Sports en Wed Nov 02 10:24:10 IST 2022 former-indian-cricketer-kapil-dev-exclusive-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A never-say-die</b> attitude. This is what Kapil Dev believes he brought to the Indian team that won the 1983 World Cup. He embodied that attitude when he walked out to bat, with India floundering at 9/4 in the World Cup match against Zimbabwe. His world-record-breaking, unbeaten 175 was, unfortunately, not caught on TV camera. A humble Kapil says it was simply his responsibility at the time and that he does not believe in talking about it too much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, then, that is the thing about being Kapil Dev. When you are one of the greatest all-rounders of all time (the only player with 400 wickets and 5,000 runs in Test cricket), your legacy does the talking. As India go into another World Cup as one of the favourites, 40 years after drawing first blood in 1983, Kapil sat down for a freewheeling interview with THE WEEK in Bengaluru. The youngest captain, at 24, to win the ODI cricket World Cup, he recounts the memories and the dynamics of the now legendary team he led. He also speaks his mind on current Indian cricketers, the IPL, the BCCI and India’s chances at the 2023 World Cup. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is 40 years since you lifted the ODI World Cup and we are now heading to another World Cup. What was the mood like in 1983?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the beginning, it was very simple: chill, let’s play. And once we started winning matches, the thought process changed. In cricket, once you start believing you can do it, things change. I don’t blame my team [for not believing], because we had never won anything. But, before the World Cup, in the series against the West Indies, we showed we can actually play ODIs (India beat West Indies in an ODI for the first time). Before that we neither had the attitude nor the mindset. Because we learnt traditional cricket. In one-day cricket, you have to get the runs, and I think that win in the West Indies gave us a boost. And the first win at Old Trafford in the 1983 World Cup changed the attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were still a few people who were unsure. Once we beat Zimbabwe, the mindset changed. Only three matches were left after that, and the entire team started believing we can win from any situation. That was more important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Sunil Gavaskar mentioned that two things that contributed to the World Cup win were a young captain in Kapil, who really brought energy to the team, and Cheeka’s (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) energy on the field after each wicket.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would say character. If you have 11 Sunil Gavaskars, 11 Sachin Tendulkars or 11 Rahul Dravids, it is not going to help the team because they are so deep into their cricket. If everybody is like that, then it is difficult to make the dressing room a lighter place. In our team, we had character.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You need a Srikkanth, you need a Harbhajan Singh, you need a Yuvraj Singh. God was kind, and we had Sandeep Patil, we had Sunil Gavaskar, who was totally different, we had Srikkanth. If you want to get Srikkanth out, don’t talk to him, don’t let anybody talk to him. He wants to talk; he wants to unwind. It’s a very simple thing. Ajay Jadeja was also like that; he always talked to the wicketkeeper, to the umpire. With somebody like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Sunil Gavaskar, you talk to them [to get under their skin]. With Javed Miandad, don’t talk to him. If he tries to say something, ignore him; he will get frustrated. In cricket it’s very, very important to have a character.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is very interesting, but what was Kapil Dev’s character?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My character [has to do with] where I came from. I would say, ‘never give up’. I am not trying to boast, but that was the attitude. Even if only 10 runs remain, never give up. And that was what I brought into the team. You don’t have to tell Sunil Gavaskar or Dilip Vengsarkar how to play―they know that better than me. But, sometimes, our character came out of that regional thing; you know, they were from Bombay, Delhi, from the south. I think that was more difficult for me at that time because, one, Bombay dominated for 40 years with their method of play. Coming out of that shelter, or umbrella that they created among themselves, was very difficult. And rightly so, they dominated the Ranji Trophy because they had a method. But that method was good enough for Test cricket, not for T20s or ODIs. Our people, coming from smaller towns, had that ruthless approach. And the biggest thing was that it was a break between Hindi and English. Cricket was played by English-speaking people [in urban centres like Bombay or Madras] and people who come from, say, a suburb, are more earthy, rude and hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In sports, things were changing; you don’t have to be polite; you don’t have to be a Mahatma Gandhi in cricket. Even though our culture was like that [being polite], change was taking place. Once you started achieving [success], cricket went to the smaller towns and that’s how the change took place. A Zaheer Khan coming from [near] Aurangabad, Harbhajan coming from Jalandhar and [Javagal] Srinath coming from Mysore. So, when regional people come in, their personalities also come in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you have a problem handling that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are not biased, there is no problem. I came from a place where I had no cricketer friend. So, to me, everybody was just the same. It took time for us to tell the Bombay cricketer that there was much more [than the way he played]. I think once the Bombay people understood, they started believing. It wasn’t easy for them, because they had grown up [with this way], and they had taught everybody in India that this was the way to play cricket. Suddenly, other people come out, M.S. Dhoni, Harbhajan, Zaheer or Yuvraj, with this different approach. I think that really made Indian cricket what we are today. And, I always say, don’t forget the Bombay method because they still had their experience, and their understanding of the game was far better than that of anybody else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does that still reflect in the selection process today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I haven’t gone to the dressing room for 20 years, so it’s unwise for me to comment on that. What’s good about the young players is that they are very confident. The negative part is that they think they know everything. They think they don’t have to seek advice from anyone. An experienced person can always help, even if he has not played the modern game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I was waiting at the Bombay airport when you called me and said, ‘Why do you want to come all the way to Delhi from Kochi? I am coming to Bangalore, which is closer to you.’ We don’t expect that from a present-day cricketer. Why is there this attitude shift?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes, when too much money comes, arrogance comes. These cricketers, they feel they know everything. That’s the difference. I would say there are so many cricketers who need help. When Sunil Gavaskar is there, why can’t you talk? Why should there be ego? They feel they are good enough. Maybe they are good enough, but extra help from somebody, who has seen 50 seasons of cricket, won’t hurt. He knows which side the grass grows and where the sun comes out from.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When do you think the shift happened? Before or after the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think IPL was the big change. Look, change only comes when money also comes. I always feel money is very good; it gives you confidence. At this stage, the cricket board has the responsibility to look after them. They come from humble backgrounds; sometimes, when you get too much money, you get spoiled. Everybody can’t handle that. You need guidance; the cricket board today can hire people and give them classes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you talk about the BCCI, we all feel that veteran cricketers should be a part of it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone. The board has to pick and choose the right people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do we have the right board now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t know. When you perform as good as that, it’s the right board, nothing wrong. But the right board also needs to improve. If I show you the fixture I have seen today, India is playing 11 matches and the amount of travelling they have to do... who made that fixture? Now, how can I look after my team when they are playing in India? You are going to Dharamshala, then to Bengaluru, to Kolkata… playing in nine different places. Somebody asked me, and I said, ‘If I were the board president, I would have a chartered flight for my team.’ I want them to give their best performance on the field. These are the things the board has to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Also, like you said earlier, the board should consist of people who can make sure that these guys are grounded.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would like to agree with you, but all 11 players are not of the same mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could this be part of the National Cricket Academy? Or the under-19 programme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have to groom players to be good citizens also. What happened between Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli in the IPL, it was painful for me. My two most important people―Virat Kohli, one of the top batters in the world; Gambhir is now member of Parliament―how can they behave in such a manner? But sportsmen do lose their mind, from Pelé to Don Bradman to all people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I was telling Ayaz about the time India was touring South Africa. We had this young pacer from Karnataka called David Johnson. Everyone was getting excited about him, but you said go with experience. David Johnson played the first match, leaked runs and never played for India again. So, leading up to this World Cup, how do we go about it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First you have to pick the team and then you can talk about this one method―don’t depend on one player. That’s the philosophy I had. If you are playing a team game, one or two players are important, but they are not the only ones in this team. Everybody should be important, because if you don’t believe that, and the other team members don’t believe that, then they feel neglected, which is where we fail sometimes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you saying the team should have more experienced players right now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, go with whatever team you make, but play as a unit. You are playing nine matches and everybody has to do their best. Yes, in football, we say there are three-four people who score the maximum goals, but it’s not that the midfielders or defenders never score.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the WTC final in England, if you look at the Australians and our bowlers, when you see a pitch map, we bowled more short balls than they did. What is the experience? The people who were sitting out and watching, they should have intervened. You had taken Mohammed Siraj. Is short-pitched ball the only ball? You may pick up a few wickets, but he was banging it in. You are a better bowler than that. Pitch it up. See how many LBWs they got and how many we got.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you saying we are not analysing the game like England or Australia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I mean, fine, but sometimes the youth doesn’t believe in taking wickets, but in breaking the other person’s head. That’s what youth is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ <i>Josh hai.</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Josh hai,</i> but <i>josh</i>, if used in a positive way, will be the best thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But that’s the thing, right. Ravi Shastri was telling me in a recent interview that the seniors were ready to be phased out in white-ball cricket. In the context of the World Cup, do you play K.L. Rahul or go with someone like a Yashasvi Jaiswal or a Sanju Samson?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is about the kind of team you are making; combination is more important. You can say Samson or Rahul. No. Who fits in at that moment is more important; form is more important than anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Form and combination.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s why I said combination first. How can a Rahul Dravid be a wicket-keeper for India? At that time that was the best combination they got to make sure Rahul also played.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In a World Cup, in such a pressure-cooker situation, can youth flourish?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Youth is the only important thing you require. The ruthless approach youth will bring in. The mature people will not bring it. You want to tell me that Virat Kohli can’t hit the way Ishan Kishan can? You want to tell me he is a better player? But there, you need a youth to be ruthless. Kohli could have played the same role 10-15 years back; today he will take 10 balls and then go on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Playing at home in the World Cup, there will be humongous pressure. How do you see the mental aspect? We haven’t won an ICC tournament in 10 years.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doesn’t matter. We are still playing well. It’s not like winning trophies is everything, but we are reaching the final, the semifinals, we are there, but you have to cross the final hurdle to win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do we need a sports psychologist?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think these are technical things that have started coming in. Nobody is better than your senior player if they are guiding you properly. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Whom do you want to listen to? Captain? Manager? Have fewer people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do young fast bowlers reach out to you for help?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, they don’t. I learnt one thing from Sunil Gavaskar. He said, “Never give advice till they need advice; till they ask for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And that’s something they don’t do.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If I go there and give them advice, they might not want it. When I was playing, sometimes I used to get so irritated when I see, at lunchtime, a senior cricketer coming into the dressing room. <i>Ye aa gaya, ab free baat bhi nahi kar sakte</i> (He has come, so now we can’t even talk freely). So, I decided that when I stop playing, I will never go to the dressing room. That’s not my space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Everyone thought Hardik Pandya would be the next bowling all-rounder after Kapil Dev. Ravi Shastri says his body can’t cope with Test cricket.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why? I respect his statement, but why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Probably he meant the breakdowns he has had.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nobody has had more breakdowns than Dennis Lillee. So, I don’t believe that. Human body can come back from any corner, come back into top condition. If you say Hardik Pandya―who is such a great athlete, looks so good―has to work hard on his body, he has to work hard. His body can’t take it? I can understand if that big West Indian off-spinner’s [Rakheem Cornwall] body can’t take it. But, over a period of time, his body can also do it if he starts working towards that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have a fantastic ODI record and an equally fantastic Test record. Why do you think people are not giving enough importance to Tests?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reduce the money in one-dayers and T20s, and increase the money in Test matches. You put so much extra money into Test matches, and I want to see how many people will say no to it. I would like to be proved wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A corollary question to this, a little diversion, is about Bazball. What is your reading of the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I like [the ongoing] Australia-England series. They are not ready to go for the draw; they want to entertain people and that’s a responsibility of the cricketers and cricket boards. Look, if I have to play the last day and save the Test match, I will make sure the approach will change. But if I have 290 or 310 to chase, my first thought should be to secure a win. If by the last one hour I know we can’t win, then I will try to make sure we draw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And that’s how you saved the follow-on, with the four sixes you hit against England’s Eddie Hemmings in 1990.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These type of things happen in everybody’s life, not mine alone. I would say the approach has to change. As Don Bradman said, and I would vouch for that, after getting 30, 40 or 50 runs, if any top player plays a maiden over, they must be joking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think there’s too much drama surrounding India-Pakistan matches? Do you really feel the pressure?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is pressure? Pressure doesn’t come when you’re facing the ball. It starts building up when your waiter gives you coffee and says, “Pakistan <i>se nahi haarna</i> (don’t lose to Pakistan)”. So that’s how the build-up takes place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you friendly with any of the Pakistani cricketers, like Javed Miandad or Imran Khan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t meet my own team members because I’m doing my own thing. I will ask you a similar question―are you in touch with all your school friends?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Not all.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because we have drifted away or have our own life. How can I meet Imran Khan? He was the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you spoken to him after he became prime minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has gone into a different phase. I would like to meet him, but does he have so much free time? So many people studied or spent time with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Does he have time for everybody? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, do you agree with Ravichandran Ashwin’s statement that now teammates are more colleagues than friends?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over a period of time, they become friends also. After you spend 15 years on the field together, then when anything happens, you talk to them. Sunny was my colleague, today he is my friend―anything happens I just pick up the phone. Like Jimmy [Mohinder Amarnath] was my senior, Madan Lal, too, but I spent 15 years with them and if something happens, say my daughter is getting married, I would ask them to be there if they have time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned Madan Lal. I want to talk about that catch. Madan Lal bowls, Viv Richards has a mighty swing, and you take a great catch that turned the game on its head at Lord’s. You were so cool that you didn’t jump up in joy after you caught it. What bothered you was someone from the crowd had come and scratched your back.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With today’s cricketers―I laugh at this sometimes―when somebody takes a wicket, they pump so hard it feels like oil will come out of the ground. Relax. I used to say, don’t even throw the ball up, you will displace your shoulder. But they are jumping and pumping, like when Siraj took a wicket he was like [shows aggressive celebration]. Your job is to take a wicket. I recall an incident when Harbhajan was bowling. Bishan Singh Bedi and I were on television. Harbhajan takes a wicket, and the whole team is after him. He was running around like a headless chicken. So, I told Bishan <i>paaji</i>, you know, if you plan something very extraordinary and it happens, you want to be happy. But every time he takes a wicket, he runs and the whole team is running after him. He said, ‘Harbhajan can’t believe he has taken a wicket’ [laughs]. That is his sense of humour. Look, your job is to get a hundred, so you lift the bat… but after making a hundred, you are throwing the bat and jumping. Hello, that’s why you were picked in the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Picked in the team to get a hundred, yes. But to get 175 against Zimbabwe in that kind of a situation….</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was my responsibility at the time. I have gotten zeros also, but at that moment I stood up, God was kind, and I made it a day for everybody. So, I feel proud about that, but that doesn’t mean you want to talk about that all the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But when you walked out, four down for nine, what was your thought?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If things happen so fast, you don’t get time to think. Storytellers will say, this is happening, that is happening. Me, I don’t remember.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a role for you in Indian cricket, because you’re not just a World Cup-winning captain, but your experience, humility and the maturity that you bring to the table also count?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humility is a totally different story because sometimes I think, why can’t I be like John McEnroe? Why can’t McEnroe be like me, totally quiet and calm? Why can’t everybody be like Sunil Gavaskar―when he was given out, he would quietly come back. Why can’t everybody be like Sourav Ganguly, who doesn’t believe he is out ever. You know, that’s how people are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Humility is one thing, but I am talking about the way they handle themselves off the cricket field.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the cricket board’s job. If they think I’m good enough, or they think Sunil or Dilip or other people are, that’s their job to hire us. It’s not for us to go there.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ Two prominent cricketers have led the BCCI―Ganguly and Binny. Do you think that has made a big impact?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s a good trend, but I think these cricketers also understand what they have to do. Sometimes you don’t have to be a cricketer to be a great administrator, you are looking for great people to come into the administration, people who can do the job. You need politicians, you need businessmen and you need cricketers, too. Why businessmen? To handle Rs50,000 crore or Rs1,00,000 crore worth of business, you need businessmen to understand that. Why politicians? You need a politician to ensure that cricket will run properly. I want to see how a cricket tour will take place without a politician being involved. It will take three months to pass through the sports ministry or finance ministry or something.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your favourite to win the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your heart says India has a chance, but it looks like it is not so easy because you need a stroke of luck, you need no injuries, you need a lot of things at that moment. Let us first make it to the top four.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ One step at a time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yeah, think about that only. Sunil Gavaskar says, “You can’t make a hundred in two overs.” So, make 20, 30, 50, 70, 80, then you start winning matches slowly and come into the semifinals. Then you need a stroke of luck also. But in the semifinals, [if] your top player gets injured, your team is shattered. Look at what happened to Jasprit Bumrah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kapil Dev never had these breakdowns.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>God is kind. It’s not like I never got injured, but I think today they are playing 10 months a year so I give the benefit of the doubt to them. But everybody has to look after themselves. The IPL is a great thing, but it can spoil them, too. Because with a little bit of injury, you will play the IPL, but with a little bit of injury, you will not play for India. You will take a break. And most important, the cricket board has to understand how much cricket they should play. That is the bottom line. If, today, you have the resources, the money, but not three years’ calendar or five years’ calendar, then something is wrong with the cricket board. I can understand, 30 years ago, you needed more money and you call the West Indies [or someone else]. You don’t need more money now; you need better cricket. You are finishing the IPL three days before a Test match. Planning should be done at least three years in advance, five years in advance. That’s why I admire Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Everyone is waiting for the next Kapil Dev.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why do you want a Kapil Dev? With one Kapil Dev you can’t win a World Cup. You need a team. But you will always find someone better than me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We still haven’t found one.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We haven’t found another Don Bradman. You don’t look for that. You make a team. You see this young tennis player come out (Carlos Alcaraz), what a player. We thought after Sunil Gavaskar nobody will come close to him. But Sachin did everything with so much ease. And after Sachin, we asked, will we get another? Virat Kohli is sitting there, better average, better score, better fitness. So, the next generation is always better. We have to invest and make sure we treat them properly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But if you’re looking at a fast-bowling all-rounder, who have we got? Probably Hardik to a certain extent.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s too much hard work today. You have T20s, you have ODIs, you have Tests, you have other cricket also, and you have commercials [laughs]. I was avoiding saying the last one. In our time, there was only cricket. It is not an easy job to be an all-rounder, it’s not an easy job to play all types of cricket. But some people can play. I thought Irfan Pathan was very close to doing that, but he faded away very fast. Why? Same with Hardik Pandya. I like to say that he can do those things; why are we trying to cover that up? He will have to work hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also we are not counting Ravindra Jadeja or Ashwin as all-rounders. What brilliant all-rounders they are. You have a Dhoni as an all-rounder who averages over 50 with the bat in ODIs. What a keeper and what a captain. So why don’t we say, when do we get the next Dhoni?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You’ve played against the great West Indies teams of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Now you see them struggling to stay afloat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cricket board or the ICC has to look after them, same way the ICC looked after Pakistan. If you can’t play in Pakistan, you play in Dubai. Try to give them cricket. I feel more sorry for Pakistan. They’re on the same track. In a few years, if they have no local cricket, what will happen to their cricket? We lose the West Indies; we start losing Pakistan. To a great extent, Pakistan still has passion for the game. As for the West Indies, they have to look after their cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Even South Africa, because the players are few. So, it’s India, Australia, England…. Youngsters in the West Indies are all going to America for athletics, basketball….</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ICC can play a bigger role. I’ll give you an example, not a similar thing, but you will get an idea about the authorities who are looking after the sport. How come tennis people are keeping grass surfaces in play? Why have hockey people not kept grass hockey alive? [Grass] is the most important thing in terms of dribbling, art. If you are giving so much to T20, you are killing Test cricket. In hockey, it was such a treat to see the dribbling; artistic players used to be there in India, Pakistan, Malaysia. They killed it. So, don’t kill Test cricket.</p> Mon Jul 31 17:00:01 IST 2023 numbers-say-djokovic-is-the-goat-sania-mirza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I AM VERY PRIVILEGED</b> to have not only played with and against three of the greatest players of all time, but to also be part of that era. It has been an incredible experience. I don’t know in which generation we will be able to see three of the best the world has ever produced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The debate will continue but I definitely think that, given the way Novak is playing physically, he has probably become the greatest ever male player if you look at the numbers. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal forced each other to become the best and they credit each other, and also Novak, for pushing them to their limits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2002, we have not seen anyone win Wimbledon other than these three and Andy Murray. But to see a generational shift, with Carlos Alcaraz winning, was very cool. I think it is great that Alcaraz came good on the big stage. People are expecting great things from him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming back to Novak, he is very caring towards other players. He is part of the Professional Tennis Players Association (which seeks greater autonomy for players), but he does not need to be part of it. He does so because he wants to help others who are not as privileged as him. I do not know how to describe greatness, but it is not just about being a great tennis player. It is also about being a good person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not know if he is misunderstood on the circuit; he is quite liked actually on the tour. Everybody has a lot of respect for him, as they should, but I think because it has been a Rafa-Roger rivalry, everyone spoke about him as the third man who kind of came in. Who would have thought he would surpass everybody one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has evolved a lot physically; he has done everything in his power to be at the top of his game, especially at 36. He talks of 36 being the new 26―he truly lives by that. The way he moves and conducts himself, be it in his diet or training, is all a sign of him evolving and becoming the best version of himself. It is quite scary that the best version of himself is the greatest tennis player of all time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is gunning for it every time he steps on court. He wants to break records and I think he wants to break every limit. He wants to perfect what he wants, to be emotionally and mentally in the best shape possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Neeru Bhatia</b></p> Fri Jul 21 17:00:41 IST 2023 india-winning-indonesia-open-badminton-mens-doubles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Match point won and victory sealed, Chirag Shetty bent down, touched his head, pulled off his bandana, and threw himself into the arms of his doubles partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Then, he made fists and let out a loud yell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Weeks of frustration had finally come to an end with their victory in the Indonesia Open. The doubles pair had not just returned to winning ways after a string of early exits, but also won a Super 1000 event―one of the four biggies of the Badminton World Federation world tour. The victory also catapulted the duo to number 3 in the men’s doubles world ranking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triumph came after early exits in Sudirman Cup, Thailand Open and Singapore Open, where they had struggled to find their mojo. Indonesia helped them rediscover it. “We told ourselves: it can’t go any worse than this, now it can only improve,” Shetty told THE WEEK. “In sport, the greatest wins come after the greatest losses, and that is what happened there. The way we were playing before, and the way we played in Indonesia―that is one thing that makes Indonesia Open more special than other tournaments.”</p> <p>Making the victory even more special was that they beat Malaysia’s world champion pair Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, against whom the Indians had lost eight times earlier. Shetty and Rankireddy’s post-victory jubilation, passionate as it was, did not quite reflect the effort, determination and intent that had gone into clinching the title. The brainstorming sessions with doubles specialist coach Mathias Boe, chief coach Pullela Gopichand and the rest of the coaches had helped a great deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We had our first conversation after the defeat in Thailand,” Boe told THE WEEK. “I didn’t see any hunger then. You need to put 100 per cent into it to win, so we put all our cards on the table. We tried to change things in Singapore, but we didn’t have that luck. Often, luck favours the brave. We cannot be afraid of losing if we are following the plan. We again had a conversation and brought that attitude to Indonesia Open.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea, said Rankireddy, was to not wait for the opponents to make mistakes, but to be on the offensive. “The approach was different,” he said. “We had lost to them (Chia and Soh) many times earlier. So we decided to take it as it comes, and have fun. They, too, would be under pressure, we felt. It was the final after all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the first Super 1000 BWF title for Shetty, 25, and Rankireddy, 22. There are four Super 1000 events―the All England Open, the China Open, the Indonesia Open and the Malaysia Open. The top ten doubles pairs in the BWF world ranking are required to play all Super 1000 tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boe said he wanted Shetty and Rankireddy to stay “hungry and humble” as they went into the final. “During daily practice, we talked a lot about putting in 100 per cent. They are very good at handling pressure and expectations,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Shetty, the plan was to put pressure on Chia and Soh from the beginning. “In all previous meetings, we had held ourselves back quite a lot,” Shetty said. “We were in awe of their pace and didn’t charge them, and that was one of the reasons we were not able to beat them. This time, we decided that… we needed to be a lot more proactive and can’t be taking the backseat. We put pressure on their serve.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rankireddy said the quarterfinal match against world number 1 and home stars Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto was the most difficult match of the tournament. “We were up against world number 1 Indonesians. We knew the crowd would be with them. The semifinal was very tough, but we were prepared for it as we knew the Koreans would play the long game. The final was more of a mental game,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pair now has bigger plans. “Winning this title definitely helps,” said Shetty. “But we are chasing much bigger things―like the World Championships, the Asian Games, the All England Open and, ultimately, the Olympics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their unprecedented success has triggered changes in the way Indian badminton is being nurtured at junior and senior levels. “There is a lot of talent in the country and we want to make sure that it does not go untapped,” said Sanjay Mishra, honorary secretary general, Badminton Association of India (BAI). “We have now created a junior cohort in three categories, and these groups get pruned every three months. Competition has become better and fierce. Our objective is to provide state-of-the-art junior academies and bring more initial-level international tournaments to India. We have already created a strong tournament structure in the country and our players will benefit from this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, BAI has been sending more teams and giving exposure to younger players. Mishra said the qualifying process to be part of senior and junior teams in India has been tightened. “We now have regular trials where participation of top players is mandatory, and there is a very healthy competition to pick the best for every tournament,” he said. “For every category―singles as well as doubles and mixed doubles―there is a proper, systematic training structure for players to optimise. And as you see, results are showing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Shetty and Rankireddy, there is no time to rest. With the Asian Games still three months away, their focus will be on consistency. “Before [the Games], three-four tournaments are lined up―in Korea and Japan, and the World Championships and the China Open. Right now, we are focusing on these events till we eventually win a medal for the country at the Asian Games,” said Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rankireddy, too, wants to take the contests one at a time. “The Asian Games is not a one-week tournament,” he said. “It is a long tournament, and it won’t be easy.”</p> Sat Jun 24 12:16:55 IST 2023 changes-needed-in-indian-cricket-team-after-wtc-finals-defeat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The World Test Championship final turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for India. Ranked No. 1 by the ICC going into the match, and having beaten Australia in four consecutive series―the last being only a couple of months ago―Rohit Sharma and his team took the field as favourites. But barring brief periods of brilliance scattered over five days, the performance was disappointingly below par. The huge margin of defeat, 209 runs, is tell-tale of how one-sided the contest was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teams can sometimes be hit by misfortune, but in this match bad luck cannot be trotted out as an excuse. If anything, luck favoured India when Rohit called correctly at the toss in overcast conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Controversy over Cameron Green’s catch to dismiss Shubman Gill―while a good issue for academic debate―cannot obfuscate the fact that India lost because they were thoroughly outplayed. Where Australia found a way to get out of every crisis, India found new ways to slump into one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a promising opening session in which India plucked three wickets for 76 runs, the advantage was squandered through poor support bowling. Australia recovered through Steve Smith’s resilience and Travis Head’s derring-do to finish the day at 327-3. They never looked back. India, pushed to the back foot, kept struggling to keep afloat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last day of the match, with Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease, threw up a slender prospect of a stirring run chase, but such hope was extinguished swiftly. Seven wickets fell for just 55 runs in one of the most appalling batting passages of Indian cricket in recent memory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Failure of the much-vaunted top order in both innings was the most distressing aspect of India’s performance. Rohit, Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli were guilty of lack of application in one or both innings, playing shockingly loose, low percentage shots. The pressure was enormous to be sure, but that is when the best players put their hand up. Like Smith did for Australia, and Rahane, to an extent, for India. There is unmistakable irony in the fact that the only Indian player in the squad not to have a central contract with the BCCI is Rahane!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final began with great hype and hope, but ended in shambles, throwing up some searching questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was the selection of the playing XI flawed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not playing R. Ashwin was a diabolical decision. He is India’s leading wicket-taker [in this WTC cycle], and over the past couple of series against Australia, had the measure of their leading batsmen―David Warner, Smith, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne. Australia has a plethora of left-handers against whom an off-spinner was more likely to succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overcast conditions at the time of the toss obviously convinced the captain and coach to play an extra fast bowler. But the weather cleared within a couple of hours, and as the sun shone brightly, India’s hopes faded as Smith and Head hammered a double-century partnership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashwin’s modest overseas record is every now and then touted as justification to drop him. But such decisions cannot be determined based on past results, rather they must be more dynamic. Why take him for the WTC final in that case!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashwin’s guile, variety and strong competitive streak to match wits with batters would have been better value than playing an extra fast bowler. Nathan Lyon’s five wickets showed India’s mistake in leaving Ashwin out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was the team poorly prepared for this important match?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was certainly a factor. India had less than a fortnight to acclimatise for the final. Rohit said after the match that 20 to 25 days would have been ideal. Players came in batches, and did not spend much time together. However, the Australian team did not have much more time in England before the match either. What the Aussies had done, though, was prepare extensively in simulated English conditions in Sydney. Bonding and spending time together, discussing the common objective of winning the title over a continuous period of time, stretching over months, was the key.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is India’s cricket establishment guilty of prioritising the IPL over everything else?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This became a raging debate as India’s fortunes started to slump in the match. From the poor bowling that allowed Australia to score 469 in the first innings to batting collapse in both innings, most blame was assigned to the IPL. While the IPL’s value as a sports property, both commercial and cricketing (in unearthing young talent), is tremendous, it is also true that in circumstances like those obtained for the WTC final, it impinges on player and team performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To switch from T20 mode (and mood) to five-day cricket is not easy. Almost the entire Indian squad was involved in the IPL till the eve of the WTC final. From the Aussies, only Warner and Green were. Some big guns like Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc pulled out of the IPL. The focus of the Aussies, all told, was on the WTC final. On the other hand, the BCCI, smug in the financial success of the IPL, seemed to see the final as the last match of an extended season rather than the most important fixture of the year. Remember, this was the second time India was in the WTC final. In 2021, too, India went to England right after the IPL and bombed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether things will change from here is moot. Post match, Rohit wondered why the WTC final cannot be played before the IPL. In a cramped cricket calendar, however, there is not much scope for shifting dates of tournaments. Since the IPL season is unlikely to be moved around, and the next WTC final (2025) will also be played in England, teams will have to just prepare accordingly. Also, the matter of team owners releasing players before the IPL season is over, as suggested by former players like Ravi Shastri, is imbued with complexities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does this debacle suggest the end of an era in Indian cricket and compel an overhaul?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here’s a sobering thought. Since the 2013 Champions Trophy victory, India has played two ODI World Cups, four T20 World Cups, two WTC finals and won none. Not too long back, South Africa had earned the harsh sobriquet of “chokers” for failing to come good in big matches. India’s flop show is more extended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is galling is the failure of the big stars in big matches. None from the top four in the batting order has played a match-winning knock (like Smith did in this match, and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the 2021 final), no bowler has put in a match-winning spell (like Scott Boland at the Oval, and Kyle Jamieson in 2021) in the semis or the finals of the tournaments mentioned above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barring some additions and deletions, it is more or less the same lot of players that has played these tournaments. To take Indian cricket ahead from this moribund state, some changes look warranted.</p> Sat Jun 17 12:04:40 IST 2023 wrestling-controversy-affecting-the-dreams-of-young-girls-in-haryana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a hot, dry evening in June, but there is a dark cloud inside Sonipat’s biggest girls’ <i>akhada</i>. The Brijbhushan Sharan Singh controversy―women wrestlers have accused the BJP MP of sexual harassment; he is yet to be arrested―has reached training centres in Haryana, and coaches and parents are grappling with uncertainty. Veteran wrestler Devi Singh, who runs the Yudhvir Akhada, observes the class from a distance. “The boys would run away; girls are more disciplined,” he says, explaining his decision to open a girls-only <i>akhada</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh has seen a lot in his time as wrestler and coach. He does not let out much. “It is too early to say,” he says, cautiously, when asked if the issue had affected new enrolments. On the girls’ safety, he says, “We will respond when the results of the investigation are out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijbhushan, who has run the Wrestling Federation of India for the past 12 years, has been forced to “step aside” while he is being investigated by the Delhi Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The <i>akhada</i>, set up in the middle of a field, houses around 40 girls from in and around Haryana and also from Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Around 20 others commute from their homes every day. They are all in the junior category.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Haryana has close to 15 such girls-only <i>akhadas</i>, where hopefuls as young as eight enrol to fulfil their dream of representing India. Sadly, only a few do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sameeksha, one of the coaches at Yudhvir Akhada, says, “It has affected [new admissions] mildly, but it is not like girls have dropped out. The girls and their parents do ask questions, but we cannot say on our own who is right or wrong. We tell them even we are waiting for the result of the investigation. We tell them to be alert at camps and trials, and to not mix around freely with anyone. We also accompany them for tournaments.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Brijbhushan, the WFI held all national camps and selection trials for women at the Sports Authority of India centre in Lucknow, his backyard. This was despite protests from coaches and even SAI officials in Delhi. In fact, one senior SAI official, now retired, had reportedly raised this issue in writing, but her request fell on deaf ears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, SAI has moved all women’s national camps to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. “That is a good move,” says Devi Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the background, the girls go through various drills under the watchful eyes of the coaches. They are aware of the controversy, but with no access to mobile phones or television news, information is scant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At another all-girls <i>akhada</i>, in the Mamta Modern Senior Secondary School, 12km away, the issue is more out in the open. Coach Rajesh Saroha, who runs the centre, admits that there has been an impact. “Some girls who were preparing to join the academy refused to get into the sport,” he says. “New girls, mostly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The large hall of the training centre has photographs of top Indian wrestlers on its walls, including of Sakshi Malik, one of the key protestors. Few of the girls are around. “See, it does affect the kids,” says Saroha. “So much news is coming out. The parents are confused about what the right choice is. We tell them to not let their children get carried away by various things that the coaches and officials might offer them.” Especially when they go to Lucknow for trials or competitions. “You do not get anything for free,” he says. “If a person is giving you something, he will definitely want something in return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He gives an example that hints at the Lucknow camp’s clout. A junior wrestler, after winning her trial in Lucknow, returned to her home in Hisar, Haryana. On the evening of the same day she got a call from an official, asking her to return to Lucknow for another trial the very next day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The girl returned to Lucknow,” he says. “Her coach asked the national coach if there was going to be a weight check again. She had eaten a bit as she thought the trial was done. She had to sweat off the excess weight by working out for three hours. Then, in the bout, the referees blew the whistle controversially and, despite this one leading, the other girl was declared the winner. We counselled the girl and told her not to give up. Two months later, at another trial, she beat the same opponent 10-0 (technical superiority).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the success of the Phogat sisters―Geeta and Babita―along with the movie <i>Dangal</i>, says Devi Singh, that drew girls all over Haryana to the mat. At the Yudhvir Akhada, the girls rest in their dormitory after their training session.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At any of these <i>akhadas</i>, the average cost for a wrestler is between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000 a month. This includes the cost of staying and the nutritious meals that include fruits, dry fruits and a lot of <i>desi</i> ghee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though it is the holiday season, most of the girls at Yudhvir Akhada have not gone home; life for them is wrestling. The current controversy, however, has soiled the mat. “New girls are not coming in as many numbers as before,” says Saroha. “But parents are making their girls aware of the perils and so are we.” He added that he and other coaches would stick to their wards right throughout the camp and trials in Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sameeksha, meanwhile, just wants the investigation to conclude fast. “Trials are continuing, but competitions have been stopped,” she says. “If this gets over quickly, at least competitions will resume. Also, those who are in the right would get justice.”</p> Sat Jun 17 12:02:21 IST 2023 indian-adventurer-abhilash-tomy-completes-the-golden-globe-race-finishing-second <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 15th century Château Saint-Clair and its imposing Arundel tower watch over the Les Sables-d’Olonne channel on the French Atlantic coast. Built as a garrison by Louis XIII, the castle currently houses a sea and fishing museum. And, on the tower is the old lighthouse. During World War II, the Nazis used the tower as a vantage point on the Atlantic Wall. Sporting venues can hardly get more historic than this. And the Golden Globe Race 2022 threw up a historic result to match the host city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 27, South African Kirsten Neuschäfer finished first to become the only woman to win any ocean race, and then Abhilash Tomy―the only Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and unassisted―came second and became the first Asian with a podium finish in any ocean race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 29, the tower sported the regulation French tricolour, but the castle was a rare sight―all three flagstaffs on the ramparts flew the Indian flag. All in honour of a sailor coming up the channel. He looked thin, haggard and sunburnt, and there was quite some silver in his beard. But to those who knew him, the cheeky smile was the same, maybe a wee bit brighter than usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Abhilash was feted on the Golden Globe Race stage, the enormity of his achievement was all around him. On stage was the crushed fiberglass nose of a Rustler 36 yacht, painted blue and white. On stage was the retired Indian Navy commander in a dark beanie. And around him were pontoon after pontoon of yachts of all models and vintage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The beanie</b></p> <p>“One pontoon in Les Sables-d’Olonne has more yachts than the whole of India,” Abhilash told the crowd, encapsulating the challenges faced by blue-water sailors in India. Then, he pulled off the beanie and shared its story. In the 2018 edition of the Golden Globe Race, Abhilash’s yacht―the Goa-built, India-flagged SV Thuriya―was rolled over and dismasted in a storm on September 21, 2018. As the storm battered the yacht, Abhilash hung from the mast by his watchstrap, before it broke and smashed him on to the deck, breaking four vertebrae.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The French fishing patrol vessel Osiris rescued him and ferried him to Île Amsterdam, an overseas territory of France with a research station. At least three friendly navies were involved in his rescue then. The Mauritians helped with the reconnaissance flights, the French sent the Osiris and the Australians dispatched the frigate HMAS Ballarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the island, the researchers and medics became close friends with the marooned sailor. “They gave me many gifts, including this beanie,” he said. “I promised them that if I ever set out on a circumnavigation, I will wear this at the start and the finish. It was too hot here to wear this at the start, but I have worn it at the finish.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Île Amsterdam, he was brought home by the INS Satpura and went under the knife very soon; titanium screws were used to hold his spine together. And, then the long road to recovery. So, when Abhilash stood up on the stage at Les Sables-d’Olonne, it was proof of his own indomitable will and a testimony to the brotherhood of the seas that took care of one of their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Rustler’s bow</b></p> <p>From being bedridden in 2018, to retiring from the Navy and making a second bid at GGR 2022 was a close affair for Abhilash. Golden Globe Race founder Don McIntyre told the media, “So Abhilash comes back and says he wanted to do 2022 GGR. But there was no sponsor. We spoke all the time, and I didn’t think (Abhilash) was going to make it. I really didn’t think so. It was a lost cause!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 22, 2022, Dubai-based Bayanat announced its support for Abhilash at the Expo 2020 Dubai. The boat would be a Rustler 36 eponymously called the Bayanat, it would be UAE-flagged and its hull number would be 71―the UAE was formed in 1971, and 2021-22 was the nation’s golden jubilee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GGR Village would open in Les Sables-d’Olonne on August 21 and the race would flag off on September 4. Abhilash had six months, barely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the yacht in place at the last moment and with no time to test it, Abhilash set out for the two-day qualification passage―the SITraN Challenge, from Gijón in north-western Spain to Les Sables-d’Olonne―with a two-member crew. And then disaster struck again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GGR website said Abhilash was doing well and in the lead with eventual SITraN winner Damien Guillou, when the Bayanat collided with a Dutch-flagged bulk carrier on the morning of the second day. The website said. “The yacht’s bow needs serious composite work… Abhilash has taken the mast off for a complete rig check, and has a team coming from Belgium led by Dutch designer and builder Dick Koopmans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With most of Europe on holiday and with a €50,000 repair staring him in the face, Abhilash came back from the brink, helped by Team Bayanat, Team GGR, and the good people of Les Sables-d’Olonne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, on the day he finished in Les Sables-d’Olonne, there was the damaged bow waiting on stage to remind everyone of the journey that started from the brink and went around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, amateur radio ace and weatherman Peter Mott said it best. From his base in New Zealand, Mott runs Passage Guardian―”a global (free of charge) safety service for recreational cruising yachts conducting ocean passages”. THE WEEK reached out to Mott to talk about Abhilash, whom he had shepherded through lonely waters. But Mott declined as he was on the road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, he said this on Facebook, and that said it all: “For several months through until power problems aboard his yacht Bayanat prevented the use of the HF radio, I provided daily Global Maritime Distress and Safety System weather (reports) and relayed ship-to-shore messages to Abhilash’s family and shore team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For me, Abhilash is the guy you want to have around when things break. He has experienced more than his share of technical issues with the boat, much of it due to heavy weather in the Southern Ocean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Yet Abhilash’s sheer determination and creativity enabled him to keep the boat sailing and finish in a very respectable second place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I will go out on a limb here and say that no other sailor I have known, having experienced the problems Abhilash has been confronted with, would have even completed the race let alone come in second.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Well done, Abhilash, job done!”</p> Fri May 05 18:18:03 IST 2023 indian-sailor-abhilash-tomy-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. You didn’t have much time to fit out and test the Bayanat before Golden Globe Race 2022 (GGR). The comforts were not all there. But then, you are not a person who is fussy about all this. In Hobart, you said a hatch was leaking and you were sleeping in wet-weather gear.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughs) There was not one leak, everything was leaking. My bunks were always wet and soggy. So, I used to sleep on the floor. And the floor was forever wet. My sleeping bag used to be so wet that you could wring out water from it. So, I used to always sleep in a raincoat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And, you did not fall sick when all this happened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, no, you don’t fall sick at sea (Grins). In fact, my health improves at sea. I do not have acidity anymore. During GGR 2018, I got rid of cholesterol issues. In 2013 (Sagar Parikrama 2), my hearing improved. So, the sea kind of resets me in a good way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were knocked down twice in the southern Indian Ocean this time. How did you protect your back and be safe in such rough weather?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, this time I made sure I was not outside. I thought it is more important to protect myself than the boat. I did everything I had to and left the boat to steer itself. It was so important that I did not suffer another injury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, your back was largely okay this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I did have an issue on January 26 because of an unannounced storm. There was no warning from GGR or any other source. It picked up slowly, and in no time it was 60 knots or so. Through a series of incidents, I lost my self-steering and I was left holding the tiller, steering the boat for some 12 hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Day turned into night. I had to switch on the navigation light, the compass light… I could not see the compass, and I could not see the wind vane without the navigation light.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And these are long-keeled boats, so the effort needed to steer is like rowing, not the two-finger steering (for light boats). You must hang on with both your hands and use your back to pull and push.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 12 hours, my back packed up and it was quite bad. My legs stopped working. I was literally dragging my right leg around the boat for two or three days. So, I called up GGR and requested a call with a surgeon or a physiotherapist, and they connected me to my physio in Goa. He recommended some exercises and I was better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ These were simple exercises you could do on the boat, and were they effective?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, these were stretching exercises to relieve the muscular spasm. He wanted me to stretch my lower back, calf muscles… to relieve the spasm. And there was this exercise with a ball, where you roll it on the affected area. The recovery was more or less complete, because when the spasm is relieved, my back becomes ok. But it kept recurring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was close to Argentina and Uruguay, I had to climb the mast, which is the toughest job on the boat, and my back packed up again. But I climbed the mast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you talk of physical challenges, gear failure seems pretty simple in comparison. What is this we hear about you using an anchor, a toilet door and other things to fix your boat? And you sewed a torn mainsail by hand! How do you manage to do these things?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You make a plan and you just do it. You can abuse, curse, and do what you want, but at the end of the day, you don’t have a choice. Happily or unhappily, you have to do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ About the problem with the self-steering gear.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>If you don’t have self-steering, in 48 hours you end up with hallucinations. During this voyage, when I was entering Tasmania, I had severe hallucinations. So, you cannot sail from Cape Horn to the finish line, which is almost 10,000 miles, without self-steering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The self-steering gear has a vane on top and a paddle that goes into the water. My paddles kept breaking. I had only three spares. After my spares were used up, I crafted paddles from hatch covers, an emergency rudder, and eventually my toilet door. But they all broke. So, I dismantled my anchor and used the shaft. It held for 10,000 miles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I hear they are putting you in the next ad for Dr Fixit!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughing) That is not a bad idea, actually! When I was back in Les Sables-d’Olonne, a lot of visitors came just to look at the self-steering gear and the anchor shaft!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kirsten said she had to dive to clear the barnacles from the hull for a smoother passage. Did you have to do something like that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Only once, in the south Atlantic. I did not have wind for three days, so on the second day, I jumped in. There was not much to clear, so it was a small job. But it was very cold and my preparations were such that I did not have a diving suit or goggles, so it was tough to see underwater!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the temperature like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Around 10 to 15 degrees. And, if hypothermia sets in, your brain stops working. Your body loses heat fast. Let’s say I would be wearing three layers inside the boat at that time. So, I would take it all off, stand on the deck in my long johns and pour a bucket of seawater on myself to get acclimatised and then jump in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had fashioned a tool with a knife tied to a boathook, and used it to scrape off the barnacles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How long were you down there?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>An hour or so, not too much. But climbing back was quite difficult because I had lost my ladder. So, I made this rope ladder by tying knots, used it to climb back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I can’t imagine being in the ocean with no one for miles and miles around! How was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It’s peaceful (grins).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I knew you were going to say that!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Grins) There is no uncertainty. No municipality decrees. No orders to take and give. It is fun!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And, your water supplies were down towards the end, yes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> RO plants are not allowed on GGR boats, so you have to carry the water with you. Single-use water bottles are also not allowed. So, I had 270 litres across the tanks and four jerry cans. So, the ration was one litre a day, and you hope like hell that you can catch some water on the way. Before the equator, I managed to catch 40 to 50 litres. The Southern Ocean is stormy, so catching water is tough, because the sea spray contaminates all water you collect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Southern Ocean I checked my supplies and realised that there was only about a litre a day left to finish the race. So, I started conserving water and cooking rice in seawater.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You soak rice in seawater and it absorbs the fresh water out of it and becomes soft. Then you drain the remaining seawater, add fresh seawater, and boil the rice. Then, with one cup of freshwater, I would wash the salt off the rice and eat it. I was down to one glass of water in two days and two cups of coffee every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you finished in Les Sables-d’Olonne, you joked and said that the race is over and now Indians can go back to watching cricket. Does India’s cricket craze annoy you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, not at all. The love I have received from my country has always been incremental. In 2013, in 2018 after the accident, and now…. One man cannot suddenly make India a sailing country. But as long as people are open to the idea, I am happy about that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, the Kerala government included my efforts in school textbooks. Kids reading about it is wonderful, and in one generation we might have more sailors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I am doubtful if people reading this will take up sailing!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>(Laughs) There is more to sailing than single-handed circumnavigation!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you adjust your body and mind to normal life now? Is there a protocol?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I am on a see-food diet now. I eat everything I see. After all the canned food, I am craving fresh food and fruits. But, once in India I will consult a nutritionist who will check my levels and propose a diet. Then, the physio will recondition the body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How long will all this take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is anybody’s guess. It could take up to a year. I need to get used to people, too, and I am not joking. Then there is sleep. You go to sleep at 9pm and wake up at 10pm thinking you forgot to adjust some lines on the boat. Then you try hard to sleep and the same thing happens again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you do this again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Personally, no. GGR is once in a lifetime, and not like the Olympics. I did this to erase the demons of 2018. Somebody said you will regret it if you do it or not. I’d rather do it and regret!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Last question. About your secret sail!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughs) There was no secret sail. I thought everyone was using it as a joke. There was one ingenious arrangement on the back of the boat, yes. But I found it a nuisance and did not use it for more than a day.</p> Fri May 05 19:08:00 IST 2023 story-of-commander-abhilash-tomy-closing-his-unfinished-business <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Commander Abhilash Tomy (CAT) told me this four years ago: “I need to close an unfinished business.” And the cool CAT closed it this April. He had abandoned Golden Globe Race 2018 after a brush with death in the southern Indian Ocean. Only a daredevil would race again in the world’s most challenging ocean adventure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sixteen world-class sailors attempted the nonstop solo Golden Globe Race 2022, the longest yachting event in the world. They sailed out of the French coastal town of Les Sables-d’Olonne on September 4, 2022. Nearly eight months later, the intrepid South African sailor, Kirsten Neuschäfer, made it back to the base in the early hours of April 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT returned a day later, on April 29, close behind her. It was 236 days of neck-and-neck sailing, and until the end, neither of them knew their ranking while circumnavigating the globe. Michael Guggenberger from Austria is likely to finish number three at least ten days later. All three deserve the world’s admiration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The others who are still in the race will finish in the Chichester Class―a class lower than GGR, as they would have made a stop for supplies and repairs, or broken the seal on their GPS devices. While winning matters, staying safe till the very end is of paramount importance in this adventure across three oceans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT knew it well. As part of the Indian Navy’s second Sagar Parikrama initiative, he circumnavigated the globe in 151 days on board the INSV Mhadei in 2013. It was also a nonstop solo. He then had the benefit of a satellite navigation system. President Pranab Mukherjee received CAT at the Gateway of India to mark that historic Mumbai to Mumbai voyage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first Golden Globe Race in 1968 had strict specifications and a cash prize of £5,000 (Rs5 lakh now). The winner, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston from England, completed it in 312 days. All aspects of the Golden Globe Race remain unchanged. To mark its 50th year, the Golden Globe Race was replicated in 2018. CAT was holding the third position on Thuriya in that race, when he fell off a 30ft-high mast while attempting to repair it during a storm. Almost crippled, he lay on the deck for nearly three days with four damaged vertebrae. Rescued and taken to the Army Hospital in Delhi, CAT had titanium rods fused into his spine. After months of rehabilitation, CAT began to walk, determined to attempt the race again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To attend to the “unfinished business”, CAT took early retirement in 2019 from the Indian Navy, where he was a reconnaissance pilot. When he was preparing the Rustler 36 yacht named the Bayanat, I asked him what his feeling would be if he spotted the abandoned Thuriya still floating in the Indian Ocean. He replied, “Nobody would like to meet his ex-girlfriend on his honeymoon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks ago, he remarked that it would be an eight-month voyage on the Bayanat, and with a month more, the gestation period would have been completed to have a baby!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>GGR uses technology that was available in 1968, and allows no access to modern navigation support, such as internet or GPS. The sailors rely on celestial or sextant navigation supported by paper charts. Weather forecasts can be had only through high-frequency amateur radio, weather facsimile or weatherfax, and general weather broadcasts on radio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A challenge to any sailor is the rounding of Cape Horn, at the southern tip of Chile. The Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean meet here, and the sea is quite treacherous. At Point Nemo, an oceanic location in the South Pacific, whichever way you look, the closest land is 2,500km away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bayanat did not carry a weatherfax, though permitted in the race. It is a receiver that gathers critical sea weather conditions but only in certain parts of the ocean. Though this was on CAT’s wish list, he decided to work out his own weather charts. The weatherfax costs $10,000 (Rs8,20,000) and he decided not to buy one as he needed to fix his boat after an accident during the qualification passage from Spain to France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mishap happened due to the negligence of a boy who was supporting CAT to get Bayanat prepared for the race. The lad who was engrossed in a book―Sir Robin’s <i>A</i> <i>World of My Own,</i> no less―heard a thud and it was a messy one. It shook up CAT, but he bounced back to get on with the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though not a sailing aficionado, I was in the WhatsApp group that followed the race. Updates from Don McIntyre, the race chairperson, were educative. CAT faced unceasing waves of challenges in the three oceans. He had a broken wind-pilot, a mechanical self-steering system. With no material to repair it, he created the system’s wind vane out of the chart table. When even that broke, the toilet door came to his rescue. With his humour intact, he remarked, “Now I lack privacy, no bathroom door!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last 10 days, a runner that supported the mast’s angles for various wind conditions needed to be fixed. CAT collected rainwater in his sails for cooking. His power system had failed, but solar energy kept the Bayanat going. So, too, did the radio. On a calm day in the Atlantic, he wrapped a rope around his waist and jumped into the ocean to clean barnacles from the hull. Fortunately, there were not too many, he remarked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT called on the day he returned. He said, “It has been a great voyage and I am longing to get back home soon. I need to hand over the Bayanat to my sponsors before that. They have plans to place it in a museum.” The UAE-flagged boat was sponsored by the AI solutions company Bayanat of Abu Dhabi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT and Bayanat made a perfect pair, trusting and supporting each other. A unique love story that would end with the voyage, but a bond that will last forever for the daredevil who knew every aspect of the boat. CAT’s wife, Urmi, too, is familiar with the inner secrets of the boat, she having respected and supported his desire to complete “the unfinished business”. The two boys, Vedant and Abhraneil, have been pining for CAT. Urmi heroically handled the home front, never forgetting the uncertainties in the oceans. The Thuriya episode popped up often in her mind. “Safe voyage was my priority,” she told me. “Abhilash has done the big ocean racing earlier, too, and I wanted him to enjoy this race to his satisfaction. And he finished it.” Full marks to Urmi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT’s parents, Valsamma and Commander (retd) V.C. Tomy, lead a retired life 25km out of Kochi. “We wanted Abhilash to finish the race safely and happily,” said the father. “Otherwise, he might be at it again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For CAT it was a nail-biting finale to 30,246 nautical miles (55,000km) of precarious ocean adventure! Only a rare breed with a unique brain will ever attempt a race with multiple challenges. An eight-month-long solo ocean race with high endurance tests can be done only by a daring few who have full control of their mind, body, and spirit. And the cool CAT from India did it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Jacob Mathew</b> <b>is publisher of THE WEEK and managing editor of the Malayala Manorama.</b></p> Fri May 05 19:03:25 IST 2023 former-india-cricket-team-captain-sourav-ganguly-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHATEVER ROLE</b> Sourav Ganguly takes on, he goes into it full throttle. After finishing a three-year stint as BCCI president, the former Indian captain has returned to being hands-on with cricket as director of Delhi Capitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has been busy watching the practice sessions, helping struggling prodigy Prithvi Shaw improve his game and reassuring the management―Delhi is at the bottom of the table after playing seven matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been hard to catch hold of Ganguly given the team’s poor form, but when he did sit down for an interview after a late evening session, the conversation went much beyond the IPL. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was the decision to return to the IPL a hard one?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I always knew that once I finished the [BCCI] president’s job, I would come and do this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your dynamic with Ricky Ponting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He is a lovely bloke. He is the head coach and I am the director. He runs the cricket and I work with him. He has been with this franchise since 2018. It has been fantastic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the India-Australia World Test Championship final at the Oval in June?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will be a great final. I will be there to watch it. India has all the chances of winning if they put runs on the board, bat well. They have the bowling to pick 20 wickets. These boys have been in the WTC final last time as well, and their record against Australia, home and away, has been very good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Cheteshwar Pujara has made a lot of runs in county cricket. Do you see him making an impact?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has done well for a long time. This is not easy to achieve in Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will India miss Rishabh Pant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, but India has enough talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the team go back to Wriddhiman Saha?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There are some good keepers around. There is Saha, K.S. Bharat and Ishan Kishan. I think somewhere down the line, [India coach] Rahul [Dravid] will have to look at him (Kishan) because he can bat and change matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about playing in England in early June?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will be great. The Oval is a good Test wicket. It will seam a bit as it does in England all the time. There will be a quick outfield, the pitches will have a bit of bounce and our batters will enjoy batting there. I have always said that, in one-off Tests, especially in England, you need to adjust very quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Looking back, how would you describe your term as BCCI president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I enjoyed it. They wanted me to become IPL chairman, but I enjoy doing this more. This is more hands-on. I wanted to get back to this. This is what I have done all my life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any unfinished business left?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, [but] I hope DC will hopefully some day win a title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ DC has a lot of potential but is yet to win the IPL. Where does the problem lie?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> They have done pretty well in the past three seasons, 2019 to 2021. They have reached the finals (playoffs) but did not win it, unfortunately. If you reach the finals, you have to win it. We lost a few players―Pant was a big blow, as was Shreyas Iyer (Kolkata Knight Riders bought him in the 2022 auction). We will recover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How big of a blow is the absence of Pant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been a big blow, but you know these things happen in life. There are no guarantees. MI (Mumbai Indians) lost [Jasprit] Bumrah, KKR lost Shreyas (both to injuries); so, these things happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the Women’s Premier League. DC did well to reach the final of the maiden edition, but lost to MI.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, they did very well. I was heavily involved with that―selecting, coaching, etc. I was not involved in the day-to-day running of the team, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the WPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will do very well. It was a great tournament and I am sure some more teams will come in eventually.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will this really help improve the standard of women’s cricket and make it more popular?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course! From when [BCCI secretary] Jay [Shah] and I took over in 2019 [to now], you see the women’s team has improved enormously. The Commonwealth Games final and the World Cup semifinal, both times they should have beaten Australia. They will be a super side in the next few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What stops them from being champions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Australia is very, very strong. Let us accept that. They have tremendous players. That is the difference between the sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Delhi team has been around since the start of the IPL in different avatars. Why has the title eluded the team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I was not involved with them before, so it is hard for me to say why. In 2019, we were close and in 2020, we reached the final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there not pressure from the team owners?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, both Parth [Jindal] and Kiran [Grandhi] have been fantastic. This is my second season with them. We came close [in recent seasons]; we were not doing well before that. They understand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the key to winning the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It is just about getting winning performances. We have persisted with key players like [David] Warner, [Mitchell] Marsh, [Manish] Pandey and Prithvi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You spend a lot of time with Prithvi. He has the potential but is struggling to reach the next level.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has the talent. He has got to keep working hard and keep playing. I have immense faith in him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your views on innovations like ‘impact player’? Is it necessary?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, it adds something different. It has been accepted by players. It was experimented with in the ODI format as ‘super sub’, but it did not work. The game keeps changing. If you look around, the South African league (SA20) [and others] have new rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ ODIs are in danger as they struggle for space between Tests and T20Is.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am chairman of [International Cricket Council’s] Cricket Committee. I do not think ODI cricket needs that [‘impact player’ and such innovations].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the health of Indian cricket since you left as BCCI president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Indian cricket is tremendous, with a strong team that has outstanding players. It will always do well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see Tests getting more impetus?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think so. All members are keen on Test cricket, so the WTC is a step in the right direction.</p> Fri Apr 28 15:38:30 IST 2023 australia-and-delhi-capitals-women-cricket-captain-meg-lanning-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A LONG TIME COMING,</b> but it seems set for a long innings. After much deliberation and nudging from cricketers within and outside India, the BCCI finally launched the Women’s Premier League. The tournament, with five teams, has seen engaging cricket and great crowds―30,000 fans turned up to watch the Mumbai Indians Women take on the Royal Challengers Bangalore Women on a Tuesday afternoon at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on March 21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The league has its own advertisers, the teams their own sponsors, and while it is not at the scale of the Indian Premier League, no one is complaining. Certainly not women cricketers past and present. In an exclusive interview, Meg Lanning, seven-time World Cup-winner and captain of Australia and Delhi Capitals Women, talks about her experience in the WPL, playing with young Indian cricketers and her thoughts on the future of the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How was your experience of connecting with young Indian players such as Titas Sadhu or Arundhati Reddy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Smiles) It was quiet initially. I think everyone was a little bit shy and unsure about coming together, but over the past few weeks we have really gelled as a team. Everyone is really friendly, and looking to engage, learn and ask questions. That has helped our performances on the field. They have made my job easy as a leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How was the communication on field with the young Indian girls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> That has been one of the challenges; to understand each one’s strengths, weaknesses and what role they can play. Coach Jonathan Batty and I have not seen much of them. You only see them in the nets and it can be difficult at times to know where they can fit in. We feel we have got a good handle on it now. We are particularly impressed with the young Indian girls―we feel we can bring a couple of them straight into the game and they would be totally fine. The squad put together for us was good and covered a lot of bases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Thoughts on opening partner Shafali Verma?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Smiles) I think for the most part you have to let her be. She plays a game that nobody else plays. I think she will continue to learn and adjust, [and] that will allow her to bat longer. And be a lot more effective. She is a clean striker. To stand at the other end and watch her whack other teams around the park has been one of the highlights of the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do the girls feel pressure coming into the final? Having played in and won finals yourself, what do you tell them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The main thing I will tell them is to embrace it and enjoy it because you might not get another opportunity. The idea is to [have] fun and have the freedom to express ourselves. No reason to change that heading into the final. The more simple you keep it in the final, the better it is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your take on the inaugural edition of the WPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think it has been very successful. Sometimes I feel you just have to start something and build from there. The Indian girls have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. [It] provides vast opportunities not just for players around the world, [but also those] here in India to showcase their skills and [pave the way for] young girls coming through. I have no doubt that this is just a start and the WPL will continue to grow over the next few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the WPL shaping up compared with other tournaments such as the Women’s Big Bash League?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I think it will certainly rival the WBBL. Having the WBBL has set the standards and style for domestic leagues [for women]. That has been very important for the growth of the game within Australia and has given good opportunities to international players as well. I think it is a good thing that there is not just one such tournament out there. It plays a part in moving the game forward and in making it more professional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As a veteran, how do you see such developments affecting your career?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is certainly very different now to when I first started playing for Australia. We played one or two series each year and we usually went to New Zealand because it was close by (laughs). We got paid a very small amount. I was studying full time and had just come out of school. A lot of girls were working full time and cricket was something that we were able to fit in around that. You fast forward to today, and we are playing all year both at home and abroad. I hope in the next 10 to 20 years, it is even better for the players coming through. I think it is very important that we do not stay still. There is a lot we can keep improving on [in women’s cricket]. It is certainly in a good spot now and is heading in the right direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think other leagues will help bridge the gap between Australian women and the rest of the world?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I do and I think it will speed this up.... We need to keep growing the game around the world; not just in Australia, India and England. Competitions like these will allow players to learn from some of the best in the world. It is a two-way street [and] we are learning from local Indian players, too. That is what makes these tournaments so much fun. Learning not just about cricket, but also different cultures and personalities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there is too much emphasis on T20Is for women?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We are in an interesting phase [as] T20 appears to be the main driver in the women’s game. It is shorter, sharp and exciting, and easy for fans to follow. But everything has its place. We have seen recent 50-over World Cups being really great tournaments. But I understand why we play so much T20 cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think Test cricket has to be preserved, too?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think as players we would love to play more Test cricket. It is tricky to fit into the schedule because we do play a lot of the short-format stuff. The fact that India want to play (Tests) versus England and that even South Africa are looking at it is great.... It is a bit tricky when you play one Test every couple of years (laughs). It is hard to get up to speed as to how to approach it. If there is more consistency [in scheduling Tests], I think you will see some really good Test cricket in the next five to 10 years.</p> Sat Mar 25 17:23:14 IST 2023 odisha-sports-and-youth-services-department-commissioner-r-vineel-krishna-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>OVER THE PAST</b> few years, Odisha has become India’s hockey hub. The state recently hosted the World Cup for the second consecutive time, with another world-class stadium in Rourkela.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only has the Naveen Patnaik government modernised cities and towns, but it has also focused on building modern sports infrastructure across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the drivers of this growth is R. Vineel Krishna, commissioner cum secretary of the Odisha government’s sports department, and special secretary to Patnaik. In an interview with THE WEEK, Krishna gives an insight into the plans, execution and upkeep of the infrastructure being developed. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did the experience of hosting the 2018 World Cup help this time round?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In 2018, we were organising a world-level event for the first time. Not only the sports department, but all the others involved, like Hockey India, learned from the experience. We could set some benchmarks then, and we tried to set higher standards this time. That is why you will see a grander level of organisation and involvement throughout the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The new Rourkela stadium is a world-class facility. How challenging is it to maintain?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The same question was asked about the Kalinga Stadium during the last World Cup. But in the past four years, it has hosted many events. The same will apply to Rourkela. The FIH (International Hockey Federation) is keen on organising more events there. We look at it not as our stadium, but as a stadium for the federation as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you then not too dependent on FIH/HI to get more events?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have to be dependent for international events, but state championships, coaching camps... will be divided between Kalinga and Rourkela. Kalinga will be our high-performance centre where our state-level teams and hostel are. Rourkela will be used for coaching. HI is also keen on hosting more championships there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The problem with big stadiums is the maintenance cost. It is a big drain on government resources. How will you deal with that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is definitely challenging, but if we need to have [high] standards in our stadiums, we need to have that (spending). We have engaged professional agencies for the upkeep of the stadiums. Luckily, our government, under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s leadership, has been very supportive. The sports department budget has increased over the past four years. This year has probably seen the biggest jump―it used to around Rs300 crore; it is now almost Rs1,300 crore to Rs1,500 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not only about hockey. We have projects worth Rs2,500 crore going on across the state. We are spending close to Rs900 crore to build 90 indoor stadiums/multipurpose halls. So, funds are not much of a concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would be the main challenge vis-a-vis this infrastructure development after the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Getting the kids to come out and play. That is definitely the main challenge we face because there are not enough certified coaches. Sports is not the main priority and does not attract the best of society. The usual tendency is to focus on academics. This is going to be a challenge for many years and there are no easy answers. We are trying to see how we can upgrade coaching knowledge. For example, in hockey, there are HI and FIH coaching courses. We are trying to make as many coaches upgrade their knowledge and go up the ladder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Kalinga complex will soon include facilities for badminton, indoor athletics and swimming. How would you utilise such amenities optimally?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In the next two to three years, [it will be about] inaugurating and operationalising stuff. We are expanding the Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance centre (opened in 2019). We also have our sports science centre―India’s largest―which the Abhinav Bindra Foundation will run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What made the state government go for such a large-scale development of the sports science centre?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We have to look at sports science in a big manner because, at the international level, that is going to make the difference. Unless we start adopting it in a big manner, we can go to international events, but will not get medals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But elite athletes have access to these facilities in Sports Authority of India centres.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Sports science needs to be adopted at a very early level. Here, right from the sub-junior level, they are being trained in these methods. It is a big task because the coaching culture is not used to these latest, scientific methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you make your coaches adapt to this big change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> That is the big challenge. A huge behavioural change is required. We are trying.... You need to keep pushing them all the time. They see only when results come; they do not want to try new methods before that. We are also not happy with the way they adapt to technology. They have been using traditional methods for a long time. See what happens at the international level and what our grassroots or mid-level coaches teach. Hockey has moved beyond old methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does your experience of hosting the World Cup tell you about where you stand in terms of organisation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The response from the crowd this time has been amazing. It shows that hockey can be a very popular sport. Rourkela was full right through; even the non-India matches were nearly full.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Worldwide, it is believed that if one keeps the stadiums compact and capacity small, they are easier to maintain. Why then did you go for high capacity of around 20,000 in Rourkela?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Getting a 5,000-strong crowd is a big deal in the Netherlands, but here, 5,000 people would be fighting outside the stadium to get in. The reason we went for bigger capacity in Rourkela is that we cannot manage with 10,000. It is a major hockey centre; MLAs from Jharkhand come to watch matches in Rourkela.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you happy with the way the World Cup went?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We are getting great feedback from teams and spectators. Overall, we are quite satisfied with the way this edition has gone.</p> Sat Feb 04 14:23:47 IST 2023 wrestler-protest-wfi-brij-bhushan-sexual-harassment-proof <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THEY SEEMED</b> to be in a metaphorical chokehold for years. Finally, at Jantar Mantar on January 18, they broke the grip. Star wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and a few others made explosive allegations of sexual assault, mental harassment and financial irregularity against Wrestling Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh and others in the organisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh―a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh―alleged that the protests were political. He and his supporters alleged that the wrestlers, all from Haryana, had the support of Congress leader Deepender Singh Hooda. The old bogey of Haryana vs Uttar Pradesh wrestling was also raised. The Singh camp, though, is also wary of wrestlers being backed from within the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The WFI, Indian Olympic Association and the sports ministry were taken by surprise by the protest, and by the support it got. After all, it is not easy to come out against a strongman like Singh or the federation. The government, for political reasons, was careful in its reaction. The IOA, likewise. Most of those at the helm are part of the ruling dispensation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sports ministry set up an oversight committee―after two rounds of talks―to look into the matter and also run the day-to-day affairs of the WFI. A report is to be filed by mid-February. The IOA, led by P.T. Usha, formed a seven-member committee to look into the matter. M.C. Mary Kom will head both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry suspended WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar, a Sports Authority of India employee lent to the federation. It also suspended all WFI activity, including competitions, till the oversight committee took charge, on January 24.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, there had been whispers of alleged sexual abuse of young women wrestlers and the high-handed ways of Singh. However, no one came out on record as they reportedly feared for their careers and families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protesting wrestlers wrote to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission on January 20. A copy of the letter, which THE WEEK has, talks of Vinesh “contemplating suicide” because of the mental harassment by Singh and also pending payments to wrestlers from a deal with Tata Motors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IOC commission has written to its counterpart in India and the United World Wrestling (the international body) is also keeping a close eye on developments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IOC athletes' commission member Abhinav Bindra was part of the IOA's “urgent” executive council meeting days after the protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reportedly, the IOA members heard Bindra out before setting up the committee, though how that will help remains to be seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the meeting, said sources, Usha went by the pre-decided script; joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey was the one who talked. IOA vice president Gagan Narang was for supporting the athletes, but did not say much in the meeting. Mary Kom remained quiet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt spoke in support of the WFI, which shocked many members in attendance. The larger wrestling community was not surprised. Dutt had joined the BJP after his retirement and has been slammed for not supporting wrestlers in the past. Apparently, he told the meeting that the protesting wrestlers wanted to “take over the federation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have a great responsibility as athletes,” Bindra told THE WEEK. “It takes a lot of courage to come out with this. Second, it is important for stakeholders, especially the IOA, to show empathy and solidarity with the athletes. Third, the charges are grave and require proper investigation. Lastly, we fixed an IOC call with the IOA athletes' commission. The IOC has a lot of measures to safeguard the complainants.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vinesh had said at the protest: “I have received a call from a woman wrestler. I have a 30-minute recording of that call in which she has detailed what happened with her. These allegations are against a WFI vice-president (there are seven).... We have proof that people have complained about the harassment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parties on both sides of the fence are waiting for this proof. Said sports activist and lawyer Rahul Mehra: “According to me, enough has come out. Now a complaint must be lodged. Unless you put down the date, time and nature of the incident, it is difficult to take action. There is a trust deficit, which is quite obvious.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Phogat and Malik “bringing up old incidents”, Mehra cited the POSH Act, 2013. “Even if the incident happened five years back, but there was also harassment three months ago, a complaint can be filed under it (the cut-off date to file a complaint is three months from the last incident),” he said. “There will be issues, but see what happened when #MeToo started. Some law somewhere will kick in.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehra, however, did not have high hopes from the committees. “I see this (appointment of oversight committee) as a way to defuse the situation as their own MP is involved. I do not see anything coming out of it. The IOA committee, too, is of people handpicked by the government. The IOA itself has newly elected people handpicked by the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citing clauses of the National Sports Code, Mehra called for the WFI to be suspended. “Give a show-cause notice, too,” he said. “Why shy away from it?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also slammed the WFI for its “sexual harassment committee”, which has only one woman―Malik. As per rules, a woman must head it and half the members should be women. “Initially this was the Ethics Committee,” he said. “Once the federation came under pressure, the name was changed to sexual harassment committee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going forward, the fight in court will certainly be harder than anything the wrestlers have done on the mat. However, as Mehra said, “You might not win, but you must call people out to give strength to the next generation. There is no shame in coming out with details. One must shame the alleged attacker.”</p> Sat Jan 28 15:52:54 IST 2023 sakshee-malikkh-interview-brij-bhushan-singh-wfi-protest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q What made you take part in the protest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a long time, I have seen and been through this. Whatever financial deal the WFI made with sponsors, which involved us, we never got the full amount. Also, I had been hearing about young women wrestlers being sexually exploited. Most of them are not financially well-off or independent. There were [ways] of exploiting them, like organising competitions on a whim, etc. These things were happening for a long time and I felt enough is enough, I must stand up now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q It is never easy to stand up against the federation or a strongman. What made you feel you could do it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was very difficult. I thought about it long and hard. But when matters come to a head and things go out of hand, you are forced [to stand up]. We took the decision to go public so that the next generation does not have to go through these things.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Do you have faith in the oversight committee?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. They had promised us that the committee would include six names recommended by us, but not one of those names is there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What is your next step?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will wait for one month as suggested by the government. If it does not keep its word, we might resume our protests.</p> Sat Jan 28 17:19:10 IST 2023 brij-bhushan-singh-profile-wfi-sexual-harassment-wrestler-protest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DHOBI PACHHAD</b> and <i>kalajang</i>. These were the two favourite moves of Brijbhushan Sharan Singh as his interest in wrestling took shape under mahant Baba Gyan Das of the Sagariya Patti in Hanuman Garhi, Ayodhya. The first is a quick move wherein the opponent is turned over, flung and pinned to the ground. The second entails hoisting up one’s opponent on one’s back and then flinging him on his back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are the very moves that have served Singh well in his political career. He is now in his sixth term as a Lok Sabha member. The first was in 1991. By the time the Lok Sabha elections of 1996 came, he was locked up in Tihar jail, on charges of sheltering the associates of gangster Dawood Ibrahim. There was speculation that he had helped Ibrahim’s relatives escape to Pakistan via Nepal. There was also buzz that he had sheltered gangs that had targeted Ibrahim’s family. “Singh stuck to the code of brotherhood of criminals,” said an old-time BJP member. “He offered help to all manner of criminals, no matter which end of the spectrum they were on.” None of the charges against Singh was proved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, being in jail―on charges under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act―did little to dim Singh’s political prospects. The BJP offered a ticket to his wife, Ketki Devi. The sympathy for Singh, who had by then cultivated the image of a staunch hindutva leader (he was one of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case and had led a ‘Matra Raksha Rath Yatra’ against the activities of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence), translated into his wife polling 28,490 more votes than he had.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balram Das of the Sagariya Patti has known Singh since 1986. He dismissed all charges against his former wrestling mate. “He has worked with passion since he was a student,” he said. “Under him, wrestling in India reached its pinnacle. He is solely responsible for turning it into a sport that can change wrestlers’ lives. Those who are making allegations against him have benefitted most under his chairmanship of the Wrestling Federation of India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But not all was well within Singh’s own household in Gonda (117km from Lucknow). In June 2004, his eldest son, Shakti, took his life with his father’s licenced pistol. The suicide note left behind accused Singh of not being a good father. There was also the charge that he, a rich man, had held back money from his four children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While only the family knows if the death led to any introspection on Singh’s part, the politician himself chose to blame television serials. “You cannot always be friendly with your children…. Serials are poisoning children’s minds,” he had said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When his father, Jagdamba Sharan Singh, was in hospital for 18 days, the son had paid him just one, half-hour visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unexplained deaths seem to have surrounded Singh. In 2019, a constable posted at his official residence in Delhi shot himself. No suicide note was found.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big factor that contributes to Singh’s power is the network of 29 educational institutions―schools and colleges―he has founded in his home district. These are the kind of institutions where successful exam performances are guaranteed, and where flying squads that make surprise checks to curb cheating never visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, no one in Gonda openly accuses Singh of anything. This, despite the fact that in his 2019 affidavit filed before the Election Commission, Singh himself provided details of charges against him―these include dacoity, attempt to murder and disappearance of evidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rakesh Verma, a Gonda-based social activist, said, “Singh is among the most domineering leaders of Purvanchal. I have never heard of any kind of allegations against his character. Maybe someone being beaten up or scolded, but these are internal matters. I find allegations of his behaviour towards women wrestlers incomprehensible. But then, politics is a game of ambition.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Radhey Shyam Mishra, a former teacher from Kaiserganj (Singh’s constituency) said that he had watched Singh’s journey since 1979, when he became students’ union general secretary in the K.S. Saket P.G. College, Ayodhya, from where he earned a law degree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He has a knack of strengthening himself in any and every way,” said Mishra. “He is both a loyal friend and a dreadful enemy in politics. From the graduates of his educational institutes, he is cultivating an army of young supporters. Is that right or wrong? Whatever it might be, no one dares open his mouth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But some are willing to speak. Mayank Singh, a construction contractor who works in both Balrampur (Singh’s former constituency) and Gonda, said, “He is a dabbang (muscleman) who has his own ways of establishing his men in business and politics. I cannot divulge what I have seen. But infer from the fact that he got his son, Prateek, elected as MLA from Gonda when he misses no opportunity to say that he is in a party that does not promote nepotism. He may have been released from Tihar, but that is a black stain that will forever mark him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are other stains that dot Singh’s life. In 1993, Pandit Singh, a Samajwadi Party leader, was shot. In 2004, Ghanshyam Shukla, a BJP leader died in an apparent accident, which his wife alleged was a murder. Singh’s hand was suspected in both. In the first, the MP-MLA court acquitted him; in the second, the CBI handed him a clean chit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most of Singh’s political career has been with the BJP, from 2008 to 2014 he was with the Samajwadi Party, on whose ticket he won his fourth term in Parliament. He then came down on the party, declaring Akhilesh Yadav the ‘Last king of the Sultanate of Mulayam Singh Yadav’. Not too long ago, he criticised the state government for its lack of flood preparedness, saying that public representatives had been reduced to being mere observers. It was a jibe at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As in politics, so in his personal life, Singh gets full marks for enthusiasm. He lists listening to Bhojpuri music as one of his hobbies and has on occasion taken to the stage to perform. Given the opportunity, he also reels off Urdu shayari. Both are terribly off-key.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest charges might, however, throw him totally off-scale. And then, none of his favourite kushti manoeuvres might be able to save him.</p> Mon Jan 30 11:25:56 IST 2023 India-hockey-world-cup-exit-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The look on their faces said a lot. As India hockey captain Harmanpreet Singh and head coach Graham Reid sat down to face questions from the media after their team’s exit in the crossovers round, Singh was downcast and Reid was evidently unhappy. India had thrown away a two-goal lead before being eliminated by lower-ranked New Zealand in sudden death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of India’s problems in the tournament―low penalty-corner conversion, poor finishing and nerves in high-pressure situations―were visible in the must-win match. Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey, the soft-spoken former captain who took many a hard hit defending India’s goal during an illustrious playing career, told THE WEEK that the team did not play to its potential. “We had played really well for one and a half years,” he said. “So, expectations were high. I, too, expected them to at least reach the quarterfinals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legendary Australian coach Ric Charlesworth said the players, especially the seasoned ones, were perhaps a tad complacent after winning the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. “India had so many chances to win in the World Cup,” Charlesworth told THE WEEK. He said he had spoken to Reid about the potential dangers of the players being celebrated as heroes after the Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps this is one of the reasons Reid trusted younger players like Shamsher Singh and Sukhjeet Singh during the shootout, even as vastly experienced players like Akashdeep Singh (222 matches), Manpreet Singh (318) and Mandeep Singh (198) looked on. Shamsher missed both his penalties in the shootout and Sukhjeet missed in sudden death after scoring the crucial fifth penalty to keep India alive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India player and commentator Jagbir Singh did not mince his words. “I am really disappointed and others would be, too,” he said. “The facilities, training and exposure given to the team were incomparable. Leading 3-1 and then giving goals away on a platter is unacceptable.” Jagbir demanded that the team management explain why the seniors did not take the penalties. “It is a big question,” he said. “These senior guys have been scoring for the national team for many years. For youngsters, the pressure is too much to handle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tirkey said the coach and players would have to answer these questions. “The coach would have noticed something during practice,” Tirkey said. “We will have to ask him why it (seniors not taking the penalties) happened. We will definitely ask. Even the players. We will talk to them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reid had injected youth into the team for the World Cup, but his players did not meet his expectations. Asked where the team erred, he said: “Obviously, our penalty-corner conversion. We also had a lot of circle penetrations, but could not convert those. In defence, we needed to be tighter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harmanpreet, India’s main drag-flick expert, has had a nightmare of a tournament. He converted just one penalty-corner in four matches. India’s top scorer at the end of the crossover match was Akashdeep with two field goals. Was it a case of Harmanpreet not being able to handle the pressure of captaincy? “To be honest it has been some time since I became skipper,” he said. “I don’t think it is about pressure. I know all are talking about it (him not scoring enough). But I am trying; when you go out on the field, you don’t think you won’t score or there is pressure. You go in thinking you will score. No pressure. But, [I] will try to find out what went wrong.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tokyo, India had converted one in every three penalty-corners. During the World Cup, the conversion was five out of 26―a rate of about one in five. “Yeah, and one was a rebound,” said Charlesworth. “Penalty-corners have been an issue for India in the tournament. In Tokyo, Harmanpreet and Rupinder Pal Singh did well. The disappointing thing is that in every game Harmanpreet has missed pick up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagbir said Harmanpreet, who missed his penalty stroke in sudden death after scoring earlier, “took the sudden death penalty stroke a bit too casually”. He was overconfident about the stroke he would use, said Jagbir, and it was one of the toughest strokes to execute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tirkey said Harmanpreet’s drag-flick not working in four matches hurt the team. But, he disagreed with the theory that the pressure of captaincy affected his performance. “He was captain in the Australia tour, too,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While there is no doubt that the team’s disappointing performance needs a thorough analysis, it is not something to be too worried about. “No, I don’t think it is worrisome,” said Charlesworth. “It is a blip; you will get that. But, India’s trajectory is good. You have to pay attention to some things. New Zealand got into the circle too often―the defence has to improve. Other teams may be happy to give away corners if you are not scoring much from them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reid said that the team needed a psychological trainer and that he would address that matter after the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagbir said the changes in the team after the Olympics had been too frequent and drastic. “Top players who were part of the Olympic team have vanished,” he said. “Concentrate now on the next major event―the Asian Games―and qualify directly for the Olympics. Encourage the pool of players you have. There has been more frequent change of players compared with other teams. Teams don’t change so frequently.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any knee-jerk reaction in the wake of the disappointment should be avoided. As Jagbir said: “Such things happen. But, lessons should be learned. For ages, we have been repeating mistakes.”</p> Sat Jan 28 15:40:03 IST 2023 hockey-world-cup-2023-team-chances-predictions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a World Cup with no outright favourite. Just look at the initial pool games. While defending champions Belgium and former winners Germany played out a lively 2-2 draw at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, three-time champions Australia were held to a 3-3 draw by a resurgent Argentina at the same venue. More than 300km away, at the new Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela, the clash between hosts India and England ended in an entertaining draw―0-0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, Spain beat Wales 5-1 and Belgium beat South Korea 5-0, but the stronger teams were made to work hard for each goal. As of now, it seems that eight of the 16 teams can go on to lift the trophy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Belgium captain Felix Denayer: “We are really well prepared. We have been to a training camp in Spain, where we won all our games. So, there is a lot of confidence in our camp that we will do well in the tournament.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He did admit, though, that retaining the trophy would not be easy, despite the lengthy preparations. “There are a lot of favourites, I think,” he said. “Obviously Australia. Then the Netherlands, Germany―and India at home are always strong opponents. Then there are teams who are performing well―such as England and Argentina―so I think it will not be easy for anyone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Belgium does retain the trophy, it will become the fourth nation after Pakistan (1978, 1982), Germany (2002, 2006), and Australia (2010, 2014) to win consecutive editions of the men’s World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thrilling final of the 2018 edition―Belgium versus the Netherlands (3-2 in the shootout)―is still fresh in the mind of the champions. And they do not expect this edition to be any less dramatic. “Yeah, I think the tournament will be a challenge, but we also have the experience,” said Denayer. “We feel confident and we are hungry to retain the trophy. We are an ambitious group. And I think we need these kinds of challenges to perform at our best.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking of challenges, the hosts know about the added pressure of winning at home. On an upswing after winning bronze at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, India will look to win its second World Cup, this time at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England, in Pool D with India, is also searching for the elusive World Cup win. Its best finish was a silver in 1986, when it hosted the tournament. “I think we are contenders for the World Cup,” England captain David Ames said before the tournament. “There is a lot of belief in our camp as everyone is confident about their abilities and we have also trained well in the past few months. We went on many tours and played some top teams like the Netherlands and Argentina, which has prepared us for the World Cup.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The India-England match had opportunities galore, but sound defence and stout goalkeeping from both sides kept the scoreline static. The finishing, though, was off target, which will be a concern for both coaches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The team has been in good form in the past one year and we will look to repeat the same in the tournament,” said England coach Paul Revington. Goalkeeper Oliver Payne, however, was unhappy with the draw. “We had a good game overall, but we are a little disappointed not to have capitalised on the scoring opportunities. It was a game we could have won, but it is a hard-earned point and we will take it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Powerhouse Australia, meanwhile, has openly stated its intent to take home the World Cup for the fourth time. Said captain Eddie Ockenden: “We have big ambitions in the tournament. We want to do well and have confidence that we will be able to win. Our team has a lot of experience, which will be really crucial for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Commenting on his team’s makeup, head coach Colin Batch said: “We have a really good team and our players are prolific goal scorers. This is really important as it helps you win matches. At the same time, our defence is also really good and we often manage to restrict the opposition’s scoring. So, our fundamentals are strong and that makes us a really good side.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is still some way for the top teams to go before the knockouts, but the likes of Spain and Argentina have shown that they are not here to make up the numbers. As Jorrit Croon, scorer of the beautiful fourth Dutch goal against Malaysia (4-1), said after the match: “It is a good win to start the tournament, but we cannot get carried away. It is just one game and it is a long tournament.”</p> Sat Jan 21 14:18:10 IST 2023 australian-hockey-team-head-coach-colin-batch-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HAVING WON EVERYTHING,</b> multiple times, the Australians are now hunting for their fourth World Cup. If they win, it will tie them with Pakistan with the most crowns. The start to their campaign in Odisha, however, has been mixed. Though they thumped France 8-0, they were held to a 3-3 draw by Argentina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the champion team knows how to up the ante when it matters. Despite not having played tournament hockey since July, the team has combined well and looked fearsome. Coach Colin Batch, himself a former hockey star, realises that it will not be a cakewalk. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Batch talks about his team’s preparations and his expectations from this edition of the tournament. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What has been the key to Australia’s dominance in the past three decades?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\ </b>(Deep sigh) Well, it is difficult to answer that question. By and large, we have always been well-prepared... and we have good depth in our playing group. Good players need everything, including good coaches. I think we have a good balance now, and this group is experienced. The other part is good funding, and we are fortunate to have the Australian Institute of Sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How much does the shootout loss to Belgium in the Tokyo Olympics final still hurt?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> We cannot change the past. Belgium is very good at shootouts. We spent time analysing what we went through and we feel we have improved since. We had lost in a shootout to the Netherlands in the 2018 World Cup semifinals. It is at the back of our minds, but it is not a driving factor towards any sort of performance here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What does a team need to win this edition of the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> I think, initially, consistency. A lot of teams can generate opportunities, but it is about putting the ball in the back of the net. You want to score, of course, but you need to defend well, too. It is that consistent performance over 60 minutes that [you need] game to game. We are not looking too far ahead. A good start is very important, otherwise you are playing catchup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How has the buildup to this tournament been for your team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\ </b>It has been different to our normal preparation. [Before] Tokyo, we did not get to play many teams, but we were together as a group. We trained every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leading up to this [edition], some players stayed back and played in Europe after the Commonwealth Games. While they were playing at a good level, they were not staying with us. The series against India (Australia won 4-1) was important to get the group together. For the first time in four months, we had the group training together. We are confident we can perform well even though the preparation has not been ideal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Does the team feel the pressure of winning for a record fourth time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> There is no pressure. It is the same as any other team. The Netherlands have a great record, Belgium won the last one, Germany has a great record, England definitely want to win it. There is a whole range of teams that wants to win it for the first time. We are no different. We want to win it this time, but we are not thinking of winning it for the fourth time, per se.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Do you foresee more goals this time? What style of play will teams prefer?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> There will be some high-scoring matches. The pitch lends itself to attacking hockey. The penalty corners will be important, of course. I think you will see tighter matches quarterfinals onwards. Everyone likes to score early, but it may not be till the 4th quarter that matches open up and goals are scored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How do you rate the Indian team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> They have very good players and coaches. In Australia, they tried different players, trying to obviously find the best group of 18 for this World Cup. We cannot take [too much away] from those matches. [We would rather] worry about our own performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Australia is good at creating and exploiting spaces. Do you think teams will continue to find it tough to defend against your team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> Definitely. That is the name of the game at the moment. If teams do decide to fall away and flood the back-half of the ground even deeper, it is important to find space in that area and have some patience with the ball. The timing of leading and connecting is so important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What is your prediction for this World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> India will be pretty hard to beat in India. The European teams are very strong. Argentina may have been a bit flat in the past couple of years, but we cannot underestimate them. They have new coaching staff and players. It is hard to say who is the favourite―six or seven teams can win.</p> Sat Jan 21 14:19:42 IST 2023 indian-team-heading-to-hockey-world-cup-in-odisha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE INTERNATIONAL HOCKEY</b> Federation describes him thus: “Harmanpreet Singh is a bona fide modern-day superstar. He is a terrific defender with a knack for being at the right place at the right time to break down the opponent’s offence.... And he scores goals, goals and more goals! To add to that impressive resume, he has now been voted the FIH Player of the Year for the second year running.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed he has. Albeit not as flamboyant as some of his predecessors, on or off the field, the captain has scored the most goals for India in the past two years or so, including at the Tokyo Olympics (six), and leads a team on the upswing into the World Cup starting January 13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having won an Olympic medal (bronze) after 41 long years in Tokyo, the team is up for an arguably sterner test. India last won a World Cup in 1975. The world of hockey has expanded and gotten more competitive since. “There is no pressure as such, but it is our responsibility,” the soft-spoken 27-year-old told THE WEEK. “Everyone knows we have done well at the Olympics, and that we can do the same in any major tournament. The boys are confident that we have worked hard. The World Cup is at home (Bhubaneswar and Rourkela), and this is a good chance to capitalise on that. We do not know when next we will play in front of home crowds. This is the time to create history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harman, as he is fondly called, has no great hockey lineage to boast of. He comes from a farming family in Jandiala Guru, a village on the outskirts of Amritsar. At 15, he moved to Jalandhar to pursue his passion and joined the Surjit Academy. He rose up the junior ranks and entered the senior team relatively quickly. After an eventful journey on the field, seeing highs, lows and mediums, he replaced Manpreet Singh as captain this month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My focus is on continuing with the things that have been going well,” he said. “And these days, as a defender, you see they are minding long balls, etc. I have to keep my position free; the aim will be to keep a good connection with the defenders and the midfielders in my team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In many ways, this team is less bogged down by the weight of Indian hockey’s glorious past. Twelve of the 18 men in the squad had been part of the medal-winning performance at the Olympics. The team has a mix of youth—Jarmanpreet Singh (50 matches), Nilam Sanjeep Xess (34) and Jugraj Singh (28)—and experience—Manpreet Singh (314), P.R. Sreejesh (274) and Akashdeep Singh (218). Poacher Gurjant Singh and midfielder Sumit miss out because of injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reputations present and past, said chief coach Graham Reid, rarely matter in a World Cup. “There have been so many different results from different periods,” he told THE WEEK. “I think the top 10 of 16 teams could probably win. Teams work for years to build their best team for these competitions. So, every game you play at a World Cup or the Olympics is difficult.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reid would know. He was part of Australia’s bronze medal win at the 1990 World Cup and was assistant coach to the legendary Ric Charlesworth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are preparing well,” he said. “We have been in Rourkela since December 27 and are getting used to the pitch and the hotel. It is a fantastic setup, seriously world-class. I think the most important thing is that we need to be playing at our best. If we do so, we can beat any team on any day. That has been the focus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 16 teams are placed in four groups. India shares its pool, D, with Spain, England and Wales. The hosts’ opening match is against the Spaniards in Rourkela. “If you ask someone which game they want to play, probably everyone will say they want to play against India in India in the opening match of the World Cup,” said Spanish Captain Alvaro Iglesias. “It will be great. We have been training a lot together and we are waiting for the moment. We know the stadium in Rourkela is bigger. We know there will be a lot more people there. It will be hard to listen to our teammates and the instructions from the referee as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coach Max Caldas has been tightlipped about the challenge. Spain, despite its talent and fine record, is yet to win the World Cup. “I think it will be challenging for all to compete in Rourkela,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, we have forgotten how to play in front of big crowds. But we are not going to focus on that too much. We will focus on ourselves. It is a 16-team tournament. We are a young, fast team and we are going to stick to our guns and see how we go.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reid, too, is taking it one match at a time. “Every time you look at a particular pool, it is tough. Spain, England and Wales are all difficult opponents. We have played against them in the past, so we have an idea about them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scoreboard pressure, said captain Harmanpreet, would be crucial. “[Group matches] will be tough because if you see the Pro League matches, we did not get any easy matches against Spain, England or Wales,” he said. “The starting five minutes are important as both teams usually get opportunities in this period. That will be the focus. We have to make the most of whatever opportunity we get in these initial moments. We have to either score or get a penalty corner. Defenders need to be alert and, even if we score, we must make sure the opponents do not score quickly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team also knows not to get carried away by the home support. “It is a double-edged sword,” said Reid. “We are trying to take all that out of play and focus on what is in front of us. What is important is to go out and play well; the results will look after themselves.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sreejesh knows this well. India’s talismanic goalkeeper has been part of several World Cups and knows how tough they can be. He has been talking to the youngsters about what to expect. “The best part is that we are playing at home; that is an advantage,” he told THE WEEK. “Maybe it will be tougher for the youngsters, but I always tell them it is up to them how they deal with the crowd—whether they want it to be 12th man or the enemy. You cannot play according to the crowd. The best way is to just stick to your plans and stay as positive as you can. It is a good team and I hope, match by match, that the team will grow. We expect to create some history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change in the format is a plus, he added. “One big difference is that the tournament is happening at two venues,” he said. “The best part is that the 2nd and 3rd team of a pool play crossover matches and so will get one more opportunity to get into the quarterfinals. The only difference between the top six teams will depend on who capitalises on opportunities and punishes the opposition’s mistakes. This is where we need to be more careful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Powerhouses Australia, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands come on the back of strong performances. India, however, lost the recent Australia tour 1-4.The team, though, is not disheartened. Harmanpreet said the idea was to test the youngsters against a strong team and that he was satisfied with the results. “We showed that we are not scared or overawed by Australia,” he said. “We have created opportunities and scored goals against them. The main goal was to build confidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reid, meanwhile, has found a silver lining to the loss. “I was pretty happy that we scored four goals [in one match] against Australia,” he said. “Obviously, we let too many goals in, but we learnt a lot from that. Also, I was speaking to Bram Lomans from the Netherlands and he reminded me that the Dutch had won the World Cup at home after losing a series in Australia 1-4. It was nice to hear that!”</p> Sat Jan 14 16:24:11 IST 2023 birsa-munda-world-class-hockey-stadium-rourkela-odisha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the past few years, Odisha has arguably become the home of hockey in India. The state government, led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, officially sponsors both senior national teams, and has put the spotlight on the game like never before. Having hosted the previous World Cup and now gearing up to do it once again, the state, on January 8, added another feather in its cap—the Rourkela international stadium. Till now, the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar was the only international venue in the state. Named after the tribal leader Birsa Munda, the new stadium can seat around 21,000 fans; it also has a World Cup village with 225 rooms that can house 400 players. The spanking venue will host 20 of the 44 matches this World Cup.<br> </p> <p>Rourkela is in Sundargarh district, which is the cradle of hockey in the state. It has produced several India players, two of whom are in the current team—men’s vice captain Amit Rohidas and defender Nilam Sanjeep Xess. Children in Sundargarh start their hockey journey early, often playing with sticks fashioned out of tree branches. Many village-level tournaments are organised throughout the year. To further boost the sport’s popularity in Sundargarh, the Patnaik government recently laid AstroTurf in grounds in each of the district’s 17 blocks. THE WEEK visited one of these blocks, Kuarmunda, on the day the turf was being laid. From schoolchildren to the elderly, everyone was thrilled with the development. Said Rakhi, a little hockey fan: “We never expected this. We will also play on this turf one day. So far, we have only played in the local fields.”<br> </p> <p>The children of the area, and the state, are also charmed by the mascot of the World Cup—Olly the Olive Ridley turtle, through whom the government wants to raise awareness about the environment.<br> </p> <p>On the eve of the stadium’s inauguration, THE WEEK reached Sanjeep’s home in Kadobahal gram panchayat, some 50km away. Bipin Xess, his father, welcomed us into his home. “We never dreamt that our son would play for India,” he says. “Both my sons used to play hockey when they were little. One day, a teacher in Sanjeep’s school suggested I send him to a hostel in Sundergarh to study and play.” His mother, Jira, stood beside him, struggling to hold back her tears.</p> <p>Nearly 15,000 people turned up to see the inauguration of the Birsa Munda stadium. “Hockey is not just a sport in Odisha, it is a way of life,” Patnaik said while inaugurating the stadium.</p> Sat Jan 14 16:01:55 IST 2023 the-future-of-argentina-football-team-after-qatar-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lionel Scaloni has won everything there is to win as coach in international football, and his contract runs till the 2026 World Cup. The continuity that Scaloni offers and the wealth of talent rising through the ranks for Argentina hints at the potential for a period of dominance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 44-year-old head coach has already shown that he trusts youth. The trio of Enzo Fernández, 21, Julián Álvarez, 22, and Alexis Mac Allister, 23, burnished their reputations at the World Cup. There are many young players waiting for a chance. At centre-back, for example, Nicolás Otamendi, 34, was solid. But, if he is unavailable, Lisandro Martínez, 24, is ready to step up. There are also the likes of Facundo Medina, 23, and Nehuén Pérez, 22, who were not in the World Cup squad, but are being tracked closely by Scaloni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there are other positions that need an infusion of youth and Scaloni is well aware of this, as evidenced by the number of young players he has monitored in the past 12 months. With the 2024 Copa America just 18 months away and the World Cup to follow two years later, Scaloni is likely to start integrating them soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here are three players who were not in Qatar, but could play a key role in the future:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Alejandro Garnacho, 18</b></p> <p>POSITION <b>LEFT-WINGER</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BORN IN MADRID,</b> he played for Spain’s under-18 side. Argentina wooed Garnacho, who has an Argentine mother, into its setup with a shock call-up to the senior team in March. Then 17, he remained an unused substitute, but soon made his debut for the U-20 team and scored four goals in four games in 2022 under the guidance of Argentine hero Javier Mascherano. He was also named in Scaloni’s preliminary squad for the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Garnacho came through the youth academy of Atlético Madrid and was signed by the U-18 team of Manchester United in October 2020 for around half-a-million euros. He was promoted to the English team’s U-23 squad after nine months and broke into the senior team a year later. He made eight appearances till the World Cup break and got two goals and two assists. He is right-footed, with a good left foot, can play on the right-wing, too, and is expected to get more games at United in the second half of the season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fast and tricky wide player, with good spatial awareness, a great first-touch and remarkable composure in the opposition box, the 5’11” Garnacho is getting tougher, and fast gaining muscle, in the physical and intense Premier League.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Luka Romero, 18</b></p> <p>POSITION <b>RIGHT-WINGER</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ANGEL DI MARÍA</b> started the World Cup on the right and finished on the left. Though there were a few players in the squad capable of manning the flanks, the 34-year-old’s appearance on both the wings highlighted the lack of specialist wingers. So, even if Garnacho manages to cement his place on the left, the team still needs options on the right-wing. Enter Luka Romero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Mexico to Argentine parents, Romero was raised in Spain; this made him eligible to play for all three countries, but he chose Argentina. Like Garnacho, he was called-up to the senior team in March, did not play, and then made his U-20 debut. He played twice for the youth side in 2022. He, too, was part of the preliminary World Cup squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Romero was recruited by La Liga club Mallorca from the youth ranks of an Ibiza-based club. He made his senior debut aged 15 in 2020, breaking the record for the youngest player in La Liga. Romero moved to Lazio in Italy in 2021. He played six times in the first half of the season, scoring once. The 5’5”, left-footed attacker has been compared with Lionel Messi, but he has focused on his own game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Valentín Barco, 18</b></p> <p>POSITION <b>LEFT-BACK</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE TWO PLAYERS</b> who occupied the left side of Argentina’s defence are both on the wrong side of 30. Though still capable of putting in a shift, Nicolás Tagliafico, 30, and Marcos Acuña, 31, have started to decline from the levels they hit at their peak. But, Argentina have a tailor-made solution in Barco. Born in Buenos Aires, he moved to the youth academy of a club in Santa Fe before being brought back to the capital by Argentine giants Boca Juniors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He made his debut for Argentina’s U-15 team in 2019, was selected to the U-20 team in May and made two appearances in 2022. Barco played thrice for the senior team of Boca Juniors last year and is currently on preseason with the senior squad ahead of the start of the Argentine season in January. He is expected to get more games next year and was reportedly being tracked by Manchester City.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The technically gifted, 5’7” defender can also play in a more attacking role on the left and is a good free-kick taker. He was reportedly discovered by the same scout who found Carlos Tevez and Juan Román Riquelme.</p> Sat Dec 24 16:22:14 IST 2022 the-story-of-fifa-world-cup-2022-photo-feature <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>(letf) Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé in the final. It was Messi's 26th World Cup game; he beat German legend Lothar Matthäus's record (25). Messi's seven goals made him the first player to score in each round (the round of 16 was introduced in 1986), and with three assists, he equalled the all-time World Cup assist record (eight) shared by Pelé and Diego Maradona. Messi also became the first player to win the Golden Ball twice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mbappé became the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since 1966. He is also the leading goalscorer in final matches with four goals. The 24-year-old's eight goals in Qatar took him level with Pelé on 12 World Cup goals, just one behind Messi and only four behind all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose | AP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Messi's assist through Joško Gvardiol's legs in the semifinals. Gvardiol, 20, is one of the best young defenders in the world. The Argentine great got the ball near the halfway line and ran past Gvardiol to the touchline, turning the defender inside out. “One day I'll tell my kids that I played against the best player in history,” Gvardiol said of the experience | AP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moroccan winger Sofiane Boufal celebrates with his mother after the historic win in the quarterfinals. The video of Boufal dancing with his mother had gone viral. He told CBS Sports: “She sacrificed her life for me. I had to turn pro for her.” Mothers of the Moroccan players joined them in celebrations often. Achraf Hakimi's celebration with his mother had become a mural in Barcelona | reuters</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moroccan players toss head coach Walid Regragui into the air after beating Portugal in the quarterfinals. The appointment of the former right back as head coach three months before the World Cup was not received well and he was nicknamed “avocado head”. He silenced critics as Morocco became the first African team to reach the semifinals | AP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Selfie with Ivana Knöll, a former Miss Croatia (2016). Ivana became popular after asserting her right to dress the way she wants. She reportedly said: “The dress code forbids showing shoulders, knees, belly and everything and I was like 'Oh my God, I don't even have the clothes to cover all of that'.” But, she later said that local people had told her she could wear what she normally wears | getty images</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saudi Arabia's Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates after scoring the winning goal as the Asian team beat Argentina 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Three teams representing Asia―Australia, Japan and South Korea―got into the second round for the first time ever. Saudi Arabia and Iran also came close to qualifying from their groups | AP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neymar is consoled by Croatia winger Ivan Perišić's son after Brazil were eliminated by Croatia in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals. Neymar had scored a brilliant goal to give Brazil the lead in extra time. With that, he equalled Pelé's Brazilian record of 77 goals. But, Croatia found an equaliser soon after | AFP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japan fans cleaning up after after their team was eliminated by Croatia in a penalty shootout in the round of 16 | Reuters</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu bows after the match. Both the team and the fans once again won hearts at a World Cup. In 2018, moving images of crying Japanese fans cleaning up had emerged after their team's heartbreaking, last-minute loss to Belgium (3-2; after taking a two-goal lead) | AP</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Referee Stéphanie Frappart (middle), with assistant referees Neuza Back (left) and Karen Díaz Medina after the first half of the Group E match between Costa Rica and Germany. Frappart, 38, became the first woman to officiate a men's World Cup match. Including assistant referees and fourth officials, six women were part of the refereeing team in Qatar | Getty Images</p> Sat Dec 24 12:03:47 IST 2022 challenges-for-ioa-chief-p-t-usha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The transition has been relatively smooth. Enough for P.T. Usha to flash that trademark smile at everyone present at Olympic Bhawan, headquarters of the Indian Olympic Association in Delhi. Dressed in a beige tussore salwar kameez with a smart floral jacket on a mild wintry Saturday, Usha walked into the history books once again—she became the first Olympian and woman to be IOA president. The 58-year-old, a multiple Asian Games gold medallist who came fourth in 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, ushers in an era of hope in Indian sport. An era where athletes administer the game, and do so for the betterment of Indian sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was a race Usha ran alone—she was elected unopposed under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge L. Nageswara Rao, whom the apex court appointed. The International Olympic Committee was following the election keenly; it had warned the IOA of a possible suspension if elections were not held by December. The elections were due in December 2021, but were delayed as a new constitution had to be drawn up. This constitution included changes the Supreme Court had recommended, which miffed many longtime administrators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha, currently a BJP-nominated Rajya Sabha member, will have her hands full. According to the new structure outlined in the constitution, she will require a CEO to run daily affairs—the post of the powerful secretary general has been scrapped. Elections were held for the post of joint secretary (female) and four executive council members. The veteran sports administrators were missing, but they are expected to provide “guidance” from the background. Interestingly, the Equestrian Federation of India and the Yachting Association of India, facing multiple cases regarding their constitution and conduct, were relegated as associate members and had no voting right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am happy that today we have sportspersons in our executive council,” Usha said after taking over. “I never thought I would one day become an MP or IOA president, but the sportspersons and federations pushed me to stand for these elections.” She stressed that her tenure would be about “collective effort”.</p> <p>Her joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey, also the All India Football Federation president, did most of the talking. He emphasised that there needed to be “more transparency” in the working and finances of the IOA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha, used to the pressure of expectations during her days as a runner, will face similar scrutiny as an administrator. As will the new IOA committee, especially now that it has several athletes on board.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former IOA secretary general Randhir Singh gave a thumbs up to the new-look IOA. “It augurs well for the Olympic movement in India that sportspersons are coming into sports administration,” he said. “This is very important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He shrugged off concerns that the new team lacked administrative experience, saying, “We are there for them. We will help them wherever needed, be it at the IOC (International Olympic Committee) or the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia). For me, it is much easier to deal with sportspersons as I have also been one.” Singh, a former Olympian shooter, said the new IOA team has to shed the old mentality of grovelling before federation bosses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IOA vice president Gagan Narang, who won a shooting bronze at the London Olympics, said he was looking forward to his new role. Asked about his thoughts on the new group of administrators, he told THE WEEK: “Purely answering from an athlete’s perspective, when I was at the peak of my prowess, the only contact we had with the IOA was during the Games—Olympics or Asian. I hoped for a lot of logistical and support staff issues to be streamlined for better results. Though I have always claimed that I am a product of the system, as an athlete who played an individual sport, I had to manage a lot by myself. I had a small team to think for me, but not everyone was as fortunate. I would hope that there is ease of operations for every athlete who plays for India and the IOA understands an athlete better—physically, mentally and emotionally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh said the first thing the new group had to do was to get it out of their minds that they have to “control” the system. “You will have the CEO to handle day to day matters,” he pointed out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha has said that things would not change overnight and that her team would look to settle down and take up one issue at a time. The old guard, meanwhile, is waiting and watching to see if the new group falters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On challenges ahead, Narang said, “Every board has its challenges. A lot of us will understand what the hurdles are along the way and will prepare to leap. Right now, it is too early to list the challenges, but as an athlete I can say I have seen them come with opportunities. I believe sports administration is no different from life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha has brought glory to the nation with her exploits on the track. She has shouldered responsibility time and again, and has risen to the occasion. This, however, might be her sternest test yet.</p> Sat Dec 17 19:27:18 IST 2022 ioa-president-p-t-usha-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. Did you think a lot and discuss with family when the offer came?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> This is not a family affair, it is a country affair. So, no thinking was required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How challenging will this role be?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> The challenge is not as much (compared to when she was competing). People think the IOA post is so big, that is why it is so challenging. I do not think so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Do you feel the burden of expectations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> I am not saying that I can change everything within two days. It is challenging, no doubt. But as I told you, since the age of 13, my life has been only sports. I know everything that is happening in sports. I know the difficulties of sportspersons; how tough it is for a child to become successful at the international level. We will try to work for the betterment of sports and sportspersons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. This is a different IOA. There is representation of athletes. How easy or difficult will it be to work in a new way?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> You cannot change anything in a day; [change] will slowly come because the IOA has sportspersons now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You were elected unopposed—a 100m sprint with only you on the track.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A. </b>I filed my nomination papers and thought somebody else would also be in the race. I guess all sportspeople wanted someone like me to lead the IOA. It is indeed an honour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Having won so many medals for India, every time you do something, all eyes are on you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> In the Asian Games (Seoul 1986), India won five gold medals. I won four of those. From the 14th position, India came to the 4th position (when Usha’s events were done).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But people would ask me why I did not get another gold? (She got silver in 100m). Expectations will always be there. That is why we want good interaction with all associations, coaches and athletes. They should tell us their problems and we will work on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Asian Games will happen in 2023 and the Paris Olympics in 2024.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> Now that it has started with [Abhinav] Bindra and [Neeraj] Chopra, the habit to win at the Olympics will come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Will you be interacting with Olympic medallists to pick their brains?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A. </b>We always interacted, even before I became IOA president. Be it Bindra, Chopra or P.V. Sindhu. I am always for them (athletes). Why should anything change because I have become IOA president?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What is the most important thing that needs to be looked into in Indian sports?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> People want medals when we are putting zero effort to win those. It is a paradox.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What is the message you want to send as IOA president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A.</b> Sports for all. All for sports. There was nothing when I started, but I wanted to pursue and excel. And I did it. The athletes now, we are with them. If they want to achieve something, they can do it.</p> Sat Dec 17 19:25:18 IST 2022 dutch-footballer-cody-gakpo-life-family-career <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS AN</b> impressive list. Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Romário, Ronaldo, Phillip Cocu, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben have all donned the red and white of PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch club played a crucial role in shaping their illustrious careers. It is doing the same to Cody Gakpo, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 23-year-old has had a phenomenal 2022-2023 season. Deployed as a left-winger, he racked up 30 goal contributions (13 goals and 17 assists) in 24 games till the World Cup break, more than any other player in Europe’s six top leagues―England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands. But, the fact that he plays in the relatively less competitive Dutch league led to lingering doubts. Can he perform on bigger stages, under pressure?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His performance in the group stages of the World Cup shows he can. In the first two matches, he helped a sub-par Dutch side earn four points with two brilliant goals. He added a third in a comfortable 2-0 win against Qatar as the Netherlands secured the top spot in Group A. Tougher tests are in the offing, starting with the round of 16 match against the US on December 3.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 6’2” attacker is taking it all in his stride. “I know what I'm capable of, but it's always a challenge to reach your highest level,” he said in Qatar. “I'm not there yet, I think I can improve in a lot of things.” Gakpo was deployed as an attacking midfielder against Senegal and his goal in the 84th minute was the result of a well-timed run and an impressive leap to head the ball over the advancing 6'4” goalkeeper, Édouard Mendy. In the next match, coach Louis van Gaal asked Gakpo to play as a striker; the PSV star responded with a thunderous left-footed strike into the Ecuador goal from just outside the box. Against Qatar, he played as a striker again and scored from his first, and only, chance of the game, by drilling a low, right-footed shot from inside the box.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One header and one goal each with his (weaker) left foot and right foot. That, too, while playing out of his preferred left-wing role. There was much discussion before the tournament about where he would fit into van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 system, which has no out-and-out wingers. Superstar Memphis Depay usually occupies the left-sided striker's role. Therefore, to guarantee himself playing time, Gakpo had to adapt; van Gaal thought that his skillset would enable him to play in a more central position. When asked if he thought the coach was right, Gakpo said the coach was often right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Twan Scheepers, who coached Gakpo in his early days at the PSV academy, told ESPN before the World Cup that he would prefer to see Gakpo in his natural spot, but added that he was also capable of playing through the middle. And Gakpo is known to put team before self. Scheepers highlighted the importance of his family in the type of person he has developed into.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“His parents are very solid.... The parents, family, friends, his brothers, they did a great job in not pushing him too much,” said Scheepers. “They wanted to show that life is good. They are a religious family. I think that's important and a big thing in the world. He's quite relaxed. The only thing that matters to him is playing the game, and nothing bothers him around it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnny, Gakpo's father, was born in Togo and has Ghanaian ancestry. He played in the top flight in Togo and made one appearance for the national team. Gakpo's mother, Ank, was a Dutch rugby international and a teacher at a secondary school. He has two brothers: Sydney, who is older, and Duuk. Gakpo told the PSV website that his parents met in Togo and eventually settled in Eindhoven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born and raised in Stratum, a working-class neighbourhood in Eindhoven, Gakpo started joining Sydney to play in the neighbourhood when he was five, against older opponents. Sydney, six years senior, told Dutch magazine Voetbal International: “Cody was fanatical, he flew in with fierce tackles and never gave up.” Aged six, he was invited for a trial by PSV. He progressed well early on, but there was a period of concern in 2011.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We had conversations to discuss our development three or four times a year and at the end of the season you were told whether you could stay or leave,” he said. “It was a narrow escape that season. I had some problems, but I was allowed to stay.” Elated, Gakpo, who was then three days short of his 12th birthday, took to Twitter on May 3, 2011: “Ik mag blijve bij psv YES (I can stay with psv YES)”. He has not been active on Twitter ever since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sydney, who has played professional football at a lower level, added that he never had any doubts that Gakpo would make it at the highest level because he had developed remarkable mental strength at a young age. When he was slightly older Gakpo started playing street football on top of his academy games. He credits it for making him tough and streetwise. “All animals were equal [on the streets],” he said. “It did not matter what kind of environment you grew up in. There were some very skillful street footballers. There were real battles. I was not always on the winning side.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also highlights the importance of his upbringing. “When I visited friends I always noticed that things were slightly different at our house,” he says. “The African upbringing is bit stricter. When I was young, I didn't like that very much, but when I look back on it, it's been really good. I am grateful to my parents for that.” The PSV star, who now reportedly earns around €1 million per year as wages, lives in his own house in the city centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he started living alone in 2019, he said that he was enjoying the freedom. “At home, I regularly heard, “'Cody, turn that music down',” he said. “Now the music can be as loud as I want. The biggest change is that I'm on my own for everything, but, that is fine, it's part of growing up. I don't have a girlfriend yet.” That has since been rectified and Gakpo's girlfriend of two years, Noa van der Bij, 23, is in Qatar cheering him on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gakpo has never visited his father's country. “Every time he has a holiday, football has already started for me,” he said. “Too bad, because I would like to. Family lives there and I'm curious what life is like there, where my father grew up.” He has received his HAVO diploma (roughly equivalent to class 10). “VWO (class 12) could also have been done, but I thought that was too much homework,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he does not like homework, he has evidently approached his football homework with great dedication. His progress over the last few years has been observed with interest around Europe, but PSV has done a great job of shielding him and ensuring his continued development. This was, of course, in the best interest of the club, too, as he can now fetch a higher price. He is currently valued upwards of €45 million, but potential buyers may have to offer even more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English clubs, including Manchester United, have evinced a keen interest in Gakpo. PSV also felt the pressure to cash in on him. Ultimately it was national team manager van Gaal who proved decisive. After his personal experience of the incompetence at United (he managed the team for two seasons), he has advised more than one Dutch player, and even current manager Erik ten Hag, to stay away from the club. He told Gakpo that a transfer in a World Cup year was not ideal as it may unsettle him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, once the World Cup is over, van Gaal's influence will diminish. And United is once again at the front of the queue. The club's budget has also been bolstered after terminating Cristiano Ronaldo's contract―the savings on his wages for the remainder of the season are reported to be around €25 million. But, there are a few Dutch players who have struggled to settle in the Premier League, including Johan Cruyff's son, Jordi, in the 1990s and more recently Donny van de Beek, both at Manchester United.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, there are plenty of success stories, too, including current PSV manager van Nistelrooy. Gapko has benefitted greatly from exclusively having PSV legends as managers at club level. His breakthrough was under Cocu, who was replaced by van Bommel, before van Nistelrooy took over. van Gaal's guidance has also been invaluable. If he moves to United, he may get a suitable atmosphere to continue his growth under ten Hag, who has no PSV links, but is one of the best up and coming coaches in world football. Another positive is that United's notorious owners, the Glazer family, are reportedly looking to sell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he chooses to sign for United, Gakpo may have to adapt to playing as a striker, because the left wing is stacked (Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and the Argentine teenager Alejandro Garnacho all prefer the flank). But, Gakpo has already shown his versatility and with ten Hag's coaching, the winger could even develop into an out-an-out striker. He only has to look at French legend Thierry Henry, who made the transition successfully during his time at Arsenal.</p> Sat Dec 03 11:36:04 IST 2022 qatar-world-cup-the-underdogs-to-watch-out-for <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The last World Cup held in Asia, co-hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002, saw several surprising results. Defending champions France and two-time winners Argentina were eliminated in the group stages and South Korea reached the semifinals, aided by bad refereeing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Asia prepares to host its second World Cup, the expectation is that there will be a few surprises. To make things more interesting, the Asian contingent is stronger than in recent editions, both in terms of number and quality. Qatar 2022 will see six Asian teams, of which three (Iran, Japan, South Korea) are in the top 30 in the world. Of the five teams at Russia 2018, none was in the top 30. And at Brazil 2014, not one of the four Asian teams was in the top 40.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia (an Asian Football Confederation member) are good enough to be competitive in their groups. Hosts Qatar (rank 50) are in a difficult group with the Netherlands and Sadio Mané's Senegal, but can hope for a result in the tournament opener against Ecuador. For Saudi Arabia (rank 51), things look bad. The team is in Group C with Argentina, Mexico and the Robert Lewandowski-led Poland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even one draw in the group can be considered an achievement. But, all three of their non-Asian opponents would be taking the Saudis seriously. “Saudi Arabia has a solid defence and good tactical awareness,” Lewandowski tells FIFA+. “They are agile and capable of good build-up play.” During the qualifiers, the Saudis topped a group that had Japan and Australia. In recent friendlies, it held Ecuador and the US to 0-0 draws, and while it is not likely to progress, the team can have an impact on who makes it out of the group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wales, on the other hand, would not be wrong to fancy its chances. The team, which rose from its lowest ranking of 117 to its highest ranking of eight in four years (2011-2015), now sits comfortably at 19th spot. But, Group B―England (5), the US (16) and Iran (20)―is by no means easy for the team, which is playing in the World Cup after 64 years. “We don't fear England or anyone,” says Welsh full-back Neco Williams. “We have a good set of lads and this team spirit, I think we can get a result against everyone in our group.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Confidence notwithstanding, the team has not won since June. It lost four matches and drew once. The English team, which is the favourite to win the group, has also struggled since June (three losses and three draws). Iran recently beat Uruguay and held Senegal to a draw and is a dangerous opponent. A good performance in the first match against the US will be key to Welsh hopes. But, as Williams points out, “You just need to look at clubs they (the US players) play for to realise how good they are.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, the difference in the group could be expectations. England, despite recent form, are among the favourites. The US and Iran have played in World Cups fairly regularly and would want to show progress. For Wales, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation is somewhat similar for Canada, which is back at the World Cup after a 36-year hiatus. The team, ranked 41st, will start its campaign against Belgium, which is ranked second and finished third in Russia. It will then play last edition's runner-up Croatia (rank 12) before facing Morocco (rank 22) in its final group stage match. So, most fans may accept a first-ever World Cup goal or a first-ever draw/win. But coach John Herdman wants more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 47-year-old Englishman insists the target is to reach the knockout phase. “When Belgium and Croatia came out of the hat, we were rubbing our hands, saying, 'This is going to be an amazing experience',” says Herdman. “We want to create freedom and have them go in against the [Kevin] De Bruynes... [Luka] Modrics and relish that chance. As a coach, I know that I'll either be a hero or a zero.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Herdman has experimented with different formations, but seems to have settled on a back three. The formation is dependent on two defensive midfielders providing a base for the wide players to support the attack. Counterattacks are a key component and in Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, Canada has a world-class player. The 21-year-old plays at left-back for his club, but is used in free-roaming, attacking role by Herdman. Another player to watch out for is Jonathan David, 22, who plays for Lille in France. The pacey striker has good chemistry with Davies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Canada made the football world sit up by finishing first ahead of Mexico and the US in the North, Central America and Caribbean qualifiers. In recent matches, the team has won two and lost two. In Qatar, it will need to beat Morocco and get a draw against Croatia or Belgium to stand any chance of meeting Herdman's target. But, even if it does not, the experience will help the team perform better when it co-hosts the 2026 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghana is a good case study of using the World Cup experience well. It qualified for the first time in 2006, learned from the experience and came back stronger for the next edition in South Africa. In 2010, Ghana became only the third African team to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. Only a last-minute handball by Uruguay's Luis Suarez prevented it from making history by reaching the semifinals. After competing in a third consecutive tournament in 2014, Ghana missed out in 2018. This time, it had to overcome World Cup regulars Nigeria in playoffs to secure its berth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghana (61) is the lowest ranked team at Qatar 2022. And the Black Stars are in one of the toughest groups in the tournament with Portugal (9), Uruguay (14) and South Korea (28). The team's recent form, too, does not offer much hope. In its last five games, Ghana lost thrice and drew once. Its only win was against Nicaragua (142) and that, too, by a solitary goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the squad has been strengthened by its diaspora―five players of Ghanian descent declared for the national team in July after not getting opportunities in the national teams of the countries they were raised in. The most significant among the new arrivals is Spain-based striker Inaki Williams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Williams adds a potent goal threat to a roster that already has the likes of Arsenal's Thomas Partey, Ajax's Mohammed Kudus and Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey, who switched from England to Ghana in July. A majority of the squad is based in Europe and Ghana's opponents will be well-aware of its strengths. Its first match is against Portugal and if Ghana manages to get a result, Group H will truly become the group of death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ecuador at Qatar 2022 is an interesting proposition. During the South American qualifiers, it became evident pretty early that Brazil and Argentina were going to take the top two spots. Uruguay looked too strong to miss out on third. So, the other seven teams were effectively competing for the fourth and final direct qualification spot. Ecuador won that race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team, ranked 44th, has a good number of quality players, led by record goalscorer Enner Valencia. Real Valladolid midfielder Gonzalo Plata, Bayer Leverkusen defender Piero Hincapié and the Brighton trio of Pervis Estupiñán, Moisés Caicedo and Jeremy Sarmiento are all worth keeping an eye on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Qatar team may have earmarked the Ecuador game as its best chance to get a result, Ecuador surely would have done the same. Ecuador may also be able to give the Netherlands and Senegal a game because of its technically sound players. But, the first match against Qatar will be crucial. Therefore, the inaugural match of the 2022 World Cup will be played between two underdogs. And, both have to win to survive.</p> Sat Nov 19 11:57:15 IST 2022 star-players-and-teams-missing-qatar-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE UK GOVERNMENT</b> got an unusual petition in October. It sought the removal of Erling Haaland from the Premier League “for being a robot” and, reportedly, got over two million signatures before it was withdrawn. Had it continued, the parliament would have been forced to debate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another petition, on, titled ‘Remove Erling Haaland from the UK’, terms him a serious problem who “consistently ruins the weekends of hardworking people”. It also calls the Manchester City striker a threat to national security, “as he is inflicting severe mental health issues on us all”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These petitions by fans of rival clubs are clearly meant to be humorous (hopefully). But, they indicate the impact Haaland has had on this season. Till October 25, he had 17 goals and three assists in 11 Premier League games, and 22 goals and three assists in 15 games in all competitions. With less than a month to go for the World Cup, there is little doubt that Haaland is the most in-form striker in the world. But, the 6’4” Norwegian, who has 21 goals and three assists from 23 games for his country, will not be in action at Qatar 2022 as the national side failed to qualify.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than the goals, it is the uniqueness of Haaland’s game that will be missed. There is simply no one like him in world football today―with the combination of extreme physicality, explosive pace, precise finishing, sharp movement and key mental attributes like persistence and temperament. However, for Norway to qualify, either the Netherlands or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal would have had to miss out. So, on the balance of it, perhaps this was preferable. Haaland, 22, should have many years left in him and alongside the likes of Norway and Arsenal captain Martin Ødegaard, 23, he should be able to get the team into future World Cups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it is, Ronaldo &amp; Co. took the difficult route to the World Cup. They were set to face European champions Italy in the final match of their playoff path. So, it was certain that one of the European giants would miss out. Only, Italy were beaten by lowly North Macedonia in the semifinal stage of the playoffs and the Portugal team saw off the underdog comfortably to secure its World Cup berth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four-time winner Italy is missing a second consecutive World Cup. These two disappointments, remarkably, were punctuated by an unbeaten run culminating in the Euro 2020 win in 2021. Former captains Giorgio Chiellini, 38, and Gianluigi Buffon, 44, retired from international football in 2022 and 2018, respectively. The two legends are still playing club football, but they never got an opportunity to make up for the group stage exit in 2014. The current Italy team is also filled with talent. Forward Giacomo Raspadori, 22, midfielder Sandro Tonali, 22, defender Alessandro Bastoni, 23, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 23, in particular, are highly regarded youngsters who will have to wait till 2026 to make their World Cup debuts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The case of Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen is similar. The 23-year-old made his national debut in 2017, but was not selected for the 2018 World Cup after an inconsistent season. However, he has since proven himself in Europe. The striker, who Italian club Napoli signed for a reported fee of €75 million in September 2020, has scored 10 goals in 12 appearances for Nigeria in the last two years. But, he could not help the Super Eagles secure a World Cup berth this time. Ghana edged out Nigeria after two closely fought matches. Nigeria, which had qualified for six of the last seven World Cups, will be missed for its energy and athleticism as well as for its eye-catching kits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Osimhen, Haaland and the Italian youngsters have time on their sides, Egypt’s captain Mohamed Salah does not. When the team went to Russia 2018, Salah was recovering from an injury and missed its opening match defeat. Though he scored two goals in the next two games, the team lost both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier this year, the 30-year-old’s hopes of making amends in Qatar were crushed after Egypt were beaten on penalties by Senegal. As Salah was preparing to take his penalty, Senegal fans shone laser pointers on his face and he missed. FIFA fined Senegal $1,80,000 for the conduct of its fans, but the damage was done. As a result, one of the greatest African players of all time has been unable to play in a World Cup while being fully fit during his peak years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps Salah can find solace in the fact that Egypt’s chances of making it to the 2026 World Cup have already got a boost. The expansion from 32 to 48 teams means that Africa, which only had five slots, will have nine slots and an intercontinental playoff path for one more. So, the likes of Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria (currently captained by Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez) are not likely to miss out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe had 13 slots, but still saw one or two strong teams miss out fairly often. The increased allocation of 16 should take care of this problem. The biggest beneficiary of the expansion is arguably South America. It had four direct slots plus a shot at a fifth via the intercontinental playoff. This will increase to six plus the playoff, meaning that seven out of the 10 South American teams could make it to the next World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, “not-enough-slots” is not an excuse that Colombia can use to explain its absence from the 2022 World Cup. The team, which is now ranked 17th, got thrashed 6-1 by lower-ranked Ecuador during the qualifiers. It also conceded too many draws after taking leads and eventually finished sixth, missing out even the intercontinental playoff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, two of Colombia’s modern greats―striker Radamel Falcao and playmaker James Rodríguez―are likely to have played their last World Cup matches in 2018. Falcao, who plays in the Spanish top-flight, is 36, and Rodríguez, 31, the Golden Boot winner at Brazil 2014, now plays in the relatively less competitive Greek top-tier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the team failed to qualify, Rodríguez said he was uncertain about his future. “I don’t know what’s coming.... I don’t know if I am going to be there or not,” he said. “What I do know is that it breaks my heart to lose, it bothers me not qualifying and this can’t happen again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As things stand, it is not likely to happen again. Colombia and other medium-to-big teams across the world would need to make a complete mess of their qualification campaigns to miss the expanded World Cup. So, Qatar 2022 may well turn out to be the last World Cup that is missing big teams.</p> Sat Nov 19 11:59:17 IST 2022 india-hosting-football-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BJP POLITICIAN</b> Kalyan Chaubey was pitchforked into the role of president, All India Football Federation, after a rather one-sided election on September 2. The bespectacled, tall former India goalkeeper beat former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, 33-1. Since then, Chaubey has barely spent any time at home in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 45-year-old’s immediate priority is overseeing the successful hosting of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which started on October 11. The tournament, which ends on October 30, is being played in Bhubaneshwar, Goa and Navi Mumbai. Once the tournament is over, Chaubey’s main task will be to put the AIFF house in order with both the Supreme Court and FIFA breathing down his neck regarding the federation’s constitution and functioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaubey has bold plans for football in India, with a strong focus on infrastructure, grassroots and women’s football. As the first footballer to be elected as head of the AIFF, all eyes are on him as he strives to pull Indian football out of the deep hole it is in. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Chaubey spoke about his plans and how he hopes to execute them. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has it been for you since you took charge as president of Indian Football?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Winning an election, that is a good feeling obviously. But from that moment onwards, I have started my responsibility towards the development of Indian football. I hope God will grace us―my team and I―so that we can take Indian football to the next level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Now that you have had some time to look at things, what would the challenges be for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is absolutely no challenge! Because we know Indian football―I have been involved for the last 33 years. We know there are issues to be taken care of, so we are going in that direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are these issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Scouting is one of the biggest issues. For the national team you get 40 to 45 players, and then the team is selected from among them. In a country like India with nearly 1.4 billion people, there are pockets where football is popular. But, perhaps, it has become standard practice that football is limited to the cities where it is traditionally played. And clubs playing for ISL or I-League. But, beyond that also there is football. If you try and expand your player pool, there will be better opportunities for the maximum number of players. I believe this is most important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What needs to be done to expand the player pool and unearth better talent?</b></p> <p>A/ We have been saying for quite long that grassroots development is essential. We generally scout and train kids when they are under-12 or under-15. There should be a system at the age of six. But, here we learn from age 12. So we are six years behind the global standard. Focus on tapping kids at the age of six, and teach them basics like passing and receiving. If you focus on grassroots, you will get players whose basics are sound. And then you can go for competitive matches, bring in foreign coaches, etc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, what was happening is that we bring in foreign coaches, but our boys are not prepared to execute the strategies set by these coaches because their basics are not strong. We need to work on basics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned the need to look for talent beyond cities. Where has been the impediment to that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Usually, AIFF coaches never go [to smaller towns]. Recently, a 16-year-old from Arunachal Pradesh played for Rajasthan United FC in I-League qualifiers. Our people should reach [far-off places] and spot such talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is your new role when compared with being a politician?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would not say this is different. This is very normal. We are taught that whatever comes in life, a man should be ready to act on that. I would not say life has changed drastically. My days are still the same. I wake up early, got to bed late and work according to the task given. So there is nothing new. It is good for football. I have been in football for so many years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your expectations from the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is an opportunity for the government of India and state governments... hosting such an important event. That, too, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi says beti padhao beti bachao.... I am confident that with the support of the local organising committee, FIFA, the government of India and the sports ministry, we will conduct this well. I am confident [the chief ministers] will put their best foot forward and ensure the tournament is conducted successfully.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ After hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, we have not been able to create much in terms of football structure. Your thoughts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The country is not the old India. If you see MNCs at top level, many have Indians as bosses; we have top scientists, scientists who have made Covid-19 vaccine and we have shared those with other countries. The kids playing now [are getting more] exposure matches. I am confident that though [we are behind], we will make up for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ This is the year of the FIFA World Cup. Your thoughts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ On September 9, I met the FIFA president and the Qatar FA president. Qatar has world-class sports infrastructure. AIFF has signed an agreement with QFA to use their advanced infrastructure, if needed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Qatar is a small country, albeit cash rich, and it is hosting the World Cup. The obvious question is when will India’s time come?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ On October 30, the day of the U-17 women’s World Cup final, the FIFA president will be here. We have asked for an appointment with the prime minister or home minister so that the FIFA president can discuss the possibility of India hosting a FIFA World Cup, as and when it is possible to do that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ About Indian senior team’s performances: What would you like to see from them in coming months?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our technical committee met on September 18 in Kolkata. They spoke on policies and execution. I am sure our technical committee, with the likes of I.M. Vijayan, will come up with some plan and advise us on how the team should move ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you expect from I.M. Vijayan in his new role?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Vijayan bhai has done lots for Indian football. He is an idol for many. The entire team is good. It will work collectively for Indian football.</p> Fri Oct 28 16:12:25 IST 2022 indian-cricketer-hardik-pandya-t20-world-cup-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE INDIAN TEAM</b> managements, of today and the past, have always been looking for a unicorn, or something seemingly as rare―a guy who could bowl a full quota of overs and single-handedly win a game with the bat. It seemed for a while that Hardik Pandya was the answer. His entry into the white-ball teams in 2016 lent balance to the side, and he looked set for a long stay. Injuries, however, slowed him down to a trot. He carried a bad back for a while and eventually underwent surgery in October 2019. He only returned in late 2020, but it was not an ideal comeback; he was not bowling regularly and was essentially playing as a batter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then IPL 2022 happened, and he was stampeding. Pandya captained the newly minted Gujarat Titans to the trophy, contributing with both bat and ball. On the back of that performance, he returned to the Indian team in the shorter formats, now as a full all-rounder. And not only was he bowling all his overs, he was doing so with pace, often touching 140kmph.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 28, after hitting the winning runs against Pakistan in a tight Asia Cup match, Pandya put out a tweet―it showed him being carried off the field on a stretcher in the 2018 Asia Cup, and also him with his bat held high in the just-concluded tie. It was captioned: “The comeback is greater than the setback.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former India batter Sanjay Manjrekar: “Everything about him currently is unreal. His bowling returns are unreal, [but] you get that with others as well. But his ability to keep calm and get runs under pressure [is unreal].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandya’s successful comeback has boosted his brand value, too. He currently endorses 12 brands; four more are set to be announced later in the year. “By the end of the year, we expect him to represent at least 20 brands,” says Nikhil Bardia, head of sponsorship sales and talent, RISE Worldwide, a Reliance Industries firm. He adds that, over the past six months, Pandya’s rates have increased by about 30 per cent. He is also getting a lot of digital deals, says his team. Pandya’s social media following is third only to Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His coach and former India wicketkeeper Kiran More told THE WEEK: “He is definitely back to his best. In fact, he is better. He returns to the Indian team with experience this time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More praised Pandya’s approach to his recovery, specifically his decision to not rush back to bowling until fully fit. “He made it very clear to people that he would bowl only when his body was ready,” he said. “People misunderstood him, but full credit to him; he looked after his body very well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team India might not have been satisfied with just Pandya the batter, but Gujarat Titans was more than happy to have him in any form. Speaking to THE WEEK from England, Vikram Solanki, director of cricket, Gujarat Titans, said: “We were confident that he would bowl again. [It came up] in conversations with him and those who worked with him. The bowling was always going to be a plus for us. Hardik as an all-rounder is [always] better.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a poor T20 World Cup in 2021, where he bowled only four overs in the entire competition, Pandya went back to the drawing board. He returned home to Baroda, to More, and worked on his game for three months. “He was very focused,” said More. “He would have intense net sessions in the morning and evening all those months. He is mentally very strong. It is difficult to return to the side post injury. Knowing that, he did not rush; he kept working on his bowling. Hats off to the Indian team management for being patient with him. When I saw him in the nets, he was not batting too well. He had not played much cricket, but it was about getting his rhythm back. There was a bit of a change in his bowling action, too, because of the surgery. He spent a lot of time watching his pre-and post-surgery videos and worked hard on his bowling. By the end of the training stint, he got into a fantastic rhythm going into the IPL and was finishing his follow-through very well. He had his physiotherapist with him at all times during the three months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More also felt that the IPL captaincy helped Pandya become a more mature cricketer. Solanki, who saw first-hand the effort Pandya put into the IPL, said, “He is the ultimate professional. He trained hard in the gym, did everything the strength and conditioning coaches asked him to do, got his bowling workload up, and was progressive in terms of how he went about his bowling intensity. [There was focus on] running, resistance work and nutrition. Having done all this, he got to a point where he could say that he wanted to bowl at pace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maturity comes with calmness, which is the state of mind Pandya likes to be in while at work. It is this calmness that stopped him from rushing back to bowling, and which makes him a dependable finisher with the bat. “He is using his experiences to sort of get to a point where he is in a calm state as far as his cricket is concerned,” said Solanki. “My interactions with him were exactly that. He epitomises calm.... He said that if he remains calm, he can execute his game plan.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post the 2021 World Cup, Pandya has played 19 matches, scoring 436 runs at a strike rate of 151.38, and taking 12 wickets with a best of 4-33 versus England in Southampton on July 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After his Asia Cup innings, captain Rohit Sharma had said: “Since he made his comeback, he has been brilliant. When he was not part of the team, he figured out what he wanted to do with his body and fitness regime, and he is now clocking 140-plus easily. We all know his batting quality. He is a lot calmer now and more confident about what he wants to do, whether with bat or ball. It was always about understanding his game and he is doing that well now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A new chapter has begun in Pandya’s career. Before he left Baroda to take charge of the Gujarat Titans, he had told More that he wanted to win a World Cup for India. More has no doubts. And Pandya has two bites at the cherry: The ongoing T20 World Cup in Australia, and the ODI World Cup at home next year.</p> Fri Oct 21 19:18:47 IST 2022 australian-cricketer-brett-lee-interview-t20-world-cup-2022-predictions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVER SINCE HE</b> retired in 2012, Brett Lee has donned many hats―musician, actor, commentator and more. Recently, though, the former Australian pacer returned to the pitch; he was in India to play the Legends League Cricket, which ended earlier this month. He played for the Manipal Tigers in the four-team tournament; India Capitals won the league, which features several retired names from world cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia, Lee spoke to THE WEEK about the tournament and his expectations from it. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How was the experience of playing again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The conditions were hot, [there were] big crowds, [it was a] big tournament, and [there were] good grounds. The Legends League Cricket is here to stay. It was very competitive and that is what makes it so exciting. Sometimes your mind says ‘let’s do this’, but your body says ‘no way’ (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How do you see the World Cup shaping up? Who are the favourites?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. I am a firm believer that home-ground advantage plays a huge part. And also that you have to earn the right to win the World Cup; it is not a given. So, if anyone believes Australia will walk in and win it without even trying, that is not going to happen. I am definitely backing Australia because of the home-ground advantage. The other two teams I am highlighting are India and Pakistan. I think they have got amazing squads. I had really hoped that Jasprit Bumrah would find a way back post-injury. It is going to be an exciting tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. No England?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Any team that has qualified is definitely one to watch out for. The gap has been bridged a lot in the past 15 years. Yes, England, of course. New Zealand and Afghanistan, too. There are a number of nations to watch out for. But my top teams are India, Pakistan and Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Other than home advantage, what makes Australia a serious contender?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. They tick the three boxes [of] playing T20 cricket. You need people who hit some big sixes at the top of the order, real powerhouses at the back end of the batting―guys who can take the score from 130 to 180―and [bowlers who can] close out the innings. New-ball bowling is important, but [I think] the team that wins this World Cup will be the [one that has the] best [performance] in the end overs. And that includes yorkers, wide yorkers and slow bouncers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. India will miss Jasprit Bumrah. Will that be a huge setback?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. For India, I want guys like K.L. Rahul to get out there and score some runs. And then you obviously have Virat Kohli; he is a key player. For Pakistan, Babar Azam is the guy who will have a big tournament. It is important that these big guys step up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Rohit Sharma is leading the team well, but is slightly short on runs himself. How important is an in-form Rohit for India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. He is a great leader, obviously, and also a wonderful batsman. I am backing Hitman to get some big runs. It is something similar to what happened with Australia and Aaron Finch. He is going through a lean period, but leading the team very well. I am hoping that Sharma and Finch can get some runs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Thoughts on Suryakumar Yadav?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. I think SKY has a beautiful technique; he is a powerful hitter of the ball. I want to see him progress his international career in all three formats of the game.</p> Fri Oct 21 16:09:33 IST 2022 qatar-world-cup-final-venue-lusails-grass-has-dried-but-no-need-to-worry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>QATAR IS LIT</b> up like a bride’s home. And, much like in a bridal home, everyone is busy with preparations. They only have time for a hurried greeting or a polite word. So, if you head to Qatar early, the best thing to do is to take in the sights and sounds before the November rush. The most spectacular sights are the new stadiums—chief among them is the Lusail Stadium, the venue for the World Cup finals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lusail City has been termed by some as a new city built for the World Cup. But, it is a significant site in Qatari history. In the early 1900s, the founder of modern Qatar, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, ruled from the Founder’s Fort in Lusail settlement. The name Lusail pays homage to the rare al wassail plant which is native to the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The modernisation of Lusail, which is 23km from Doha, began in 2005. Qatari Diar, a state-controlled developer, is executing the project. The planned city has an area of 38sqkm and includes four islands. It boasts a marina, a palm-lined promenade, an integrated public transport system, 75km of cycling and walking routes, and 22 hotels with international star ratings. Notably, in 2021, Lusail hosted Qatar’s first Formula 1 Grand Prix. When finished, it can host two lakh residents, 1.7 lakh professionals and 80,000 visitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, the Lusail Stadium also has a capacity of 80,000. As you walk in to what seems like an airport lounge or the lobby of a five-star hotel, you are welcomed by a cool breeze—Qatar’s indigenous cooling technology, which combines insulation with “spot cooling” (cooling only places with people). The system, which also draws back the cool air, re-cools and filters it, and pushes it out again, is said to be 40 per cent more sustainable than existing methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aim is to maintain the temperature between 21 degrees and 24 degrees Celsius. If the temperature drops—it can be 12 degrees Celsius or lower in December—the system can increase the heat to maintain it in the desired range. Also, each seat at the Lusail Stadium has an air blower to ensure the comfort of every spectator. There are five large hospitality lounges and VIP and VVIP lounges as well as 100 sky boxes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The stadium is a 100 hectare site,” Tamim El Abed, the stadium operations manager, told THE WEEK. “The seating capacity [can be] 85,000; the minimum net capacity is 80,000. This means 80,000 seats having an uninterrupted view of the field. “You don’t have to ever stand up, move, push, look around the pillar.... Sit in your seat and watch the entire game, with very high quality of viewing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It took five years to build the venue, which received a five-star rating for sustainable building practices. It was completed in late 2021 and hosted its first game in August—a test event with 20,000 fans. A full-capacity match was held in September. THE WEEK visited the stadium on September 25 and learned that the turf would be changed ahead of the World Cup. This is because the grass had dried; the seeds were summer seeds. The new turf will use grass grown from winter seeds. These seasonal seeds are the result of eight years of research and ensures immunity to the climate and diseases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seeds for the turf as well as the trees and plants around the eight stadiums and 41 training centres were supplied by the Supreme Committee’s nursery in Al Khor. The 8.8 lakh sqm nursery, which uses treated sewage water, has grown over 16,000 trees of 60 species and 6.7 lakh bushes, till date. Turf seeds were developed jointly with a sports turf research institute based in the UK and tree offshoots were brought from Thailand, China, Columbia, Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia and India (banyan and bodhi trees from Surat, Gujarat).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the sustainability features and green cover are impressive, the focus on legacy could bring more immediate benefits. The Lusail Stadium, for instance, will be transformed into a community hub post the World Cup, with affordable housing, schools, sporting facilities, shops and medical clinics. The stadium’s upper-tier will be repurposed into outdoor terraces for new homes, according to the SC, and materials removed will be donated to countries in need of sporting infrastructure.</p> Sat Nov 19 12:01:11 IST 2022 how-suryakumar-yadav-became-the-template-for-indias-new-batting-style <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the Parsee Gymkhana club in Mumbai’s Marine Drive, Suryakumar Yadav is the most important cricketer in its lineage. He is, after all, the first player from the club to play for India. Yes, Farokh Engineer, Rusi Surti, Polly Umrigar and Nari Contractor also wore India whites, says club vice president Khodadad Yazdegardi, but they all played for Parsee Cyclists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When he plays for his club, he only wears club colours. If he wears the helmet, he tapes over the India colours,” says Yazdegardi. Even while playing for India, Yadav keeps track of every club game. The club, in turn, ensures that he gets all training facilities when he is not playing for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“During the Police Shield (2021), he carried two kit bags during matches—one was his own, and the other was full of gloves, pads and T-shirts, which he distributed among the club players,” says Yazdegardi. “The prize money he got went to the groundsmen. Whenever he is in Mumbai, he wants to hit the nets. He trains for hours and hours, and is still grounded.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some would say he has had to be so. A late bloomer—he debuted at 30—Yadav has now become the template for India’s new style of T20I batting, and is arguably its most important batter, especially heading into the World Cup. There is no anchoring or pacing; just playing shots from ball one. Take, for instance, the 22-ball 61 against South Africa in Guwahati on October 2, or the brilliant 117 off 55 against England at Trent Bridge in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently ranked second in the world, Yadav’s strike-rate in 2022 is a whopping 180.29, while his career strike-rate is 176.81 across 34 matches. He has hit 50 sixes in T20Is this year; the first player to do so in a calendar year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a guy who made his first-class debut in 2010 for Mumbai, Yadav had to wait more than a decade to wear the India blue. He made his T20I debut in March 2021, and played his first ODI that July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He always had that X factor, be it when he played in Under-15 or Under-19,” said Milind Rege, the former Mumbai selector who spotted Yadav’s talent and also resurrected his career. “He has finally realised his potential. He is too good a player at this level [to be ignored]. We had earmarked him for big things. What made him stand out was not just his cricketing ability at the junior level, but also his cricketing IQ.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the family has roots in Uttar Pradesh, Yadav is a dyed-in-the-wool Mumbaikar. Growing up, his father, Ashok, an electrical engineer with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, always encouraged him to play. The boy had to choose between badminton and cricket, and chose the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who have watched him from his early days, including Rege, point to Yazdegardi as the man who guided the youngster. Yadav played for the Parsee Gymkhana from 2008 to 2011. He later played for Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Shivaji Park Gymkhana and Dadar Union, but it was Yazdegardi he called up when he found himself out of favour with the Mumbai team. Between 2011 and 2013, there had been reports of Yadav becoming temperamental, frustrated and allegedly indulging in groupism in the state and club teams. He wanted to return to Parsee Gymkhana, and was welcomed back with open arms. “There was a lot of frustration regarding his career, but I kept telling him that one day the door would open,” said Yazdegardi. “When he got the India call in 2021, he told me the dream had been fulfilled. I told him our dream would be only be fulfilled when he plays Test cricket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his lean patch, former administrator and columnist Makarand Waingankar introduced Yadav to a website called One Giant Mind, which taught meditation techniques. This helped Yadav channel his frustration in a positive way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni: “From the day I first saw him in 2010, his special talent was obvious. What was special about him was his confidence. Few people have that kind of confidence from the beginning. Also, he is an all-format player, not just a white-ball specialist. His first-class record, with a strike rate of over 60, 14 tons and 26 fifties, speaks for itself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone THE WEEK spoke to talked about Yadav’s commitment and work ethic, despite his troubles in the past. “He has worked hard to develop these special skills,” says Kulkarni. “I am just glad that players like Shardul Thakur and Surya, who have played over 10 years in first-class cricket, have remained optimistic about one day playing for India and have worked towards it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, who has watched Yadav from close quarters as Mumbai Indians coach, called him a 360-degree player. “He hits really well over the leg side, flicks to deep backward square particularly well, and he is a good player of fast bowling and spin. He is quite a confident person. He backs himself and he is never going to step down from a challenge or any situation that arises in a game. I feel he thinks he can win that situation and go on and win the game for his team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kulkarni felt that Yadav’s time with Mumbai Indians also helped him get noticed, especially 2018 onwards. Interestingly, to the surprise of many, the team retained Yadav for 08 crore and let go of Hardik Pandya in the previous auction. Yadav, however, has repaid that faith. “Every time I see him, he has taken his game a notch higher, which is a good sign as a player,” said India and MI captain Rohit Sharma. “He seems to be getting better and better every time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the most enduring image of Yadav’s IPL rise was his “main hoon na (why fear when I’m here)” gesture en route to a victory against the Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2020. His captain and Indian fans would hope that Yadav keeps that confidence going Down Under.</p> Sun Oct 16 10:34:46 IST 2022 qatar-world-cup-despite-continuing-scepticism-hosts-are-confident <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Qatar has a population of around 30 lakh (almost the same as Manipur) and an area of about 11,500sqkm (around half of Manipur). Little wonder that there was scepticism when it won the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. How could it house the teams and fans, asked critics. After all, the average attendance at World Cups is more than the population of Qatar!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the tiny, cash-rich country has made room—rooms, to be precise. Over 100 new hotels have been built. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), the local organising body, has tied up with French hospitality giant Accor to manage accommodation. In addition to hotels, there are fan villages, apartments, villas, desert camps and cruise ships—which will allow Qatar to avoid adding too many permanent rooms. The tariff ranges from QAR 250 to QAR 3,000. With the Qatari riyal hovering close to 023, that would translate to between Rs5,600 to Rs67,000 per night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fan villages comprising tents and cabins will come up on the outskirts of Doha, and will have 24/7 public transport links. Each cabin will have two rooms; each room will have two beds and basic amenities, including a refrigerator, free Wi-Fi and house-keeping. General facilities for each village include food stalls, big screens to watch matches, a fitness centre, tennis court and a 24/7 help desk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fan villages currently available are Cabins Zafaran, Cabins Ras Bo Fondasil and Cabins Rawdat Al Jahhaniya. Zafaran is north of Doha’s Lusail City, Ras Bo Fondasil is 6km from Hamad International Airport and Rawdat Al Jahhaniya is close to the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. These cabins cost QAR 740 a night for single accommodation (around Rs16,600).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tents—traditional Bedouin style—will come up in the deserts around Doha. Out of the 1,000 or so tents, 200 will be luxury segment, said Omar Al Jabar, head of accommodation, SC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Service apartments range from one-bedroom to six-bedroom options, complete with a kitchen and living room. The two cruise liners that will anchor in Doha will provide a combined capacity of 4,000 cabins, officials said. The ships will have swimming pools, bars, cinemas, tennis and basketball courts, spas, fitness centres, shopping centres and night clubs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In total, 1.3 lakh rooms are ready for the teams and the fans, according to the SC, and this is seen as enough. But, how? When FIFA says the average attendance is 35 lakh to 50 lakh. According to the SC, the number of people attending the World Cups is lower than the official attendance figures. Because one person books tickets for multiple matches and is counted among the attendees more than once. Discounting this duplication, the SC expects around 15 lakh spectators. Also, Qatar residents can accommodate up to 10 visitors (family and friends) by registering them on the official platform.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, other Gulf countries are also preparing to receive fans. The UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia will issue 60-day, multiple-entry visas to visitors with match tickets and hayya cards (fan identity cards issued by Qatar). Dubai is preparing to accommodate 10 lakh football fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Fly Dubai and Air Arabia had announced shuttles to Doha, but only the former is taking bookings. If there is to be a change in plans now, it would cause major headaches to fans. Many European fans have already booked rooms in Dubai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fly Dubai is issuing shuttle tickets to those with the hayya card and a ticket for a particular match; the return ticket should be within 24 hours. Economy class shuttle tickets cost $258 (around Rs21,000); business class is at $998 (around Rs81,000). Fares are non-refundable, and no check-in baggage; hand baggage allowance is 7kg in economy and 14kg in business. Time/date of bookings can be changed, subject to availability, for a charge of $50 (around Rs4,000). Moreover, fans who are taking the shuttle must ensure that they touchdown in Doha at least four hours before kick-off time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brigadier Abdullah Khalifa Al Muftah, director of public relations, ministry of interior affairs, Qatar, told THE WEEK that entry for non-World Cup visitors would be suspended from November 1. “Their entry will resume only from December 23,” he said. “Holders of hayya card will be allowed to enter until December 23 and they can stay on until January 23, 2023. Qatari citizens, residents and GCC citizens with a Qatari ID card, holders of personnel recruitment visas and work entry permits [would be exempted from the regulation].” He added that exceptions for humanitarian cases will be made. The restrictions, he added, are applicable for air, land and water borders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 20,000 volunteers of different nationalities will handle crowd control. Qatar has set up an International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) to handle the security and to control mobs. It will have representation from police forces of all countries playing in the World Cup; the Turkish contingent is 3,250 strong. A NATO force will also be present to deal with chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear threats, and to handle VIP security. The Interpol will be present, and the US department of homeland security (DHS) will send its intelligence wing. The DHS transportation security agency will help to check luggage and the US Cyber Security Infrastructure Agency will also assist Qatar. Surveillance cameras will use artificial intelligence. Brigadier General Al Muhandi, head, safety and security committee of the interior department, said such an integrated security system is a first for a sports event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Qatar has overcome a lot since winning its bid 12 years ago. Challenges include allegations of corruption and of abusive work conditions, an economic blockade and then Covid-19. Through all of it, Qatar stayed on track. And come November, there is only football. All roads will lead to stadiums. Schools will remain closed, work from home will be adopted and no private vehicles will be allowed on roads. The public transport system is expected to be sufficient for both residents and visitors. Hayya card holders can use it for free from November 10 to December 23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Normally, purchasing alcohol in Qatar requires a special licence. During the World Cup, liquor will be available at designated areas and no other restrictions have been announced. This is not the only “compromise” Qatar will have to make. It has been announced that the LGBTQ+ community has no reason to fear as FIFA’s code of inclusion and tolerance would be followed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tolerance is not a foreign concept in Qatar. Only about five lakh of the population are Qataris. But, while immigrants adapt to the ways of Qatar, football fans may not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Muhammad Al Atwani is optimistic. He is the project manager of the widely discussed Stadium 974, aka the container stadium. The 974 in the name—the number of containers used—is also Qatar’s international dialling code. Or, as Al Atwani, says: “Now, it is the welcome call for the world.”</p> Sat Nov 19 12:02:29 IST 2022 qatar-world-cup-pedri-foden-vinicius-and-other-young-turk-to-watch-out-for <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>IT WAS BOTH inconsequential and monumental. This oxymoron sums up the debut of Arsenal teenager Ethan Nwaneri on September 18. His team was leading 3-0 and he was brought on only in the 90th minute. But, at 15, Nwaneri became the youngest player ever in the Premier League, widely seen as the toughest league in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said the 'exposure trip' was part of a three-year plan to develop Nwaneri, a Nigeria-born England under-16 international who is in Arsenal's under-21 setup. So, it is clear that Nwaneri's rise to stardom is a few years away (if things go well).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there are a few “next big things” who have arrived, earlier than expected in many cases. In fact, players born this millennium feature among the most recognised names in world football now. Some of them are set to go to their first World Cup and can have a major impact if called upon. Here are the 10 best young players to keep an eye out for at Qatar 2022: &nbsp;</p> Sat Nov 19 11:05:12 IST 2022 qatar-world-cup-modric-benzema-eriksen-and-other-comeback-stories <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>David Beckham went to France 1998 as England’s “Golden Boy”. In the round of 16, he acted like a child—kicking Diego Simeone after the Argentine fouled him. He was sent off; England were eliminated. Millions of fans saw Beckham as the cause for the team’s exit. Tabloids turned toxic. One even printed a dartboard with Beckham’s face on the bulls-eye and the 23-year-old was hanged in effigy in London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three years later, Beckham, as captain, scored a stunning free-kick in added time to secure England’s spot at the 2002 World Cup. He would also score the winner against Argentina at the tournament. Beckham’s comeback, remarkable as it was, is just one of many such tales football has given us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another David (Martindale), for example, went from youth player at Scottish giant Rangers to a life in organised crime. He was arrested in 2004, aged 29, served time, and then, slowly, built a career in football as a respected manager (now at Livingston in the Scottish first division).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Football also facilitated the redemption of Bert Trautmann, a Nazi soldier brought to Lancashire as a prisoner of war. He settled there, engaged in farming and goalkeeping for the local team. He moved to top-tier Manchester City in 1949. Fans protested, but he won them over and entered football folklore after playing with a broken neck, and making crucial saves in City’s 1956 FA Cup final win. He was voted as player of the year by English football writers. Trautmann, who died in 2013 at 89, was appointed an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More recently, Junior Messias went from failed youth player to Serie A winner. Along the way, he was, as an undocumented migrant in Italy, a brick polisher and a delivery man. Messias, 31, is now a regular for AC Milan (and a legal resident), but he would find it difficult to break into Brazil’s World Cup squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While we may not see Messias in Qatar, there are a few—almost certain to be called up for World Cup duty—who had to overcome their own distinct challenges. These are their stories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Luka Modric</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only man not named Messi or Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or (2018) since 2008. Modric has been lucky to not experience too many downs in his career. There was a struggle to establish himself at Real Madrid, after joining for €30 million in 2012. He eventually cemented his place and is key even now, aged 37.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the Croatian saw much adversity in his personal life. He fled his village aged six after Serbian militia executed his grandfather and burned down the family home. His family fled to the coastal city of Zadar, where Modric found refuge in football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as he dazzled onlookers with his talent, there was heartbreak in store—rejection by Hajduk Split, the club he supported. But, Modric got his chance at the biggest club in Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb. At Dinamo, he met Zdravko Mamic—once regarded the most powerful man in Croatian football, now a fugitive convicted for tax evasion and embezzlement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, Modric testified at Mamic’s trial. In an alleged attempt to protect Mamic, he modified his statement and was charged with perjury. Croatia’s captain went to Russia 2018 with a possible prison sentence hanging over him. Moreover, the case was being followed closely by fans, who were sick of corruption in the football setup. So, Modric’s reputation in his homeland hit an all-time low.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seemed to take a toll on the normally cool Croatian. When asked by a reporter at the World Cup if the case was a distraction, Modric responded: “Nothing smarter to ask? It’s a World Cup, not about other things. How long did you prepare to ask this kind of question?” As it turned out, his performances in the tournament answered the reporter’s question. Neither Modric nor his team were distracted. He led Croatia to the final and won the Golden Ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Croatian journalists maintain that there are those who will never forgive Modric. But, as the captain stood atop an open bus in Zagreb in July 2018, thanking his people for their support, he could not be blamed for thinking he had earned back their embrace. After all, more than half a million had gathered to welcome the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Thiago Silva</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may now be difficult for younger football fans to remember a time when Silva was not counted among the world’s best defenders. But, the journey to the top has been a difficult one for the Brazilian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He began his youth career with Fluminense as a defensive midfielder. Opportunities for progression were limited and he tried to get a transfer. After four unsuccessful trials, he signed for a lower-division team. Silva got a move to top-division Juventude in 2003. Under coach Ivo Wortmann, he transitioned into a defender. A stellar season prompted European champions Porto to pay €2.5 million for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2005 Silva arrived in Portugal with a big reputation, but he did not play for Porto’s senior team in his first six months. The 20-year-old was unable to match the pace of his teammates and kept complaining of flu-like symptoms. Porto’s doctors could not find the source of his illness. The club lost patience with him and he was shipped out to Dynamo Moscow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He never played for Dynamo either. But, Russian doctors found the source of his troubles—tuberculosis. Said Silva: “The doctors told me I would be sidelined for 12 weeks because the lungs were compromised.” By the time he recovered, he had not played a match for almost two years. Silva decided to retire, aged 22, and returned to Brazil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His mother, Angela, would have none of it. After all, in the crime-infested locality of Rio de Janeiro where Silva grew up, there were not a lot of “good jobs”. Wortmann, who had taken over at Fluminense, gave his former star pupil a second chance. Silva returned to his boyhood club, but this time as a starter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He played over 100 times for Fluminense in the next three years, establishing himself as one of Brazil’s best defenders. He earned his nickname, The Monster, and made his Brazil debut in 2008. In 2009, he returned to Europe with AC Milan for €10 million. Soon, the football world was abuzz with talk of Milan’s Monster—a defender you just could not dribble past. This time, Silva lived up to the billing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2012, Paris Saint-Germain made him the most expensive defender, at the time, by shelling out in excess of €40 million. After eight trophy-filled years in the French capital, Silva moved to the English capital in a free transfer to Chelsea. He will turn 38 in September, but continues to be a key player for both Chelsea and Brazil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Karim Benzema</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Benzema is the favourite to win the 2022 Ballon d’Or in October. If he does so, he will be the second man other than Messi or Ronaldo to win the award since 2008, after club colleague Modric.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Modric, Benzema, too, initially struggled to establish himself at Real, the club he had joined for €35 million in 2009. But, he improved year-on-year and became part of the team’s celebrated attacking trio alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale—dubbed BBC. The Frenchman is also like Modric in that his troubles were not on the ground, but in the courtroom. But, unlike Modric, he was convicted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Algerian-born striker has never been far from controversy. He has often been criticised for his reluctance to sing the French national anthem. He was caught in a scandal in 2010 for allegedly hiring an underage prostitute. The charge was dropped in 2014. But, a year later, he was arrested for his alleged role in blackmailing France teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex-tape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then French prime minister Manuel Valls responded to the case with: “A great athlete should be exemplary. If he is not, he has no place in the France team.” Benzema was suspended from the national team in December 2015. He was kept out of the French squad till the case came to a conclusion. In 2021, he was given a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of €75,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During this exile, Benzema developed into one of the world’s best players. But, he did not always behave with grace. In March 2020, he said that Olivier Giroud, who led the line as France won at Russia 2018, was karting, while he was Formula 1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Benzema’s redemption in French colours is an unfolding narrative. The 34-year-old was injured on September 7, but is expected to recover well before the World Cup. In Qatar, he would have the support of, arguably, the strongest team, on paper. Nothing less than glory would do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Andrew Redmayne</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike the others featured on these pages, Redmayne was never a bona fide star. The goalkeeper did star for Australia at the youth level and came close to securing a contract with Arsenal in London. But, it did not quite materialise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 33-year-old, from Central Coast, New South Wales, has, so far, spent his entire club career in Australia. He started with Central Coast Mariners in 2008 and hopped from club to club, never managing to hold down a starting place. In 2015, he joined Western Sydney Wanderers, his fourth club in seven years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, after a particularly bad run of form, the 27-year-old started feeling as if he had no future in football. “Self-belief came into it,” he told The Guardian in 2022. “I just did not think I was good enough, to be honest. It was a pretty rough stage of my life.” He completed a barista course and was ready to start work at a cafe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, just as he was about to give up, his club informed him that he would have go to Sydney FC as part of a player swap. Sydney was then managed by Graham Arnold and the goalkeeping coach was John Crawley, who was Redmayne’s first goalkeeping coach. He helped Redmayne recover his confidence and form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the start of the next season, Redmayne became Sydney’s first-choice keeper. At the end of the season, he was voted into the player’s choice team of the year as the best goalkeeper in the league. In 2019-2020, he won the expert’s choice goalkeeper of the year award and, in 2022, he made the Australian league’s all-star team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arnold took over the Australia team in 2018 and Crawley joined his staff. Redmayne finally got a national call-up in 2019. He made his second appearance for the side in 2021 and is now the back-up for team captain Mathew Ryan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 13, 2022, Australia played Peru in an intercontinental play-off match for World Cup qualification. In the 120th minute, with the match heading to a 0-0 draw, Redmayne was substituted in for Ryan with the penalty shoot-out in mind. He saved the decisive penalty to book Australia’s ticket to Qatar 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Gareth Bale</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Real Madrid paid a then world record fee of around €100 million to bring Bale—the other B in BBC—to Spain in 2013. While the other two Real players featured were affected by issues off the pitch, the Welshman suffered recurring injuries and fell out of favour with the notoriously impatient fan base of the Spanish giants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was always clear that Bale’s best attributes were physical. Two-and-half years before Real signed him, Spanish newspaper El Mundo wrote: “Bale combines the height and build of an 800-metre runner with the acceleration and directness of a rugby winger.” As it transpired, it was his explosive physicality that prevented him from holding on to his position among the world’s elite. “As he generates so much power, a bad warm-up or a cold day can mean that he [gets injured],” Juande Ramos, who had managed Bale at Tottenham Hotspur, told Goal in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Bale spent more time out injured, malcontents in Madrid targeted him, despite his decisive performances in big matches. Local media criticised him for not being fluent in Spanish. A TV presenter joked: “Sell him and say ‘Thank you’, because ‘Gracias’ he won’t understand.” The evident drop-off in his physical attributes also added to his unpopularity among fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, despite his troubles at club-level, the Welsh captain has continued to be the talisman for his national side. He was pivotal in the team qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years. In the last two qualifying matches—play-off wins against Austria (2-1) and Ukraine (1-0), Bale scored all three goals. Against Austria, in particular, he carried the team to victory almost singlehandedly. Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey explained the phenomenon of ‘Wales Bale’ as follows: “The Welsh public are so grateful to have a Gareth Bale that they don’t put pressure on him. They’re just so happy we have a player of that quality. Even if Gareth had the worst game of his life, scored a couple of own goals and got sent off, Welsh fans would never lambast him. They appreciate that we are lucky, as a small country, to have a superstar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bale, 33, finally left Real Madrid this year to join Los Angeles FC. Perhaps, without the negativity from Madrid, Bale can roll back the years and give a good account of himself on the grandest stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Christian Eriksen</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout his career, Eriksen has been highly regarded for his ability to orchestrate the attack, his work-rate and football intelligence. When he collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game at Euro 2020, in June 2021, it seemed like his career was over, aged only 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, the immediate concern was for Erisken’s well-being. Fears regarding the Dane’s survival were based in the deaths of hundreds of players attributed to sudden cardiac arrests or other unexplained causes while playing or shortly after playing. The FIFA Sudden Death Report, published in 2020, said that 617 footballers had died in the five-year period from 2014 to 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was hence much relief when, three days later, Eriksen posted a selfie from hospital along with a statement that he was fine “under the circumstances”. It was announced that he would be fitted with an implantable device, “necessary due to rhythm disturbances”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months after his cardiac arrest, Eriksen’s Italian club Inter Milan terminated his €10-million-a-year contract. Eriksen returned to his roots and began training at his boyhood club Odense Boldklub. On January 31, 2022, he signed for Premier League club Brentford on a six-month contract.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brentford, which was competing in the top flight for the first time in 74 years, was sliding down the table when Eriksen joined. In the 10 matches he started, he played the full 90 minutes every time and the team lost only twice. The seven wins and one draw added up to 22 points—almost half of the team’s season total—and propelled it to a respectable 13th place finish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manager Thomas Frank was ecstatic. “You can give it to Christian and he’ll always find a solution,” he said, after a 4-1 win against Chelsea. Frank also praised Eriksen’s determination to play in the World Cup. Eriksen is now a starter for Manchester United on a contract worth close to €9 million-a-year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He returned to international football on March 26, 2022, and scored two minutes into his comeback. He also scored in his second match back for Denmark, three days later.</p> Sat Nov 19 12:02:43 IST 2022 chess-gukesh-is-improving-by-the-day-raising-indias-hopes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN GRANDMASTER DOMMARAJU</b> Gukesh, 16, beat world number five Fabiano Caruana of the US in the recently concluded Chess Olympiad, he was asked at a post-match press conference: “You seem relaxed, happy, calm and confident—is that part of your personality?” The response from the Chennai boy was a serious “I am not sure,” followed by a thoughtful shrug.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You cannot blame the Indian teen for being economical with words; too much is happening in his world this year. “His evolution has been rapid and progress phenomenal,” Grandmaster and coach R.B. Ramesh told THE WEEK. The boy from Korattur in west Chennai not only helped his team (Team 2) win bronze at the Olympiad, but also won gold on the top board ahead of the Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattorov and world champion Magnus Carlsen. His eight-match winning streak at the Olympiad has been compared to former world champion Vladimir Kramnik's run at the 1992 edition—he had also won eight in a row. Gukesh beat Caruana, Alexei Shirov and Gabriel Sargissian, and drew with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. They are all at least 14 years his senior and above him in the FIDE rankings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barely a week after the Olympiad, Gukesh was back in action in the Isbank Turkish Super League. Representing the Turkish Airlines Sports Club (THY), he won his first three games against grandmasters Aryan Gholami, Andrey Esipenko and Vahap Sanal. His live rating is now 2726.5, and he is only behind Viswanathan Anand among Indian players. He is also the third youngest player (after Wei Yi and Alireza Firouzja) to reach 2700 in the classical format.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was no surprise that he went to Turkey so soon after a major event. He had, along with fellow Indian teen Arjun Erigaisi, played a string of tournaments as the Covid-19 lockdowns eased worldwide. They were thirsty for competition. “They just played consecutively without any break. This is very unique to these two,” said Ramesh. “They were relying more on practical strength and confidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gukesh was seven when his parents—Rajnikanth, an ENT specialist, and Padma, a microbiologist—introduced him to chess. “He became crazy about chess from a very young age,” Padma told THE WEEK. The passion only grew stronger with each passing year, but not at the expense of other interests. According to Padma, he also follows and plays cricket, reads books (mostly biographies of sportspersons), plays badminton and table tennis, and enjoys get-togethers with friends and family during his time off from the board. Padma has one complaint, though: “He is a fussy eater at home, but eats whatever he gets while travelling for competitions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the credit for Gukesh being grounded despite the recent success goes to his parents. They realised he was serious about chess and did not push him to be studious. Pravin Thipsay, India's third-ever grandmaster, calls them Gukesh's “mentors”. “He is always in a positive frame of mind irrespective of the opponent he is playing,” he told THE WEEK. “He is composed and confident. His parents deserve huge credit for that, especially his father.” Rajnikanth is currently with his son in Turkey (August 16 to 27), ensuring that all of his needs are met.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot is expected of him,” said Thipsay. “He is the youngest among the current lot of emerging players. What is key is that he is improving not by the year or month, but every day. There is a great deal of maturity in his play. Even Anand did not win a gold while playing on the top board in the Olympiad.” Thipsay even said it was “better than any performance by an Indian in an Olympiad”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was particularly impressed by Gukesh's game against Caruana. “There were some three or four moves he made that sort of surprised us,” he said. “We had seen Anand doing that when he was 21 or 22.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>GM V. Vishnu Prasanna, who has coached Gukesh since 2017, said he was “very resourceful” against Caruana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a recent interview to THE WEEK, Anand described Gukesh as “hardworking and courageous”. “He takes good openings and fights well with anyone,” he had said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His tenacity is what separates Gukesh from others in the Indian youth brigade that is charging up the ratings. Most experts feel that Gukesh and a few others could touch 2800 in a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His hectic schedule, though, has divided the chess fraternity. “[R.] Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin are choosy and selective,” said Ramesh. Thipsay, though, said there was nothing to worry: “[Garry] Kasparov would play six to eight tournaments a year, but [Anatoly] Karpov would compete in over 12. Both were successful. It (workload) has to match the personality of the person.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prasanna had recently said that he had “never stopped Gukesh from playing continuously”. However, he did hint during the Olympiad that Gukesh would become more choosy after the Turkish League. “There would not be enough opens for him to play,” he said. “Opens would not make sense after this. So, he would be playing in leagues and whatever invites he gets to closed events.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gukesh, for his part, has great clarity on what he wants to do. After becoming a grandmaster at 12, he made it clear that his ultimate goal was to be world champion. “Magnus Carlsen was 22 when he became one,” he had said, “and I will try to get there before him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The doubting Thomases may laugh at this dream, but Thipsay is not one of them. “Most of the eventual world champions reached the top 10 by the age of 22 or 23,” he said. “[Gukesh] can get into the top 10 well before he turns 20. There is an excellent chance of him taking aim at the world championships eventually.”</p> Sat Aug 27 12:31:47 IST 2022 how-a-wrestling-crazy-town-in-karnataka-is-churning-out-champions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IF THE FIELDS OF HARYANA</b> grow a golden crop of wrestlers, a garden in Karnataka is planting seeds of its own. Mudhol, a wrestling-crazy town in Bagalkote district, has quietly been churning out grapplers with the potential to reach podiums. The latest being 17-year-old Ningappa Genannavar, who won the Under-17 Asian Championships gold in 45kg freestyle at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His “alma mater”, the Jai Hanuman Vyayam Shaala—an akhada at Shivaji Circle in Mudhol—has produced other winners, including Sandeep Kate (silver, 2016 Commonwealth Championships) and Sunil Padtare (silver, World School Games).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The love for wrestling comes naturally to the people of Mudhol. The town has loved the sport since before independence, thanks to the patronage of the local king Nanasaheb Ghorpade. And though the support ended when Karnataka became an Indian state, a veteran wrestler Ningappa Vastada started the Vyayam Shaala to nurture new talent. The three-storey akhada, sandwiched between buildings, comes to life at dawn when trainees, as young as seven, throng the gym to hone their skills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnataka’s traditional garadi mane (wrestling houses) are reinventing themselves to become modern wrestling centres. In 2010, Govind Karjol, a minister in the B.S. Yediyurappa government, had ensured that the Mudhol akhada got a new hall and a mat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the akhada has a traditional mud pit on the ground floor, a mat hall on the third floor, and posters of Sushil Kumar, Bajrang Punia, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sakshi Malik on the walls. It is also a symbol of communal harmony—Bajrang Bali and Ali Moulaali share space and are worshipped every Saturday and Thursday, respectively. “It is a unique legacy of this place and sports always brings unity among people,” says Arun Kumakale, Ningappa’s coach in Mudhol and a kusti sahayak (wrestling assistant) at the taluk stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The akhada flaunts its long list of achievers in its hall of fame on the first floor. There are banners with photos of students who have won medals in state-level competitions and got selected to government sports hostels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We offer free training to all 70 students (including girls) at our centre,” says Kumakale. “Every year, at least a handful of them get selected by the various sports hostels in the state, while many win medals at the state and the national level. At our akhada, we catch them early. We do not train them in wrestling, but let them play and observe senior wrestlers practise. That motivates them to pursue the sport and also develop stamina quite early in life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says former grappler Kalmesh Hanagodi: “In Mudhol, people’s support has been good. Every year, we organise state-level tournaments fully funded by our patrons. The wrestlers from Mudhol have always [done well] in state- and national-level championships. We need a sports hostel in Mudhol as there are enough promising wrestlers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though international competitions and medals are the goal, traditional wrestling is not neglected. In fact, it is still a huge draw during local fairs and festivals. The kusti mannu (wrestling soil) is a special variety brought from the hills of Gokak in Belagavi. “The mud is treated with buttermilk, lemon juice, camphor and coconut oil to help retain its fertility,” says Kumakale. “It is therapeutic, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mudhol natives frequent the akhada and take a personal interest in the progress of the wrestlers. They spend their evenings watching the training sessions and offering tips to the grapplers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For parents in the area, it is the lure of a government job that makes them encourage their children to take up wrestling. “Sportspersons get preference in government jobs, be it in the police or the railways,” says Kumakale. “During the pandemic, parents realised the importance of a healthy body and mind. They want their children to indulge in fitness activities rather than falling prey to some form of addiction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2001, Kumakale won a silver medal in the nationals but could not continue; his father’s death plunged the family into financial uncertainty. Poverty is common in many north Karnataka households. Ningappa’s family is no exception. “Ningappa and his elder brother Baramappa used to walk four kilometres every morning to reach the akhada, practised for two hours and went back home before rushing to school,” says Kumakale. “He would also come to the akhada in the evening. He has made us all proud as he did not let anything get in his way, not even poverty. Wrestling is a costly affair. Many children who come here have little to eat but it is their passion to learn wrestling that keeps them going. Sometimes, I cut down on the exercise when I realise they have not had food. My students attend practice sessions in the morning and evening for two hours each. That is why they qualify for admission into the state-run sports hostels in Davanagere, Belagavi, Haliyal, Bagalkote and Gadag every year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Hanagodi, who was a student of Ningappa Vastada and made it to the Belagavi sports hostel in 2001: “Today, the sport has moved from the mud to the mat and students are being trained for free. The government should support aspiring wrestlers by extending monetary benefits as most children are poor and cannot afford nutritious food or training.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Ningappa’s father, Prakash, a landless labourer: “My elder son got into the Belagavi hostel. But because we did not have enough money, we called him back within a year. Ningappa was always determined. When he was 13, he went alone to Mysuru to take part in a competition; I did not have the money to go with him. I had managed his travel expense by selling our goat for Rs3,000.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was in class four, Ningappa could not get into the nearest sports hostel as he weighed just 25 kilos—the prescribed weight for his age group was 32 kilos. He was again rejected in high school. However, he remained focused and won seven gold medals in state-level championships and came third in the nationals held in Kota, Rajasthan. He was then picked to train at the National Centre of Excellence in Sonepat, Haryana, in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prakash says he is happy with his son’s latest gold, but is also worried about money. “My annual income has never exceeded Rs50,000 and the expenses are touching Rs3 lakh. At the hostel, he would need milk, ghee, almonds, fruits and supplements, and all these are additional expenses which need to be borne by the family. I wish the government supports my son and all other children who are pursuing their goal in sports.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ningappa’s journey is just starting. After his gold in Kyrgyzstan, the young grappler lost in the first round at the Under-17 World Championships in Rome. He was outclassed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His journey, however, has inspired many back home. Prabhavati, a class five student, started training when she was five and has got admission into the Dharwad sports hostel. “I love wrestling and I am happy that I got direct admission into the hostel as I had won gold in local tournaments,” she says. “One day, I hope to win a national tournament, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mudhol hopes for the same, and more.</p> Sat Aug 27 12:25:22 IST 2022 qatar-2022-why-messi-has-the-edge-over-ronaldo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WATER, OLIVE OIL,</b> whole grain, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. These, reportedly, form the foundation of Lionel Messi’s diet. He loves chicken and beef, but, clearly, he loves football more. His great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, is known to have a regimen that is even more rigorous. It would be an understatement to say their discipline has paid off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two greatest players of their generation, and arguably of all time, continue to be at the top of world football well into their 30s (despite what the list of nominees for the 2022 Ballon d’Or would have you believe; but, more about that later). But, a decade and more of dominance would not be enough for them. If they are to retire without having won a FIFA World Cup, it would haunt them both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will Qatar 2022 be their final opportunity to right this wrong? It is difficult to say for sure. After all, there was much talk about how Russia 2018 could be their last chance. Yet, here they are, set to lead their nations at another World Cup. Moreover, in recent years, many top footballers have managed to extend their careers at the highest level—Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the Serie A with AC Milan in 2022, aged 40; 34-year-old Frenchman Karim Benzema is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or this year after a stellar campaign for Real Madrid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, it would be wrong to assume that Messi and Ronaldo will not be able to continue at the highest level into their 40s. It is not even unprecedented—England’s Sir Stanley Matthews, who won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956, played, at the top level, till he was 50, and then famously said he had retired too early. Also, players now have more protection from the kind of fouls that shortened the careers of past greats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, for Messi, 35, and Ronaldo, 37, to continue at the top, a lot has to go right. For them to fall, only a few things have to go wrong. It could be recurring injuries. Or even a transfer that goes awry—difficult to fix as few clubs can afford them, and their sell-on values will depreciate with age. Ronaldo is finding this out the hard way after his return to Manchester United ahead of the 2021-2022 season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He scored 18 goals and provided three assists in 30 league appearances for the worst United team in 32 years (lowest points total). He was voted into the Premier League’s team of the year as its best striker—especially noteworthy because the English league is considered the most physically demanding in the world. In the UEFA Champion’s League, Ronaldo carried United through the group stage (six goals in five matches), only for the team to be eliminated in the round of 16. So, unless Ronaldo secures a move to a better-run club, he may find it difficult to win trophies and hold on to his place among the world’s elite players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Messi, after an emotional move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-2022 season, initially struggled for form. But, his starring role in Argentina’s 2021 Copa America triumph won him the year’s Ballon d’Or. He ended the league season with six goals and 14 assists from 26 matches. In the Champion’s League, he scored five goals in seven matches. PSG won the league comfortably, but the club’s round of 16 exit in Europe was a disappointment. Messi, it can be said, did not meet the high standards he has set. Hence, his omission from the Ballon d’Or nominee list, announced on August 12, is only logical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From the way Messi has started the 2022-2023 season, it is clear that his absence from the annual list of the world’s best players is only temporary. As of August 16, Messi had three goals and one assist from three competitive matches for PSG. The team won all three, scoring 14 goals and conceding only twice. Ronaldo, by contrast, has not scored in two appearances and has seen United lose both matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Furthermore, Messi’s club is the perennial favourite to win the French league and cup. And, it is focusing all its energy, and its considerable resources, towards clinching a maiden Champion’s League trophy. Therefore, it is evident that Messi is in a better position than Ronaldo with regard to club careers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For their national teams, both remain indispensable. One need only look at their most recent matches for irrefutable evidence of the same. In June, Argentina beat Italy (3-0) and Estonia (5-0). Messi played the full 180 minutes and scored five and assisted two of the eight goals. Portugal’s most recent fixtures were against Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland again. In the first two games, Ronaldo played 180 minutes, the team won (4-0 and 2-0) and he scored or assisted half the goals. In the third match—the second meeting with Switzerland in seven days—Ronaldo was rested. And, the team, tellingly, was beaten 1-0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For both Messi and Ronaldo, the biggest difference between Qatar 2022 and the past World Cups will be that they have support from strong squads. For instance, a lack of depth in defence had been a problem for Argentina for a long time. The emergence of centre-backs Cristian Romero (on loan at Tottenham Hotspur) and Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United)—both 24—have helped address that issue. There are also experienced heads like Benfica’s Nicolas Otamendi, 34, to fall back on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez, 29, has developed into a top class goalkeeper and is adept at penalty shootouts. The midfield has quality and depth, with Atletico Madrid’s Rodrigo De Paul, 28, expected to control the centre and Juventus’s Angel Di Maria, 34, still capable of making a major impact from the flank. The attack is exciting, as always. But, there is also a good blend of experience and youth. Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez, 24, is likely to lead the line. Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez, 22, is a highly regarded prospect and Roma’s Paulo Dybala, 28, who was underused in past editions, remains a bonafide game changer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Portugal side has its best squad since the days of Rui Costa and Luis Figo (who retired in 2004 and 2006, respectively). The 2022 Ballon d’Or nominee list included four Portuguese players—Ronaldo, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva (both 28 and signed to Manchester City) and AC Milan’s Rafael Leao, 23. The only other country with four nominees is France. The Portugal team also has a world-class centre-back, City’s Ruben Dias, 25, and can call upon the 39-year-old Pepe (Porto) to bolster its defence. It has enviable depth in all positions. The attack, notably, features Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix, 22, and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, 25. The frequently outstanding Rui Patricio, 34, who is contracted to Roma, guards its goal. Overall, the squad seems stronger than Argentina, on paper. But, football is not played on paper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Portugal team was one of the pre-tournament favourites for Euro 2020. But, it never produced the best version of itself. To be fair, it was drawn into the group of death with France, Germany and a resolute Hungary. And, after it edged into the knockout rounds, it had to content with a strong Belgium side and lost. But, the way the team got itself into trouble during World Cup qualifiers is a bigger problem. It had to go through the play-offs to get to the World Cup. The talent in the team means that Ronaldo no longer has to do everything himself. But, it just has not clicked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems absurd to suggest that coach Fernando Santos could be the problem. The 67-year-old is a proven winner and had guided the team to its first major international trophy (Euro 2016). He also oversaw the triumph in the 2019 Nations League. But, his defensive tactics have, at least recently, stifled and visibly frustrated his creative players. It is worth considering that Santos is perhaps not the right man to get the best out of Portugal’s flair players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Argentina side is in imperious form. The team is unbeaten since its defeat to Brazil in the semifinals of the 2019 Copa America. In the three years since, it has played 33 matches, winning 22. Coach Lionel Scaloni, 44, has built a fluid unit around Messi and the captain has grown into a true leader on the pitch. The team plays for each other and has excellent chemistry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Argentina team has also got a relatively easier group at Qatar 2022. Group C has it pitted against Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. Only the Poland team, led by 2020 and 2021 Best FIFA Men’s Player Robert Lewandowski, 33, is capable of challenging the Argentines. The La Albiceleste, therefore, should top its group. For Argentina, the semifinals would be a realistic target.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Portugal team has to contend with Uruguay, Ghana and South Korea in Group H. This is a much tougher group, but, Portugal’s biggest threat will still be Portugal. It is crucial for the team to finish first. If it does, it could avoid pre-tournament favourites like Brazil, France, England and Spain till the semifinal stage. This is, of course, assuming that all big teams perform to their potential. (That, admittedly, does not always happen at World Cups.) But, if Portugal are only able to finish second, they are highly likely to meet Brazil in the round of 16.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Portugal players get their act together and rally around their talismanic leader, the team has a chance to go deep into the tournament. But, if not, it is likely to find it hard to get past the round of 16. While neither Argentina nor Portugal maybe among the bookmaker’s favourites, the Argentina team is not far off. Therefore, as with their club careers, at the World Cup, too, Messi is better placed than Ronaldo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, as Ronaldo fans regularly shout from the rooftops and on YouTube: “Underestimate CR7 at Your Own Peril.”</p> Sun Aug 21 08:22:55 IST 2022 will-win-on-senior-tour-for-my-parents-says-jeev-milkha-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The monsoon has arrived in Thailand; but the clouds have taken a break over the weekend in Phuket. The sun shines brightly over Laguna Phuket and the luxurious pool villas nestled around a lagoon at The Banyan Tree, and the Laguna Golf Phuket golf course. Measuring 6,756 yards, the 18-hole, par-71 course features scenic lagoons, coconut groves and undulating fairways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jeev Milkha Singh, India’s number one golfer, is all set to share his learning of the game in the splendid setting. Singh, 50, who turned pro in 1993, starts with the must-haves in his golf bag apart from the wealth of experience of playing on myriad courses all around the world. “I carry 15-16 clubs in my golf bag,” he says. And then he takes out an old battered club which he uses to line himself up to make sure his “alignment is correct”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He then goes on to share his golfing mantra—the line he repeats as often as he can. “Golf is not about hitting it as far with strength but with rhythm. What works is good rhythmic swing. Your muscles stay coordinated each time.” Easier said than done; he smiles and agrees with a nod of his head.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the deeply ingrained golfing lessons have not changed over the weeks, months, years and decades of being on tour for the first Indian to compete and win on the European Tour and the first Indian to play in a Masters Tournament (Augusta 2007), what has changed is some training routines and schedule, and career goals. Earlier, Jeev would hit 300 golf balls a day while practicing. “Nowadays I hit maybe 100,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the senior-most golf pro in India, Jeev has seen a lot. With no peers, he had to learn through his own mistakes and yet come up with results. He has wins on the Asian Tour, the Japan Tour, the European Tour and fine finishes on the PGA Tour. The four-time winner on the top European and Japanese circuits was also the first Indian to break into the world’s top 50 and finish in the top 10 of a Major when he tied 9th at the 2008 PGA Championship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But golf took a back seat when he lost both his parents—the legendary Milkha Singh and Nirmal Kaur—to Covid-19 in quick succession in 2021. For six months he did not touch a club. But another budding golfer in the family, his 12-year-old son Harjai, helped him shake the trauma off and get back to golf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jeev has returned to golf as part pro and part Senior Tour player by making a gradual move to the Senior Tour in July with a tournament in Scotland. In a freewheeling chat with THE WEEK, he speaks about his plans as a senior pro, how he struggled to cope with the loss of his parents, the prospects of the rebel circuit and what he sees in his son. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are playing on the Senior Tour now. How would you describe this phase?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When I joined the Senior Tour, they said ‘baby has joined us’. Reminds me of when I became a professional golfer at 21. I started my professional career in Asia, and now I have started my Senior Tour at 50, in Japan. The good part of the Senior Tour is, I’ll put it this way, it’s my retirement or pension fund. Because there are no cuts on Senior Tour. It is only for three days. Everybody gets paid and there are only 60 to 80 guys playing. That is the good part of it. You see guys 60 plus, so fit and hitting the ball so far. People think the Senior Tour is not competitive, but it is very competitive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you balance Senior Tour and regular Pro Tour events?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am going to play about 11 events on Senior Tour in Japan, eight or nine on European Tour, and I will play regular seven to nine events on the Asian Tour. That is enough for me, because with time and age I realised that my body can’t keep up. I want to last till around 60 plus on Senior Tour. If I have to do that I have to pace myself. And I want to stay competitive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was there a lot of soul searching or was it easy to get to this point?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After mom and dad passed away last year, I gave up playing golf. My son plays golf. I realised after six months of not touching my golf clubs I did not want to be a bad example for him. My father always said that you had to move on and be the right example for your children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you decided to move to the Senior Tour, was there anything left unfulfilled on the regular Pro Tour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I wanted to win a Major on the main tour. That is one thing I haven’t done. Would like to do it on Senior Tour for my parents. Those are the goals I have set for myself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you happy and satisfied with the way your career has shaped up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, I am very happy. I am very fortunate I made a living out of what I loved doing. I am self-employed, I have travelled the world, met a lot of good people, made a lot of friends all over and played the best courses. It is a fantastic game. It keeps you grounded and humble. Every week is different. Makes you the best player one week and you miss the cut next week. So it keeps you wanting more because it does not give you everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are doing golf clinics in between tournaments. You came to Laguna in Phuket. How does it work out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It works out very well. I was in any case supposed to play in Singapore; Phuket is an hour away from there. I was going to take a week off as I had played four weeks in a row. I went home, spent three days. A lot of stuff had to be done as I was away for three months. I came here yesterday, did the clinic and I’ll be off tomorrow to play in Singapore. I have already been doing these clinics. In future I will do these things more. In Senior Tour the main event starts on Friday, whereas its Thursday on the Pro Tour. So you have time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is Harjai doing in golf?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He is a good player. But to be honest I have encouraged him, but not pushed him. I feel if I push him too much right now he won’t appreciate our relationship. He will say ‘My father is pushy; he is always telling me what to do’. So I keep my distance. My friends Amritinder Singh and Jassi Grewal are coaching him. I tell them if I have to tell him something. But he loves golf, he wants to be a professional player. His heart is set on it, but golf is such that you never know what is going to come your way. You have to have an education. That is very important. So I have told him that study has to be completed. After that if you are good enough a player then turn pro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any tour in the world is competitive. These kids coming out of college are ready to win, so he better be prepared. If you are turning pro, you should be winning in the next 10 weeks! He is 12; he is very young right now. I don’t want him to miss on his childhood. Let him play different sports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Covid hit everyone. How do you see the Professional Golf Tour of India coming back and are you satisfied with quality of players?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think Uttam Mundy has done a fantastic job with PGTI. Full marks for the kind of scheduling he has produced after Covid. The treasurer and board members have done a good job. And the tour is growing. This year, it is worth 06 crore. Getting Kapil Dev on board is a good move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking about the quality of players—fantastic. I am so happy. The only thing I tell them is that ‘you have got it all; the only thing you are missing is the belief that are you good enough to win on PGTI’. That is the belief system you need.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you want to see PGTI achieve?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would like to see PGTI touch Rs20 crore in the next three years. There are three things in this. First, there is more awareness about golf in our country. Families have started understanding that children can make a living from this. Two, sponsors say it is good to be involved in the game when this happens. The third thing is because players are doing well there is awareness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the breakaway tour—LIV Golf.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If a player fulfils his commitment to whichever tour he is a member of and if he gets the opportunity to make more money, he should be allowed to do that. If I am an Asian Tour member, the minimum I have to play is seven to eight events. I do that. Then if I am given a few more events to make more money on any tour, I should be allowed to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But PGA and ET have come together to take on LIV tour. And Majors may not allow top golfers to play.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think what they should have done is sit down and sort it out. Right now just too many egos are involved. Fighting like this is not good for the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is it good for golf to have a breakaway tour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not a breakaway tour. It is good to have more money as a player. I think great players are playing for more money. Its a double-edged sword. It hurts them also. If big names are not there why would sponsors back your event?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you expect LIV tour to get bigger?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t know, but it is more money in the game. I hope and pray they sort it out.</p> Sat Aug 20 11:45:28 IST 2022 targets-will-need-to-be-redefined-for-indian-athletes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Triple jumper Eldhose Paul was India’s unlikely hero on August 7 at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham. He leaped into the history books by recording his best-ever jump of 17.03m in his third attempt, leaving behind his more fancied teammates. Returning to his base—the SAI Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru—on August 9, Paul, who hails from Kerala’s Ernakulam district, barely got the chance to rest as he had to attend multiple felicitations and also meet with his coaches, including national coach M. Harikrishnan. Now he also has a foreign coach, Denis Kapustin, appointed by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A petty officer with the Navy, Paul comes from a humble background. His father is a day labourer. He lost his mother when he was just four, and he was brought up by his grandmother. It has not been an easy journey for the 25-year-old. He had to endure multiple rejections as he was deemed unfit for disciplines like pole vault and cross-country running because of his short stature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am feeling very proud to have won this medal for my country,” said Paul. “I did not expect to win gold, but I told myself and others to give it the best. I was aiming to touch my personal best. After the fifth round, I knew I would get to the podium.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Paul’s medal was India’s first ever gold in triple jump at the CWG. India won the silver, too, with Paul’s state-mate Abdulla Aboobacker clearing 17.02m to finish second. It could well have been three out of three for India, but the more fancied Praveen Chithravel narrowly missed out on the bronze.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trio of triple jumpers now have their personal foreign coaches to train them for the Asian Games and the World Championships next year and the Paris Olympics in 2024. While Aboobacker and Paul will train with Kapustin, Chithravel will train with Cuban Yoandri Betanzos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The absence of stars like Neeraj Chopra gave a chance to many other Indian athletes to shine at the CWG. India finished fourth with a total of 61 medals–22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze. A highlight of the Indian performance was that it won medals in 12 different disciplines, including six in badminton. Athletics accounted for eight medals with one gold, four silver and three bronze.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was expecting at least 10-12 medals more, including two in discus throw. That did not happen and Neeraj was not there either. But I am satisfied with our tally, which is better than the previous CWG,” said chief national coach Radhakrishnan Nair. He admitted that the lack of medals in sprints was an issue, but put it down to injuries to main runners. Nair was particularly happy to see 3000m steeplechaser Avinash Sable win a silver and end the Kenyan hegemony in the event. “In the CWG and the World Championships, it is very difficult to get medals in track events because of the presence of Jamaican and Nigerian stars. I expect good results from Sable in the Asian Games and the World Championships. He has a new world-class coach in Scott Simons who will train him scientifically,” said Nair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sable finished a disappointing 11th at the World Championships in the US, which concluded just a week before the CWG. It was the slowest steeplechase final in the history of the championships and Sable clocked 8:31.75, his worst performance since October 2019. He, however, came back strongly to finish with a silver in Birmingham, clocking 8:11.20. Simon explained what went wrong in the World Championships. “With Olympic gold and silver medallists taking part, we expected the race to be fast,” he said. “But it became a very slow final, in fact, the slowest in history. It was a very difficult competition for somebody like Sable who does not have the experience in international competitions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking after winning the silver at the CWG, Sable said he had resolved not to repeat the mistakes he made at the World Championships. “Had I not trained in the US, I don’t think I would have won a medal at the CWG,” he said. “During the Tokyo Olympics, I was not confident. I did not believe that I could beat the Kenyans. The training with Scott, and the competitions helped me overcome that. I realised that we, too, have the capability.” Sable now looks forward to the Asian Games and the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Simons said Sable would turn the corner the next season. “If he can bring his record down to 15:10 in the 5000m race, that will help in steeplechase,” he said. “In a competition like the CWG, one cannot take a risk, but that is possible in Diamond Leagues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the long jump event, Murali Sreeshankar has been one of India’s main medal hopes for some time. And he did not disappoint, clearing 8.08m in his fifth attempt and finishing second behind LaQuan Nairn of the Bahamas. Sreeshankar is the first Indian male long jumper to win a silver at the CWG. “I am happy with my first global medal, but I feel disappointed that I could not win the gold.” The national record holder had finished seventh in the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sreeshankar was coached by his father, S. Murali, till the Tokyo Olympics. But the AFI sacked Murali after Sreeshankar’s disappointing performance in Tokyo and put Kapustin in charge. “My coach feels that I need to work on my running and take off mechanics a lot. With that, I will be able to get those good jumps more consistently in international competitions. We require more international exposure, competing with the best in the world,” said Sreeshankar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>High jumper Tejaswin Shankar has announced that he would focus on decathlon events after his bronze medal at the CWG. He had to take the AFI to court for a spot in the Birmingham contingent and was under pressure to return with a medal. “It has been a roller coaster ride,” he said. “The day I found out that I was actually going to Birmingham, the only thought that crossed my mind was that I got the opportunity, finally. How it came about was not my concern. I wanted to make the most of it. I went there with a positive mindset and won a medal for the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With knee injuries troubling him and having made his point to the AFI, Shankar has decided to focus on decathlon at the Asian Games next year. “I am not leaving high jump. I am doing decathlon because I have started doing other events like long jump and hurdles because it is not possible for me to do high jump consistently. I have injury issues which act up every now and then,” said Shankar. “I just want to be a better athlete.”</p> Sun Aug 14 12:10:49 IST 2022 interview-the-javelin-slipped-a-bit-in-the-first-throw-says-neeraj-chopra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE DAYS AHEAD</b> of a major competition tend to be rather mundane for Neeraj Chopra. At least that is how it appears from the outside. But, as the day of the event nears, Chopra gets into his zone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, on July 23, the Olympic champion threw the javelin far enough to book a place on the podium at his first World Athletics Championships, at Eugene, Oregon in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anju Bobby George, the only Indian with a podium finish at the World Championships before Chopra, was watching him from the stands. It was a 19-year wait for India; George’s long jump bronze in 2003 had put her in the history books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 24, Chopra has a gold each at the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, and now a silver at the worlds. He is already one of India’s greatest athletes. Unfortunately for him, though, he will not be defending his Commonwealth Games gold this time; he was ruled out with a groin injury days before the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His coach Klaus Bartonietz was both happy and sad about the way things panned out for Neeraj in the final. He said the organisation of the event was chaotic and his ward did not get enough time to warm up as he usually does. “Neeraj was in good shape,” Bartonietz told THE WEEK. “By his standards, the 88m throw was actually effortless. His first throw was a mess because of the organisers’ time management problems. Neeraj asked them how much time to go (he was the first to throw in the final), and he was told that time was already running! He did not get proper time to concentrate. He struggled to find his rhythm in the first two throws. I told him to get his concentration back; do his job like he did in training. It took a while before he could get this 88m. It was a great fighting effort.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Heading into Oregon, the competition between the top javelin throwers in the world was getting intense. Grenada’s Anderson Peters breached the 90m mark thrice in the competition. Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, who came third, had thrown 90m in the Ooredoo Doha Meeting in May. The clamour to see Chopra cross 90m was getting louder as the event approached. On June 30, at the IAAF Diamond League in Stockholm, he threw 89.94m to win gold. He has crossed 89m twice this year. “He was not talking about it (90m) too much,” said Bartonietz. “He felt it would come. In Eugene, he did not find his rhythm. The conditions were not easy; the wind was blowing from different directions and there were some turbulences in the stadium.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His preparations, though, were spot on. He qualified for the final with his first throw. As part of his preparation for a major event, Neeraj reportedly does an intense lifting session three days before it all starts. Bartonietz calls this the “boom-boom session”. He does fast lifts and focuses on speed; the next day is all about sprinting, followed by a nice, relaxing session. A day before the event he goes quiet, listens to music, does a light workout and does not go out much. He does a lot of mental training and visualisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK after the tournament, Chopra said he was happy to finish on the podium as this was one event he had yet to compete in and win. He also said there was no pressure of medalling at the worlds, even though his competitors’ throws did throw him off a bit. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Having won medals at the Olympics, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, how would you describe your experience at the World Athletics Championships?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has gone well. If we talk of major competitions, I have won a gold medal in almost all. [I had it] in my mind that I have to win a medal here, too. The competition [here] was tough; the conditions were tough and windy. Everyone knows I start with good throws, but it was different here because of the conditions. It was challenging, but it feels good that I have a medal in this one, too. The good thing is that the World Athletics Championships is there next year, too, so I will have another chance to improve on my performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ After your first throw was a foul, what did you and coach Klaus Bartonietz discuss and what did you tell yourself?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was the first to throw in the competition and you want to start with a good throw. But, sometimes it does not work out the way you plan. The javelin slipped a bit from my hand in the first throw. The second throw was 82m. It does come to your mind that the rest have thrown well—Anderson Peters (Grenada) and Julian Weber (Germany). Then in the third throw, I came in fourth. The wind was different from the front, and it was a new experience for me. But it feels good that I could manage the distance of 88.13m in my fourth attempt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was there pressure after watching Peters throw over 90m?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, there was some pressure for sure. Weber had a good first throw, too. What made it difficult was that I could not throw the way I wanted to in my first two attempts. Otherwise, I do not think of other athletes’ throws. I focus on my body’s response to the throw I am preparing for. Anderson Peters hit 90m thrice, and Julian Weber and Jakub Vadlejch (Czech Republic), too, did well. So yes, in terms of quality, the competition was really high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Till your fourth throw of 88.13m, what was going on in your mind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was sure that a good throw would come. Till the competition is not over, I always tell myself that I have to at least match the distance I have already thrown. Everybody says I do well in my first throw itself, but I always say that our event is such that you have to throw your best till the last throw. You never know who might do better than you in his last throw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was there also the added pressure of winning since India had only one medal at the World Championships before you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have got a medal at the World Championships after many years, but there was no pressure of that as such. I was motivated enough [to add the medal] missing from my kitty. My competitors were doing well coming into this event, and on field, too, the experience was different this time as the rest had thrown well ahead of me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What did your coach say to you during your initial throws?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The coach does not say much during competition. All he had to say or teach had been done during preparations. During the competition, he would say, ‘Yes, this was a good throw’, or whether the javelin had gone too high or too low.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did you prepare mentally going into this competition?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In competitions like the Olympics and the World Championships, it is more important to be ready mentally. You have to believe that you will do something good or special today. You have to be positive about throwing a particular distance at all costs. Even if you stay near your personal best, it is a good thing. Even if you are eating or doing chores ahead of the competition, the mind is always thinking about the event. You are totally tuned into it, mentally.</p> Sat Jul 30 12:53:20 IST 2022 world-championship-chapter-is-over-for-me-viswanathan-anand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Viswanathan Anand is back home in Chennai after a hectic tour to promote the Chess Olympiad that Mahabalipuram will host from July 28 to August 10. He also recently played the Leon Masters in Spain, which included a field of Boris Gelfand, Andrey Esipenko and Jaime Santos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is Anand at 53; he picks and chooses events, with enjoyment being the main criteria. He is not ready yet to retire, but he now has other chess-related things to do and enjoy. One of these was setting up the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy, where he mentors some of India’s most promising talents. He is currently world number 13, but rankings do not matter to him anymore. He now wants to ensure that the next wave of Indian chess players breaches the top 10; the highest-ranked Indian after Anand, right now, is P. Harikrishna at 25. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Anand looks at the chess he is currently playing, the next generation of Indian players, his plans for the coming years and the different demands on his time. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has the work-from-home life been, and how are you choosing which tournaments to play in?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The two are not related. I am working from a room at home; I was doing the same in Europe. I moved back from Europe 12 years ago. What happened is, close to my 50th birthday, I gave some thought to how I saw my career going forward and I thought it might be a good idea to play a little bit less and look at pursuing some other things. This was not entirely accidental; the pandemic happened and there was an enforced break.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the pandemic, a lot of other activities happened; I did some online training and finally started the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic felt like a dry run for something I had been thinking about vaguely. In 2019, it already felt like a waste of time playing the World Cup and the Grand Swiss (both part of the qualification cycle for the World Championship). But, of course, when I got the invitation to play in the Grand Chess Tour in Warsaw and then Zagreb, in 2021 and 2022, I was very happy. When I get a good invitation to play somewhere, I like to play it and I prepare quite hard for it. But beyond that, I now have time for other projects. First, I was able to do commentary for the World Championship. I was also able to accept the offer of Mr [Arkady] Dvorkovich (FIDE president) to be on his team as deputy president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you choose the tournaments that you want to play in?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Simply tournaments that I like playing. I like the Grand Chess Tour—they organise the events well; the rapid and blitz were nice there. Norway [Chess], again, was nice. I will play Lyon now. I do not try to get to the World Championship because that is too many stages and I do not want to go down that [path].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the World Championship chapter over?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yeah, it is closed. I am not even going to try to play there so there is no question of winning it. It is such a long and arduous goal—[you have to] first qualify for it, play and win the Candidates, and even if the first stage goes very well, then you would need to train very hard. I do not think it is worth it any more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you are no longer affected by rankings and ratings when you enter a tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, every tournament is rated, but the point is, in the World Championship... I have won it five times. That is enough. I need to move on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In India, there is so much demand on your time. Does it get to you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was doing a certain amount of it anyway, and clearly with something like the Olympiad happening in Chennai, there will be more occasions to celebrate and promote it. It is a question of planning—you have to make sure you have time for things that you really want to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you go to big events now, do you feel undercooked because you are coming off a break?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ You have no idea till you start playing whether you are in shape or not. I have been lucky that I was successful in the tournaments in Zagreb, Warsaw and Norway. I would probably feel differently if I had not been successful (smiles). That is the risk you have to live with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being a professional through the year requires blocking everything else. You have to live with developments in chess theory, constantly thinking of chess, and that is not something I wanted to do anymore. It is a nice transition phase and we will see where it gets me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the family taking it? You are around much more now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They are seeing me much more than before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are they happy about that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ (Laughs) You have to ask them! Of course, it is nice that we are able to spend lot of time as a family. I am here much more because I do not have a full calendar.... That does not mean I am not competitive. When I play I am very paranoid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Describe a day in your life when you are at home.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Nothing has changed as such. When I am thinking about chess I think about it a lot, but when I have other commitments I am able to block (chess) out for a couple of days. I am only skimming through the corner of my eye. When I get back home, I will block a day and see what has happened [in the chess world]. That has been the situation for the past 10 to 12 years. Since we moved back and Akhil was born, there are days when I do not think about chess at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you are prepping for a tournament, are the intensity and the training same as before?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The intensity was never a problem; whether the results work out the way you want is the problem. You can train hard and it can fall flat. It does not mean your training was wrong, it just means it did not hit its mark. Equally, you can be lucky in tournaments. I am not so out of touch with the game. Even when I am working with the youngsters at the academy, I am following developments. So, when the time comes for me to work again, at least I have a starting point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How would you describe this phase of your career?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is satisfying in a totally different way. Sport is like a treadmill; one day when you get off, you realise there is nothing wrong in getting off. I see it in [Veselin] Topalov also; he played in Norway, he knew there will be four months where he will not play, and he is at peace with it. Same with me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you done post-mortems of your matches against Magnus Carlsen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not at all. It was not practical to sit and do that. Unless there is a match with him, there is no need to do that. And anyway, there is no getting away from the fact that even before I played him I had passed my peak and he was entering his. He is not the only player I have to work quite hard to compete with; there are others like Hikaru [Nakamura], Fabiano [Caruana], Wesley [So]...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You nearly beat him in Norway Chess this year. What do you put down these close losses to?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not. There are mistakes that happen. It is frustrating, but you keep trying to get better. When you are not playing regularly, you do not know what to expect. It was one of the biggest misses I have had against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think you are near a win?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not know. The youngsters are getting stronger and, every year, I am maybe not getting stronger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there still a lot of self-flagellation after a loss?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Of course! I do not sleep well that night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has the experience of mentoring young players been?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They already have their setups and trainers. But I thought I could give them classes with my trainers in areas that should be covered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel proud that since we started with them, they have gained 100 to 120 points. [D.] Gukesh and Arjun [Erigaisi] are around 2690 (Gukesh reached 2703.9 on July 17); Pragg (Praggnanandhaa) is beating Carlsen and [Liren] Ding (world no. 2). He is not playing rated tournaments right now, but it will show when he does. One of the goals we define for ourselves is that India should be well represented in the top 10, and I think we are getting there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How close are we to achieving this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Two of them are close to 2700. I think Pragg might be a year of good results away; Nihal slightly more. Raunak [Sadhwani] and Leon [Mendonca] can add a year to that. 2700 is a good starting point. Top 10 is about two to three years away, or longer, because there is a lot of competition in the junior stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is it about these bunch of Indian youngsters that excites you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They are not people who exclusively grew up on computers. In fact, Gukesh refused to use computers initially, saying “I will only use the chess board and not the search engines”. Praggnanandhaa as well. It is a false binary that computers give you accurate information. What human games gave in the past was that, if there was a weak opponent, you were able to see how the stronger player was able to execute his plan. This was nice learning material. It is harder when both sides play perfectly because neither is able to show its plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you share one standout point about each of these youngsters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Arjun is a phenomenal calculator. That is his strongest point. Gukesh is very hard-working, courageous, takes very good openings and fights with anyone well. Praggnanandhaa is spirited; even when a tournament is going very badly he is trying to win every game. Raunak and Nihal [Sarin] are especially very fast in time controls. Nihal... is a highly evolved player. His style looks like [it is] of someone who has been around longer. Raunak has got a bit more devilry to him; maybe it is not an accident that his nickname is ‘Devil’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mendonca is younger, but you can see this sheer passion. At times I would tell him to take rest but he would just go to the next tournament. And Vaishali, Pragg’s elder sister, is sincere and hard-working. You give her a task and she will sit and work at it. She has a lot of potential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How prepared are you to take on administrative work with FIDE?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There will obviously be a learning curve, but I look forward to making a positive contribution to Arkady Dvorkovich’s team. He and his team have stabilised FIDE and its reputation, and built up its finances and relations with many sponsors. That is a solid base to build on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you eventually looking at a full-fledged role in administration?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not know yet. I want to help the team. If we win [the elections], I will be working full-time on this project with FIDE. But I will also play a couple of invitational events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you are not ready to give up playing entirely?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think in five or six years I might want to stop completely, but we will see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the Olympiad making a difference to Indian chess?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It does not substitute for results, but it will put a spotlight on chess for two to three weeks. We need these big events that capture people’s attention every few years. Even my World Championship events will fade in memories eventually.</p> Mon Jul 25 10:47:48 IST 2022 undoubting-thomases-self-belief-powered-the-indians-to-their-maiden-thomas-cup-win <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was an established drill after every win—singing and dancing in one of the shuttler’s rooms. On May 15, though, every song was louder and every dance more spirited. The adrenaline was high, and understandably so. The Indian men’s badminton team had just defeated 14-time champions Indonesia to win their maiden Thomas Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was former world no 1 Kidambi Srikanth who clinched it for India. He beat Jonatan Christie 21-15, 23-21 in the third match, and remained his stoic self even as his ecstatic teammates, coaches and support staff rushed towards him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It has still not sunk in,” Srikanth told THE WEEK the following day. “Except for in major super series, the national anthem is not played anywhere. [Ensuring] that our national anthem was played was a moment of pride. Individually, we have so many victories to our name, but as a team we have not done anything and that was on our minds. We wanted it for ourselves and for the country more than anything.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth, along with fellow veteran H.S. Prannoy., both 29, had been the architects of the victory. And team bonding was their blueprint. While the team shared a WhatsApp group with the coaches and support staff, they also made one of their own. Called “It’s coming home”, it was a space to motivate each other and keep believing in themselves. The first message on the group was: “How’s the josh?”; it was high then, and remained so hours after the win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former India player and current coach Vimal Kumar: “I do not have any words to describe it. I have never seen them so enthusiastic. It was all team spirit. We have never seen this in the past. These players are incredible.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team spirit was best reflected in the decision to ask the youngest of the lot—Priyanshu Rajawat—to receive the cup. Though he was a reserve and did not play in the final, Rajawat was made to feel like a contributor. It was his first major outing. Laskhya Sen, also 20, was making his Thomas Cup debut, too. “This win is very special,” Sen told THE WEEK. “We perform well in every other tournament or championship, but we could never make it in the Thomas Cup. From the first day of the tournament, we were hoping to beat any team and we really did it, even in pressure situations and against strong teams like Indonesia. I am happy I could contribute in the final.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A dominant feeling within the team was that enough was enough. This team had all the ingredients to be champions—top, in-form singles players and also a top, in-form doubles team—and there was no way it was returning without the cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Indian badminton has seen many milestones—from Prakash Padukone’s win at the 1980 All England Championships to P.V. Sindhu’s Olympic medals and World Championships gold—the team title had been elusive. Not anymore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I would rate this as the biggest-ever achievement,” said Kumar, who has been part of previous Thomas Cup campaigns both as player and coach. “Of course, Prakash and Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) winning All-England, and Sindhu and Saina [Nehwal] winning Olympic and World Championships medals were special. But, as a team, we could never deliver when it mattered. When you call a nation a top badminton nation, all singles and doubles players [have to] perform. That is exactly what happened.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Badminton Association of India secretary Sanjay Mishra, while announcing a cash award of 01 crore for the team, said, “The title triumph is a culmination of the efforts of the BAI team, coaches and players, and also of a robust selection system put in place for the tournament. The selectors ensured that there was a perfect balance of youth and experience as they picked someone like Prannoy outside the trials while testing the young guns through an extensive trial. Dedicated coaches and support staff were provided to the team for their training and recovery. The team had a mission and worked on a plan to bring the trophy home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Indian women’s players have already created milestones, but this all-round performance from the boys will inspire many more players across the country to take up the game,” Mishra said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also key to India’s victory was that each player pulled his weight. Even Sen—who lost three of his first four matches and had a bout of food poisoning just before landing in Bangkok—pulled it off in the final. He defeated world no 5 Anthony Ginting in the opening match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was a bad time to fall sick for sure,” said Sen. “I was not able to use my full energy, but everyone supported and motivated me. I could rest for only two days and had to play a match against Germany. But, in the end, I am happy I could win a crucial match in the final.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Srikanth: “As a team, all of them have the ability to win matches. They can step up at any given time and that was the edge we had; we worked it to our strength. The contribution of [doubles coach] Mathias Boe has helped, and the whole team benefited from it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past, India’s missing link—the team and its opponents would agree—was a strong, consistent doubles pair. In Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, ranked 8th in the world, India finally has a world-beating pair. That, however, means that there was more pressure on them, especially against the Indonesians, who have depth and strength in their doubles squad. The Indian duo beat Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in the final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though only 21, Rankireddy spoke with the experience of a pro. “Before the tie, I talked to the team,” he said. “I told them that, sometimes, it is a matter of the rhythm shifting on one point. Luck had turned our way.” They won 18-21, 23-21, 21-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shetty said they drew on their past experiences against the Indonesian team. “Pressure was there, but more than that we were confident that if we play to our potential and plan, we will be able to pull it off,” he told THE WEEK. “The opponents in the final, they are legends; one is world no 1 and the other is world no 2, and they are also the defending champions. We have lost to Kevin (as a pair) so many times and we were four match points down. To win from there was only possible as we were riding on aggression and that fire kept us going.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he added that it was crucial to not let emotions cloud their judgment. “We had lost to them a number of times, but this time we were sure we will not fall prey to their tactics and let our emotions [take over],” he said. “Our goal was to be aggressive as much as possible and make them uncomfortable and play good badminton.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Boe had joined the team only a few weeks before the competition, his inputs from court side between breaks were important for the pair, especially Shetty. “Our mantra was to keep it simple,” said Shetty. Even though we were four points down in the second game, we were at ease and kept doing what we had trained for. That is what Mathias also told us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, only three coaches—Vimal Kumar, Mohammed Siyadath Ullah and Boe—travelled with the team to Bangkok. Chief national coach Gopichand has reduced his travel with the national team and is now focusing on training the next crop of players. In November 2021, Indonesian Agus Dwi Santoso had quit as single’s coach; he was not the first coach to leave before their tenure was up. Currently, there are only two foreign coaches—Boe, and women’s singles coach Park Tae-sang, who is on leave till end of May. The process to hire more foreign coaches is on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, to reduce dependency on foreign experts, the BAI has appointed 30 new national coaches. For now, Gopichand and Vimal Kumar, assisted by other coaches, appear to be handling the workload of the Indian team fairly well. The new coaches will be sent wherever the BAI thinks they are needed; Gopichand will look after their assignments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The head coach is already looking to build on the Thomas Cup win. He now wants to have at least 10 Indians in the top 30 in every category. “If we have that many players,” he said, “they will keep winning regularly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Essentially, in a few years, winning the Thomas Cup should not be a surprise.</p> Fri May 20 14:14:36 IST 2022 the-way-we-came-together-as-a-team-made-the-difference-kidambi-srikanth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. What changes have you brought to your game in the past few years, physically, mentally and in terms of technique?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have not really done anything drastic, I just kept working hard, kept believing in myself and kept pushing myself. It definitely takes time for every player to come back after an injury, but it is important how motivated you are and how hungry you are for success. And that is what I will do in the future as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. There were reports that during the Thomas Cup all players used to have regular meetings, without coaches.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a group call and we thought that it would really help us bond and come together as a team. We had team meetings before and after every match. The coaches and the support staff were happy that we were doing team meetings. We used to have meetings with coaches and also for players. It was important that everyone could say how they felt and it helped everyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How much bonding was there between the players? In the past, there have been rumours about friction between players training in Bengaluru and those in Hyderabad.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t think there was any issue, and all of us really bonded well. We were together throughout the tournament and we played as a team and that was the only reason we won. And we really pushed each other, motivated each other and stayed positive. There was absolutely no friction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. </b>Did you feel that Indian badminton, or at least the coverage of it, was focused, fairly or unfairly, on female shuttlers? Will this win address the issue?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We cannot take anything away from female players because Saina [Nehwal] and [P.V.] Sindhu have done really well. Whenever a male player did well, he got media coverage. So, I really don’t want to complain. Since we have won a team event, and that, too, something like the Thomas Cup, [we will be in the limelight] and we will be there in history as the first-ever team to win the trophy for India. So I am happy and I don’t have any complaints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What do you think this Indian team has that the past ones did not have?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t really know. Maybe the team spirit we showed throughout the tournament is the big difference between this team and others. And also the way we came together as a team and the way we motivated, inspired and supported each other made the difference.</p> Sun May 22 12:06:51 IST 2022 doubles-players-are-contributing-equally-to-the-team-says-chirag-shetty <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. What did you feel after beating the Indonesian pair, given their past records and depth of talent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was quite satisfying because we did not have a good head-to-head record against them. I think the Indonesian players are currently world no 1 and no 2. I am really happy that we could get that win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. In the past, singles specialists would often be thrown together to play doubles, too. What do you make of the depth in India’s doubles division?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think times have changed. Along with a strong men’s singles team we have a strong men’s doubles team as well. To win such a big team event, you need a balanced side with a good mix of singles and doubles players. I am really happy to be a part of this revolution where doubles players are equally contributing to the team’s win. As far as the depth is concerned, we have quite a few pairs like Dhruv [Kapila] and Arjun [M.R.], Krishna [Prasad Garaga] and Vishnu [Vardhan] and many more. So, there is a lot of good talent coming up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You and Satwik have, at times, failed to close a match even though you were ahead. You reversed that trend in the final.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past few tournaments we have not been able to close our matches, but this time we just kept our calm. I have also been working with the psychologist. After the group stage loss to the Chinese Taipei pair, I sat down and had a conversation with him on how to handle the pressure and to look at things from a brighter perspective. He told me that I needed to just go out there and give my best, and that winning and losing was secondary. And that is what we did. We were ok with extending the rallies instead of giving away points.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What is the role played by coach Mathias Boe? What are the changes that he introduced?</b></p> <p>Mathias has been very important. We worked with him last year as well and we knew that we really needed him as his inputs made a huge difference to our game. I am really happy that we can work with him again.</p> <p>As far as changes are concerned, it is a lot more tactical. We have added a lot of drills to improve our defence.</p> Sun May 22 12:05:42 IST 2022 this-is-as-big-as-it-gets-in-badminton-says-p-gopichand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. You have been part of several Thomas Cup campaigns as a player and coach. What does this victory mean for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all of us in Indian badminton, it was a dream to see our team winning the competition. We have had individual wins—Prakash Padukone won the All England Open—but there was always that dream of going higher. When I was playing, just qualifying for the finals of this competition was a big thing. In the world of badminton, this is as big as it gets. It is a very big achievement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What does it mean for Indian badminton?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It means many things for Indian badminton. For us, when we go back to the world stage as a team, we will be looked upon very differently. That element of being scared [of India] will be there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What was key to the team doing so well this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot more bench strength. We have Lakshya Sen, and with K. Srikanth and H.S. Prannoy following up, it is a very strong team. They got good preparation time before the event. [Doubles players] Satwik (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy) and Chirag (Shetty) are also in top form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth was winning all his matches in the past few days and Prannoy was very consistent in winning key matches. There were many who questioned Prannoy's place in the team, so personal pride was at stake for him. Our doubles pair, too, wanted to play for pride. The feeling of togetherness in the team also helped a lot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The emergence of Satwik and Chirag as a strong doubles pair has been key to India's fortunes.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have had some tough matches in the tournament, but they stuck to their plan and pulled off the wins even when the chips were down. They kept their nerves, did not lose heart and finished the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Did the absence of foreign coaches affect your preparations? Mathias Boe joined the doubles team only weeks before the tournament.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our singles players have not had a foreign coach for a long time, and they were perhaps better off. Till last October, there was no coach at all. Some of them started arriving from November. Mathias, I think, is a good addition. His presence on the court is good for the team, especially for Chirag who likes to talk to someone during breaks in matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Was there a lot of pressure on Lakshya?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lakshya was fighting back and it was really good to see. It is a very, very big achievement for him. At one point during the tournament, things did not look very positive for him, but he just needed to play to his strengths. Against Anthony Ginting in the finals, the way he came back after losing the first set was really good to see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How do you look at the postponement of the Asian Games? Is it good or bad for the team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I hope it happens as early as possible. I would love to see our team win gold at the Asian Games.</p> Fri May 20 14:02:46 IST 2022 our-belief-to-win-the-thomas-cup-spread-like-wildfire-says-h-s-prannoy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. How did you approach the Thomas Cup campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian badminton players have had innumerable brilliant performances individually, but whenever it came to world team events, we could never make it to the top. Honestly, this has been our major discussion from the beginning of the tournament and we were determined to win this time. We wanted to give our best shot for India. I guess that mental boost really pumped us up and here is what we have done, although I still cannot believe it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You had to play the toughest matches in the quarter-finals and the semi-finals to ensure that India prevailed.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was indeed a bit intimidating, especially during the quarter-finals, as we have never gone beyond that stage. [To get the elusive medal], we had to get through the quarter-finals. There was too much pressure on me and even though I did not start well, I am happy that I could make it eventually. I was determined to take India to the finals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How does it feel to be a part of the team that won the Thomas Cup for the first time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is still sinking in. It was difficult for anyone, including ourselves, to believe that we could actually win. It was not easy, especially when you have an opponent like Indonesia, which has a history of being champions 14 times. The credit goes to the entire team. Everyone gave more than their best, and I am really happy that we could make it to the top. We created a separate WhatsApp group for us players named 'It’s coming home' and in this group we had free discussions and we motivated each other. Here is the result for you, we are the world champions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How would you describe your form? What are your plans now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was looking forward to the Asian Games, but unfortunately that got postponed. The World Championships are coming up in a couple of months, and other super series tournaments are lined up, so I will be preparing for those.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What did you tell Lakshya, a young player who lost a few matches initially?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to believe in ourselves and push our limits. Even though Lakshya had a tough time in the beginning, we were confident that he would pull it off. The way he played against Anthony Ginting in the final was phenomenal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You were the senior-most player in the team along with Srikanth. Having played Thomas Cup matches in the past, what made you and Srikanth feel confident about winning the tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of us have individual capability, so it was really bothersome that we were not able to win as a team. And that was the beginning of that fire. The only thing that we brought in was the belief to win, which spread like wildfire. Srikanth expressing himself on the court was not something you see often. The doubles [squad] led by Chirag and Satwik gave us the much-needed fire power. From now on, Indian shuttlers can believe that it is possible to win and it was important for us seniors to show that belief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Did you feel the pressure of being selected ahead of B. Sai Praneeth, a higher ranked player?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am grateful to the Badminton Association of India, the selectors and my coaches who showed faith in me and gave me the opportunity to play the third singles. I knew I had the ability and was glad I could contribute and play a role in bringing the trophy home.</p> Fri May 20 13:58:26 IST 2022 pace-makers-a-new-crop-of-fast-bowlers-boosts-indias-arsenal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE ART OF RAW,</b> fast bowling can make stadiums come alive. In Umran Malik, India has found its newest artist. “They can’t play him! Bowl it straight, bowl it fast, hit the stumps!” said a commentator, during the 22-year-old’s spell in a recent Indian Premier League match. Playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad, Malik dismantled the Punjab Kings’ batting with figures of 4 for 28. Stumps were splayed along the way; some batters saw a spike in their heart rate. It was an exhibition, and the crowds knew it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SRH dugout knew it, too. Among them sat one of the most feared bowlers of all time—Dale Steyn. The former South African pacer—who used to look furious as he steamed in to bowl—now wears a smile as he talks of his Kashmiri ward. “He is an all-out fast bowler,” Steyn told THE WEEK. “Some of the stats—above 90 per cent of his deliveries are around 142 to 145kmph—tell you he is looking for pace all the time. This makes batters think differently in the way they approach him and where they score off him.... That is the reason he has picked up wickets. The message to him is to keep things simple. [Just] stay straight, look to attack the stumps, use the bouncer, be smart when you want to change pace, and bowl to your field.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he is yet to wear the India blue, Malik has been near unplayable in orange. A contender for the purple cap (most wickets), Malik has taken 15 wickets in nine matches. As of now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last season, Malik became only the fourth player from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the IPL. A tennis-ball cricketer from the gullies of Jammu, his name spread as quickly as his deliveries on the local circuit. But it was only at 17, at the instance of his friends and coaches, that he acquainted himself with the leather ball. He went to the Maulana Azad Stadium to try his luck, and coach Randhir Singh Manhas liked what he saw. He asked the lad to join his academy. Soon enough, Malik played in the U-19, U-23 and the Jammu and Kashmir Ranji teams. Then came the IPL contract last year. A few performances later, he got the call-up to bowl in the nets for the national team during the T20 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former India pacer and Jammu and Kashmir coach Sanjeev Sharma: “If he continues like this, he will be a very good prospect for India.” He felt that a stint at the National Cricket Academy would help. “He is a bit raw, but he is a quick learner,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Steyn, though, said he is ready. “How India uses him is up to them, but he is certainly capable of playing international cricket,” he said. “One guy bowling 150kmph consistently; I think every international team will want him. How and where you use him is critical.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenge will be to maintain the pace and avoid injury. “[No need to] try anything too different, stick to what you know and what works for you,” said Steyn. “The moment you start introducing different things to your body, maybe in the gym or in the bowling action, that is when injuries sneak in. For him, it is about managing what he does.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik aside, a battery of upcoming pacers has also impressed with its skills and courage this IPL. There is Arshdeep Singh (Punjab Kings), Kuldeep Sen (Rajasthan Royals) and Mohsin Khan (Lucknow Super Giants), to name a few.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this talent rush is not an IPL 2022 exclusive. Others on the list, across formats, include Navdeep Saini (Delhi), Kartik Tyagi (Uttar Pradesh), Avesh Khan (Madhya Pradesh), Prasidh Krishna (Karnataka), Sandeep Warrier (Kerala), Ishan Porel (West Bengal) and Shivam Mavi (Uttar Pradesh). All of them are not just earmarked as travelling net bowlers, but are also part of the India A setup. They all have IPL gigs, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Madhya Pradesh coach Harvinder Singh Sodhi: “In his (Avesh Khan) journey as a bowler, the IPL has played a huge role. There he gets to interact with international players and coaches and bowl at top players.” Khan, 25, played for the Delhi Capitals before joining LSG this year. A part of the Ranji setup, he considers red-ball cricket his strength. “One of the differences I see in him while travelling for India tours is that he has grown in self-belief and confidence. The change has been mental,” said Sodhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishna, who plays for the Rajasthan Royals and is also on the national team’s radar, made his ODI debut for India against England in Pune in 2021. At six foot two inches, the 26-year-old could fit into ‘the Ishant Sharma’ slot, and was also a backup bowler for the Oval Test in England last year. Said Omkar Salvi, the assistant bowling coach at his previous team, Kolkata Knight Riders: “[He is] a bowler with a rare quality—he bowls 145kmph-plus consistently, has good bounce off the pitch, but, more importantly, he is a thinking bowler who has narrowed down his thought process.” All he needs is more exposure, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishna’s former KKR teammate Mavi had burst onto the scene at the 2018 U-19 World Cup. However, injuries kept the Noida boy down for a while before he settled into the KKR team. Said Salvi: “Injury setbacks happen to all pacers. He returned stronger and handled his injury time well. He improved his skillset and is very deceptive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recovering from a stress fracture in his back, Mavi spent a lot of time training alongside veterans like Bhuvneshwar Kumar at a private facility in Noida during the Covid-19 lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India pacer and Gujarat Titans coach Ashish Nehra points to the bench strength as the major change since his playing days. “Earlier, if Zaheer Khan and I were bowling and one of us got injured, we had a young Irfan Pathan in his first year for the senior team. Now, you have Ishant and Umesh [Yadav] waiting for a chance to play, and Saini or a young Tyagi bowling in the nets. The India A tours and the IPL, too, have made a huge difference for those coming into the senior squad.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across formats, an Indian captain now does not have to deal with a lack of fast bowlers, be it through injury of dearth of depth. “To realise today we have a group of fast bowlers where we are so confused before the start of the game who to play, I could not be happier,” former captain Virat Kohli had said ahead of the third Test against South Africa earlier this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past four years, be it at home or away, the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have delivered for India. But this was no overnight success. There was a process in place, and the coaching staff, along with the bowlers, share equal glory. Former head coach Ravi Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun, alongside physiotherapists Patrick Farhat and Nitin Patel, and trainer Shanker Basu, worked with the coaches at the NCA to mould the next generation. Rahul Dravid, now head coach, was then NCA chairman. He worked with bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, physio Ashish Kaushik and trainer Soham Desai to deliver the goods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s an outstanding feeling,” Arun told THE WEEK. “It was the vision of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri to become the number one Test team, and, for that, we had to build on our fast-bowling department. We put a few systems in place and to see those systems working is a great feeling.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Captain Rohit Sharma has inherited this pace arsenal from Kohli, and would add a few weapons of his own. Given this richness of resources, perhaps the mantra for the team going ahead—at least in the pace department—would be rotation, rest and recovery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Arun: “Workload management was key. It is not easy to quantify how many overs a bowler should be bowling in a match, but we figured 20 overs in a week was optimal. Sometimes the load could increase, but then there is no point in pushing the bowler in practice post the match. Take enough rest, work on strength and conditioning. Yes, we have enough talent, but if we nurture them properly, we can get even better.”</p> Sun May 08 12:16:35 IST 2022 inside-the-badminton-academy-where-paralympians-are-made <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nestled in a quiet residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lucknow, the Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy (GKEBA) is abuzz with activity. Step in and it looks like any other top-notch sports academy—state-of-the-art equipment, check; children playing badminton, check; and coaches on their toes, check. Only on closer look do you realise that it is an academy for the differently-abled. Loss here is more than just a feeling; it is physical and visible, in limbs and in stature. But something visceral abounds—the grit and spirit of the players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Located on the first floor of Excellia School, GKEBA is the brainchild of Gaurav Khanna, a Dronacharya awardee and national para-badminton coach. He has just returned from Delhi, and as he walks in, the ‘racket’ falls silent and players line up next to him. The players are preparing for the Brazil Para Badminton International that is under way in Sao Paulo from April 19 to April 24. Khanna asks for updates—not only about the players’ preparation but also their health. The academy has a physiotherapist, sports psychologist and nutritionist as well. “One has to be vigilant while working with these athletes,” says Khanna. “You have to ensure that you do not aggravate their issues but strengthen and heal their weak muscles.”</p> <p>GKEBA was officially launched on January 18, 2022, following the stupendous success of para-badminton players at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021. The players returned with two gold medals, one silver, one bronze and zero anonymity—India had woken up to paralympians Pramod Bhagat (gold), Krishna Nagar (gold), Suhas Yathiraj (silver) and Manoj Sarkar (bronze). Prior to this academy, Khanna worked with para-athletes at a bare-bones facility at a sports college in Lucknow. GKEBA boasts four courts—two with Badminton World Federation-approved synthetic mats for standing athletes and two wooden courts for wheelchair athletes. All 30 players stay in the academy’s guesthouse—a bungalow just a few metres away. GKEBA also has a state-of-the-art gymnasium, sauna and Jacuzzi hydrotherapy. The college facility had none of these. Yet, it was there that the likes of Bhagat, Nagar and Sarkar honed their skills under Khanna’s patient and watchful eyes. “We had a difficult time earlier,” says Khanna. “We would train at rental facilities, but we all bonded well. We would manage with whatever facilities we had. From the college facility, we then moved to a bigger hall at the Babu Banarsi Das Uttar Pradesh Badminton Academy, run by the state badminton association.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their hard work paid off in Tokyo. The medal haul helped raise the profile of para-athletes and also brought in sponsors; Khanna has tied up with Ageas Federal Life Insurance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But more than medals and sponsors, training under Khanna at a specialised facility has, in the words of paralympian Palak Kohli, “changed their lives”. “Coming here [and playing] badminton has given me an identity,” says the 19-year-old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deep Jagdish Suryavanshi, 16, has been training at the academy for a year now. What started as a hobby for the Dhule boy is now a passion. “I did not know there was an academy for para-badminton players,” he says. “But when I got to know about Gaurav sir from my district coach, I decided to come here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After checking in on his players, Khanna gives them instructions on their training programme. He then starts training with his most promising young player—Kohli. Khanna is betting big on her winning more than one medal at the 2024 Paralympics. And it is not just her; he is aiming for 10 medals in Paris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journey of making champion para-athletes began many years ago for Khanna, a former national badminton player. A Railway Protection Force employee, he was undergoing commando training in Hathras when he spotted children—some hearing impaired, some amputees—playing badminton near the railway station. “I watched them and then started playing with them,” he recalls. “I decided to take it further and learnt sign language. I started coaching deaf players and became the head national coach of the Indian Deaf Badminton team. After that, I focussed fully on coaching para-athletes.” And, he has not looked back ever since. For Khanna, “it is about giving back to the society”. “More than a good coach one has to be a good human being first,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna has an eye for talent. He spotted Kohli in 2018 at a mall in Jalandhar, her hometown. He walked up to her and told her to train with him. She took some time to think about it before heading to Lucknow. Her journey since then has been nothing but wonderful, she says. “I never believed in destiny, but have now started believing in it,” she says. It does seem like destiny had a hand—she once wanted to play handball in Jalandhar but was dissuaded by her teacher; she asked Kohli to focus on her studies instead. “She told me if I study I could get a good job via quota,” recalls Kohli. “I felt very sad.” From there, she has worked her way to become a paralympian. She beams while speaking about the Paralympics. “I became the youngest to qualify in three categories,” she says. “I was also the first Indian female athlete to play in the mixed doubles semi-finals.” She finished fourth and came home disappointed, but Khanna thinks her time will come in Paris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tokyo medals attracted a lot of budding para-badminton players to the academy, but Khanna had to turn quite a few away. “It would have been difficult to manage,” he says. “I am sticking with quality and not compromising on it.” He is also working on training more coaches. His wife and two children have been a big support, as have his bosses and colleagues at the RPF. “I wish to do so much more, but I do not have the infrastructure,” he says. “The will to work on the tough process [of working with para-athletes] should be there, rest God has been kind.”</p> Sun Apr 24 09:52:24 IST 2022 men-uniforms-were-being-cut-up-and-restitched-for-the-women <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>VINOD RAI’S</b> time as head of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators can best be described as a hectic car ride on a road full of potholes. It lasted far longer than he had imagined—33 months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Not just a Nightwatchman, Rai writes about how the CoA innings went. The formation of the CoA was not good news for cricket officials and it was not surprising for Rai and his team to encounter barricades propped up by “detractors” along the way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BCCI, led by president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah, are allegedly cherry-picking from the new constitution and continue to hold sway because of the Supreme Court’s delay in deciding on the validity of their posts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Rai talks about his tenure and answers all questions with a straight bat. However, he refrains from commenting on the current situation in the BCCI. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In hindsight, could you have done certain things differently?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not think so. I have mentioned [in the book] that if we had known [about it] earlier, the Anil Kumble issue could have been handled differently.... (Kumble decided to step down as head coach of team India in 2017, following alleged differences with captain Virat Kohli). I did not have the foggiest idea that Kumble’s tenure was coming to an end and that he had only a one-year tenure. His contract did not have an extension clause. Every time I would talk to him, I could see the pain in his eyes and I would say to him, “Yes Anil, we could have handled it differently, but you tell me how— what could have been the option?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suppose we had extended the contract and one person went to court and got a stay. Detractors were waiting for us to make a mistake, and the same detractors asked why we simply could not extend it!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you agree that there were a lot of people who tried to undermine the CoA’s work?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There were a lot of people who disagreed very vocally because we were running the BCCI the way the Supreme Court wanted us to. This was not the way they had been running it. So, obviously, they disagreed, but we were totally unmindful of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When Kumble decided to not continue as coach, do you think too much power was vested in the captain or players to decide this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not think it is correct to say [that the] captain had a say in it. When I discussed with Virat, he did not say he had these reservations about Kumble. What Virat and the team management said was that the younger players were intimidated by that (Kumble’s) attitude. I have never [had a meeting with] Kumble and Kohli [together].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When Ravi Shastri was reappointed as head coach, there was a sense that the whole Kumble affair was allegedly orchestrated to get Shastri back.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ To be very frank, I heard this, too. The entire point is—orchestrated by whom? We were rank outsiders; it did not matter to us. And I have already said that, had there been an extension clause, we would have given him (Kumble) the extension. To a certain extent, I discount the hypothesis that this was orchestrated to get Ravi back. On the other side, there was also a strong undercurrent against the captain getting his way. I have not talked of it [in the book] because it was only an undercurrent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With the BCCI, it appears that, more things change, more they remain the same.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am hearing it from you; papers do not carry this at all. It has been my principle—when I leave an institution, I cut my umbilical cord with that institution. I follow cricket very closely even now, but [not the] administration. I do not know anybody in the BCCI now and I do not call anybody.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I really do not know what is happening, [so] it will be unfair for me to comment on it. But one good thing is that cricket is happening; they conducted the IPL (Indian Premier League) during Covid-19. But I have no idea what is happening inside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How would you describe your experience of running the BCCI?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Any large institution needs to be administered properly, along with a code of administration. Which means there should be good governance. There should be transparency, accountability of the decision maker and there should be willingness to share information. That I found was lacking in the BCCI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I discount all this talk of administrators staying beyond three years, because there is nothing that anybody cannot imbibe in six months. We (CoA) know what a boundary and a sixer are, but we were not into cricket administration. But it did not take us two months to get to the granular level of managing it. We left the team and players alone; we only handled other issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In women’s cricket, the issues that were there during your tenure persist, be it controversy over the coach’s appointment or team dynamics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not think women’s cricket has been given the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, women cricketers had not been taken seriously till about 2006, when Mr [Sharad] Pawar took the initiative to merge the men’s and women’s association. I was aghast to know that men’s uniforms were being cut up and re-stitched for women’s players. I had to ring up Nike and tell them that this was not on and that their design would be different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I sincerely believe the girls deserved much better [when it came to] training, coaching facilities, cricketing gear, travel facilities and, finally, match fees and retainers. That was lacking and we tried to rectify it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think women’s cricket does not get the same attention as men’s cricket in India because men bring in the moolah for the BCCI?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not know how the BCCI is handling it now. [India opener] Smriti [Mandhana] had given an interview somewhere and she was very mature. She said that the day we (women) start bringing in the revenue the men bring in, we have the right to dictate [terms].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, men’s cricket was given the focus and attention when they were not bringing in this moolah! That is why I think there should be a whole BCCI unit handling women’s cricket and not one person. They deserve the whole backup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is belief within the BCCI that if the women’s team wins an ICC (International Cricket Council) trophy, then things will change for the better. Do you agree?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That is an alibi for not doing things. Unless you give them support, how are they going to win a trophy? If they could not win in Australia or England, [then] the main thing was mind conditioning. Every team has those mental trainers and sports psychologists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My regret was that I had not given due attention to women’s cricket till the match in which Harmanpreet [Kaur] scored 171* in the 2017 Women’s World Cup [against Australia]. She told me: “Sir, I was cramping so I had to hit sixes as I could not run much!” They were told at the hotel that they could not get the food they were supposed to, so they had samosas for breakfast that morning!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How easy or difficult was it to run the CoA with just you and former cricketer Diana Edulji left?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was not difficult. She is a devout cricketer and always speaks her mind. At no point did she allow my opinion to prevail upon her. But you must understand that we both come from very different backgrounds. We differed on the #MeToo allegations against [then BCCI CEO] Rahul Johri; another was the [captain] Mithali [Raj] versus coach (Ramesh Powar) issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why were the #MeToo allegations against Johri difficult to handle?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It unfortunately generated adverse publicity. I was aghast to learn that, for a big organisation, the BCCI had no PoSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) committee in place. We (CoA) set up that committee. If that had been there and there was a genuine complaint... people could have approached it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diana wanted to dismiss him (Johri). I said fair enough, but we must follow procedure. If not, he could always go to court. I said in a meeting that, after 40 years of administration, if somebody I dismiss without show-cause and proof slaps a defamation suit against me, it would have been a slap on my face. And it would have happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you say Indian sports bodies need to be better governed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All sports bodies are in the same boat. The documentary Death of a Gentleman was on the ICC; it unravelled [that] the BCCI is a different thing. You know what has happened with FIFA. There is a huge problem with every Indian [sports] body. There is an element of “capture”. There should be a code of conduct or statute to govern them. Unfortunately, [this is] not there even though [it is] drafted and prepared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Not just a Nightwatchman: My innings in the BCCI</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Vinod Rai</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Rupa Publications India</b></p> <p><i>Price </i><b>Rs595;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>221</b></p> Sun Apr 17 08:31:00 IST 2022 lakshya-sen-has-taken-to-the-senior-level-like-a-duck-to-water <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>History hung heavy in the air as Lakshya Sen entered Utilita Arena Birmingham on March 20. India had sent four finalists to the All-England Open—the world’s oldest badminton tournament—before the 20-year-old from Uttarakhand. Three of the four were household names—Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand and Saina Nehwal. The fourth one was not, but had, perhaps, the most interesting story. Prakash Nath had won a coin toss against teammate Devinder Mohan to enter the 1947 semi-finals in England. They knew each other’s game inside out, and knew that whoever won their gruelling quarterfinal would be exhausted going into the semi-finals. Hence, they flipped for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nath breezed past the semi-final but lost at the last hurdle. He had apparently read about the partition in the newspapers on the morning of the final; his hometown of Lahore was in flames, and he went into the final in a daze.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is said to have never touched a racket again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, none of this was on Lakshya’s mind. He had just beaten the defending champion—Lee Zii Jia of Malaysia—the previous night and had been cheered on by Sachin Tendulkar on Twitter. Also, just a week ago, he had upset the man who stood before him in Birmingham.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viktor Axelsen knew this, of course. The great Dane, world number one and Olympic champion, was gunning for his second All-England title, and had had a good look at the young man across from him. He had, after all, called the Indian Sen-sation—along with four others—to train with him in Dubai six months ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Axelsen had divided Denmark with his decision to move to the UAE. According to Danish website Jyllands-Posten, he is no longer part of the national camp, but continues to play under the Danish flag. Better facilities, the climate (drier Dubai helps with his asthma) and easier travel made him move, apparently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having done all this, Axelsen was not going to leave anything to chance. And, indeed, he did not. He had not dropped a game throughout the tournament, and he was in no mood to start. He zoomed to a six-point lead in the first game, making Lakshya fetch the shuttlecock from all corners of the court. Axelsen knew the Indian was strong at the net, and so avoided that confrontation as much as he could. It helped that Lakshya seemed over-cautious, playing at least two shots that he could have left. At one point in the first game, Axelsen led 12-3. He eventually took it 21-10 in 22 minutes. It was clear. One of the shuttlers was at his peak, the other had just left base camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were flashes of brilliance, though. Lakshya played some incredible defensive shots and looked to have tired out Axelsen—eight years his senior—by the end of the second game. He made fewer mistakes deeper into the game and made Axelsen sweat. He also showed a lot of patience, was willing to draw out rallies, perhaps to his detriment in some cases, and had some sudden bursts of energy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Dane was clinical. Cheered on by his toddler, Vega, and partner, Natalia, from the stands, and fed strategy by coach and father-in-law Henrik Rohde, Axelsen did not allow Lakshya to claw his way back, like the latter had done in the semi-final. Soon, it was all over. 21-15. Victor, Axelsen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two then swapped shirts; Lakshya got a souvenir from his first All-England final. “I feel I played well, too,” he said after. “He was really solid on defence. There was a lot of pressure before the match, but when I entered the court, it was another match for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His coach and former Indian player U. Vimal Kumar told a news agency after the match: “I am happy with his tactical acumen, there is considerable improvement. He is calm and deals with tough situations better. I also see a remarkable improvement in his defence, especially after how he has tackled the attack of Viktor [Axelsen] and [world number three] Anders [Antonsen].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He will now be scrutinised and studied and he will have to cope with all that. Overall, he is going in the right direction, but he can attack more from the back of the court and bring in more variations.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, though, Lakshya needs a break. He has opted out of the Swiss Open on March 22 and will be back in Bengaluru for seven to 10 days before the Korean Open.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, he has penned a deal with Baseline Ventures, the same company that represents P.V. Sindhu, to work on ‘Brand Lakshya’. The handsome lad could soon be in ads, selling anything from shoes to protein shakes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What he does not have to sell anymore is his potential. He has proven that he can swim with the sharks. With a bit more time and a bit more polish, he might outpace them, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He has truly announced his arrival on the world stage, but the greater challenge for him begins now,” said Padukone of his ward. “From my own experience, I can say with conviction that reaching the highest level is difficult, but the bigger challenge is staying at that level as it requires a lot more effort and mental strength. However, as of now Lakshya has all the qualities required to remain a medal contender for the next few years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The seemingly overnight success, though, was crafted over a decade. When he was 10, his parents had plucked him out of snowy Almora and dropped him into the arms of Padukone in Bengaluru. Lakshya had taken to the game when he was six, wielding a racket taller than him. He had seen his grandfather play, and his father, D.K. Sen, was a badminton coach to boot. The interest grew, as did the boy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cut to Bengaluru. At the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, Lakshya and older brother, Chirag, tucked their childhoods under their mattresses and began a full-court press. Diet, training, discipline; all the words that flash in montages of a sports ad. Results started showing, too. He aced the juniors, crying his heart out at the occasional slip-up, and pretty soon became boys’ world number one. He was like a sponge, absorbing any wisdom his coaches offered. A lot of people have talent, said Kumar, but Lakshya was level-headed and grounded, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An explosive player, he smashed and dove his way to several podiums—he won gold at the 2018 Asia Junior Championships and silver in the Youth Olympics the same year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was earmarked for glory in coming years, and pundits keenly watched his days of transition to the senior stage. Lakshya, though, obeyed no such timetable; he took to the big league like a duck to water. The past six months, in particular, have been a smashing success. He has medalled in four of his past five tournaments, and has felled, among others, Axelsen, Antonsen, Lee Zii Jia and world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And there is a lot more to come. The year is packed with events, including the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December, after becoming the youngest Indian to medal at the World Championships (bronze), Lakshya had told an interviewer the one thing he wanted to do—watch Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Marvel fan was sick of the spoilers on social media and wanted to get it over with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given his career graph, it seems more of a spoiler than a prediction that Lakshya will find more podiums this year.</p> Thu Mar 24 17:13:20 IST 2022