The Indian menís cricket team took almost four decades to record their first Test series win in England. The eves have done it in half the time, writes Ivninderpal Singh
Emulating the much-vaunted menís team has become a habit for Indian women cricketers. Last year, they reached the World Cup final in South Africa, only to lose to Australia in the summit clash (Sourav Gangulyís squad had also finished runners-up behind the Aussies in the World Cup in 2003).
Now they have won their first Test series in England, and that too in double quick time compared to the men. Ajit Wadekarís side did it in 1971, about four decades after Indiaís debut in 1932 at Lordís, while Mithali Rajís team achieved the feat 20 years after Indian women first played a Test in England.
This historic win has excited the Indian media, which otherwise gives little importance to the women cricketersí achievements but goes gaga over even minor victories of the men. This success carries more weight as the eves bounced back after a miserable performance in the one-dayer series, in which they were thrashed 0-4. They managed to avoid defeat in the first Test and came out all guns blazing in the second.
The chief architect of this triumph was Jhulan Goswami, who scalped five wickets in both innings and became the first Indian woman to take 10 wickets in a Test. This girl from Kolkata, who has claimed 33 wickets in eight matches at an average of 16.36 and has taken five wickets in an innings thrice with best figures of 5-25, got all praise from Mithali Raj and coach Sudha Shah.
If Jhulan did well with
the ball, Anjum Chopra and Mithali did it with the bat. Anjum missed a
century by a whisker (98) in the first innings, while Mithali remained
unbeaten in both innings (65 and 22) and stayed till the end to see her
team through. Mithaliís overall record is also very impressive. Her
average in Test cricket is 52, better than that of most current Indian
batsmen. She has scored 512 runs in eight matches, with her highest
being 214 against England at Taunton
Another promising player, wicketkeeper-batsman Karuna Jain, too, contributed to Indiaís success. She scored 34 in the second innings and had a hand in four dismissals. Karuna, who turns 21 today, made an instant impression on her debut in 2004, making 64 against the West Indies, and has been an integral part of the Indian side ever since. She is one of the few players who has a decent average in Tests (24.37) as well as one-dayers (33.62).
However, the Indian team lags behind in the spin department. Though there is left-arm spinner Nooshin Al-Khadeer, who has taken 14 wickets in five matches at an average of 26.64, rival batswomen have figured her out quite well. The team needs to concentrate on the spin attack to trouble the opponents.
Even though the Indian women were blanked in the one-day series against England, their recent record in the shorter version of the game has been impressive. Following their superb show in the 2005 World Cup, they clinched the Womenís Asia Cup earlier this year, beating Sri Lanka in the final. In the 2004-05 season, the eves made a clean sweep against the West Indies in a five-match series. Recently, they defeated Ireland 2-0 in an ODI series before the tour of England.
Despite the consistent performances over the past couple of years, the womenís team has a much lower profile than the menís squad. Female players are paid much less than their male counterparts, and the womenís teams do not receive the kind of support or recognition they deserve.
Moreover, the media, too, is more impressed by the heroics of male cricketers or Sania Mirza. Compared to the attention given to Sania on winning the junior womenís doubles title at Wimbledon in 2003, Mithali Raj received little media recognition after her record-breaking Test double century against England in 2002. Newspapers discuss ratings of mení cricket every week but the news that the Indian womenís team is ranked number three in the world, after Australia and England, has not got due importance.
However, good times are ahead for womenís cricket in India. The Womenís Cricket Association of India, formed in 1973, has finally been merged with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The board has decided to extend full support to the womenís team. Henceforth, the womenís teamís official travel blazer and clothing will display the BCCIís crest.
The 40-day tour of England and Ireland was the first series played by the eves under the aegis of the BCCI. Each player and official of the 18-member team was given travellerís cheques and currency worth $2,000 for the tour. Every player also got a daily allowance of $50 per day which is on a par with what Team India players have been getting on their foreign tours.
The BCCI has also set a time frame of one year for women cricketers to organise themselves in their respective states and integrate with the member units of the BCCI. Even the sponsors are keen on supporting the womenís team. Nike, Team Indiaís kit sponsor, is eager to support the womenís team, but the WCAI has a contract with Sahara till December, 2007.
With the BCCI supporting the team, the women should look to plug the loopholes and go from strength to strength. They should improve their spin attack and learn to perform in crunch situations.
The next big challenge is the quadrangular series to be held in India in February next year, involving World Cup holders Australia, England and New Zealand. India should strive to maintain or better their ranking in Tests as well as one-dayers. The ultimate goal, of course, is to lift the World Cup in Australia in 2009.
WHEN a stray bullet dashed Sandeep Singhís hopes of playing in the hockey World Cup, many observers felt that the Indian team was "jinxed", quoting instances when key players had been sidelined on the eve of major events. So severe was the setback that it seemed destiny loved to single out Indian sportspersons for cruel treatment ó as if other teams didnít lose their big guns at critical junctures.
Australia are competing in the World Cup without super striker Grant Schubert, while Spain donít have injured skipper Juan Escarre, who led his team to their maiden Champions Trophy triumph in 2004 (Incidentally, the Aussies lost no time in announcing the replacement for Schubert, while the Indian Hockey Federation took about two weeks to name Sandeepís substitute). Despite these blows, it wonít be surprising if both Australia and Spain make it to the semis, if not further.
The crisis caused by Sandeepís absence showed how heavily the team relied on him. This over-dependence on a particular player or two is prevalent in a majority of sporting disciplines in India, be it football (Baichung Bhutia), tennis (Leander Paes in the Davis Cup) or cricket (Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble in Tests; Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in one-dayers). Indian teams have suffered many a time when their trump card has failed to click or got injured.
Depth and bench strength are the two qualities which distinguish a top-class team. Spain comfortably won the World Basketball Championship in Japan last week, even though their number one cager, Pau Gasol, had to sit out of the final against Greece. The unavailability of Gasol, who was declared the player of the tournament, failed to demoralise his team-mates. Instead, it spurred them to rise to the occasion, propelling Spain to a resounding win over the team that had upset hot favourites USA in the semifinal.
Australia clinched the 2003 cricket World Cup without the help of spin king Shane Warne, who was banned after getting embroiled in a doping scandal. The Aussies had so much firepower that they did not miss Warne even when the chips were down.
In the 2006 football World Cup, as many as 10 players shared the 12 goals scored by champions Italy. The team prospered by not putting the entire burden of scoring on one or two strikers. In fact, the Azzurri had no "over-rated" stars, who often prove to be a liability rather than an asset. Surprise finalists France, on the other hand, missed the red-carded Zinedine Zidane during the all-important penalty shootout in the final.
There is hardly any place for one-man armies in todayís highly competitive and hectic sporting world. Individual brilliance can win the day occasionally, but it cannot hide a teamís deficiencies for long. On-field injuries, off-field mishaps, expulsions, doping charges, even retirement ó any of these can cause the loss of an "indispensable" player. Only those teams call the shots which are able to overcome such setbacks, finding new match-winners in the process.
Spainís Pau Gasol limped away with the most valuable player award at the World Basketball Championship after watching from the bench as his team-mates thrashed Greece in the final.
Gasol, Spainís leading scorer and rebounder, was unable to play in the deciding match after breaking his toe in their semifinal win over Argentina.
However, the Memphis Grizzlies centre had been one of the championshipís dominant figures by leading Spain into the final with an unbeaten 8-0 record.
"Iím very happy about winning the award," said the seven-footer, who hobbled to the podium to accept his award as his team-mates bowed. "It was frustrating not being able to play in the final.
"I played so hard to keep us winning in this tournament," said the NBA All-Star. "My team-mates were so motivated to make me proud...and to show weíre a great team even without me."
Gasol also made it easily to the championship All-Star team, that included team-mate and Toronto Raptor Jorge Garbajosa.
The pair were joined by Denver Nuggets Carmelo Anthony, who helped the USA to the bronze medal, and Argentinaís NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs.
Greek guard Theodoros Papaloukas was the only member of the All-Star team not currently playing in the NBA. ó Reuters
Flicker of hope
Pitchforked into the hockey World Cup due to the absence of drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, VR Raghunath of Karnataka has got a golden chance to show his mettle on the grand stage.
The 19-year-old penalty-corner specialist faces the onerous task of living up to the expectations of the selectors, who chose him ahead of Jugraj Singh and Vikramjit Singh.
"A fine performance by Raghunath in the recent South Asian Games in Colombo drew the attention of the Indian Hockey Federation top brass. Even though India had to settle for the silver medal, he played his part by scoring four goals", said former Indian coach Rajinder Singh Junior, who has closely observed the progress of the player in several events and preparatory camps.
Raghunath made his debut in the senior team in February this year in the six-match Test series against Pakistan. He got this big break following his stellar show in the Premier Hockey League held at Chandigarh in January. Thanks to his deadly drag-flicks, he emerged as the top scorer in Tier II with 10 goals. His contribution helped his team, Chennai Veerans, finish runners-up behind Orissa Steelers.
On the junior circuit, Raghunath was part of the team in the four-nation tournament at Singapore. He also captained the winning Indian team in the Sub-Junior Asia Cup in Dhaka.
Raghunath, who started playing hockey at an early age, has honed his skills under the guidance of ID Prabhakar. He is a product of the Sports Authority of Indiaís Training Centre in Bangalore.
Terming him a very talented player, Rajinder Junior said: "International exposure and hard-core training methods would make him a better player. The experience of playing against top teams like Germany and Holland would help him learn advanced techniques".
Indian athletes bagged the maximum number of medals (234) in the 10th South Asian Games in Colombo, followed by Sri Lanka (178) and Pakistan (158). However, our athletes stand practically nowhere vis-a-vis top Asian countries like China and South Korea.
Our performance is not worth boasting about. Taking into consideration the three main contenders, the ratio between India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is 51:8:1 population-wise and 50:12:1 area-wise. Hence, Sri Lankaís performance was the best, followed by that of Pakistan and then India. Even Nepalís tally of 54 medals is not bad considering their population.
It is quite unfortunate that drag-flicker Sandeep Singh has lost the chance to play in the hockey World Cup due to a freak injury. Incidentally, Sandeepís predecessor Jugraj Singh was injured in a road mishap a few months before the 2004 Athens Olympics. The cruel hand of destiny has again dashed Indiaís hopes. Rather than executing his trademark drag-flicks in Germany, Sandeep has been confined to a hospital bed.
Amarjeet Kaur Mann
There should be a CBI probe into the firing in which Sandeep Singh was injured. It is perplexing how ASI Mohar Singhís revolver went off accidentally. The Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and the Haryana CM, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, deserve praise for visiting the injured player at the PGI and providing financial assistance to his parents.