SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

Starting afresh
Zaheer Khan (left) and Shahid Afridi helped their teams secure morale-boosting wins against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively.
India and Pakistan are back in business after the World Cup debacle, but they have to brace themselves for the bigger challenges ahead, writes Ivninderpal Singh
After the World Cup nightmare, India and Pakistan have finally woken up with wins against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively. While India convincingly clinched the Test and one-day series, Pakistan outplayed the World Cup runners-up in a three-match ODI series in Abu Dhabi.

Zaheer Khan (left) and Shahid Afridi helped their teams secure morale-boosting wins against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively. — Photos by AFP

Graeme Smith’s Africa XI will face Mahela Jayawardene’s Asia XI in the Afro-Asia Cup ODI series from June 6-9IN THE NEWS
Clash of continents
The second Afro-Asia Cup will get under way with a Twenty20 match between the women’s teams of the two continents at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on June 5. The tie, beginning at 3.30 pm, will be followed by a Twenty20 game between the men’s teams from 7.30 pm.

Graeme Smith’s Africa XI will face Mahela Jayawardene’s Asia XI in the Afro-Asia Cup ODI series from June 6-9

Wushu warriors
Akash Ghai
Manipuri wushu players won the Junior National Championship at Chandigarh earlier this week.
Wushu, which means "art of war", is a traditional Chinese martial art in which nan-dao (southern broad swords), nan-gun (long cudgels) and nan-quan (free kicks and punches) are used. It has caught on in India in the past decade or so, particularly in the North-East. Manipur is the leader in this sport, which featured in the Doha Asian Games last year.

Manipuri wushu players won the Junior National Championship at Chandigarh earlier this week. — Tribune photo by Pradeep Tewari

Roller skaters from Jammu and Kashmir are performing well despite lack of government support. J-K skaters on a roll
S.P. Sharma
With a rich haul of 16 medals, including two gold and six silver, in the 44th National Roller Skating Championship at Kolkata, young players from Jammu and Kashmir are keen to put up an even better show in future competitions.


Roller skaters from Jammu and Kashmir are performing well despite lack of government support. — Tribune photo: Anand Sharma

Mail
Ton tonic
Kudos to Sachin Tendulkar for scoring his 36th Test hundred in the first match against Bangladesh at Chittagong. Sachin yet again silenced his critics, who claimed that he was well past his prime.

France’s Mathilde Johansson hits a return to Germany’s Anna-Lena Groenefeld during the first round of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. Mathilde won 7-5, 6-4.

Shadow play












France’s Mathilde Johansson hits a return to Germany’s Anna-Lena Groenefeld during the first round of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. Mathilde won 7-5, 6-4. — Photo by AFP

 





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Starting afresh
India and Pakistan are back in business after the World Cup debacle, but they have to brace themselves for the bigger challenges ahead, writes Ivninderpal Singh

After the World Cup nightmare, India and Pakistan have finally woken up with wins against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively. While India convincingly clinched the Test and one-day series, Pakistan outplayed the World Cup runners-up in a three-match ODI series in Abu Dhabi.

The victories gave disheartened fans in both countries something to cheer about. Things had become rather difficult for the two teams not only due to the Caribbean crash but also because of the death of Bob Woolmer and the resignation of Greg Chappell. However, on-field action has once again started taking centrestage, while off-field activities have taken the backseat for both Asian giants.

Team India showed Bangladesh who was the boss and appeared to be recovering from recent setbacks.

Even though Bangladesh showed none of the prowess that made them humble the Men in Blue in the World Cup, the series has brought forth many positives for India.

After so many years, there was a "swadeshi" team (without a foreign coach). Cricket manager Ravi Shastri performed his ad-hoc job with aplomb and gave Team India a united look. The others at the helm of affairs, bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad and fielding coach Robin Singh, too, did their bit for the team.

It was vintage players who shone for India. Sachin Tendulkar scored tons in both Tests, taking his tally to 37, and earned the man-of-the-series award. Zaheer Khan delivered on a batting wicket by scalping prized wickets and won the man-of-the-match award, his first in 47 Tests, in India’s record victory by an innings and 239 runs at Dhaka.

Zaheer, who made his way back into the team after inspired displays for Worcestershire in the 2006 English county season, has taken 40 wickets in his last nine Tests at an average of 28.20, six runs lower than his career average, while his strike rate, too, has reduced significantly to 46.1.

Injuries to Munaf Patel and S. Sreesanth facilitated the entry of RP Singh and Ishant Sharma into the squad. Both made use of the opportunities that came their way.

The biggest gain for India from the series is that they have discovered an opening pair that promises to provide stability at the top. Wasim Jaffer hit back after his pair in the first Test to score a hundred in the second, while Dinesh Karthik gave him good support. By scoring centuries, Jaffer and Karthik have earned their captain’s confidence and put Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir on the waiting list.

In one-dayers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gambhir displayed their class and put Bangladesh in their place.

However, the twin series victories should not be taken as compensation for the World Cup embarrassment. India still have a long way to go and a bigger challenge awaits them when they play England from July to September this year.

England’s current form is surely a threat to the "upbeat" Team India. The former handed out the biggest defeat to the West Indies (an innings and 283 runs) in the second Test at Leeds. Two players India have to be especially wary of are on-song batsman Kevin Pietersen and lethal left-arm bowler Ryan Sidebottom.

After a lacklustre performance at home in the World Cup, the West Indies are going from bad to worse. In the absence of Brian Lara, they are looking out of sorts. The exit of new captain Ramnaresh Sarwan due to injury has added to their woes.

Pakistan, who were humiliated by Ireland in the World Cup, badly needed to regain the faith of their fans. They did so in style by winning the first two ODIs of the three-match series against Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi. Under their new captain Shoaib Malik, Pakistan looked very determined and focused.

Shahid Afridi, who had a dismal World Cup, played a match-winning knock in the first game, belting 73 runs off 34 balls, including 32 in one over from Malinga Bandara. Afridi fell just four runs short of the world record of 36 runs in an over set by Herschelle Gibbs against Holland in the World Cup recently.

Afridi contributed with the ball in the second match to secure the series for Pakistan. He didn’t played the third one-dayer against the islanders, but his heroics in the first two were good enough to earn him the player-of-the-tournament award along with Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene.

Though Afridi was the star performer, other members of the team also played their parts. Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed made fifties in the second one-dayer as Pakistan piled up a 300-plus total, while the captain himself excelled with the bat in the third. Mohammad Asif, too, made a respectable comeback after a doping controversy.

Despite this success, though against a good team, one cannot say with great confidence that Pakistan is back in contention for the major tournaments. They need to be consistent over a considerable period of time.

The Twenty20 World Championship in September this year and the Champions Trophy next year will test the mettle of India and Pakistan, giving them two big opportunities to make amends for the Caribbean disaster.

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IN THE NEWS
Clash of continents

The second Afro-Asia Cup will get under way with a Twenty20 match between the women’s teams of the two continents at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on June 5. The tie, beginning at 3.30 pm, will be followed by a Twenty20 game between the men’s teams from 7.30 pm.

On June 6, the first encounter of the three-match ODI series will be held at the same venue between Mahela Jayawardene’s Asia XI and Graeme Smith’s Africa XI (The day-nighter will commence at 2.30 pm).

The next two ODIs will be held at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on June 8 and 9.

There are as many as six Indians in the Asian ODI team — Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. In the Twenty20 squad, the lone Indian is S. Sreesanth.

The inaugural Afro-Asia Cup was held in South Africa from August 18-21, 2005. Shaun Pollock-led Africa XI won the first one-dayer by only two runs, while Asia XI, under the captaincy of Inzamam-ul-Haq, drew level by clinching the second one by 17 runs. In the decider, Africa XI were bundled out for 106, and Asia XI were 8 for 2 when it started raining. The match was washed out and the series ended in
a 1-1 draw.

Pacer Zaheer Khan, who came into the Asian team as a replacement for Irfan Pathan, walked away with the man-of-the-series award. He picked up nine wickets at a miserly average of just over 11 runs apiece, claiming three-wicket hauls in each of the three matches.

Interestingly, Zaheer has made it to the Asian squad for the second edition again as a replacement (for Chaminda Vaas). Let’s see if he can do an encore. — Agencies


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Wushu warriors
Akash Ghai

Wushu, which means "art of war", is a traditional Chinese martial art in which nan-dao (southern broad swords), nan-gun (long cudgels) and nan-quan (free kicks and punches) are used. It has caught on in India in the past decade or so, particularly in the North-East. Manipur is the leader in this sport, which featured in the Doha Asian Games last year.

The superior skills of Manipuri players enabled their state to finish on top in the Junior National Wushu Championship at Chandigarh earlier this week. The young players bagged 19 medals — 16 gold and 3 silver.

A Sanathoibi, P Thoibi, Ch Davayani excelled in the girls section, while H Omega, L Rattan and L Jajit Singh performed outstandingly among the boys.

Manipur has ruled the roost in this sport since its introduction in India in 1989 with the formation of the Wushu Association of India.

Bir Mani Singh, founder member of the Wushu Association of Manipur, says that top-class facilities and availability of technically sound coaches are the prime reasons for the state’s dominance. "Over 15 training institutes have been catering to about 2,500 players in the tiny state."

Manipur has played a major role in catapulting the sport from the "other" category to the "priority" category earlier this year. Bimoljit, whose bronze medal at the Doha Asiad was a shot in the arm for wushu, belongs to the state. It has produced other internationals like Sumerjit Singh, silver medallist at the South Asian Games at Colombo, H Omega, who participated in the 3rd Asian Wushu Championship at Singapore, and Ch Davayani, who took part in the 1st World Junior Championship at Malaysia in 2006.

Anand Kacker, executive committee member of the Wushu Federation of Asia and president of the South Asian Wushu Federation, believes that the sport has good prospects, even though it is in its nascent stage in the country. The sport has garnerd 69 medals for India, including 17 gold and 18 silver, in various international meets."

Bimoljit, 24, who also clinched the gold at the South Asian Games in Colombo last year, is hopeful that wushu would become one of the most popular games in India in the coming years.

"At Doha, I won the bronze, but it could have been the gold if I’d got better facilities and training," says the two-time national gold medallist. Bimoljit, who hails from Kakching village in Thoubal district of Manipur, wants that Chinese coaches should be roped in to impart special techniques to Indian players.

Several state governments, including Manipur, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, have evinced interest in the promotion of wushu, but still a lot needs to be done to make the sport popular in the country. The availability of funds, qualified coaches from China and standardised equipment are the biggest factors, says Kacker, who is also the founder member of Wushu Association of India.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics, where wushu will feature as a demonstration sport, will be a huge platform for players as well as officials to show that the sport has the potential to become a regular Olympic discipline.

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J-K skaters on a roll
S.P. Sharma

With a rich haul of 16 medals, including two gold and six silver, in the 44th National Roller Skating Championship at Kolkata, young players from Jammu and Kashmir are keen to put up an even better show in future competitions.

A remarkable thing about their performance is that these roller skaters have excelled despite lack of official backing for the sport in the state.

Divij, a student of Army School, Domana, won two gold and one silver. Shubam Dev Manhas got two silver medals in the 500m and 1,000m events. Sanjeev Kumar won a silver in roller hockey.

The youngest among the winners, Shivang Gupta, a Class IX student, secured a bronze.

Coach Kamal Anand, who was more than satisfied with the efforts of his players, said the number of medals was 13 in speed events and three in roller hockey.

Anand said the 11 participants had to spend money from their own pockets as neither the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council nor the state government granted money for their trip to Kolkata.

No infrastructure worth its name has been provided for roller skating by the government. G.S. Khurmi, a former player, has constructed two rinks on his own for the skaters. The 85m rink in the MAM Stadium complex is in bad shape as the Sports Department has failed to properly maintain it.

Nirmal Singh, a senior faculty member at the University of Jammu, said the paucity of rinks had forced skaters to use the internal roads of the campus for practice. He stated that the youngsters were able to skate only in the wee hours as there was little traffic at that time.

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Mail
Ton tonic

Kudos to Sachin Tendulkar for scoring his 36th Test hundred in the first match against Bangladesh at Chittagong. Sachin yet again silenced his critics, who claimed that he was well past his prime.

The knock should not be belittled just because it was made against Bangladesh. The latter might be short of Test experience, but they cannot be taken lightly. They had given the mighty Aussies a scare in a home Test last year before going down fighting.

This hundred will definitely boost Sachin’s morale ahead of the tough tour of England, the country where he got his first Test hundred about 17 years ago.

Ashok Gupta, Amritsar

Clay contender

Roger Federer won a crucial psychological battle against his clay nemesis Rafael Nadal by beating him in the final of the Hamburg Masters. This victory has considerably improved Federer’s French Open prospects. This is the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him so far. Now is the best chance for the world number one Swiss to set the record straight and show the tennis world that he does not have "feet of clay".

Rakesh Kumar, Patiala

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