SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Turf tussle is here again
The Premier Hockey League beginning in Chandigarh on December 20 assumes great significance in view of the Olympic qualifier in March, write Akash Ghai & Vikramdeep Johal
Defending champions Orissa Steelers will have to make do without two key players this time — ace defender Dilip Tirkey and forward Bruno LogunFor the second time in less than a year, Chandigarh is playing host to the Premier Hockey League. Still, one can’t overestimate the importance of PHL-IV, which begins on December 20. This is the only major event Indian players would be involved in before the all-important Olympic qualifier in Santiago, Chile, in March.



Defending champions Orissa Steelers will have to make do without two key players this time — ace defender Dilip Tirkey and forward Bruno Logun

It was primarily due to Misbah-ul-Haq’s efforts that Pakistan avoided being routed by India in the Test series.IN THE NEWS
Late bloomer
Richard Sydenham
M
isbah-ul-Haq, who has ignited his Pakistan career in recent months, almost turned his back on the game at the age of 23 in favour of a business career. He studied for his MBA in business management and only started playing top-level cricket at 24. “Before my first-class debut, I was in two minds about which way to go, but I chose cricket because of my love and passion for the game,” the 33-year-old Misbah said.




It was primarily due to Misbah-ul-Haq’s efforts that Pakistan avoided being routed by India in the Test series. 
— Photo by PTI

Chinese checks in
Liang Wen-chong stole the show at the UBS gala night, picking up three major Asian Tour golf awards
V. Krishnaswamy
L
iang Wen-chong may have just announced the coming of age of Chinese golf. On December 9, Liang became the first Chinese player to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit, despite a modest finish in tied 28th place at the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia tournament. Liang also broke the Indo-Thai monopoly of the Order of Merit honours. Since 2001, Indian and Thai players have won it thrice each.


Liang Wen-chong stole the show at the UBS gala night, picking up three major Asian Tour golf awards. 
— Photo by AFP

Golf prodigy
Donald Banerjee
F
ifteen-year-old Tanya Wadhwa created a flutter in the recent Ladies Masters at Bangalore when she finished tied 23rd in a competition which saw the world’s top lady golf professionals slug it out for the $2 lakh prize money.

   

 
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Turf tussle is here again

The Premier Hockey League beginning in Chandigarh on December 20 assumes great significance in view of the Olympic qualifier in March, write Akash Ghai & Vikramdeep Johal

For the second time in less than a year, Chandigarh is playing host to the Premier Hockey League. Still, one can’t overestimate the importance of PHL-IV, which begins on December 20. This is the only major event Indian players would be involved in before the all-important Olympic qualifier in Santiago, Chile, in March.

It’s a golden opportunity for youngsters to impress the selectors, while sidelined veterans like Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur would be keen to make an impact in their comeback bid.

Due to the enthusiastic crowd response and impressive facilities, the organisers have picked Chandigarh as the venue for the third time in a row. Spectators are likely to get a déjà vu feeling, and it would be good for the league if it travels to other cities from next year.

Certain changes have been made in the format to make it more interesting, such as the introduction of the semifinal stage and the shortening of the event’s duration to about three weeks (only 26 matches will be played this time).

The features retained include the four quarters of play, seven-team round-robin phase, multiple time-outs, the provision of golden goal and silver goal in extra time, and the experimental penalty shootout in which players run in and try to beat the goalkeeper. The on-field umpires can refer to the third umpire in case of any doubt.

Defending champions Orissa Steelers have their task cut out in the absence of ace defender Dilip Tirkey and promising forward Bruno Logun, who have both opted out of the league. Prabodh Tirkey will lead the side, which has in its ranks William Xalco, Roshan Minz, Igance Tirkey and Sunil Ekka.

One of the top contenders are Chandigarh Dynamos, led by Rajpal Singh. Their star striker is India’s Asia Cup hero Prabhjot Singh, who was nominated for the World Hockey Player of the Year Award recently. The presence of Deepak Thakur, Baljit Singh and Sandeep Singh makes their squad a formidable one.

Last year’s runners-up Sher-e-Jallandhar are banking on their star players — skipper Kanwalpreet Singh, forward Gagan Ajit Singh and penalty-corner expert Jugraj Singh. The other teams in the fray are Maratha Warriors (led by Viren Rasquinha), Hyderabad Sultans (Sardara Singh), Bangalore Hi-Fliers (Tushar Khandekar) and Chennai Veerans (Adam Sinclair).

The winners will pocket a whopping Rs 40 lakh, while the runners-up will get Rs 15 lakh. The losing semifinalists will receive Rs 5 lakh each. The total prize money is Rs 76 lakh.

Over 20 foreign players are expected to be part of PHL-IV. The tentative list features Holland’s Cesco van der Vliet, Don Prins, Olivier Rutgers, Oscar ter Weeme, Melchior Looijen, Sebastian Westerhout, Joost van den Bogart, Diederik Mars, Eric-Jan Iding and Huib Zwerver; South Korea’s Moon Kweon Kang, Hyo Sik You and Chul Kim; Pakistan’s Salman Akbar, Zeeshan Ashraf, Kashif Ali, Dilawar Hussain, Ghazanfar Ali, Adnan Maqsood, Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi.

All in all, the popular event — a trend-setter in Indian sports —promises exciting hockey as the teams renew rivalries at the Sector 42 stadium. 

Reverse flick
A recap of the league’s first three editions

PHL-I (Jan-Feb ’05)
Five teams took part in Tier I of the inaugural edition held in Hyderabad — Hyderabad Sultans, Sher-e-Jallandhar, Bangalore Hi-Fliers, Maratha Warriors and Chennai Veerans.

Pakistani drag-flick expert Sohail Abbas and captain Dilip Tirkey helped the Sultans lift the trophy on home turf. Sohail and Hi-Fliers’ Len Aiyappa were the top scorers with eight goals each.

Chandigarh Dynamos won the Tier II title while remaining unbeaten. Thanks to their brilliant performance, they were promoted to Tier I (Veerans were relegated to Tier II).

PHL-II (Jan-Feb ’06)
In the second edition, held in Chandigarh, Bangalore Lions (Hi-Fliers) beat the Dynamos 2-1 in a hard-fought best-of-three finals. Penalty-corner specialist Len Aiyappa was the star performer for the Lions, ending up as the top scorer with eight goals. In Tier II, Orissa Steelers came up trumps to qualify for Tier I.

PHL-III (Jan-Mar ’07)
This single-tier, seven-team edition was played in two cities — Chennai and Chandigarh. Orissa Steelers, led by Dilip Tirkey, emerged victors after defeating Sher-e-Jallandhar 2-1 in the finals. The third and last final was marred by the manhandling of umpire Satinder Sharma by certain players after he ruled a goal against the Shers.

Dilip Tirkey lifted his second PHL trophy, leading from the front with 14 goals. However, the top scorer award went to Sher-e-Jallandhar’s Gagan Ajit Singh (16 goals).

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IN THE NEWS
Late bloomer
Richard Sydenham

Misbah-ul-Haq, who has ignited his Pakistan career in recent months, almost turned his back on the game at the age of 23 in favour of a business career.

He studied for his MBA in business management and only started playing top-level cricket at 24.

“Before my first-class debut, I was in two minds about which way to go, but I chose cricket because of my love and passion for the game,” the 33-year-old Misbah said.

“Even after two years of choosing cricket, though, I thought I might have chosen wrong. But in 1999, my fortunes changed, I made my first-class debut and two years later was playing against New Zealand on my Test debut.

“Ever since I have not had any thoughts in my mind apart from playing cricket. I’m now really happy.”

Misbah was a fringe player for Pakistan till three months ago but a superb show in the Twenty20 World Cup and a maiden Test century against India in Kolkata, followed by an unbeaten 133 in Bangalore, have tremendously boosted his credentials.

He scored 161 not out at the Eden Gardens as Pakistan replied to India’s intimidating total of 616 for six declared. Misbah’s partnership of 207 with Kamran Akmal earned Pakistan a draw. The duo repeated their rescue act in Bangalore.

Earlier, Misbah got fighting knocks of 82 and 45 in the first Test at Delhi, which Pakistan lost. In all, he compiled 465 runs in three Tests at an average of about 116.

Just how good Misbah’s current form is can be gauged from the fact that his highest score in seven Tests prior to this series was just 41 — against South Africa at Lahore two months ago.

“It’s been nice after such a long time, with all the failures since my debut in 2001, as it was always my dream to score runs in Test cricket,” he said. “I wasn’t playing consistently and it’s been a boost to play regularly of late.

“It’s a totally different story now. Before this series, I was not sure of my future but now I am confident and feeling part of the team.”

Former captain Rameez Raja even tipped him to eventually take over as skipper from Shoaib Malik.

The pressure was on Misbah after he came in for Inzamam-ul-Haq, who retired in October, especially as the former skipper had been part of a seemingly untouchable middle order along with Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf.

He attributes his new-found success to the faith reposed in him by Malik, coach Geoff Lawson and the new panel of selectors formed after the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean. — Reuters

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Chinese checks in
V. Krishnaswamy

Liang Wen-chong may have just announced the coming of age of Chinese golf. On December 9, Liang became the first Chinese player to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit, despite a modest finish in tied 28th place at the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia tournament.

Liang also broke the Indo-Thai monopoly of the Order of Merit honours. Since 2001, Indian and Thai players have won it thrice each. Jyoti Randhawa (2002), Arjun Atwal (2003) and Jeev Milkha Singh (2006) did the trick for India, while Thongchai Jaidee (2001 and 2004) and Thaworn Wiratchant (2005) made it to the top for the Thais.

Even this year, on the eve of the Volvo Masters, the only player in with a chance to catch up with Liang was another Thai, Chapchai Nirat. In the end, Chapchai, needing to win the final tournament to grab the Merit honours, finished tied 12th. Liang carded a 72 in the final round and finished tied 28th but still emerged as the top golfer in Asia, ending the season with a haul of $532,590.

The 29-year-old Liang has been on the Asian Tour since 1999 but has always been under the shadow of the more famous and iconic Zhang Liang-wei. But over the last year or so, Liang has slowly but steadily matured into a top-class golfer and is now China’s leading player, taking over the mantle from Zhang. In fact till the end of 2006, he had 16 top-10 finishes, but had never won.

It was only this year that Liang broke through for his first big victory when he won the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters in 2007, beating Malaysia’s Iain Steel in a playoff. It was, in a manner of speaking, following in Zhang’s footsteps, as the latter had won the same title in 2003.

This year, Liang played only four events in Japan and concentrated mainly on the Asian Tour. In Japan his best was third place in Golf Nippon Series JT Cup while his three other appearances saw him finish inside top-20.

Liang’s growth on the Asian Tour has been steady. From 82nd in his second year on Asian Tour in 1999, he was 46th in 2000, 12th in 2001 and 32nd in 2002. It was only after 2003 that he began getting noticed and in 2004 he was 47th in just nine events.

He improved to 25th the following year in 2005. In 2006 he was further up in 16th places despite playing just 10 events, just as he had done the previous year.

With a world ranking of 86th, he is the third best Asian in world ranking behind KJ Choi (10th) and Jeev (78th).

The ace golfer swept the major awards at the UBS gala night on December 9. Besides claiming the Order of Merit crown, he was also voted the Players’ Player of the Year for his sterling season which included one victory and eight other top-10 finishes.

Liang also picked up the lowest stroke average award with 70.41, pipping Thongchai Jaidee as the most consistent player on the Asian Tour this season.

With a great all-round game, he may well be the next Asian tipped to make it big in world golf. — IANS

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Golf prodigy
Donald Banerjee

Fifteen-year-old Tanya Wadhwa created a flutter in the recent Ladies Masters at Bangalore when she finished tied 23rd in a competition which saw the world’s top lady golf professionals slug it out for the $2 lakh prize money.

The teenaged amateur produced her best card of the week — a one-under 71 — to finish at six-over 293, two strokes head of country’s number one pro Smriti Mehra, who settled for the tied 32nd place after signing off with a 73.

This US-based Indian amateur has come a long way since her parents shifted from New Delhi to Bradenton in Florida when she was just nine. A stint at the David Leadbetter Academy saw her dominate the junior golf competition in the USA.

“My dad read on the Internet about the academy and thought it would be 
ideal for me,” she says.

She has a drive that sends the ball hurtling to a distance of 250 yards. She intends to increase this by one yard every month and make it to the top on the LPGA Tour one day.

A star pupil at the academy in Florida, Tanya wears a red belt in the taekwondo arena. She loves to swim and is also very competent on the tennis court.

She regularly finishes among the top golfers on the US PGA’s Junior Golf Tour for girls. But her most memorable moment came at the US Girls Junior competition in Idaho — the biggest junior event for under-18 girls in the world. At 12, Tanya was the youngest in the field.

She recently moved from Bradenton to McKinney to hone her skills at the Hank Haney Golf Ranch, where she teamed up with Highland Park standout Lila Barton to dominate the girls division at the AJGA Justin Leonard/Deloitte Junior Team Championship.

She has the distinction of being the first player to complete a Grand Slam of title wins in the history of world junior golf.

Then just 10 years old, Tanya achieved the feat with a resounding seven-stroke win at the US Kids Junior Golf Championship in Virginia on August 2-3, 2002. She also won the longest drive category, with a 180-yard effort off the tee, and the chipping competition.

Her earlier two wins came at the Doral Golf Resort, Miami, in December, 2001, and the World Junior Championship at San Diego a fortnight earlier. These two tournaments, along with the US Kids Junior Golf Championship, form the Grand Slam in junior world golf.

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