SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

Sunset boulevard
The 2007 World Cup will go down in cricket history as the tournament of the departed,
writes Ramandeep Singh
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HE World Cup in the Caribbean, whose summit clash takes place today, will be remembered more for exits and farewells rather than great cricket. The death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer took much of the sheen from the mega event, while the shock ouster of former champions India and Pakistan was also a huge letdown.

One step from the Cup
T
HE Sri Lankans believe the World Cup is theirs for the taking and none can stop them from doing so. "We are ready for the final showdown. We are ready to beat the best," a pumped-up Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said after the team’s comprehensive win over New Zealand in the first semifinal.

Golden splash
Akash Ghai
Breaking records has become a habit for Chandigarh-based swimmer Kunal Bhardwaj, who has often set the pool ablaze in state-level as well as national-level events. At the age of 15, Kunal already has about 85 medals in his kitty, with the number of gold being over 50.

IN THE NEWS
Clay model
W
ORLD number one Roger Federer might be the greatest tennis player around, but he has repeatedly met his match on clay at the hands of Spaniard Rafael Nadal. Having beaten Federer in the Monte Carlo final, Nadal will get another chance to beat the great Swiss when the two meet on a hybrid clay/grass court next month in Mallorca.

 





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Sunset boulevard

The 2007 World Cup will go down in cricket history as the tournament of the departed, writes Ramandeep Singh

Brian Lara (left) bid a tearful adieu to the game, while Inzamam-ul-Haq would no longer be seen in one-dayers
Brian Lara (left) bid a tearful adieu to the game, while Inzamam-ul-Haq would no longer be seen in one-dayers. Unfortunately, both captains failed to inspire their teams in the World Cup.
— Photos by Reuters, AFP

THE World Cup in the Caribbean, whose summit clash takes place today, will be remembered more for exits and farewells rather than great cricket. The death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer took much of the sheen from the mega event, while the shock ouster of former champions India and Pakistan was also a huge letdown. Above all, the grand stage saw the not-so-glorious swansong of two of the greatest batsmen of all time — Inzamam-ul-Haq and Brian Lara.

Though Lara has quit international cricket totally, Inzamam is still available to play in Tests.

Both were nearing the end of their careers but still had a few years of cricket left in them. However, circumstances came to such a head that they were forced to take a decision on their career.

When Lara made his debut in 1990, the West Indies were no longer a superpower of world cricket, with stalwarts like Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge on the verge of retirement. With hardly any worthwhile players to step into the shoes of outgoing legends, the onus was on Lara to singlehandedly take the fight to the opposition camp.

Lara deserved to be in the Windies team of yore; his talent would have elevated his greatness a few notches more. But he still shone in the mediocrity around him, notching up a string of records.

The high point of Lara’s captaincy was the Windies’ title triumph in the 2004 Champions Trophy. The team’s decline also frustrated Lara no end and his constant run-ins with the West Indian Cricket Board hastened his decision to quit.

If everything had worked according to plan and the West Indies had become a competitive side, there’s no doubt Lara would have continued for a few more years.

He has been rated by contemporary bowlers as the best batsman they have bowled to, even better than Sachin Tendulkar. And that’s a compliment which says it all.

What Lara has achieved is truly remarkable. In spite of being in a team which was a shadow of its former self and being beaten by all and sundry, he remained focused and in the process went on to underline his greatness.

"Gentle giant" Inzamam was discovered by Imran Khan just before the 1992 World Cup, when the latter was on the lookout for players capable of winning the Cup for Pakistan. When Imran put Inzamam to the test in the nets and had Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed and Waqar Younis bowl to him, he was amazed how the youngster handled them with unhurried ease and made batting look so easy. Imran knew then that he had discovered the next Pakistan batting superstar.

Pakistan were in the pits in the initial stages of the 1992 Cup but somehow sneaked into the semifinals. There they were up against New Zealand, who had hit a purple patch and were overwhelming favourites not only to reach the final but also to grab the trophy.

Their party was spoiled by the then unknown Inzamam, who hit a whirlwind 60 to help Pakistan reach the final and clinch the Cup.

That knock catapulted him to instant greatness and Imran, who was criticised for blooding an inexperienced player in the premier event, was proved right. Inzamam went on to become the most successful Pakistan batsman, worthy of being considered on a par with Javed Miandad, if not better.

For the next decade and a half, Inzamam became the bedrock of the Pakistan batting lineup in both forms of the game and provided the much-needed solidity to the middle order, which was in a jittery state after the retirement of Miandad and Co.

Though he will be around to play in Tests, his career in the shorter version of the game was cut short by Pakistan’s nightmarish World Cup campaign, where they were upset by debutants Ireland and eliminated in the first round, besides losing their coach Bob Woolmer.

The criticism back home and Woolmer’s death weighed heavy on his mind and he decided to quit captaincy and ODIs. His autocratic style of functioning of late — Pakistan cricket board officials were made to wait outside his house to seek his assent on key issues like team selection — and his insistence of praying five times a day made him unpopular with the players and the PCB.

Coach toll

The World Cup also took its toll on some high-profile coaches. Some quit because they could not deliver the promised results, while others moved on in search of greener pastures or new challenges. Bob Woolmer, of course, fared the worst of them all.

Duncan Fletcher (England), Bennet King (West Indies) and Greg Chappell (India) were compelled to cut short their stints because of their teams’ insipid outing in the World Cup. Though Chappell’s contract was to run out at the end of the Cup, there is no doubt that had Team India performed up to the expectations, he would have been granted an extension. The way he went out was just not cricket, with the Australian and the players fighting out a proxy war through the media.

Fletcher, who took over as coach in 1999, was instrumental in England winning the Ashes in 2005. But in the Caribbean, England were a pale shadow of the side which defeated Australia in a ODI tri-series earlier in the year. The writing was on the wall and Fletcher left before he was told to do so.

King had the most difficult task of all coaches — to help the Windies regain lost glory. Try as hard as he could, he just did not have talent at his disposal to replicate what had been achieved during the golden past. The Windies sank without a trace despite playing in home conditions, and King knew it was time to move on.

Dav Whatmore guided the Sri Lankans to the World Cup title in 1996 and this time his team, Bangladesh, caused a sensation by scalping India and South African. After Chappell’s ouster, Whatmore resigned his post and offered to coach India.


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One step from the Cup

Mahela Jayawardene is aiming to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga, who led Sri Lanka to their maiden World Cup victory in 1996
Mahela Jayawardene is aiming to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga, who led Sri Lanka to their maiden World Cup victory in 1996. — Photo by Reuters

THE Sri Lankans believe the World Cup is theirs for the taking and none can stop them from doing so.

"We are ready for the final showdown. We are ready to beat the best," a pumped-up Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said after the team’s comprehensive win over New Zealand in the first semifinal.

Jayawardene, who hit an unbeaten 115 for his maiden World Cup hundred, will try to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga, who led the Lankans to title victory in the subcontinent in 1996.

The captain’s magnificent knock compensated for the failures of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara. He rated this innings as among his best.

He took his run aggregate in the 2007 edition to 529 (ave 66.12). It is a record for most runs in a World Cup by a Sri Lankan, bettering Aravinda de Silva’s 448 (ave 89.60) in 1996.

Jayawardene claimed that his team’s batting was no longer dependent on Jayasuriya alone.

"That’s the impression everyone has since Jayasuriya provides the thrust at the start of the innings. But in the past 12 months, the rest of the batsmen have tried to ensure that there is no pressure on him. Others have done a pretty good job in this period."

Upul Tharanga, Chamara Silva, Tilekaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold have often delivered whenever their team has found itself in a tight spot.

It has been an amazing turnaround for Sri Lanka ever since they were whipped 1-6 by India about a year and a half ago.

In today’s final, Jayawardene’s trump card will be none other than Muttiah Muralitharan, who grabbed four wickets for 31 runs against the Kiwis.

The off-spinner took three wickets in six balls to leave the New Zealanders looking clueless against his cunning spin.

Muralitharan took his tally of wickets to 23 at 13.34 runs apiece in this World Cup, equalling Chaminda Vaas’ aggregate of 23 (ave 14.39) in 10 matches in 2003.

The Lankans, however, are not solely dependent on Murali to take wickets or keep batsmen on a tight leash. Pacer Lasith Malinga returned from his injury layoff with an outstanding opening spell in the semifinal, claiming the prize scalp of New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming.

Malinga had missed Sri Lanka’s last three Super Eight matches due to an ankle injury but Jayawardene said he was not at all taken aback by his opening bowler’s return.

"I wasn’t surprised. The guy has been putting in a lot of effort and he was very upset that he wasn’t playing, wasn’t part of the team," he said.

With new-ball bowler Vaas also in good nick, the Lankan bowling attack is a veritable embarrassment of riches.

The islanders will be hoping that Jayasuriya clicks in the summit clash. So far, he has never performed in a World Cup semifinal or final, scoring 1 against India (semifinal) at Kolkata (1996); 9 against Australia (final) at Lahore (1996); 17 against Australia (semifinal) at Port Elizabeth (2003) and 1 against New Zealand (semifinal) at Kingston (2007).

It would be great if the Butcher from Matara rises to the grand occasion in what would certainly be his final World Cup match. — Agencies


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Golden splash
Akash Ghai

Kunal Bhardwaj is making rapid strides in national swimming
Kunal Bhardwaj is making rapid strides in national swimming. — Photo by Malkiat Singh

Breaking records has become a habit for Chandigarh-based swimmer Kunal Bhardwaj, who has often set the pool ablaze in state-level as well as national-level events.

At the age of 15, Kunal already has about 85 medals in his kitty, with the number of gold being over 50.

During the 2006-07 session, he has won 10 medals — nine gold and one silver — in national, North Zone and Chandigarh inter-school events, usually creating several records in the process.

In the CBSE National Aquatic Championship, held at Nagpur in October last year, Kunal clinched three gold medals (100m, 200m and 400m freestyle).

In the 400m freestyle event, he clocked 4:56.48 to comfortably smash the record of 5:10.46. However, he fell short of his own best timing of 4:49.89, which he clocked a month earlier in the CBSE North Zone Aquatic (U-17) Championship at New Delhi in September last year.

In the CBSE national meet, he could not give his best in the 100m event, finishing the race in 1:01.66. However, in the CBSE North Zone Championship, he took less than a minute (59.81 seconds) to complete the race, setting a championship record. Kunal won individual titles during the national championship, while he was declared the best swimmer in the North Zone meet.

In 2005, Kunal won 19 medals in various competitions in the under-14 category, of which 13 were gold. In the 1st Chandigarh Olympic Games in 2005, he bagged three gold and one silver. He also won three s gold medals in state-level school competitions.

Kunal, who started swimming at the age of four, aspires to become the best swimmer in the world, like his favourite Michael Phelps. "Earlier, I liked Australian Ian Thorpe, but now the style and killer instinct of Phelps fascinate me," said Kunal.

The budding swimmer, however, is not satisfied with the facilities in Chandigarh. "We have to discontinue our training for more than six months as there is no all-weather pool. Moreover, there is no Sports Authority of India coach who can impart professional training to swimmers," he laments.


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IN THE NEWS
Clay model

Rafael Nadal extended his winning streak on clay to 67 matches when he defeated Roger Federer in the final of the Monte Carlo Tennis Open last week
Rafael Nadal extended his winning streak on clay to 67 matches when he defeated Roger Federer in the final of the Monte Carlo Tennis Open last week. — Photo by AFP

WORLD number one Roger Federer might be the greatest tennis player around, but he has repeatedly met his match on clay at the hands of Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Having beaten Federer in the Monte Carlo final, Nadal will get another chance to beat the great Swiss when the two meet on a hybrid clay/grass court next month in Mallorca.

The match, called the "battle of the surfaces", will take place in Mallorca’s Palma Arena on May 2.

"It’s exciting. The idea was there six or nine months ago," Federer said.

"I said it would be fun to do something like this. It never happened before," added Federer, who has won the last four editions of Wimbledon.

About 7,000 people are expected to turn up for the match, said Nadal, who hails from Mallorca.

Federer is the undisputed king of grass, while double French Open champion Nadal is on a record winning streak on the slow clay surface.

Last year, the Spaniard beat Federer in the final of the French Open, only for the dominant Swiss to claim his fourth Wimbledon crown by taming Nadal at the All England Club. — Reuters

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