Two of a
field of glory
South Asian slump
The abject failure of the much-vaunted subcontinental teams in the Champions Trophy has raised doubts about their preparedness for next year’s World Cup, writes Vikramdeep Johal
THE stage is set for the title clash of the Champions Trophy, a tournament that teams from the subcontinent would like to forget in a hurry. For the first time since 1975, none of the three South Asian powerhouses — India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — were able to reach the semifinals of a major one-day competition (involving at least six nations). It’s a big setback not only for the teams but also for the region, which has become the hub of international cricket in terms of mass appeal, controversies and political as well as financial clout.
The inaugural World Cup in England was the only previous occasion when the subcontinental trio was shut out from the last-four stage. The four semifinalists were the West Indies, Australia, England and New Zealand, with the Caribbeans emerging champions by beating the Aussies in the final. The South Asian teams took some time to adjust to instant cricket, but once they mastered it, they became forces to reckon with.
Pakistan made it to the semis of the 1979 World Cup, only to be beaten by the eventual winners (West Indies), but it was India’s epochal victory in 1983 that took the cricketing world by storm. India proved that their success was no flash in the pan by winning the seven-nation World Championship of Cricket in Australia (1985).
Pakistan’s major one-day triumphs have been the Nehru Cup (1989), the Australasia Cup (1990 and 1994) and the 1992 World Cup, while the Sri Lankans covered themselves in glory in the 1996 World Cup and the 2002 Champions Trophy (the latter was shared with India). Such has been the dominance of the three countries in ODIs that they have between them won eight of the 17 tournaments contested by six or more teams, including the ongoing Champions Trophy (Australia and the West Indies have bagged three big titles each, while South Africa and New Zealand have one apiece to their credit).
The subcontinental teams — barring Bangladesh, of course — were expected to rule the roost in the fifth edition of the biennial event. A resurgent Sri Lanka and "tigers-at-home" India were among the favourites, while nobody was taking Pakistan lightly despite all the off-field hiccups. However, their much-feared batsmen failed to come to grips with the pitches, the weather conditions and some hostile bowling. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf let their teams down due to their inconsistency. In sharp contrast, the four semifinalists showed good adaptability and tenacity under trying circumstances.
In a tournament dominated by the pacers, the South Asian teams didn’t have enough firepower to bowl out the opposition for paltry totals. Buoyant after his team inflicted a crushing defeat on Pakistan at Mohali, South African captain Graeme Smith claimed that he didn’t expect to find such a "greentop" back home.
No country plays as much cricket as the subcontinental trio. Also, the number of one-dayers held in Asia, including neutral venues like Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur, is much higher than those staged in the rest of the cricketing world. The much-bandied word — burnout — is a threat not taken seriously by players from the three nations. No wonder, they are more injury-prone than the others, particularly the Aussies and the South Africans.
With the World Cup merely four months
away, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need to regroup quickly to make some
impact. All three teams have been erratic this year, winning or losing
with equal ease. The three foreign coaches — Greg Chappell, Tom Moody
and Bob Woolmer — have to rethink their strategies and iron out the
players’s flaws before it’s too late. It would be pitifully ironical
if the South Asian bloc, which wields so much power in the higher
echelons of cricket, fails to call the shots on the field.
of a kind
Cousins Kannu Priya and Pallavi have developed a knack for winning badminton titles. Since 2001, they have virtually been the undisputed "queens of the court" in Haryana.
Besides winning the state championships in different age groups in singles, the cousins have also been state champions in doubles year after year since 2002. In the doubles event of the All-India Ranking Tournament (AIRT) held at Chennai in the under-13 category, the duo secured the third place. They also finished third in the AIRT Under-19 group at Kochi.
Kannu, a student of B. Com I at MCM DAV College, Chandigarh, took to the sport when she was in Class V. A year later, she participated in the National School Games held at New Delhi in 1999.
Putting up an impressive performance, she managed to win the bronze medal for her state in the school nationals in 2000 in the under-14 team event.
In 2001, Kannu clinched the state championship title in the under-13 category. Since then, Kannu, who believes in subduing her rivals by exploiting their weaknesses, has remained the unrivalled champion in her age group. She has been the winner in the state competitions in under-16, under-19 and women’s categories.
Interestingly, after the escalation of Kannu to the age group of under-16 in 2002, Pallavi started winning the championship in the under-13 category till 2005, the year she graduated to the under-16 section. Pallavi got the third position in doubles during the AIRT competition at Kochi in 2005.
In 2006, the state championship final was a family affair as the cousins faced each other in the title clash. Pallavi beat Kannu to emerge as the under-19 champion.
Kannu, who won the AIRT event in the under-16 category at Kolkata in 2004, also triumphed in the North Zone Chadha Cup and Sheffi Quereshi Cup in team events held at Shimla in 2004.
Her achievements enabled Kannu to become a member of the "Elite Squad 2010 and 2012" camp, which is being held at Hyderabad in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Only 16 players were selected from all over the country and Kannu was the only one from North Zone who was picked for the camp, which is being conducted by ace badminton player Pullela Gopichand to rectify the flaws of budding players and prepare them for big events.
While Pallavi is keen to become the national champion within two years, Kannu has no such aim. "I do not believe in fixing any target," says Kannu, who is presently in Mumbai representing Panjab University in the All-India Inter-University Tournament.
Both cousins, whose idol is world champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, have been honing their skills under coaches Davinder Rana and Ravinder Kapoor at the badminton centre of the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex, Panchkula. Kannu is satisfied with the infrastructure available at the centre, but she wants that the number of coaches should be increased so that they can give individual attention to the players.
field of glory
THE absence of key players proved to be a blessing in disguise for Punjab as a 19-year-long wait for the Santosh Trophy came to an end. Once considered a powerhouse of Indian football, Punjab had witnessed a decline of the "beautiful game" in the traditionally strong region of Doaba.
The region has again played a strong role in the revival of fortunes of the state. To say that JCT Mills has helped put Punjab back on track won’t be an overstatement. The club’s name has been synonymous with Punjab football for the past many years.
During the recent triumph, they provided the bulk of players for Punjab. The 20-member winning team had 16 players from the Phagwara-based club, besides one member from the JCT Academy. A majority of the Punjab Police and Border Security Force players were tied up for the All-India Police Meet at Sikkim. BSF managed to spare goalkeeper S. Kamleshwar, who played a crucial role in the shootout in the final and also led the team admirably.
JCT is the only professional team from North India to feature in the National Football League. Football is a passion for many at the club, starting from the Managing Director, Samir Thapar, who also heads the Punjab Football Association (PFA). Former star and Arjuna awardee Inder Singh is also a JCT employee, besides being the secretary of the PFA. Thapar, a football lover, will do anything for the sport, says Inder Singh.
When Punjab won the Santosh Trophy at home in 1974, they were led by Inder Singh, who scored 23 goals in the tournament. Punjab scored 46 goals in all. The seventh title was a sweet one for the state, coming long after the triumph at Quilon in 1987-88.
After losing to Bengal in the quarterfinal league, Punjab did well to hold on against the 29-time champions to finally lift the trophy. On earlier occasions, Bengal had got the better of Punjab, including the final in 1994-95 at Chennai.
After the team won the title, Thapar quickly announced that the entire prize money of Rs 5 lakh would be distributed among the players and the coach. The association plans to host a dinner for the players and felicitate them. The body is also contemplating the announcement of additional incentives for the players.
In the wake of the unavailability of regular services players, it may have been a compulsion to field so many JCT players but it worked to the advantage of the team. Since the footballers play together most of the year, the coordination benefitted the team in the tournament.
"The win is very important for us after losing to Kerala by a golden goal two years ago," says former India coach Sukhwinder Singh, now with JCT. "The win would promote football in the region, plus it would also put our team (JCT) on a high, with the football season round the corner. We would like to maintain the winning momentum."
JCT now prepare for the Durand Cup and the Federation Cup in the coming two months, besides the National Football League next year.
Inder mainly works for the football association despite being on the rolls of JCT Mills, but Thapar is not complaining. They are not working only at the professional level, but also taking care to develop and nurture talent.
The JCT Football Academy is assisting the Rourka Kalan Football Academy, near Phillaur, Sant Baba Hazara Singh Football Academy, Nikki Ghuman, Gurdaspur, and Namdhari Football Academy, Bhaini Sahib, Ludhiana. Besides, the association provides 60 balls to all districts every year.
JCT coach Parminder Singh spends time once a year at the Master Mehar Football Academy, Kurali. Run by his father, he has a look at the young talent and gives valuable tips to the wards.
Most of India’s sports associations
have been taken over by politicians and bureaucrats, but it is a
refreshing change to see ex-players run the show in football. Most of
the committees are run by former stars, who know the ins and outs of the
competitive levels. Thapar gives them a free hand to work, says
THE Champions Trophy has sometimes been accused of being a "show pony", only with little to show and much to bemoan. While it is true that some matches have been boring and one-sided, the spectacle of seeing various teams in action is much like a cricket carnival.
One look at the last event and the picture is obvious. The West Indies triumphed in the 2004 event at a time when they did not look like having the staying power to compete with the top teams of the world. The fact that they won a thriller of a final against England made the tournament a success.
This time, if there is one team that is desperate to etch its name on the trophy, it is Australia. While many may deride the tournament as an additional event in an already packed itinerary, it would be interesting to watch whether the Aussies can do it at last.
Like it or not, the Champions Trophy has become an integral part of the international cricketing calendar.