SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Clash for Supremacy
As India and South Africa clash in the three-Test series, starting March 26, there is a chance that the world might get a glimpse of the men who will usher in a new era of cricket, writes Vaibhav Sharma
After historical feats in Australia, Indian Test captain Anil Kumble had asked his players not to be satisfied with being second best. He wanted the players to celebrate, but also keep in mind that this was their chance to rise, and put some semblance of parity between India's off-field and on-field supremacy over the game.

Britainís Lewis Hamilton (centre) jubilates on the podium with Nick Heidfeld (left), who was placed second, and Nico Rosberg (right), who finished third, after he won the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2008. Only seven of the total 22 cars completed the race.Last man standing
I
n
the end, the Australian Grand Prix was not just about Lewis Hamilton's brilliantly driven fifth career victory, which catapulted him into the lead. It was also about a disastrous debut for Force India, the first Indian team to have entered Formula 1 racing.

Britainís Lewis Hamilton (centre) jubilates on the podium with Nick Heidfeld (left), who was placed second, and Nico Rosberg (right), who finished third, after he won the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2008. Only seven of the total 22 cars completed the race.†AFP photo

IN THE NEWS
Sania Mirza reacts to a lost point in her fourth round match against Slovakiaís Daniela Hantuchova at the Pacific Life Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, California.Damsel in distress
S
ania
Mirza is worried over her recurrent wrist injury as it could either result in a surgery or require her to change her grip and action, an idea she is not keen on at this stage of her career. Sania, who played in pain before losing out to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in the Pacific Life Open pre-quarters, said she would try to avoid surgery but was also not keen on changing the way she grips the racket at the crucial stage in her career. "Right now itís very, very painful.

Sania Mirza reacts to a lost point in her fourth round match against Slovakiaís Daniela Hantuchova at the Pacific Life Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, California. ó AFP photo

Olympics under a cloud?
P
ollution
-related worries over the Beijing Olympics have been out of focus of late. Not because CViolence in Tibet has put the Beijing Olympics in a spot with activists urging the IOC to withdraw Tibetan inhabited areas from the Olympic torch relay.hina has managed to go green within such a short span, but because something more important has been on the dragon's mind. As the Tibetan activists sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demanding the Himalayan region and three neighbouring provinces be withdrawn from the Beijing Olympics torch relay, a new obstacle rose in the already controversy-laden journey for the Asian giant's Olympic preparations.

Violence in Tibet has put the Beijing Olympics in a spot with activists urging the IOC to withdraw Tibetan inhabited areas from the Olympic torch relay. AFP photo

 

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Clash for Supremacy

As India and South Africa clash in the three-Test series, starting March 26, there is a chance that the world might get a glimpse of the men who will usher in a new era of cricket, writes Vaibhav Sharma

A lot will depend on how the two captains, who have earned their teamís respect with performance and astute strategies, lead their men.A lot will depend on how the two captains, who have earned their teamís respect with performance and astute strategies, lead their men.
Captain courageous
: A lot will depend on how the two captains, who have earned their teamís respect with performance and astute strategies, lead their men. ó AFP photo

After historical feats in Australia, Indian Test captain Anil Kumble had asked his players not to be satisfied with being second best. He wanted the players to celebrate, but also keep in mind that this was their chance to rise, and put some semblance of parity between India's off-field and on-field supremacy over the game.

As South Africa arrive in India for the three Test series, the stakes are high and there is a chance, for both the teams, to pull a decider on who is better prepared for dethroning the shaky-looking Australians. Historically, India-South Africa series have been gritty affairs. The last series, held in South Africa, went 2-1 to the hosts. India won the first match in Johannesburg, thanks to a splendid effort by S. Sreesanth. But the hosts bounced back in style, by winning the remaining two matches. At Kingsmead, Ashwell Prince along with, Makhaya Ntini wrecked the Indians. Prince scored a brilliant century, and Ntini wrapped things up in style by picking up 5 wickets as India failed to chase the South African total of 354.

India-South Africa Test series itinerary: 
1st Test ó March 26-30, 2008, at Chennai 
2nd Test ó April 3-7, 2008, at Ahmedabad 
3rd Test ó April 11-15, 2008, at Kanpur 

At one match apiece, both the teams entered the final match at Newlands hoping to score a decisive win. India started with early promise as the opening pair of Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer batted with authority and promise, adding 153 for the first wicket as India amassed a healthy total of 414 runs in the first innings. The hosts hit back with fighting knocks by their captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, but still fell short of the Indian first innings total. The stage was set for India's famed batting line-up to set up India's first series win in South Africa. But like a clich`E9, India batted and, later on, fielded themselves out of the game. The hosts won by five wickets as India squandered a golden opportunity to create history.

But much has changed as the two teams get set for the battle now. The South Africans beat Bangaldesh as an expected result, whereas, India, despite losing the Test series in Australia, stole the show down-under. The contest on offer is set to delight the purists as the men in white give the new-found colour and drama in cricket a much needed break.

While the South African squad that played in Bangladesh has been more or less retained, the surprise comes in the form of Andre Nel being dropped and the subsequent drama over Charles Langeveldt's decision to pull out due to the selection controversy . The South African selectors have had their hands full in recent months due to the racism issue cropping up time and again. Nel's omission has got a lot of tongues wagging and there have been reports linking the speedster to the rebel Indian Cricket League.

The BCCI has also kept up its penchant for surprising, not just cricket followers, but also its own players. The injury to India's find down-under, Ishant Sharma, has been excluded from the squad as he is still nursing an injury. But the BCCI's big bang has come with the omission of Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir was in extremely good touch during the Australian series and looked set to earn himself a place in the Test squad with some match-winning performances. Instead, Wasim Jaffer, who looked out of sorts in Australia, has been brought back in. R.P. Singh makes a comeback into the team after his injury and Dinesh Karthik and Piyush Chawla have been selected as reserves, depending on the fitness of Harbhajan Singh and M.S. Dhoni.

Playing at home India probably start as favourites, but with South Africa they know that they have more than just a fight on their hands. India will certainly miss the services of Ishant Sharma sorely. He was the difference between the Indian bowling attacks of yesteryears and the so-called new look India. The veterans, namely, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman will be keen to showcase their utility, as the BCCI has made its youth-friendly intentions very clear. It is an important series for numerous reasons. National pride, momentum and ICC rankings are the usual suspects. But the amount of turmoil that took place down-under has hinted at the rise of a new world order in cricket. As the toil on the field gets set to decide the lineage of the new champions, two nations watch in anticipation. May the best 'men' win.

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Last man standing

In the end, the Australian Grand Prix was not just about Lewis Hamilton's brilliantly driven fifth career victory, which catapulted him into the lead. It was also about a disastrous debut for Force India, the first Indian team to have entered Formula 1 racing.

Things went out of sync on the opening lap when a first corner incident, triggered by the debutant Nelson Piquet Jnr accounted for Jenson Button, Giancarlo Fisichella, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, and brought out the safety car for the first time. When the race resumed after two laps, Hamilton stormed away from fellow front-row man Robert Kubica in a BMW Sauber, with his teammate Heikki Kovalainen chasing in third. Felipe Massa, meanwhile, had spun his Ferrari on the first corner, and made a pit stop at the end of the first lap. But as one Ferrari fell back, the other, driven by the world champion Kimi Raikkonen, was storming up the field.

For Force India it was a tough lesson in the realities of the sport when both their cars failed to finish the Australian Grand Prix. The team, which is co-owned by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, never expected to challenge the likes of McLaren and Ferrari for victory but were hoping to at least make it to the finish. Former Australian Grand Prix winner, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, crashed out on the first corner, while Germany's Adrian Sutil retired after eight laps because of a hydraulic pressure problem. "It was a very disappointing first race for Force India," the team's chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne told reporters. "We missed a great opportunity to score points, and we have to look to get a better result in Malaysia (next weekend)." The team's frustration at failing to finish the race was compounded by an unusually high casualty rate which saw just seven cars complete the event. Fisichella, who had started from 16th place in the grid, made a clean getaway when the race began but came to an abrupt halt when he was caught in a pile-up. "I was very disappointed as I lost the race at the first corner because another driver came in like a kamikaze into my car," Fisichella said. "It was very frustrating because this was such a good opportunity to score points."

Sutil started the race from the pit lane after cracking a chassis in qualifying. He managed to avoid the carnage at the first corner and got as high as 13th place before his day also ended prematurely. "It was good while it lasted," Sutil said. "In the opening laps, I could stay with the guys in front of me."

The disqualification of Rubens Barrichello for exiting the pit lane against the red light finally earned Raikkonnen a point.

But then he inadvertently hit the pit-lane speed limiter as he reached to wipe oil off his visor. In a flash Alonso regained the place and went on to finish fourth behind Hamilton, and the charging battlers Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg, whose Williams was the fastest car on the track in the closing stages. Kovalainen was a gallant fifth. ó Agencies


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IN THE NEWS
Damsel in distress

Sania Mirza is worried over her recurrent wrist injury as it could either result in a surgery or require her to change her grip and action, an idea she is not keen on at this stage of her career. Sania, who played in pain before losing out to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in the Pacific Life Open pre-quarters, said she would try to avoid surgery but was also not keen on changing the way she grips the racket at the crucial stage in her career. "Right now itís very, very painful.

I couldnít move my wrist," she said after her 1-6, 6-7 (4/7) loss. "Usually it doesnít get this sore, so Iím a little worried right now. It gets sore and then it gets OK when I ice it and do whatever I have to do," she told reporters. Sania, seeking MRI to diagnose the actual problem, said she would look for some other options to cure it. "Itís a big step to even change it half an inch because my game is my forehand. You know, itís not easy to change a grip and yet keep your game unaffected.

Earlier, Sania had put up a spirited fight back to get past Israelís Shahar Peer at Indian Wells, California.

After losing the first set in the tiebreak, Mirza brilliantly rallied to beat her former doubles partner 6-7 (7), 7-5, 6-3 in the third round match. After the entire ruckus over her decision to pull out of the Bangalore Open, it seems her injury woes are now keeping her pre-occupied. Looks like her recovery will be as challenging physically, as it would be mentally. Hereís wishing luck to the dashing Indian starlet. ó PTI


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Olympics under a cloud?

Pollution-related worries over the Beijing Olympics have been out of focus of late. Not because China has managed to go green within such a short span, but because something more important has been on the dragon's mind. As the Tibetan activists sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demanding the Himalayan region and three neighbouring provinces be withdrawn from the Beijing Olympics torch relay, a new obstacle rose in the already controversy-laden journey for the Asian giant's Olympic preparations.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier said the riots in the Himalayan region had been incited with the aim of sabotaging the August. 8-24 Games and reiterated China's view that the Olympics should not be politicised.

Anti-China protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa had turned ugly and were threatening to overshadow the run-up to the Olympics. The torch relay, which starts next Monday when the Olympic flame is lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece, is scheduled to go to Tibet twice.

The International Tibet Support Network said in a statement it had sent a letter to the IOC demanding that the torch relay not go through Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces, all home to ethnic Tibetans.

"Unless the IOC wants the Olympic Torch to become a symbol of bloodshed and oppression, they must immediately withdraw all Tibetan provinces from the Olympic Torch relay route," a spokesperson was quoted as saying in the statement.

The torch relay schedule was drawn up by the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) before being given rubber-stamp approval by the IOC last year. The IOC still expects the relay to go according to schedule. "The IOC adds its voice to the world's desire for a peaceful resolution to the tensions of the past days in Tibet. The Olympic Torch Relay, which embodies the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence, is due to travel to Lhasa in June," it said in a statement late on Monday. "The Olympic Torch is a powerful symbol which inspires people from all over the world to overcome their differences and come together in mutual understanding in anticipation of the Games which it heralds.

Wen earlier accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of orchestrating the riots that erupted in Lhasa last week, leaving dozens dead. The Dalai Lama and his supporters in exile have repeatedly denied that they were behind the violence and have also repeatedly expressed their support for the Games. ó Reuters

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