SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Stars from Shahbad
Prabhjot Singh
If there is a single reason for this historic town of Rishi Markandeya, a great follower of Lord Shiva, to remain in headlines, it is hockey. Otherwise a sleepy town in the historic Kurukshetra district, Shahbad has emerged as an undisputed nursery of Indian hockey in general, and of women hockey in particular after Independence.
Shahbad girls have made a mark in international hockey tournaments, thanks to their hard training.

Opening woes
Lack of a dependable opening pair has cost India dearly in the recent games, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
As India struggle to keep their one-day ICC rankings intact given the fact that a lot of their “super stars” are nursing niggling injures, there is one point which must be worrying the team management: the poor form of the openers as the team struggles to find adequate replacements for Virender Sehwag (out of the squad due to a shoulder injury till at least the Champions Trophy in September), Sachin Tendulkar (who hopefully should recover fully from his finger injury and be back in the team before it embarks on its Champions Trophy campaign) or even the now retired Saurav Ganguly, who together with Sachin had formed one of the most explosive pairs in contemporary cricket and had sent shivers down the spine of most teams with their consistent performance in this slot.


IN TROUBLED WATERS: Dinesh Karthik (left) and Gautam Gambhir have been struggling to click as a reliable opening pair for Team India

MAIL BOX
Top of the pack

“An Ace called Paes” (Saturday Extra, June 13) was a compendium of useful information through which the writer meticulously brought out the highs and lows of Leander Paes’ career. Paes richly deserves the encomiums heaped upon him. It is amazing that he is going great guns even at the age of 35 justifying that age is just a number whereas class and craft always stand out. Certainly he is not over the hill yet.

 

   

 

 

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Stars from Shahbad
Prabhjot Singh

If there is a single reason for this historic town of Rishi Markandeya, a great follower of Lord Shiva, to remain in headlines, it is hockey. Otherwise a sleepy town in the historic Kurukshetra district, Shahbad has emerged as an undisputed nursery of Indian hockey in general, and of women hockey in particular after Independence.

Statistically speaking, it has outshone Sansarpur, acknowledged nursery of men’s hockey. Twenty-seven international players in 15 years, a record that remains unprecedented in the world of team sports. And intriguingly, a majority of the national and international stars emerging from this otherwise unknown town are from poor to lower middle class families.

Starting with rudimentary facilities of an uneven and unkempt playfield at town’s only Khalsa School, both girls and boys, not only worked hard to convert it into a lush green hockey playfield but also started dominating the national horizon in mid 1990s. Recognising the immense contribution young players of the town have made to our once national sport hockey, S.S. Dhesi, the then Director of Haryana Sports Department, got an astro-turf laid at Government Senior Secondary School, the current venue of the hockey nursery, that also has an ultra-modern gymnasium.

Since 1996, hardly any Indian women’s hockey team left the shores of the country without Shahbad Markanda represented on it.

Last week when India won the first Champions Challenger II gold at Kazan in Russia, five girls from Shahbad were in the playing XI. These girls — Jasdip Kaur (goal keeper), Joydeep (fullback), Surinder Kaur, Ritu Rani and Rani Rampal (all forwards) — not only played a stellar role in team’s title triumph but also sent a silent reminder to those controlling the sport back home that Shahbad has come to stay on the international scene for a long time.

Surinder Kaur, who was declared Player of the Tournament, could not have asked for a better gift to celebrate her 27th birthday that falls on July 12. She scored five goals in the tournament. When Surinder played her first national championship for Haryana in mid 1990s, she emerged top scorer with 33 goals to her credit. Nicknamed “goal machine”, she has been one of most prolific goal scorer for India for the past 10 years. In fact, she is first of the four speedy and crafty centre forwards that Shahbad has gifted to the nation.

Two of her colleagues — Ritu Rani and Rani Rampal — were also there in Kazan. Rani Rampal, now a student of Plus I at Government Senior Secondary School, was the top scorer with an individual tally of eight goals. Ritu Rani chipped in with three goals, all against Canada. Of the 26 goals scored by India, 18 came from these three Shahbad girls, a no mean achievement.

One person who has single-handedly brought Shahbad on the international hockey map is coach Baldev Singh, a product of Malwa Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Ludhiana. For the past 15 years, he has been working with the girls, both in the mornings and evenings, turning them into national stars.

He remained associated with the training of Indian men’s team also as a colleague of Rajinder Singh Senior. Rajinder-Baldev duo had shown good results.

Shahbad has not only been turning out good goalkeepers, fullbacks and forwards but halfbacks also. Baldev himself had been a fullback.

Suman Bala, Rajni Bala, Bhupinder Kaur, and Sandeep Kaur (she captained India) Rajwinder Kaur and Joydeep Kaur have been some of the outstanding fullbacks to play for India. A future star, Jaspreet Kaur, is shaping up well to man India’s defence in future international matches.

Besides Jaspreet, other promising youngsters at the threshold of national stardom are Meenakshi Junior, Sandeep Kaur Junior, Monica and Jasjit Kaur.

Excelling in the game has not been a cakewalk for many of these players as they have overcome personal as well as financial limitations to make a mark for themselves. At least six of the players had lost their fathers early and had been brought up by their illiterate and hardworking mothers.

In the absence of any other facilities for pastime or entertainment, the only destination for girls is the hockey centre. “They basically eat, sleep and dream hockey,” says coach Baldev Singh, revealing that in some cases, love for hockey runs in the family. Gurpreet, Kiran Bala, Balwinder Kaur and Simarjeet Kaur are popular as Saini sisters.

Haryana Sports Department now runs a hockey academy where each of the selected 15 girls are provided a daily diet allowance of Rs 100. Harco Bank has adopted another batch of 37 young girls.

While Shahbad girls have done their best to bring laurels to both Haryana and the country, India is yet to recognise their contribution. Not even a single girl from this town has been given Arjuna Award. Even the coach, whose contribution remains matchless in the contemporary Indian hockey, too, has remained without a national award.

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Opening woes

Lack of a dependable opening pair has cost India dearly in the recent games, writes Abhijit Chatterjee

As India struggle to keep their one-day ICC rankings intact given the fact that a lot of their “super stars” are nursing niggling injures, there is one point which must be worrying the team management: the poor form of the openers as the team struggles to find adequate replacements for Virender Sehwag (out of the squad due to a shoulder injury till at least the Champions Trophy in September), Sachin Tendulkar (who hopefully should recover fully from his finger injury and be back in the team before it embarks on its Champions Trophy campaign) or even the now retired Saurav Ganguly, who together with Sachin had formed one of the most explosive pairs in contemporary cricket and had sent shivers down the spine of most teams with their consistent performance in this slot. But no team can live in the past. They have to look forward to the future.

If figures could speak then it apparent that the opening pair has let India down on more than one occasion in the recent past, specially with India playing so much more one-day cricket. In the last 15 one-day games there have been just two century partnerships, a 136-run stand between Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in November 2008 against England and a stand of 201 runs between Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag against New Zealand in New Zealand in March this year. Otherwise, the openers have handed out a string of poor scores in series after series.

Prior to the century stand against England, the opening pair contributed just four, 31 and 38 runs in the first three games before Sachin and Sehwag hit the purple patch. In the next series, against Sri Lanka, the opening pair failed in all the five games with scores of 13, 13, nine, 14 and eight. Then in New Zealand there was just the one century stand with the first three games seeing partnerships of 69, 76 and 15 by the opening pair before the Gambhir-Sehwag combination got the 201-run stand in the last game of the series.

In the first two games against the West Indies the Gambhir-Karthik opening pair got scores of 25 and four. This lack of a sturdy and dependable opening pair is turning out to be Indian team’s achilles’ heel. However, Gambhir has it in him to deliver while batting in this position while Karthik might take some time to settle down in this slot. One only hopes that the team management gives him time to settle down and does not unsettle him as has been done to quite a few batting positions, both in the 50-over as well as the 20-over games.

The India team management has surely failed to plan in view of the future needs of the team in spite of repeated failures by the openers. In the World T20 Championship India had experimented with the green horn Rohit Sharma as opener. Rohit came good when the opposition was weak but when asked to face good quality bowling and all the chinks in his armour became evident, with drastic results for the team as a whole. Luckily for India Rohit was replaced by Dinesh Karthik to partner Delhi’s Gautam Gambhir in the West Indies. It is too early to comment on this pair, but may be the search will have to continue, specially if Sachin Tendulkar in unable to return due to his injury.

Any opening pair would logically take some time to settle down. If India are unable to get back Sachin into the team they per force will have to persist with the Gambhir-Karthik pair in the Champions Trophy. But it goes to the credit of these two cricketers that they are gusty and whatever be their technical shortcomings they are not short of guts. But one thing is sure. It would be difficult to replicate the story of the Sachin-Ganguly combine.
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MAIL BOX
Top of the pack

“An Ace called Paes” (Saturday Extra, June 13) was a compendium of useful information through which the writer meticulously brought out the highs and lows of Leander Paes’ career. Paes richly deserves the encomiums heaped upon him. It is amazing that he is going great guns even at the age of 35 justifying that age is just a number whereas class and craft always stand out. Certainly he is not over the hill yet.

Unarguably Paes is the most successful and celebrated Indian tennis player of all times. The fire to perform and win in him is still alive. His victory in the French Open Men’s double competition bears ample testimony to this fact. Pairing with Lukas Dlouhy and despite a freak eye injury, he trounced his rivals 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to annex his third Grand Slam at Roland Gaross and his ninth Grand Slam title overall.

Paes’ ability, talent and never-say-die attitude are the envy of many an aspiring tennis player. But sadly no younger player from India has been able to step into his shoes although there is no dearth of talent in the country. It only underlies the lack of commitment to the game by the up-and-coming tennis players.

Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have been a perfect pair but somehow they have fallen apart. But Paes has not let his personal differences become an obstacle in pairing with Mahesh when it comes to playing for the country.

That is the spirit that makes him taller than any other player. It is through his spectacular feats that he enjoys the status of a tennis icon. Hats off to him!

TARSEM S. BUMRAH, Batala
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