wickets in his kitty at an average of 24.43 in just eight games.

But Mongia can do what Uthappa and Zaheer can’t. He is an allrounder who can act as the backbone of the middle order and spare India the blushes in case the top order fails to fire. He is the right choice as Team India has many players who can open the innings — Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rahul Dravid — but someone was needed to bolster the middle order.

In contemporary one-day cricket, the middle order is playing the most important role in clinching matches. Middle-order batsmen have to perform whether the top order succeeds or not.

So the pressure will be on Mongia as he has to come up to the expectations of the selectors, the team and the fans. He has to play the role for which he has been chosen and this is his best chance to make himself a strong candidate for the World Cup squad. Otherwise, the tri-series in Sri Lanka might prove to be his final international stint.
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IN THE NEWS
Back on track

Sania Mirza produced her best performance of the year so far to reach the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Open last week. She went down to top seed and defending champion Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, but not before putting up a gallant fight.

Despite her shock defeat at the hands of little-known Russian Vasilisa Bardina in the Stanford Open earlier this week, Sania’s preparations for the US Open, which begins in late August, have not suffered a setback. She has a few tournaments lined up to cut down on her mistakes. Her service, in particular, needs improvement.

It hasn’t been a very good year for Sania in singles (her doubles show has been far better). She was knocked out in the first round at the French Open and Wimbledon. She would be keen to make amends for these failures with a good performance at the year’s last Grand Slam event, the US Open, where she reached the fourth round last year before losing to Maria Sharapova. — Agencies

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SPORTS MAIL

Local teams need support

A nation’s size has nothing to do with its excellence or mediocrity in sports. “Tiny” Togo and Trinidad & Tobago were able to qualify for the football World Cup, while “enormous” China and India watched all the action from home. Incidentally, China won its first track and field Olympic gold only a couple of years ago, while a small country like Jamaica has been among the medals for decades. Geographic size and population figures are meaningless here.

Little is being done in India to support local teams and sports associations. People like to watch matches on TV, but very few of them step outside to root for the local club team at the stadium. The miserable attendance figures at Ranji Trophy matches compared to the capacity crowds at India-Pakistan matches is a telling indicator.

Any nation that is successful in sports has a well-developed network of local, regional and national sports leagues, local clubs, a solid fan base, youth development programmes and corporate participation.

Our sports programmes should be built on the solid foundations of grassroots development and proactive corporate leadership. And this cannot be left only to the bureaucrats. It is the Indian sports fan who needs to get off the couch and root for his or her local sports club.

Khushwant Singh Gill

Bane for bowlers

Cricket has the dubious distinction of being the only game which is invariably loaded in favour of one segment of its players — the batsmen.

While one-dayers were an acid test for bowlers fighting for survival, Twenty20 is all set to be the final nail in their coffin.

In Twenty20, a bowler gets merely four overs to show his mettle, with fielding restrictions in the first six overs being two fielders outside the circle with a minimum of two “stationary” fielders. On top of that, a no-ball is worth two runs, and the batsman gets a free hit on the next ball. He can be dismissed only through a run-out on a free-hit ball.

It is high time bowlers got a lifeline, for they are an indispensable part of the game.

Ravi K. Mahajan, Chandigarh

Cup of joy

Congratulations to Italy for their historic victory in the football World Cup. A judicious mix of defence and offence shattered hosts Germany’s hopes in the semifinal. Italy’s perseverance saw them through in the final against France despite conceding a goal in the early minutes.

Italy displayed a single-mindedness that is worthy of emulation. Moreover, the Italian win was the result of a better game plan. Players such as Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Grosso, Gennaro Gattuso, Marco Materazzi and Gianluigi Buffon were outstanding. The Italians improved their performance by leaps and bounds as the tournament progressed to emerge as world champions. Most of the credit should go to coach Marcello Lippi.

Iqbal Singh Saroya, Mohali

Grass champions

Wimbledon 2006 singles matches were a treat to watch. In the women’s singles, all first four seeds — Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Maria Sharapova, respectively — reached the semifinals. Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne outplayed their opponents to reach the final.

Kudos to Frenchwoman Mauresmo for beating the formidable Belgian to win the grasscourt title for the first time.

The men’s singles, too, was a well-contested affair. Rafael Nadal of Spain, who had thwarted Roger Federer’s attempt to claim all Grand Slam titles by winning this year’s French Open, went down to his adversary, but not before claiming one set.

D.K. Aggarwala, Hoshiarpur

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