Sports en Wed Nov 02 10:24:10 IST 2022 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 the-square-cut-was-not-my-only-shot-writes-gundappa-vishwanath-in-his-book <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE NUMBERS MIGHT</b> say otherwise, but brother-in-law Sunil Gavaskar believes G.R. Vishwanath was the better batter. The wristy Kannadiga scored more than 6,000 Test runs and was known to bail India out of sticky situations, often against great bowling. In his autobiography, Wrist Assured, co-written by journalist R. Kaushik, Vishwanath recaps his journey on the field with touching and funny anecdotes, talks about his bond with Gavaskar, and rates the best he played against and the Indian greats who came later. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SUNIL [GAVASKAR]</b> had called me and I could see that he was very emotional. All these years, he hadn’t said a word about my drinking, but that night at the hospital, he told me, ‘Vishy, you have fought it out for India on the cricket field so many times, you have come out with flying colours in a crisis and won so many games for India. For you, this is nothing. You can easily stop this and win the fight for your family.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His words shook me, they touched a nerve. Sunil had never asked me for anything all these years. I spent a couple of sleepless nights; I couldn’t get his words off my mind. In the past, several doctors had told me that it was time to kick the habit. Obviously, Kavita (wife) and Daivik (son) had requested me to do the same innumerable times. I would give in for a few days, but only for a few days. There was, however, a different kind of impact in what Sunil had said and how he had said it. I decided that was it. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to talk to each other regularly if you have the kind of connect Sunil and I have. I know we didn’t have more than a couple of 100-plus partnerships in international cricket, but even during those associations, we hardly discussed tactics or techniques mid-pitch, between overs. There was always a comfortable understanding as we communicated with our minds, not words. Our running between the wickets revolved around eye contact, not loud screams of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Over the years, little has changed. To this date, our interactions don’t require the liberal use of the spoken word.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FIRST THINGS FIRST.</b> The square cut was my preferred boundary option, but there always is more to scoring runs at any level than banking on a specific stroke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not unaware that people have been fascinated by the Vishwanath square cut. What I can tell you is that it was a stroke born out of necessity. My tryst with the cut began with the tennis ball, which invariably got big on you. I was a slight, thin boy with no power to speak of, and while I did play the drive and the flick, seldom would the ball reach the boundary. The cut, by contrast, didn’t require me to generate power entirely on my own, I could use the pace of the ball. I am not saying every cut I played fetched me four runs, but it had greater potential to cross the boundary than any other stroke. Over time, because I played it so often, I got quite good at it, though it also brought about my downfall a fair few times. On the so-called risk versus reward charts, however, I was seldom in the red; by a conservative estimate, I reckon more than 4,000 of my 6,080 Test runs came through the cut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>APART FROM THE</b> usual refreshments, there was bhang available too (on the mandatory rest day during the Ranji Trophy final between Karnataka and Rajasthan, 1974). Having had no previous experience of that drink, I was keen to experiment. Consequently, I have little memory of what happened for the rest of the evening, though everyone present later reassured me that I did nothing to embarrass myself. Apparently, after partaking of the beverage, I went and stood in a corner, facing the wall, sulking about my batting failures for two whole hours, impervious to the goings-on around me, despite the constant urgings of players from both teams to join in the entertainment and riotous story-telling. During that entire period, I was informed, Chandra (B.S. Chandrasekhar) kept laughing. Not at me, no. It was how he reacted to the new liquid in his system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>I AM NOT TRYING</b> to oversimplify when I say that it was just one of those days when everything I tried came off (97 against the West Indies in 1975)... two back foot strokes drove me crazy. I hadn’t tried to hit the ball hard, there was no full flourish, but the ball just sped off the bat like a bullet. The effect of my workout with customized ‘dumb-bells’—the Tiger [Pataudi]-directed buckets of water that had strengthened my wrists—was still evident. As I looked around, I realized that my shock was being reflected in the faces of the fielders. [Clive] Lloyd, Viv [Richards] and Kalli (Alvin Kallicharan) were looking at me like ‘Maan, did you really hit that?’ I was as surprised as them, considering I didn’t know that I even possessed that kind of punch! I heard claps and ‘wows’ from the slip cordon....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s an innings dear to my heart for the emotions it triggered in those who were at Chepauk that day. Even to this day, more than 45 years after that knock, I get letters and phone calls from strangers just to thank me for entertaining them. Every time I go to what’s now Chennai, all I hear is about 97 not out. Sometimes, I feel that’s the only worthwhile innings I have played! ...I think it’s safe to say that this knock defined my career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OUR INAUGURAL WORLD CUP</b> face-off (1975) was against England.... We had little idea of how to approach a chase of this magnitude (335), comical as it might sound now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The general consensus at the end of our reply was that it had been a bizarre run-chase—if you could call it that—and I can’t say I disagree. We comfortably batted out the 60 overs, finishing on 132 for three. I top-scored with 37, off 59 deliveries. Sunil remained unbeaten on 36, from 174 deliveries, with one four.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s Sunil’s story to tell, and he has done so many times. All I can say is that it was one of those days when nothing worked for him. Even when he tried to get out, he couldn’t manage that successfully. Then again, when you have played all your life trying to protect your wicket, it’s not easy to be dismissed by design. By the batsman’s design, that is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wrist Assured: An Autobiography</b></p> <p><b>By Gundappa Vishwanath with R. Kaushik</b></p> <p><i>Published</i> <i>by</i> <b>Rupa</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs595;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>277</b></p> Sat Mar 19 12:53:12 IST 2022 qatar-2022-Key-world-cup-stadiums-indian-connect <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This distinctive and uniquely Qatari stadium is set to rival the best in the world, the FIFA website states emphatically about the Al Bayt Stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The venue in Al Khor, 46km north of Doha, will host the opening match of the World Cup on November 21 and matches up to the semifinal stage. The most distinctive feature of the 60,000-capacity venue is the tent that envelops it. This was inspired by bayt al sha’ar—tents of the nomadic people (Bedouins) who have lived in the region for millennia. Traditionally, the tents have black stripes, like those on the arena’s exterior, and red and black patterns, which decorate the inside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Qatari company Galfar Al Misnad was the lead contractor for the project. It was established in 1995 as a subsidiary of the Oman-based Galfar Engineering and Contracting, which was co-founded by P. Mohamed Ali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ali, who hails from Kerala’s Thrissur district, had started his professional career with the Border Roads Organisation, in Mizoram. He moved to the Middle East in 1970. Galfar Oman was established in 1972 and has grown into one of the largest construction companies in the Middle East, with a turnover of over $1billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Qatar, the brand’s other landmark projects include the Katara Cultural Village and the Doha Metro Red Line North. Ali told THE WEEK that the Al Bayt Stadium was completed at a cost of 4 billion Qatari rial (over Rs8,000 crore). “It took around five years (including associated facilities),” he added. “At the peak, about 8,000 personnel were engaged; an average manpower of around 4,000 people were on site for almost two to three years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sustainability and low energy usage was at the core of the design philosophy and this is reflected in the five-star certification that Al Bayt Stadium got from the Global Sustainability Assessment System. The light-coloured exterior reduces heat absorption and supports the new eco-friendly cooling technology used in World Cup stadiums (estimated to be 40 per cent more sustainable than existing methods). The tent’s canopies stretch towards the pitch from every side, providing shade, just like the tents shielded the nomads from the desert heat for centuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The size of the park area surrounding the stadium is equivalent to 30 football grounds, creating green lungs for Al Khor. The walkways to the stadium are lined with trees, and extensive taxi and bus facilities have been arranged to minimise the number of private vehicles on the roads. The roads were improved to ensure shorter travel times, which, in turn, would reduce the environmental impact of the event. A 1,600-tonne, see-through retractable roof lets in sunlight, which helps the turf grow and also helps to reduce energy consumption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tent covers an area of 265mx305m and consists of an inner PVC liner. The outside has been made with PTFE (poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) fabric—highly heat resistant fabric consisting of woven fibreglass. Most of the construction materials were made in Qatar, of which 20 per cent came from recycled sources. Key products like steel, wooden doors and precast concrete were “responsibly sourced”. LED lighting is used throughout the venue, as are water-efficient fittings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ali said that the environment provided by the countries in the Middle East for developmental activities was exemplary. “The best technology and the best innovations are always brought into and traded in the Middle East,” he said. “That means you get the latest of everything. Whatever is new is available. It has always been about an exchange of technology in the Middle East.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the World Cup, almost half the seats can be removed from the modular stadium and donated to other countries in need of sports infrastructure. The reduced capacity will be more in tune with the needs of the stadium going forward, and it will create space for facilities for the locals such as a shopping centre and multipurpose hall. There are also plans to convert the upper concourse of the stadium into a five-star hotel.</p> Sat Nov 19 11:27:47 IST 2022 how-sania-mirza-is-set-to-leave-a-void-in-indian-tennis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Enrico Piperno still remembers his first “sighting” of Sania Mirza. “She was 14 years old when I first saw her in a tournament,” said the former national champion and the 1982 Asian Games silver medallist. “Her forehand was very powerful. When I met Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi soon after, I told them, ‘That 14-year-old has a stronger and better forehand than you guys!’ They didn’t believe me, until Mahesh met her and watched her play.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the next few years, Mirza played almost exclusively on the International Tennis Federation circuit, claiming 12 singles titles. In 2003, she won the Wimbledon junior doubles title with Russian Alisa Kleybanova. Mirza’s arrival on the scene after Nirupama Sanjeev—ranked 134 in 1997—put India on the international tennis map like never before. She became the first Indian player to breach the top 30 in world rankings in August 2007, when she became world number 27.</p> <p><b><a href="">READ INTERVIEW:&nbsp;Could have broken into top 15, but for injuries, says Sania Mirza</a></b></p> <p>Mirza, 35 now, has long been carrying the tricolour, and the burden of expectations and pressure that comes with it, with quiet aplomb. She has let her racket do most of the talking, along with T-shirts with messages on them like “You can either agree with me—or be wrong” and “Well-behaved girls don’t make history”. Fearless, proud and oozing self confidence, she could hold her own against the best in the world. Once, after losing to Maria Sharapova in the US Open, she sported a T-shirt that said, “Don’t get in my way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has won six Grand Slams, multiple Asian Games and Commonwealth Games medals, and reached the peak of the WTA doubles ranking. A role model, wife and loving mother, Mirza recently announced that the 2022 season would be her last. “I have always said that I will play until I enjoy the grind, the process which I am not sure I am enjoying as much anymore,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mirza has had a long journey; she began playing tennis when she was just six. Her parents, Imran and Naseema, have been the force that has been driving her to realise her dreams. “The reason why Sania could achieve so much is because of the support of her family—her parents and sister Anam,” said Piperno. “They have been with her from the beginning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Imran said whatever they had done for their daughter came from their shared passion for tennis. “We never thought we were sacrificing anything,” he told THE WEEK. “Every match or tournament she played or won—even an under-10 competition—we were happy for her. Now that she has decided to retire, we are happy, too. She has handled herself—her professional and personal lives—well. She now wants to focus on her family and other stuff. We are supporting her there, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhupathi, who has been Mirza’s guide, manager and mixed doubles partner, said she leaves a high benchmark for those who want to follow in her footsteps. “She had all the qualities to become a sports superstar. She is bound to leave a very large void when she retires,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Bhupathi, it was her fighting spirit that stood out in her game. “The first Grand slam final we played together and lost was the Australian Open in 2008,” he said. “She was injured pretty badly, she was heavily strapped, but she put up a hard fight till the very end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhupathi said Mirza had an ability to “pull the trigger when needed” in a match. “She would come on court and go for her shots; usually players would wait for an opening. She would use her forehand to create amazing damage,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mirza set high standards off the court as well. In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, when Bhupathi and Paes clashed over who would partner with her in mixed doubles, Mirza came down heavily on both the icons. She was angered by the fact that the All India Tennis Association had paired her with Paes to ensure his participation in the Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis,” she said. “While I feel honoured and privileged to have been chosen to partner Paes, the manner and timing of the announcement reek of male chauvinism where a Grand Slam champion, who has been India’s No1 women’s tennis player for almost a decade in singles and doubles, is offered in compensation to partner one of the feuding champions purely in order to lure him into accepting to play with a men’s player he does not wish to play with!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2010, when her decision to marry Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik sparked a media frenzy, she remained silent and determined. With her poise, she helped her family weather the public glare and scrutiny. Her recent decision to retire owes a lot to the fact that she dotes on her three-year-old son. “I am putting my son at risk by travelling so much with him; that’s something that I have to take into account,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will India get another Sania Mirza soon? “It will take a miracle!” said Bhupathi. “There is no system or structure in our country to produce champions. Hopefully, somebody may fall from the sky; till then, we shall keep looking.”</p> Tue Feb 22 17:07:35 IST 2022 could-have-broken-into-top-15-but-for-injuries-sania-mirza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/What prompted you to decide on retirement now? Just the challenges posed by Covid -19 or something more?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The challenges of international travel during the pandemic are real, but that is not the only reason. After two decades of professional tennis, my body is battered and takes longer to recover on a daily basis on the circuit. Also, I feel that it is unfair to subject my son, Izhaan, to the constant risks of being infected, while he accompanies me for tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What was your family’s reaction to your decision to retire at the end of the season?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have been talking about my retirement for the last few months, though I never told them that I would announce it at the Australian Open press conference. My family was supportive about my decision, just as they have been overwhelmingly supportive of my tennis career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How would you describe your career? Did you think you would play tennis for so long? And, do you feel you have achieved your goals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I think I am very fortunate to have achieved way beyond my dreams in my tennis career. I feel absolutely fulfilled with my career, and if 20 years ago someone had said that I would achieve all that I have managed to do, then I would have taken that with both hands.</p> <p><b>ALSO READ:&nbsp;<a href="">How Sania Mirza is set to leave a void in Indian tennis</a></b></p> <p><b>Q/Why did you later say that you should not have announced your retirement so soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I said this when I saw that my fans and some journalists were feeling sad that I was going to retire at the end of the season. I was only being asked about my retirement. I feel that I still have a full season to play, provided my body holds up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What was the most challenging moment in your career and life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Of course, there were numerous challenges along the way and, as Tony Roche once told me, “As a pioneer of the sport in a country, one has to pay the price for it”. But I love overcoming obstacles and my passion for the game of tennis helped me overcome all challenges. Perhaps, the biggest challenge was to prove to the world and to my own countrymen that Indian women could achieve success in the international sphere even in professions that were not considered their forte.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The most memorable high point in your career.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is difficult to pick out just one memorable high point. But winning 14 medals for my country, achieving a ranking of No 1 (doubles) in the world, winning Wimbledon in 2015 (women’s doubles with Martina Hingis), beating Grand Slam champions like Martina Hingis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka in singles would rank high among my memorable and sweetest moments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think you have achieved all that you wanted to as a singles player?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Not many [thought] that I could break into the top 100 in singles and become the first Indian woman to do so. But I went on to be ranked as high as 27 in the world and only two men from India [Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan] have achieved a better ranking than that even among male players. I feel that if injuries had not taken a toll on my body and if I had not undergone three major surgeries on both my knees and my right wrist, I may have been able to break into the top 15 of the world. But I am more than happy with what I was able to achieve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Which particular match or medal that you won for the country is closest to your heart?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Every time I have won a medal for my country, it has given me a great high. It is difficult for me to pick out any particular match. However, I think beating Li Na at the Asian Games in Doha (2006) was very satisfying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your husband, Shoaib Malik, is a highly accomplished cricketer. What did he say when you called it a day? How has he helped you in your journey as an athlete?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/He was a little surprised when I announced it, even though we had been talking about it [happening] in the near future. As a professional sportsman, he understands the highs and lows and has always been a pillar of strength for me. But, yes, our schedules are very hectic and that has not made life easy for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How have friends, contemporaries and seniors reacted to your decision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have made so many friends on the circuit over the years, and naturally those who are close to me have said they will miss me on tour. I will miss them, too!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Whom did you best enjoy playing with or against in singles, doubles and mixed doubles?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I will have to go with those who I have had the best results with: Martina Hingis (in women’s doubles) and Mahesh Bhupathi (in mixed doubles).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How difficult or easy will it be to focus on the remaining competitions this year after announcing retirement? Any particular tournament you are aiming for in your last year on tour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/A year on the tennis circuit is a very long time and I will try to give my best, as I have always done, in every match that I play until I am done with playing. I think I have reached a stage in my career where I will not be judged by any one match or tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What’s next after retirement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have some plans, but they are not concrete as of now. You will come to know in due course of time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How did you explain your decision to retire from tennis to your son?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I don’t think he needs to know as yet.</p> Tue Feb 22 17:09:05 IST 2022 bad-blood-and-the-board <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>INDIANS HAVE</b> a huge appetite for cricketing tales on and off the field. The conflicts and drama from the dressing rooms and the BCCI board rooms have often made headlines. Veteran cricket administrator Ratnakar Shetty was privy to many such moments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former chemistry professor, Shetty started his career as a cricket administrator in 1975 when he was appointed staff-in-charge of cricket in Wilson College, Mumbai. During his stint with the BCCI, he held the roles of chief administrative officer and general manager (game development). He was close to BCCI bosses like Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sharad Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shetty’s new book, On Board Test, Trial, Triumph: My years in BCCI, offers a selection of anecdotes. The Sourav Ganguly-Greg Chappell spat was one of the most controversial episodes that Shetty had a ringside view of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Exclusive excerpts from the book:</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days before the team was to depart for Zimbabwe, I was told by Mr Dalmiya of Chappell’s demand that Ian Frazer, a long-time associate of his, be inducted into the team as the ‘biomechanical expert.’ Mr Gavaskar, who had been on the panel which had interviewed Chappell and the other candidates, was surprised when he got to know this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue of assistants had been discussed during the interview itself and Chappell had stated clearly that he would not require any. Then where did this demand come from?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Mr Dalmiya persuaded the office-bearers to appoint Frazer, probably because he did not want to rock the boat at the start of Chappell’s stint. Just before the team flew to Zimbabwe, Frazer turned up at the Board’s office and requested me to change the designation on his blazer from ‘biomechanical expert’ to ‘assistant coach’. I refused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problems between Chappell and the senior members of the team began in Zimbabwe itself. While Chappell’s cricketing stature and experience were never in doubt, his man-management skills left a lot to be desired. The differences between the senior players and Ian Frazer only added fuel to the fire. Chappell also committed the cardinal mistake of speaking to select journalists and providing them information pertaining to his fallout with Sourav and his conversations about senior players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time he realized that his ploy of taking a few journalists ‘into confidence’ and feeding them with stories had backfired, it was too late. His ‘friends’ in the media would gleefully pass on the information which they received from him, to others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chappell’s email to Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the Board president, in which he castigated Sourav, among other things, hit the headlines after the team’s return from Zimbabwe. The senior players believed that the root cause of the problems in Zimbabwe was Frazer more than Chappell himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Board swung into damage-control mode and summoned the captain and the coach to the Taj, Mumbai. A panel, which comprised the Board president, Mr Dalmiya and Mr Gavaskar, first met Sourav and Chappell separately and then jointly. They were told that they needed to sort their differences out. Not surprisingly, the lobby of the Taj was teeming with representatives of the print and electronic media. After the joint meeting was over, Mr Dalmiya suggested that a media conference be organized. We made arrangements for Mr Mahendra to address the media, but only 20-odd journalists turned up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The majority, including senior journalists from Kolkata, had congregated in Sourav’s room, where another ‘media conference’ was being held simultaneously! The BCCI chose to back Chappell, and the selectors formally handed over the reins to Rahul Dravid in October 2005. Sourav found himself out of favour and out of the side under the new regime of the BCCI, which took charge in November that year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian team under Rahul beat Sri Lanka comprehensively in an ODI series and then squared another ODI series against South Africa. The new captain was the toast of the nation, as was the new coach. It appeared that Indian cricket had moved on from Sourav, although he returned to the squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka and the subsequent tour of Pakistan, much to the displeasure of those who wanted him to be banished for good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sourav’s right elbow, which he had injured in Zimbabwe, healed before the Test series against Sri Lanka. Dr Anant Joshi was to examine his medical report and intimate the Board accordingly. When the three of us met at the Taj Land’s End in Mumbai, Sourav commented on the irony of the situation, in that the individual whom he had backed as coach was the one targeting him. It was sad to see Sourav, once a popular and successful captain, going through a tough phase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>On Board Test, Trial, Triumph: My years in BCCI</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Ratnakar Shetty</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Rupa Publications India</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs595</b>; <i>pages</i> <b>328</b></p> Thu Feb 10 18:16:29 IST 2022 gruelling-schedule-patriarchy-indian-women-footballers-prepare-for-asian-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE YEAR 2021</b> began badly for the Indian women’s football team. Before head coach Thomas Dennerby took charge in August, the team’s record was: Played five; lost five; three goals scored; 16 goals conceded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the Swedish coach, the record till December reads: Played nine; won three; lost six; 14 goals scored; 17 goals conceded. The improvement in performances is evident, especially from the goals scored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the six matches lost under the new regime, three were against South American national teams and two were against top-tier Swedish clubs (both Dennerby’s former employers). Against Asian opponents, India won all three matches, scoring 10 goals and conceding only one (see graphics).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most noteworthy result was the 1-0 win against Chinese Taipei in October—the team was then ranked 17 places above India. The result becomes even more relevant in the run-up to the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India as Chinese Taipei is in Group A alongside the home team. The other two teams in the group are China and Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going by the latest FIFA rankings, China (19), is the strongest team in the group. Chinese Taipei sits 16 spots above 55-ranked India; Iran is ranked 70. Therefore, India’s match against Chinese Taipei on January 23, at Navi Mumbai, would be key in determining the fates of both teams in the competition, which is scheduled to start on January 20 (India’s first match is against Iran at 7:30pm).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“One of the key qualities of this team is that the players are fast, and we can beat a lot of opponents with our pace,” said Dennerby. “Finishing and creating chances are areas we have been working on.” Both the speed, which Dennerby has repeatedly emphasised, and the work being done on finishing are becoming increasingly visible in the team’s performances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the win against Chinese Taipei, for instance, forward Renu (who uses only the given name) ran on to a mistimed back pass and beat the goalkeeper with a sublime chip from well outside the box; it was also from an angle—she took the shot from India’s left flank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 20-year-old from Haryana, who idolises Cristiano Ronaldo and India captain Sunil Chhetri, has taken her goal and the team’s win in her stride and said that Chinese Taipei were a difficult side to play against. She added that playing against European and South American teams were invaluable experiences. “They grow up playing a high level of football,” Renu told THE WEEK. “The teams in Sweden posed a physical challenge and the South American teams were technically far superior.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of the South American teams that India played was Brazil (rank seven)—the first time any Indian team had played against a senior side of the Selecao. It was an exciting moment for Indian football as the home team, in its legendary yellow and blue kit, kicked off the match, on November 26, against the saffron-clad Indians. Four passes and 50 seconds later, Brazil scored. Given the gulf in quality and experience, the early goal was perhaps to be expected. What was not expected, however, was Indian attacker Manisha Kalyan’s clinical left-footed finish seven minutes later. India restricted Brazil to 2-1 in the first half, before losing 6-1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the scoreline, there were plenty of takeaways; from the goal—the result of a swift counterattack—to some determined defending. Manisha (who is known by her given name) turned 20 the day after she scored in Brazil. She said that just being out on the field with one of the best teams in the world was a great experience. “Playing against such a technical side, we had to work really hard on every inch of the pitch,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manisha, who hails from Punjab, is a “presence in the dressing room”, according to her teammates. She has also made her presence felt as an attacking threat on the pitch in the past year. Apart from the Brazil match, she scored against Ukraine, the UAE and Bahrain. At a news conference in December, she said that the team has worked really hard on the physical aspect. “In terms of physicality, we were able to compete with them (the South American teams),” she said. She also echoed Dennerby’s views on the team’s speed, which is possibly because it has players, including Manisha, who were into athletics before turning to football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The physicality of opponents was never likely to faze this group of Indian women—they grew up playing against boys on rugged grounds. But, in order to play high-level football, strength and conditioning training is key. Dennerby, 62, a vastly experienced coach, who was in charge of the Swedish national women’s team—a global powerhouse—for seven years, knows this all too well. He brought in former Swedish international Jane Tornqvist as India’s strength and conditioning coach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tornqvist, a tough-tackling centre-back who made over 100 appearances for Sweden, including at two World Cups, played under Dennerby at both international and club-level. She told the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website that the most important thing was that the players had started to get to know their own bodies. “Your body is a tool, and you need to take good care of it in order to perform,” she said. The 46-year-old said that she had not expected to be working in India, but she is settling in well and says that she had always been intrigued by India because of her love for yoga. Recently, she has taken a great liking to dosas. “They are my favourite Indian food now,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, talking about favourite food might be a painful subject for the players—they are on a strict diet. Manisha, whose favourite food items are aloo paratha, samosa and pakora, said that she would have been a more advanced football player now had she learned about proper diet four or five years ago and believes that if this information is passed on to younger players, they will advance further. Team captain Loitongbam Ashalata Devi said the diet regimen has had a big positive impact on the team, both mentally and physically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the lack of information about diet and nutrition is one factor which has held back Indian footballers in the past, the biggest challenge is the absence of a strong domestic structure in India. However, Ashalata Devi, 28, said it has not been a big disadvantage. “I think our ranking and performances in recent matches speak for themselves,” she told THE WEEK. “Our domestic league is relatively new and it has improved with every edition. Also, a number of our national team players have come from the Hero Indian Women’s League. Yes, there is room for improvement, but we should not be so quick to dismiss it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian football legend Oinam Bembem Devi has spoken about the financial plight of professional players. She asked corporates to step up and sponsor more competitions to help women get more exposure and earn more. However, Bembem Devi, 41, the first woman footballer to be conferred the Padma Shri, added that the landscape of women’s football had changed a lot since her playing days. “In our times, we did not have branded kits,” she said. “We travelled by bus or train, not by air. We did not have many friendly matches. So, a lot of changes have happened, thanks to the AIFF.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the challenges related to the profession of football, living in a patriarchal society also puts an additional burden on female sportspersons. “Men have to improve, and women have to prove themselves,” said Manisha. “This is something that most of my teammates have had to face, too. I have had my brushes with neighbours and relatives who could not see the merit of a girl playing football, but my parents backed me to the hilt, and that is what mattered. Now that I play for the national team, they (neighbours and relatives) have all changed their minds.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Renu said that she realised that girls can also play football only after she started going to the ground with her brothers. She said that growing up in Haryana was not easy, but added that her parents—both daily wage labourers—were extremely supportive. “Not everyone in society agreed with a girl playing football,” said Renu. “As I come from a very humble family, it was not always easy for my parents to support me. But I am thankful to them, as they have done everything possible to help me keep playing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan, 29, who spent two seasons at Premier League club West Ham United’s women’s team, said her parents were not initially supportive. “We did not know any girl who played football to a certain level and for my parents, there was the concern that I would get hurt,” said Chauhan. “There was also the aspect of facing society. My mom was worried about me getting a tan.” The turning point, she said, was when she got her first India jersey. “As my dad served in the CRPF, when I got the India jersey [they understood],” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About the experience of playing in England, she said the biggest difference was that there was an ecosystem where you could find a team, at various levels, and play regularly. “I think the organisation of the Hero IWL has helped us take necessary steps, but there is a long way to go,” she said. “If women start playing matches on a regular basis, we can go a long way. The level of physicality, intensity and tactical awareness that you need in senior international football is immense. We expect more clubs to be a part of the holistic growth of women’s football in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the competition is being hosted by India, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is likely to mean that the team does not benefit from the support of home crowds. But, defender Dalima Chibber, 24, said that whether crowds are allowed in the stadiums or not, the team knows that the people of India will be “backing their Blue Tigresses from wherever they are”. She said, “And we are going to fight for them and give it our best shot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About India’s chances in the tournament, Dennerby said that you cannot think too far ahead. “If you think of the third match before the first, you are in trouble,” he said. “But, I think we can make the quarterfinals, and one added advantage of doing that is that we could get a chance to qualify for the World Cup through playoffs.” India can qualify for the quarterfinals by finishing first or second in the group or by being one of the two best third-placed teams across the three groups.</p> Sun Jan 16 10:52:22 IST 2022 captaincy-chaos-ganguly-version-kohli-version-and-the-truth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It seems like an enviable life. A chartered flight from Mumbai to Johannesburg via the Seychelles. Security escort on landing. A welcome with much pomp at a luxurious, scenic hotel that is closed to other guests. However, for those on the road—the Men in Blue—it is another tour in a bio-bubble. The first training session at SuperSport Park, Centurion, is under overcast conditions. The bowlers smile—it is good weather for bowling; the batters, not so much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is new Team India head coach Rahul Dravid’s first series abroad. Who knows better than him what it takes to master the challenges of playing away. His message ahead of the session is: “Quality practice, good intensity”. Test skipper Virat Kohli listens, nods and claps, and it is time to train for what lies ahead. A Test series against hosts South Africa and the possibility of recording India’s first ever Test series win there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, runners-up in the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC), leads the points table of the new WTC cycle with 42 points (three wins, two draws and one loss in 2021). According to Kohli, it was the South Africa tour in 2018 that started Team India’s surge to become one of the best Test teams in the world. (India won the final Test of the series, after losing the first two.) “South Africa was really the start for us as a team, travelling and starting to believe we can win a series overseas,” he said in his pre-departure news conference on December 15. “We built it up nicely in England, and Australia was an accumulation of all those efforts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mastering the conditions will be key in this series. Pace and bounce are going to be the staple diet in Centurion and Johannesburg, with Cape Town having something to offer to the spinners. Dravid had led India to a historic Test win in Johannesburg in 2006, before Kohli repeated the feat in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For South Africa, this will be their first series of WTC 2021-23. They finished fifth in the last edition. This will be their first series at home led by Dean Elgar, who became captain in June 2021 when the team toured the West Indies. The series is also the first outing for the Proteas since then. Unfortunately, the threat of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 means that it will be played behind closed doors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The series is also happening in the shadow of a damning report by the social justice and nation building ombudsman Dumisa Ntsebeza, on racial discrimination in South African cricket. The report said that former stars Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and AB de Villers were guilty of prejudicial conduct. Boucher is the current head coach; Smith is now Cricket South Africa’s director of cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, too, has had its share of troubles. The absences of Rohit Sharma, because of a recurring hamstring injury, and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja are setbacks. But, this is overshadowed by the tensions between Kohli and the BCCI, led by former skipper Sourav Ganguly. It started in September, when Kohli said he would relinquish T20I captaincy, citing workload. The announcement came as a surprise to many in Indian cricket. Though Ganguly and BCCI secretary Jay Shah both issued statements that seemed supportive of Kohli, Sharma was made captain for both T20Is and ODIs. Kohli, it is reliably learnt, had assumed that he would be allowed to continue as ODI captain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a gulf between Kohli’s version of events and Ganguly’s. And the truth lies somewhere in between. Kohli was reportedly advised to rethink his decision by Ganguly, and even former head coach Ravi Shastri, during India’s tour of England (June-September, 2021). But, he had made up his mind. Kohli was then advised not to announce this decision till after the T20I World Cup (October-November), but he did not listen. This clearly made the BCCI bosses unhappy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 8, the BCCI announced the Test squad for the South Africa series. In the same press release, as a footnote, it said: “The selection committee also decided to name Mr Rohit Sharma as the captain for the ODI and T20I teams going forward.” There was no quote or explanation from Chetan Sharma, the chairman of selectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As conspiracy theories exploded in the media and social media, Ganguly issued a statement the next day, explaining that while the board did not want Kohli to quit T20I captaincy, once he decided to do so, the selectors felt there cannot be two white ball captains. “That is too much leadership,” said Ganguly, adding that he had spoken to Kohli personally and that Chetan Sharma also spoke to him regarding the decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That seems fair. But, according to Kohli, there was not too much dialogue. At the news conference on December 15, Kohli said he was informed he would no longer be ODI captain an hour-and-a-half before the Test squad was announced on December 8. He also said that there had been no communication from the BCCI regarding the ODI captaincy between September 16, when he said he would step down as T20I captain, and December 8. “The chief selector discussed the Test team with me; once we both agreed, before ending the call, I was told that the five selectors have decided that I will not be ODI captain, to which I replied, ‘Okay, fine’,” said Kohli. “And we chatted about it briefly in the selection call afterwards.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli strongly rebutted rumours of a rift between himself and Rohit Sharma. He also contradicted Ganguly’s claim that the board did not want him to quit the T20 captaincy. “When I approached the BCCI about my decision, it was received well,” he said. “There was no offence taken and no hesitation from the BCCI. I was told it was a progressive step. At the time, I told them I would like to continue [captaining] in Tests and ODIs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per THE WEEK’s findings, the following things are clear. After Kohli announced he would be stepping down as T20I captain, there was no communication between him and the BCCI till the Test squad selection. Ganguly and Shah did advise Kohli not to step down, and if he was going to quit, not to announce it till the T20I World Cup was over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former captain Sunil Gavaskar played down the alleged gap in communication. “What is the controversy here?” he told a news channel. “As long as the chairman of selectors told him that he was not being considered for ODI captaincy now, that is perfectly fine. It is the selectors who have authority in selection committee meetings. The captain is just a co-opted, non-voting member.” He added that as long as Kohli did not find out from the media, or, “as it has transpired in the past, the captain of a passenger flight announced it”, it was absolutely okay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former skipper Kapil Dev, meanwhile, advised the team to focus on the South Africa series. “I would say the board president is the board president, but, yes, the Indian cricket team captain is also a big thing,” said Dev, who had run-ins with BCCI bosses during his playing days. “But, talking badly about each other in public, I do not think is a good thing, whether it is Sourav or Kohli.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli’s sacking as white ball captain, which has dashed his hopes of leading India in the 2023 ICC Men’s ODI World Cup in India, is also being seen as a “clipping of his wings”. It is no secret that Kohli had absolute control of the team and was backed by Shastri, especially in the last two to three years. In fact, there have been occasions when even Shastri had not been able to prevail over Kohli when it came to decisions about the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also an allegation of “inaccessibility” against Kohli. Selectors and BCCI mandarins have reportedly found it difficult to talk to Kohli. There have also been issues, reportedly, where the selectors and Kohli have not been on the same page and certain players have not been given a chance by Kohli, leaving the selectors frustrated. The growing differences between Kohli and the BCCI hierarchy could well have resulted in events unfolding the way they did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been murmurs of a show-cause notice against Kohli, presumably for his comments regarding the lack of communication, but it is unlikely to materialise, if at all, till the team returns from South Africa. Ganguly, a veteran on issues related to the captaincy and the BCCI, has sought to put a moratorium on the controversy for now with his comment that the board would “deal with it appropriately”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli, true to his Delhi-cricketer-identity, has remained unfazed so far. But, taking on the BCCI, especially Ganguly, will only increase the pressure on himself to deliver, both with the bat and as Test captain. Then again, a hungry and determined Kohli can only mean good news for Team India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, this controversy yet again highlights the need for transparency and clarity in how Indian cricket is run. These, along with the rest of the reforms initiated by the Supreme Court, have been sent to the attic by the BCCI.</p> Sun Dec 26 09:57:05 IST 2021 one-day-at-a-time <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When the clouds unzip and drench the green, hearts sink across the land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years now, rain has been a villain in cricket, for fans to shake their fists at and swear. And for M/s Duckworth, Lewis and Stern to cop a few verbal blows, too. But, for all of its abilities to play spoilsport, rain did give birth to the vehicle that drove cricket into the future—the One-Day International.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the 1970-71 Ashes tour, a rather ill-tempered series by several accounts, a downpour had marred the third Test. The first three days were washed out and officials, looking to salvage the situation, quickly arranged a 40-over match. The Englishmen were not too keen on playing the truncated tie; Australian Cricket Board chairman Don Bradman, though, gave it a thumbs up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We didn’t take the game particularly seriously,” England captain Ray Illingworth told Sportsmail earlier this year. “The Australians were paid a full match fee and we weren’t paid much at all. We were there to win the Ashes and I didn’t want anyone to get injured. That made this game a bit dodgy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Australians eventually won by five wickets, but the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack of 1972 did not carry a report of the match. It was thought to be a one-off and, hence, deemed unworthy of a place in posterity.</p> <p>But, there was an undeniable spark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few false starts later, the inaugural World Cup was announced. The West Indies, led by Clive Lloyd, won the tournament. India won just one match, against East Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it was two years later that a burly Aussie would drag cricket, much to the chagrin of the gentlemen custodians of the game, into a new era. Media tycoon Kerry Packer had reached into his deep pockets and signed more than three dozen of the world’s leading players for a rival tournament to compete with the Australian season. The white ball, floodlights and regular use of coloured clothing were some of the innovations World Series Cricket brought, along with more money for the cricketers. In his book And God Created Cricket, journalist Simon Hughes wrote: “[Michael] Holding had only ever had a few hundred dollars in his post office account. When he got home after WSC and checked his account he was astonished at the amount. ‘It was the first time I’d seen a comma in that book,’ he said.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Commentator Mark Nicholas wrote in his book A Beautiful Game: “Packer changed and improved cricket. He emancipated the players for their benefit and for his. To some it was a scandal, to the rest of us it was a brave new world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it was in this brave new world that a lanky lad from Haryana led the unheralded Indians to their first World Cup win (then Prudential Cup) in 1983. What Kapil Dev and his men did arguably opened the eyes of many cricket playing nations to the possibility of reaching the pinnacle in a sport largely dominated by England, Australia and the West Indies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>David Frith, the editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, had written: “Show me a person who gave Kapil Dev’s team any chance of winning the 1983 World Cup and I will show you a liar and an opportunist.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He ate his words—literally—after the tournament. The publication put out a picture of him trying to wash down the inked-paper with what seemed to be red wine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For some purists, the shorter format was as unpalatable as that paper was to Frith. The One-Day game was more result-oriented and brought some sense of urgency to the game. The shots became more attacking, the bowling more inventive and the fielding livelier. The third umpire was introduced and games would be live till the last ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being shorter than Tests also meant that there was a chance that the better team might not always win. There was not enough time to rebuild after a bad session, like in Test cricket. A couple of slip-ups could cost you the game. For instance, Sri Lanka—winners of the ODI and T20I World Cups—have only beaten Australia four times in Tests, and that too at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This encouraged more and more teams, and broke the dominance of the few. With ODIs, cricket spread to more countries, earned more from advertising, and became more exciting to the casual fan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India’s case, the boom of ODI cricket coincided with the opening up of the economy in the early 1990s; television sets sprouted in homes across the country, and new channels filled them. Watching coloured clothing on colour TV was a thrilling prospect, and it only became better with events like the Desert Storm. Sachin Tendulkar hit back-to-back centuries in the 1997-98 Coca Cola Cup against Australia in Sharjah. It was one of the most memorable moments in ODI cricket, and there was plenty more to follow. Be it the 438 run chase by South Africa or the first 200, by Tendulkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest of the more memorable moments came in the final of the 2019 World Cup in England. A throw by Kiwi Martin Guptill hit Ben Stokes’s bat as he dove to the crease and went to the boundary. There was a Super Over, and England won the World Cup by virtue of hitting more boundaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was controversy, there was drama and there was excitement. It was a moment that highlighted the value of One-Day cricket; something that a section of fans had been questioning for a while. Some critics of the format had been saying that the well had run dry, and that the 50-over game faced an identity crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which brings us to the question: Now, having completed 50 years, where does the middle child of cricket stand? Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe wrote this is 2014: “Let’s see it settle the one-day game into 40-over mode, remove the gunk in the middle, keep it simple, stupid, and hey presto, every captain will be positive about the format that is still the life blood of our fine game. If not after the World Cup, then the one-day game will evolve within the next four years. It’s inevitable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly, Crowe did not live to see whether his prediction would come true. It did not, at least not to the extent he wanted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of the gripes persist. For starters, the trite observation that cricket nowadays is an “uneven contest between bat and ball”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>South African pace man Dale Steyn even said that ball tampering incidents could be seen as “a cry for help”. In the aftermath of Sandpapergate in 2018 (three Australians conspired to alter the nature of the ball using a foreign substance during a Test in Cape Town), Steyn said: “Fields are small, two new balls (takes out reverse swing), powerplays, bats have got bigger than they used to be… the list can go on. You bowl a ‘no ball’ and it is a free hit. But I have never seen a rule change that favours the bowler.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the question of meaning; there is “no contest without context”. The bilateral ODI series, in particular, has been a punching bag, with even some former cricketers taking their shots at it. “What I would like to see more is some significance attached to a bilateral series,” former Australian batter Dean Jones told Deccan Chronicle in 2017. “Otherwise, the mediocrity of these stupid and meaningless one-day bilateral series is not going to help the sport. We need more triangular series. Isn’t it fun to have India, Australia and South Africa featuring in a tri-series?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Indian cricketer Aakash Chopra told commentator Harsha Bhogle on a show in 2019: “By the fifth match (of a series), you don’t even remember, while covering it, who scored runs in the first game, who got out how in the second game… it doesn’t really add to the drama and there are far too many [matches]. In a 100-over game, there are at least 45 to 50 overs where nothing happens.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a video on Chopra’s YouTube channel, former Indian batter V.V.S. Laxman said: “It’s become a bit predictable. If the wicket is flat, the bowlers will be under pressure. If the conditions are bowler-friendly, then you won’t get to see the big shots. There’s a set pattern. The wicket matters a lot in ODI cricket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two countries playing five or even seven ODIs in a series could be boring, especially if the teams were mismatched. There was nothing larger at stake and there would often be dull dead rubbers. The ICC has tried to remedy this by introducing the ODI World Cup Super League—points will be on offer in every ODI and teams will have to qualify for the tournament in 2023 based on those points. However, there might be limited interest in India as the team has already qualified; it is the host.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the burnout aspect. As early as in 2009, a survey conducted by the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) showed that 80 per cent of cricketers believed they played too many one-dayers, and 75 per cent of those considering walking away from one format to prolong their careers would do so from ODIs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And as for Jones wanting triangular series, the last tri-series featuring any of the top three—India, Australia or England—was back in 2016. Several reasons have been cited for culling three- and four-nation tournaments, including less profit (because people would not turn up for neutral matches), and the packed schedule owing to domestic T20 leagues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growth of T20s made a lot of viewers crave pace in the game. But ODIs were not providing that. Even between top teams, the middle overs—11 to 40—usually saw a sort of truce between the teams; the batters would look for singles and twos and not take risks, and the bowlers would be defensive. Since the 2015 World Cup, though, the Eoin Morgan-led England have changed this. The team has been aggressive throughout the innings and its brand of cricket made the game more watchable, and eventually led to a World Cup win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also in England that the next format of cricket was introduced this summer—The Hundred. It was shorter than a T20, and was aimed at children and teens. If ODIs were envisioned to take the game forward and provide a result in a day, then T20s, and now The Hundred, did that much faster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all its initial success in bringing other nations into the fold, T20s have now taken over that role. The 2019 ODI World Cup had only 10 teams. The T20I World Cups have more. If an upset is possible in 50-over cricket, it is likelier in the 20-over format. And that will pull in more nations to play the shortest format. That cricketing administrators are looking to use T20 as the platform to drive growth is evident by the fact that the US will co-host the T20I World Cup in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for ODI inclusion, the last time Zimbabwe met any of the Big Three—India, England and Australia—on the field, the world was yet to hear the words ‘President Donald Trump’. India whipped them 3-0 in Harare in June 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, if T20s are the future, what about Tests? While the longest format has its own problems, it seems to be more secure in what it is. The band of purists swears by Tests; it is a test, they say, and it mimics life itself. That the past few years have seen some cracking, closely fought, see-saw matches has only bolstered that image. In 2019, the Marylebone Cricket Club conducted a survey of more than 13,000 responders from over 100 countries—an average of 86 per cent placed Test cricket as their preferred format to watch, follow and support over ODIs, T20Is and domestic T20s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The previous year, the ICC had conducted its first global market research survey; close to 70 per cent of the 19,000 global cricket fans interviewed were interested in Test cricket. T20I was the most popular format with 92 per cent interest, while ODIs were at a high 88 per cent interest (contrary to popular belief). Although, how much of that 88 per cent included the World Cup, the most popular event, was unclear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, there have been some ideas on how to generate more interest in ODIs. On a YouTube show last year, journalist Nikhil Naz suggested that the pitches need to be “spicier” and that ODIs should go back to using just one ball. This would bring reverse swing back into the game. He also batted for more overs for bowlers; there is no limit to the number of overs a bowler can have in a Test.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tendulkar had, some years ago, proposed that the ODI match be converted into four innings of 25 overs each. This would neutralise the dew factor advantage, make the rain rule more manageable and make broadcasters happier—there will be more innings breaks compared with the one long 45-minute break in the middle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be fair, the ICC has made some moves to make ODIs great again. The Champions Trophy, for instance, has been brought back. The last edition was held in 2017, in which Pakistan beat India in the final. Apparently, it was reinstated due to its popularity, which flies in the face of the argument that it was a pale shadow of the World Cup. The decision also indicated that a multi-nation tournament would always bring in the fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, to make the game more inclusive, the 2027 and 2031 ODI World Cups will have 14 teams each. One of the reasons cited for making the World Cup more exclusive was that broadcasters were spooked by India’s early exit in the 2007 World Cup, which had 16 teams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dev said on Chopra’s show: “When you see so many T20s and so many close finishes, you feel like the ODI format is drifting. This will happen for a while, but ODIs will come back stronger. In some time, there will be more exciting matches. There was a time when people thought Test cricket was over. But if you see the recent matches, Test cricket has become a lot more engaging. The results are close and draws are done. Like this, perhaps ODIs will also become more engaging.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Holding said in an interview last year: “I don’t think ICC will ever get rid of 50 overs cricket because that’s one of their biggest earners as far as TV rights is concerned. The money will be slashed drastically.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And if money can’t help, what can?</p> Tue Dec 21 12:05:45 IST 2021 cash-rich-qatar-has-spent-smartly-for-the-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Our original idea was inspired by a LEGO set, said Mohammed Al Mulla. If you were trying to guess what Al Mulla was referring to, a football stadium must not have been on the top of your mind. Yet, that is the origin story of the innovative Stadium 974 in Qatar. The 40,000-capacity venue in Doha is the first fully demountable stadium in the history of the FIFA World Cup. It has been built using recycled shipping containers and modular steel elements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Al Mulla, the engineer who was in charge of the stadium, told the official Qatar 2022 website that it was one of a kind and a blueprint for future hosts of mega events. “Fans will be amazed, especially about the fact that concession stands, toilets and medical rooms are all shipping containers,” he said. The 974 in the name denotes the number of shipping containers used. It is also Qatar’s international dialling code. According to Al Mulla, Stadium 974 is the first venue fans will see when they arrive in Qatar. A colourful and distinctive welcome, no doubt, but Stadium 974 is only the appetiser before the elaborate feast that Qatar has prepared for football fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, “prepared” is not jumping the gun. Seven out of the eight World Cup stadiums are ready. Only the venue for the final, the Lusail Stadium (coming up in the newly built metropolis of Lusail—15km north of central Doha) remains to be completed. No surprise then that FIFA president Gianni Infantino recently said that he had never seen a country so ready to host a World Cup. “The infrastructure is ready, which means that for the next year, we can focus on making sure that every fan coming to Qatar will have an incredible experience,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be at this stage of preparations with one year to go is impressive. But, then again, there was never any doubt with regard to the effort the country would put in. When Qatar won the bid in 2010, the immediate response was scepticism. This turned to outrage when allegations of bribery surfaced. Though heads rolled within FIFA, Qatar came out of the scandal with its hosting rights intact. Critics continued to attack it, though words like bribery had now been replaced with “financial muscle”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summer heat in Qatar was a major point of concern. In its bid, the country had promised environment-friendly stadium cooling technology. And despite the fact that the event was moved to the cooler November-December months, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC)—the body responsible for the implementation of host country operations—continued to develop cooling technology in order to create a strong legacy. In its search for cooling solutions, the SC reached out to Qatar University and found “Dr Cool”. Sudan-born Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani is a professor at the university’s College of Engineering. The cooling technology he developed for the World Cup stadiums combines insulation (keeping the cool air in and hot air out) with what Saud calls spot cooling (cooling only places where there are people). Also, the cooled air which is pushed out is drawn back, re-cooled, filtered and sent out again. This means that the technology is an estimated 40 per cent more sustainable than existing methods. Moreover, the cooling system needs to be switched on only two hours before a match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next logical step was to cool public spaces in Qatar. The Katara Plaza was unveiled as, reportedly, the world’s first open-air, air-conditioned plaza. Another project, Aspire Park, has a cooled walkway that uses solar panels to generate energy. Saud wants his technology to be adopted in other countries with warm climates. “The reason I joined the 2022 team was to serve the Arab region so that people here appear to others around the world in a different light,” he said in 2019. “The Middle East has a lot to offer and there’s nothing better than football to show that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another argument raised to question Qatar’s suitability as a host nation was its size—how would such a tiny country accommodate the teams and fans? But, Qatar had presented this perceived weakness as its greatest strength. As per FIFA’s bid evaluation report, the Qatar bid presented a “novel approach” of a concentration of almost all key event facilities and venues in a relatively compact area, within a radius of 60km. The compactness was sold as an advantage in terms of the ease of travel and security. Other key selling points were the commitment to sustainability and the promise to use modular sections of the venues to build 22 stadiums in developing countries after the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The focus on environmental sustainability goes well beyond the cooling system and is reflected in the use of solar energy, recycled water for irrigation and landscape conservation planning. All stadiums are on track to receive at least a four-star certification from the Global Sustainability Assessment System. Indians can take pride that among them is the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan which was built jointly by Larsen &amp; Toubro and its Qatari partner, Al Balagh Trading &amp; Contracting. After a visit to the stadium in December 2020, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted that L&amp;T had enhanced India’s reputation for quality and delivery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The quantum of work being done in Qatar has led to speculations, primarily in the western media, about the money being spent on the preparations. Some reports have claimed the spending to be in hundreds of billions. Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general, SC, has clarified that while the spending on infrastructure since 2010 is projected to be around $200 billion, the direct costs of the World Cup (stadiums and training grounds) have been closer to $6 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rest, including the new metro system, is in line with Qatar’s National Vision 2030, which aims to transform Qatar into an “advanced society capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for its people”. Several projects that were already part of Vision 2030 were simply advanced to meet the World Cup deadline. But, it must be noted that the budget for stadium construction and renovation was only $3 billion, as per the bid. Still, it could be argued that nobody else needs to fret if a cash-rich gulf country doubled its own stadium budget. However, what the world cannot turn a blind eye to are the allegations of human rights violations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, following documentation of the abuse of low-paid migrant workers, the Qatar government signed an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO), committing to a “three-year, wide ranging reform process”. Qatar and the ILO agreed to “align [Qatar’s] laws and practices with international labour standards and fundamental principles and rights at work”. Labour reforms, including ending the exploitative kafala system (which bound foreign workers to their employers), were enacted. But, an Amnesty report—Reality Check 2021—alleged that “weak implementation and gaps in the measures introduced have meant that over the last year, many abusive practices have re-emerged, seriously undermining the reform process”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The accusations against Qatar by media and human rights organisations prompted a few European national teams to stage protests during the qualifying rounds. But, the host nation has made it a point to respond to such allegations. For instance, when it was recently reported that Norwegian broadcast journalists were detained after trying to report on the condition of workers, Qatar’s Government Communications Office responded that they were detained for trespassing on private property and filming without a permit. “The crew... were provided with all the filming permits they had requested prior to their arrival and were offered meetings with senior government and third-party officials. These freedoms, however, do not override the rule of law. As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law,” the statement read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, when The Guardian reported that at least 6,500 migrant labourers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won the bid in 2010, the communications office responded that over 1.4 million expatriates from these countries had lived in Qatar over the period in question. The statement indicated that not all who died were labourers. It further added that “although each loss of life is upsetting”, the mortality rate among these communities was within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In November, another report by The Guardian featured hotel workers who alleged that they had been mistreated and exploited. This time, Qatar’s response said that the reporting failed to acknowledge the progress it had made to improve living and working standards for foreign workers. “Not a single story from among the thousands of people who have benefited from Qatar’s labour reforms is highlighted in the article. Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress, but we expect reporting to present the facts as they stand. Going forward, Qatar remains firmly committed to cooperation, transparency and continuous improvement of its labour system,” read the response from Fahad Al-Mana, media attaché to the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the allegations of corruption and abusive work conditions were not enough, Qatar also had to contend with an economic blockade led by its neighbours, followed by Covid-19. Through it all, the country has stayed on track. And while the scrutiny on its labour reforms and human rights record will continue, Qatar can now look forward to reaping the rewards of its work over the last decade. But, what can fans expect? The SC has said that there would be accommodation options suitable to all pockets—five-star, three-star, service apartments, desert camps and cruise ships. The variety in the options is also noteworthy since it allows Qatar to host the event without adding new hotel rooms, which would not be needed after the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sale of alcohol is restricted in the country and the price is relatively high. For the World Cup, it is expected that alcohol will be available in designated fan zones for lower prices than usual. However, it is an offence to drink in public or be “drunk on a main road”, or, disturb others while intoxicated. Therefore, the usual drunken antics of England fans, for instance, are unlikely to go down well. Qatar has strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws. However, it has said that it would comply with FIFA rules promoting tolerance and inclusion. Therefore, rainbow flags or other such symbols are not likely to cause a problem. But, public displays of affection are frowned upon—this is equally applicable to heterosexual and homosexual couples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the footballing front, there is no doubt that the World Cup will benefit Qatar. There has already been a massive improvement in the national team. It was ranked 113 when the bid was won. Now, the team sits comfortably at 51. Much of the current national team came through the Aspire Academy—a sporting centre for excellence that has trained local talent since 2004. Qatar has done well in youth tournaments and won the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Attacker Almoez Ali, who was the top-scorer in the 2019 Asian Cup with nine goals, told the Qatar 2022 website that the team’s aim was not merely to take part. “We strive to make it to the furthest stage possible,” said the 25-year-old, who captains Qatar Stars League club Al-Duhail. “We are not just representing Qatar, we are representing the entire Arab world.” Ali believes that the timing of the tournament could improve performance. It kicks-off on November 21—mid-season in most leagues. “Players will be in optimal shape, as opposed to being fatigued,” said Ali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Defender Bassam Al-Rawi, who was named in the team of the tournament in 2019, said that Qatar had been working hard both on and off the pitch for a long time. “In addition to the work being done to prepare the country to host, equal effort has been put in to develop football,” said the 24-year-old, who also plays for Al-Duhail. “This produced a team that is going into the World Cup as Asian Champions.” Clearly, there is no shortage of confidence. But, up against the best teams in the world, things will not be easy for Qatar. To live up to the expectations of the local fans, the team will have to produce performances worthy of the stage that the host country has built.</p> Sun Dec 19 16:45:03 IST 2021 i-leave-with-a-clear-conscience-says-ravi-shastri <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ravi Shastri is just glad to be back home in Mumbai. The past two years, in particular, have been especially tiring. As head coach, he has been on the road with the Indian team to several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the UAE. In that time, he has also lived in bio-secure bubbles, been through lengthy quarantines and followed strict protocols. His four-year tenure ended with the tour to England in September. Now resting and recuperating, he says the handcuffs are finally off!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had got his second stint as coach ahead of Anil Kumble, who was the BCCI’s choice. Captain Virat Kohli had batted for Shastri, and their partnership was fruitful. The former called the shots and the latter worked in the background with his support staff. Though there was criticism about Shastri taking a backseat, he was clear about his approach to the job—the skipper was the captain of the ship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shastri-Kohli era saw India scaling new heights in Test cricket; the team won away from home, and was aggressive and fearless. Shastri’s biggest achievement was taking India to the number one spot in Test cricket. India won the mace twice during his tenure and reached the inaugural World Test Championship final. India was number one for 42 months from 2016 to 2020. It also became the first Asian team to beat Australia in Australia, in 2018-19. India repeated this feat in 2020-21, that too with a depleted side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same could not be said of the performance in the shorter formats, especially away from home. The absence of an ICC title still rankles. The team management just could not settle on the right number four in ODIs and the second opening slot, beside Rohit Sharma, was a revolving door. The team reached the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup in England, and did not go past the group stage in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Shastri, India won 25 of 43 Tests, 51 of 76 ODIs and 42 of 65 T20Is. But, for the coach, it was more about how the team won or lost. While India had a never-say-die attitude in Tests, in white-ball cricket, it lacked the X factor and was seldom dynamic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shastri, though, has always taken the good with the bad. His relationship with Kohli might have been “special”, but it did not exactly end the way it started. In England earlier this year, the duo reportedly had differences of opinion on team issues; Kohli decided to step down as T20I captain and Shastri, too, was done as coach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That England tour, his last, was perhaps the toughest for Shastri. The team was going into it after losing the World Test Championship final to New Zealand. Worse, Shastri got Covid-19 and was away from the team for two weeks. The series is still live; India leads 2-1, and the final Test will be played next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Shastri, the saving grace during tough times was his daughter, Aleka, who was with him in England. “She is only 13, but she follows the game avidly and is our in-house expert. She tells me whom to pick and drop from the team,” says the proud father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Shastri spoke at length about his tenure as coach, and his thoughts on the future of the game and the newer players. Most importantly, he spoke of how happy he was to move on from the job. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How would you sum up your second stint as head coach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Oh, it has been very rewarding, very satisfying. It has been one hell of an experience. We see everything in terms of wins and losses, but I would ask [people] to also look at it in terms of where we started, what we had, where we were on the world stage, and where we have gone. The team exceeded my expectations (in terms of results). It has been one hell of a journey. Here, everything was “live”; no time for retakes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How would you describe yourself as a coach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Chilled, but looks can be deceptive. I don’t shout at the boys; they are like my younger brothers. But if something needed to be told, it had to be told. While being extremely firm, one has to remember that the past two years have been extraordinary. [During] Covid times, there has to be some empathy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As coach, you would have experienced highs and lows.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That has been the beauty of it. There have been many highs and some lows. [There was] the disappointment of not winning any ICC trophy, but [we won] in Australia not once, but twice. To be honest, I leave with a clear conscience. I did not expect them to do as well. The team had the self-belief to do so.</p> <p>We won two back-to-back series in Australia, the second one with reserve players and against one of the strongest Australian teams since World War II. Only guys going through quarantines, restrictions and lockdowns will know how hard it was; no one can understand what the team went through. You weigh everything and see, it was simply unbelievable. To concede a lead in Tests and then win—at the Gabba, Oval and Lord’s. To take 10 wickets without your main fast bowlers... imagine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was your toughest day as coach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ See, the coach is in the firing line; there is no choice. That is the quirk of the job. You have to be ready from day one. I knew there would be no escape routes. The 36 all out (in the Adelaide day/night Test in December 2020) was the lowest point. We had nine wickets in hand [overnight] and then we were bundled out for 36. All that had to be done was score to 80-odd more runs [to be in the game]. We were all numb. We were in a state of shock for days. How could that have happened?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just me. I would be the first to put my hand up and say I was the one responsible, take the brickbats; there is no place to hide. I told the boys to focus on what they could do. The boys were unbelievable. One month after that 36 all out, on January 19, we had won the series. I am still thinking, how did that happen? I promise, as long as I live, people will talk about that series win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been absolutely no regrets. I have barely seen my family in the past two years. We have expectations of the nation, and to deal with those does take a toll on you. We have been playing all over, be it in Sri Lanka, England, South Africa or Australia. We had the goodwill of people, including critics; we came through tough periods and did our jobs to the absolute best of our abilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has your relationship with Virat Kohli evolved over the past four years? It is no secret that you were his preferred choice as coach.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are two people with a similar mindset. We have a similar wavelength. In 2014, when I first came in, there was only one big player—M.S. Dhoni. Who else was there? Who was superstar material? Virat, and maybe Rohit Sharma, in white-ball cricket. To see these two guys come through and become great players in red- and white-ball cricket, to have a great fast-bowling attack, to beat Australia in their backyard—there have been so many firsts with this team. It is overwhelming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[For the] next two to three months, I am not doing anything! To have come through this grind, I need time to recharge and regroup. I got only five days off during my time as coach and the week when I got Covid! (laughs)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on Kohli as captain?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ At the end of the day, he has been a tactically sound captain. Efficient. People will always judge you by results, or not by how you got the runs, but how many runs you scored. He has evolved well; he has matured as a player. It is not easy being captain of the Indian team. He should feel proud of what he has achieved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you okay with his decision to give up T20I captaincy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ One hundred per cent. It has happened to the best. I remember Sunny (Gavaskar) giving up [captaincy] to concentrate on his batting; Sachin Tendulkar did the same to prolong his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When did you decide that you did not want to continue as coach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I decided in England that this was it. We had been on the road for two years. I needed to spend time with family. There is a time and place for everything. I had done my time. I gave it all, came [to the job] without any agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the criticism that the team did not win an ICC trophy during your tenure? What does the team need to do to win one?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I guess more than anything else, go back to the situation, see what you can do better. In the 2019 World Cup, unfortunately, the match went on to the next day. We had restricted New Zealand to 239 and were unlucky. That won’t happen again anytime soon; few ODIs get carried forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What hurt was the WTC final. We could have had one hand on the trophy, we could have easily drawn it. Not to make excuses, but New Zealand had already played two Tests in England in very similar conditions to [those] back home. My boys were in quarantine for 20 days, out for five days and then straight into the WTC final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Split captaincy and Rohit as skipper in the shorter formats. Thoughts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Rohit is not overawed; he always does what is best for the team. He marshalls all the resources of the team unlike, let’s say, in football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are youngsters like Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah different from the previous generations of cricketers?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They are brilliant! Pant, Shubman Gill, Bumrah—it has only been a couple of years since they made their India debut. They have the same belief as their predecessors; it’s just that the exuberance of youth and the fearlessness is far greater. They come in far more experienced than the previous generations. I have always said that the IPL has made a difference—to share a dressing room with the best in the world, play with and against them and then come into the Indian team; [it makes them] far more experienced. When I was playing, the maximum pace I had faced in domestic cricket was 74kmph. Then, [when I made it] to the Indian team, [I faced] Imran Khan and the West Indies pacers. The exposure level is vastly different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on what lies ahead for the game with its three formats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Test cricket will never go. [The ICC] needs to focus on ODI cricket; it can diminish in the long run. T20 cricket will be there as it fills the coffers of cricket boards and draws crowds. I guess bilateral cricket has to be reduced in the white-ball formats. There is no point having bilateral T20Is with so many leagues around. National teams should focus on the big ones—the ICC trophies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What next for you? Are you up for coaching in the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If asked, I would 100 per cent like to be a franchise coach. I will definitely do broadcast work. I have 25 years of experience there and have travelled the globe. [Also,] I now know how the modern player thinks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has the game changed in the time you have been away from the commentary box?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is much faster and the volume is much more. The amount of cricket we (India) play is more than what any other team plays. There is barely any respite. I think there will come a time in white-ball cricket, especially in the shortest format, when coaches will control the game from the dugout. There is just too much happening in the middle for the captain to handle. So, coaches will take on the responsibility.</p> Sun Dec 05 10:40:22 IST 2021