SPORTS TRIBUNE
 



Chetan Chauhan (L) and Kirti Azad have also served as Members of Parliament File photos

Playing on a different pitch
Prabhjot Singh on sportsmen who have joined politics
T
here cannot be sports without politics but politics needs no sports.
Looking at the sports administration in the country, it is nothing else but politics. From State Sports Association to National Sports Association and then the Indian Olympic Association, it is all politicians at play. Intriguingly, while looking at the other side, there are hardly any sportspersons to have made impact in politics.

‘I told myself never to give up’
Lakshmipathy Balaji has returned after a surgery. The Chennai bowler spoke at length to A. Roy about the recovery phase and his comeback
So after making a comeback in the One-day side, you are back in the Test side as well?

Hockey in need of a formoolah
Ravi Dhaliwal
T
he flavour of hockey is thick in the air. But has someone given a thought about how to market the sport? If cricket is one marketable sport in India, it is partly because the BCCI sold itself hard and because other National Sports Federations, particularly the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), have sold themselves short. Cricket needs a rival but the others are unwilling to play that role. They may talk about it, but playing it is a different matter.

Finally, Arvind makes his mark
Amit Khanna
A
spiring to clinch his maiden senior national badminton title, Arvind Bhat had a huge mental load to shed. As if the pressure of being the top seed was not enough, the fact that it was his fifth national final appearance in the last seven years must have been at the back of his mind.

   

 

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Playing on a different pitch
Prabhjot Singh on sportsmen who have joined politics

Former Indian cricket captain Mohd Azharuddin has joined the Congress
Former Indian cricket captain Mohd Azharuddin has joined the Congress

There cannot be sports without politics but politics needs no sports.

Looking at the sports administration in the country, it is nothing else but politics. From State Sports Association to National Sports Association and then the Indian Olympic Association, it is all politicians at play. Intriguingly, while looking at the other side, there are hardly any sportspersons to have made impact in politics.

True, the country is heading for its 15th general election. How many sportspersons will be in the fray for a seat in Lok Sabha? If the pre-poll developments and activities are any indication, the number may never get into double figures. Reason: "politics is not their cup of tea."

In the 14 Lok Sabhas the country had so far, total number of sportspersons represented had been only five. Three of these sportsman-turned politicians played cricket while the remaining two - Dr Karni, skeet shooter from Bikaner and Aslam Sher Khan (hockey) - represented the country in Olympics.

Cricketer MPs have been Chetan Chauhan, Kirti Azad and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Let us look at the other side. How many of key figures that administer or govern sports in the country are hardcore politicians. Starting with the Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi, the list is long and endless. Prominent on the list are Vijay Kumar Malhotra (BJP), Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, KP Singh Deo, Digvijay Singh, Sharad Pawar, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Yashwant Sinha, Abhay Singh Chautala, Ajay Singh Chautala, Naveen Jindal, Tarlochan Singh, Vidya Stokes and many more. These names of politicians ruling sports are of recent times.

Vidya Charan Shukla and Buta Singh, for example, are sports administrators of recent past and had been hardcore politicians too.

Some may argue that Rajya Sabha member Dara Singh, too, is a sportsman. Broadly speaking, yes. But he did not represent the country in a sport that is recognized either by the then All-India Council of Sports or the Indian Olympic Association. Freestyle wrestling he practiced has been more of an indigenous sport than an Olympic or recognized sport.

Between April and June this year, when the country goes to polls, sportspersons on view may include four of the five past members of Lok Sabha besides a few more new faces, including those of former Test captain Mohammed Azharuddin and pacer Chetan Sharma of Haryana.

Another cricket stalwart Kapil Dev Nikhanj, who had joined Congress some years ago, however, has never ventured into electoral politics.

Other than Kapil Dev Nikhanj, another sportsman, who almost came close to joining electoral politics, has been Olympian Pargat Singh who at the time of elections to 14th Lok Sabha almost got the Congress ticket to contest from Jalandhar. But he lost the race to businessman Rana Gurjit Singh.

When the nomination of Dara Singh to Rajya Sabha was made, also in the run was Flying Sikh Milkha Singh and flying queen PT Usha. In fact, there has been not even a single instance when an Olympian or international sports star was nominated to Rajya Sabha in the country.

Dr Karni Singh represented Bikaner for 25 years, from 1952 to 1977, in Lok Sabha. He represented the country in Olympics regularly. Other than him Aslam Sher Khan, who shuffles between Congress and BJP, also remained an elected Member of Lok Sabha.

"I am keen to contest again," says Aslam Sher Khan," holding that this time it will be the candidate who will get the votes. If Margaret Alva made allegations that Congress tickets were sold in Madhya Pradesh, results corroborated her allegations. In the last assembly elections held in five States, electors chose the candidates and rejected oft-repeated factors like incumbency.

Aslam says that the seat in Madhya Pradesh from where he won earlier is now a reserve seat after delimitation. "It will be either Madhya Pradesh or somewhere from Delhi, I want to contest."

Aslam Sher Khan says that in the present phase when electors are expected to weigh credentials of a candidate over and above the party affiliations, things may change for better. It can attract sportspersons of proven track record to seek mandate. Phases of muscle power, muscle men and moneyed men getting elected are a thing of past. People want men of integrity to be their representatives, he adds.

Interestingly, looking across the border, one gets to see men like Imran Khan active in politics in a country tormented by Taliban. Besides Imran Khan, even pacer Sarfraz Nawaz and hockey Olympian Akhtar Rasool had successful stints in politics. Number again has been small.

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‘I told myself never to give up’
Lakshmipathy Balaji has returned after a surgery. The Chennai bowler spoke at length to A. Roy about the recovery phase and his comeback

So after making a comeback in the One-day side, you are back in the Test side as well?

I am happy that the hard work I have put in all these years to come back didn't go a waste. I kept my mind open for this selection. Now when I am in the squad, I am grateful to the selectors for showing faith in me. I have always enjoyed playing the game and have to keep enjoying it. New Zealand will suit my bowling and am confident of doing well.

You played your first international match after a long time. How was the feeling of coming back to the international stage?

It feels great to be back in the Indian squad. I have worked hard the entire season for this day. Co-incidentally my last international match was also in Sri Lanka. It was something I have been waiting for in the last three years. It was a long wait but I made steady progress. It was a culmination of hard work and perseverance.

A lot has changed in the dressing room in the last three years with new faces coming in. So was it easy or difficult to adjust with the new bunch of players?

I feel this is a much better bunch than any I have ever played with. But I was no stranger to them. At times I have played with and against them in domestic tournaments. What makes the dressing room special is the never-say-die attitude. The team is winning every match and that shows the morale in the dressing room. There is a healthy competition in the team so it was never difficult to adjust with them.

India now has a good pace battery. So how do you see the competition?

It is good for the team and the results are also coming. I feel India has now the best bowling attack in the world cricket. We have bowlers with variety and have the ability to pick wickets in all kind of tracks. I am enjoying the competition and it will take the best out of me.

How difficult was the comeback?

It was the toughest phase in my life. When I was not bowling it was difficult but once I started bowling things seemed to get going. The injured back almost crippled me and I missed out two seasons after the back surgery. The last three years had been tough, but I always told myself never to give up. First I started working on fitness, strengthening back muscles. Then I remodelled my bowling action and everything fell in place since late 2006.

How much has the remodelled action helped you?

After my back surgery the old action couldn't take the workload. So I remodelled my action to suit my body. Now I am comfortable with this action. It didn't affect my performance and bowled well in the Ranji Trophy matches as well.

Who has been the biggest motivation for you during the recovery phase?

It was a tough call for me, when I underwent the surgery in London. But it was my fitness trainer Ramji Srinivasan and coach W.V. Raman who helped me to come back in shape. WV was the biggest motivation for me as he took the pressure off me. I started bowling in October 2007 and played my first first-class match in March 2008. And then in April the IPL happened.

In the IPL, you became the first bowler to get a hat trick. How was the IPL experience?

It was a big step forward for me. I am grateful to Chennai Super Kings. They believed in me and gave me the platform to prove myself again. I just kept on giving my best and everything fell in place. In the IPL I had a clear thought process. I had to bowl four overs with full intensity and maintained that all through out the tournament.

Has IPL changed Indian cricket forever?

It is the best thing that could have happened to Indian cricket. Imagine overseas players are coming and playing here for Indian teams. It has given a great platform to domestic players and also for players like me to make a comeback. I am waiting eagerly for the second edition of the IPL. — TWF

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Hockey in need of a formoolah
Ravi Dhaliwal

The flavour of hockey is thick in the air. But has someone given a thought about how to market the sport? If cricket is one marketable sport in India, it is partly because the BCCI sold itself hard and because other National Sports Federations, particularly the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), have sold themselves short. Cricket needs a rival but the others are unwilling to play that role. They may talk about it, but playing it is a different matter.

Hockey is languishing amidst the three viruses that seem to have proprietary rights over Indian sport. Arrogant federations, repulsive television and the inability to see the difference between charity and sponsorship. At a time when sport needs to put its best foot forward to attract money, Indian hockey is virtually invisible on television. When it does appear, it is in such a shoddy incarnation that wandering minds switch off the TV.

Television is the seed that breeds sponsorship, ignites passions and carries sport across boundaries. Formula One has shown that. A seemingly monotonous sport with invisible drivers thrives solely due to brilliant television. Hockey can do more, much more, if it chooses to.

It will then not have to ask for support, it will quote its price. If it offers opportunities, it will get investments, otherwise it must seek philanthropy, it must live off favours. For sport to thrive, it cannot ask for benevolence. The natural, magnetic talent of Dhanraj Pillay regrettably stayed concealed from Indian viewers. Pillay was one player made for television and stardom. He was television's perfect baby.

Those awe inspiring bursts of speed, like an unfettered cheetah, the long rebellious mop of hair, that ferocious desire driving untiring legs into the striking circle, and the emotional streak that could snap into either tears or dangerous open defiance. It was a great story, and Pillay could have easily been television's dream child, but Indian hockey choose not to show it. Lesser talents in other sports are being packaged far better.

The inability to market Pillay and through him, Indian hockey, was really staggering. Hockey officials were oblivious of the fact that a gem languished in a sport that chooses the worst possible brand image for itself. If Tendulkar played hockey, they could not have packaged him. In Pillay, Indian hockey probably had its own Tendulkar, more fiery in character, more fragile in temperament.

Sadly for Pillay and many of his ilk, Indian hockey prefers to present an injured, rather than proud, look. They have not done much right in the last few months, may not have qualified for the Beijing Olympics, and they wear the wrong clothes. A winning side gets to stay in a rundown hotel, is made to fend for itself at airports, and is paid meagre sums of money. There is no shame in poverty, but there is no glory in presenting that picture all the time.

Indian hockey possesses magical moments, big hearts, tough men and these are wonderfully appealing qualities if people could see them. But Indian hockey has the mentality of a manufacturer who makes good stuff and then hides it in brown corrugated boxes.

The sport needs to go to the people with a smart offering; it needs to say 'come buy me' rather than 'please support me'. And it needs to do that now. Otherwise, county matches in England and outrageous foreign wrestling matches will be seen more on Indian television than hockey internationals played by India. Weddings and birthdays in Indian cricket will attract more attention than trophies in Indian hockey. The reason is there to see, if people want to see it.

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Finally, Arvind makes his mark
Amit Khanna

Arvind Bhat finally won the senior nationals badminton championship in his fifth appearance
Arvind Bhat finally won the senior nationals badminton championship in his fifth appearance File photo

Aspiring to clinch his maiden senior national badminton title, Arvind Bhat had a huge mental load to shed. As if the pressure of being the top seed was not enough, the fact that it was his fifth national final appearance in the last seven years must have been at the back of his mind.

The 73rd Senior National Badminton Championship held at Indore saw him finally breaking a seven year old jinx by outwitting the third seeded P Kashyap in a high voltage title clash. Bhat who plays for Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) beat Kashyap 21-19, 21-14. This was the first time Kashyap made it to the national final.

In the women’s section Air India’s Sayali Gokhale too drubbed title hopeful PC Thulasi to secure her maiden national title. With both the top seeds, Saina Nehwal and Chetan Anand pulling out, citing injuries, this was a golden opportunity for the present world number 27, which he grabbed with both hands eventually proving his supremacy at the senior level. The confidence gained must stand him in good stead in the upcoming German Open and the All England championship.

Incidentally Bhat played his first national final in 2002 and lost to Abhinn Shyam and then went down to Anup Sridhar and twice to Chetan Anand. The feeling of washing off the stigma of four abortive attempts must have been a satisfying experience.

Though Bhat dominated the first half of the draw, he had to ward off a stiff challenge from rising star and current junior champion Aditya Prakash. The Karnataka player announced himself on the national scene by giving Bhat a run for his money.

In the women’s draw Thulasi who entered the finals for the first time upsetting several seeded players created a flutter dethroning the top seed Neha Pandit in the third round before losing out in the finals. Sayali halted her dream run by beating her in the three-setter despite losing the second set. For an exciting talent like Thulasi it will be a wait till next time in her towards the summit.

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