SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Spoil sports
The recent controversies that hit Indian hockey and shooting underscored the ills plaguing our sports administration, writes K. Datta
The controversy over shooter Abhinav Bindra exposed the rot in the system.I
f the turmoil in Indian hockey was not distressing enough, a Delhi court ruling restraining the president and secretary-general of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Digvijay Singh and Baljit Singh Sethi, from seeking re-election must have come as an acute embarrassment not only to those two officials but also to many other office-bearers of national sports bodies.

n Fair play

TARGETING TALENT: The controversy over shooter Abhinav Bindra exposed the rot in the system. Photo: Parvesh Chauhan

Sreesanthís volatile behaviour makes him undependable in the bowling line-upBeyond the bat
Gopal Sharma
H
is observations may not be too palatable for a diehard India fan, but Ian Chappell was not wide off the mark when he observed that India cannot maintain No 1 Test ranking on the strength of their batting alone. The former Australian captain felt that India would require a couple of champion bowlers if they had to stay as a top-notch Test side.

Bowl baby bowl: Sreesanthís volatile behaviour makes him undependable in the bowling line-up. Photo: AP/PTI

Ajit Agarkar was at his hostile best in the Ranji Trophy finalPhoto finish
Abhijit Chatterjee
I
t was a match worthy of a final of the National Cricket Championship for the Ranji Trophy on a green-top wicket at Mysore. After four days of pulsating cricket ó where fortunes literally changed from session to session ó Mumbai finally beat Karnataka by a slender margin of six runs to clinch the title for the 39th time.



WINNING STROKE: Ajit Agarkar was at his hostile best in the Ranji 
Trophy final

   

 

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Spoil sports
The recent controversies that hit Indian hockey and shooting underscored the ills plaguing our sports administration,
writes K. Datta

To defuse the recent crisis, Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi called for financial support to hockey players and handed over cheques to them in Pune
CHEQUE MATE:
To defuse the recent crisis, Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi called for financial support to hockey players and handed over cheques to them in Pune. Photo: PTI

If the turmoil in Indian hockey was not distressing enough, a Delhi court ruling restraining the president and secretary-general of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Digvijay Singh and Baljit Singh Sethi, from seeking re-election must have come as an acute embarrassment not only to those two officials but also to many other office-bearers of national sports bodies. The court restrained the NRAI from accepting the nomination of any member to the governing body or as an office-bearer if the incumbent has held office for more than two consecutive terms of four years each. The list of sports officials who have continued to hold office for more than two terms in contravention of government guidelines is long and includes top officials of the apex body of the Indian Olympic Association itself.

Coincidentally, about the time judge Ina Malhotra must have been writing her judgment came the bombshell of a news that Abhinav Bindra had not found a place in Indiaís squad for next monthís Commonwealth shooting championships in Delhi because the countryís only gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games had not reported for trials. It was like someone asking world sprint champion Usain Bolt to report for 100 m trials.

However important the process of domestic trials and the need for transparency, Bindra had been following a training schedule of his own in Germany, as he also did before Beijing. Not only training but also actually competing with good results, which, Bindra argues, should also be taken into account. You can take his word, the level of competition he has been taking part in is of a higher plane than what
prevails in the domestic scene.

You canít blame Bindra if he is angry. A young man with a mind of his own, Bindra can be quite outspoken when he articulates his views. But he is not the only argumentative person the Indian shooting sport has known. Before him there was Jaspal Rana, who, in spite of falling foul of officialdom, was Indiaís top gold medal-winning shooter at the 2008 Doha Asian Games. Significantly, the court in its judgment has noted that shooters who have excelled have been known to allege that they found little support from the NRAI.

The Union Sports Ministry seems to have forgotten the guidelines laid down by the government for sports federations. Else, how come it has been doing business with bodies which violate its commandments. Like so many other yellowed pieces of paper, they must be lying buried under layers of dust in the ministryís archives. One hopes the latest court judgment stirs someone in the ministry to fish out that old document and at least read it, if not actually implement it. This writer was taken aback when at least one previous sports minister seemed blissfully unaware that the guidelines existed at all! "Do you have a copy?" he asked.

For once, Indiaís hockey team was united in its demand to be paid the incentives due to them. One would not be surprised if some Machiavellian moves were indeed made to split the players. It has happened in the past; it could have happened now. One remembers how, years ago, our hockey players were branded as mercenaries by the establishment when coach M.K. Kaushik and players, including the popular Dhanraj Pillay, were axed for demanding incentives after winning the Asian Games gold medal.

But this time not even threats of en masse dismissal could cow down players who were convinced that they were demanding what was their due. They had the support of the second team. Not even an offer of an initial payment of Rs.25,000 by Hockey India ad hoc president Ashok Mattoo could lure them back to the training ground at Pune. The players had in mind amounts to the tune of a few lakhs. And that is what they received in the end when sponsors Sahara wrote a cheque of Rs 1 crore. Appeals to the hockey teamís sense of patriotism are a joke. In these difficult times of rising prices and changed values MPs manage to increase their allowances and perks by means of a simple vote and even the chief justice of the country is known to have made out a case for a daily allowance for his wife on tours abroad.

Hockey is what first brought India fame in world sport. That was in the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam. The eight Olympic gold medals that past Indian hockey teams have won has earned won it a place in the mind of the collective mind of the nation. So strong is its emotional appeal, that in spite of fact that India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics at Beijing, several states and even the cricket team announced support for the striking hockey team. But thatís not the right way to approach the problem. Hockey players should not be made to look like beggars seeking charity. With professional management, the hockey administration should put into place a system where incentives and rewards are not begged for but come routinely as a matter of right. The malaise that Indian hockey suffers from is, as former captain and fullback of the Indian hockey team put in a word, is "mismanagement". At least for now, the crisis seems over and the players are back in training for the World Cup beginning in the renovated Dhyan Chand stadium on February 28. Good luck to them.

Fair play

Under the new dispensation, the administration of menís and womenís hockey comes under the single umbrella of Hockey India (HI). But it is a body which, in its ad hoc aavtar, has not exactly covered itself with glory, with its officials unable to see eye to eye. Hockey India proper will come into being after the election scheduled for February 7, but before that three officials have resigned, namely Randhir Singh, Mohammed Aslam and now A.K. Mattoo.

Aslam, who was the HI secretary, has gone public about his fears that the elections may be rigged and things are not as transparent as they should be. But a ticklish problem likely to be faced after the elections is in what proportion the incentives are to be distributed to the menís and womenís teams.

The womenís team, under coach M.K. Kaushik, has given a good account of itself in recent months with a victory in the Champions Challenge II in Kazan and a silver medal in the Asian Cup in Bangkok. The demands of the menís team were met after they went on strike. But it will only be natural for the women players to be hurt if they are not treated on a par with the men just because they did not go on a strike. The coaches and other staff of the menís team have been rewarded. Why not also Kaushik and his staff? Already, one hears of women players demanding jobs on a par with male counterparts.

To cite an example, the prize money for the menís event is more than that allotted to the women counterparts for the simple reason that the quality of tennis played by the former is far superior to that of the latter.

A woman, Vidya Stokes, has taken over as the ad hoc Hockey India president from Mattoo. Reportedly, all contenders for that post in the election are men. It remains to be seen what will be the share of the women in the loaves and fishes of office in the new set-up now that the menís and womenís bodies have been merged.

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Beyond the bat
Gopal Sharma

His observations may not be too palatable for a diehard India fan, but Ian Chappell was not wide off the mark when he observed that India cannot maintain No 1 Test ranking on the strength of their batting alone. The former Australian captain felt that India would require a couple of champion bowlers if they had to stay as a top-notch Test side.

Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni reacted to the comment from the former Australian great quite predictably. And the skipper did what was expected of him, defending his bowlers, saying that besides the daunting Indian batting, the bowlers had certainly played their role. But for their efforts, the top slot would not have been possible.

India gained the top slot, dethroning Australia when the hosts outplayed Sri Lanka 2-0 in the three-Test series last month.

True, reaching the top of the Test ladder would not have been possible if the Indian bowling attack was not good enough. Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh, among others, played their role in the teamís success. But a perusal of the performance of the bowlers, at least after the unceremonious sacking of Venkatesh Prasad as the bowling coach in October last, shows a dip in performance of certain key performers. On the comeback trail after being in the wilderness for so many years, Ashish Nehra started with a bang. In the absence of bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan, Nehra led the side with aplomb. His deliveries were effective and he seemed to have regained his wicket-taking ways. But the Delhi left-handed player has not shown the same consistency that is required of him and, at times, looked quite pedestrian.

During the past couple of years, Zaheer has been a performer par excellence for the country. Now a seasoned campaigner, the seamer is deemed the most dangerous left-handed player in the business. Zaheer is now viewed as a senior pro and has even being guiding the youngsters about the nuances of the art. But the left-arm seamer is injury-prone and excess of cricket is not going to help either!

There has never been any doubt about the talent of S. Sreesanth. But the mercurial Kerala seamerís uncanny knack of getting into trouble on account of his volatile behaviour always makes him a suspect customer. In his brief though promising career, Sreesanth has already been embroiled in so many controversies ó the latest being when he was served notice by his own state cricket association a couple of months back. Despite being captain of the side, Sreesanth had failed to report for the mandatory preparatory camp.

After a superb first year, lanky seamer Ishant Sharma seems to have lost direction. Getting axed from the squad off and on, Ishant seems to be heading nowhere. Different critics have varying opinions about his dip in form.

With the World Cup to be played in the Indian sub-continent next year and India being the host, along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, there is an urgent need for the country to shore up its bowling resources. Steps need to be taken to ensure that those who have proved their mettle at the highest level should not be left out of frame on account of a brief lean patch, while the efforts should go on to unearth fresh talent to infuse enthusiasm and vitality into the squad.

Once a key member of the Indian seam attack, R. P. Singh looks to have drifted out of contention. The highest wicket taker of the IPL-II, it was RP Singh, who bowled Deccan Chargers to the title triumph last year. The nippy left-handed seamer had earlier played a key role in India winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. RP has done creditably well for the country overseas and is too good a bowler to be forgotten. In fact, a regular bowling coach can do a world of good to the likes of RP, Ishant, Sudeep Tyagi, Ashok Dinda, Sreesanth or even Nehra. Even keeping someone like Munaf Patel in of the frame would not be a bad idea.

Lanky Sudeep Tyagi too has earned a reputation as a promising seamer. The Uttar Pradesh quick bowler forced his inclusion into the Indian squad by the dint of his performance in the domestic circuit. Tyagi proved against Sri Lanka that he deserves a long rope before he is judged.

India have always boasted of an impressive batting line-up. The team can become even more formidable only if the bowling resources are managed more thoughtfully.

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Photo finish
Abhijit Chatterjee

It was a match worthy of a final of the National Cricket Championship for the Ranji Trophy on a green-top wicket at Mysore. After four days of pulsating cricket ó where fortunes literally changed from session to session ó Mumbai finally beat Karnataka by a slender margin of six runs to clinch the title for the 39th time.

For the statistically minded, Mumbai, batting first, scored 231 runs in their first innings and then restricted Karnataka to a paltry 130. In their second innings Mumbai were able to muster 234 , to which Karnataka replied with 331, the highest of the four innings, but still fell short by six runs.

Mumbai had different heroes for each day of the five-day play. Vinayak Samantís defiance on the first day restored parity when the visitors were struggling at 106 for six after Karnataka medium pacer Vinay Kumar had demolished the Mumbai top order. But the next day, Mumbai pacer Aavishkar Salvi spearheaded a spirited comeback to puncture Karnatakaís ego with his first five-wicket haul of the season. On the third day, Abhishek Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni joined forces to stonewall the rampaging hosts and raised a match-turning 95-run association for the sixth-wicket, which bolstered Mumbaiís overall lead. On the concluding day, old warhorse Ajit Agarkar (who had earlier faced the umpireís wrath for showing dissent while batting) and Kulkarni were at their hostile best with the second new ball to take their side to victory.

For Mumbai, this yearís tournament was a yo-yo ride. Their performance in the league stage was barely enough to keep them afloat. A number of their regular players missed out key matches either due to injury or national duty. After they earned enough points to qualify for the knockouts, they ran into a Plate team, Haryana, in the quarterfinals and then recovered from a shaky start against Delhi in the semi-finals to make their second straight final.

But this was not the closest match of the Ranji Trophy. That honour goes to Haryana way back in the 1990-91 season, when the rank outsiders from North Zone outplayed star-studded Mumbai by just two runs to record their only win in the championship. Haryana, under the leadership of Kapil Dev, already with the World Cup under his belt but with only 133 wickets from 33 Ranji matches as compared to 573 wickets from 273 appearances (both Test and one-day) for India, had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

This yearís Ranji final would have served its purpose if the selectors were able to tap some fresh talent for the national squad. That seems unlikely barring Karnatakaís Manish Pandey, who sent a strong signal to the selectors with his knock of 144 in Karnatakaís futile run chase. The 20-year-old, who made his mark in IPL-II with a 73-ball 114 for Mumbai Indians against Deccan Chargers (the first century by an Indian in IPL), ended this yearís Ranji season with 882 runs, the highest by any batsman. He had four centuries and five half-centuries.

There was one positive aspect of this yearís final, which should not go unnoticed by the BCCI. The hosts did a good turn by taking the match to Gangothri Glades in Mysore, which saw a full house on all four days of play, something not seen in domestic matches. The atmosphere was one familiar to anyone who has attended an India limited-over game. It would be worthwhile taking first-class games to centres which are not on the regular circuit so that they can again draw in the spectators.

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