SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


India’s hockey team defied great odds to win the 1975 World Cup; Kapil Dev led India to a fairy-tale triumph in 1983; Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have won a total of 14 Grand Slam titles, including three together in men’s doubles before they split upFew hits, many misses
It has been a bittersweet journey for India in the sporting arena in the past six decades. Great achievements have been few and far between, but there is more cause for hope than despair, write Ivninderpal Singh and Vikramdeep Johal
Success in sports is a matter of national pride worldwide. Sporting achievements unite the country in celebrations, while failures cause mass heartbreak. As India completes 60 years of Independence, it’s time to take stock of how much we have progressed (or regressed, as the case may be) in various disciplines.







Golden moments: (clockwise from top left) India’s hockey team defied great odds to win the 1975 World Cup; Kapil Dev led India to a fairy-tale triumph in 1983; Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have won a total of 14 Grand Slam titles, including three together in men’s doubles before they split up

A top-class performance in the upcoming US Open could help Sania take a crack at the top 20IN THE NEWS
She’s 30 at 20
All those who predicted that it would be all downhill for Sania Mirza after her meteoric rise were made to eat a humble pie when the 20-year-old broke into the top 30 of the WTA rankings. Sania crossed her previous best rank of 31, which she reached in October, 2005. Before her, it was Nirupama Vaidyanathan who was the best Indian woman player on the circuit.






A top-class performance in the upcoming US Open could help Sania take a crack at the top 20

Football fiesta is back
M.S. Unnikrishnan
The revival of the Nehru Gold Cup International Football Tournament after over a decade augurs well for Indian soccer. The prize money tournament, to be held at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi under floodlights from August 17 to 29, will not only afford an opportunity for Indian players to face international teams at home, but it will also help the Indian team gain points from FIFA ranking.

   

 

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Few hits, many misses

It has been a bittersweet journey for India in the sporting arena in the past six decades. Great achievements have been few and far between, but there is more cause for hope than despair, write Ivninderpal Singh and Vikramdeep Johal

First on the summit

Success in sports is a matter of national pride worldwide. Sporting achievements unite the country in celebrations, while failures cause mass heartbreak. As India completes 60 years of Independence, it’s time to take stock of how much we have progressed (or regressed, as the case may be) in various disciplines.

India has produced several world-class sportspersons over the past six decades, but not many world-beaters. In fact, hockey and cue sports are the only two disciplines in which India has ruled the roost over a long period.

Eight Olympic gold medals, including five after 1947, and the 1975 World Cup victory are testimony to India’s past supremacy in hockey.

Wilson Jones was the first Indian sportsperson to win a world title
Wilson Jones was the first Indian sportsperson to win a world title

The boycott-hit 1980 Moscow Olympics was the last time the Indian hockey team mounted the podium on the biggest stage. Since then, we have not won any medal in our national sport, be it in the Olympics or the World Cup. Things have come to such a pass that India would have to battle hard to book their berth for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It’s a classic “riches to rags” story that looks unlikely to witness a turnaround in the near future.

There might not be many takers for billiards and snooker in the country, but these sports have brought India great laurels on a regular basis. Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi and Pankaj Advani have all set the green baize ablaze.

Three games in which India has made rapid strides in recent years are golf, shooting and tennis. The likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Gaurav Ghei and Shiv Kapur have put the country on the world golfing map.

Olympic record

The shooters have been India’s biggest achievers during the ongoing decade. Rajyavardhan Rathore showed the way with a silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics. No wonder, much of India’s medal hopes at Beijing rest on this sport.

In tennis, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have kept India’s flag flying high. They have won a total of 14 Grand Slam titles (including three together). They are the only two Indians to win Grand Slam crowns. They have achieved what their illustrious predecessors like Vijay Amritraj, Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan could not. On the distaff side, Sania Mirza took the tennis world by storm in 2005 and is now going great guns again.

In athletics, we have had two extraordinary performers in Milkha Singh and PT Usha. They were unstoppable at the Asian level, but fell short of triumphing on the Olympic stage. Incidentally, both missed the bronze by a whisker. No other Indian athlete has come anywhere near matching their heroic feats.

What about our “unofficial national sport” — cricket? It might be the darling of the masses, but outstanding feats have been few and far between. In one-day cricket, India reached dizzy heights by winning the 1983 World Cup. But earlier this year, Team India recorded its worst performance in the World Cup by getting knocked out in the first round.

In Test cricket, India have of late shed the tag of “overseas chokers”.

In the world’s favourite sport, football, India have remained a nonentity, except for a period during which they won two Asian gold medals (1951 and 1962) and finished fourth at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Our FIFA ranking remains a source of embarrassment.

Some gifted players have made their mark in traditionally unfancied disciplines like chess, squash, archery and motorsports, namely Viswanathan Anand, Dola Banerjee, Joshna Chinappa and Narain Karthikeyan, giving a success-starved nation much to hope for.

The next decade is crucial for Indian sports. We are already an economic power but still way behind in sports. There is a lot to be learnt from China, which has become a sporting superpower in barely a decade and a half. There is no lack of potential in India, but it has to be harnessed properly for success in the global arena.


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IN THE NEWS
She’s 30 at 20

All those who predicted that it would be all downhill for Sania Mirza after her meteoric rise were made to eat a humble pie when the 20-year-old broke into the top 30 of the WTA rankings.

Sania crossed her previous best rank of 31, which she reached in October, 2005. Before her, it was Nirupama Vaidyanathan who was the best Indian woman player on the circuit.

Sania also became the third Indian tennis player to achieve the top-30 feat after Vijay Amritraj (ranked 16th in 1980) and Ramesh Krishnan (No. 23 in 1985).

According to former Davis cupper SP Mishra, based in her home town Hyderabad, Sania has shown superb consistency in recent weeks. He hoped that she would reach the top 20, probably by the year-end.

“This largely depends on her performance in the last Grand Slam event of the year, the US Open, which begins on August 27. If the draw favours her, Sania would definitely surge ahead in the rankings. It is very important for her to maintain her fitness level over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The Indian, who turns 21 in November, reached the quarterfinals at Cincinnati, went all the way to the final in Stanford and then made it to the semifinals at San Diego last week, when she lost to eventual winner Maria Sharapova, the top seed.

Sania has beaten top players like Tatiana Golovin, Patty Schnyder, Sybille Bammer, Shahar Peer, Dinara Safina and Martina Hingis recently. “For Sania, down with injuries and spending two and a half months in a wheelchair, it was not an easy job to come back and regain her winning touch on the circuit. One should appreciate her guts and mental toughness,” he added.

“As long as I keep improving and play good tennis, I feel that in the long run, the rankings will take care of themselves,” Sania said recently. Now here is a totally focused player. — Agencies


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Football fiesta is back
M.S. Unnikrishnan

The revival of the Nehru Gold Cup International Football Tournament after over a decade augurs well for Indian soccer. The prize money tournament, to be held at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi under floodlights from August 17 to 29, will not only afford an opportunity for Indian players to face international teams at home, but it will also help the Indian team gain points from FIFA ranking.

The Nehru Cup, which made its debut at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1982, went on to complete 12 editions before it folded up after Kochi hosted the tournament in 1997. Various reasons and alibis were attributed to the folding up of the Nehru Cup, the most important being the break-up of the Socialist-bloc countries like Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia etc. In their socialist avatar, the teams from these countries were prepared to accept their remuneration in Indian currency — in fact, in cash and kind.

But once the Socialist bloc disintegrated , they demanded their fees in hard currency, which the cash-strapped All-India Football Federation (AIFF) could least afford.

But another important factor for the downing of the Nehru Cup shutters was that not many state associations were willing to host the tournament for logistical and financial reasons. The Cup could only be held at venues with facilities like national/international airports and star hotels. In the eighties, very few cities in India could boast of such luxuries. No wonder, the Cup mostly rotated between Bengal and Kerala, the two most soccer-crazy states of the country.

Moreover, the cost of hosting the Cup was so high that only those state football associations could afford to bid for it which could not only ensure a full house for each match, but also attract local sponsorship, which was beyond the ken of most associations.

Undestandably, West Bengal hosted the Cup four times (Kolkata, 1982, ’84 and ’95 and Siliguri, 1988), Kerala six times (Cochin, 1983, ’85 and ’97, Thiruvanathapuram 1986 and ’91 and Calicut 1987), Tamil Nadu (Chennai, 1993) and Goa (Margao, 1989) once each.

The reason Kerala hosted the Nehru Cup again and again was that the state football association could generate funds to break even from gate collection alone. But in the long run, the AIFF found it difficult to rotate the Cup, and it suffered a quiet burial after the Cochin edition in 1997.

But so long as it lasted, the Nehru Cup was a pleasure to behold, for the players as well as the fans. Fans were able to watch world-class football in their backyard as the first few editions brought many World Cup players to the Indian turf.

In the inaugural edition in Kolkata, India put up their best-ever show, holding China 1-1, Korea 2-2, losing to Italy 0-1 and Uruguay 1-3 before stunning Yugoslavia 2-1 with goals from Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Manas Bhattacharya.

In the second edition at Cochin, India lost their matches to China, Italy and Hungary (1-2).

The third edition in Kolkata a year later was one of the best, with Argentina, Poland and Hungary bringing some of their World Cup stars. India put up a spirited performance against the formidable Poland with Biswajit Bhattacharya scoring a scorching solo goal.

The Indian team, then trained by Yugoslav coach Milovan Ciric, was one of the best-ever, and it was also the last time that football was played at the Eden Gardens before it was exclusively set apart for cricket. The semifinals and the final were played at the newly-built cauldron-like, Salt Lake Stadium, and nearly a lakh people filled the stadium to witness Poland edge past China 1-0 in the title clash.

In the 1985 edition at Cochin, the Soviet team brought several of their World Cup stars, including the gangly custodian-cum-captain Alexei Daseyev.

In fact, the standard of football in the Nehru Cup was so high that not even die-hard Indian fans gave any chance to the host team notch up a win.

Yet, the players and fans benefited so much from the Cup tournament that when it finally folded up under its own weight, soccer fans in the country did a silent mourning. The tournament, in its 12 editions, witnessed many dramatic moments, the most notable being Hungary’s threat to fly home on the eve of the final in Goa if their prize money was not hiked substantially. They were persuaded to stay back after night-long parleys by the AIFF and the local hosts, and Hungary played like hungry vultures to beat the USSR team 2-0.

In the subsequent editions, the Cup lost much of its sheen as the central European teams shied away from it and the last event at Kochi had the participation of only five teams-— Iraq, China, Ghana, Uzbekistan and India. It was then that the AIFF decided to call it quits, though the federation could never fill the vacuum created by the burial of the Nehru Cup, despite the advent of the National Football League.

“It has become imperative for us to revive the Nehru Cup as FIFA has agreed to make it a ranking tournament, which would greatly benefit the Indian team (for them to better their ranking from the present miserable 162nd position),” observed AIFF secretary Alberto Colaco.

Though the Nehru Cup in its new avatar would witness only the participation of six teams, including hosts India, at least the revival will set the ball rolling for bigger things ahead. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has promised to pump in funds to make it a truly representative international tournament in the coming years, and as a beginning, it would pitch with over Rs 40 lakh in prize money, with the winners taking home Rs 20 lakh.

The matches will be played under floodlights at the Ambedkar Stadium. And thanks to the Nehru Cup, a long-standing demand of the Delhi Soccer Association to floodlight the Ambedkar Stadium has been realised.

For national coach Bob Houghton, the Nehru Cup would afford a fine opportunity to test the wares at his command, and separate the wheat from the chaff to arrive at that near-perfect combination to make Indian football stand on its feet, ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon this winter.

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