SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Foreign flavour
Fireworks by imported players made amends for the premature exit of some top teams in the Durand Cup, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan
Star striker Odafe Onyeka Okolic (centre, No. 10) was the architect of Churchill Brothers’ triumph in the 120th Osian’s Durand Cup football tournamentI
f any team ever won the Durand Cup on the strength of one footballer’s scoring prowess, it was Goa’s Churchill Brothers, who rode on the magical strikes by captain Odafe Onyeka Okolic to clinch the title in New Delhi recently.



Star striker Odafe Onyeka Okolic (centre, No. 10) was the architect of Churchill Brothers’ triumph in the 120th Osian’s Durand Cup football tournament. — Photo by PTI

It has been an unforgettable year for Kumble. Three months after scoring his maiden Test hundred, he will lead India against PakistanJumbo in the hot seat
A
little over a year ago, when Anil Kumble was asked at a press conference how he felt about not having captained India in Tests, his reply and his facial expressions said it all: he regretted having missed the coveted honour. On being finally appointed to that post, he has fulfilled perhaps his last ambition as a professional cricketer.


It has been an unforgettable year for Kumble. Three months after scoring his maiden Test hundred, he will lead India against Pakistan.

Henin’s dream year
The Belgian tennis star has recovered from a broken marriage, family differences and an injured body to play the best tennis of her life, says Ronald Atkin
In-form Henin won the French Open and the US Open in 2007W
imbledon’s prominent use of that grand-old Rudyard Kipling quote about triumph and disaster is deliberately sited to catch the eye of every competitor about to march on to Centre Court. Many of the biggest names in tennis have gone on to “treat those two imposters just the same” as Kipling advised, but rarely in the same 12-month span.


In-form Henin won the French Open and the US Open in 2007. — Photo by Reuters

75-year-old Ashis Roy has run in over 80 marathons so farMarathon man
Abhishek Roy
F
or some, running marathons is just another way to make money, but for septuagenarian Ashis Roy, it’s a romance with life. Roy, 75, has completed over 80 marathons so far and he doesn’t want to stop just yet. He has a number of records to his name at an age when people find even walking a chore. He is the first Indian to have run a marathon after attaining the age of 60 as well as 70.






75-year-old Ashis Roy has run in over 80 marathons so far

   

 

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Foreign flavour
Fireworks by imported players made amends for the premature exit of some top teams in the Durand Cup, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan

If any team ever won the Durand Cup on the strength of one footballer’s scoring prowess, it was Goa’s Churchill Brothers, who rode on the magical strikes by captain Odafe Onyeka Okolic to clinch the title in New Delhi recently.

Odafe notched up 11 goals to emerge as the toast of the tournament, which was otherwise marred by poor attendance, the early exit of defending champions Dempo (Goa) and runners-up JCT and the absence of crowd-pullers like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal from the fray.

He struck all four goals in Churchill’s 4-1 win against Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in the pre-quarterfinal, five in the 6-1 victory against Central Railway in the quarterfinal, the decider in the 3-2 semifinal win over Air India and the superb Cup-winner against Mahindra United in the title clash.

Churchill twice came from behind to hold Air India before Odafe, who fashioned the moves for the first two goals as well, powered in the match-winner in the 81st minute.

Mahindra United, knowing fully well the danger Odafe could pose, deputed two players to mark him out, but the Nigerian sharpshooter proved too smart to be hedged by his shadows while trapping a through pass to shoot home.

His emphatic goal sealed the Durand Cup for Churchill, who had the humiliation of suffering a 0-5 rout at the hands of Mahindra when the only previous occasion they made it to the challenge round in 2001.

Odafe has thus justified his numero uno status as the most reliable goal-getter in Indian football presently, to give reassertion to his scoring spree in the National Football League last year.

Churchill were well served by the tactics of their coach, former international Mario Soares, who effectively used his defenders to bottle up the Mahindra forwards, who once again failed to score during regulation play.

In fact, their only regulation-time goal was slotted home by Nigerian Yusuf Yakubu against Border Security Force in the pre-quarterfinal, but again off a penalty.

Mahindra were lucky to win the quarterfinal and the semifinal via tie-breaker shootouts against former champions Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa, respectively, which did no credit to the otherwise well-knitted play of the Mumbai club, who were champions in 1998 and 2001.

Churchill also became the third club from Goa to annex the Durand Cup after Salgaocar (1999) and Dempo (2006). The semifinal line-up this time consisted of two teams each from Goa and Mumbai, clearly showing the dominance of clubs from Western India in Indian football now.

The absence of the big three from Kolkata — East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting — kept spectators away. These clubs have their unique charm and one of the best finals ever of the Durand Cup was between Mohun Bagan and JCT in 1977 when the Ambedkar Stadium burst at its seams.

It was expected that the Durand Cup would change for the better after the organisation of the tournament was handed over to a private agency, who did a fine job last year, but failed to do an encore. Most of the matches were played in front of empty stands and if there was somewhat thick attendance during the title clash, it was due to the free entry of schoolchildren and the large presence of Services personnel with their families.

A disturbing aspect of the Durand Cup was that most of the goals were struck by foreign players, whether for Churchill, Mahindra United, Sporting Clube de Goa or JCT.

The Durand Cup, the third oldest football tournament in the world (though it was considered to be the second oldest till the Internet dusted out another tournament based in the UK as the second oldest, after the FA Cup of England) was started in 1888 by Sir Mortimer Durand in Shimla, where it was played till the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

In 1940, it was shifted to Delhi and Mohammedan Sporting became the first Indian club to win the Durand Cup. Kolkata rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have lifted the Cup 16 times each, including twice as joint winners.

The Durand Cup was earlier being run under the direct supervision of the Services Sports Control Board, but when the financial crunch hit the cup, it was handed over to a private agency to run the show. The private player indeed brought in money, with the total prize money going up to Rs 20 lakh this year, though a lot more needs to be done to attract spectators and give a professional touch to the whole show. The change of dates, from December to October-November this year due to AIFF’s plans to start the Professional League from November 24, badly affected the Durand tournament this time. 

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Jumbo in the hot seat

A little over a year ago, when Anil Kumble was asked at a press conference how he felt about not having captained India in Tests, his reply and his facial expressions said it all: he regretted having missed the coveted honour.

On being finally appointed to that post, he has fulfilled perhaps his last ambition as a professional cricketer.

The ace leg-spinner, fondly known as Jumbo, led India in a solitary one-dayer — winning against England at Chennai in 2002 — but leading the country in Test cricket is an altogether different thing. The mechanical engineer’s brains will be tested to the hilt when he leads the team for the first Test against Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in New Delhi on Thursday.

There is little doubt that Kumble, 37, will walk down the stairs of the new Kotla dressing room with his mind going back to that foggy February afternoon in 1999 when he took all 10 Pakistani wickets in the second innings to win the Test almost single-handedly.

With 566 wickets in 118 Tests and 337 in 271 ODIs, the Bangalore-based player has little to prove to anybody, as he often reminds. These are the best bowling statistics by an Indian at the highest level of the game.

Kumble, who retired from ODI cricket this March, is a level-headed player. He is essentially a wicket-to-wicket bowler who could have been more effective had injuries not taken their toll on his broad shoulders, chiefly because of the immense responsibilities thrust on them.

Kumble’s right shoulder has taken the brunt of bowling innumerable overs in a first-class career that began in 1989-90. A major scare came a few years ago when a shoulder operation forced him out of the game for 20 months. Many people wrote him off, but a resolute Kumble regained his place in the team and that too remaining as effective as ever.

He has always bowled his heart out and taken a large number of his Test wickets on helpful Indian pitches. However, this cannot take away the sheen from the yeoman service he has rendered to Indian cricket. — IANS


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Henin’s dream year
The Belgian tennis star has recovered from a broken marriage, family differences and an injured body to play the best tennis of her life, says Ronald Atkin

Wimbledon’s prominent use of that grand-old Rudyard Kipling quote about triumph and disaster is deliberately sited to catch the eye of every competitor about to march on to Centre Court. Many of the biggest names in tennis have gone on to “treat those two imposters just the same” as Kipling advised, but rarely in the same 12-month span.

For Justine Henin, the imposters came in reverse order. January heralded the disaster of a collapsed marriage, since when the route to triumph has been a broad and acclaimed one, both on the personal and career fronts.

Henin’s decision to reunite with her family after seven years of frosty separation was certainly a factor in the more settled and supremely confident manner in which she has gone on to recapture the world No. 1 position in what she asserts, with a wide smile, is her best-ever year.

It was a year in which, the 25-year-old Belgian readily concedes, “I grew up a lot”. Also a year in which she has won nine titles, including the Grand Slam crowns at Roland Garros (for a fourth time) and the US Open. Above all, she stayed healthy.

So how did she “grow up” when her four-year marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne fell apart? “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to overcome those problems so I tried to keep focused on my tennis and to rebuild my confidence, and the result is an incredible season.

“Even so, it has been a difficult year. When things became tough personally I understood it was important for me to go back to my family and I grew up because of that,” she says.

The reunion came about from another near-disaster in April, when her brother David was seriously hurt in a car crash. Justine hurried to his bedside, where there occurred a tearful abandonment of animosities with her other brother, Thomas, and sister Sarah. Soon afterwards Justine was also reconciled with her father, Jose, and the family Henin was together again, happy for the first time since before the death of her mother, Francoise, from cancer in 1995.

Acknowledging that much of the fault lay with her, Henin admits: “It had got out of proportion.”

Tough cookie that she has always been, Henin said she never gave a thought to quitting tennis after the marital break-up. “I know the importance of tennis in my life and the sacrifices I have made for it in the past. It is what has given me balance for 20 years.”

Fitness and good health have been at the heart of her miracle season. Perhaps meticulous planning should be thrown in there, too, since she now travels with a team of five, all Belgians, dedicated to sending her on court at her peak — two doctors, a nutritionist, a fitness adviser and a physio. Plus, of course, her loyal coach of 11 years, Carlos Rodriguez, the Argentinian with whom she has just opened a tennis academy in Belgium to ensure a continuation of their fruitful partnership when her playing days are over.

It is only three years, just after winning the Australian Open in 2004, since she was so affectedby the energy-sapping cytomegalovirus that she was bedridden for all but a few hours each day and was too tired to try driving a car or going for a walk. She was forced off the women’s tour three times that year, emerging briefly in August to capture the gold at the Athens Olympics.

She has this to say about Wimbledon, the one Grand Slam to have eluded her so far: “Winning it would not prove I am a great player. It would not be the end of my career, or my life, if I didn’t. It is important, but not the end.”

But for someone who is the embodiment of her sponsors’ slogan: “Impossible is nothing”, her chances should not be dismissed. As long as she heeds Kipling.

— The Independent

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Marathon man
Abhishek Roy

For some, running marathons is just another way to make money, but for septuagenarian Ashis Roy, it’s a romance with life. Roy, 75, has completed over 80 marathons so far and he doesn’t want to stop just yet.

He has a number of records to his name at an age when people find even walking a chore. He is the first Indian to have run a marathon after attaining the age of 60 as well as 70.

“Indian sports is only limited to the youth. People are not aware that there are sporting activities for all age groups,” says Roy, a resident of New Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park.

Roy took to long-distance running after retiring from the Indian Air Force, where he served as a cardiologist for 21 years.

“I joined the armed forces to fulfil my ambition of representing India in running. But gradually, due to work pressure the ambition died,” he recalled.

“After I retired in 1978 as a wing commander, I settled into private practice. But from January, 1983, I started running just as a physical exercise to reduce weight.

“The following year, Delhi hosted the first Rath Marathon and it was my first taste of competition. I had to struggle to complete the race and it took me more than four hours to cross the finish line,” he said.

Roy completed the 1985 Rath Marathon in three hours and 55 minutes at the age of 53.

“By 1986, I achieved my top form and started running in various marathons in the country. The same year, I competed in my first international event at the International Veterans Marathon in Athens,” said Roy.

“It was a great moment for me as I became the first Indian to run on the original marathon route of the first Olympics in 1896. It took me three hours and 53 minutes to finish the race,” he recalls.

At 54, Roy ran in the International Veterans Marathon, which was even more special for him because he got a chance to meet his childhood idol, the legendary Emil Zatopek of the Czech Republic.

Zatopek, who was the guest of honour, had won the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, which is still a record.

Of the 49 marathons overseas, he has finished on the podium on 18 occasions.

For Roy, raising funds has never been a problem and he thanks his family and friends for helping him financially to arrange for the trips abroad.

“From 1997 to 2001, I was given tickets on five occasions by Brijmohan Lal Munjal, chairman of Hero Honda, to run in Europe and the USA,” states Roy.

Roy laments that in India organisers don’t care about old runners and wrap up the facilities soon after the elite runners have finished. “Here, people organise marathons just for minting money but overseas it is a community affair,” he said.

Nevertheless, his romance with marathon continues and he vows to cross the three-figure mark. — IANS

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