of all eyes
IN THE NEWS
amply demonstrated their fighting prowess by turning the tables on
South Africa in the first Test. Now, it’s up to Rahul Dravid’s
team to sustain the momentum and go all out for a series win,
Foreign soil has historically been like the Bermuda Triangle for the Indian cricket team. Imagine, it took India almost half a century to record their first Test win in Pakistan. The away record has been so bad that winning two overseas Tests in succession — against the West Indies at Kingston in July and versus South Africa at Johannesburg earlier this week — is nothing short of an achievement.
South Africa was for India what the latter was for Australia not long ago — the "Final Frontier". Now that the Indians have reached there, it’s natural for them to dream of a series victory. History is on their side — very rarely has a team rallied to win a three-Test rubber after losing the first match.
It’s up to Rahul Dravid’s men to guard against complacency and strive for consistency. Any attempt to merely play for a draw in the remaining two Tests can prove suicidal.
Throughout this year, the Indians have found it tough to play the "double role". They have managed to come good in only one form of the game during any bilateral series in 2006. India whipped Pakistan in the one-dayers but lost the Test series. Similarly, they thrashed England in the ODIs but allowed their rivals to level the Test rubber 1-1. It was the other way round against the West Indies. The tour of South Africa seems to be going the Caribbean way, which shows that the team has slowly but steadily acclimatised itself to the "alien" conditions.
These four series have revealed two contrasting tendencies of Team India — the ability to bounce back after a loss and the inability to build on a victory. No wonder India’s win-loss record this year has been almost 50-50 in both forms of cricket.
The return of two seasoned players, Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan, bolstered the team’s morale at a time when it had hit rock bottom. The two made their presence felt in the warm-up game against Rest of South Africa at Potchefstroom, which India won by 96 runs. In the Johannesburg match, it was the blend of youth and experience, as the cliche goes, that worked wonders. S. Sreesanth’s explosive energy and Anil Kumble’s ever-dependable craftiness combined lethally to spell doom for South African batsmen.
India’s two earlier Test wins this year have also been secured by pace-spin combos. Munaf Patel and Kumble did the trick against England at Mohali, while Sreesanth and Kumble (who else?) wrecked the Caribbeans at Kingston. However, it’s a pity that Kumble’s advancing age has ruled out a long-term partnership like the one between Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, who have taken a staggering 980-odd wickets in 102 matches they have played together for the all-conquering Aussies.
The euphoria over the historic triumph against South Africa should not blind the team to its imperfections. The opening pair is the main problem area, with both Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer woefully out of form. Also, Sachin Tendulkar has failed to convert good starts into big knocks. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, too, has to contribute with the bat to prop up the middle order. If these flaws are ironed out at the earliest, there is every reason to believe that India can win another Test on South African soil or at least prevent the Proteas from levelling the series.
As far as India’s overall away record is concerned, it has certainly improved in the past few years with victories against various Test-playing nations. However, there is still another "Final Frontier" — New Zealand — where India have not won a Test since 1976. But that is another story...
Unpredictability is the hallmark of South Asian teams. It is one of their greatest strengths and also their prime weakness. If India surprised even their die-hard fans by winning the Johannesburg Test after being whitewashed in the ODIs, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not been far behind.
After a dismal show in the Champions Trophy, Pakistan recovered quickly to outplay runners-up West Indies in Tests as well as one-dayers. The absence of pacers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif proved to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir to show their mettle. The unstoppable Mohammad Yousuf did the bulk of the scoring against the pedestrian Caribbean attack in the Tests, while Rana Naved-ul-Hasan was the pick of the bowlers in the ODIs. The twin triumph has been a morale-booster for the team as it prepares for a gruelling tour of South Africa.
Sri Lanka, too, did not go far in the Champions Trophy despite having been among the favourites. Their tour of New Zealand started off badly as they lost the first Test at Christchurch within three days. However, amazing resilience saw them clinching the second Test at Wellington and levelling the two-match series. As in India’s case, it was a pace-spin combination — Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan — that did most of the damage. The batting honours were shared by in-form Kumar Sangakkara and man-of-the-match Chamara Silva, who both scored centuries.
Going by the mercurial nature of the subcontinental teams, what they will do next is anybody’s guess.
of all eyes
THE Chinese not only took home the most gold medals for a seventh successive Asian Games from Doha, they took the flag and torch of the continental gathering too.
With the next Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and the 16th Asian Games taking place in the southern city of Guangzhou in 2010, the next four-year cycle in Asian sport will have a distinctly Chinese flavour.
Their athletes, however, do not seem to need the advantage of performing on home soil after winning 165 of the 428 gold medals in Doha, 15 more than in Pusan in 2002.
Two-thirds of the delegation had never competed at a major games and still China swept the diving pool, won six of seven gold in table tennis, 27 of 44 in shooting, 11 in gymnastics as well as making inroads into new sports with a bronze in rugby sevens.
The Beijing Olympic are just 20 months away, however, and there will be no complacency.
"Though we have won 164 gold medals we can reach world-class level in only some of the sports with some falling far behind the Asian level," said China’s Sports Minister Liu Peng before the basketball team added a 165th gold.
"While we have achieved good results in some of our strong sports, other countries and regions are catching up. In those sports ... competition is fierce. We failed to grab any medal in some potentially strong events."
Liu might well have been talking about the badminton, where men’s world number one Lin Dan was beaten twice and China ended up with just four of the seven gold at stake.
"We will review our performance by sport, by team, by match and by athlete in order to take proper measures for the existing problems," Liu added.
"We will be more strict with ourselves and set higher targets for the future."
The Japanese were satisfied with finishing third behind South Korea with their haul of 50 gold and 198 medals, although head coach Noriyuki Ichihara thought his male athletes needed more focus.
"The athletes who performed well were many of the younger ones, who excelled in swimming and athletics," he said.
"The women did very well but the men didn’t do so well ... We think the male athletes are sloppy and could do better and be more focused."
Double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima grabbed three titles as Japan won 16 gold in the pool but the top swimmer was South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan.
The 17-year-old set new Asian marks to win gold in the men’s 200m and 1500m freestyle and grabbed another in the 400m freestyle as well as a silver and three bronze. He was voted the most valuable player of the games (shooter Jaspal Rana was among the nominees).
There were precious few records set in Doha, with the only world marks overtaken coming in weightlifting and shooting, while Asian records also largely remained intact.
Only one Asian record was set in a disappointing athletics programme, when Zhang Wenxiu surpassed her own mark in the women’s hammer.
China’s Olympic 110m hurdles champion Liu Xiang turned up and cantered to gold in 13.15 seconds, well outside the world record 12.88 he ran this year.
African imports ruled the track for Bahrain and Qatar, while Saudi Arabia’s John Smith-trained athletics team grabbed five gold to prove it was possible to develop home-grown talent in the Gulf.
While China’s dominance of the medals table was no surprise, the 50cm or so of rain that fell on the desert Emirate over the period of the games was.
The poor weather could not have helped attendances at the events, which were disappointing for a country which had lavished $2.8 billion on the games and has ambitions to host the 2016 Olympics.
Expatriate Indian and Sri Lankans, who make up much of the population of Qatar, turned out in numbers to cheer on their athletes and the kabaddi final and tennis matches featuring Sania Mirza were sell-outs.
Only football and basketball attracted large numbers of Qatari nationals. Their men’s teams responded by reaching the finals, losing on court to China before beating Iraq on the pitch. — Reuters
A month after two Hyderabadi boys recorded a whopping 721-run partnership in an inter-school match, a Mandi lad has shot into the limelight by plundering 340 runs in an under-19 game for Himachal Pradesh against the Railways in Ahmedabad. His knock eclipsed Yuvraj Singh’s record score of 290 in national under-19 cricket.
Rishi Dhawan, who will celebrate his 17th birthday in February next year, has come as a whiff of fresh air for Himachal cricket.
Talking to The Tribune from Jaipur, where he is leading the state team in under-17 matches, Rishi expressed happiness that his triple ton had helped his team derail the Railways by an innings.
Rishi opened the innings and was the last man to be dismissed. He struck 40 fours and two sixes in his extraordinary knock.
"We were playing for the third place against the Railways. We piled up a total of 628 runs and managed to send the opposition packing for a measly 180. After enforcing the follow-on, we bundled them out for just 102 runs in the second innings to win the match comprehensively."
His coach is all praise for him. "Rishi has the makings of a great all-rounder. He is not only a brilliant opening batsman but also a useful bowler. He can bowl like a spinner as well as pacer," says team coach Raj Kumar. "We hope that he will play in the Ranji Trophy next year and make his presence felt."
In the under-17 national tournament in progress at Jaipur, Rishi has led Himachal to victory against Tripura and Jharkhand.
Rishi’s rise on the cricket firmament began three years ago when he played district-level tournaments after joining the Una Cricket Academy. He also played in the under-15 nationals in 2004, contributing with the bat as well as the ball.
Rishi’s elder brother, Raghav Dhawan, who is doing B.Com at the Postgraduate College in Mandi, is also a promising cricketer. "Rishi is fond of cricket and good at studies as well," says RP Dhawan, his father, who is an engineer.
Rishi took to the sport during his childhood like a duck takes to water. He has completed Class IX from DAV Public School, Mandi. Now, he wants to concentrate more on the game. Watch out for this bundle of talent. If he continues to play to his potential, it might not be long before you see him in Indian colours.
Shot in the arm
KUDOS to ace shooter Jaspal Rana, who demonstrated his Midas touch by capturing three gold medals in the Doha Asian Games. He, thus, earned the distinction of becoming the first Indian marksman to register three wins in an edition of the Asian Games and being the second after Randhir Singh to have clinched a gold in the Asiad. He equalled the world record in the 25m centre fire pistol event as well as in the team event despite suffering from fever and dizziness during the competition. He is the proud owner of four Asiad gold — three from Doha and one from Hiroshima in 1994.
It was shocking to learn that Rana had to overcome heavy odds like lack of proper coaching and ammunition. But through sheer will-power, he was able to reap a rich harvest. India’s abject failure in ODIs in South Africa reverberated in Parliament but it is a pity that Rana’s spectacular feat has gone unsung. But Rana should know that heroes like him need no applause from wily politicians.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, BATALA
India’s dismal performance in the Doha Asian Games stunned hockey fans. What a shame that eight-time the Olympic gold medallists could not even reach the semifinal stage and thus ended up medal-less for the first time in the Asian Games since hockey’s inception in 1958. With this debacle, India’s participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics is in jeopardy.
This year would go down as one of the most dismal in the history of Indian hockey. In March, India failed to reach the semifinals at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. In September, India barely avoided the wooden spoon at the World Cup in Monchengladbach.