Sports en Sun Aug 21 08:19:16 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> Sun Mar 13 11:33:30 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 as-coach-rahul-dravid-will-focus-on-open-communication <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A grinning Sourav Ganguly told the audience at the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair: “I got a call from him (Samit) saying that his father (Rahul Dravid) was being too strict with him and that he needed to be taken away. That is when I called Rahul and told him it was time for him to join the national team.” Jokes apart, it was no secret that the BCCI president was always keen on his teammate, friend and former deputy captain succeeding Ravi Shastri as the coach of the Indian men’s team. It took some convincing, but Dravid eventually agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganguly was not alone in coaxing Dravid. Reportedly, some current players, too, requested Dravid to take up the job. The reason—he had worked with several of them at the Under-19 and India A level, or as the head of the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. There was already a sense of familiarity; the players preferred him to a new, relatively unknown face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Dravid has coached the likes of K.L. Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari, he has also played for India with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have been fortunate to have known him for a long time,” said India T20I vice captain K.L. Rahul. “As a youngster, I learned [more about] the art of batting from him; it was kind of him to do so back home in Karnataka. Since he finished playing, he has been helping boys around the country. To have him in the setup is a great opportunity for all of us to learn.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Kohli-Shastri era was good in terms of results—the Test series wins in Australia and being finalists in the World Test Championship being the highlights—the absence of an ICC trophy had been a sore point with the BCCI. And so, Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah turned to Dravid, who had been working on his coaching skills since retirement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid’s brief is clear—win next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia, and the ODI World Cup at home the following year. The second WTC final will also be during his tenure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid knows this. His vision, he said before the home series against New Zealand, would be to: “Help everyone improve as players and people. As long as we do that, we should be fine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also been clear that he would not prioritise any format. “All three formats are important for us,” he said. “Obviously, we need to prepare for the [upcoming ICC] events.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the initial days, Dravid will look to ease into the role by just observing and understanding how the team functions. After the recent T20 World Cup, he had held a series of interactions with players and support staff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no secret that Kohli and Shastri shared a special rapport. In fact, it was at Kohli’s instance that Shastri became head coach in 2017. The two had a similar, aggressive approach to the game. Shastri backed Kohli’s line of thinking on most occasions, and would accede to the captain’s plans in terms of team combination and strategy during matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Dravid, though, the dynamic is expected to change. Kohli might not get the same amount of leeway he got from Shastri. The difference is already visible: The national selectors, for instance, have become firmer while picking players and the BCCI is backing them more than before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid will not impose himself on others, but will be quietly firm. While Shastri was more old school, Dravid will be armed with analysis in team meetings and is expected to make dispassionate and rational decisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Dravid, too, will have to make some adjustments. As a senior coach in Indian cricket said: “The onus will be on Dravid to establish trust and rapport with both the captain and the team. It does not happen overnight. As a coach, he has to work with different stakeholders—the team, selectors, BCCI and support staff. All coaches have to do that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And Dravid is open to flexibility. “It is an opportunity for me to learn, to get to know the players,” he said. “It is about moulding yourself to get the best out of players; that is my philosophy.” Dealing with two captains with different personalities—Kohli and Sharma—is unlikely to be an issue for him. As for the support staff, Vikram Rathour will continue as batting coach, and Paras Mhambrey and T. Dilip will be the new bowling and fielding coaches, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said K.L. Rahul: “He [wants to] create an atmosphere where everyone can understand each other better as players. He was always a team man when he was playing and that is a culture he wants to bring here as well—where everyone puts the team ahead of personal goals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid began his coaching journey as mentor to Rajasthan Royals in the 2014 edition of the Indian Premier League. He moved on to the Delhi Daredevils, and was made the head coach of the Under-19 team in 2016. The Ishan Kishan-led team finished runners up at the 2016 World Cup, losing to the West Indies in the final. Several youngsters, including Kishan, Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar, emerged from that tournament. Two years later, Dravid took the team to the title. The standouts that time were captain Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid was also the coach of the India A team on its tours of England and New Zealand, before taking the NCA job in 2019. Two years later, he subbed in for Shastri—who was in England with the Test team—for the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhay Sharma, who has been part of the India A and Under-19 setups, and who narrowly missed out on the fielding coach’s job, said: “Dravid as India coach is the best thing to happen to Indian cricket. His way of coaching is simple. He does not believe in changing too much, but [is open to] suggestions. He is a good communicator and is precise with everyone, be it an Under-19 or senior player. He is not judgmental, makes a person believe he is wanted, and [believes] in one-on-one communication.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid is also a sharp observer. Said Abhimanyu Easwaran, India A batter from Bengal: “During my India A tours, I would have questions about conditions in England and New Zealand, and he would not just share his knowledge, but also give us a lot of confidence. There was a Ranji season where I was just getting 50s and 60s in whatever tour I was going on. He told me to just stay in the present. It was not about the score, it was about what I needed to do in the moment... what did my team need me to do? If I focused on that, I had a chance of batting longer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After that talk, Easwaran stopped looking at the scoreboard regularly. “He is very precise in his inputs,” he said. “He talks a lot about the mental aspect of the game and helps you grow as a cricketer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Player development is at the core of Dravid’s coaching, as is putting the team first. “When we talk of player development, it means maximising an individual’s potential,” said one of Dravid’s former colleagues, who has also coached at the NCA. “It is done more via discussion and one-on-one talks. He chats a lot with the guys.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid also lays emphasis on “following the process”. This, he believes, will automatically take care of the results. “His focus is on team development and, if the team follows the processes correctly, the results will automatically come,” said a senior coach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid would also focus on workload management and finding the right balance between giving chances to players while also letting them feel secure in their position. He said the players’ long-term future would be a priority, keeping in mind the pandemic and the bio-bubble fatigue. “In times like these, we need to be in conversation with the players all the time,” said Dravid. “Whenever they play, they [should be] fresh and fit and switched on, especially those who play all three formats. If we have all players fit and ready to go, I am sure we will be a formidable team.”</p> Sun Nov 21 09:22:33 IST 2021 hit-man-to-helm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 2019 Indian Premier League final. Chennai Super Kings needed nine runs to win off the final over. Mumbai Indians’ skipper Rohit Sharma tossed the ball to Lasith Malinga; the Sri Lankan had gone for 42 runs in his three overs that night, had dropped a catch and had missed a run out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbai won by one run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The match had been deeply tactical, with momentum see-sawing throughout the night. Chennai captain M.S. Dhoni was cool under pressure, as expected, but Sharma was cooler that day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is one of the reasons Sharma is the frontrunner to be India’s T20I captain after Virat Kohli bows out at the end of the ongoing World Cup. It is a campaign that has, so far, gone horribly for one of the favourites. India now depends on the results of others to make it to the semifinals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is, will the BCCI bank on Sharma’s experience and success—he is the current vice captain, has captained India, was part of the T20 World Cup-winning team of 2007 and has led Mumbai Indians to five IPL titles—or will it be more forward-looking and add freshness to the team by choosing a younger captain? The names of K.L. Rahul and Rishabh Pant are doing the rounds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whoever the choice, he will, along with new coach Rahul Dravid, have nearly a year to correct course, before the next T20 World Cup in Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dravid, the former India captain and former head of the National Cricket Academy, has previously coached the India A and Under-19 sides, and would look to translate that success to the highest level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given Sharma’s experience and ability to keep things simple, along with Dravid’s eye for detail and preparation in the back room, it is likely that Rahul and Pant would be understudies to Sharma for now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this context, the 14 bilateral T20Is India will play in the next year will be crucial for the new captain and coach to shape their team for the World Cup. It will be a transition period, and a hectic one at that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This new journey begins with India taking on New Zealand at home later this month. The first match will be at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former India pacer Ajit Agarkar: “If there was not a World Cup next year, you would want to look at long-term [captaincy]. If you look at the IPL record, Rohit is the frontrunner. The other two have been around as leaders only in the last year and a half. For a World Cup, you want someone with experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Added former chairman of selectors Kiran More: “Rohit is very good. He knows what he wants from players, has a game plan and is mature. He has played under M.S. Dhoni and with Sachin Tendulkar, and has learnt a lot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what about T20 being a young man’s game? Rohit, after all, is 34. “You need not have young captains in T20s,” said More. “Look at Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Kieron Pollard (West Indies) and Eoin Morgan (England); they are all experienced players.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pravin Amre, who has closely watched Rohit play for Mumbai and has observed Pant as Delhi Capitals assistant coach, said the choice would depend on what the BCCI wants. “If the BCCI wants to promote a future captain, it will look at Rahul or Pant. If the priority is to win an ICC trophy now, then experience should matter. Do you want a skipper who will win you cups in 2022-23 or a player who will lead the team for the next five years? It is entirely dependent on the team management.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the sense of urgency within the BCCI to win an ICC event outweighs plans to install and groom a long-term captain. Though the country is home to the high-voltage, star-studded IPL, India’s only T20 World Cup win came before the league was launched—in the inaugural 2007 edition. Since the first IPL season in 2008, India has reached the World Cup final once, losing to Sri Lanka in Bangladesh in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With another T20 World Cup next year, you need someone with experience to lead, which I think is Rohit,” said former India spinner Harbhajan Singh, who has played with Sharma for India and Mumbai Indians. “If [BCCI] is thinking long term, I feel someone like Jasprit Bumrah can be given the responsibility. He is a champion bowler and a certainty to start in the playing XI.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Amre, a point in Sharma’s favour is that he is “very popular” among teammates. Agreed Agarkar: “Rohit is a great guy. I have known him for 20 years now, and he is an easy guy to get along with. As captain, you need to have a feel for the game and he seems to have it. He is a captain in control on the field. Rohit is his own man.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is also a team man. “I remember a low-scoring game in the IPL versus Rising Pune Supergiant,” said Harbhajan. “He takes a lot of advice from teammates on the field, which is important. You cannot do your own thing in a pressure game.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharma is also known to make the youngsters in the team feel comfortable. “A junior player can easily approach him and share his views on what can be done,” he added. “Also, he will always give the bowler the first shot (regarding setting fields and plans for batsmen). If that does not work, he will tell the bowler what to do. He is aware of the mindset of his bowlers and is spot on with his bowling changes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the question of whether the change in T20I captaincy will spill over to the ODI format as well. India will host the 2023 ODI World Cup, and there would be high expectations to lift the trophy at home, a la 2011. That could be Kohli’s last chance to win an ICC ODI title as captain, and it remains to be seen whether the selectors will entrust him with that responsibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the ODI World Cup, there would be a generational shift, and perhaps that is when contenders like Rahul and Pant would be given the nod.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar said that Rahul can be Sharma’s deputy in the shortest format, even as Pant is earmarked as a future captain. There is reportedly talk among selectors that, if Sharma is rested for the upcoming New Zealand series, Rahul could be the stand-in captain. He had, on the tour to New Zealand in 2020, captained and won in a T20I after Sharma retired hurt while batting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Punjab Kings’ skipper recently found his lost mojo during the series in England and has made a comeback to all formats after a year-and-a-half-long lull.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Sharma, Rahul, too, is mostly unruffled on the field and is coming into his own as an IPL captain. Said former chief selector Sandeep Patil: “KL has the temperament to lead a team, but Rohit has cemented his place. KL has been consistent only since the England series.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Pant, Gavaskar had praised his “street smartness” and ability to read the game and act immediately as traits that would make him a good “future captain”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Pant has age on his side; he is 24. Said Patil: “Rishabh has to wait; he has shown great skills as Delhi Capitals’ captain. I feel Rohit should be made skipper. He is calm; I see a bit of MSD in him. He does not panic, and his handling of the bowlers has been good. He is a good tactician.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More thinks Pant would be ready by 2023. “Rishabh is yet to mature as a player. He is growing in the IPL as a leader, and he can be thought of as a vice-captain or an understudy. He is captaincy material for the future. He is street smart, his progress in Test cricket has been fantastic, but he needs to do well in white-ball cricket. He needs to win matches first, especially T20s. He is my student, but he has yet to deliver on his talent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Added Amre: “Rishabh is a match-winner, he is young. I see shades of Dhoni in him. He likes to take responsibility, be it keeping, captaining or batting. He is more for the future.”</p> Sat Nov 06 23:06:16 IST 2021 t20-world-cup-a-look-at-the-men-who-could-be-game-changers-for-their-teams <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This declaration from Ian Bishop during commentary was perhaps the most unforgettable line from the 2016 ICC T20 World Cup. Chasing 156 against England in the final, the West Indies needed 19 runs off the last over. Brathwaite smashed four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes’s bowling to lead his team to its second title; it is the only team to have done so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five years after from that iconic moment at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, much has changed in T20s. Brathwaite is not part of the West Indies side that will compete at the ongoing World Cup in the UAE. Neither is an injured Ben Stokes. As far as their teams are concerned, the latter will be missed more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The format itself has evolved in the past five years. Batsmen have become ‘batters’ and the shot-making is now different: the paddle sweep, reverse sweep and the scoop are old; Rishabh Pant’s reverse flick off a pacer or the ramp shot against the seamer’s bouncer are some of the newer, more daring shots. As for bowlers, slower balls at the death or the carrom ball for a spinner are passé; the mystery spinner, instead, is a plus to any team. While wrist spin is still in, the finger spinners, too, have made a comeback this World Cup—the prime example being Ravichandran Ashwin, who will play T20Is for India after four years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The game changers are not only the good-old finishers at number six or the established top-order batsmen or the biggest six hitters. The past few years has seen the rise of the super specialist. Roston Chase of the West Indies, Aussie Marcus Stoinis, England’s Dawid Malan and South Africa’s Tabraiz Shamsi are some of the specialists who have honed their skills in various T20 leagues around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Josh Inglis, the 26-year-old wicket-keeper batter from Australia, has been a surprise pick. He is yet to make his international debut for Australia in any format, but got the call after a prolific season in the Vitality Blast for Leicestershire; he already had the reputation of being a busy player in the Big Bash League. England’s Liam Livingstone also comes in with the reputation of being an impact player. A fine run of form in 2021 led to his return to the national T20 setup after four years. He then scored England’s fastest T20I hundred, against Pakistan this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the tournament begins, THE WEEK takes a look at some of the players who can anchor an innings, strike the ball hard, innovate both with bat and ball, and, most importantly, win matches for their team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>K.L. Rahul</b><br> <br> </p> <p>India</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“King Legend” Rahul—as some fans on Twitter have dubbed him—has been in sublime form of late. Though he lost the Orange Cap in the IPL in the last match, he made his runs (626) in fewer games, and at a better average than the eventual winner—Ruturaj Gaikwad (635). And that was when he had the task of carrying his franchise’s batting effort in several games. There are many who feel that the added responsibility of being Punjab Kings’ captain smothered his attacking game, and that he would be free to unleash in the company of Rohit Sharma while opening for India. He did that in the warm-up match against England on October 18. Opening with Ishan Kishan, the 29-year-old scored 51 off just 24 balls, setting up a confidence-boosting win for his team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think K.L. Rahul, coming off a great IPL, is the pillar that the guys can build around,” former Australian quick Brett Lee told Fox Sports recently. “It takes the pressure off [Virat] Kohli if Rahul is scoring runs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elegant right hander can score in all areas, is innovative, and has one of the most beautiful lofted drives in the game. What makes him extra useful is that he can bat in several positions and can also keep wickets (he does that for the Kings). If the team management allows him to cut loose from ball one, expect fireworks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Batting average (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>39.92</b></p> <p>7th best of all time</p> <p>(minimum 20 innings)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2018-2020 (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>Batting average </b><br> <b>41.69</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Batting strike rate</b><br> <b>145.11</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Glenn Maxwell</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australia</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The explosive batter goes into the World Cup in superb form. He scored 513 runs in 15 matches, including six half centuries, for Royal Challengers Bangalore in this year’s IPL. More importantly, he was better in the second leg of the tournament, scoring at an average of 41.43. The World Cup preparation could not have been better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a format where the Australians have never won the highest prize—this is their seventh attempt, this time under captain Aaron Finch—Maxwell’s performance will be crucial. The right-handed batter has credited Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers for the surge in his form. “I was a sponge to Virat and AB, just watching the way they go about things,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though seen as the linchpin of the Aussie batting for the tournament, the 33-year-old has played down the importance of his role. “If I continue the process I have followed in the IPL, I know I’m going to have success,” he said ahead of the warm-up game against India on October 20. “It is a nice position to be in mentally, that I have come off a good run of form. I am not over-thinking the stuff in-game.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slow and low pitches of Sharjah and Dubai—usually regarded difficult to bat on for fluent scorers like Maxwell—did not affect him much. Known for his unconventional stroke-play, he used switch hits and reverse hits against both pace and spin in the IPL. “In T20s, I have found a nice little rhythm batting at number four [for RCB],” he said during the IPL. “It is something I probably had for Australia over a long period of time as well, which is probably why I have success over there.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also a handy off-spinner and one of the best fielders in the Aussie side, Maxwell is a complete package when things go right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Batting strike rate (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>158.92</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All-time best<br> (among players of full members; minimum 250 balls faced)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of two players, with Chris Gayle, to score two 100s in <b>50 balls</b></p> <p>or fewer</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Liam Livingstone</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England</p> <p>This July, Liam Livingstone hit England’s fastest 50, off 17 balls, and converted it into England’s fastest 100, off 42 balls, against Pakistan at Trent Bridge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following month, the 28-year-old became the MVP of The Hundred, a new, shorter format the England and Wales Cricket Board introduced to woo younger fans. In nine innings, the right-hand bat scored 348 runs at a strike rate of 178.46. He also hit 27 sixes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His power hitting notoriety—especially in a team packed with the breed—earned him a spot on a Sky Sports Masterclass with former England batter Kevin Pietersen in August. In that video, after hitting a monstrous six, he says: “We talk about being able to hit big sixes, it’s an entertainment thing, it’s great fun. But it’s also a great thing to have [as a batter] because you can back yourself to clear an 80m boundary with a long on rather than being able to clear a 30-yard circle for a one-bounce four.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he did not have a great outing with the Rajasthan Royals this year, leaving the bubble out of exhaustion, he made 30 off 20 balls in the warm-up match against India on October 18, signalling a return to form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also a useful spinner, Livingstone gave away only 10 runs in two overs and felled Indian captain Virat Kohli. He later injured his finger taking a catch, and might miss England’s first game in the tournament. England fans would hope it’s only one. Fingers crossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2021 (T20Is)</b></p> <p>Batting average</p> <p><b>47.50</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Batting strike rate</p> <p><b>182.69</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lockie Ferguson</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New Zealand</p> <p>Though the UAE will offer slow, sluggish wickets, Lockie Ferguson, 30, has shown that tearaway pace—regularly hitting 150kmph—can still rattle stumps and plans. He will be teaming up with veterans Tim Southee and Trent Boult, armed with his knowledge of the conditions and a lethal bouncer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had a good IPL season for runners-up Kolkata Knight Riders; he took 13 wickets in eight matches. In one of the matches, he got the ball to skid and ripped through Rajasthan Royals’ middle order. “Lockie is arguably one of the best T20 players in the world,” said KKR chief mentor David Hussey. “He regularly executes his balls and tonight (versus Rajasthan Royals) his first two overs changed the tempo and momentum of the game.” In the 13 T20Is he has played so far, Ferguson has taken 24 wickets at an economy rate of 6.86.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His team has done well in recent ICC tournaments, having made the final in the 2019 ODI World Cup and having won the inaugural Test Championship this June. If the dream run has to continue, Ferguson might have to run riot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bowling average (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>13.16</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bowling strike rate (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>11.50</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Average and strike rate are both among the best in the world</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tabraiz Shamsi</b></p> <p>South Africa</p> <p>Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan had been called magicians for what they did with the ball. Tabraiz Shamsi plies the same trade, but is an actual magician to boot. He wanted to be an illusionist growing up, and one of his most famous celebrations sees him pulling out a hanky from his pocket and turning it into a mini sword.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Antics aside, he is currently ranked number one in the ICC T20I bowlers’ rankings. He has taken 28 wickets in 17 matches this year; this is the second most in a calendar year. He could go past Aussie Andrew Tye’s 31 in 19 matches (in 2018) during this World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When it comes to the best spinner at the World Cup, it’s hard to look past Tabraiz Shamsi,” former West Indies leg-spinner Samuel Badree wrote for the ICC. “Left-arm wrist spinners are rare in international cricket—he is very consistent, can turn the ball both ways and has tremendous control. He has the ability to bowl in different phases of the game, too, which is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While several experts have written off the South African team—especially as management left out Faf du Plessis and brought in as captain Temba Bavuma, who is seen as a Test specialist—the pitches in the UAE should help 31-year-old Shamsi shine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fellow leggie Rashid Khan told The Cricket Monthly that “it should be a spinners’ World Cup”. Shamsi would certainly hope so; the Protean batters, perhaps not as much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wickets (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>187</b> (162 innings)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2021 (T20Is)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bowling average 12.85</p> <p>Wickets</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>28</p> <p>World’s leading wicket taker this year</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Roston Chase</b><br> <br> </p> <p>West Indies</p> <p>That Kieron Pollard and company are a major force in T20 cricket is a given. The only team to have won the World Cup two times (2012 and 2016), its players are in high demand in leagues around the world. Among the many power hitters, though, stands Roston Lamar Chase, the anchor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The type of cricket he plays fits right into our balance,” Pollard said during the captains’ interaction before the start of the World Cup. “We need a guy who can manoeuvre the ball, hit the occasional boundaries, and keep the run rate going. That is an area we keep working on, and we thought he was the right fit at this time. He has not played much white-ball cricket, and teams may not have that much data [on him]. We look forward to reaping rewards of his form from the CPL (Caribbean Premier League).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tall 29-year-old from Barbados has shed his image of a Test specialist in the past two years. He has now become St. Lucia Kings’ most impactful player of in the CPL. It helps that he can chip in with his off spin, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coach Andy Flower said of him: “A quality all-rounder and a very clever off-spinner, he fields well and can marshal the innings in the middle [overs].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chase himself describes his role as akin to that of Marlon Samuels’s in previous editions. “It is an easy role for me,” he said. “With the power hitters we have in this team, my role should be just to really give them the strike and let them do their thing. If the ball is in my area, I will put it away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Batting average (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>44</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bowling average (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>23.94</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T20I debut will be at the World Cup</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rashid Khan</b><br> <br> </p> <p>Afghanistan</p> <p>Let us cut to the chase. If Afghanistan are to do well in the tournament, Rashid Khan needs to turn up. Coming out of the Indian Premier League, Khan had pocketed 18 wickets at a miserly economy rate of 6.69. The 23-year-old has already taken 392 T20 wickets, and is number five on the all-time T20I wickets list, with 95 scalps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 2019 Fox Cricket video with Shane Warne, Khan said his pace set him apart from the other leg spinners. Unlike the Warne saunter, Khan almost charges in like a medium pacer. Like his idol, Shahid Afridi, Khan bowls fast, with an average speed in the early 90s (kmph). Warne bowled between 78-82kmph.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the same video, Khan said he foxed batters with five different grips on the ball, as opposed to Warne’s two, and that that helped him adjust, regardless of the nature of the pitch. The pitches in the UAE are not expected to be too pacy, especially in Sharjah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tactically, opponents will look to play out his four overs without taking risks; maybe getting 18 to 20 runs without letting him taste blood. And, given the rest of the Afghanistan bowling—most of whom do not play against the best in the world, across continents—it would not be such a bad idea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, in the context of the strife back home, with the Taliban taking over his homeland and the future of Afghan cricket in limbo, Khan would hope that his spells of magic would brighten up a few faces in Kabul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wickets (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>392</b> (282 innings)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bowling average (T20Is)</b></p> <p><b>12.63</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All-time best</p> <p>(minimum 500 balls)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Shaheen Shah Afridi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan</p> <p>The baby-faced bowler stands at 6.6”, and is among the latest in a long line of talented fast bowlers from Pakistan. The team’s pace attack is a mix of new and slightly old, with Afridi, 21, bringing fear and excitement to the line-up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike a Wasim Akram or a Mohammad Amir, he relies on pace more than swing. However, he is still young, and still learning. The left-armer is just three years into his senior international career, and this will be his first T20 World Cup. Though he bowls fast, he also has discipline, and will look to extract bounce from the slow wickets, using his 140+ kmph pace and height. He is also, apart from skipper Babar Azam, the only certainty in the playing eleven in all formats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Young Afridi is not an overnight find, and has come through the age-group domestic system. A lot, however, will depend on how well Azam makes use of him. Former India opener Gautam Gambhir described him as a “dangerous and raw pace bowler”. He goes into the World Cup on the back of a good outing in the National T20 Cup—the domestic T20 competition played after New Zealand and England cancelled their tours to Pakistan. Turning up for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afridi played six matches and took 12 wickets, the third most in the competition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wickets (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>130</b> (96 innings)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bowling strike rate (all T20s)</b></p> <p><b>16.40</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First cricketer born in the 2000s to represent Pakistan</p> Sun Oct 24 09:47:42 IST 2021 babar-azam-interview-t20-cricket-has-changed-a-lot-since-the-2016-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PAKISTAN CRICKET IS</b> going through yet another turbulent phase. It had to deal with the cancellation of tours by New Zealand and England, upsetting its preparations for the T20I World Cup. The abrupt cancellation forced the Pakistan Cricket Board and its new chief, Rameez Raja, to hastily arrange a National T20 Cup, to give the T20I squad much-needed match practice. And, just two days before the deadline of the submission of the final squad for the World Cup, Pakistan revamped its team, recalling former captains Shoaib Malik and Sarfaraz Ahmed, and batters Fakhar Zaman and Haider Ali. Pakistan captain Babar Azam, however, appears unflustered despite the turmoil around him. He remains an oasis of quiet assuredness, much like his batting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Azam, the world number two in T20I batting rankings, said Pakistan had become a more consistent team. He downplayed the significance of the India-Pakistan opening game in the World Cup. Azam, however, pointed out that playing in the UAE gave Pakistan an advantage in the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How satisfied are you with Pakistan’s preparations? The National T20 Cup was hastily put together after New Zealand and England cancelled their tours.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ T20 is a format in which you have to perform consistently and win matches consistently. This is what we have been missing. You cannot afford to relax at any time during a match. One or two overs going bad can cost you the match. As captain, I want the team to perform consistently. We have been trying to do that in the last three-four series; we are becoming more consistent in our performance. Inshah Allah, we will take confidence from these results and compete in this tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you continue to open in the World Cup, considering the last-minute changes to the squad?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Most probably, I will open the innings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India and Pakistan kick off the campaign playing each other. How big a challenge is it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Pakistan-India matches are always high-intensity ones with full of excitement. We enjoy these a lot. Just like fans of both sides, we, too, wait for this opportunity. The aim is to play good cricket and win the match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your advice to tearaway fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is playing his first World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Shaheen is mature and experienced enough. All I want to tell him is to play to his strengths and bowl his best. He must bowl with a lot of self belief and exploit the weaknesses of the batters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How much has the T20 format evolved in recent years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There have been a lot of changes since 2016. Cricket is more fast-paced, batters have created more shots and scores are upwards of 200 more often. People, too, enjoy this format. As a player, I enjoy this format. You need to take quick decisions on the field as a player or skipper, you need to think on your feet, you have to think of your opponent and decide what you need to plan next. It has become a very fast game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think playing in the UAE gives you home advantage?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes. We have played a lot in the UAE. These conditions suit us as we know how to play here. But at the end of the day, we need to keep it simple, and do well in all departments.</p> Fri Oct 22 18:32:56 IST 2021 relinquishing-t-20-captaincy-could-help-kohli-rediscover-the-superstar-batsman-in-him <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Virat Kohli tweeted his decision to step down as T20I captain, it caught many people off guard, including officials in the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Kohli said he had consulted his inner circle, coach Ravi Shastri and his deputy in white-ball cricket, Rohit Sharma.</p> <p>The BCCI took quite some time to come up with appropriate reactions. A few days earlier, BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal had denied reports of Kohli's possible resignation. Said BCCI secretary Jay Shah: “I have been in discussions with Virat and the team leadership for the past six months and the decision has been thought through. Virat will continue to contribute as a player and as a senior member of the side in shaping the future course of Indian cricket.”</p> <p>The selectors remained incommunicado.</p> <p>On September 20, Kohli announced that he would also step down as captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) after the current edition of the IPL.</p> <p>There were many questions; foremost among them was whether he had chosen to or was he nudged to give up captaincy. Also, why only T20Is? “Understanding workload is important and considering my immense workload over the last eight-nine years, playing all formats and captaining regularly for the past five-six years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Tests and ODIs,” Kohli said in his statement.</p> <p>THE WEEK has learnt that giving up T20I and RCB captaincy had been on Kohli's mind for a long time. He had reportedly brought this up with Shastri a few months ago, but the latter told him “to wait some time before taking a final call”. The discussion, however, intensified after India lost the World Test Championship final to New Zealand this June.</p> <p>Reportedly, it was entirely Kohli's decision. The BCCI had, no doubt, been getting impatient with the lack of an ICC trophy; India last won one in 2013—the Champions Trophy, under M.S. Dhoni.</p> <p>Under Kohli, India has played three ICC events, winning none. However, under him, India was the number one Test team, winning the ICC Test mace from 2017 to 2019.</p> <p>At RCB, where he has been since 2008, Kohli has not won a title as captain (since 2013). This has been an issue for the franchise and its supporters. He has led RCB to a solitary final in 2016 and the playoffs in 2015 and 2020. Announcing the end of his captaincy gig on the eve of RCB's first match of the second leg, he said, “I recently announced that I was stepping down from [India] T20 captaincy as well to manage my workload, which has been immense. And I want to continue to be committed to the responsibilities that I'm fulfilling and I felt I needed this space to refresh, to regroup and be absolutely clear in how I want to move forward.”</p> <p>Reacting to Kohli's move, former chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar told THE WEEK: “Virat is a fantastic cricketer, a world-class batsman and a good captain as well. Yes, he has not done exceptionally well in the T20 format, even in the IPL (as skipper). This was possibly in the back of his mind as he has always set very high standards for himself. That he wants to concentrate on his batting is fair enough; this decision is entirely his call.”</p> <p>The primary reason was not the trophy drought, but workload management. The world's premier all-format batsman wants to focus more on his batting. By giving up captaincy, Kohli had informed people close to him that he wanted to free himself from the pressures of being a T20 captain. The decision was hard, because Kohli thrives on leading a team; giving up T20 captaincy was the easiest option as the stakes were lower.</p> <p>Reportedly, he had found no time to work on his batting, especially in the past two years. “A lot goes on in T20 matches, and while there is a team strategy, things change rapidly on field. Besides, with so many matches in the IPL, where is the time to work on your batting issues?” asked a source very close to Kohli. Life in the bio-bubble, too, appears to have contributed to the decision.</p> <p>Former chief selector Kiran More agreed with Vengsarkar. “I also think it is an individual decision,” he told THE WEEK. “He needs to work on his batting a bit more and that is bound to benefit India. He has been playing for a long time, since the India Under-19 days, and it is not easy to captain either. I feel it is a great decision.”</p> <p>Kohli's batting form is key to India's fortunes in all formats. In the past two years, he has averaged 40.64 in 17 Tests, hitting two 100s and five 50s. His overall batting average in Tests is 51.08. In 15 ODIs, he has an average of 43.26 with eight 50s. For someone with 12,169 runs in the format, including 43 centuries, this period has been tepid. His T20I form, however, has not dipped in the same period. He has averaged 59.83 in his last 19 T20Is; his career average is 52.65. Given that India will be playing two ICC T20 World Cups in 2021 and 2022, a relaxed, focused and hungrier Kohli will be a major boost.</p> <p>As for who takes over, there has been hectic speculation. Rohit is widely seen as the successor, but the selectors could throw up a surprise. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said Virat had been one of the most successful captains, but also that the decision had been made “keeping in mind the future roadmap”.</p> <p>Experts say that even if Sharma is chosen, it will be a stopgap solution. Though he has five IPL titles, he is almost two years older than Kohli. Said Vengsarkar: “The BCCI and the selectors should groom the next captain, a youngster from India or India A. Unfortunately, our selection committee has not shown that kind of vision. They have to see whether they want a senior pro like Rohit in-charge till, let's say the T20 World Cup in 2022 in Australia, or groom a youngster.”</p> <p>More, though, said Rohit “deserves the captaincy” and that his record speaks for itself. “Youngsters still have a long way to go; in T20s, there are a lot of senior cricketers leading sides around the world,” he said. “In this format, you need a decent team, but a good leader.”</p> <p>While former India captain Sunil Gavaskar pitched for Punjab Kings skipper K.L. Rahul, Rishabh Pant, who leads Delhi Capitals and whom Ganguly has immense faith in, will also be observed. It will be an interesting year post the T20 World Cup as India gets a new captain and coach. As for Kohli, it will be about rediscovering his batting mojo.</p> Thu Sep 23 16:49:01 IST 2021 strong-backing-of-athletes-reaps-rich-paralympics-medal-harvest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Yogesh Kathuniya had</b> shut himself in his bedroom on returning home from Tokyo. With a silver medal in discus throw F-56 (seated position) in hand, he landed in Delhi into a whirlwind of receptions. He had finally managed to get some shut-eye on reaching his home in Bahadurgarh, Haryana. He spoke to THE WEEK, bleary-eyed but wearing a wide grin, the sense of achievement having finally sunk in. The 24-year-old son of an Army officer suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that eventually led to paraplegia. At the Paralympics, a throw of 44.38m in his last attempt won him the silver medal.</p> <p>Kathuniya is one among the 17 Indian Paralympians who contributed to a national record haul of 19 medals—five gold, eight silver and six bronze—at the Games. Before Tokyo, India had a total of 12 medals from all its previous Paralympics appearances combined, resulting in the euphoria on the return of these champions.</p> <p>At the Kathuniya household, the medallist’s mother, Meena Devi, understands what it means for her son to make it to the podium. When he was a young boy, Devi would strap him to her scooter as she took him for physiotherapy sessions. To her, after all the hardship, this silver is as good as gold. “Life has changed drastically since I won in Tokyo,” said Kathuniya. “People recognise me now. Those who used to say I could not do it are now congratulating me.” The BCom graduate from Delhi University wants to specialise in sports management.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Noida district magistrate Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj became the first IAS officer to win a medal at the Olympics or Paralympics. In 2019, the badminton player was posted in Lucknow and was training with coach Gaurav Khanna for the Paralympics when he was transferred to Noida as district magistrate. When Covid-19 struck, badminton took a back seat as he had to deal with lockdowns and other issues. He would train early in the day or late at night. He would find sparring partners to train with and Khanna would share his analysis through video calls. In the final of the men’s singles SL-4 category (for a congenital deformity in his leg), Yathiraj bagged the silver after losing to world No 1 Lucas Mazur of France. “During Covid [lockdowns], I could not practise enough. But once things reopened and as the Games drew near, I practised well. It is not how many hours you spend in training but what you do during it that is important,” said the 38-year-old from Karnataka. He received a rousing reception on his arrival. “I would like to be recognised as a good human being who helped at least one person in his life,” he said.</p> <p>Khanna, who was instrumental in Yathiraj’s performance, is the national para-badminton coach and runs the Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy (GKEBA) in Lucknow, India’s first professional para-badminton academy. Besides Yathiraj, his wards Pramod Bhagat (men’s singles SL-3), Krishna Nagar (men’s singles SH-6) and Manoj Sarkar (men’s singles SL-3) also won two golds and a bronze, respectively. The bond between him and his wards was made evident when both Bhagat and Nagar jumped into Khanna’s arms on court after their respective medal-clinching matches. “I am super happy for the gold medals we got and happy, too, for the rest who did not,” he told THE WEEK from Tokyo. “I had promised Deepa ma’am (Paralympic Committee of India president Deepa Malik) five medals; we got four.”</p> <p>Khanna started his academy in 2019, ahead of badminton making its debut at the Paralympics in Tokyo. Khanna, who has also worked with the deaf badminton players, has considerable experience coaching players with disabilities. “Bhagat was already the Asian and World champion. The only thing left for him was to win a Paralympic medal,” said Khanna. “He is our strongest player. In the last two years, we have worked on his strength, speed and stamina.”</p> <p>On his other golden boy, Nagar, who has short stature impairment, Khanna said, “The idea was to overcome the issue of reach by working on his strength and speed.” Nagar, who hails from Jaipur, took up badminton at 14. The 4’ 3” Nagar joined GKEBA in 2019. The academy boasts of four state-of-the-art badminton courts, world-class gymnasium, sauna, Jacuzzi and hostel facilities.</p> <p>Shooting, too, delivered multiple medals for India. While Avani Lekhara was the toast of the town, winning a gold and a bronze, Manish Narwal, who turns 20 in October, is also quite the star. He has a congenital impairment in his right hand, but the young pistol shooter won the gold medal in the mixed 50m SH-1 event, setting a Paralympic record of 218.2. Shooting was a hobby for him, but he participated in the India trials for the 2017 Bangkok World Cup, and was picked. His rise from there was consistent. His first coach had taught him to shoot with his left hand. The hard work paid off in Tokyo, where he pipped senior teammate Singhraj Adhana, who won silver in the same event. Both are from Faridabad in Haryana.</p> <p>For Adhana, the silver was his second medal at Tokyo, having won bronze earlier in the men’s 10m air pistol SH-1 class. The 39-year-old, who was afflicted by polio at a young age, hails from a farming family and took to shooting while chaperoning his two kids and nephew to a shooting range in 2017. Within a year of taking up the sport, he made the cut for the 2018 Para Asian Games and since then has competed in numerous international competitions. “I contracted polio when I was one. There were no polio drops in the village. But my parents and grandmother did not give up. I used to walk with a stick and my mother would always say I had to trust in myself to walk on my feet. By the grace of God, I stopped using the stick when I was 14-15. <i>Vishwas ki jeet thi</i> (It was a victory of belief),” he said after the medal win.</p> <p>For PCI president Malik, a former Paralympic medallist, the Tokyo Games was a watershed moment in the Paralympic movement in India. Speaking to THE WEEK about the change that has come about, a beaming Malik said, “It is all courtesy of beautiful coordination between government (Sports Authority of India and Target Olympic Podium Scheme), federations, coaches and athletes. Plus, right amount of funding for equipment and prosthetics. The coaches, too, are training and upgrading themselves. Most importantly, timely help is given.” Malik takes pride in the quick interventions by the PCI. For instance, emails from players or coaches do not sit in the PCI inbox for long; quick correspondence between key stakeholders has helped immensely.</p> <p>With the Paris Paralympics just three years away, Malik is already preparing for the challenges that would arise. “My challenge is to get athletes to qualify early; most do so towards the end. Ten to fifteen athletes get aid from TOPS, and only for two or three months before the Games,” she said. Malik suggests that TOPS start with B-level para athletes. “A-level athletes are the top-ranked ones who would have already qualified, but [a focus on] B-level athletes is a must so that they get their prosthetics and equipment early.” While Malik has praised the system in place with SAI and the Union sports ministry, she also wants the states to be more proactive.</p> <p>The attention that the Tokyo Paralympics has received has pleased the community. Its mainstreaming—primarily due to broadcasting and media coverage—is a crucial development in India. Malik acknowledges this and says a shift is happening, but she also wants “coaches to take para sports more seriously”. While there is no paucity of talent, the key to India’s para athletes succeeding would be to have more coaches like Gaurav Khanna.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:21:37 IST 2021 tracing-the-journey-of-paralympic-history-maker-avani-lekhara <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Avani Lekhara’s journey</b> from her home in Jaipur to the Tokyo Paralympic Games has catapulted her to national fame, courtesy of her double medal. The calm, soft-spoken 19-year-old made history by becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics. It was a world record equalling feat in R2 women’s 10m air rifle SH-1 event (for athletes with lower limb impairment). A few days later, she added a bronze to her collection in the women’s 50m three-position SH-1 event. This was her first international medal in the three-position event.</p> <p>Lekhara’s achievement made her only the second Indian ever to win multiple medals at the same Paralympics; Joginder Singh Sodhi won three medals at the 1984 Games. She also joined Sodhi, Devendra Jhajharia and Mariyappan Thangavelu on the list of Indians with two or more Paralympic medals.</p> <p>Lekhara, who is currently pursuing a law degree, met with an accident in 2012 while travelling with her family from Jaipur to Dholpur. A bubbly, talented Lekhara had become moody and reclusive after becoming a paraplegic.</p> <p>Her father, Praveen, did not give up. In 2015, he took her to Jagatpura Shooting Range and also gave her a copy of Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography, <i>A Shot at History</i>. “I went to the shooting range during my summer vacation in 2015. I took up shooting just as a hobby, going there once or twice a week,” she said. “[The book] inspired me. [Bindra] really gave his 100 per cent. I always wanted to become like him.” She would go on to emulate her idol, but it was a difficult journey. There were mental demons to fight and the challenge of adapting with her non-functional lower body.</p> <p>In 2015, Lekhara started training under coach Chandra Shekhar. She also roped in former air rifle Olympian Suma Shirur as her personal coach. Her first international medal was a bronze at the 2017 World Shooting Para Sport (WSPS) World Cup in Bangkok. She followed it up with a silver and a junior world record at the WSPS World Cup in the UAE the same year. Two more silvers came at the 2019 and 2021 World Cups in Croatia and the UAE, before she finally struck gold at Tokyo.</p> <p>During the lockdown ahead of Tokyo, the Sports Authority of India ensured that Lekhara had a digital target installed at her home in Jaipur, where she would practice for the 10m air rifle event. Her foreign exposure trips and equipment requirements were taken care of by the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme.</p> <p>Despite her achievement, the bronze in the three-positions event left her disappointed. The event is far more demanding for her. “It requires a lot of equipment,” said Lekhara. “For kneeling, prone and standing it is all different. Because I am on a wheelchair, adjusting and setting it all up takes time. Physically, too, it requires a lot of work as the competition lasts two hours and 45 minutes.”</p> <p>Unlike with the Olympic shooting team, where there was bad blood between coaches, the Paralympics staff seem to have worked well together. “We have a very wonderful team—coaches J.P. Nautiyal, Suma ma’am, Harsh Rana—it is a very friendly environment and that helps a lot,” said Lekhara. “It is like a team effort.”</p> Thu Sep 09 19:10:37 IST 2021 javelin-thrower-sumit-antil-is-not-satisfied-with-just-one-gold <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It is not easy</b> to overshadow an Olympic gold medallist, but Sumit Antil did so, that too with a javelin, on August 30. The 23-year-old from Sonipat, Haryana, broke his own world record three times en route to a gold in the F64 category at the Tokyo Paralympics. He threw an impressive 68.55m.</p> <p>“My competitors had prepared well, I got nervous seeing them,” he told THE WEEK. “I told myself I had been working so hard for this day. I had sacrificed everything else for javelin. I broke the world record in my first throw; it boosted my confidence and I played without fear or hesitation thereafter. Also, I knew I had done everything possible to compete at the Games.”</p> <p>As expected, life has changed post Tokyo. “I had never imagined the response when I returned,” he said. “When I reached my village Khewra, there were around 10,000 people waiting to welcome me.”</p> <p>The villagers had gathered to watch his competition on television; this pleased Sumit no end. As did the 06 crore the Haryana government has promised. Other rewards are expected to follow. Former hockey Olympian and state Sports Minister Sandeep Singh welcomed him at Delhi airport; Chief Minister M.L. Khattar dropped in at his home.</p> <p>Sumit, once a budding wrestler, lost his father—a retired junior warrant officer in the Air Force—when he was just six. In 2015, biking home after tuition class, Sumit had an accident; a truck ran over his left leg. It had to be amputated. It took him two years to walk.</p> <p>But Sumit had always been positive. He transitioned to para-sports and took up the javelin. It was painful, and his mother cried seeing him suffer. “I told her maybe something good will come out of this,” he said.</p> <p>He had a prosthetic leg, but the run-up to launch the javelin was too painful. “I would get wounds on my leg,” he said. “My biggest hurdle was to tolerate the pain. I would watch motivational videos, as I had no other option but to tolerate the pain. My entire body weight would fall on my left leg. I told myself that there were three months, two months, one month to go for the Paralympics.”</p> <p>He has three prosthetics now. The one he used in Tokyo was made for throwing; another one is for running and gym work. There is one for regular use. All three are imported—Go Sports Foundation gave him one; SAI, two. He even has a reserve in case one breaks during competition.</p> <p>Even as celebrations continue, it is time to focus ahead. And, not just on Paris 2024; his aim now is to throw 75m. “There is still a lot to achieve,” he said. “I am not satisfied with just one gold medal.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:06:14 IST 2021 how-city-football-group-plans-to-dominate-the-football-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A BIG MOVE</b> for Aaron Mooy. In June 2016, the 25-year-old Australian midfielder joined Manchester City after two stellar seasons with its sister club, Melbourne City. “Aaron is an extremely talented player who possesses the attributes we hope to foster and encourage within the City Football Group,” said Brian Marwood, managing director, City Football Services, in a statement released by Melbourne City. Marwood, who is now managing director of global football, City Football Group (CFG), had added that Mooy’s move to Manchester would help “ensure his professional growth”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Manchester, however, there was little to no interest in Mooy. And, understandably so. It was the same season in which Pep Guardiola finally took the Manchester City job, after years of being wooed. The club reportedly spent over £190 million to modify an already world-class squad to Guardiola’s specifications. This included signing John Stones, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan. Rivals Manchester United brought in the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, the latter for a world-record fee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mooy, virtually unknown to fans, was almost immediately loaned out to Huddersfield Town in the English second division. He had a brilliant season, and helped Huddersfield gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time ever. This prompted the club to sign Mooy on a permanent deal; the fee was reportedly around £8 million. Mooy never played for Manchester City. But, the transfer fee the CFG pocketed from his sale was more than what the group had spent to buy Melbourne City in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, this seemingly profitable transaction is the exception rather than the trend. The CFG, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi United Group (77 per cent), the China Media Capital Consortium (13 per cent) and Silver Lake (10 per cent), is in for the long haul. So, even as the group continues to operate at massive losses, there is no dilution of its grand ambition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It currently runs 10 clubs and has partnerships with two clubs (see graphics). The plan is to find the best young players from across the world, develop them and then ‘promote’ them to the bigger clubs within the group or sell them (for example, Mooy). But even when sold, the player stands to benefit immensely from being in the CFG ecosystem. This could be a path to the top leagues for players (hopefully, Indian players, too) who may otherwise have gone undiscovered by European clubs. This system would, in theory, ensure a smooth supply of talented players for the group’s flagship—Manchester City—as it seeks to become the world’s greatest football club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Key to this vision is creating a football ideology that can be followed at all CFG clubs to deliver an exciting and forward playing game. This is a part of Guardiola’s job at Manchester City—creating an entertaining style of football that would become synonymous with the City brand. Clubs and academies across the world would try to implement this style, meaning that in the future, players would be able to adapt to playing for different teams in the group with relative ease. There is no doubt that in places like New York, Melbourne or Mumbai, the quality of football will be lower, at least in the medium-term, compared with England and Spain. But, the attempt is to make the philosophy consistent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Winning trophies is understood to be a basic requirement. And CFG has done well on that count. Senior teams of clubs under CFG have won 39 trophies, including lower division leagues and minor trophies, since 2008, when CFG personnel took over Manchester City (CFG was formally formed only in 2013 as the group started adding more clubs to its portfolio). This haul comprises 26 trophies in the men’s game and 13 in the women’s game. Reigning league champions in the CFG are Manchester City, Melbourne City, Troyes (French second division) and Mumbai City.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbai City won the Indian Super League in its first full season under CFG, thanks to sweeping changes. The group recruited coach Sergio Lobera from FC Goa. Lobera was briefly assistant manager to Tito Vilanova at Barcelona and is a known proponent of the Guardiola way. And, at Goa, he had shown that he could make it, or a modified version of it, work in India. In Mumbai, he emphasised on trying to play that style of football—now the City way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To help Lobera do that, Mumbai City signed Hugo Boumous—player of the season in the previous edition of the ISL—from Goa. The reported fee was around Rs1.5crore. According to reputed football news website, it was more than the total of transfer fees Mumbai City has paid since the inception of the ISL. As per the website, Mumbai has already broken this record by shelling out around Rs1.9 crore on recent signing Lalengmawia “Apuia” Ralte, from North East United.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Striker Adam Le Fondre, who was the team’s top scorer with 11 goals in the 2020-2021 season, has said that the City brand was a prominent reason behind his one-year loan move from Sydney; he felt that a CFG club would be “more professional, have the best coach..., facilities”. Though Le Fondre had been in sensational form, the club also wanted an experienced striker who was more familiar with Indian conditions. Quite remarkably, it managed to bring in Bartholomew Ogbeche, who had starred for Kerala Blasters and North East United in the two previous seasons, not as the star man, but to enhance squad strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CFG’s work with Mumbai City highlighted the group’s ability to transform its teams in a short span of time. This has been consistent despite CFG’s presence in regions with vastly different football cultures and heritage, such as Europe, South America and Asia. CFG’s former India CEO Damian Willoughby, who left the group in July, told THE WEEK that the consistency is a result of the multi-club model where methodology, learnings and experience are shared to benefit all teams. “[The group] has a range of experts who work across all areas of sporting performance,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbai is not one of the football hotbeds in cricket-crazy India and was perhaps an odd choice for CFG’s entry into India. But Willoughby explained that the group looks at a wide range of considerations before investing in a team. “Mumbai is one of the world’s truly great cities,” he said. He added that there was enormous potential to develop the team and participate in the growth of football in India. “Wide range of considerations” and “enormous potential” may be acknowledgements of the huge untapped market in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The country already has a significant number of people who consume European football. If CFG is able to transform Mumbai City into a team which plays good football while consistently challenging for national and continental titles, it will help the City brand immensely and in turn generate more interest in Manchester City, at least among those Indians who have not already declared support for one of its English or European rivals. The same principle applies with respect to CFG’s ventures into other relatively untapped markets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only hiccup in CFG’s operations so far has been that Manchester City, despite its meteoric rise in the football world, has been unable to win a European title. (It lost the final to Chelsea last season.) This is a major disappointment, especially because City have spent an incredulous £1.92 billion (over Rs19,000 crore) on transfer fees since 2008, including the £100 million signing of Jack Grealish in August.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The signing of the talented Grealish, for the biggest fee ever paid by a British club, is noteworthy considering that the team did not lack good options in his role. Grealish has predominantly played off the left in recent years. At his new team, he would be competing with Raheem Sterling for a starting berth. The likes of Phil Foden and Ferran Torres are also capable of playing on both wings. In short, City spent £100 million to enhance squad strength. It was a stark statement of its intent ahead of the 2021-2022 season which began on August 14. It is also interested in signing Harry Kane, whose price tag would be higher than Grealish’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the spending on the squad, the club has also invested heavily in infrastructure and youth development. The new youth setup has already produced at least two potentially world-class players in Foden and Jadon Sancho, who recently signed for Manchester United. The eventual target is to emulate Barcelona’s youth academy—La Masia—which has produced legends such as Lionel Messi, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Guardiola himself. The man who conceptualised CFG’s global empire, CEO Ferran Soriano, a former Barcelona employee, has said that the group is “globalising the Barca model”. Ironically, the club on which Soriano based his blueprint seems to have fallen on hard times, even as Manchester City strives to emulate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the context of the inflation in the transfer market, Soriano told The Guardian in 2017 (the year of Neymar’s world-record-breaking transfer): “This is a typical ‘make-or-buy’ challenge. You can’t buy in the market, so you have to make. This means spending a lot of money—on academies, coaches, but also in transfers for young players. It’s like venture capital in that if you invest 10 million each in 10 players, you just need one to get to the top who is going to be worth 100 million.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The group’s aggressive transfer strategy with regards to signing young players and massive spending has come in for scrutiny on many occasions. Manchester City has been fined for flouting the UEFA’s financial fair play rules and there has been criticism for taking “hidden state aid” in the form of sponsorship contracts from public companies in Abu Dhabi. The Australian league even changed its transfer policies to level the playing field. There are also concerns regarding human rights issues in Abu Dhabi. But, despite all challenges, the CFG juggernaut has continued to roll on. In 2019, the group was valued at $4.8 billion (around Rs35,000 crore).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July, CFG borrowed $650 million (around Rs4,800 crore) to invest in its clubs. This money is expected to go towards infrastructure, especially a new stadium for New York City. There is a glimmer of hope for India, too, as Willoughby revealed that the group wanted to build and develop its presence in the country and was working on a range of proposals that would keep it busy “in the months and years ahead”.</p> Thu Aug 19 16:08:13 IST 2021 neeraj-chopra-journey-from-talented-teen-to-olympic-champion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After he ran in and released the Nordic javelin for the second time, Neeraj Chopra bent down to balance himself, turned around and raised his right hand to signal he had done it. He did not need to look where the spear had landed. Chopra had made the winning throw at the men’s javelin finals at Tokyo 2020.</p> <p>For the record, the javelin had travelled 87.58m; no one would match the distance.</p> <p>With this, the 23-year-old from Khandra village in Panipat, Haryana, walked into an exclusive club with only one other member—shooter Abhinav Bindra. They are India’s only individual Olympic gold medallists; Bindra won his at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Chopra also became independent India’s first Olympic medallist in athletics; Norman Pritchard had won two silvers at the 1900 Olympics.</p> <p>The achievement was enormous, but there was no jumping with joy. Subedar Neeraj Chopra was all understated swag. Simple, down to earth, humble. These are some of the words his mates, seniors, officials and coaches use to describe the golden boy. Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla describes him thus, “A dedicated, well-behaved athlete totally focused on his game.”</p> <p>Chopra is the reigning Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and now Olympic gold medallist. “What makes him different from other javelin throwers in India is his athleticism,” coach Klaus Bartonietz told THE WEEK from his home in Germany. “What he does in the gym, he does with speed. He is well coordinated on rope floor, high bar, parallel bars; you cannot compare with gymnasts, of course, but what is key is athleticism. This is what we need in javelin throw, all-round preparation.”</p> <p>When it comes to his sport, Chopra is serious, committed and goes deep into the subject. But, like a lot of youngsters, he, too, loves his branded apparel. He also loves his long flowing hair, but had to chop it off while training in Sweden, weeks ahead of Tokyo. In food, he likes chicken and fish, and is partial to grilled salmon; he absolutely loves fruit juices.</p> <p>Chopra’s talent was spotted much before he became the world junior champion in 2016. He was part of Mittal Champions Trust till 2012, but when that shut shop in 2014, he was brought into JSW Sports’s Olympic/high performance scheme. Said Manisha Malhotra, head of sports excellence and scouting, JSW Sports: “He is a hard worker, never shies from training harder. If you ask him to do certain things more times, he will always do so. He is very young but takes considered decisions when it comes to his sport—he will listen to all views and then decide what to do. He is very mature for his age. He is, in fact, an ideal athlete to work with.”</p> <p>Malhotra had also worked with Bindra during her time as CEO of Mittal Champions Trust. “He [Chopra] is an optimist,” she said. “He did not take the [elbow] surgery (2019) as a huge setback; the only time he felt frustrated was when he was not getting competition abroad because of the second Covid wave in India. SAI (Sports Authority of India) and we were trying to get him abroad.”</p> <p>SAI, through its Target Olympic Podium Scheme, had paid for Chopra’s travel, training and competitions, and his personal foreign coaches Gary Calvert (who died in 2018), Uwe Hohn and Bartonietz. JSW Sports had helped scout the right coach, had brought in physiologist Ishaan Marwaha and had supported Chopra through surgery, rehab and recovery. Said Bartonietz: “The effort [put in] post his surgery was more mental than physical. It was very tricky to increase the training load after surgery; the physio needed a lot of knowledge. Marwaha did a very good job; there is trust between the two. That is why we could increase the load week by week from basic exercises to lifting [weights]. [The progress in] such a relatively short time was amazing.”</p> <p>JSW also worked with SAI to get Chopra to Europe ahead of the Olympics. He had been starved of competition in the lockdown, and eventually flew to Portugal. He was enrolled in several competitions and soon set up his training base in Sweden. The supportive role of the AFI, too, cannot be undervalued.</p> <p>Dissecting Chopra’s throw, Bartonietz said: “If you break it down in terms of science, he had the highest velocity by amount and direction. Compare his 87.58m with the 86.67m of silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic—the difference is 91cm, which is almost nothing at the 87m level. His (Neeraj’s) javelin was a little bit better in the air. He could focus. These guys (top javelin throwers) are very close in what they do; one is stronger, the other is faster, but Neeraj is a good technician. He threw the javelin 90m in training, which is a good result. We had set 88m as our goal before leaving for Tokyo.”</p> <p>The European stint helped Chopra get into a good frame of mind. “We could train well in Sweden,” said Bartonietz. “The track, throwing field and gym were near each other. The mindset was to do our best. Our belief was that [German Johannes] Vetter was the best; we could not imagine that he would get troubled with technique in Tokyo, we thought he would go for gold. But Neeraj got his chance and, most importantly, he was able to use this chance. It was a mind game for all the top guys in Tokyo.”</p> <p>For now though, it is time for Chopra to go back to his family, home-cooked food and some much-needed rest. Sponsorship deals and marriage proposals are pouring in, but these are not priority right now. So hectic were the hours after the win that he could not speak to his family until he arrived in Delhi. But his family is patient and so is he. A homecoming this special is a rarity.</p> Thu Aug 12 20:09:36 IST 2021 my-journey-as-a-javelin-thrower-has-just-begun <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Can you describe the hours leading up to and after the final?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is all a blur. Before the competition, it felt like the Olympics is right here upon us and after winning the gold, it is a different feeling. When you are preparing for a competition there is a pressure on you both mentally and physically. Post the event I am feeling a bit relaxed. Feeling that I am an Olympic champion, yes. The medal stays with me most of the time. Even if I do take it off, I keep it near me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>People have always expected you to win medals, right from the junior level. Have you felt the pressure of such high expectations?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The expectations were rightfully there. The entire country was expecting me to achieve something at the Olympics. It depends on you how you take this—as pressure or as motivation. If one has the ability [to deliver] it means people’s confidence is rightfully placed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> At what point during the final did you believe you would get gold?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ While I was competing I had to do something extra, something different. I had not thought about getting the gold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>You are 23, but have shown maturity beyond your years. Where do you get this from?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is important to keep your feet on the ground. My family and seniors have guided me to be like this. I believe whatever one achieves, one must always be respectful towards others. There is something [beyond sports], so it is important to be grounded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>What was the lowest point in your career? Injury or not being able to compete because of the lockdown?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The injury time was definitely the lowest point for me. It happens with everyone. When I was injured, I was helpless, unable to throw the javelin or train. But it taught me that maybe you have hit a low, but time will change things eventually. I took it in a positive way.</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>How challenging was that injury and recovery period?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It lasted six to seven months. After recovery, I entered my name in the open nationals. I was just so desperate to compete again. But then the AFI (Athletics Federation of India) advised me not to rush into it, so I withdrew. The surgery process was not as bad; I was advised bed rest for a week post the surgery, followed by rehab. Then I was told I could start light cycling and training. I felt happy to just get back to physical training.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Who supported you during that time?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ My seniors were there to help me out. Jaiveer (early coach) and my friend Monu. There was my family; my uncles would motivate me. It is team work. Everyone in the federation (AFI), SAI (Sports Authority of India) and JSW Sports supported me. I went for my rehab to IIS (Inspire Institute of Sport), Vijayanagar (Bengaluru). Each staff member there helped me a lot. Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala at Kokilaben Hospital, who did my elbow surgery, too helped a lot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>There has been a lot of talk this past year about achieving the 90m throw, with Johannes Vetter doing it so often. Did you get bogged down by that question?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ He is a very fine athlete, and throwing 90m distance so consistently [makes him a] one-of-a-kind thrower. Maybe he went in overconfident at the Olympics. But I was focused on my own thing. In our sport, it all boils down to how you throw on that day. So I really was not bothered about the 90m buzz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>What next? Rest and time with family?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, but my journey as a javelin thrower has just started. Yes, I have won gold at the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, but I still want to improve and perform consistently. I do not want to be satisfied with these achievements.</p> Thu Aug 12 16:34:41 IST 2021 fitness-mental-toughness-of-players-gave-india-olympic-medal-in-hockey-after-41-yrs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>P.R. Sreejesh had a lot on his plate before and during the Tokyo Olympic Games. As the senior-most member of the Indian hockey team, he had to ensure that the team remained focused and motivated; and as the goalkeeper, he had to ensure that he was on top of his game when the moment came. He did both jobs remarkably well. “I slept peacefully before every match at the Olympics,” he told THE WEEK from Tokyo.</p> <p>After August 5, however, life became different for Sreejesh and his teammates. On that day, India beat Germany 5-4 to win the bronze medal. The Indian hockey team was back on the podium at the Olympics after 41 years. The players could not sleep properly for a few days after that owing to innumerable protocols and demands on their time.</p> <p>After spending two days in Delhi after returning from Tokyo, Sreejesh made a dash to Kerala to meet his family before returning for the Independence Day function in the capital. So did the rest of his teammates. None of the players or support staff had been home for nine months, as they camped and trained on the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru. “I had a wonderful Olympic Games,” said Sreejesh. “Whenever there was a chance I was able to save goals and give life to my team. Being the senior-most player, I had to be an example for youngsters and motivate them.”</p> <p>The Indian hockey team led by Manpreet Singh and coached by Graham Reid has dared to dream. “It is a very big achievement,” said Manpreet. “We had heard stories of winning medals, but all those medals had happened before I was born.” It was the same for the likes of defender Harmanpreet Singh, 25, or midfielder Hardik Singh, 24, or Simranjeet Singh, who came in as a reserve player outside the squad of 16 and scored two important goals in the bronze medal match against Germany. This group of players, however, showed no signs of carrying the burden of the past, and they wrote an entirely new chapter in Indian hockey.</p> <p>For former Australian player and coach Reid, a podium finish was no unknown territory. But he wanted it with India. “I always had hoped we could stand on the podium. I had seen the team during the 2018 World Cup. I was with the Dutch team then. The aim was to try and build some consistency in their performance and some belief, which we had been able to do,” he said.</p> <p>Tokyo 2020 has been a watershed Olympic Games for not just Indian hockey but the entire nation. Generations have seen the dream of an Olympic medal in hockey fade; generations have now realised what it means to win an Olympic medal in hockey. “When I started my career, I would hear the history, medal-winning days. Now I have become part of that,” said Sreejesh. Hockey makes India weep with joy and pain; it is a love affair that never fades.</p> <p>Tokyo was Manpreet’s third Olympics. “It feels good after having experienced the disaster in London 2012 and the pain of not going past the quarterfinal stage in Rio 2016,” he said. “This time we did a lot of hard work; we were at the SAI campus for 15 months, made lots of sacrifices for a good result.”</p> <p>This win pushed the men’s team to the third position in the FIH World Rankings. The rise, however, did not happen overnight. The signs were there in Rio, but the team failed to make it past the quarterfinals. The brief for Reid when he took charge in April 2019 was a podium finish.</p> <p>This Olympic campaign was different from the others in the past. The team has no big stars unlike earlier, but it has a deep sense of self-belief in its capabilities. “We can beat any team and we have done so in the past. We had sacrificed so much to get here. After losing the semifinal match, in the team meeting, we said that the team wanted to go to the finals, but unfortunately, we couldn’t. If we did not win the bronze medal we would go empty-handed and we would regret that for the rest of our lives. So the last match against Germany would be the most important 60 minutes of our career,” said Manpreet.</p> <p>This campaign was also about team effort and cohesiveness. “The last 15 months added to team bonding and togetherness,” said Reid. “I was telling these guys for the last few months not to underestimate its effect when you are put under pressure. To be 3-1 down against Germany in the last match after the semifinal loss, we dug deep and it was great to see. The support staff along with players have made sacrifices that paid off.”</p> <p>The road to success has not been smooth—seven players got Covid-19 and there was little top-level competition before going to Tokyo because of the restrictions. Yet, the team kept working hard.</p> <p>One of the standouts at the Olympics was the team’s fitness levels. “Our fitness levels were extraordinary,” said Reid. “You saw that in the game against Germany.” To achieve this, it took a lot of doing. “In 2019, we went to Japan for the test event. We knew it would be hot and humid during the Olympics. So we trained in the afternoons at home to get used to the heat there,” said Manpreet.</p> <p>The team with 10 Olympic debutants was also a mentally stronger side than its predecessors. Gone were the days of nervy last few minutes of the match when Indians habitually conceded penalty corners and goals under pressure. Reid prefers to describe it as one of the downsides of the modern game rather than any apparent weakness in the Indian team. “We were 3-2 up against New Zealand in the test event in Tokyo in 2019, and then they scored two goals in two minutes and we lost the game. We tore that game apart. Piece by piece, play by play we checked what was going through the players’ minds. I don’t think it’s just India. It’s the modern game. You can turn it around in two minutes as you saw with the Indian girls.”</p> <p>The team worked hard to overcome this issue in training. “In the 2018 Asian Games, we lost to Malaysia like this in the semifinals,” said Manpreet. “Something happened. We worked very hard on our defence to ensure that it does not happen again. We would not take it easy in the last five minutes; the aim was to keep the opposition on the other side if we were leading in the last few minutes of the game.”</p> <p>With the Paris Olympic Games just three years away, the big question being asked is what India needs to do to bridge the glaring gap it has with the top two teams—Australia and Belgium. The only two games India lost in its Tokyo campaign were against Australia (1-7) and Belgium (2-5), the eventual silver and gold medallists, respectively. Reid, who is continuing as the chief coach, said he would be investigating to work out what needs to be done to close the gap. “Teams that succeed are ones that can string one good corner after another, match after another. We had one lapse in the middle. The Olympics is different,” he said.</p> <p>After months of staying in the camp, living and breathing hockey with teammates, it is time now to savour the bronze. Time to put up their feet with family and friends. Soon, it will be time to get back to hockey, to national duty.</p> Thu Aug 12 16:25:52 IST 2021 regardless-of-result-the-women-performance-could-change-indian-hockey <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If there is one thing that the Indian women’s hockey team knows, it is survival. On the field or off it. Captain Rani Rampal’s family has fought poverty; her father was a tonga puller in Shahbad, Haryana. Midfielder Neha Goyal, 24, escaped an abusive, alcoholic father; she worked with her mother in a cycle factory to earn two meals a day. Defender Nikki Pradhan, 27, hails from Hesal, a Naxal hotbed in Jharkhand; her sister worked as a labourer to buy her a hockey stick. Midfielder Nisha Warsi, from Sonipat, Haryana, found encouragement in her tailor father, but her wings were clipped when a paralytic stroke hit him. Her mother worked in a foam factory to make ends meet, and Warsi eventually made it to the national team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this grit and determination that shocked powerhouse Australia in the quarterfinals in Tokyo. This was the third time the Indian women’s team had made it to an Olympics—the previous being Moscow 1980 and Rio 2016—and this was its most successful outing. In Rio, the team finished its campaign without a win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five years later, the women had a disappointing start once again; the Netherlands beat them 5-1. They then lost to Germany and Britain. A repeat of Rio was on the cards. The aim was a quarterfinal finish, for which they had to beat Ireland and South Africa. They did it. “We did not have many practice matches before the Olympics, so we kept telling the girls to improve with every match,” chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said of the early matches. “After we lost to the Netherlands, it looked as if everything was shattered; it was not. We only needed to make a few small improvements.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the Olympics, the Indian women had been together on the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru for 18 months. Their lone tour in 2020 was to New Zealand; they then toured Argentina and Germany in January and March 2021. That was the only international exposure heading into Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Life on campus was no vacation either. There were strict Covid-19 protocols in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It would have been all worth it if they made it to the semi-finals. They did so by strangling the Australians. They themselves struck once and entered the semi-finals to take on Argentina. There, they fell 1-2 to end their quest for gold. They had, however, won hearts and hope for the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dare to dream, Marijne had told his players before and after the quarterfinals. He also showed them a movie—about staying in the moment—on the eve of the match against Australia. “I told the players that at the end of the match, they shouldn’t [be able to] feel their legs after running so much. The defensive structure during penalty corners was very good. If you start believing and you keep believing and you keep working hard, things can happen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The result shocked the entire hockey world. Even back home, it took time to sink in. Col Balbir Singh, member of the bronze-winning team at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, and coach of the women’s hockey team in late 1990s, said, “We had the upper hand in the first half. That is when I started thinking that this team can do something.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Dr Anil Kumar Bansal, a hockey coach who has given India a steady stream of talented players: “Yes, for many it was an unexpected result, but the girls played so well. The combination of attack and defence was good.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Sita Gosain, former Indian hockey captain: “Every match at the Olympics is difficult. But Australia didn’t play well. It also shows that if you prepare well and execute your plans well, you can beat anyone. Qualifying for the Olympics is in itself so difficult, we know it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post-Rio, the Indian team had to depend largely on a few players like Rampal, goalkeeper Savita and forward Vandana Katariya. However, in Tokyo, several youngsters have risen to the occasion. “Girls like Neha Goyal, Sharmila Devi and Gurjit Kaur have all done well this time, which is very heartening to see,” said Sunita Dalal, member of the Indian team that won silver at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. “The forward line has combined well, but for me the standout has been the defence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also a lot of focus on fitness. Hockey India’s scientific adviser Wayne Lombard will get a lot of credit for that. Before leaving for Tokyo, Marijne had said: “There will be the likes of Australia and the Netherlands who are physically stronger, but that doesn’t matter. We have fast hands. For the past year, Wayne has worked a lot on their strength and speed.” The results were evident—the players kept pace with the Aussies, never giving them a chance to find space. Marijne also roped in former USA women’s coach Janneke Schopman to help fine-tune tactics and technique during the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the areas where the Indian team had appeared vulnerable was penalty-corner conversion, but Gosain pointed out that, traditionally, it had never been India’s strong suit. However, when it mattered the most, drag flick specialist Kaur fired one in against Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dalal felt that it was the forward line that needed a bit more work. “If we cannot score goals, how long can the defence save us?” she asked. She added that the team needs to be more proactive in creating chances inside the D for penalty corners. “In big matches you cannot let these chances go to waste. That needs improvement,” Dalal said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts said that, regardless of the final result, the Indian women’s “real Chak de” moment in Tokyo will do a lot to boost the game back home. “They have made history with this performance. They have [delivered] more than what was expected of them,” said an ecstatic Ajit Pal Singh, former World Cup-winning captain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Added Bansal: “This performance will change everything in the country as far as women’s hockey is concerned.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the Paris Olympics three years away, Indian women’s hockey will have its hands full trying to build on the gains from Tokyo. The dream has only just begun to turn into reality.</p> Thu Aug 05 18:52:20 IST 2021 it-was-harder-to-win-medal-in-tokyo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Having the entire nation’s eyes on her is nothing new for P.V. Sindhu. She was 21 when she won her first Olympic medal—a silver at Rio 2016. In the next five years, she added more medals to her collection, including the World Championships gold and an Olympic bronze. If anything, the latest medal needed more work, sweat and strength. Work on the court aside, she had to navigate several controversies, including a spat between her father P.V. Ramana and national coach Pullela Gopichand, and questions about her changing her coach. But Sindhu kept her head down and focused on her game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, she is one of India’s greatest athletes, having won individual medals at two successful Olympics—the first woman and second overall to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK after her medal win, Sindhu talked about the work she put in for a podium finish in Tokyo, how she dealt with controversies and how she struck a fine working relationship with her Korean coach, Park Tae-Sang. While Sindhu wanted to change the colour of her Olympic medal, Park wanted to taste success as a coach. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ You were just 21 when you won silver in Rio. Is this bronze sweeter?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I would say both are different. The silver in Rio was fantastic; it changed my life. This is special [because it needed] more work, more sweat and sacrifices [by] family members, trainers, sponsors, everyone. Getting a medal at the Olympics is always a dream come true, [and this is] definitely one of my proudest moments.</p> <p><b>Q\ Has it sunk in yet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ No. I’m just enjoying the moment, cherishing it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Can you talk about the ups and downs you faced in the past five years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It has been a long [and hard] journey. [After] Rio, I won some, lost some. Yes, there were a lot of ups and downs, but it was important to come back stronger and do well. Getting a medal in Tokyo, especially, was much more difficult. In Rio, there was not much expectation, pressure or responsibility. Actually, you cannot compare it with the Rio performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How and when did you get on board with what Park had planned for you on your Olympic journey? What training programme did he design for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ A lot of things were planned; he was focusing a lot on my defence. Obviously, we worked hard together for the dream. Training wise, we got players from the Suchitra Academy [in Hyderabad]; boys, too, would come and spar with me. [I needed that] to get used to different skills, techniques and mind-sets. It was important that we communicate, plan and then execute. We focused a lot on my strokes. He worked very hard and it worked out really well. I am really happy training with Park.</p> <p><b>Q\ You are more experienced now. How much harder was it to medal in Tokyo?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It was definitely harder. I have been the world champion, [so] they (opponents) read your game and come prepared with a strategy. I had to be prepared and give my best. That is what I did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How did you not get affected by controversies, like you no longer training with Gopichand?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ There is nothing much to say. I have been training with Park for more than one-and-a-half years. I know there have been controversies and I know what I am doing. I do not want to let anything go into my ears; I take what I want to hear and let go of [everything else].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Which match at these Olympics kept you up the most?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Every match was important. Not even one match was easy because you never know which way it will go. It was important to be in the moment from the first round, play my game and finish it off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ You won the World Championships in 2019. Did it help to finally win that tournament before you focused on Tokyo?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ When I got the World Championships [gold] in 2019, everyone started talking about an Olympic medal. For me, there were a lot of competitions before 2020, so I was focusing on them. That was the immediate goal. I was working on skill and technique, [thinking about] what mistakes I was making and what needed to be done. Everything came to a standstill because of the pandemic. A lot of competitions got cancelled, the Olympics got postponed. But even when we were not sure it would happen, we were still working for the Olympics.</p> <p><b>Q\ How difficult was it to add more dimensions to your game?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Every day is a process; I was working hard daily. I used the pandemic in a good way. I worked on my technique and strength. I did whatever my coach said; I rectified my mistakes, and worked hard on all aspects, physically and mentally.</p> Thu Aug 05 16:57:42 IST 2021 olympics-lovlina-borgohain-had-fun-at-tokyo-erasing-the-pain-of-her-past <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Going into the quarterfinal bout against Chen Nien-Chin, the boxer in red neither had her name nor that of her country on her vest. Her compatriot suffered a similar fate the previous day, but there, everybody knew Mary Kom, the legend. Mary Kom lost, and raised hell over the last-minute order by officials to change to a plain vest. The other, little known Indian boxer won, and a whole nation learnt her name.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lovlina Borgohain out-boxed the fourth seed welterweight (69kg) from Chinese Taipei, to become only the third Indian pugilist—after Vijender Singh (silver, 2008) and Mary Kom (bronze, 2012)—to win an Olympic medal. Despite her subsequent semifinal loss, she clinched the bronze that is given to both losing semifinalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before every bout in Tokyo, Lovlina wore a playful smile for the cameras. For a 23-year-old Olympic debutant, there seemed to be no nerves. “I enjoyed the bout; I played freely,” she told the media after her quarterfinal victory. The 15-year age gap between Lovlina and Mary Kom, for whom Tokyo was most likely her Olympic swansong, should tell us that the baton has passed on and there is a new queen in the Indian boxing circuit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lovlina is a fighter outside the ring as much as she is in it. She grew up in Baro Mukhia, a non-descript village in Assam’s Golaghat district, and picked up Muay Thai at her school in a nearby district. There were financial difficulties for her father, who worked at a tea garden, but he encouraged her sporting dream. She switched to boxing in 2012 and left for Guwahati after she was scouted by popular boxing coach Padum Boro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After making it to the senior camp in 2016, she collected a series of bronze medals at three Asian Championships and two World Championships before Tokyo. Yet, the difficulties persisted. She had to overcome an injury in 2019 that nearly threatened her Olympic qualification, had to train alone at home for months during the pandemic, was under mental stress when her mother underwent a kidney transplant earlier this year and had to endure a Covid scare in the boxing camp that left her isolated once again just months before the Games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Assam’s first woman boxer at the Olympics rose above her more illustrious colleagues in the Indian contingent. Amit Panghal, Vikas Krishan, Mary Kom and Pooja Rani were the headline acts of the nine boxers that left for Tokyo. But the youngster returns as the only medal winner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For her semifinal, Lovlina got a blue vest with ‘BORGOHAIN’ and ‘IND’ printed on the back in bold. She went down against Busenaz Surmeneli, but there was no shame in the defeat against the world No 1 Turk. Because the boxer in blue had already made it to the Indian boxing legend. Lovlina Borgohain. Remember the name.</p> Thu Aug 05 18:49:34 IST 2021 simone-biles-decision-to-walk-away-could-be-a-watershed-moment-in-sports <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On July 27, after a sub-par vault by her standards, Simone Biles knew her mind was not playing along. She had a decision to make. Either persevere like she had always done—she had previously won events for her country with broken toes and a kidney stone—or step aside and let her teammates pursue gold. She chose the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all the emotional turmoil she was going through, Biles was quite pragmatic at the press conference later in the day. She said she knew “mental’s not there” and she did not want to “risk the team a medal because of her screw-ups”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Biles admitted to getting a ‘bit of the twisties’,” says Dr Swaroop Savanur, mental conditioning and peak performance coach with the Punjab Kings IPL team. “This is when the build-up of pressure becomes so intense that the player has a biophysical manifestation of that stress and there is an interruption in the signals that the brain sends to the muscles; this results in a lack of muscular coordination. In gymnastics, even a small delayed reaction can have disastrous consequences. And when that plays in your mind, there is no way a gymnast can pull off a performance at that level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another harmless-sounding term called the ‘yips’ in golf. “It’s a similar physical reaction to pressure,” says Savanur, “and the player cannot even hold the golf club.” But, if Rory Mcllroy has the yips and still plays, he might miss a putt; if Biles springs off the vault with a muddled mind, she could break her spine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To understand what Biles is going through, it is crucial to differentiate between mental health issues and the general pressure of performing under bright lights. “Game stress is just one factor leading to depression, insomnia etc,” says Savanur. “Every athlete will feel [performance anxiety] and could fail because of it, but that doesn’t mean he or she has a mental health issue. It is dangerous if this clarity is not there.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Choking” might be part of it, but the issues athletes like Biles have, or are facing, builds up over years. Biles, specifically, has had a tough life. In a 2019 interview with actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas—after news of team doctor Larry Nassar having sexually abused her and many others broke—Biles said, “I was sleeping all the time because it’s the closest thing to death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is likely that Simone is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder owing to the sexual abuse she has had to endure,” says Singapore-based sports psychologist Sanjana Kiran, who has worked with nearly 200 Olympians through four Olympic cycles. “Elite athletes experiencing intense trauma find refuge by immersing themselves into their craft, almost robotically, as a coping mechanism to sustain their self-worth that has been tarnished by the abuser/s. However, intrusive memories of the traumatic incidents can be triggered by competition anxiety, which affect the ability to maintain mental poise. Fortunately for Simone, she recognised the ‘twisties’ and made the right decision.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In stepping away, Biles had taken a cue from Naomi Osaka; the tennis star had withdrawn from this year’s French Open and Wimbledon citing mental health. Three years earlier, at what was supposed to be her moment of glory, Osaka was viciously booed by the crowd because she beat Serena Williams in the US Open final. Since then, Osaka has been open about suffering long bouts of depression and reluctantly became the face of sports and mental health. Now she has company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a study published in BMJ in 2019, about one in three elite athletes suffers from anxiety or depression. In recent years, superstars such as Michael Phelps—the winningest Olympian by a fair margin—have talked about their troubles openly. For him, it wasn’t the pressure of the pool, but life outside the water that got to him. After the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps told CNN, “I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore... I didn’t want to be alive anymore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian with an individual Olympic gold, went through similar lows after the greatest win of his life. “You know, it’s pretty ironic that my biggest mental crisis in my life came when I actually succeeded,” he said about facing depression, in a YouTube show called Mind Matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian men’s cricket team, also spoke about feeling lost following his woeful tour of England in 2014. He said he felt “like the loneliest guy in the world” and that it “seemed like the end of the world”. He later spoke to Sachin Tendulkar, who himself faced anxiety for almost half of his 24-year international career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, it is only now, when Biles made the loudest statement by just walking away, that the sports world is intensely debating the subject. This is primarily because she spoke up while in action. It is also, in part, because of the pandemic. “Generally, most elite athletes are unable to recognise the signs and symptoms that tell them they are not okay,” says Kiran. “The lockdowns forced them to pause their hectic lives and analyse their self-worth outside of an athletic identity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But just because mental health is being talked about doesn’t mean the discussion is empathetic or even civil. For all the tweets in support of Biles and Osaka, there were accusations, too. They were called soft, scared and, in Biles’s case, “a national embarrassment”. Mixed within those sexist and racist rants were questions about the legitimacy of the athlete’s concerns. After all, there was no sling or crutch; Biles was all smiles as she cheered on her teammates from the side-lines. “The traditional belief is that an elite sportsperson can’t be mentally weak; the belief that anything to do with the mind of an athlete is performance-related breeds scepticism,” says Kiran. “Athletes feel the need to ‘prove’ [that they are struggling mentally] and it doesn’t help with their situation as that is an uphill task in itself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That a Biles or an Osaka laid bare their concerns is also telling of another stigma in the sporting world. “Men find it hard to accept that they experience mental issues,” former Indian cricketer Robin Uthappa said in a webinar last year. The batsman had battled clinical depression and said that he would sit in his room and think of jumping off the balcony on the count of three. “I know so many guys going through difficulties in our fraternity,” he said, “so many guys who are not willing to accept that they are going through difficulties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Savanur and Kiran agree that women tend to be more open about mental health and seeking help. “We [in India] still have a long way to go towards basic awareness about providing the right ecosystem that will allow athletes to start training mentally without any prejudice,” says Savanur. Adds Kiran: “Some parts of the sports ecosystem in India seem to be pretty active with these conversations. That is a good first step. In terms of expecting a top [Indian] star to do what Biles did, perhaps not in the immediate future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Globally, though, could the Biles episode be a watershed moment in sports? After all, within days of Biles’s announcement, English cricketer Ben Stokes took an indefinite leave from the field to focus on his mental health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Absolutely,” says Kiran. “Stepping away from an Olympics for one of the most bejewelled athletes is no small feat. In doing so, Simone has given more steam to the athlete’s mental health conversations. However, it remains to see if she was only heard, or listened to as well.” Savanur, though, is not as optimistic. “We have to be a bit objective about it. Biles’s decision was also a safety issue. But, yes, the awareness that the player’s mental health should be an equally important consideration is a welcome fallout of it. How it really pans out practically remains to be seen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 3, Biles returned to action—two days after her aunt died unexpectedly—to win bronze in the balance beam final. “After the team final, we went to the village, and honestly I expected to feel a bit embarrassed,” she said on August 3. “[Athletes] were coming up to me saying how much I meant to them; how much I had done for their world. That was the craziest feeling ever. In that moment, I was like, ‘There’s more than gymnastics and medals.’”Biles was expected to leave Tokyo as the best gymnast of all time. She will now do so as perhaps the most important.</p> Thu Aug 05 16:55:53 IST 2021 tokyo-olympics-questions-asked-of-coaches-as-indian-shooters-draw-a-blank <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 cut people off from each other. For Indian shooters, their performance in the opening days of the Tokyo Olympics put even more distance between themselves as the pistol and rifle shooters failed to live up to their reputation and ranking. The Indian camp had turned quiet, each shooter retreating into a shell. Those with events yet to go had to focus on what lay ahead; the rest were left to mull what went wrong.</p> <p>Despite the team consistently featuring on podiums in most events over the last five years, that they drew a blank at the Olympics came as a rude shock. The men’s, women’s and mixed event shooters in both 10m air pistol and 10m air rifle got India into just one final—19-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary in 10m air pistol, where he finished seventh. He then combined strongly with Manu Bhaker, as expected, to top the first qualification round in the mixed event with a score of 586 out of 600, showing glimpses of the form that won them four World Cup gold medals. But the duo fell short of the medals rounds in the second stage. At the other events, the Indian shooters fell like ninepins.</p> <p>Stalwarts Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle), Elavenil Valarivan (10m air rifle), Abhishek Verma (10m air pistol), Deepak Kumar (10m air rifle), Bhaker (10m air pistol) and Divyansh Singh Panwar (10m air rifle) did not make it past qualification rounds. The teams in the mixed events did not make it to the finals either.</p> <p>Chaudhary and Bhaker were India’s best hopes, followed by the 10m air rifle and pistol mixed teams. While Chaudhary stood out as the lone star who began his Olympic journey on the right note—he topped the qualification table—Bhaker had a pistol malfunction in her singles event.</p> <p>As questions of the shooting team’s ability arose, Abhinav Bindra, the 2008 Olympics gold medallist in 10m air rifle, told THE WEEK, “It just goes to show we are an emotional nation. The more the sport gets popular, the more the emotional reaction,” he said. “But yes, there has to be dissection of the performance. We cannot be emotional in that.” On the team’s performance, halfway through the shooting schedule, Bindra said, “I am disappointed as a fan. But in sport, nothing can be scripted. You need to continuously adapt to situations.”</p> <p>The no-medal show in the first and most crucial days left Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India, stunned. “What can I say, they shot well below their standard; succumbed under pressure I guess,” Singh told THE WEEK. “We thought we had mentored them enough and that they were in the Olympic zone. Clearly, they were not.”</p> <p>The warning signs came over the last few months. The young shooting squad—most of them under 21—was taken to Croatia by the NRAI for 80 days before flying to Tokyo. Zagreb became their training base and the shooters got much-needed competitive action by participating in the European Championships and the World Cup in Osijek. But they did not look up to the mark.</p> <p>“Prior to the Croatia camp, not much information was coming through from the Indian team,” said Joydeep Karmakar, former air rifle shooter who finished fourth in London 2012. “At the European Championships, they did OK. Their performance in Osijek was not good at all. I thought maybe the coaches were not keen on shooters peaking prior to the Olympics, but now I feel they were clearly struggling.”</p> <p>At Osijek, world no 1 Panwar, Valarivan, Kumar and former world no 1 Chandela had scores that were not good enough for the Olympics. Both Chandela and her fellow 10m air rifle shooter Anjum Moudgil lost form during the pandemic, and Kumar suffered from long Covid.</p> <p>The 18-year-old Panwar’s form reportedly dipped due to a judgment error by coaches. They changed the trigger of his weapon ahead of the Osijek World Cup, and he ended up shooting below his usual scores of 630s. He was made to do holding exercises with his gun the night before his competition. After some stern words from Raninder Singh, the old trigger was restored but that mess-up proved costly in Tokyo. Meanwhile, reports of national coach Deepali Deshpande not allowing a foreign coach to work with Moudgil also emerged.</p> <p>Karmakar felt the decision of the NRAI to announce the Olympic squad early shut the door on changes. While that may be debatable, he reiterated that the preparation for the Olympics has to be different than what it is for World Cups, Commonwealth Games or Asian Games.</p> <p>Bindra concurs with his former teammate. “Every Olympics is an adventure, a roller coaster ride,” he said. “Winning medals at the Olympics is not like putting coins in a vending machine and getting Coca-Cola cans out. You will meet with both failure and success, [and you] need to keep building on it.”</p> <p>Singh blamed a few individual coaches for ruining India’s medal chances. In June, he had read the riot act to all pistol coaches, asking them to pull up their socks. Guns are now being trained at former Indian pistol stalwart Jaspal Rana, who groomed Manu Bhaker from the junior ranks but parted ways with her before the Olympics. Singh is fine with the selection process and does not believe the shooters are too young. “They are seniors now. Age is not a factor [for poor performance]. Frankly speaking, it will be the same squad mostly, with a few changes, for Paris 2024. But yes, one area where we can do more is mental conditioning,” he said.</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK from Tokyo, pistol coach Ronak Pandit said: “Saurabh did brilliantly. It is unfortunate that he could not get enough support from Manu in the mixed team event, but I do not think he is lacking in anything. He was well prepared.”</p> <p>The Rana-Bhaker split has been the talk of the shooting camp. There was alleged conflict of interest as Rana was pistol coach with the Madhya Pradesh shooting academy, and he pushed for his ward Chinki Yadav—New Delhi World Cup gold medal winner in 25m air pistol—to be included in the event instead of Bhaker. “I have done what I could do—gave him charge of juniors and backed him for the Dronacharya Award. But when he asked me to overlook merit, I could not,” said Singh.</p> <p>Such was the falling out between Rana and Bhaker that on the last day of the Delhi World Cup, the coach reportedly wore a T-shirt that had messages he received from an agitated Bhaker scribbled on it. “It damaged his reputation as a coach and damaged the athlete,” said Singh. “Manu had a fantastic qualification. She is a sensitive girl who needs to be handled with kid gloves during the event.”</p> <p>Singh brought in Pandit to coach Bhaker leading up to the Olympics. Pandit was to start training with her in April but he could only join her in Croatia in June. “I do not think her previous coach stood by her,” Pandit told THE WEEK. “In spite of the time shortage caused by her pistol malfunction, she needed only an inner 10 to qualify. She could not, but her performance was still heroic. I was told she had anger issues but I did not find it so.” Pandit was aghast to learn that she had been taught to focus on “parameters not in her control rather than those she could control”. THE WEEK tried to reach out to Rana, but got no response.</p> <p>Bhaker felt a little lost in Croatia without her individual coach and without the luxury that comes with being “Rana’s wards”. “She confided in me her issues and insecurities,” said Pandit. “She had too much to deal with going into the Olympics and she is just 19.” Pandit added that whatever issues pistol coaches had in Croatia, “they ensured it did not affect the shooters”.</p> <p>Karmakar pointed out that there is no communication between athletes’ individual coaches and national coaches. “And, the individual coaches are totally cut off from the wards when they are in national camp,” said Karmakar. There should be a system where all of them work seamlessly together, he said. He also underlined the need for a high-performance director who would work in tandem with all coaches.</p> <p>Bindra says that they have to figure out what works best for India. “One cannot copy-paste other systems,” he said. “China has a very strict system, the USA has its collegiate system, which is a tremendous success. Germany is based on club culture, where national coaches work with club coaches.”</p> <p>The shooters have got all the financial and other support requested by them from the Sports Authority of India and Target Olympic Podium Scheme. There is a view that perhaps Indian shooters are mollycoddled, leading to poor results in the Olympics. Singh believes it is not the federation that does it. “Maybe they are, but by their coaches!” he said.</p> <p>Bindra denounces this attitude. “You have to support your athletes but there has to be some accountability that comes from understanding how they went about preparing,” he said.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 17:43:22 IST 2021 how-a-nurse-with-a-surgeons-precision-won-iran-its-first-olympics-gold-in-shooting <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There might not be a perfect recipe to create nerves of steel, but Javad Foroughi has been in the kitchen for most of his life, trying. Sample this: the Iranian shooter was born with a damaged heart, has been in war zones in Syria, is a nurse who spent the pandemic in Covid-19 wards, and contracted and survived the disease himself. So, in a sense, the gold medal in the men’s 10m air pistol was just the garnish.</p> <p>Growing up, Foroughi couldn’t compete in sports; his heart was not his ally. In his latest tournament before the Olympics, though—the ISSF World Cup in Croatia—Foroughi won the gold medal.</p> <p>In terms of calibre (yes, that’s a gun pun), not much separates Foroughi and Indian wunderkind Saurabh Chaudhary. Yet, on that day, it all came down to nerves. Foroughi, 41, is the age of Saurabh’s uncles back in Meerut, yet has about the same shooting experience at the world level. He turned pro at 37.</p> <p>Foroughi claims to have first picked up the air pistol in the basement of his hospital a handful of years ago. He apparently shot about 85 points from 10 shots. In a sport whose binary code reads 9 and 10, this was a great start for an amateur. Cut to 2021, at a dry-of-fans Asaka Shooting Range in Tokyo, Foroughi set a new Olympic record of 244.8 points (of a maximum 261.6), taking home gold. At a post-match news conference, Foroughi said he had always dreamt of the Olympic gold; he had even put the medal as his profile picture on social media, and knew “how much it weighs”.</p> <p>After his last shot in the medal event, he promptly took out a small prayer mat and expressed his gratitude. “I’m very happy I did my job on both sides,” Foroughi said through an interpreter. “As a nurse, we battled Covid and it was very hard. As a shooter, I worked a lot the last two years for this moment.”</p> <p>The father of three had to battle much more than inner demons en route to the podium. While he was celebrated as a national hero by most mainstream publications back home in Iran, there were detractors.</p> <p>On July 24, in an undated video, Iranian network Press TV put out a clip of Foroughi on a reality show, blowing off the tip of a toothpick with a rifle shot. It was meant to be an endearing snapshot of an Olympic champion. However, his personal history had inerasable scars. The United States of America, led by its spray-tanned commander-in-chief Donald Trump, branded Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation in 2019; Foroughi is a proud member of the group. He had, in fact, dedicated his win to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Expectedly, after his historic victory, a slew of Twitter handles worldwide, including those of many Iranians, beseeched the International Olympic Committee to strip Foroughi off his medal.</p> <p>In what is undoubtedly the most woke Olympics ever—some athletes have prepared political gestures if and when they reach the podium, fairly so—a Foroughi may seem like a relic, not least by his age. While some may feel that his presence in Tokyo is in a grey zone politically; in terms of sport, it is golden.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 17:38:19 IST 2021 mirabai-chanus-medal-is-what-weightlifting-in-india-needs-at-the-moment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is a stickler for the rules. Not once since she completed her competition in the women’s 49kg weightlifting event did she remove her mask, be it on the podium or in the athletes’ village or at the Narita International Airport on her way back to Delhi. When she made her way out of the arrival hall at the IGI International Airport, surrounded by a bevy of security men, the mask was intact. Only when she was away from the crowd did she unmask.</p> <p>And, not even once did she complain about the media frenzy that greeted her when she landed in Imphal. The endless stream of visitors, the countless social engagements, the felicitation programme at the City Convention Centre hosted by Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, Chanu coped with the sudden attention with no complaints.</p> <p>Ever since she became the first Indian weightlifter to win an Olympic silver on July 24, days and nights have passed in a blur. “People are happy for me. I am a bit tired, but it feels good. My family and I have waited for this day, made so many sacrifices,” she told THE WEEK from her home in Nongpok Kakching in Imphal East district.</p> <p>Chanu, 26, came home last five years ago, and she wanted to spend time with her family. But that seemed impossible. She slept at 2am on the day she arrived, as visitors kept coming. Day two was jampacked with interviews and social engagements. She woke up at 6am and did manage to enjoy her mother’s fish curry and rice, something that she had been hankering for after winning the medal.</p> <p>Heady moments kept hitting Chanu after her moment of glory. The most unforgettable one was a phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “That is my favourite moment when after the competition PM Modi <i>ji</i> called to say thank you! He said I had done wonders winning the first medal on the first day of the Olympics. I can never forget that phone call,” she said. Manipur has decided to appoint her additional superintendent of police (sports).</p> <p>It is her simplicity, discipline and humility that made the 4’11” Chanu stand out in a group of junior weightlifters back in 2014. “What stood apart in her was discipline and determination,” said coach Vijay Sharma. “I felt she had something special. She has achieved what she has because of these qualities.”</p> <p>Weightlifting in India has had its share of taint and controversies owing to doping scandals, and occasional highs. India’s only previous Olympic medal in the sport was the bronze in Sydney in 2000 won by Karnam Malleswari. Chanu’s achievement is perhaps what the sport needs at the moment. Nobody knows it better than Malleswari. “How will the sport get popular until we take it forward? When I won the medal, there was not much awareness or support, but things are different now. There are problems in all federations, but in weightlifting, it was highlighted. There has been a sort of a clean-up now. So hopefully things will only get better from here,” said Malleswari.</p> <p>Chanu has not had it easy. In fact, far from it. She and Sharma had embarked on a tireless journey seven years ago. A silver at Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 was the first breakthrough. Then came the big challenge of the Rio Olympics in 2016. That she had the talent was undisputed, but was she ready? Rio turned out to be a disaster as she failed to lift any of the three attempts in clean and jerk. Scarred by the setback, she started questioning her abilities. It took a lot of motivation and pep talk from Sharma to get her back to training. “I was disheartened with the Rio performance. I could not win anything. But sir made me understand and come out of my depression,” she said.</p> <p>The Rio debacle meant Sharma had to redraw the entire strategy, including the way Chanu trained. “That setback taught us we had to work hard with more determination and focus. We changed our training path and strategy. The results came in 2017 (World Championships), and we got a medal in 2018 (Commonwealth Games), too. There was consistent growth. Mira has done nothing but eat, sleep and train. Two and a half years were spent on qualification, and one and a half years were gone due to the pandemic,” said Sharma.</p> <p>Chanu staying away from family meant Sharma had to follow suit. “Initially it took some adjusting, but my family gradually understood why I was away from home. There was no Holi or Diwali with the family in the past few years,” said Sharma, who is from Ghaziabad.</p> <p>The new training regimen was tough. Muscle memory, for one, is not so easy to erase. After years of working in a particular way and then changing into an entirely different way took time to master. “To change the technique at the base level, it is even difficult to explain. But she worked hard and results came with 75-80 per cent change in that technique,” said Sharma. In the 2017 World Championships, Chanu won the gold medal in the 48kg category by lifting a meet record of 194kg in total (85kg in snatch and 109kg in clean and jerk). “For some time it was very difficult to adapt to the new technique, but then I got used to it gradually,” she said.</p> <p>The new technique brought in not just medals, but also plaudits from her seniors. “Her technique is very good,” said Malleswari. “She executed the snatch with remarkable stability [in Tokyo].” Snatch was Chanu’s weakness, and a lower back injury in 2018 and the lockdown in 2020 resulted in her losing muscle mass. That was when Sharma and Mirabai went to St Louis in Missouri. Two training stints in the US with Dr Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter and strength and conditioning expert, strengthened her shoulder muscles and took care of the lower back problem. The second stint lasted three months ahead of Tokyo when she also worked hard on improving her snatch technique. In April 2021, she won the bronze at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, lifting 86kg in snatch and a world record 119kg in clean and jerk.</p> <p>The ghost of Rio had been buried. Or that was what she thought till the night before her competition in Tokyo. “I was more nervous in Tokyo than in Rio before the competition. Everybody had expectations of me and I felt the pressure. But then I decided to just focus on what I did in my training and execute that,” she said.</p> <p>Sharma, too, went without sleeping a wink on that night thinking about the event. He did not sleep the following night as well, reminiscing about their journey. “The lesson learnt from this experience is that life is an experiment,” he said. “You have to keep trying and then you get the result.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 17:34:25 IST 2021 why-messi-2-0-will-be-force-to-reckon-with-at-2022-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Bailá! Bailá ahora!”</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Colombia's Yerry Mina was shocked, and a shade embarrassed. He was still wrapping his head around missing his penalty in the shootout of the Copa America semifinal against Argentina. The centre-back had let goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into his head before the spot-kick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, more than Martinez's trash-talk, what caught the eye was Lionel Messi's reaction to Mina's mess-up. The usually reticent and impassive Argentina skipper was doing (forgive the irony) a Cristiano Ronaldo! All pumped up and bouncing ahead of his teammates, Messi was shouting, "Dance! Dance again!" to his ex-Barcelona teammate, in Spanish. His legions of fans were pleasantly surprised. It was a sign of things to come, they predicted, they hoped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Argentina went on to beat Colombia 3-2 in penalties (1-1 at full-time), and then upset defending champions and arch-rivals Brazil 1-0 in a dream final at the iconic Maracanã, to lift their first major international trophy in 28 years. Messi wept tears of joy. He danced with his team, video-called his family from the ground and wept some more. The monkey was off his back, and he had led the Albiceleste in characteristic, yet uncharacteristic, fashion to a title triumph.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Messi taunting Mina for the latter's 'thumb-suck and dance' celebration after scoring in the penalty shootout against Uruguay in the quarterfinal? Only he can say. But, the desperation and hunger to win his first bit of silverware with the senior team was more visible than ever before. The bleeding left ankle in that game is part of Argentine folklore now. In fact, after the title win, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni revealed that Messi was carrying an injury during the semifinal and final, though he did not specify the nature of it. Before the Copa this year, Messi reportedly told his journalist friend Veronica Brunati, “I would swap all my Golden Boots for one trophy for Argentina.” This time, he got to keep the Golden Boot (four goals, five assists), and that one trophy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the wait was long and painful. Messi's 'final jinx' started with the 0-3 loss to the Seleção at the 2007 Copa America. Then came the triple-whammy—the 0-1 extra-time loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, followed by a penalty shootout setback against Chile at the Copa America next year. It was déjà vu for 'La Pulga' in the 2016 Copa America, as Argentina went down to Chile once again in a penalty shootout, with Messi missing his spot-kick. A frustrated Messi announced 'retirement', only to reverse it months later. He had won the 2008 Olympics gold with the senior team, but for the football-crazy nation, it was not enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pressure to deliver in Argentine colours was immense. “The World Cup is like a revolver to his head,” former coach Jorge Sampaoli once said about Messi. Another former head coach, the late Alejandro Sabella, put Messi’s habit of throwing up on the pitch, down to anxiety. “Nerves. I reckon that in these moments there is anxiety more than anything,” Sabella had said before departing for Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every loss in the iconic blue and white colours broke him, but Messi endured it all with an eerie calmness, on the outside, which was often mistaken for aloofness or detachment from the national team. For, Argentina was used to a certain Diego Maradona—the 'El Pibe de Oro' (golden boy), who delivered them the World Cup in 1986, and wore his heart on his sleeve. It was a crown that sat nicely on the late maverick genius's head, but Messi was still growing into the Argentine 'Pibe' (street-smart kid) concept.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was at Camp Nou that Messi evolved from a right-winger—under manager Frank Rijkaard at 16—to a more central (and the legendary false 9 position) role under Pep Guardiola, which seems to be working for him at the international level, too, now. Soon after Luis Enrique took over as the Barca manager in 2014, Messi went back to the right-wing, but would drift inside with devastating effect, with Neymar and Luis Suarez for company (the dreaded M-S-N). "His (Messi's) evolution is beyond doubt,” Enrique famously said in 2017. “It has been a process helped by his maturity as a person. There were years in which he was a goalscorer, but now, he is a total footballer, capable of everything in attack and defence."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, at 34, he does not run as much as he used to, does not dribble for fun, or press ahead for adventure. And yet, he is at his effective best. Under Scaloni—the former assistant coach who took over from Sampaoli after the 2018 World Cup debacle—Messi has a free role, with the burden of building play being shared by the talented bunch of Rodrigo De Paul, Giovani Lo Celso and Guido Rodrigues, along with the ageing but occasionally brilliant Angel di Maria. And with Lautaro Martinez usually deployed as the sole striker who draws the centre-backs, creating open spaces upfront, Messi does what he does best—conserve energy for the bursts down the middle, or find his mates on either side in the final third. Like he did in the match against Ecuador, which Argentina won 3-0. He assisted two of the goals—the second one defying logic, really—and scored the third off a free-kick, which had Messi written all over it. “I’d never seen two assists in a single goal: He leaves Nico González facing goal first and then, tac, serves Rodrigo De Paul a pass which Messi himself could barely see. He finds an impossible corridor for the ball to reach De Paul. Only Messi could do that,” said former Argentine great Hernan Crespo about that wonder assist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other visible change has been the improvement in his free-kicks. Seven years ago, with Germany leading 1-0 in extra-time, Messi had one last chance to save his team in the World Cup final. But his free-kick sailed way above the bar. He was inconsolable for hours in the changing room after the loss. Since then, however, he seems to have worked on his free-kicks with a vengeance. Between 2004 and 2015, for Barcelona, he had scored only 16 goals off free-kicks. But, since then, by mid-2020, he had already doubled the tally for the club. At the Copa this year, two of his four goals came from free-kicks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Off the field too, change was in the air. Last year, he took to social media to post an emotional tribute for the departing Suarez, in which, unlike in the past, he took a dig at the sorry state of affairs at Barcelona. His rift with club president Josep Bartomeu is well documented, and he even threatened to leave the club he had played for all his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, Messi 2.0 has finally found his feet and voice. He also seems to be more comfortable in his role as a leader and mentor, and being an integral part of the Scaloni set-up. “Nobody disputes Messi’s sense of belonging in the Argentina squad,” Brunati was quoted as saying. “Today, the country believes in this team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post the Copa America win, Messi, too, must believe that he can fulfil the prophecy with a World Cup win next year in Qatar, and put to bed one of the greatest debates of all-time.</p> Fri Jul 16 22:27:58 IST 2021 mancini-euro-2020-heist-involved-a-dangerous-gamble-to-shake-up-Italian-football <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of the lasting images of the UEFA Euro 2020 final will be of Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini’s Zen-like visage as the notorious English crowd booed the Italian national anthem. Chiellini, 36, stood with his eyes closed, chin up and with a flicker of a smile on his face. The hostility was not going to spoil his day, because nobody enjoyed this Euro as much as he did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout the tournament, in tense moments or even after committing fouls, Chiellini wore a smile, transmitting calmness to his teammates. He celebrated every crucial clearance by his team as if it were a goal scored. The bearhug he wrapped Spain captain Jordi Alba in, at the coin toss for extra time in the semifinal, unnerved the latter. Chiellini was a warrior and a giddy child at the same time; sword in one hand, bubble gun in the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this strange combination that got the team past the finish line, beating England on penalties to win their first European trophy in 53 years. Il Capitano’s energy and enjoyment were just what the doctor—head coach Roberto Mancini—had ordered. For decades, Italian football had attracted contempt for being too pragmatic, too negative with their iconic catenaccio system that put excessive emphasis on defence. The Italians did not care as it won them four World Cups. But Mancini knew that a revolution was necessary to succeed in these times. In a tournament filled with captivating and heartwarming tales, the rebranding and revival of Italy was a narrative that emerged above the others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the ignominy of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Italian football association found few credible takers for head coach for a team that showed little promise. The hiring of Mancini, whose career had nosedived since winning the Premier League with Manchester City in 2011, was perceived as a lack of ambition. In retrospect, it seemed like the right move, as his new philosophy had aligned with a churning developing in the Italian domestic league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Italian teams like Atalanta, Sassuolo and Napoli were ditching the Italian style of defending for more offensive styles considered anathema in the country. The bigger teams started taking notes when legendary former Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi slammed reigning domestic champion Juventus in 2019, after the team lost to plucky Dutch side Ajax in the Champions League quarterfinals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Italy, soccer is still defensive and individual, whereas in Europe it's necessary to offer a more offensive and collective approach…. Glory in soccer is achieved by teams that make beautiful play an integral ingredient,” Sacchi had written in Gazzetta dello Sport. He would know. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sacchi tasted success by trashing the Italian football rulebook and implementing elements of the Dutch Total Football that was mesmerising the world. But it stopped with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Sacchi is delighted to see the systemic changes being implemented to that effect. A few months after his criticism of Juventus, he would praise his former player and the current national team coach Mancini for the creativity and sense of adventurism he instilled in his players. It was a bold move to change an age-old formula that Italians stubbornly refused to forego. A failure to succeed with this new philosophy would have invited the wrath of fans and forever consigned Mancini to the category of failed optimists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To Mancini’s relief, this change in mindset in Italian football would be pathbreaking. On the domestic front, Italian teams scored 1.53 goals per game in the recently concluded season, outscoring their English Premier League (1.35), Spanish Liga (1.25) and German Bundesliga (1.52) counterparts. This is unprecedented for the traditionally low-scoring Italian sides. Attack, attack, attack is the new Italian way of football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the international front, the journey led to the team transforming from dour, unimaginative customers to the real entertainers of Euro 2020. Just before the loss against Sweden in 2017, which denied Italy a place the 2018 World Cup, Chiellini ranted to the media that possession football was “ruining a generation of Italian defenders”, and was bitter that it had become the norm across Europe rather than a tactical switch of play. Four years on, the centre-back was cheerfully charging with the ball up the field, spraying passes around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Italy had 66 per cent possession of the ball against England in the final, and took 19 shots on goal (as against England’s six) says more about Italy’s attack-mindedness than it does about England being defensive. England’s opening goal, scored by Luke Shaw, came in just the second minute—a rude shock to the Italians, but they did not abandon the philosophy they had carefully adopted. For the remaining 118 minutes, Chiellini and defensive cohort—Leonardo Bonucci, Emerson, Giovanni di Lorenzo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma—held fort and were practically impenetrable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Mancini’s 37 games in charge, the team has never conceded more than one goal, and is now on a 34-match unbeaten streak. Two more games without a loss and they will have the longest unbeaten run by any national team in football history—Brazil (1993-96) and Spain (2007-09) hold that record.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite these impressive runs and figures, Italy did not arrive at Euro 2020 with any big stars. An ageing defence and an insipid attack were not cut out to be champion material. Forging a winning team out of these players shows the genius of Mancini. He had shed his club-football image of being a troublemaker and an attention-seeker, and taught his wards the benefits of camaraderie, positive football and playing for each other. The whole was turning out to be greater than the sum of the parts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before every game, Mancini would tell the media he wanted his players to “have fun”. He knows a thing or two about what it means to pull on the national shirt, but his biggest regret was that he never got to play at a World Cup. And so, he ensured that his players did not suffer the same fate of missing out on a big tournament. He played 25 of the 26 players in his squad in just the three group stage games of this tournament, even bringing on veteran goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu for a few minutes against Wales. This worked as a morale boost for the whole squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The grey-suited coaching staff that Mancini assembled also tells a story in itself. He roped in set-piece specialist Gianni Vio, a former banker, who reportedly has an arsenal of 4,830 different set-piece routines. But the most notable inclusion is that of best friend and former strike partner Gianluca Vialli as chief delegate of the team in 2019. Vialli had been battling pancreatic cancer and it affected Mancini emotionally. He invited his friend to join him in the national team. Vialli’s very presence, that of a fighter who successfully beat cancer earlier this year, pushed the players even further to reach for the stars. The image of Mancini and Vialli, Sampdoria’s ‘Goal Twins’, celebrating the win against Austria to reach the quarterfinals gave Italians goosebumps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team will now turn their attention to Qatar 2022. They will have to prove their mettle on the grandest stage. Italy is one of the only two countries to win back-to-back World Cups. But since their 1938 victory, every time they reached the final of a World Cup or Euro, they failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the subsequent big event. Mancini can ensure legendary status for himself if he does what only France and Spain have done before<br> —win the World Cup-Euro double on the trot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For this, he will be closely watching and scouting local talent to bolster his squad. The Bonucci-Chiellini duo needs long-term replacements while the search for a world-class striker continues. But more than anything, he will need to ensure the mood in the camp and the determination to win with<br> entertaining football remains constant.</p> <p>Then, the revolution would be truly complete.</p> Fri Jul 16 22:25:22 IST 2021 how-bhopal-lost-its-grip-on-hockey0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The elderly gentleman has sharp eyes and an easy smile. Soaking up the morning sun in his lovingly curated little garden, he recites a Ghalib couplet in typical Bhopali accent: “Go haath ko jumbish nahi, aankhon mei toh dum hai; rehne do abhi saghar-o-mina mere aage (Even if my hands lack motion, there is power in my eyes; let the glass and goblet remain in front of me).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is Olympian hockey player Inam ur Rehman explaining why he keeps golf balls and a club in his drawing room. “When I am unable to sleep at night, I putt the golf balls one by one into an imaginary hole across the drawing room till I feel satisfied enough to get back to bed,” says the 77-year-old. “I do not have the strength to play hockey now, but golf gives me that much-required satisfaction of moving a ball deftly with a stick—that is the meaning of Ghalib’s famous couplet for me. It is difficult to imagine life without hockey.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 12km from Rehman’s house, at the historic Aishbagh Stadium in Bhopal, 13-year-old Afraz Rasool watches intently as another Olympian, Sameer Dad, gives tips to the trainees at his informal academy. “I practise here regularly,” says Rasool. “Sameer sir and Shadab sir (Railways hockey player Shadab Khan) coach us well. I, too, want to play in the Olympics like Sameer sir when I grow up and ensure that Bhopal’s name shines again in international hockey.”&nbsp;Dad was a regular at his informal academy till he was recently appointed as coach of the MP State Men's Hockey Academy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The line-up from the passionate veteran to the starry-eyed teenager confirms that Bhopal is still devoted to hockey. Once known as the hockey nursery of India, Bhopal has produced 10 Olympian hockey players (see infographics) and the iconic Bhopal Wanderers team. The locals first tasted the game around 120 years ago, when some youngsters picked it up from British officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an Urdu article published in 1996, former joint secretary of Bhopal Hockey Association (BHA) M.T. Ansari (who migrated to Pakistan after the partition) says that as hockey sticks were expensive, the youth used branches bent at one end—locally called khapota. Balls were made of twine-wrapped stones; the more enterprising players shaped balls out of date palm roots. With their pyjamas rolled up to the knees, they played in the narrow lanes, lined with open drains. The drains were a crucial feature; the players had to develop excellent ball control and dribbling skills to keep the ball from rolling into the drains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slowly, Bhopal become renowned for its skilful and artistic hockey players. Maulana Mohammad Ahmad, one of the pioneering players, encouraged local youth to embrace the sport and came to be known as baba-e-hockey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Competitive hockey started in 1909, when the British organised an interstate forces tournament. When Nawab Hamidullah Khan joined Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 1911, he made the university hockey team quite easily, and word about Bhopal’s gifted players started to spread. Soon, hockey clubs were born in Bhopal; by 1915, there were around 15, including the Sikandariya, Rashidiya, Alexandra and Bhopal Heroes. The Iqtedar Silver Cup tournament (1916 to 1921) gave exposure to the local talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1925, Bhopal became a founder member of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF); a Bhopal state team started playing national tournaments in 1928. The royal family formally constituted the BHA in 1931 (affiliated to the IHF) with Hamidullah as patron-in-chief and his nephews Saeed uz Zafar Khan and Rashid uz Zafar Khan as patrons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The royal family patronised the game with active participation, jobs in the royal army to talented players, provisions of nutritious diets, including fruits and dry fruit shakes, and transportation of players during the weekly local matches,” says Olympian hockey player Aslam Sher Khan. They also started the national-level Obaidullah Khan Gold Cup in 1931, giving Bhopali players and enthusiasts exposure to national and international players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, at the AMU, where many Bhopalis were studying, the university team was not allowed to play in the 1931 Mathura Gold Cup because of upcoming exams. So the students formed another team. As eight players were from Bhopal, they named it the Bhopal Wanderers. The unknown team won the tournament. It was a sign of things to come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its first four years, the team won 10 prestigious tournaments across the country, and along the way it was reconstituted into Bhopal’s official state team. Two players from the side—Ahsan Mohammed Khan and Ahmed Sher Khan (Aslam’s father)—struck gold at Berlin 1936, under the captaincy of the legendary Major Dhyan Chand. The legend reportedly said, “Give me the Bhopal Wanderers and I can beat any team in the world.” From 1931 to 1950, the team won 30 tournaments in India and, according to Aslam, in 1938, it won all major tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The partition left behind raw wounds and it also affected sports. The first hockey nationals after the partition was held in 1948. It saw hockey powerhouse Punjab fielding a significantly weakened team because of the migration of players to Pakistan. Bhopal, which had first won the nationals in 1945, was not as badly affected, yet. It won in 1948 and two Bhopalis—Akhtar Hussain and Latif ur Rehman—were selected for London 1948, where India won gold. But, both Hussain and Rehman later migrated to Pakistan and played for the national team. This was seen as a betrayal and would have an impact on Bhopal hockey, years later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhopal merged into the Indian Union in June 1949. The Bhopal Wanderers were disbanded the very next year, after key players migrated to Pakistan. The migration continued till about 1952. Bhopal hockey hit its nadir because of this exodus, says Aslam. “However, the first chief minister of Bhopal, Shankar Dayal Sharma, commissioned my father, Olympian Ahmed Sher Khan, as the official coach and asked him to revive hockey at school level,” he says. Ahmed, supported by another Olympian, Roop Singh (Dhyan Chand’s brother), went about the task and things started picking up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1955, the Bhopal school level team, coached by Ahmed, participated in the nationals and won. After the reconstitution of states, the Madhya Pradesh school level team (also coached by Ahmed) won in 1956. By the early 1960s, Bhopal hockey peaked to such a level that at least 40 to 50 Bhopalis were playing for clubs across India, primarily the three big Kolkata clubs—East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Often, all teams at national level tournaments would have players from Bhopal,” says Rehman, who turned out for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the 1960s. Bhopalis were in majority in the first Indian Airlines squad, which went on to receive much acclaim in the 1970s. All post-independence Olympians from Bhopal—Rehman, Aslam, Syed Jalaluddin Rizvi and Dad—were Indian Airlines players.&nbsp;Dad also worked for the company, now Air India, as a senior assistant general manager till his deputation to the MP Men's Hockey Academy recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until the 1980s, the city had around 70 clubs, in addition to teams of government departments and public sector undertakings. This machinery continued to polish the abundant local talent in Bhopal. But soon, the clubs started closing down and government departments stopped patronising teams, sounding the death knell for hockey in the city, says Rizvi. In the last two decades, Bhopal has produced barely a handful of India internationals. The last Olympian was Dad (Sydney 2000). But, there have been flashes of brilliance from players like the cousins Affan Yousuf (gold, Asian Champions Trophy, 2016) and Mohammad Umar (gold, Junior Men’s Asia Cup, 2015). The only current India player from Bhopal is junior women’s team goalkeeper Khusboo Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what ailed Bhopal hockey? The issues were many—from losing royal patronage and facing alleged bias, to getting mired in the politics of hockey management, and the inability to adapt to the changes in hockey. Rehman, Aslam and Rizvi say that because Bhopali players had migrated to Pakistan and done well for its team, there was a bias. Even if Bhopalis figured in the squad, they would not be fielded. Aslam was the first Indian Muslim to play against Pakistan; he did that in the 1975 World Cup, which India won. He went on to captain India in the Qaid-e-Azam trophy in Pakistan in 1976.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punjab, which saw Bhopal as competition, had a dominant presence in hockey management and this, too, made things difficult for Bhopalis, the Olympians feel. They add that Bhopalis had always banked on skill, but lacked stamina and endurance. Rehman says that as hockey became a power game on AstroTurfs and rules changed (such as the abolishing of the offside rule), Asians, and within India, Bhopalis, started floundering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Europeans used their majority in the international federation to change the rules and techniques, because otherwise, they could not beat the skill of teams from the subcontinent,” says Rehman. He also points out that hockey has become an expensive game now and much of the Bhopali talent comes from economically backward families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Madhya Pradesh government took major steps to revive hockey in the state by opening the Women’s Hockey Academy in Gwalior in 2006 and the Men’s Hockey Academy in Bhopal in 2007. It also funded AstroTurfs, set up feeder centres to scout for the academies and provided infrastructural and coaching support. However, Bhopal did not seem to benefit much. The academies produced India internationals, especially for the women’s team, but few were from Bhopal or even Madhya Pradesh. The talented youngsters scouted from other states benefited the most. Has Bhopali talent then dried up over the years? “Bhopal hockey was destroyed by its own people,” says senior sports writer Ramkrishna Yaduwanshi. “There was intense factionalism and politics in the BHA for years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the prestigious Obaidullah Khan Gold Cup started facing major hiccups at the turn of the century, and after an attempted revival in 2010, was finally discontinued in 2014. In January 2020, the BHA lost its recognition as a state-level body because there were two other associations in Madhya Pradesh affiliated to Hockey India (which replaced the IHF in 2009). Under the ‘one state one unit’ rule, the Jabalpur-based Hockey Madhya Pradesh, which started many years after the BHA, became the affiliated body from MP. The other body to lose affiliation was Hockey Madhya Bharat, Gwalior.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rizvi, who is secretary general of BHA, says: “We petitioned Hockey India to continue our affiliation, but to no avail. Now, Hockey Madhya Pradesh has been asked to coordinate with Bhopal and Gwalior. But, the recent meeting was a disaster, because of the unprofessional attitude of the Jabalpur unit. But, we will continue to work and fight for the revival of hockey in Madhya Pradesh and in Bhopal.” He adds that creating jobs for hockey players by reviving government department teams and reviving clubs could go a long way. In January, the state home department decided to recruit national and international level sportspersons to 60 posts in the police every year (sub-inspector and constable level).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though revival of Bhopal hockey does not seem easy, Dad is intent on doing all he can. His informal academy at Aishbagh Stadium pulls in interested young players from across the city. Youngsters who fail to get into or continue at the Sports Authority of India institute or the state hockey academies, also seek out his classes. “If only we can find some financiers who could take care of the kits and diets of these children, I am certain a lot of them will do very well and once they perform, we will be able to push them into the national and international level,”&nbsp;Dad told THE WEEK earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, as the coach of the MP Men's Hockey Academy, Dad's expertise and passion is likely to help the young aspirants in Madhya Pradesh and Bhopal to realise their big hockey dreams.</p> Thu Jul 08 23:23:22 IST 2021 i-do-not-allow-politics-in-sports <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/What are the initiatives to revive hockey in Madhya Pradesh and Bhopal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The history of Bhopal hockey need not be emphasised. Hockey… was the game of the state and of Bhopal. When I became sports minister in 2006, there was no movement regarding hockey and I had it in mind that hockey needed promotion. We opened the Women’s Hockey Academy in Gwalior in 2006 and the Men’s Hockey Academy in Bhopal in 2007, because within the state, these two places are best known for hockey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Are you satisfied with the way the academies and players have shaped up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In women’s hockey, we have done extremely well. The academy girls comprised half the Indian women’s hockey team at Rio 2016. In every national camp we have 10 to 15 girls from the academy. In the junior hockey team that toured Chile in January (2021), both the captain (Suman Devi Thoudam) and vice-captain (Ishika Choudhary) are Madhya Pradesh academy girls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the men’s hockey, Vivek Sagar Prasad (from Hoshangabad) is now in the national team and represented India in the 2018 Asiad (in Indonesia) and led the junior team in the 2018 Youth Olympics (in Buenos Aires, Argentina).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Has there been enough focus on local talent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The academies are allowed to take only 20 per cent outsiders. Also, this quota was made only last year. Till then, 90 per cent of the players trained were from Madhya Pradesh. In the women’s academy, most of the girls are now coming from Gwalior and showing huge talent for hockey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is local politics, too, damaging Bhopal hockey?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Of course, there is also huge local-level politics. But I do not allow politics in sports. If anyone starts recommending anything when the talent search is on—like this is my nephew, or this is my uncle—then that player is immediately discounted. Let the boy himself apply. If he is talented he will get through. The only criterion of selection is talent. I am myself a national player (equestrian) and I have seen how much politics there is in sports. So I have vowed to myself that I will never allow politics in sports.</p> Mon Jul 12 10:02:36 IST 2021 bias-politics-caused-bhopal-hockey-downfall <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. What made Bhopal the hockey nursery of India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before independence, the Indian hockey team was the best in the world; within India, Bhopal was beating all other teams. Three things helped Bhopal hockey: natural talent, royal patronage, and the immense support of the local people. There was a craze for hockey here similar to that for football in West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What are the reasons for Bhopal hockey’s downfall?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Intense politicking and factionalism in the Bhopal Hockey Association is the single biggest reason. Groups among associations are not a big thing, but they should have been united for the cause of the game. But in Bhopal, factionalism was at the level where they would rather kill hockey than let the other group succeed. The politics got most intense in the 1980s and hockey managers themselves destroyed the team and the game. Talented youngsters were left demotivated and slowly they started avoiding hockey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. There have been talks of bias against Bhopal players at the national level.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes. Prima facie there was a communal bias and favouritism towards certain players. Muslims were either not selected in the Indian team or were benched like the great Inam ur Rehman at the 1968 Olympics. I sat for the longest time on the sidelines. In the selection camps, the Muslim players would be psychologically discouraged by the coaches with such behaviour and that would make players uncomfortable. I have seen many Muslim players leave camps because of discriminatory behaviour. At the India team selection level, coaches and management would favour some players. This was not communal, but personal bias and favouritism.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Q. You were the first Muslim to play against Pakistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were up for finals with Pakistan in the 1974 Tehran Asian Games. I was being played in the tournament because Michael Kindo (who was always favoured over me earlier) had been injured at the selection camp. But I was excluded from the finals and I got to know that it was because never before a Muslim had been played against Pakistan. But the top officials of the Indian contingent intervened, manager Leslie Claudius supported me, and I finally played in the game. We drew the first game with Pakistan and my performance as a defender was much appreciated with headlines like ‘Aslam saves India against Pakistan’. We, however, lost the replay of the final by 2-0. But my performance busted the myth and opened up the team further for Muslim players, and later, Zafar Iqbal even captained the team. Also, I captained the Indian team for the Quaid-e-Azam trophy in Pakistan in 1976.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Q. You were instrumental in getting India its only World Cup in 1975?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even during this tournament, I was relegated to the sidelines despite my good performance throughout the year. This was because I had offended the team management by not attending the first selection camp due to my final graduation exams. However, when we started losing to host Malaysia in the semi-finals, a desperate manager Balbir Singh asked me to go in ‘Aslam ab tu hi ja, tera khuda hi bacha sakta hai ab Bharat ko’ (Aslam, you have to go in and only your God can save India) and I replaced Michael Kindo in the field with just seven minutes to go in the game. I got the penalty corner with two minutes left in the game. My God was with me and I scored the equalizer. We went on to beat Malaysia 3-2 in extra time with Harcharan Singh scoring the winning goal. Our unexpected win unnerved Pakistan to the extent that we won the finals against them 2-1. This was the only time India won the World Cup and it got me immense love from across India.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Q. Are Bhopal players not suitable physically for the current form of hockey?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Bhopal hockey was always ‘hockey of the brain’. We were masters in grass hockey because of our expertise in dribbling and stick work, and our mindset and attitude. Bhopalis were ‘thinking’ players. Artificial turf and change in rules like the doing away with the offside rule changed the game. It became a power game and speed, endurance and fitness became the new mantras. To achieve this, daily practice of at least six hours and a very good diet are needed. The Bhopal players normally came from economically backward families. How can they build stamina just by drinking water? Also, they could not find the facility and time for the required practice and lacked access to grounds and kits.</p> <p><br> <b><br> </b></p> <p><b>Q. But the government has set up hockey academies and is promoting hockey.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The government has indeed developed infrastructure, but they have made a big blunder. They did not employ local coaches, a decision I could never understand, especially as my father (Olympian Ahmed Sher Khan) had revived hockey post-independence. He understood Bhopal hockey, something an outsider cannot do. (It was only recently that Olympian Sameer Dad was appointed coach of MP State Men's Hockey Academy)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, government authorities never discussed or sought guidance from any local people. Bhopal boys who went to the academy could not at first make a mark on the artificial turf. So, perhaps to hide their failure as an academy, they opened it to outside players. They should come out of this lie that Madhya Pradesh players are improving [at the academies]. They are just putting the stamp of Madhya Pradesh academy on outside players and taking credit for their performance.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Q. Do you see a chance to revive Bhopal hockey? How can we achieve that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is still a chance to revive hockey and there are also funds available. If the state sports and youth welfare department leaves aside its prejudice and starts supporting the local hockey association for uplifting players with infrastructure and funds, then not only Bhopal players, but also more players from across Madhya Pradesh gain a lot. They should come out of this deception that MP hockey and players are improving (at the academies). They are just putting the stamp of MP Academy on outside players and taking credit for their performance. Unless they invest in local coaches and supporting staff and focus on Bhopal or MP players, hockey cannot improve at the local level.</p> Sat Jul 10 14:52:28 IST 2021