SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

Uphill task Down Under
Team India made history by winning Test series against Pakistan and England this year. Now, their biggest challenge is to achieve a series victory in Australia, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
I
F India was the "Final Frontier" for former Australian captain Steve Waugh, then Australia could well be the same for Anil Kumble and his men as India look for an elusive Test series victory Down Under. India have come close to doing it twice, the first in 1986 when the series ended 0-0, and then on the last tour in 2003-04, when the two teams finished level at 1-1 after India went one up after winning the second match at Adelaide.

A series to remember
T
HE previous India-Australia Test clash in the latter’s backyard took place in 2003-04. The four-match series ended in a 1-1 draw, with India winning the second Test at Adelaide and the hosts equalising in the next match at Melbourne. Incidentally, India’s triumph was their first in Australia since 1980-81.

Rower on the rise
Akash Ghai
L
ACK of awareness about the sport is a major reason why rowing is lagging behind in India, thinks international rower Swathi Sanjay. Swathi was in Chandigarh to participate in the All-India Inter-Varsities Rowing Championship held at Sukhna Lake recently.

IN THE NEWS
At full throttle
Vaibhav Sharma
Despite having a number of firsts to his credit in the history of Indian motor sports, Narain Karthikeyan is not the one to rest on his laurels. He knows he has another glorious chapter to write after becoming the first Indian to race in Formula One.

Tiger burns brightest
Mark Lamport-Stokes
Tiger Woods has already established himself as arguably the greatest golfer in history, but he fervently hopes his legacy will focus instead on his contribution to society. He created the Tiger Woods Foundation with his father Earl shortly after turning professional in 1996, paving the way for the first Tiger Woods Learning Centre where children can develop life skills.

 





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Uphill task Down Under

Team India made history by winning Test series against Pakistan and England this year. Now, their biggest challenge is to achieve a series victory in Australia, writes Abhijit Chatterjee

Anil Kumble and his men celebrate after winning the Test series against Pakistan
Watch out, Oz: Anil Kumble and his men celebrate after winning the Test series against Pakistan
— Photo by PTI

IF India was the "Final Frontier" for former Australian captain Steve Waugh, then Australia could well be the same for Anil Kumble and his men as India look for an elusive Test series victory Down Under.

India have come close to doing it twice, the first in 1986 when the series ended 0-0, and then on the last tour in 2003-04, when the two teams finished level at 1-1 after India went one up after winning the second match at Adelaide.

One thing in India’s favour is the team spirit. The morale and form of Team India are on a high. They are fresh from recording their first home Test series win against Pakistan since 1979-80. Prior to that, they clinched their first Test series victory in England in 21 years, a year after they clinched their first Test in the West Indies in 35 years. Now only the "Final Frontier" remains. Followers of Indian cricket know that the team has the firepower to put it across Ricky Ponting’s men.

For Kumble, who has got the job of Indian captain at the fag end of an illustrious career, this could well be a tour to remember. A keen student of the game and a very good judge of players, he knows that the two bowling captains India sent Down Under earlier did reasonably well.

Bishen Singh Bedi’s team, playing in that historic series when Australian cricket was shaken by the rebel tour of Kerry Packer, narrowly lost 2-3 in 1977-78 to a depleted Aussie side. In 1986, Kapil Dev was unable to force a win despite having the upper hand in two of the three Tests. So, will things be better for India under a bowling captain this time? Unlike Bedi or Kapil, Kumble has probably one of the best Indian teams to have landed in Australia.

Kumble got the top job after Rahul Dravid, with a historic series win against England under his belt, gave up captaincy under circumstances never fully explained. As Sachin Tendulkar was not keen on leading the side, and the selectors had decided that one-day and Twenty20 skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was ill-equipped for Test captaincy, they finally chose the leg-spinner. And now people wonder why Kumble didn’t get the job earlier!

A series win against a depleted Pakistan cannot, by any yardstick, give an indication of the team’s form, especially on home pitches. But a win against Pakistan under any circumstances does wonders to the morale of an Indian team. And it cannot be any different for Kumble and his men. Therefore, the team has arrived in Australia with a very positive frame of mind.

Focus on warhorses

For a number of top players in the team, this could well be their last big chance to corner glory. The four-match series would most probably be the last tour Down Under for SachinTendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman as well as the captain. Kumble, who took 24 wickets in the 2003-04 series in Australia, is 37, while Dravid, who is yet to regain his form in England after giving up captaincy, will turn 35 next month. During India’s last tour, he had scored as many as 619 runs in four Tests.

Ganguly, who led India when the visitors nearly pulled off a sensational series win, is 35, while Tendulkar is a year younger. Laxman is the youngest of the lot at 33, but with India’s next tour of Australia scheduled to come about in 2011, none of these players are likely be in the squad at that time.

Therefore, if India have to taste a series success, it has to be on this tour itself, at least for these players. All of them, at one time or the other, have done exceeding well in Australia. All they need to do now is fire together. If that happens, India would have done half their work for a series win. Going by their recent performance against Pakistan, most of them are in good nick.

For India to do well, much would depend on the batsmen, especially the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. Then there are vice-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Wasim Jaffer, Yuvraj Singh and also Virender Sehwag, whose career has been given a new lease of life by Kumble, who still believes that the Delhi player has the potential to deliver.

As Kumble has been saying ever since the squad for Australia was selected, much will depend on the batsmen. According to the captain, if they can put up a decent total, India have the bowling to claim 20 wickets in a match.

Bowling woes

India’s problem area is the bowling department, especially the new-ball bowlers. An overworked Zaheer Khan will spearhead the Indian challenge and giving him support will be RP Singh, who missed the entire series against Pakistan due to an abdomen injury. In any case, RP still has to prove himself at the Test level. If the question mark over RP is not worrying enough, the other three new-ball options, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma and rookie Pankaj Singh, do not inspire much confidence.

Pathan might be an improved batsman but he is yet to regain his touch with the ball, while Ishant is just one Test old. Of course, the latter’s five-wicket haul in the Bangalore Test against Pakistan must have gladdened Indian hearts and impressed the selectors.

Pankaj has been doing a lot of talking to the media, but how good he really is will be revealed only if he clears the acid test. It is quite likely that Zaheer will have to take on a heavier load in the four matches, but can he by himself shape India’s destiny?

India will surely miss the likes of S. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel. But then injury is part of the game. In the spin department, India have an edge over the hosts with Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in full cry. But for these two to come good, the batsmen must come to terms with the bounce of the fast Australian tracks and score enough runs for them to attack.

Fielding, India’s Achilles’ heel, is a major cause for concern. In the recent series against Pakistan, the visitors were let off the hook time and again by the fielders. Even the close-in catchers, who had done a fairly decent job in the past, let the team down in the series.

In the bigger grounds of Australia, players might find the going get even tougher, especially for the tired legs of the 30-plus team members. Fielding coach Robin Singh has not been able to raise the standards. What he does Down Under will be watched with bated breath. This could well decide which way the series will go.

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A series to remember

Rahul Dravid is ecstatic after hitting the winning runs in the Adelaide Test on December 16, 2003
Rahul Dravid is ecstatic after hitting the winning runs in the Adelaide Test on December 16, 2003. ‘The Wall’ pipped Ricky Ponting for the Man of the Series award. 

THE previous India-Australia Test clash in the latter’s backyard took place in 2003-04. The four-match series ended in a 1-1 draw, with India winning the second Test at Adelaide and the hosts equalising in the next match at Melbourne. Incidentally, India’s triumph was their first in Australia since 1980-81.

Batsmen called the shots, with Ricky Ponting hitting two double hundreds and Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar scoring one each. Anil Kumble was the pick of the bowlers with 24 wickets in three matches, while the Aussie attack missed the services of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Dravid, who amassed 619 runs in four Tests, was declared the Man of the Series, even though Ponting’s aggregate was even greater (706).

First Test (Brisbane): Australia 323 (Justin Langer 121, Ricky Ponting 54; Zaheer Khan 5-95) and 284 for 3 declared (Matthew Hayden 99, Damien Martyn 66 not out); India 409 (Sourav Ganguly 144, VVS Laxman 75; Jason Gillespie 4-65, Stuart MacGill 4-86) and 73 for 2 (Rahul Dravid 43 n.o.; Nathan Bracken 2-12).

Result: Match drawn; MoM: Sourav Ganguly

Second Test (Adelaide): Australia 556 (Ponting 242, Simon Katich 75, Justin Langer 58; Anil Kumble 5-154) and 196 (Adam Gilchrist 43, Steve Waugh 42; Ajit Agarkar 6-41); India 523 (Dravid 233, VVS Laxman 148; Andy Bichel 4-118) and 233 for 6 (Dravid 72 n.o., Virender Sehwag 47, Sachin Tendulkar 37; Katich 2-22).

Result: India won by 4 wickets; MoM: Rahul Dravid

Third Test (Melbourne): India 366 (Sehwag 195, Dravid 49; MacGill 3-70) and 286 (Dravid 92, Sourav Ganguly 73; Brad Williams 4-53); Australia 558 (Ponting 257, Hayden 136; Anil Kumble 6-176) and 97 for 1 (Hayden 53 not out).

Result: Australia won by 9 wickets; MoM: Ricky Ponting

Fourth Test (Sydney): India 705 for 7 (Tendulkar 241 n.o., Laxman 178; Brett Lee 4-201) and 211 for 2 declared (Dravid 91 n.o., Tendulkar 60 n.o.); Australia 474 (Katich 125, Langer 117; Kumble 8-141) and 357 for 6 (Steve Waugh 80, Katich 77 n.o.; Kumble 4-138).

Result: Match drawn; MoM: Sachin Tendulkar

Vikramdeep Johal

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Rower on the rise
Akash Ghai

Asian Championship gold medallist Swathi Sanjay is regarded as one of the best rowers in India today
Asian Championship gold medallist Swathi Sanjay is regarded as one of the best rowers in India today — Photo by Parvesh Chauhan

LACK of awareness about the sport is a major reason why rowing is lagging behind in India, thinks international rower Swathi Sanjay.

Swathi was in Chandigarh to participate in the All-India Inter-Varsities Rowing Championship held at Sukhna Lake recently.

"Most of the rowers in India begin at the age of 14-15 years, whereas in European countries, the starting age is eight or nine. This makes a major difference during top-level competitions. Also, the associations do not take this problem seriously," said Swathi.

The Chennai-based rower bagged two gold medals in coxless fours (lightweight) and a bronze in open four events at the Asian Championship in Hyderabad in 2005.

She also represented the country at the Asian Games in Doha last year. "Though we could not get a podium finish, finishing fifth was not bad," said Swathi, who is considered as one of the best rowers of the country.

This student of MOP Vaishnav College (Madras University) has participated in the Asian Junior Championship in Japan (2004) and South Korea (2005). Swathi was also part of the squad for the World Junior Championship in Germany.

"Our rowers can improve their performance if the problems faced by them are overcome," she says, maintaining that despite all odds, the sport is making strides.

"Undoubtedly, the standard of the sport is improving thanks to the medals won at the Asian level. But still there is a lot to be done to clinch medals in big tournaments featuring teams from all over the world," says Swathi.

On the infrastructure available, she said, "We lack water bodies as well as other paraphernalia. National and state-level associations should try to rope in big companies and hold more tournaments. Besides, local rowing clubs should be encouraged to promote the sport."

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IN THE NEWS
At full throttle
Vaibhav Sharma

Narain Karthikeyan guided Team India to its first-ever A1 Grand Prix victory last week
Narain Karthikeyan guided Team India to its first-ever A1 Grand Prix victory last week

Despite having a number of firsts to his credit in the history of Indian motor sports, Narain Karthikeyan is not the one to rest on his laurels. He knows he has another glorious chapter to write after becoming the first Indian to race in Formula One.

His recent victory in the A1 Grand Prix race in Zhuhai (China) is no mean achievement as India have struggled to find their footing in the "World Cup of racing" ever since its inception. The A1 team has finally found the money, the sponsors and more importantly the grit to compete, all thanks to him.

Narain started early with the Formula Maruti Championship and ended up on the podium in his very first race. But he knew that he was meant for better and faster things. He finally made his mark by joining the F3 circuit in 1998. His standing rose as he finished 12th, sixth and fourth in the following three seasons.

On June 14th, 2001, he became the first Indian to have driven an F1 car with a call-up from Jaguar for a test drive. In 2004, he was offered a seat with Minardi, but Narain discovered that money for sports in India was limited to a game played over a 22-yard strip.

He moved to the Formula World Series till finally he made it to the F1 circuit in 2005 by joining Team Jordan. Some Indian corporate houses aided him as he was a "paying driver" and had to keep the cash flowing to survive. It wasn’t the perfect start to his F1 career and Narain discovered the difference between F3 and F1. His best finish of the season was a fourth place in the controversial US Grand Prix, which had only six cars on the track. In "regular" racing conditions, he finished 11th on the Malaysian and Belgian circuits.

Narain has been with Williams as a test driver for the past two years, but he will be replaced by Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg next season. However, with the arrival of F1 team Force India, and the expected launch of the Indian Grand Prix in 2010, he couldn’t have timed his A1 victory better. As he turns 31, his aim would definitely be to get faster and return to the biggest motor racing stage of them all.

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Tiger burns brightest
Mark Lamport-Stokes

Woods won his eighth title of the year at the Target World Challenge golf tournament in Thousand Oaks, California, recently
Tiger & Cub:
Woods won his eighth title of the year at the Target World Challenge golf tournament in Thousand Oaks, California, recently — Photo by Reuters

Tiger Woods has already established himself as arguably the greatest golfer in history, but he fervently hopes his legacy will focus instead on his contribution to society.

He created the Tiger Woods Foundation with his father Earl shortly after turning professional in 1996, paving the way for the first Tiger Woods Learning Centre where children can develop life skills.

Around 16,000 students have been at the centre since it opened in Anaheim, California, in February 2006 and Woods plans to open a second one in the Washington DC area within the next five years.

"Golf is something I do selfishly for myself," the American world number one told Reuters in an interview.

Woods, who won his eighth title of the year at the Target World Challenge on December 16, said he would have jumped at the chance of going to a learning centre as a youngster had the opportunity arisen.

A winner of 13 major titles who trails only Jack Nicklaus (18) in the all-time listings, Woods has often said he craves the anonymity now denied him. Asked what he most missed about being a child, the 31-year-old replied: "That is probably it, anonymity." — Reuters

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