At home on
shining on the greens
IN THE NEWS
The superb performances of several youngsters in the ongoing PHL augur well for Indian hockey, writes Akash Ghai
THEY got an opportunity to prove themselves and they grabbed it with both hands. With an aim to "catch ’em young", the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) distributed 17 under-21 and under-19 players among the seven teams of the 4th Premier Hockey League.
Some of these young players have shown plenty of promise, such as Cheeyanna (Bangalore Hi-Fliers), Diwakar Ram, Sameer Baxla (Hyderabad Sultans), Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Ranjodh Singh and Gurwinder Singh (Sher-e-Jalandhar) and Dharamvir Singh (Chandigarh Dynamos).
Their performances in the ongoing PHL have not only been instrumental in securing victories for their teams but have also attracted the attention of top officials. After watching them in action in Chandigarh, India’s coach Joaquim Carvalho was of the opinion that some of them deserved to be in the Indian squad.
Uttar Pradesh drag-flicker Diwakar Ram has emerged as a front-runner from the young brigade with his accuracy and cool demeanour. His ability to execute well-directed drag-flicks during penalty corners as well as solidly man the defence line have made him an integral part of the Sultans’ team.
In five league matches, full-back Diwakar, who is playing in the PHL for the second time, scored four crucial goals, besides thwarting several attacks by the rivals.
Talking to The Tribune, the 18-year-old player from Gorakhpur said, "I am thrilled to be noticed in the PHL. The experience and exposure I have got here is invaluable. All are applauding my game, which gives me a lot of confidence."
Terming speed and accuracy as his strong points, this Indian Oil player is looking forward to break into the senior team. For the purpose, he has been working hard on his drag-flicks. Though India have two top drag-flickers in Sandeep Singh and Raghunath — not counting the out-of-favour Len Aiyappa — Diwakar might get a chance if the seniors perform below par at the highest level.
His team-mate Sameer Baxla, who also plays as a full-back, has won praise for his turf coverage and the capability to convert rivals’ attacks into counter-attacks. No wonder he is one of the favourites of Sultans’ coach P Madhukaran.
"I am enjoying the attention. Now I find myself closer to realising my dream of entering the senior team. One thing I need to improve is my consistency," said Baxla, who is playing in the PHL for the first time.
On PHL, the 19-year-old player from Orissa is of the view that this is a good platform for youngsters where they get to play with Indian seniors and learn new techniques from foreign players.
Another PHL first-timer who has impressed one and all with his skills is Cheeyanna. He was the one who scored the match-winner for Bangalore Hi-Fliers against Chandigarh Dynamos. Incidentally, the Hi-Fliers won the match 3-2 after being 0-2 down at one stage. In the crucial game against Chennai Veerans, the youngster produced a brace to pave the way for his team’s entry into the semifinals. He also earned the Man-of-the-Match award for his top-class performance.
Nineteen-year-old Gurwinder Singh Chandi has been an asset to Sher-e-Jalandhar. Centre forward and right-in Chandi, who has created many successful moves for his team’s strikers, has also made an impression with his fast dribbling and ball control.
Lauding his pupil, 1996 Atlanta Olympics veteran Sanjeev Singh Dang, who is the Sher-e-Jalandhar coach, said, "Chandi has a knack for dodging and moving with speed. He reminds me of Olympian Baljeet Singh Dhillon, the outstanding player who retired earlier this year. He is definitely a prospect for the Indian team."
On his show in his maiden PHL outing, Chandi said, "I have to go a long way. The league has given me plenty of confidence as well as much-needed exposure. It goes without saying that my aim is to make it to the Indian team."
Chandigarh player Dharamvir Singh might have been sent on the field for short durations, but the right-out has managed to make an impact with his lively game.
In almost every match, Dynamos coach NS Sodhi has relied on him to replace tiring players. The 19-year-old Dharamvir has fed the forwards with quick passes and also supported the defence line.
"I’m satisfied with my show. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t played for long periods," says Dharamvir.
"These youngsters are the future of Indian hockey. With proper guidance and motivation, they can make their mark at the international level," says Sodhi.
Undoubtedly, they will be in the thick of things in today’s semifinals. Let’s see which of them help their team go the distance.
Big-time cricket action is returning to Canada after about a century.
In a country where cricket was the premier national sport till the National (Ice) Hockey League replaced it in 1917, an Indian-Canadian, Atul Ahuja, has joined hands with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to revive interest in the sport.
Languishing at the lowest 15th rank, Canada currently enjoys the status of only an associate member with the ICC. For Ahuja, who has just been appointed CEO of Cricket Canada, the advent of Twenty20 cricket has come in handy to mount a challenge to ice hockey — the country’s much-loved stick-and-puck game — and put cricket where it once was.
"The ICC has spelt out that Canada is a priority nation for them. So with their financial and technical backing, we are putting in place by mid-2008 a league system and a national academy to take this sport to the grassroots," Ahuja told IANS.
"Twenty20 is like ice hockey. It is a three-hour, action-packed thriller which will excite Canadians. So, like the National Hockey League, where city teams from Canada and the USA vie for the Stanley Cup, we are raising four city cricket teams in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, to begin with. Later, we will have more teams," he said.
The inter-city league, he said, will make cricket a regular, year-round sporting feature in Canada. "This will make it the sport of the masses who would love permanence of cricketing action here."
Each city league team will have three international players, four senior players, three under-19 players and one baseball player.
Why a baseball player? "Since baseball is very popular in the USA and almost like cricket, we want to make T20 look like baseball and draw spectators. It is just a marketing strategy. And cricket boards of other countries will help us recruit international players."
The year-long city league will culminate in two semifinals and a final to be played in a single day.
"It will be a day of two semifinals and then the final...which will be telecast live in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Europe, the Gulf, Australia and New Zealand."
Hinting that it could be an indoor event at Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, Ahuja said he was in talks with Ten Sports for worldwide telecast rights.
"There is no dearth of corporate sponsors. In fact, we also plan a separate T20 professional league in July as 30 to 40 per cent staff of Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and banks here are South Asians with cricketing background. It will be played from 5 to 8 pm.
"Then there is a huge pool of talented women players from India and the Caribbean for whom we will have a women’s league under way early this year."
On top of it all, there will be a national cricket academy to nurture talent, he said. "Starting in March, it will bring the best coaches from Canada and abroad to train youngsters and set the stage for a cricket revolution in Canada." — IANS
shining on the greens
Seventeen-year-old Chandigarh golfer Rahul Bakshi is all set to enter the all-India amateur golf circuit. After donning the junior amateur champion mantle for several years, Rahul decided to enter the open amateur event after clinching the Sunfeast junior title in New Delhi on December 28.
The Sunfeast title was a huge boost, coming on the heels of the Nick Faldo series Asia Grand final, where Rahul made waves by creating a course record of nine-under-par 63 on the greens of the Mission Hills Golf Club at Shenzhen, China, on the third day of the competition.
"That was a dream round," said Rahul as he gave details of the third round blemish-free card with nine birdies, the best returned by any Indian junior.
The card came after he had started badly with a seven-over-par 79 on the opening day. The following day, he played a four-under-par 68 and improved it further with a record nine-under-par 63 on the final day.
A plus-one student of Sanjay Public School, Chandigarh, Rahul is an Oil India scholarship holder for being the top junior amateur of the country.
Rahul is happy about his game. He says his driving and putting are good, but he admits that consistency is one area where he needs to improve. He is determined to stop going for risky shots. His inconsistency was witnessed in the Faldo series when he played seven-over-par on day one and returned his best nine-under-par on day three.
Rahul says his coach Jesse Grewal also has a word of praise for his swing. He touches 290-295 yards and is determined to cross the 300-yard barrier without resorting to risky strikes.
"I’m in total control of my game and I’m determined to make a mark for myself on the amateur circuit," said Rahul.
He had a good season in 2007, scoring triumphs at the DGC Junior, Nomura Cup trials, Chandigarh Junior Championship, Indian Open and the Pakistan Amateur Championship.
In the Pakistan event, the Indian team came up trumps as Rahul put up the best performance, playing a four-over and a four-under in the two-round event.
On the academic front, having scored 84 per cent marks in the CBSE board exams for Class X, Rahul is keen to do still better in Class XII.
He will decide about turning pro after seeing his performance on the open amateur circuit.
At the moment, he is busy with his practice under Jesse. He is busy sharpening his putts holing 150 balls a day in daily sessions which go up to 100 minutes.
Rahul will avoid playing on the junior circuit as he will cross the 18-year-barrier on October 5 this year.
After the Sunfeast win, he said: "It feels great to win the title, which gives me confidence as I step into my amateur career. This is a great parting gift that I can give to myself."
IN THE NEWS
A regular mixed doubles pair has been a rarity in Indian tennis. Leander Paes and Sania Mirza got together for the Doha Asian Games in 2006 and went on to win the gold. Sania and Mahesh Bhupathi successfully teamed up for the 2003 Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, but the duo struggled during the Grand Slam season last year. However, it is Sania’s pairing with Rohan Bopanna that has worked wonders at the topmost level.
The twosome have been virtually unstoppable in the Hopman Cup mixed team tennis tournament in Perth. Playing together for the second year in succession, the duo beat Americans Meghann Shaughnessy and Mardy Fish in straight sets.
This was a consolation win after India had conceded an unassailable 2-0 lead to the USA, with Sania and Bopanna losing their singles encounters. India seemed to have got a lucky break on the match eve as Serena Williams was ruled out due to to illness and replaced by Meghann. However, cramps didn’t let Sania get past her rival.
In the match against hosts Australia, the score was level after Sania defeated Alicia Molik and Bopanna lost to Peter Luczak. In the decider, the Indian pair pipped the Aussies 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 to secure a 2-1 victory for the team.
In the 2007 edition, played at the same venue, Sania and Bopanna had won all their three matches, which all stretched to three sets. They scraped past Czech Republic’s Lucie `8Aaf`E1rov`E1 and Tom`E1`9A Berdych 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, defeated Croatia’s Sanja Ancic and Mario Ancic 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, and then prevailed over Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues and Tommy Robredo 6-7, 6-2, 7-6.
Sania’s victories in singles had helped India beat Croatia and Czech Republic by an identical 2-1 margin, but her solitary loss against Spain dashed the team’s hopes of reaching the final.
Like last year, India’s weak link in singles has been Bopanna. The world number 267 has found much-higher-ranked players too hot to handle (Fish is No. 39, while Luczak is No. 79). If he’s able to considerably improve his singles game (and ranking) during this season, India can hope for a better finish in the Hopman Cup next time. — Agencies