SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Testing time is here again
Rahul Dravid and his men need to pull up their socks as they get ready to face a formidable England team in the Test series beginning at Lordís on July 19, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
The real test for Indian cricket, and also for English cricket, is just round the corner. Team India, which hit rock bottom with its miserable performance in the World Cup, is slowly trying to regain its winning ways. To some extent, England are also sailing in the same boat.
The ďBig ThreeĒ of contemporary Indian cricket ó Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly ó are keen to do their best on what would most probably be their last England tour together

Champions to the core

James Lawton
The only regret about the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal was that, in the way of all the greatest things, it had to end.

Paul Newman
Like Roger Federer, Venus Williams will define her career by her achievements at the All England Club. Like the menís world No. 1, she won her first Grand Slam title here.

IN THE NEWS
Leon King
Viswanathan Anand, the worldís number one chess player, shares a special relationship with Spain. He lives for the better part of the year in Collado Mediano, a place near Madrid; he figures among the 40 most important people in that country; above all, he is a recipient of the James de Oro, one of Spainís highest civilian awards. No wonder, he has been outstanding over the years in their premier international chess tournament, the Magistral Ciudad de Le`F3n.

   

 

 

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Testing time is here again

Rahul Dravid and his men need to pull up their socks as they get ready to face a formidable England team in the Test series beginning at Lordís on July 19, writes Abhijit Chatterjee

The real test for Indian cricket, and also for English cricket, is just round the corner. Team India, which hit rock bottom with its miserable performance in the World Cup, is slowly trying to regain its winning ways. To some extent, England are also sailing in the same boat.

Indiaís recent victories against Bangladesh in Tests and one-dayers started the process of recovery. What really delighted die-hard cricket followers at home was the come-from-behind triumph against South Africa in the three-match one-day series.

England, after a mediocre show in the World Cup, thrashed a depleted West Indies side 3-0 in the Test series, even though they lost the subsequent ODI rubber. They are keenly looking forward to taking on India. The India-England showdown promises to be closely contested, going by the results of the last two Test series, which both ended in a 1-1 draw.

India will face England in three Tests, followed by seven ODIs. The first Test begins on July 19 at Lordís, where India have so far won only one Test ó in 1986 under Kapil Devís captaincy. The series would test the mettle of Rahul Dravid and his team to the hilt. England at home are always a formidable team, particularly in the longer version of the game. Led by fit-again Michael Vaughan, Englandís most successful Test captain of all time, the teamís confidence is on a high, having handed out a drubbing to the West Indies.

The series is important for India for more than one reason. For one, this is probably the last series in which the "Big Three" of contemporary Indian cricket ó Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly ó will be playing together in England. The same is the case with VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. Itís expected that these five seniors would try to do their collective best to secure a Test series win in England. The Indians would hope that the younger players come of age on this tough tour.

India are touring England at a time when the weather is relatively warm and dry. The warm-up games prior to the first Test have given the team ample opportunity to try out various combinations. The dry conditions should suit the Indian spinners, led by the veteran Kumble.

However, the same would also hold true in case of Englandís Monty Panesar, who is a much-improved bowler compared to what he was on Englandís tour of India last year. In the series against the West Indies, he bagged a rich haul of 23 wickets. In fact, Vaughan is pinning much of his hopes of doing well against India on Panesar, the first Sikh cricketer to play for England. Notwithstanding the ease with which Indian batsmen usually play spinners, he canít be taken lightly by Tendulkar and the others.

Englandís batting line-up looks impressive, with Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood having developed into voracious run-makers. Then there is Vaughan himself, gradually redicovering his touch, besides wicketkeeper Matt Prior, a very useful middle-order batsman who hit a ton on his Test debut against the Windies.

England would sorely miss their star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who is likely to be unavailable for the entire Test series. Flintoff underwent an ankle surgery recently, and has been ruled out of action for some time. He might return for the one-day series.

"Fast-bowling all-rounders are like gold and England have a problem replacing him. His absence makes things far more equal this time," Dravid was quoted as saying during a media interaction.

Flintoff has picked up 22 wickets in nine Tests against India and, as captain, took three for 14 as England won the final Test in Mumbai to level the series last year after the visitors had lost the second at Mohali (the first game at Nagpur was drawn). "When England came to India last time, he was brilliant," Dravid had said.

But to compensate for Flintoffís absence as a bowler, England have the pace and bounce of Stephen Harmison and the swing of Matthew Hoggard and Ryan Sidebottom.

India might have the batsmen to deliver the goods, but much would depend on the bowlers. In their game against Sussex, the bowlers were not able to deliver the knockout punch after having put the county on the mat. They have to do much better than that to give England a tough time in the Test series.

Rare victories

India have won only four Tests on English soil in 75 years.

Hereís a recap of these triumphs

The Oval, August 19-24, 1971

England (1st innings): 355 (Alan Knott 90; Eknath Solkar 3-28, S. Venkataraghavan 2-63).

India (1st innings): 284 (Farokh Engineer 59, Dilip Sardesai 54; Ray Illingworth 5-70, John Snow 2-68).

England (2nd innings): 101 (Brian Luckhurst 33; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 6-38, Venkataraghavan 2-44).

India (2nd innings): 174-6 (Ajit Wadekar 45, Sardesai 40, Gundappa Viswanath 33; Derek Underwood 3-72).

India won by four wickets

Lordís, June 5-10, 1986

England (1st innings): 294 (Graham Gooch 114; Chetan Sharma 5-64, Roger Binny 3-55).

India (1st innings): 341 (Dilip Vengsarkar 126, Mohinder Amarnath 69; Graham Dilley 4-146).

England (2nd innings): 180 (Mike Gatting 40; Kapil Dev 4-52).

India (2nd innings): 136-5 (Vengsarkar 33, Kapil 23*).

India won by five wickets

Leeds, June 19-23, 1986

India (1st innings): 272 (Vengsarkar 61; Derek Pringle 3-47).

England (1st innings): 102 (Bill Athey 32; Binny 5-40, Madan Lal 3-18, Shastri 1-5).

India (2nd innings): 237 (Vengsarkar 102*, Kapil 31; John Lever 4-64, Pringle 4-73).

England (2nd innings): 128 (Gatting 31*; Maninder Singh 4-26).

India won by 279 runs

Leeds, August 22-26, 2002

India (1st innings): 628-8 dec (Sachin Tendulkar 193, Rahul Dravid 148, Sourav Ganguly 128; Andrew Caddick 3-150).

England (1st innings): 273 (Alec Stewart 78*; Harbhajan Singh 3-40; Anil Kumble 3-93).

England (2nd innings): 309 (Nasser Hussain 110; Kumble 4-66).

India won by an innings and 46 runs

ó Vikramdeep Johal


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Champions to the core

James Lawton

Rafael Nadal (left) has swallowed up much of the distance that separated him from Roger Federer a year ago at Wimbledon
Rafael Nadal (left) has swallowed up much of the distance that separated him from Roger Federer a year ago at Wimbledon

The only regret about the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal was that, in the way of all the greatest things, it had to end.

That was the gift of the champion of champions, Federer, and his ferocious young challenger, Nadal, and it soared beyond even the splendour of the five sets that had just mesmerised great swathes of sport beyond the boundaries of a tennis court.

Those who say that the sheer weight of Nadalís game, his boundless appetite, his ability to adapt to new surfaces, new imperatives, will inevitably change the balance of an infant rivalry that for slightly less than four hours achieved an almost miraculous competitive balance, are probably right. Four years younger than the 25-year-old Swiss maestro, Nadal has swallowed up so much of the distance that separated him from Federer in 2006, when he prised one set out of the reigning champion.

But then the beauty of what happened on July 8 is that it also left behind one of sportís ultimate intrigues. Yes, Nadal has rightly been dubbed "The Animal" within the locker room. He doesnít so much beat as eat up most of his opposition. The power of his game is immense, but in his finest moments on grass he has also now displayed a subtlety of touch which rendered as oversimplification the belief that his battles with Federer would always involve essentially a dispute between bludgeoning power and rapier thrust. Yet, surely Federer has done enough to encourage at least some belief that he can stretch out his rivalry with Nadal.

Federer vs Nadal has so quickly elevated itself to the pantheon of the great rivalries; in tennis it has gone beside Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. In golf, an obvious parallel is Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, who fought their unforgettable duel in Turnberry; and if we make the journey into team sports inevitably we are drawn to the contest between Pele and Bobby Moore in a World Cup tie in 1970. Famously, they embraced and exchanged shirts at the end.

On Sunday, Federer and Nadal found a similar warmth and fraternity that springs up naturally between rivals who fight with everything they have and with maximum honesty.

Because of what Nadal did in the final, is Federer inevitably in decline? No sportsperson has shown a greater willingness to fight for the position he has gained than Federer. Like his friend, Tiger Woods, he is proofed against hubris. Is the rampant Nadal too? The evidence says maybe, but finding out is just another part of the glorious uncertainty.

ó By arrangement with The Independent

Paul Newman

Marion Bartoli (left), who had upset Justine Henin in the semis, found Venus Williams too hot to handle in the final
Marion Bartoli (left), who had upset Justine Henin in the semis, found Venus Williams too hot to handle in the final ó Photos by Reuters

Like Roger Federer, Venus Williams will define her career by her achievements at the All England Club. Like the menís world No. 1, she won her first Grand Slam title here. Like him, she feels more at home on Centre Court than in any other arena in the world. And like him, she is looking ahead to tennis at the 2012 Olympics, hosted by Wimbledon, as a final goal in her professional life.

"Iíd definitely like to play two more Olympics," Venus said after lifting the appropriately named Venus Rosewater Dish for the fourth time.

"Iíve won the gold before, at Sydney in 2000. I loved winning that because it was beyond my dreams, so Iíd love to do that in 2012."

That prospect is a sobering thought for every other player, including sister Serena. When Venus is fit and the fire is in her eyes, there is no better female exponent of grasscourt tennis.

Playing as she did in the latter stages, crushing Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic and finally Marion Bartoli, she looks unstoppable. Four of her six Grand Slam titles have been won on grass.

"I canít see how a player can beat her when she plays like this on grass," Bartoli said after her 6-4, 6-1 defeat in the final. Sometimes, the ball was coming back so fast that it was hurting my wrist."

Bartoli, who had upset world No. 1 Justine Henin in the semis, never looked capable of preventing Venus from becoming the fourth woman in the Open era to win four titles here, after Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

If Serenaís victory in this yearís Australian Open was statistically the more remarkable achievement ó she was ranked 81st in the world and had not won a tournament for two years ó there should be no underestimating the extraordinary nature of her sisterís victory.

Last year, there was talk that a wrist injury might end Venusí career. Between her third-round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Jelena Jankovic 12 months ago and her return in Memphis in February, she was able to play just one tournament, in Luxembourg last October.

In the 24 months since her 2005 Wimbledon win, she had played three matches on grass, here a year ago. Her world ranking at No. 31 (she has now risen to 17th) was 15 places worse than when she won in 2005, then the lowest ranking for a female Wimbledon winner.

Venus said Serenaís win in Melbourne in January had renewed her determination to come back again.

Does Venus believe the sisters can dominate again? "I think we obviously have the game and the mental and physical ability to do it and whatever else it might take," she said.

ó By arrangement with The Independent


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IN THE NEWS
Leon King

The Spanish city of Leon is Anandís happy hunting ground. He has won seven titles in 11 years, including two hat-tricks
The Spanish city of Leon is Anandís happy hunting ground. He has won seven titles in 11 years, including two hat-tricks 

Viswanathan Anand, the worldís number one chess player, shares a special relationship with Spain. He lives for the better part of the year in Collado Mediano, a place near Madrid; he figures among the 40 most important people in that country; above all, he is a recipient of the James de Oro, one of Spainís highest civilian awards. No wonder, he has been outstanding over the years in their premier international chess tournament, the Magistral Ciudad de Le`F3n.

Playing on his happy hunting ground, Anand outclassed Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov 3-1 in the final to win the Le`F3n title for the record seventh time. Anand had beaten the same rival 2.5-1.5 last year. After his first triumph in 1996, Anand was the champion from 1999 to 2001 and then from 2005 to 2007.

The Cuidad tournament, which has completed 20 editions, has been held in various formats, including a period from 1998 to 2002, when it was held as an "Advanced Chess" event with players using computers during games. ó Agencies

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