SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


 

 

Back on track
Indian athletes made amends for a disappointing show in the Doha Asiad with a much-improved performance in the Asian Championship, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan
I
ndia
made a quantum leap, from one gold in the Doha Asiad last year to five in the recently concluded Asian Athletics Championship at Amman (Jordan), to prove that the athletes are back on track after getting out of the shadow of the dope cloud.True, China and Japan did not field their best talent, preferring to blood their second string. Still, from the Indian perspective, it was a fairly good medal haul, even though the quality of performance of some athletes left a lot to be desired.

Shot putter Navpreet Singh, who had won the silver at the 2005 Asian championship, won the gold this time.— Photos by Reuters

Shot putter Navpreet Singh, who had won the silver at the 2005 Asian championship, won the gold this time

Court juggler
Vikramdeep Johal
Sania Mirza has reached a stage where she would have to choose between singles and doubles. She can take her cue from Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.In 1998, when his singles ranking had reached an all-time high 73, Paes decided to focus totally on doubles in Grand Slam and ATP events. It was a masterstroke that paid rich dividends. In the past nine years, he has won seven Grand Slam titles (four in men’s doubles and three in the mixed category), second only to Bhupathi’s Indian record of 10. The latter, of course, has concentrated on doubles throughout his career.Juggling between the two categories won’t help Sania in the long run.



Sania would have to choose between singles and doubles sooner than later. — Photo by AFP

Sania would have to choose between singles and doubles sooner than later

Iraqi fairy tale
Julian Linden
T
he
healing power of sport has always been an objective issue. Its ability to unite people is balanced by its capacity to divide.For every winner, there has to be a loser. One man’s ecstasy is another man’s agony.


Under the inspiring leadership of Younis Mahmoud, Iraq defied Herculean odds to win the Asian Cup football championship. — Photo by Reuters
Under the inspiring leadership of Younis Mahmoud, Iraq defied Herculean odds to win the Asian Cup football championship.

IN THE NEWS

Pace power
Spinners have been the architects of a majority of India’s Test victories. At Trent Bridge, however, it was left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan who bowled India to a rare win in England (only their fifth in 75 years).Zaheer attributed the success to the experience he gained while playing for Worcestershire last year. He was also pumped up after the jelly bean incident involving England players.

Zaheer Khan called his match-winning haul in 
the Trent Bridge Test as the best spell of his 
career so far. — Photo by AP/PTI

Zaheer Khan called his match-winning haul in  the Trent Bridge Test as the best spell of his carrer so far

 

 

  Top







Back on track

Indian athletes made amends for a disappointing show in the Doha Asiad with a much-improved performance in the Asian Championship, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan
Chitra Soman (left) triumphed in the 400m race and was part of the quartet that clinched the 4x400m gold
Chitra Soman (left) triumphed in the 400m race and was part of the quartet that clinched the 4x400m gold

India made a quantum leap, from one gold in the Doha Asiad last year to five in the recently concluded Asian Athletics Championship at Amman (Jordan), to prove that the athletes are back on track after getting out of the shadow of the dope cloud.

True, China and Japan did not field their best talent, preferring to blood their second string. Still, from the Indian perspective, it was a fairly good medal haul, even though the quality of performance of some athletes left a lot to be desired.

The two who proved to be outstanding were triple jumper Renjith Maheshwari and shot putter Navpreet Singh. Renjith, with a leap of 17.19 metres, improved by 15 cm his national-record-setting jump of 17.04m at the Asian Grand Prix meet at Guwahati last month.

Renjith, who erased the 36-year-old record of Mohinder Singh Gill, is the first Indian to cross 17m in triple jump. If he maintains the tempo, the Asian record of 17.35m, held by Olag Sakarquik, would easily be within his reach.

Shot putter Navpreet, who had almost missed the whole of last season and got into the Asian team only because of the solid backing of chief coach Bahadur Singh, came up with a superb series of throws, with his second effort of 19.70m eventually fetching him the yellow metal.

He thus bettered his silver-winning effort at the Incheon edition of the championship in 2005, where India had won four gold, five silver and four bronze medals. The burly Sikh thus justified the faith reposed in him by the coach, and also somewhat compensated for the below-par display of US-based discus thrower Vikas Gowda.

Renjith and Navpreet have qualified for the World Championship to be held in Osaka (Japan) in September this year. Long jumper Anju Bobby George, despite coming up with her season’s best leap of 6.65m, failed to make the cut. (Though the World Championship qualifying mark is pegged at 6.60m, Anju’s silver-medal distance at Amman won’t count as it was wind-aided).

Overall, India did quite well to come “clean” with a bagful of medals — five each of gold, silver and bronze.

Perhaps, the Indian athletes would have done still better had the Asian Championship been held at a “normal” venue, instead of a high-altitude city like Amman.

Athletes complained of lack of oxygen and poor track conditions, but Jordan could not have been held responsible as it stepped in to host the event only at the eleventh hour after Lebanon backed out due to the war-like situation then prevailing then in Beirut.

For India, the impressive medal haul, which helped them finish second behind China, was indeed a pleasant reversal of fortune as two years ago, in the Korean city of Incheon, India could bag only four gold after winning seven in the Asian Games at Busan in 2002. At Doha, India won a solitary gold in the 4x400m relay, as a face-saver.

Former Olympian and Asian Games gold medallist Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, who is also the chairman of the senior selection committee of the Athletics Association of India (AAI), said, “It is indeed a happy turnaround for Indian athletics to win so many medals in the Asian Championship, but the federation should also lay stress on the quality of the performances, as in most of the events, the competition never really reached world standard.”

Randhawa praised Renjith and Navpreet for their improved displays, and also commended the rising graph of Anju’s performance after hovering in the 6.30m-plus zone in the Asian Grand Prix meets in Guwahati and Pune. At Amman, Anju led with 6.65m till Olga Rypakove of Kazakhstan came up with a leap of 6.66m to grab the gold.

Randhawa emphasised that the association should now concentrate on giving quality training and foreign exposure (Europe, in particular) to the athletes to make them fit and ready for the Beijing Olympic Games, which are barely 12 months away.

If a regional matrix is applied to the Indian performance in the Asian meet, then Kerala and Punjab have yet again proved to be the athletics powerhouses of the country. Of the four individual gold (the fifth was won by the women’s 4x400m relay team), athletes from Kerala accounted for three (Chitra Soman — 400m, Sinimol Paulose — 1,500m and Renjith Maheshwari — triple jump).

Surprisingly, national-record holder Manjit Kaur could not even finish among the medals in the 400m, ending up fifth. She had won the event at Incheon two years ago. Another national-record holder, Joseph Abraham, had to be content with the bronze in the men’s 400m.

Navpreet plucked the fourth gold to maintain the tradition of Punjab’s dominance in the throw events, which was supplemented by Krishna Punia with a bronze in the women’s discus throw. Four of the five silver medallists also hailed from Kerala, including Sinimol in the 800m and Preeja Sreedharan in the 5,000m and 10,000m. 

Top

 

Court juggler
Vikramdeep Johal

Sania Mirza has reached a stage where she would have to choose between singles and doubles. She can take her cue from Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

In 1998, when his singles ranking had reached an all-time high 73, Paes decided to focus totally on doubles in Grand Slam and ATP events. It was a masterstroke that paid rich dividends. In the past nine years, he has won seven Grand Slam titles (four in men’s doubles and three in the mixed category), second only to Bhupathi’s Indian record of 10. The latter, of course, has concentrated on doubles throughout his career.

Juggling between the two categories won’t help Sania in the long run. If her fans were to decide, they would go for singles, since it’s in this category that she has really hogged the limelight in the past two years or so.

Her track record on the WTA Tour, however, tells a different story. Sania has bagged only one singles title so far, the 2005 Hyderabad Open (a Tier IV event), while she has six doubles crowns in her kitty. With South Africa’s Liezel Huber, she won the 2004 Hyderabad Open (Tier IV), the 2006 Bangalore Open and Kolkata Open (both Tier III). This year, she has already clinched three titles, each with a different partner: Morocco (Tier IV) with Vania King, Cincinnati (Tier III) with Bethanie Mattek and Stanford (Tier II) with Shahar Peer.

Sania’s singles performance at last week’s Tier II tournament in Stanford was reminiscent of her brilliant show in her breakthrough year, 2005. The 20-year-old also equalled her career-high ranking of 31, which she had achieved in October, 2005. She defeated three top-25 players en route to the final — Tatiana Golovin, Patty Schnyder and Sybille Bammer.

However, the physical and mental strain of playing in singles as well as doubles took its toll on her in the title clash, where she was thoroughly outplayed by top seed Anna Chakvetadze.

The year’s last Grand Slam event, the US Open, beginning on August 27, will be the big test of how good a singles player Sania is. Of course, she will also be featuring in women’s doubles and mixed doubles. If the Hyderabadi girl is to achieve her target of breaking into the top 20, she must get her priorities right — at the earliest. 
Top

 

Iraqi fairy tale
Julian Linden

The healing power of sport has always been an objective issue. Its ability to unite people is balanced by its capacity to divide.

For every winner, there has to be a loser. One man’s ecstasy is another man’s agony.

Yet, if ever there was an argument that sport can succeed where politicians, armies and even religions may fail, then the 14th Asian Cup football championship provided a compelling case.

Iraq’s unexpected 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the final at Jakarta was as much a triumph of the human spirit as of the athleticism and skill of their players.

Few people gave them any hope of making it past the group stages, let alone winning the tournament against teams boasting seasoned professionals who ply their trade in the rich European leagues.

The early signs for Iraq were not good. The squad was a patchwork of Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish players, fractured by the sectarian violence in their homeland.

The first three coaches who were offered the job of trying to mould them together politely declined. Only Jorvan Vieira, a Brazilian journeyman who had worked with 26 clubs and five national teams, took up the challenge.

Iraq’s first match of the tournament offered no hint about what was about to unfold. They struggled to salvage a 1-1 draw with co-hosts Thailand, but the momentum was only just beginning.

They beat pre-tournament favourites Australia 3-1 in their second game but their performance was overshadowed by claims of disharmony in the Socceroos camp.

The Australians, making their first appearance at the tournament after ditching Oceania in search of stiffer competition, were supposed to be the feel-good story of the tournament but failed to live up to their own expectations.

Japan also disappointed. After winning the two previous titles, they looked certain to make it three in a row, but lost a pulsating semifinal to Saudi Arabia 2-3 and then to South Korea in the third-place playoff, which would have earned them an automatic place in the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.

South Korea failed to score a single goal in their last three games. They beat Iran and Japan on penalties but lost the shootout that really mattered in the semifinal against Iraq.

Iraq had made it through to the final for the first time, but even that was a bittersweet moment.

For the first time in years, the Iraqi population had something to cheer about, but their spontaneous celebrations triggered a deadly reaction and 50 persons were killed by suicide bombers.

Sadly, death is part of life for the Iraqi players. Everyone had a relative or a friend who has died in the conflict and for some, the pain was still so fresh that the Asian Cup was their only way of masking their own grief.

Goalkeeper Noor Sari’s brother-in-law was killed just before the tournament began, midfielder Nashat Akram’s relatives were kidnapped and then murdered, and Hawar Mulla Mohammad’s stepmother died two days before the quarterfinal against Vietnam.

Iraq went into the final riding a wave of global sentiment, but were still not expected to beat Saudi Arabia, who were appearing in their sixth final in 23 years and bidding to become the first country to win the title for the fourth time.

Sportspersons rarely need motivation to win, but Iraq’s players had an extra spur that convinced them that they could not lose.

Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud, who was named the best player of the tournament after scoring the winning goal in the final, said the reality of what the team was on the brink of achieving was rammed home after they watched a TV report about a victim’s mother.

“She had seen her little boy killed by a bomb after the match and she was saying he had been sacrificed so that we would win the match,” Mahmoud said.

“We knew we had to win the final for her and so many other people,” he said. — Reuters

Top

IN THE NEWS
Pace power

Spinners have been the architects of a majority of India’s Test victories. At Trent Bridge, however, it was left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan who bowled India to a rare win in England (only their fifth in 75 years).

Zaheer attributed the success to the experience he gained while playing for Worcestershire last year. He was also pumped up after the jelly bean incident involving England players.

While batting, he saw a jelly bean on the pitch. “I removed it and got ready to face the next ball. After playing the shot, I again saw jelly beans. It was then that I got upset and decided to take them on,” said Zaheer.

He called his five-wicket haul in the second innings as the best spell of his career so far. “When I took five wickets in Bangladesh two months ago, I said it was not my best. But this one really is,” he added.

Former England pacer Angus Fraser said it was as good an exhibition of left-arm swing bowling that international cricket had seen since the retirement of Wasim Akram.

Going with his first-innings figures of 4-59, the spell of 5-75 gave Zaheer a match haul of 9-134, his career-best. It was the second best by an Indian bowler on English soil after Chetan Sharma’s 10-188 (4-130, 6-58) at Edgbaston in 1986.

With 15 wickets in two Tests at 18.33 apiece, he is the leading wicket-taker on either side in the ongoing series. — Agencies

Top

HOME PAGE