SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Equal to the task
Twenty20 might be loaded in favour of batsmen, but the ongoing World Cup has witnessed bowlers rising to the challenge with aplomb, writes Vikramdeep Johal

W
hen
West Indian opener Chris Gayle smashed 117 off 57 balls in the opening match of the Twenty20 World Cup, many a batsman must have licked their lips at the prospect of having one big, wild party during the inaugural tournament. It hasn’t really turned out that way. Against all odds, several bowlers have shown great adaptability and character to come up trumps.

Czarinas all
Gennady Fyodorov
Russian
girls made amends for their failure to win a Grand Slam singles title this year by lifting the Fed Cup on home turf. This was their third team crown in four years.Even without Maria Sharapova, who was nursing a shoulder injury, the Russians, led by world number two Svetlana Kuznetsova and fifth-ranked Anna Chakvetadze, were too strong for the Italians, who did not have anyone in the top 24.
Russian players (from left) Elena Vesnina, Anna Chakvetadze, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova, along with team captain Shamil Tarpischev (centre), hold the Fed Cup tennis trophy
Russian players (from left) Elena Vesnina, Anna Chakvetadze, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova, along with team captain Shamil Tarpischev (centre), hold the Fed Cup tennis trophy.— Photo by Reuters

IN THE NEWS
All the right moves
It
has been a wonderful year so far for Tania Sachdev, the newly crowned Asian women’s chess champion. Now, she aspires to become the world champion. The 21-year-old Tania, who returned from Tehran, Iran, last week with the “biggest title” of her career till date, is the first Indian in 17 years to claim the honours. The national champion had earned her first Grandmaster norm earlier this year.

 

   

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Equal to the task

Twenty20 might be loaded in favour of batsmen, but the ongoing World Cup has witnessed bowlers rising to the challenge with aplomb, writes Vikramdeep Johal

When West Indian opener Chris Gayle smashed 117 off 57 balls in the opening match of the Twenty20 World Cup, many a batsman must have licked their lips at the prospect of having one big, wild party during the inaugural tournament. It hasn’t really turned out that way. Against all odds, several bowlers have shown great adaptability and character to come up trumps.

If a hundred is regarded as equivalent to a four-wicket haul in the shortest version of the game, there was only one instance of the former at the two-thirds stage (after 18 matches), compared to seven of the latter.

Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was the architect of New Zealand’s victory over India Mohammad Asif has splendidly played the role of Pakistan’s pace spearhead.

Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was the architect of New Zealand’s victory over India.— Photo by Reuters photo

Mohammad Asif has splendidly played the role of Pakistan’s pace spearhead.— Photo by AFP photo

The magic figure of 200 had been reached barely three times at the same cut-off point. Pakistan managed to restrict India, Sri Lanka and Australia — all boasting formidable batting line-ups — to sub-175 totals. In fact, their bowling in this event has been a revelation.

Pacers Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul have rarely allowed the batsmen to call the shots. Adopting an aggressive approach, they have not only stemmed the flow of runs but also taken key wickets.

The surprise package has been newcomer Sohail Tanvir, replacement for the mercurial Shoaib Akhtar. The left-arm pacer, with an unusual action, bowled in-form Sanath Jayasuriya with a swinging beauty (Sri Lanka never recovered from this big blow). Tanvir was superb versus Australia, getting rid of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey to return figures of 3-31 in four overs.

With his fast leg-breaks and arm balls, Shahid Afridi has been an ideal foil for the pacers. Afridi, Asif and Gul have all recorded four-wicket hauls, with the first two winning man-of-the-match awards as well. Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez have also chipped in with the ball. Above all, it’s the variety in the bowling attack which has been a major plus point for Pakistan in this so-called slogfest.

Having hammered the best spinners in Tests as well as one-dayers, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Indian batsmen would make merry in Twenty20 as well. However, New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori foxed the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa with his turn and bounce, leading the Kiwis to victory with a deadly spell of 4-20.

True, there has been a daily flurry of sixes and fours, as expected, but very few batsmen have stood till the end to guide their teams home. Variations in pace and length of deliveries have flummoxed many of them, with the result that they have lost their wickets in crunch situations while trying to step up the run rate.

Cutting down on wides, no-balls and full tosses, complemented by sharp fielding, has helped bowlers keep things tight many a time. The appreciable number of dropped catches, however, has been most frustrating for them.

Twenty20 has shown the real value of dot balls. Each one is worth its weight in gold for the fielding side (A maiden over is nothing less than a goldmine). Moreover, every dot ball increases the pressure on the batsman, leading to rash shots that end in disaster.

South African captain Graeme Smith’s pre-tournament contention that bowlers would find the conditions to their liking has turned out to be dead right. Some of them might have got cheap wickets at times, but in quite a few cases they have been just too good for the batsmen. Consequently, the latter have been forced to rein in their aggression.

It goes without saying that bowlers are set to make a big difference in the semifinals and final as well. What an irony it would be if one of them walks away with the best player award!
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Czarinas all
Gennady Fyodorov

Russian girls made amends for their failure to win a Grand Slam singles title this year by lifting the Fed Cup on home turf. This was their third team crown in four years.

Even without Maria Sharapova, who was nursing a shoulder injury, the Russians, led by world number two Svetlana Kuznetsova and fifth-ranked Anna Chakvetadze, were too strong for the Italians, who did not have anyone in the top 24.

US Open runners-up Kuznetsova saved two match points in the second-set tie-breaker before beating Italy’s Francesca Schiavone in the first reverse singles.

Kuznetsova’s victory gave the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead over last year’s surprise winners Italy in the final in Moscow.

Russia eventually won the two-day tie 4-0. Elena Vesnina stepped in for Chakvetadze to beat Italy’s number two Mara Santangelo in the dead singles rubber before the two teams decided to cancel the doubles match.

Hot favourites Russia had enjoyed a commanding 2-0 lead after day one when Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze both won their singles.

Kuznetsova, who crushed Santangelo 6-1, 6-2 on the first day, had to dig deep to pull off the win against the combative Schiavone in a see-saw battle that lasted two hours 45 minutes.

“It was much harder that I expected,” said Kuznetsova, who was suffering from an abdominal muscle strain.

“I couldn’t serve 100 per cent but I’m very glad to pull this off. But you also have to give credit to Schiavone, who was running well and returning almost everything. She played very well, better than I expected of her.”

The Russian said she had a personal point to prove by leading her team to victory.

“It was my second Fed Cup final and, although we won in 2004, it was Anastasia Myskina who won it for Russia as I lost both my matches,” she said.

“This time, I was our number one player, I knew my team was counting on me, I was very motivated to win and I’m glad I came through in the end. This is a much more satisfying victory for me than in 2004.”

Cold shoulder for Sharapova

Despite an injury, Maria Sharapova, who has yet to play for Russia in the Fed Cup, arrived in Moscow amid the usual fanfare, saying she wanted to give her support.

The world number four, clad in the Russian team outfit, was seen exuberantly cheering her team-mates during the two-day tie, then joined them for a victory lap around the court holding a big Russian flag.

But despite her efforts, the Siberian-born player was given the cold shoulder by the rest of the team.

Most of the local media also saw the hoopla surrounding Sharapova’s visit as nothing more than a PR campaign, designed to boost her goodwill image in Russia.

The Florida-based 20-year-old has never made a secret of her desire to play in the Olympics and for that she must make herself available for Fed Cup duty.

Kuznetsova questioned Sharapova’s motives for coming to Moscow. “To be honest, I don’t know why she came,” the St Petersburg native, who has never been the best of friends with Sharapova, told Russian media on the eve of the tie.

“What’s the point of coming here all the way from the USA if you can't play? She said she wanted to help our preparation and be our practice partner but, to me, if you can’t play, how then can you practise? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Chakvetadze was even more frank. “If you haven’t played Fed Cup all year, it wouldn’t be fair just to show up for the final,” she said. “It’s not fair to all the other girls who committed themselves to the team’s cause.”

Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev tried to play down the row within the team, however.

“I don’t pay attention to all that talk. All top players have personal egos, in fact they wouldn’t be top players if they didn’t have one,” he said. — Reuters
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IN THE NEWS
All the right moves

Asian chess champion Tania Sachdev has set her sights on bagging the world crown.
Asian chess champion Tania Sachdev has set her sights on bagging the world crown.— Tribune photo by Manas Ranjan Bhui

It has been a wonderful year so far for Tania Sachdev, the newly crowned Asian women’s chess champion. Now, she aspires to become the world champion.

The 21-year-old Tania, who returned from Tehran, Iran, last week with the “biggest title” of her career till date, is the first Indian in 17 years to claim the honours. The national champion had earned her first Grandmaster norm earlier this year.

The Asian title also makes her eligible to represent India at the World Cup as the top three from the tournament qualify for the prestigious event.

“It feels cool to be number one in Asia. But the title is more significant because only top three players were selected for the World Cup,” said Tania.

“What makes it even more special is that all opponents were so difficult, including Chinese, Vietnamese and fellow Indians. This years has been too good for me because I am consistently achieving in my sport,” she added.

About the sudden rise in her level of performance, Tania said, “Every player goes through good and bad patches. I was not inconsistent earlier. Now that I am a graduate and do not have the pressure of studies, I am able to fully concentrate on chess.

“For the next four years, it will be only chess. Although I want to pursue studies further, I have not yet decided about what to take up. So I will first make up my mind and then decide about it,” she said.

The Delhi girl, like any woman chess player, swears by the name of Judit Polgar but what sets her apart is her determination to emulate the Hungarian by hiring the latter’s former coach.

Tania would work with Lev Psakhis of Israel from next month before representing India in the second Asian Indoor Games at Macau.

“Sixty per cent of the credit for my achievements goes to my coaches,” said a candid Tania.

“I have worked with Psakhis once before but I will again have a stint with him from October. He makes you love the game, which is very important for your motivation and passion,” she said.

Tania said she was also working on her problem areas and leaving no stone unturned in her preparation for the World Cup.

“I need to increase my fitness, so I will do yoga for that. My openings are weak. I also need psychological motivation,” said Tania, a former Asian junior champion.

Tania’s coach Vishal Sareen reposed faith in his ward, saying that she should become the Grandmaster in the next six months or so.

“She has progressed by leaps and bounds,” said Sareen, who has coached Tania this year. — PTI 

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SPORTS MAIL

Hockey heroics

Alive and hitting” (Saturday Extra, September 15) by M.S. Unnikrishnan made interesting reading. Joaquim Carvalho’s boys did an excellent job by retaining the Asia Cup. They proved that they have in them the ability, artistry and stamina to deliver the goods.

They demonstrated their awesome goal-scoring prowess by netting 57 goals in the tournament. That has rekindled public interest in hockey.

However, there is no room for complacency as India are yet to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. So they should not let the Asia Cup success go to their head. It should be savoured but at the same time focus should be on winning the qualifier, which alone will ensure their entry into the Olympics.

For that India will have to perform like they did in Chennai, with total cohesion among forwards, medios and defenders, to secure the much-sought-after Olympic berth. That alone should silence the cynics who say that India won the Asia Cup because China, Japan and South Korea did not field their best players in the tournament. However, India’s triumph can’t be belittled by such cold facts.

Tarsem S. Bumrah Batala

Dravid’s decision

Rahul Dravid’s decision to step down from captaincy is timely and should be welcomed by Indian cricket lovers. Dravid was found wanting in making strategies when it mattered the most. His handling of the bowling attack also lacked in aggression in crunch situations.

Some of his decisions did not show sharp judgement. Sachin Tendulkar has been offered the hot seat. If he accepts, it would be ideal, but if he declines, even then nothing is lost.

We have another suitable candidate in Sourav Ganguly. His body language shows the confidence he has in his ability to handle difficult situations. This was amply proved during his earlier stint as captain.

Dharam Bir Singh Chandigarh

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