SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


A ‘level playing field’
As attempts to revive hockey speed up, the need for world class turfs is on the rise, writes Sandeep Rana
Well at times, even if out of ignorance, we tend to overlook the importance that needs to be accorded to hockey for being our national game. The present generation would rather speak about and admire the Sanias and Dhonis, than ‘waste time’ watching an action-packed and physically demanding game of hockey.

Astro turf, like the one in place at the hockey stadium in Chandigarh, ensures that youngsters get a chance to play on a globally-accepted surface. Tribune photo: Vicky Gharu

Blues on a happy note
M. S. Unnikrishnan

Mahender Singh Dhoni has given a dramatic makeover to the Indian cricket team. The old order has changed, to usher in a new dawn. The team no more look upto seniors to drop anchor. Dhoni has backed a bunch of young players to change the dynamics of Indian cricket, to make it youth-oriented. India now has players who can bat, bowl and field with speed, power and precision to apply the winning touch. And nobody is complaining as the team has been winning at home and away with consistency.

With players like Yuvraj (L) raising the bar constantly, the Indian team has found a never-before consistency and that showed in the ODI series in Sri Lanka too.

IN THE NEWS
Brothers in arms

The Pathan brothers, Yusuf and Irfan capped a brilliant Sri Lanka tour for the Indian team as they clinched a thriller T20 tie in Colombo, helping India beat Sri Laanka by three wickets. The two shared a winning partnership and also some records on the way. Yusuf Pathan (2/23) produced his career-best bowling figures. Yusuf (22 not out) also registered his best ever score, eclipsing his 15 against Pakistan at Johannesburg on September 24,2007.

Shining Sharath
Amit Khanna

The pressure of playing for a record takes its toll on the most accomplished of mortals. But playing for a rare hat-trick of titles did not seem to bother the champion even a wee bit. May be he knows records are just numbers at the end of the day. The National Championship held in Patna witnessed Achanta Sharath Kamal restamp his authority by completing a hat-trick of titles, while in the women’s section top seed Shamini Kumaresan drubbed four time National Champion Mouma Das to end the Bengal domination.

Achanta Sharath Kamal won the National Championship held in Patna and completed his hat-trick of titles

Fun ‘n’ sand
The 7th edition of Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is all set to be flagged off on February 17 at Delhi. The six-day rally, which has many firsts to its credit, will be traversing approximately 2,600 km through the interiors of Rajasthan and along the Gujarat coastline before culminating at Udaipur in Rajasthan.

   

   

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A ‘level playing field’

As attempts to revive hockey speed up, the need for world class turfs is on the rise, writes Sandeep Rana

Well at times, even if out of ignorance, we tend to overlook the importance that needs to be accorded to hockey for being our national game.

The present generation would rather speak about and admire the Sanias and Dhonis, than ‘waste time’ watching an action-packed and physically demanding game of hockey.

But every sport and its popularity has a, so to say, life cycle. Now while cricket might not be going down, attempts are on to bring back hockey to atleast a level where today’s youth can relate to the game.

One of the ways to bring the sport back into reckoning to be considered a phenomenon is that the latest equipment and training gear is made available and financially viable. As a part of this exercise, the demand for smaller fields with polyethylene turf has been on the rise. Though the concept is pretty common in European countries, but India is yet to fully understand the importance of it.

Generally hockey players in India practice on soil ground while they have to play most of their matches on nylon turf, which is very fast, and is an entirely different experience for players as they are not accustomed to the pace or the bounce, the two basic things that need to be gauged on a hockey field. No wonder our players have, time and again, failed to perform on par with foreign players who practice on smaller fields, but only on nylon turf.

A ‘mini field’ as it is generally called, besides being 30 to 35 percent cost effective, is also better than the nylon turf in many aspects. It takes 6 to 8 weeks time to manufacture the field and it can be placed anywhere.

If these fields are brought into common usage, not only would it help improve the game of our national players, but will also help encourage the sport among youngsters.

Mini fields can also be used in competitions like, Six-a-Side, which is very popular in foreign countries.

"Six-a-Side is just like cricket’s short version, Twenty-20. Consumes less time and is more interesting. I have played a few matches in this format in Banglore and it attracted crowds in a large number. It’s really a great crowd puller, which is good for the sport. And this can only be possible if small fields are introduced in the country, which will also help to sustain the national sport," opined Arjun Hallapa, Indian team regular and part of the team that played in the Punjab Gold Cup in Chandigarh, while speaking to The Tribune.

Deepak Khanolkar, the Indian representative of Greenfields, a sports turf manufacturing firm, said, "To lay nylon turf in every town is not feasible as it requires investment in crores. However, one can have polyethylene turf, which with Low Slide Reaction (LSR) costs 20-25 lakhs. This turf can be placed anywhere and can be used for playing soccer as well."

"As the Panjab Government is looking forward for making four international hockey stadiums in the state so I have proposed the offer to the sports director of Punjab and it will be ideal for the state, which is planning to invest such a huge amount stadium" he added.

Terming it as a good opportunity for spurring the growth of the sport in the country, Harender Singh, coach-in-charge of the Indian team said, "It has always been said Indian players’ movement is not fast. How can you compare them with any of their European counterparts when they practice on ground soil. The foreign players have mini fields and they make very good use of them too. It can bring about fast improvement in the way the game is picked up by youngsters.

"Being a low-price affair, the small field can be laid in even some of the villages and districts. Children can start working on the game from the grassroots level and that too on a surface that the world is using on a regular basis. Lets just say this is India’s chance to get a level footing with the Europeans and Australians," quipped the coach.

"The turf is non-water unlike the nylon turf, which is good for a country like India where we cannot be wasting water unnecessarily. And when there is a cheaper and more viable option, I strongly believe it should be looked into" added Harender, with probably the hope for a ‘greener’ future for the sport in his eyes.

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Blues on a happy note
M. S. Unnikrishnan

Mahender Singh Dhoni has given a dramatic makeover to the Indian cricket team. The old order has changed, to usher in a new dawn. The team no more look upto seniors to drop anchor. Dhoni has backed a bunch of young players to change the dynamics of Indian cricket, to make it youth-oriented. India now has players who can bat, bowl and field with speed, power and precision to apply the winning touch. And nobody is complaining as the team has been winning at home and away with consistency.

Dhoni’s team proved that the 3-2 rout of Sri Lanka in Lanka a few months ago was no fluke. The visitors played an encore, this time very authoritatively, to slay the hosts 4-1 in a five-match ODI series and in a lone T20 match.

Dhoni has injected young blood into the team to such an extent that there is now variety in batting, bowling and fielding. And many options to choose from the bench strength. But for Dhoni’s daring approach to utilise the young recruits, they would have remained as fringe players, warming only the bench.

R.P.Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja owe a lot to Dhoni for giving them timely breaks, and inspiring them to bring out their best. The Indian batting and bowling now boast of depth and variety.The likes of Sreesanth, S Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dinesh Karthik, M Vijay etc are waiting at the door expecting a call up for national duty, to fill in some bowling and batting slots.

It was a formidable feat to tame the Lankans in their own den, as Dhoni recorded nine ODI wins on the trot to set a record.

Already, Dhoni is being talked about as the “best leader in world cricket”. With India at the No 3 slot in ODI ranking, behind South Africa and Australia, the top position seems to be not too far away. In fact, India could have moved to the No 2 slot, but for their defeat to Lanka in the fifth ODI.

The glovesman is not only a players’ captain, but also leads from the front, and often applies the knockout punch himself. He may not be a dashing batsman anymore, as he has curbed his initial flamboyance to a great extent. Now he’s a “finisher” as the runs he gathers in the middle and end overs, often prove to be a clincher.

Dhoni and coach Gary Kirsten have set their final goal as the 2011 World Cup. And on way to that goal, they are prepared to experiment to strike the right balance in the team.

Dhoni and Kirsten have instilled so much confidence in left-handers Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir that they are now wielding the willow like a sledge-hammer to pummell the opposition into submission.

Yuvraj Singh has roared back into form to banish the demon of past failures and win two back to back Man of the Series awards (against England at home and now in Lanka). Yuvraj’s amazing form has inspired Dhoni to boserve that “he deserves a place in the Test team”.

“His bowling is a plus part. He’s a brilliant fielder too”, Dhoni added. With Dhoni making such a loud thinking, Yuvraj will surely step into the slot vacated by Sourav in the Test team. And Gambhir too is now breathing easy as he’s sure of his place in the team.

Though he has 24 first class centuries to his credit, Gambhir had to weather many an anxiety before cementing his place in the national team. “I had a good tour of Australia. I was able to carry that momentum throughout the year. I am much more relaxed and confident now”, Gambhir had said. The Delhi dasher is now assured of his place on the sheer strength of his performances in Tests, ODIs and Twenty-20.

Yuvraj was devastating in Sri Lanka, smashing 284 in 5 matches, with 117 as the highest. Yuvraj and Sehwag forged a blistering partnership in the third ODI, which was their first such stand, and what a treat  of runs it was!

Gambhir scored 262 with 150 as his best while Sehwag knocked 166 in four matches. Dhoni himself piled up 266 runs though he missed a century by six runs runs. No surprise, India now put on board 300-plus scores as a matter of routine.

Dhoni’s bold move was evident from the manner in which he blooded southpaw Ravinder Jadeja, who is also a left-arm spinner, in the fifth ODI. The Saurashtra colt came up with a blistering unbeaten 60 to make up for his lapses in bowling and fielding.

Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha proved to be an apt replacement for Harbhajan Singh, scalping seven wickets, while Praveen Kumar picked up five wickets, with a 4 for 38 haul in the fourth ODI as his best. But the triumph in Sri Lanka may prove to be a red herring when India visit New Zealand from February 25 to play two T20, five ODI and three Test matches.
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IN THE NEWS
Brothers in arms

The Pathan brothers, Yusuf and Irfan capped a brilliant Sri Lanka tour for the Indian team as they clinched a thriller T20 tie in Colombo, helping India beat Sri Laanka by three wickets. The two shared a winning partnership and also some records on the way. Yusuf Pathan (2/23) produced his career-best bowling figures. Yusuf (22 not out) also registered his best ever score, eclipsing his 15 against Pakistan at Johannesburg on September 24,2007.

Irfan Pathan, with Jayasuriya's wicket, has equalled Rudra Pratap Singh's tally of 13 wickets. Both now share the Indian record for most wickets in Twenty20 Internationals. Singh claimed 13 wickets at 14.69 runs apiece in eight games while Pathan took 13 wickets at 20.38 runs apiece in 11 games.

The eighth wicket stand of 59 (unbroken) between Yusuf and Irfan Pathan is India's best in Twenty20 Internationals, eclipsing the 15 between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ajit Agarkar against Pakistan at Durban on September 14, 2007. The aforesaid partnership is in fact a world record for the 8th wicket, surpassing the 50 (unbroken) between Shoaib Malik and Fawad alam for Pakistan against Sri Lanka at king city on October 11, 2008. — Agencies

Shining Sharath
Amit Khanna

The pressure of playing for a record takes its toll on the most accomplished of mortals. But playing for a rare hat-trick of titles did not seem to bother the champion even a wee bit. May be he knows records are just numbers at the end of the day. The National Championship held in Patna witnessed Achanta Sharath Kamal restamp his authority by completing a hat-trick of titles, while in the women’s section top seed Shamini Kumaresan drubbed four time National Champion Mouma Das to end the Bengal domination.

Incidentally it was Kamal’s fourth title as he earlier won it in 2003, 2006 and 2007.The duo also helped Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) retain the men's and women's team titles for the seventh consecutive time.

The dominance of Sharath and Shamini has also re-instated Tamil Nadu on the national scene. The two players, though, chose to represent their employer, PSPB more specifically Indian Oil. There success nevertheless highlighted the growing strength of Chennai which is fast emerging as a centre of excellence in the sport.

Though Sharath dominated the first half of the draw un-seeded Pathik Mehta who plays for Gujarat announced himself on the national scene by defeating second-seeded Subhajit Saha in the quarter finals. He went on to beat third seeded Anthony Amal Raj in the semi-finals. Sharath halted his surprising run by defeating him in the long five set final despite loosing the third set.

Besides the ability to mould his game very quickly, it's the amount of power which he generates into his shots makes Sharath a power to be reckoned with. The confidence gained from this win shall help him in his preparations for the commonwealth games.

In the women section, though Shamini continued her good run through the year by winning her maiden singles title, it was Maharashtra's Divya Deshpande who did most of the damage.

Divya sprang a surprise by knocking out the defending champion Poulmi Ghatak in the quarter finals. Poulmi Ghatak however paired with her long time partner Mouma Das to clinch the women's double title. The men's doubles title was won by top seeds Amal Raj and Subhajit Saha of PSPB.

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Fun ‘n’ sand

The 7th edition of Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is all set to be flagged off on February 17 at Delhi. The six-day rally, which has many firsts to its credit, will be traversing approximately 2,600 km through the interiors of Rajasthan and along the Gujarat coastline before culminating at Udaipur in Rajasthan.

The Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm rally is one of the toughest motor-sports events in India. The rally is a mix of adventure, thrill and fear for the participants as they tread through uncharted territory and experience the formidable Thar Desert, the rocky and uncertain Aravalli, and the slippery and white sands of the Rann of Kutch.

The route will take the 170 strong rallyists through competitive and transport sections. The competitive section includes tough, off-road terrain that has gravel, sand and rocks, while the transport section is run on normal inter-city roads.

Following the ceremonial flag-off in Delhi on February 17th afternoon, the rallyists will assemble at Shahpura (outskirts of Manesar on the Delhi-Jaipur highway) where the first competitive section starts. The participants will be flagged off at midnight from Shahpura to Bikaner.

This section of the rally will have two firsts: One, this will be the first time when an Indian rally will be conducted at night and second, this is the maiden occasion when rallyists at the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm will be crossing semi-dry river beds on the Aravalli.

The rally will thereafter halt at Bikaner before proceeding towards the sand dunes of Jaisalmer. As the desert sand of the mighty Thar greets the rallyists in the backdrop of the medieval fort, the four-wheel drive will come into play. After the desert, the next halt will be at Adesar, which connects the Small Rann to the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.  Here, the participants will rev-up their vehicles and sprint across the wet and dry sand along the Gujarat coastline - another first for any motorsports event in India. The rallyists will spend two nights at Adesar in tent camps. Adesar is very close to the Indo-Pakistan border and has the reputation to be a fairly inhospitable terrain. The rally will next proceed to Udaipur, where a grand prize distribution ceremony and a grand celebratory party will await the participants on the evening of February 22. — Agencies

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