SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


After a long time, the Indian team played like a well-oiled machine, pumping in 56 goals in seven matches.
After a long time, the Indian team played like a well-oiled machine, pumping in 56 goals in seven matches. PTI photo

Alive and hitting
The Indian hockey team should build on the Asia Cup triumph to achieve their targetof qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan

I
ndia’s
successful defence of the Asia Cup men’s hockey title has given a big boost to their hopes of securing an Olympic berth, which had looked in jeopardy before the event. After a tentative start against China, winning 1-0 to exact revenge for their defeat in the Asian Games at Doha, the Indian attack functioned like a well-oiled machine to decimate their opponents with ruthless efficiency, ending with the 7-2 rout of South Korea in the title clash.

Jhulan Goswami has been rewarded for securing India’s first Test series triumph in England last yearIN THE NEWS
Woman on top

Pace bowler Jhulan Goswami became the first Indian to bag the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year Award, compensating for the failure of her more illustrious male counterparts to make it to the list of nominees. The 23-year-old from Bengal pipped Lisa Sthalekar of Australia and Claire Taylor of England for the top award. The 23-year-old from Bengal pipped Lisa Sthalekar of Australia and Claire Taylor of England for the top award. “It’s a dream come true for me.
Jhulan Goswami has been rewarded for securing India’s first Test series triumph in England last year — AFP photo

Leander Paes’ runner-up finish with Meghann Shaughnessy in the US Open mixed doubles was the best Grand Slam performance by an Indian this year.India’s bland Slam
Ivninderpal Singh

Indian tennis players had a disappointing 2007 Grand Slam season, which culminated with the US Open last week. In 2006, Mahesh Bhupathi had won the Australian Open title in mixed doubles, while Leander Paes had bagged the US Open crown in men’s doubles. In 2005, too, the Indians had finished with two titles, both won by Bhupathi at the Australian Open and the US Open in mixed doubles.
Leander Paes’ runner-up finish with Meghann Shaughnessy in the US Open mixed doubles was the best Grand Slam performance by an Indian this year.— PTI photo

Chris Gayle set the Twenty20 ball rolling with a blazing hundred, the first in the game’s shortest version.
Chris Gayle set the Twenty20 ball rolling with a blazing hundred, the first in the game’s shortest version. Despite his 10-six knock, the Windies lost the match against South Africa due to poor bowling and fielding. AP/PTI photo

Birds of a feather
Neeraj Bagga

They are two of a kind in more ways than one. Team-mates for Mahindra United as well as India, both have risen from humble beginnings to emerge as top footballers of the country. Kerala’s NP Pradeep and Mumbai’s Steven Dias are neither tall nor robust, but they make up for these physical limitations with their tireless efforts on the field.  Kerala’s NP Pradeep and Mumbai’s Steven Dias are neither tall nor robust, but they make up for these physical limitations with their tireless efforts on the field. Pradeep, who has led the national under-23 team, scored the Nehru Cup-winning goal for India in the final against Syria. He is an aggressive midfielder who can unleash scorching long-rangers.


Kings of Asia
Congratulations to the Indian hockey team for winning the Asia Cup in Chennai by crushing South Korea 7-2 in the final. The squad led by Ignace Tirkey showed rare team spirit and played as a disciplined unit.

   

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Alive and hitting
The Indian hockey team should build on the Asia Cup triumph to achieve their targetof qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan

India’s successful defence of the Asia Cup men’s hockey title has given a big boost to their hopes of securing an Olympic berth, which had looked in jeopardy before the event.

After a tentative start against China, winning 1-0 to exact revenge for their defeat in the Asian Games at Doha, the Indian attack functioned like a well-oiled machine to decimate their opponents with ruthless efficiency, ending with the 7-2 rout of South Korea in the title clash.

India had also beaten China in the Azlan Shah Cup at Kuala Lumpur on their way to the bronze earlier this year, but the Chennai win was sweeter.

After a touch-and-go 3-2 win against Korea in the pool tie, the hosts put up a pulsating display to pulverise the Asian Games champions in the final.

India proved to be the best among the 11 teams in the seventh edition of the tournament.

True, China, Japan and Korea brought mix-and-match teams, not wanting to expose their key players before the Olympics. (Korea have even pulled out of the Champions Trophy, whose venue is still in doubt due to the volatile situation in Pakistan). The Koreans had no compulsion to showcase their best talent, having booked an Olympic berth when they won the Asiad gold.

Yet, the Indian triumph could not be devalued in any manner as there was a deluge of goals. India pumped in as many as 56, with incisive striker Prabhjot Singh alone accounting for 15 of them.

Perhaps, taking a cue from the Indian football team, which lifted the Nehru Cup with an attacking brand of football recently, the men’s hockey team also went all out to get goals with no quarters asked and none given.

Former Olympian Joaquim Carvalho has shown that a foreign coach is not always required to achieve success. It was India’s third podium finish under his command and he has done it with the right mix of motivation and strategy. In the process, he has proved that Indian coaches can deliver too. (It took England’s Bob Houghton, though, to bring that winning touch to the football team).

Carvalho has been moulding the team with a no-nonsense, low-key approach with the right blend of attack and defence. The searing heat and humidity in Chennai was no deterrent to the Indian boys to play aggressive hockey, with total team spirit.

That there was verve and variety in India’s scoring pattern is a gladdening aspect of their wins, with a large number of goals coming off field efforts.

Prabhjot was indeed outstanding with his “backhanders”, while other scorers, particularly VR Raghunath with his drag-flicks, were also impressive. Raghunath struck 11 goals, while Shivendra Singh, Tushar Khandekar, and Rajpal Singh got six each.

India’s success was particularly sweet as Pakistan could not even make it to the last-four stage. The latter’s misery was compounded when they lost to Japan and drew with Malaysia in the pool phase. They ended up sixth, their lowest ranking in the continental tournament since its inception in 1982.

Slowly and surely, India are imbibing the spirit of adventure under Carvalho. But the coach is not making a big deal out of the Asia Cup triumph. He is realistic enough to understand that it takes a lot more effort to win against European teams. Understandably, he is guarded when it comes to making predictions about India’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

India are slated to play the pre-Olympic qualifier at Auckland (New Zealand) from February 2 to 10, featuring New Zealand, Egypt, Ireland, Bangladesh and a European team (to be decided after the Euro qualifier next month).

India would have to win this tournament to qualify for the Olympics, which will be a tough task as New Zealand had beaten them 2-0 in the Champions Challenge Cup at Boom (Belgium) earlier this year. The other two Olympic qualifying tournaments will be held in Chile and Japan.

Before the Olympic qualifier, the Indian players will have a 45-day training-cum-competition exposure in the German league to sharpen their skills.

Almost all top players from hockey-playing countries will be figuring in the German league and the Indian Hockey Federation has dubbed it as the “Mission Beijing” training camp.

The selectors have done the balancing act quite well by bringing back drag-flicker Raghunath and experienced Ignace Tirkey after the team ended up as bronze medallists at the Azlan Shah Cup and the Champions Challenge event.

The sum total of India’s Asia Cup victory is that confidence and consistency have become a hallmark of the men in blue. Indeed, the players have truly fallen for the bait of IHF chief KPS Gill, who had announced that the team would be rewarded for every goal scored and penalised for every goal conceded.

Fifty-six goals for and five against — hockey fans couldn’t have asked for more.

Eves falter

The Indian eves failed to do an encore to defend their title in the Asia Cup at Hong Kong. It was a jolly good ride for the girls initially, as they swamped Malaysia 6-0, Singapore 16-0 and Thailand 16-0 before crashing against the power and speed of China (2-4) and Korea (2-5) to finish fourth. The Mamta Kharab-led Indian team thus failed to hold on to the crown they won at New Delhi in 2004.

The team is in the process of rebuilding after the retirement and dropping of some senior players. Not many were expecting India to make a podium finish, but the eventual outcome came as a let-down.

However, the experience gained by the young players would be very valuable as the Women’s Hockey Federation of India builds a team with an eye on the future. 
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IN THE NEWS
Woman on top

Pace bowler Jhulan Goswami became the first Indian to bag the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year Award, compensating for the failure of her more illustrious male counterparts to make it to the list of nominees.

The 23-year-old from Bengal pipped Lisa Sthalekar of Australia and Claire Taylor of England for the top award.

“It’s a dream come true for me. It is very unexpected because the other candidates are great players. It is very special for me,” said Jhulan.

Jhulan took 10 wickets to help India record their maiden Test (and series) victory in England last year. She also scored a fifty as a nightwatchman in the first Test at Leicester, which ended in a draw. “I got the player-of-the-match award in both Tests, of which we won the second at Taunton.”

Asked about the ICC award, she said, “It’s great for women’s cricket. Not many people know that women, too, play cricket in India. But now, after all this media coverage, I think it will work wonders for women’s cricket in India.”

Jhulan is the second winner of the award after former Australia captain Karen Rolton, who got it last year.

She has so far taken 33 wickets in eight Tests and 96 in 79 one-dayers. — PTI
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India’s bland Slam
Ivninderpal Singh

Indian tennis players had a disappointing 2007 Grand Slam season, which culminated with the US Open last week. In 2006, Mahesh Bhupathi had won the Australian Open title in mixed doubles, while Leander Paes had bagged the US Open crown in men’s doubles. In 2005, too, the Indians had finished with two titles, both won by Bhupathi at the Australian Open and the US Open in mixed doubles. This year, however, they ended up empty-handed.

Sania Mirza, who became the first Indian woman to be seeded at the US Open, failed yet again to get past Anna Chakvetadze. Her fine show in the run-up hardcourt tournaments, coupled with her improved fitness and sharper game, had raised hopes of a good finish. But it was not to be.

She lost in the third round, thus falling short of her best performance (fourth round in 2005). She fared much better in the two doubles events, reaching the quarterfinals with Bethanie Mattek and Bhupathi, respectively.

Sania’s singles performance in the first three Grand Slam events — Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon — was even more disheartening, as she at best reached the second round. In fact, the first half of the year was marred in her case by injury and indifferent form.

She got going as the second half commenced, doing exceedingly well in the USA. She started the year at 66th and climbed to 27th after playing 42 matches so far this season.

Her remarkable victories against former world No. 1 Martina Hingis, 12th-ranked Patty Schnyder, 16th-ranked Dinara Safina, 18th-ranked Tatiana Golovin and 20th-ranked Sybille Bammer in recent months have helped her re-establish herself as a formidable singles player and put her in the top league.

In doubles, Sania has won three WTA titles this year — the Pilot Pen tournament partnering Italian Mara Santangelo, Western & Southern Financial Group Open with Bethanie Mattek and Bank of the West Classic title with Shahar Peer. But her regular change of doubles partners hampered her display in the majors.

Bhupathi, who has also made it a habit of changing partners, couldn’t get past the second round in men’s doubles with Nenad Zimonjic at the US Open. Shockingly, defending champions Paes and Martin Damm bowed out in the opening round itself. The saving grace for India was that Paes managed to finish runner-up in mixed doubles with Meghann Shaughnessy. This was the best performance by an Indian in any Gram Slam event in 2007.

In men’s singles, Indians were conspicuous by their absence in the Grand Slam arena. Prakash Amritraj failed to qualify for the main draw of the US Open as well as Wimbledon. Rohan Bopanna, too, fell by the wayside when it mattered the most, even though he tasted some success in US challenger events.

Bopanna paired up successfully with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi to win four challenger titles, the duo earning the nicknamed “Indo-Pak Express”. Bopanna’s double rankings has moved up to 84th, but he has some way to go before he can compete in the majors, be it in singles or doubles.

Other youngsters who came a cropper were Rushmi Chakravarthi, Isha Lakhani and Shikha Uberoi.

Tara Iyer has emerged as the new face of Indian tennis this year. Coached by her father, Parameswaran Iyer, she is on a roll, having won several singles ITF titles this year. In rankings, she has jumped 43 places to be placed 350th (she is the second highest ranked Indian woman after Sania).

After a four-month break, the new Grand Slam season will begin with the 2008 Australian Open. Let’s see if the Indians can make it any better than the one that has just ended — with a whimper. 


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Birds of a feather
Neeraj Bagga
Steven Dias (left) and NP Pradeep have emerged as key players of the Indian football team.—
Steven Dias (left) and NP Pradeep have emerged as key players of the Indian football team.—Tribune photo by Sayeed Ahmed

They are two of a kind in more ways than one. Team-mates for Mahindra United as well as India, both have risen from humble beginnings to emerge as top footballers of the country.

Kerala’s NP Pradeep and Mumbai’s Steven Dias are neither tall nor robust, but they make up for these physical limitations with their tireless efforts on the field.

Pradeep, who has led the national under-23 team, scored the Nehru Cup-winning goal for India in the final against Syria. He is an aggressive midfielder who can unleash scorching long-rangers.

Born into a poor family in Idukki, he has not allowed his circumstances to affect his progress as a footballer. The 24-year-old performed extremely well on the tour to Portugal earlier this year. However, he had to cut short his trip due to his father’s death.

Pradeep also played for India in the AFC Asia Cup qualifiers, scoring a goal against Yemen.

Dias, 23, is another vital midfielder in the Indian side. He was part of the team that won the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2003.

It was natural for the Mumbaikar to take up the sport as all his three elder brothers had played it. A striker at the start of his career, Dias moved to the midfield on the advice of one of his brothers. Playing barefoot initially, he impressed his brother Johny so much that the latter gifted him his first pair of sports shoes.

Pradeep and Dias are hopeful that the Nehru Cup victory would usher in a new era for Indian football. “The triumph has instilled confidence in the team and we have overcome a mental block,” they say in unison.

Both give credit for the team’s success to England coach Bob Houghton. “He has initiated a fitness regime and familiarised us with new footballing techniques and strategies. Players have become sharper in attack as well as defence,” adds the Mahindra duo.

Along with Sunil Chetri, these two players are the future of Indian football. If the momentum is maintained, India can become the Asian powerhouse it was during the fifties and early sixties. 

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SPORTS MAIL

Kings of Asia

Congratulations to the Indian hockey team for winning the Asia Cup in Chennai by crushing South Korea 7-2 in the final. The squad led by Ignace Tirkey showed rare team spirit and played as a disciplined unit.

The icing on the cake was that they inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Koreans to retain the title. Importantly, India won all their matches in the tournament, most of them by handsome margins.

This triumph will boost the morale of the team ahead of the Olympic qualifiers early next year. Hopefully, the team should make it to the 2008 games in Beijing.

Gurdershan Singh, Chandigarh

Thrilling match

It was a pleasure to watch the sixth ODI between India and England at the Oval from start to finish. Just when it seemed that India would fall short of the target, Robin Uthappa came to the team’s rescue with a superb knock.

Gurudev Singh Jain, Baltana 

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