SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


 

 

Shot in the arm
The title triumph in the Ranji Trophy Plate Division has given a much-needed boost to Himachal cricket, writes Gopal Sharma

The HP team was well served by its batsmen and bowlers throughout the competition. Paras Dogra (inset) was the highest run-getter for his side.F
ive
outright wins in seven matches — this would have been dismissed as wishful thinking before the start of this cricket season even by diehard supporters of the Himachal Pradesh team.

The HP team was well served by its batsmen and bowlers throughout the competition. Paras Dogra was the highest run-getter for his side.

Playing with fire

The Kila Raipur Games are all about pushing oneself to the limit and beyond. Faster, higher, stronger — and riskier. Higher the degree of difficulty, greater is the challenge. No wonder the daredevils are the cynosure of all eyes. Pradeep Tewari captures the stuntmen at their blazing best.
The Kila Raipur Games are all about pushing oneself to the limit and beyond. Faster, higher, stronger — and riskier. Higher the degree of difficulty, greater is the challenge. No wonder the daredevils are the cynosure of all eyes. Pradeep Tewari captures the stuntmen at their blazing best.
The Kila Raipur Games are all about pushing oneself to the limit and beyond. Faster, higher, stronger — and riskier. Higher the degree of difficulty, greater is the challenge. No wonder the daredevils are the cynosure of all eyes. Pradeep Tewari captures the stuntmen at their blazing best.

Flashback: WORLD CUP
One-way traffic
Vikramdeep Johal
L
ess
than a decade after India’s path-breaking victory, Pakistan became the second team from the subcontinent to win the cricket World Cup. Sri Lanka became the third to do so with their imperious show in the 1996 edition. Since then, it has been Australia all the way. The all-conquering Aussies have reserved their best for the summit clash — they crushed Pakistan by eight wickets in 1999 and hammered India by 125 runs four years later. In fact, the last three finals have all been one-sided affairs.

Pakistan vs England
Melbourne, 1992
Sri Lanka vs Australia
Lahore, 1996
Australia vs Pakistan
Lord’s, 1999
Australia vs India
Johannesburg, 2003

IN THE NEWS
Pot pluck

U
ndaunted
by the presence of big names like world champion Pankaj Advani and Asian champion Yasin Merchant, Alok Kumar held his nerve to win the senior national snooker title for the sixth time in Bangalore recently.

  • Comeback queen

  • Grand return

 

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Shot in the arm

The title triumph in the Ranji Trophy Plate Division has given a much-needed boost to Himachal cricket, writes Gopal Sharma

Paras Dogra
Paras Dogra

Five outright wins in seven matches — this would have been dismissed as wishful thinking before the start of this cricket season even by diehard supporters of the Himachal Pradesh team. However, the erstwhile babes of domestic cricket put up one superb performance after another to win the title in the Ranji Trophy Plate Division and earn a promotion to the Super League. In the process, they seemed to have turned the corner decisively.

The players took some to gain momentum. Once they did, Himachal were in cruise mode all the way. They brushed aside former champions Railways in the semifinal before outplaying Orissa in the final. The team looked like a well-oiled machine capable of giving even tougher teams a run for their money.

It was a nice blend of youth and experience that did the trick for Himachal. Those playing on the domestic circuit for quite a while were complemented superbly by the greenhorns. While ageing warhorses like Sandeep Sharma and Sangram Singh proved that they still had some fire left in them, the young brigade led by Paras Dogra, Ajay Mannu and Mukesh Sharma showed that they were capable of serving Himachal cricket for long.

The most striking feature of Himachal’s Ranji campaign this season was that the team had the right man for virtually every slot. The resilience shown by the players at crunch moments was remarkable. The success of the spin duo of Vishal Bhatia and Sarandeep Singh was a crucial factor in the successful run of the team.

Left-armer Bhatia was a revelation. Though part of the team for a couple of years now, he struck rhythm at an opportune time. He mesmerised the rival batsmen with his nagging line and length and finished with 38 wickets in seven outings, the second-best performance by a bowler in the North Zone.

Delhi import Sarandeep, in his first year as a professional player for the side, rose to the occasion at critical junctures. Bowling his off-spinners effectively, he scalped 28 wickets and was the team’s second most successful bowler after Bhatia. New-ball bowlers Vikramjit Malik and Ashok Kumar Thakur were not found wanting either.

Skipper Sandeep Sharma marshalled his troops well. With his confident demeanour and impressive performances, he always had things under control on the field. The way the former Punjab new-ball bowler has slipped into the role of an opener is remarkable.

Earlier known for his slam-bang methods while batting lower down the order, Sandeep, with a marathon knock of 161 in the semifinal against the Railways, proved that he was equally adept at occupying the crease for long intervals. He scored nearly 500 runs in seven games.

Young Paras Dogra turned out to be the highest run-getter for the team with a total of 519, including two centuries and as many half centuries in seven games. Dogra scored centuries against Jharkhand and Tripura, while he was left stranded at 99 against Services. Ajay Mannu compiled 337 runs, including two crucial fifties, while Mukesh Sharma scored 228 runs in five games.

Promotion to the Super League is the culmination of a series of efforts put in by the players as well as those running the game in the state. The success has come after hard toil of many years. Hopefully, the momentous victory should help the team finally get rid of the “punching bag” tag along with minnows like Jammu and Kashmir.

To compete well in the Elite Division against tough teams like Mumbai, Karnataka and Baroda next season will require even greater efforts. The players would have to guard against complacency and show greater determination to prove that their brilliant triumph was no flash in the pan.
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Flashback: WORLD CUP
One-way traffic
Vikramdeep Johal

Australia proved too good for India in the 2003 final.
Australia proved too good for India in the 2003 final.

Less than a decade after India’s path-breaking victory, Pakistan became the second team from the subcontinent to win the cricket World Cup. Sri Lanka became the third to do so with their imperious show in the 1996 edition. Since then, it has been Australia all the way. The all-conquering Aussies have reserved their best for the summit clash — they crushed Pakistan by eight wickets in 1999 and hammered India by 125 runs four years later. In fact, the last three finals have all been one-sided affairs.

Pakistan vs England
Melbourne, 1992

Pakistan’s campaign got off to a disastrous start as they suffered a 10-wicket defeat at the hands of the West Indies. They struggled in subsequent matches as well, but got their act together in time to sneak into the semis. Against all odds, they knocked out hot favourites New Zealand to reach the final, where they faced another formidable team, England.

Batting first, Pakistan soon lost openers Aamir Sohail and Rameez Raja, both scalped by Derek Pringle. Skipper Imran Khan (72) promoted himself up the order and stitched a painstaking 139-run partnership for the third wicket with Javed Miandad (58). Later, semifinal hero Inzamam-ul-Haq (42) and Wasim Akram (33) played breezy knocks to guide Pakistan to 249.

England made a poor start as Ian Botham was snapped up by Akram for a duck. Wickets fell at regular intervals, and all looked lost at 69 for 4. However, Neil Fairbrother (62) and Allan Lamb (31) rekindled England’s hopes with a defiant stand. It took two identical balls from Akram to virtually end the match. The first breached Lamb’s defence; the second clean-bowled Chris Lewis. England never recovered from these twin blows, and fell short by 22 runs.

MoM: Wasim Akram

Sri Lanka vs Australia
Lahore, 1996

Sri Lanka hardly put a foot during the entire competition. Their batsmen were in blazing form and their bowlers were hard to score off. They reached the final by routing co-hosts India at Kolkata, while Australia barely got past the West Indies at Mohali. Put into bat, Australia scored 241 for 7, with captain Mark Taylor getting 74 off 83 balls. Ricky Ponting contributed 45, while the then “world’s best one-day player” Michael Bevan made an unbeaten 36. Most of their batsmen struggled against the slow bowlers — Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Dharmasena, Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva — who together put down 37 overs. De Silva was the most impressive with figures of 3-42.

Considering Lanka’s strong batting line-up, 242 did not seem to be a big total, but the early exit of the destructive Jayasuriya and his opening partner Romesh Kaluwitharana put the Aussies right back into the match. However, Asanka Gurusinha rose to the occasion and scored a patient 65.

After his departure, De Silva (107 n.o.) and skipper Arjuna Ranatunga (47 n.o.) frustrated the Aussie bowlers to steer their team to a comfortable seven-wicket victory. It was the first time that a team batting second had won the Cup final. Shane Warne, man of the match in the semifinal, went for 58 without a wicket in his 10 overs.

MoM: Aravinda de Silva

Australia vs Pakistan
Lord’s, 1999

The most lopsided final of them all, lasting merely 59.1 overs. Nobody had expected it to be that way, since the two best teams of the tournament were playing. Pakistan captain Wasim Akram won the toss and elected to bat. The move backfired as the whole team was shot out for 132 in 39 overs. Mr Extras was the “top scorer” with 25, followed by Ijaz Ahmed (22). The wrecker-in-chief was Shane Warne (4-33), while Glenn McGrath was at his miserly best with figures of 9-3-13-2.

Opener Adam Gilchrist led the meagre run chase, smashing 54 off 36 balls. Mark Waugh and Darren Lehmann were together when Australia reached the target for the loss of two wickets in just 20.1 overs.

MoM: Shane Warne

Australia vs India
Johannesburg, 2003

Sourav Ganguly’s Team India was in good nick and looked capable of challenging the mighty Aussies, who were playing without trump card Warne. The Indian skipper won the toss but made the mistake of putting the opposition in on a batting beauty. Openers Gilchrist (57) and Matthew Hayden (37) hammered new-ball bowlers Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath right from the word go, their 105-run stand coming in only 14 overs. At 125 for 2 in 19.5 overs, skipper Ponting and Damien Martyn began an amazing partnership which remained unbroken and was worth 234 runs.

In a knock reminiscent of Clive Lloyd’s hundred in the first World Cup final, Ponting smashed an unbeaten 140 off 121 balls, studded with four fours and eight sixes. Martyn was not far behind with 88 n.o. (84 deliveries) as Australia finished at a gargantuan 359 for 2. Among the bowlers, the worst sufferers were Srinath (87 runs in 10 overs) and Zaheer, who went for 67 in seven overs. Harbhajan Singh (2-49) was the only one to return respectable figures.

India badly needed a rousing start, but it didn’t happen as Sachin Tendulkar was caught and bowled by McGrath in the very first over. Virender Sehwag showed plenty of aggression, hitting 82 off 81 balls, but he did not receive much support from the other end. India were bowled out for 234 in 39.2 overs. McGrath took 3-52, while part-time bowler Andrew Symonds helped himself to two wickets.

MoM: Ricky Ponting

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IN THE NEWS
Pot pluck


Alok Kumar has consolidated his reputation as the best snooker player in the country.
Alok Kumar has consolidated his reputation as the best snooker player in the country. — PTI
photo

Undaunted by the presence of big names like world champion Pankaj Advani and Asian champion Yasin Merchant, Alok Kumar held his nerve to win the senior national snooker title for the sixth time in Bangalore recently.

In the final that went down to the wire, Alok edged out Gujarat’s Rupesh Shah 6-5. Representing the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), Alok won the first three frames but Rupesh hit back to make it 3-3. Alok then won two more to make it 5-3, but his rival rallied to level the score. In the deciding 11th frame, he won 80-65 to clinch the match and the title.

It was an important victory for him as he had not played both billiards and snooker in the nationals for quite some time. Even in the Doha Asian Games, he was part of the squad for the pool matches only.

“It’s a big achievement for me. I was under tremendous pressure after the morning session when the score read 3-3,” he said after the match.

Alok, who could not sleep well the previous night, did suffer from tiredness in the first three frames and missed a few easy pots.

At 5-3 in the afternoon, after taking the seventh and eighth frames comfortably, he should have had it easy. But then Rupesh, predominantly a billiards player, had other ideas.

Rupesh’s superb play saw him snatch the next two frames and push the final into the decider with breaks of 37 and 38 in the 10th frame.

“I was lucky with one fluke pot which fetched me 16 points,” said Alok, talking about the last frame.

Maharashtra’s Yasin Merchant scored a facile 4-0 victory over Pankaj Advani to finish third. Yasin won 64-35, 62-28, 68-10, 71-35 against the fancied Bangalorean, who had lost to Alok in the semifinal. — PTI
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SPORTS MAIL

Comeback queen

Serena Williams upset the form book by capturing the women’s singles crown at the Australian Open tennis tournament. In the final, which turned out to be one of the most lopsided ever, she annihilated Russia’s Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 to annex her eighth Grand Slam title. Thus she proved that the fire to win had not died in her yet and that she can’t be kept out of the elite. Her brutal demolition of a shell-shocked Sharapova made a mockery of her world ranking (No. 81).

Sharapova, who earned the distinction of becoming the first Russian woman to reach the Australian Open final, was the favourite for clinching the crown without much difficulty. But inexplicably, she failed to hold out against her rival who was on a comeback trail. She could not withstand the ruthless onslaught launched by her opponent. Consequently, Sharapova played second fiddle to Serena, who dazzled while she herself was dazed completely.

Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala

Grand return

Kudos to former skipper Sourav Ganguly for his remarkable comeback in one-day cricket. Sourav played a marvellous knock of 98 to help India beat the West Indies at Nagpur. After emerging as the highest scorer in the Test series against South Africa, Sourav made his presence felt in the shorter version of the game as well.

Sourav has now emerged as the backbone of Team India. With his inclusion in the squad, India have regained their winning ways. It is a pity that such a brilliant player was not in the team for the past year or so. Rahul Dravid has by and large failed as a captain because he has not been able to take important decisions at crucial junctures. Sourav should again be made the skipper for the World Cup.

Rahul Bhatia, Phagwara

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