Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Now or Never

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, December 23, 2008

There are occasions when a team goes into a match with 'outside' hope of qualifying for the next stage. But when the team doesn't even have that luxury of 'hoping', staying 'motivated' becomes quite a 'challenge'. So much so that the team is literally to press the motivation button, ditto for the Maharashtra Ranji side as they gird their lions for the bigger responsibility of skirting the ignominy of being relegated from the Elite Group when they lock horns in a Super League game against Railways commencing at Ratnagiri on Friday.

Having seen their quarterfinal qualifying hopes go up in smoke after two successive defeats to Uttar Pradesh and Baroda in away games, it's a make-or-break situation for Maharashtra as they look to pull off a win in their own backyard. Even the permutations and combinations aren't too 'complicated' to comprehend as the target is plain and simple: Maharashtra must pull off wins in their last two games against Railways and Karnataka and again 'hope' that the results of some other teams go in their favour. Let's put this in simple terms: Maharashtra have a real 'mountain' to climb even if they have to stay in the Elite Group.
There has been strident criticism of the State team in their inability to play as a team and deliver in the crunch situations. So that does mean 'strategising' has gone for a 'toss' in the first place? "When we played the opener against Tamil Nadu, we had formulated a strategy to achieve success. Winning for losing doesn't mean we alter our strategy. It's just that we had plans in place but we couldn't put it into practice," explains State coach Shaun Williams.

Maharashtra goes into the match with a captain (Nikhil Paradkar), who is going through the horrors with the willow. Ever since he got a superb 92 against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji opener, his batting form has dipped 'alarmingly' so much so that he managed just 28 runs in his last five innings.When your captain is not showing the right signs of leading from the front, it doesn't augur well for the side ahead of any match, let alone a Ranji Trophy game. "We know Nikhil has gone off the boil with the bat. But we are backing him to the hilt and he will come good sooner than later," Williams springs to his defense.But one gets the feeling that there is too much talk of 'building a team for the future'.

Does that puts the larger goal of winning on the backburner? Williams sounds disturbed. "I really don't know what you want me to say. Tell me which team doesn't want to win? We've a young team at our disposal, so I would expect everyone to be patient with the boys. We also have to realise where we stand."

Williams reckons the team hasn't got the credit for the way they have played in the four games so far. We've played against sides which featured a slew of former or present Indian discards."If you look at the Baroda game, let me tell you that we performed outstandingly and I thought we were plain unlucky not to have pushed the result in our favour," he explained.

'Mr Half-Centurion'

Kedar Jadhav gave consistency a new lift, holding the record for scoring most fifties in this season Ranji Trophy Super League so far

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, December 14, 2008

When a batsman is in the middle of a great run, he can at times rewrite or hold records without being actually aware of it. That's the precisely the case with Maharashtra's Ranji run-machine Kedar Jadhav. The 23-year-old strokemaker holds the record for being the batsman with the highest number of half-centuries (he has six fifties to his name) in this season's Ranji Trophy Super League.And one is not overly surprised to learn that the man in question isn't in the know about it. "I didn't knew it until you told me. I do realise that I'm getting quite a number of half-centuries but never thought I'm the top scorer of fifties," the youngster professes his ignorance.Six half-centuries in seven innings speak a lot about his consistency.

It was the proverbial 'law of averages' that caught up with Jadhav in the second innings of the Baroda game when he fell cheaply for the first time (he made 4) in State's Ranji Trophy campaign.So, what has been the secret of his consistency mantra? "Play every ball on merit," quips Jadhav. "I've always tried to give every ball the deserving treatment. If the first ball I face is a half-volley, I am going to clobber it to the fence. To me, it doesn't matter what reputation the bowler has," he says with a new-found self-belief.No doubt, the State Ranji batting unit has failed to come 'together' in the four games so far when the team has required, making our chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals almost next to impossible.

But there has been one man, Kedar Jadhav, who has stood tall throughout. How much happiness does Jadhav derives when he is firing with the willow but his side is not doing well? "Personally, I'm happy with the way I've shaped up this season. But to perform for a team when it is winning is entirely different. In the two remaining games we have, I want to contribute significantly and help my team win," gushes Jadhav talking like the near-perfect team man.

For the top-order batsman, disappointment is laced with happiness and Jadhav knows it why? "I've twice got into the nineties but not being able to convert them into hundreds. The next time, I get close to a hundred, I will make sure I translate that into a big hundred," a confidence-personified Jadhav fired a parting shot.

Enamul End

Bangladeshi tweaker's consistent poor show with the ball raises questions whether it was a wrong move to pick him in the first place

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror December 8, 2008

It doesn't need excessive brain racking to fathom that foreign players were welcomed by BCCI in the Indian premier domestic competition - Ranji Trophy with a sole objective of lending more 'quality' to the existing standards.But what do you do when the foreign players pan out to be of sub-standard quality? Take the case of Bangladeshi left-arm spinner Enamul Haque; Hang on; we are not yet insinuating that he is of sub-standard quality but the way he has failed to make the ball 'talk' under Maharashtra Ranji colours in three matches before the shoddy run led to him being dropped for the ongoing Baroda tie, would definitely lead many to believe that it was a selection gaffe by MCA.Well, there hasn't been any shortage of excuses to defend Enamul.

When the State bowlers went for a massive mauling at the hands of Tamil Nadu in the Ranji opener, the MCA high and mighty were toeing the 'Give him time to settle down' line.And again when he floundered against Andhra, the State Ranji coach Shaun Williams said that people were having unrealistic expectations from Enamul. "He's still young, you don't expect him to get heap of wickets everytime he comes on to bowl, Williams said after the second tie against Andhra.Well, should we stop expecting the Bangladeshi tweaker to fire with the ball.

One MCA official even went to the extent of saying that Enamul was being readied up for Maharashtra's away games since the said official was cocksure that turning decks would be on offer in our away games in Kanpur, Baroda and Bangalore.So what after the bowlers' wicketless ways in our first away game in Kanpur? Defintely, stuff like wicket is a batsman' delight would be a common alibi. Or what more? Let's hope his exclusion from the playing eleven is not construed as a decision taken because the track at Kanpur is a green top.

Even if the people choose this an alibi, then one can ask why Digambar Waghmare was persisted with and dropped instead of Enamul being wielded the axe.Miracles do happen in cricket and who knows Enamul could turn out for the Maharashtra Ranji side next season and that would be in sync with MCA's famous 'building a team for the future' at the cost of what, one is not sure. Clearly, the people who picked him will always put up a postiive

New Dawn

After serving out of the first two Ranji games on disciplinary grounds, Mondeep Mangela is itching to make it count with the ball

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 25, 2008

be out of the side because of poor form or injury niggles is always a 'disappointing feeling' for any cricketer, but when one is kept on the sidelines on 'disciplinary grounds' and then afforded an opportunity to stage a return to the side, the urge to justify selection in the side is even more compelling.Maharashtra's outstation seamer Mondeep Mangela must be plumbing the same as he gears up to don the State colours in the third Ranji Trophy tie against Uttar Pradesh beginning in Kanpur on Sunday.

The right-arm seamer knows how to unleash bouncers on the batsmen and also knows a trick or two about coping with that, too. "I know what you are trying to ask me. You are referring to the disciplinary grounds on which I was kept out of the side. Let me tell you that whatever has happened is history and I'm looking ahead," he chooses his words carefully.

The 22-year-old bowler, who made his Ranji debut for Mumbai in the 2006-07 season, said that mistakes will happen but the important thing is to learn from that and not repeat again. "I'm human only, so I'm bound to commit mistakes. Nobody does it intentionally."It can be recalled that the BCCI's new ruling of having only one foreign player in State teams meant that the MCA was left with little 'time' and 'option' to find a replacement for Sri Lankan Sujeeva De Silva (he was originally picked along with Enamul Haque).

And the State association zeroed in on Mangela. So is he feeling jittery by the weight of expectations? "Pressure is there but I don't think so much about all these things. Obviously, the people who matter must have seen something in me and picked me to play for Maharashtra. They will be some level of expectations from me to contribute in the bowling department and I'm looking to live upto that," quipped the Air India employee.Maharashtra's bowling attack has largely revolved around Samad Fallah in the first two Ranji games, and there were growing signs that there was lack of support for the left-arm seamer.

So does he think that his inclusion in the eleven would ease the workload on Fallah? "Look, Fallah is in prime form at the moment. If I get picked to play against Uttar Pradesh, I would only be looking to get wickets and help my team do well. It's not my business to think whether my inclusion would ease the bowling burden on X or Y player. My job would be to execute the plans laid by our team think-tank, nothing more," Mangela said with a touch of maturity.

What would make Mangela's job easy (provided he gets to play against Uttar Pradesh) is that he and Fallah are good buddies. "Fallah and I go a long way. We've trained together at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. I'm sure I am going to enjoy bowling in tandem with Fallah. Also, not many people don't know that Fallah is the biggest prankster in the side. You never know when you will pull a fast one," he concluded (grins).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lack of support for Fallah?

Maharashtra Ranji coach Shaun Williams doesn't think so

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 16, 2008

The limitations in the Maharashtra bowling attack were exposed in thedrawn Ranji game against Andhra. Take out Samad Fallah out of thebowling equation and there's hardly anything to gloat about the otherbowlers in the team. Fallah took eight out of the fifteen wickets to fall for Andhra. Andthat doesn't speak much good about the other bowlers. Terming thewicket as a flat one would only be tantamount to an excuse or how elsethe likes of Fallah and Andhra's M Suresh (he reaped 4-75 inMaharashtra' first innings) got richer with the wickets.

So what does coach Shaun Williams think about the lack of support forFallah? "Fallah bowled superbly in both the innings against Andhra.But it doesn't mean the other bowlers were bowling a heap of rubbish.I won't buy the theory that Fallah lacked support from the other end.I thought Aditya (Dole) looked good but was unlucky not to be amongthe wickets. As for Enamul, people are having 'unrealisticexpectations' from him. If you think someone is not bowling well justbecause he is wicketless, then I don't know what to say. As far as Iam concerned, there is nothing wrong with his bowling, you must haveseen how a quite number of close lbw shouts went against him againstAndhra. If a few of those decisions went in Enamul's favour, thingswould have been different," the Aussie jumps to the defense of theformer Bangladeshi tweaker.

Even leg-spinner Digambar Waghmare was used sparingly in the match,bowling just twenty six overs in two innings. Williams tries tojustify that. "Look, save for the second session today, where we driedup the runs, we have struggled to keep it tough from both ends in boththe Ranji games. You don't want to have a leggie bowl from one endwhen the runs are flowing from the other end. It's only when runs dryup from one end you employ them," he explains.

But hasn't Fallah looked the only bowler who looked like gettingwickets every time he comes on to bowl? "Fallah is on top of his gameat the moment. Any team would want their most in-form bowler bowl themaximum overs and the same is the case with us," Williams puts things in perspective.
But there's also a lurking apprehension of 'overbowling' Fallah sincethe youngster has already bowled 91 overs in three Ranji innings. Sowhat's the ideal number of overs a seamer should be bowling on beltersin India? "Ideally, a seamer should be comfortable enough to bowl 25overs a day whatever be the conditions, said Williams, who admittedthat the Maharashtra left-arm seamer is taking a heavy workload."Fallah is bowling a lot and I'm not denying that. Also, rememberFallah is a lot fitter than he was this time last season thanks to thehealthy involvement of our physio and trainer. We are not putting anypressure on Fallah to bowl more. On the contrary, Fallah loves to bowlall the time. He wants the ball on his hand always but at the sametime we are monitoring on our part to ensure he doesn't break down. AsI said before, he's getting stronger than before and is very muchcapable of sustaining the bowling workload he is carrying at themoment. He has four days break before the Uttar Pradesh game and thebreak would do him a lot of good and also to the other players," heexplained.

Just relish it!

Bowling 91 overs in two Ranji games, Maharashtra seamer Samad Fallah doesn't see it as any kind of workload

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 14, 2008

His radiant smile hardly indicates the kind of work ethic Samad Fallah indulges in. Grabbing the responsibility of being the pace spearhead of the Maharashtra Ranji side (remember his regular opening bowler partner Wahid Sayyid is sitting out because of injury) with both hands, Fallah has pegged away manfully, rising to the occasion consistently.

The left-arm seamer has bowled his heart out and hasn't allowed the nature of the surface dent his wickets column. His 6-102 in the first innings against Andhra bears testimony to that. So how does it feel being the spearhead of the Maharashtra Ranji bowling attack? "It feels good if you feel like that because to be honest I've never thought on those lines. The all I know is that when I've the ball on my hand, I just want to keep hurling it at the opposition batsmen and get them out," he sounds maturity-personified. Bowling ninety one overs in two matches inside ten days must be some kind of workload for any bowler, let alone Fallah, but the Pune lad says he is up for it.

"By God's grace, I never had any injury niggles and have always stayed fit. Even in the pre-season practice games I was bowling nearly thirty overs a day and let me tell you that the amount of bowling I am doing now, I really don't see it as a huge workload," explains Fallah, who actually relishes the situation when the onus is on him to deliver. "I love challenges. The bigger the challenge, the better you get. There can be no bigger way of contributing for your team by getting wickets when your side needs the most," said the Hyderabad-born seamer.

Hasn't his exploits with the ball already made him a 'hero' in the side? "Please don't put me under pressure. I'm a humble guy who only concentrates on doing well for the side. The day I think like that (of being a hero) I will be finished as a cricketer," Fallah said, guarding against any sort of complacency.

Bowling workload
33-2-131-1 vs Tamil Nadu
36 6 102 6 vs Andhra22
4 57 2 vs Andhra-
91 12 290 9

Hard Grind

That's what the Maharashtra batsmen went through as they eked out a 45-run first innings lead to collect three crucial points against Andhra

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 13, 2008

Maharashtra may be sedately jumping for 'joy'after garnering 'three' crucial points by virtue of their 45-run first innings lead over Andhra (provided we don't commit hara-kiri and lose the game which looks a remote possibility with one day left on a track that has shown no sign of affording any turn). But not many would disagree that the State team were made to dig deep into their reserves even as they surpassed the first innings score of their opponents.

Mind you, Maharashtra resumed at a formidable overnight score of 205 for one on day three. And the stage was set for the State batsmen to make merry and drive the visitors to despair.
But contrary to what was widely expected by the spectators, the script took a different turn. Andhra bowlers devised a strategy to stifle the flow of runs from the Maharashtra batsmen. Setting a 8-1 field (eight on the off-side and one on the on-side) for most part, they kept repeatedly pitching it wide off the off stump, making it difficult for Maharashtra to keep up the same scoring rate they maintained on day two. Andhra seamers – Kalyankrishna and Vijaykumar kept pegging away outside the off stump, and the Maharashtra batsmen seemed to fall into the defensive field trap set by their opponents, something State coach Shaun Williams acknowledges.

"I think the Andhra bowlers executed their plans near perfectly. Every team, which is pushed on the back foot, would resort to defensive tactics. You don't expect them to pitch it within the stumps and get whacked around. I reckon we allowed them to succeed with their plans as we didn't do anything different to unsettle their rhythm," Williams admits.

From Maharashtra's perspective, the situation demanded someone to stuck in and get a big one and put State in a position from where they can go for a win. But have a look at Rohan (Bhosale), Kedar (Jadhav), Ameya (Shrikhande) and Ankit (Bawne), they all got promising starts but were not able to convert them into big three-figure scores. "We needed someone to notch a big hundred which didn't happen today. Rohan fell early, Kedar, Ameya and Ankit got promising starts but I don't want to be harsh on them as run-making was made 'difficult' by the Andhra bowlers," explains Williams, who was quick to pick out Bawne's knock as a crucial one.

"Ankit played exceedingly well with the lower-order batsmen. His 44 may not look so good in the stats file, but in the context of this match it's an invaluable knock. If he had got out cheaply, who knows, we might have ended up conceding first innings lead. Full marks to him for the way he applied himself," remarked Williams who is now seeing visions of a win. "
A brilliant spell from Fallah in the first session you never know. But let's not be ahead of our ourselves and take one day, one session at a time and hope for the best," he added.

Good day in office

After being pushed on the back foot on day one, Maharashtra came outwith a disciplined batting effort to throw the gauntlet at Andhra

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 12, 2008

In cricket it takes a session to change the complexion of the game andMaharashtra showed just that as the hosts had set up the 'process' ofwresting the 'initiative' from Andhra on day one itself with SamadFallah's three-wicket burst with the second new ball. And though theAndhra lower-order stuck it out for two hours in the first session onday two, even threatening to regain control over the match, especiallywith the 38-run last-wicket stand between Raju and Vijaykumar thatfrustrated Maharashtra to no end. It finally needed skipper NikhilParadkar to wrap up their innings when he cleaned up Raju at thevisitors' score on 348.

The biggest bright spot for Maharashtra in the pre-lunch session wasthe end of a wicket-taking drought of Bangladeshi left-arm spinnerEnamul Haque, who was jumping for joy after snaring Suresh who skiedone to Fallah at mid-on. "I want to thank God for it. Taking wicketson such surfaces has been a huge challenge. This lean run has made metougher, I'm sure I will only get better," he said with a massive sighof relief after snaffling his maiden Ranji wicket for Maharashtra .

And as if to celebrate his first Ranji wicket under Maharashtracolours, his team-mate Samad Fallah came to the party, taking hissixth scalp trapping Sai in front to complete his second six-wickethaul in an Ranji innings. "My 6-45 against Himachal Pradesh atDharamsala came on a wicket that had something in it for the bowlers.Here, the deck has little purchase for the seamers," remarked Fallah.

Once the action resumed in the post-lunch session, it was anout-and-out Harshad Khadiwale show. A guy who prefers to play in the'V', Khadiwale seems to have a lot of time to play his shots. Blessedwith a wide array of strokes on both sides of the wicket, Khadiwaledrove, cut and pulled with authority and literally made the Andhrabowlers bend to his knees.

His flowing strokes unsettled the Andhra bowlers who were alreadygetting rattled by the left-right combo (his opening partner RohanBhosale is a southpaw). He survived two chances on 66 and 86 but itmattered little as he had done maximum damage on Andhra by then.
Spare a thought for Rohan Bhosale as well. He may not a naturalstrokemaker like Khadiwale, but makes up for it with his doggeddetermination.

The 158-run opening stand wouldn't have been possiblewithout Bhosale's solid support from the other end. Having attainedhis career-best Ranji score of 72 at stumps, he could be in line tonotch up his maiden Ranji century which could facilitate the victorypath for Maharashtra. Remember one thing: if the State batsmen manageto bat out the whole day on Wednesday (wipe out the 143-run deficit asearly as possible), let alone first innings lead, the State side couldbe even sniffing victory.

'Pressure is there'

Admits, struggling Enamul who is anxiously waiting to get his first Ranji wicket for Maharashtra

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 11, 2008

Enamul Haque's inclusion in the Maharashtra Ranji side as the lone foreign player caught many in the state cricket circles by surprise. And now that 'surprise' is being replaced by growing 'frustration' over the former Bangladesh left-arm spinner's failure to deliver with the ball.The 21-year-old tweaker had a forgettable day in the Ranji opener against Tamil Nadu, and against Andhra he continued to struggle, making little impression when the onus was on him to come to the party.

The man in question admits he is feeling the pressure. "Pressure is always there. I would be lying if I say there's no pressure. It's natural for my team to expect me to get my name in the wickets column on a regular basis and I am not able to do that so far," Enamul says with a smattering of disappointment.

The soft-spoken Bangladeshi has already bowled 58 overs, conceding 246 runs and is still anxiously waiting to snare his first wicket for Maharashtra. "It's been quite a wait. I don't have a choice but to stay positive and patient. I thought the wicket was another belter like the first one. I don't want to give any excuses for being wicketless, but must say that luck plays a big factor these days. I hope I get over my bad patch soon and help my team win matches," he sought to put things in perspective.

Maharashtra team selector and manager Pandurang Salgonakar agreed that the team management is concerned about Enamul's form with the ball. "We are definitely worried about his bowling form. He needs to settle down quickly before it's too late. We cannot afford to have a bowler like Enamul go wicketless for long. Coach Shaun Williams will have a talk with him and lets hope he finds his bowling form sooner than later as there is a lot of cricket to be played in this match," he opined.

Enamul's downcast showing was overshadowed by a lion-hearted five-wicket haul by seamer Samad Fallah (5-65) to resuscitate Maharashtra's hopes of staying in the contest. The left-arm bowler moved the ball both ways with aplomb and reduced Andhra to 262 for 6 at stumps. At 246 for three with six overs to go, Andhra seemed to have taken the day one honours on the back of a workmanlike century by opener Hemal Watekar (142), but in Fallah they found someone who played a spoiler to their plans.

"It's a kind of wicket where no total is safe. There sense of satisfaction of getting a fiver on a batsmen-friendly track is huge. I will savour this moment," said the 23-year-old who picked up his second five-wicket haul in Ranji Trophy (his career-best returns of 6-49 came against Himachal Pradesh at Dharamsala last season.

Let's face it

A robust batting show against Tamil Nadu, may paint a rosy picture for Maharashtra ahead of their Andhra tie, but the larger question is: Do we have the bowlers to take twenty wickets?

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirrror November 10, 2008

The pall of dejection that surrounded the Maharashtra team for the first day and a half in the face of a battering handed out by the Tamil Nadu batsmen in their Ranji opener, gave way to an upbeat mood on the back of a robust batting riposte by the State side for the next two and a half days. The spring in the steps of the Maharashtra side was amply evident from the way they went about their strenuous practice session ahead of the crucial second tie against Andhra.

Clearly, an air of 'all is fine with the State team' is palpable, but the larger picture is: Do we have the bowlers to take the twenty wickets to win a match? Tad taken aback by the poser, State coach Shaun Williams refused to buy that, emphatically saying his side has the bowling ammunition to run through side twice in a match. "If we thought these bowlers didn't have it in them to bowl a side out twice in a match, there won't be picked in the side. Trust me, they are not here to make the numbers," he snapped back.

But doesn't he think that too much talk about the opening game wicket as a belter being used as an 'excuse' for the spineless bowling effort by Maharashtra? "You got to be fair on the bowlers. We lost the toss against Tamil Nadu and bowled when the wicket was at its best for batting. When you have a featherbed, you got to make early inroads with the new ball, otherwise you are going to be doing leather chasing under the hot sun. We need to make maximum damage with the new ball," he explains.

Agreed, the wicket was a batting beauty. How about the State spinners falling short of expectations (taking only one of the three wickets to fall) on the same 'belter' where Tamil Nadu tweakers snaffled thirteen scalps? "Look, the ideal situation for the spinners to be in full cry is when the seamers have knocked over a few top-order batsmen. Spinners need assistance from the seamers who didn't hit the right areas. Fallah looked good in his opening spell but was guilty of some wayward stuff thereafter. Dole didn't bowl as well as he can," he reasons.

The long foreign player in the side, Bangladesh's Enamul Haque was bandied about our trump card in the spin bowling department. But he was tonked all over the park like a school boy bowler. "Don't be harsh on Enamul. He was playing his first game, he was probably trying too hard. I'm sure he will come sooner than later," Williams jumps to his defense. The strip for the second game also looks to be another batting beauty. So what would be his success mantra for his bowlers if there isn't much in the wicket. "Seamers need to put the ball on the 'corridor of uncertainty' with a fair amount of consistency when there's not much happening off the wicket. As for the spinners, I thought there were concentrating a lot on taking wickets. They should look at creating pressure on the batsmen by drying up the runs and maintaining tight overs which would see frustration get the better of the batsmen," he said.

Maharashtra team selector and manager Pandurang Salgonakar feels lack of genuine quick bowlers in the state side is a major shortcoming for the side. "We don't have anyone who can hustle up a batsman with speed. Only somebody who is quick through the air can cause destruction on wickets which are heavily loaded in favour of the batters," the fomer Ranji seamer said. Discipline is going to be the prime factor, feels Salgonakar. "You can't just steam in and blast the batsmen away. Our seamers have to mix it up if the are to succeed on batsmen-friendly decks. As far as our spinners are concerned, it's important for them to understand it's not always about turning the ball. Altering the speed of the ball for a spinner is a must," he added.

Only gold counts

World Youth Boxing champ Nanao Singh discloses how his girlfriend Anjana pushed him hard to go after the yellow metal

Suhrid Barua, November 8, 2008

Family inspiration or blessings count a lot in pursuit of success. But there was a different kind of driving 'force' behind Thokchom Nanao Singh's gold triumph in the recently-concluded World Youth Boxing Championships in Mexico.A product of the city's Army Sports Institute (ASI), Nanao was a touch sheepish about disclosing his secret success mantra, but when prodded relentlessly he gave in.Nanao opened up about how his girlfriend Anjana served as a huge motivation factor for his Mexico glory. "Anjana (she's a computer student back home) used to tell me that I have to go for the gold medal in the World Championship. She didn't want me to get complacent after my gold winning effort at the Commonwealth Youth Games. She kept telling me that nobody cares in India if you win silver or bronze," reveals the fleet-boxer who pocketed the yellow metal in the 48-kg category.

Nanao met Anjana through common friends a-year-and-half back in hometown Bishnupur while he went out for an outing with his friends. "I met her through some of my close friends. I was bit shy at that time but gradually we hit it off well. We are good friends and that's important," he says.So obviously marriage is the logical destination of their relationship. "Definitely not in the immediate future. I'm only 18. I've a lot of things to achieve in the boxing ring. My beau (Anjana) wants me to box with consistency and get an Olympic gold in the 2012 Games. She wants me to achieve that. To be frank I only see myself getting hitched in another eight or nine years from now," quipped Nanao who countered stiff competition at the World Championship compared to the CYG where he was hardly stretched.

"I really didn't have to dig deep as my opponents hardly posed a threat. But at the World Championship in Mexico, it was tough going from bout one," explains the Manipuri lad who is getting used to the new-found experience of signing autographs. "It was certainly a new thing for me when I had to sign autographs for hordes of spectators after I won the CYG gold in front of my home crowd. It was a humbling experience, I must say," he added.

Friday, November 7, 2008

You Know What

Seamer Mondeep Mangela, who is cooling his heels on the sidelines on disciplinary grounds, reportedly smsed MCA about his desire to join the team for the Ranji opener in Nashik on his own instead of travelling with the team

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 4, 2008

Pune: Outstation seamer Moondeep Mangela is cooling his heels on disciplinary grounds. The price he pays for his ‘unbecoming behaviour’ is axing from the from the 17-member State squad for the ongoing Ranji opener against Tamil Nadu and also probably for the second tie against Andhra. But Maharashtra’s toothless bowling performance which allowed Tamil Nadu to run up a score in excess of 600, may just prompt the team think-tank to summon Mangela back into the side for the Andhra game.

MCA tight-lipped
Though the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) officials have not been forthcoming on the issue, save for uttering the ‘disciplinary ground’ line, highly-placed sources indicate that it was not just one or two incidents of ‘unprofessional’ behaviour on the part of Mangela that led the state cricket association to overlook him for the first two games.
When probed further, it was learnt that Mangela didn’t hit the right notes with his ‘negative attitude’. It was learnt that Mangala was guilty of breaching the ‘unofficial’ code of conduct by repeatedly showing up late for a few of the pre-season practice games.
Only two ties
Interestingly, Mangela played in only two of the six practice games. He was even believed to have smsed the team management of his unavailability for some of those games.
Clearly, the MCA wasn't taking kindly to his demeanour. Probably the fact that he was brought as an 'outstation' player would have probably made him feel that he’s indispensable for the State Ranji side.
Sample this: The Ranji team was announced around 9.30 pm on October 28. And Mangela presuming that he would be picked in the 17-member squad, smsed the MCA that he would directly join the Ranji squad in Nashik in time for the opening game instead of travelling with the team.
MCA deserves a pat
Any player who thinks himself above the team should be dealt with a firm hand. The MCA has to be patted on their backs for cracking the whip on Mangela. Taking a tough stance can always have the positive effect in the long run and one hopes it does for Mangela. Realisation seems to have dawned on the medium pacer, who is seen as a nippy customer by coach Shaun Williams, that he wasn’t going to have his way with his unacceptable behaviour. The youngster now is apologetic about his behaviour and can’t wait to get back in the side.
One thing is for sure; we have not heard the last of Mangela, for he has plenty of expectations to fulfil when he hurls the red cherry for Maharashtra while donning the Ranji whites.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Convincing Powers!

World Youth Boxing Champion Nanao Singh’s first coach Chingkhei reveals how he had to cajole the boxer’s father to allow him TO pursue the sport seriously

Suhrid Barua Pune Mirror, November 3, 2008

Pune: Even as Thokchom Nanao Singh threw a fusillade of punches on World Cadet Championship bronze medallist Grigoriy Nikolaychuk of Russia en route to a clinical 15-5 gold medal triumph at the inaugural AIBA World Youth Boxing Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico, there was one man who was jumping for joy at his native state of Manipur.
Yelam Chingkhei Lumba, the man who first evinced interest in Nanao to wear the boxing gloves (during his early days in Manipur) is experiencing a top-of-the-world kind of feeling to see his ward make it big on the world stage. “It gives me immense joy to see Nanao winning the World Youth Championships gold. He has always had it in him to reach the summit and he proved it in no uncertain terms. I’m running short of words to describe this brilliant feat,” gushes Chingkhei, barely able to hide his delight.
The 40-year-old coach took the Army Sports Institute (ASI) boxer under his wings when he was only ten-years old. Even today, Chingkhei lucidly remembers how he had to use his ‘convincing powers’ to make Nanao’s father, Totobi Singh understand the significance of allowing his son pursue boxing. “Totobi strongly disapproved Nanao taking up boxing seriously. Nanao turned defiant to his father’s opposition towards boxing and started bunking school classes,” Chingkhei recounts.
How the ice was broken
Nanao’s first boxing guru revealed how the ice was broken. “Totobi one day brought Nanao along with him to the Bishnupur District Amateur Boxing Association training centre. It was here that I was able to convince Nanao’s father that he should be encouraged to pursue boxing because I knew this boy had all the right attributes to corner glory on the world stage,” added Chingkhei who is employed with Manipur Home Guards.
So has he been able to sent a congratulatory sms or call Nanao? “No, not yet. I only have his cell number which isn’t functioning as he is abroad. But Nanao did call me when he was at the Delhi airport before his departure for the World Championships. He wanted to seek my blessings and I told him not to be satisfied with the Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal and go for the gold in Mexico,” Chingkhei added.
Though it’s still early days for Nanao, Chingkhei wants him to follow the Vijender way. “Vijender made the country proud in Beijing. Now, I want Nanao not just to get a medal in 2012 Olympics but win that coveted yellow metal,” he added.

Mamma's boy

Newly-appointed Maharashtra Ranji captain Nikhil Paradkar reveals that Bhindi Bhaji rustled up by mother is his favourite food

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 29, 2008

Captaincy is all more about learning on the 'job'. Mastering the art is easier said than done. Even many greats like Allan Border and Clive Lloyd on the world stage had to tide over many odds to make it count in that role. And for Maharashtra's newly-appointed Ranji captain Nikhil Paradkar, it won't be exactly like being thrown in at the deep end. For Nikhil has a fair amount of experience captaining the state side at various age levels (u-15,u-17 and u-19).

But the 21-year-old southpaw knows all too well that captaining the Ranji side will be a different ball game altogether. "It will be a different kettle of fish. I've been captaining since my school days at JN Petit Technical School. I've also led the state team in various age groups. But this (Ranji captaincy) will be hugely challenging," he said.Keep it simpleParadkar feels keeping things simple is the best way to approach a new job. "You have to be on the ball. It's all important to think ahead of the game and accordingly prepare strategies to outwit the opposition," said the second year B. Com student of city's SP College, who sees West Indian Brian Lara as his role model.

Best Buddies

Paradkar, who made his Ranji debut against Hyderabad at Karad during the 2006-07 season, says his best buddies in the team are Harshad Khadiwale and Kedar Jadhav, both of whom he pipped for the captaincy job. "I hit it off well with Harshad and Kedar which doesn't mean I don't get along with the other team members. I expect wholehearted support from them as well as from the others in the team which should make myself settle down nicely into the job," he opined.

Mother's boy

Paradkar, though, doesn't believe much in eating out though he is not averse to the idea. "I love to eat any home cooked food rustled up by mother. Bhindi Bhaji with roti prepared by her is my favourite," he reveals (grins).

I will bounce back:Takawale

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 29 ,2008

Yogesh Takawale's axing was a bit of a surprise. Just 18 runs in four pre-season practice games and wicketkeeping howlers during the recently-concluded Challenger tourney shaped a big role in nullifying his aspirations of finding a berth in the side. But who knows, the talented bloke could be back if the State side has to face reverses in the first two games."Selection is not in my hands. I've a lot of confidence in my ability and would come out firing in whatever practice games I get to play. I will bounce back," said Takawale.

Why Harshad Khadiwale and Kedar Jadhav missed the captaincy bus?

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 29, 2008

Harshad Khadiwale: The team think-tank felt that Khadiwale is being looked upon as the main batting mainstay of the side. He is expected to open the innings and also roll his arm over with his medium pace stuff. So that could be quite a workload for the youngster and the selection committee probably thought that the diminutive batsman should be left free from the mantle of captaincy.

Kedar Jadhav: Kedar is an exciting prospect. The team braintrust was of the opinion that the precocious talent Kedar possesses, he should be allowed to blossom. Basically, he should be left on his own to do what he knows best - scoring runs - not the sparkling forties and fifties but the big ones.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ranji Captaincy Race

Harshad Khadiwale and Nikhil Paradkar hold the edge overKedar Jadhav for the demanding job

Pune Mirror, October 26, 2008 Suhrid Barua
Pune: With just a week to go before Ma-harashtra launch their 2008-09 Ranji Trophy Super League campaign against Tamil Nadu in Nashik, beginning No-vember 3, the naming of the state cap-tain has grabbed the maximum spotlight. As on expected lines, the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) has been tight-lipped about the same, but sources close to MCA tell us three players — Harshad Khadiwale, Nikhil Paradkar and Kedar Jadhav — all of whom have captained the state team in the pre-season warm-up games — are widely tipped to assume the ‘hot seat’.


The speculation mills have gone into an overdrive and have made us feel that Kedar Jadhav would be the one who would replace Venugopal Rao as the new Maharashtra captain. But hold on: Even though Kedar is one among the three in the fray for the captaincy role, the MCA have almost zeroed in on the two other guys — Harshad Khadiwale and Nikhil Paradkar. In all probability, it will be a toss-up between the two unless of course things change dramatically.


In some quarters, there is a school of thought that Harshad Khadiwale could be the man for the job as there are whis-pers that Nikhil Paradkar may just miss the boat because of his lack of Ranji ex-perience. Actually, both Harshad and Nikhil are looked upon as guys having a shrewd cricketing head. Incidentally, Nikhil Paradkar was just named the captain of the state under-22 side after Deepak Shilamkar wanted to be relieved from captaincy. Nikhil has impressed the people who matter with his captaincy skills during the pre-season sidegames.

What has also become increasingly clear is that the MCA won’t be looking beyond these ‘three’ or should we say ‘two’. It is also learnt that the state association would name the captain only for the first two games against Tamil Nadu and Andhra. Ask Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) president Ajay Shirke on the same? He offers a straight bat. “You can speculate in whatever way you want. We’ve a selection committee to take a call on this and you will come to know about the naming of the new captain very soon,” he intimated.

It’s worth remembering that Harshad Khadiwale was the top run-getter for Ma-harashtra last season, smacking 468 runs from seven matches at an impressive av-erage of 39.00. His average was second best after Yogesh Takawale. The fact that Khadiwale is a solid top-order batsman and can bowl military-medium pace makes him not just an asset for the state side but also the ideal bloke for the hugely responsible captaincy job.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Thokchom Nanao Singh reveals how he defied strong opposition from his father and later winning his confidence to pursue the sport

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 18, 2008

Winning laurels is always a special thing. And for 48-kg gold medal-winning light flyweight boxer Thokchom Nanao Singh it is super-special because it means a lot for the Manipuri as he desperately wanted to make a mark in the ring for his ailing father.For my dadNanao's father Totobi Singh met with a jeep accident long back and has his left leg paralysed for years now. So it was a little surprise to see Nanao dedicate the title romp to his father.

"My father can't move around on his own because of his paralysed left leg. One of my brothers is away from home working in the army, while my elder brother Shyman is a farmer and it is who takes care of them in my native village Khujama in Bishnupur district," observed an emotional Nanao.

Football to boxing

The fleet-footed southpaw used to be a football player before he switched to boxing. He had to weather much opposition from his father over his choice to pick up boxing. "When I wanted to take up boxing, my father was totally against him. So when he didn't allow me to opt for boxing, I turned defiant and refused to go to school. "Then, one day my father met my boxing coach and asked him about my skills. Only when he was convinced that I could make it big in boxing, he started to fully back me to pursue boxing. I dedicate this gold medal to my father. He deserves it. He has done a lot for me," he recounts his early days in boxing.

Jubilant dad

Father Totobi Singh was in seventh heaven." Today is a big day for our family. Nanao has made us proud. I saw the bout on television and ever since the news of his gold win trickled in, relatives and well-wishers have made a beeline to our house. We are throwing a big get-together in our house tonight," Nanao's father barely able to hide his elation.

He talked about those days when he vehemently opposed Nanao's desire to take up boxing. "Yes, I still remember those days even today. I was fully convinced that my son has all the makings of a good boxer when I met his coach," he reminisces Nanao's early days.Nanao senior now wants his son to give an equally eye-catching performance at the upcoming World Junior Boxing Championships to be held in Mexico later this month. "I want him to get a medal there. Then we will have an even more bigger feast in our house," he added.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

'Kalmadi is thinking about 2020'

Says IOC president Jacques Rogge on India's much-talked-about bid

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 16, 2008

Pune: The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi is using every possible platform to crank up the seriousness of India bidding for the 2020 Olympics. And what better stage than to furthering the same in front of International Olympic Committee (IOC) Jacques Rogge. The IOC top official was in the city to officially inaugurate the Olympic Values Education Programme and Indian National Club Games.IOA president Suresh Kalmadi, who wore a nervous look throughout the function, talked of the importance of cashing in on the Beijing 'high'.
"We won our first-ever individual Olympic gold medal in Beijing, we won our first boxing medal in Olympics. So the momentum given by our athletes should be vigorously taken forward by intensifying our Olympic movement," remarked IOA president Suresh Kalmadi, while carefully choosing his words.He, however, stopped short of saying anything about the 2020 Olympics bid, but didn't miss out on the opportunity of taking a dig at the hype and hoopla surrounding cricket. "It's a land of cricket and cricket but time has come for Olympic sports to take centrestage now that we've amassed our best medal haul in Beijing," he said.
Even as all and sundry waited expectantly to hear from Rogge about India's 2020 bid, the Belgian only acknowledged India's image as host of big-ticket events."India has successfully hosted the Asian Games (1951 and 1982), Afro-Asian Games (2003) and now the Commonwealth Youth Games. It has carved a niche for itself as competent host of big events."
After striking the play-it-safe card, Rogge finally opened up regarding the 2020 bid. "I think Kalmadi is thinking about it for a long time now. All I can is that I expect a sincere, solid bid from India when it happens in 2011. I've nothing more to say on this," he added.

Still did it

Indian gold winning weightlifter Yamini reveals that she has no coach and how she plodded the hard grind under the supervision of former C'ommonwealth Games gold medallist Shailaja Pujari

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 15, 2008

The trials and tribulations of a sportsperson often go unnoticed when the hour of glory arrives. And for Indian weightlifter Yamini, the story is no different. Firing what looked to us as a sort of a bombshell after she won the gold in the women's 58-kg category, the Andhra girl revealed how she traversed the hard grind without any coach. "I don't have a coach. It was only because of the encouragement I got from former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Shailaja Pujari, who is our family well-wisher, to take up weightlifting. I have all the training equipment fixed up at my home and I used to take lessons from Shailaja from time to time," Yamini said.

The SriKakula girl admits that had it been not for Shailaja's persuasion to take up the sport, she would have never taken a fancy to weightlifting. "My father is a Railway employee while my mother is a lecturer. Both come from non-sports background. It was only on Shailaja's wheedling that I picked up weightlifting," Yamini said, showering all the credit to her mentor. It's only at the national camps that Yamini gets the opportunity to hone her skills. "At the recent national camp in Bangalore, I trained under Anita Chanu and Shamta Shetty. It's only during national camps I train under their supervision. That's the way it is," she added.

What's next was the obvious question? "In two years time, the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are coming up. So the ultimate goal is to win medals at these two events and carried it from them with an Olympic medal," she observed. But the 15-year-old knows that a podium finish at the Olympics would indeed take something 'special' out of her. "I am not tom-toming that I would win an Olympic medal in 2012. But there's nothing wrong in living a dream as I know my task will be really cut out," she added with a coyish tone.

For the stats-minded, Yamini hoisted 80 kg in snatch and 98 in clean and jerk for a total lift of 178 kg to pocket the yellow medal.

My ring craze

India's best boxing medal hope at CYG, Sunil Sadhu's father and elder brother may have excelled in kabaddi but boxing is his first love

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 14, 2008

It was the sport of kabaddi that dominated the Sadhu ménage. Father Sadhu Ram Siwach is a former international kabaddi player, who is currently serving as kabaddi coach with Haryana Police. Elder brother Satish Kumar is also a former national level kabaddi player. But yet, it was boxing that Sunil Sadhu had a penchant for.Sunil studied at the Happy Sister Senior Secondary School in Bhiwami, the same school where Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh took his early academic lessons.

So, there are no prizes for guessing where Sunil got his inspiration from.Vijender drive"I was in standard three while Vijender was in standard eight at that time," Sunil recalls. "I was used to seeing Vijender regularly win prizes at school assemblies. Just seeing him win laurels from such a young age gave me the drive and passion to wear the boxing gloves I see Vijender as my role model and want to do big things in the ring like he did in the Beijing Olympics.

No family disapproval

So how about any family 'disapproval' regarding picking up boxing considering that two senior family members had excelled in kabaddi. "My father may have excelled in kabaddi but he never forced me to take up the sport in which he dazzled. He gave me a free hand to pursue a sport which I like the most, Even my elder brother took a same stance and allowed me to opt for boxing," remarked the 18-year-old, who took the whole nation by storm when he won the 2006 world Under-17 boxing crown in Istanbul, Turkey.


The talented pugilist, who has been talked about as the next big thing in Indian boxing, seems to have made the right noises in CYG. Dishing out a clinicial brand of boxing against JR Ronald Woodside, Sunil took his Bahamas opponent to the cleaners as the referee stopped the contest when the Indian jumped out to a robust 9-0 lead. "Beginning has been good. But I need to guard against complacency as I gear up for my quarterfinal bout against Zambia's Peter Shulla on Wednesday.

Height doesn't matter

Thats' how Indian light flyweight boxer Thokchom Nanao Singh feels after sending shivers down the spine of his Sri Lankan opponent to romp into the quarterfinals

Suhrid Barua, October 13, 2008

The Indian light flyweight pugilist sent shivers down the spine of his Sri Lankan opponent to seal his place in quarters The picture of confidence was reflected in his swagger to the ring. It was as if Thokchom Nanao Singh was in a mood to 'party hard' in the ring. He gave an impression that he was in a tearing hurry to finish things off she he outboxed Weerapurage Sadun Kumara of Sri Lanka to storm into the quarter-finals in the light flyweight category (48-kg) of the boxing event here on Monday.

The stands may have been only half full but it failed to act as a downer on Nanao as he unleashed a fusillade of power-packed punches against the hapless Sri Lankan from the word go to straightway assert his supremacy over his opponent. Nanao just raced to an imposing 8-0 lead in the opening round to trigger cheers from the stands. The Army Sports Institute boxer towered over his opponent in the next round forcing the Sri Lankan to serve mandatory eight counts, leading the referee to stop the contest.

Coincidentally, his next round opponent, Thomas Stubbs of England, was also at his fiery best, toying with Ricardo Blackman of Barbados in a ridiculously one sided bout before the referee stopped the contest. So, both the quarter-final competitors would be super-confident after coming off RSC wins in their first round bouts.

From the Indian perspective, Nanao has been bandied about one boxer who should go the distance."I came to the ring thinking that I would wrap up the bout in the first round itself but it wasn't to be. I was not thinking of playing all the four rounds. I knew that once I ran up a huge lead in the first round, the win was within my striking distance, a bullish Nanao said after the bout.

The 2007 Commonwealth Boxing Championships silver medallist, countered all the talk going around about his height disadvantage. "I may not have a tall reach but I've my battle plans ready for my opponent. In boxing, courage and desire is important and I've those attributes in abundance," the Manipuri lad.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What more

Given the utter confusion surrounding the CYG, one is left wondering how much more one has to put up with when the action begins on Sunday

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 12, 2008

Pune: Given the utter confusion surrounding the CYG, one is left wondering how much more one has to put up with when the action begins on Sunday. If there is one thing that we are very good at, it has to be sports rhetoric. Take for instance, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi wearing torrents of pride in his sleeves when he recently talked about India’s readiness to host the 2020 Olympics. Of course, there’s nothing amiss in spelling out about India’s seriousness to bid for the world’s biggest sports extravaganza.

Winning the right to host two biggies — 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games is a big thing achievement wise and IOA can take a lot of credit for that. Holy MessBut the pertinent point here is that are we doing enough to ensure the Games, hosting of which are a matter of ‘pride and prestige’ for the country, has been reduced to a ‘holy mess’ thanks to the unprofessional functioning of the organisers, are conducted in an orderly manner.Excuses will be there for all the ‘circus’ that is going all around the Games venue.

Even two top officials of IOA had been to the Beijing Olympics to carry out a feasible study of how to conduct an event of such magnitude with utmost ‘professionalism’. Even those efforts of IOA seems to have fallen flat. Talking of the all-pervading chaos girdling the Games, one just wonders how much one has to put up with when the real ‘action’ starts on Sunday. To start with, the scribes were made to run from pillar to post to obtain their accreditation passes for the Games.

What’s more, the agency handling media accreditation wanted the scribes to fill up a written accreditation form and then told to do the same online. Believe it or not, the agency again wanted the members of the fourth estate to go through another written form process as the agency claimed that they lost all data’s of the journos due to virus problem. Can they ever be such a height of chaos witnessed anywhere else?

If you thought that was it, you are wrong. The multi-discipline extravaganza was hailed with gusto as being the ‘Green Games’ as all the 71 participating teams were supposed to get saplings from their respective countries and plant it in the complex but it was conspicuously unnoticeable inside the complex. Wrong people?Worse, is the absolute lack of information about the players and other things related to it. There’s no clarity on the part of the organisers when it comes to digging out information from them. Surely, the right people are not in the right place or it could be the either way; the wrong people are at the wrong place.

How can one miss out on a word about the ‘volunteers’. Most of them don’t seem to be avid lovers of sports and only seem to be going through their motions. All their energies were channelised in not ‘letting in’ anyone leading to numerous unwanted situations when the entry-seeker happened to be a competitor. It’s better off ending it there itself as tiredness overwhelms taking a dig at them.

Let’s live on the hope that the organisers would take drastic measures to pull up their socks, even their shirts and trousers and ensure India’s image as hosts of a big-ticket event is not sullied.

Concentration talk

Olympics bronze medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar gives his take on the medal hopes of the Indian grapplers at the Commonwealth Youth Games

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 12, 2008

Pune: Having attained the exalted status in the sport — a podium finish in Olympics — Sushil Kumar now knows more than a thing or two on how to chart a route to success on the big stage. To put it simply, his epochal effort at Beijing has not just given Indian wrestling the much-needed springboard but also ensured the sport is alive and kicking from the perspective of more youngsters taking a fancy to the sport.Pep talk

And for the seven matmen, who were selected from a list of forty probables that attended the national camp at the Army Sports Institute, Pune, Sushil has some pep talk to offer. “I will be speaking to the boys. I think all seven of them have trained hard for the Games and are serious medal contenders, rather I should say they are favourites to win even the gold,” observed the 25-year-old on his arrival in the city on Saturday.

Focus important

Touching on the strategizing part, Sushil feels the Indian wrestlers must guard against lapse in concentration. “In wrestling you can’t indulge in much strategy making. It’s not like some other sport where you garner a healthy lead and sit on it. It could be a win by a fall, or by a technical superiority, so our wrestlers should put more focus on maintaining a higher level of concentration as fortunes of a player can change pretty fast during a bout,” he explains.

Stiff competition

Sushil, however, sounded a note of caution for the Indian grapplers. “Watch out for wrestlers from Nigeria and Canada. They have it in them to dominate the event. But our wrestlers are well prepared. Also, playing in front of their home crowd should spur our wrestlers to come out with something ‘special’,” he signed off.

All Geared Up

Six boxers - T Nanao Singh, V Durga Rao, Vikas Yadav, Neeraj Goyat, V Santosh and Satender from city's Army Sports Institute (ASI) are lending final touches to their preparations for the CYG. Here's a close look at them.
Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 8, 2008
T Nanao Singh (48-kg)
Age: 17
Birthplace: Imphal
Punching Highs
Gold, 2005 Cuban National GamesSilver, 2007 Senior Commonwealth Boxing Championships
Gold, 2008 National Junior Boxing Championships
Gold, 2007 National Junior Boxing Championships
The southpaw from Manipur is known for his nifty footwork and supple reflexes. But the talented lad, who joined the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in 2004, believes in counter-attacks and combination punches to unsettle an opponent. Though he is short-statured, Nanao makes up for the height disadvantage with a steady overall game. Shouldn't be a surprise if he pulls off a podium finish at CYG. Big things are expected from him in the coming years.
V Durga Rao (54 kg)
Age: 17
Birthplace: Vishakapatnam
Punching Highs
Bronze, 2008 Russian International Boxing Championship
Gold, 2008 National Sub-junior Championship
Gold, 2007 National Sub-junior Championship
Quarterfinalist, 2007 World Sub-Junior Boxing Championship
Quarterfinalist, 2008 World Sub-Junior Championship
The swarthy-skinned boxer models himself on Mike Tyson. He first joined the Mumbai Engineer Group's Boys Sports School, Bangalore centre, in 2003 before being part of the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in 2004. Son of a meat shop owner, Durga has solid defence to fall back on when he is at the receiving end of his opponents. His mental preparation before a bout is exemplary and he is somebody who boxes from the mind. A dark horse for a medal at CYG.
Vikas Yadav: (57kg)
Age: 16
Birthplace: Bhiwani
Punching Highs
Gold, 2007 World Cadet Boxing Championship
Gold, 2008 Children of Asia Games
This baby-faced boxer, who joined the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in 2005, was an unknown commodity until last year when he catapulted himself into national attention, winning the World Cadet crown. A storehouse of talent, Vikas's participation in CYG was unexpected as Roshan Singh was widely tipped to make the cut. He likes to mix aggression and defence to the hilt, but has to guard himself against getting rattled when he is pushed to a corner.
Niraj Goyat (60 kg)
Age: 17
Birthplace: Chandigarh
Punching Highs
Gold, 2008 Nationl Junior Championships; also emerged as the most promising boxer of the meet
A relatively unknown name from the Army Sports Institute's boxing staple, Neeraj joined ASI in 2005. The upcoming CYG will be his first international exposure. A boxer with plenty room for improvement, Neeraj has strong willpower and it was this trait that helped him to outbox the likes of M Karthick and Children of Asia Games gold medallist Anil Kumar for a berth in the CYG team. He banks a lot on uppercuts and left hooks to earn points.
B Santosh (60 kg)
Age: 18
Birthplace: Vishakapatnam
Punching Highs
2008 National Sub-junior Championship2007 National Sub-junior Championship2006 National Sub-junior Championship Like V Durga Rao, V Santosh joined MEG's Boys Sports School, Bangalore centre in 2003 before being part of the Army Sports Institute in 2004. Santosh relies a lot on right hooks and straight punches to gain most of his points but his physical fitness is little susceptible. According to his coaches, Santosh is bandied about as a medal prospect for 2010 C'wealth and Asian Games.
Satyender 75 kg
Age: 18
Birthplace: Bhiwani
Punching Highs
Gold 2008 National Junior Boxing Championships
Gold 2007 National Junior Boxing Championships
Gold 2007 YMCA Boxing Championship
He is the second southpaw after T Nanao Singh in the ASI's boxing brigade. Satyender joined the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in 2005 and is currently serving as a Havildar in the Artillery Training Centre in Hyderabad. Satyender not only has a robust defence but also scores a lot from his straight punches.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

High Hopes

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President G S Mander says they will not settle for anything less than seven gold medals at the upcoming Games

Suhrid Barua , Pune Mirror, October 5, 2008

Pune: The flash bulbs and the shutterbugs may be running after the cricketers or to some extent the Sania Mirzas or Saina Nehwals. But make no mistake, they would now even carve out space for hitherto less popular sport like wrestling in the backdrop of Sushil Kumar’s winning India’s first wrestling medal in Olympics after a long hiatus of 56 years. Fully realising the importance of cashing in on the momentum the sport has got from Sushil’s monumental effort at Beijing, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is now earnestly seeking to provide the icing on the Beijing cake with a gold rush at CYG.
“I will not settle for anything less than seven gold medals (there are seven weight categories at the event),” averred WFI president GS Mander. “Wrestling has got a new leash of life after Sushil Kumar’s high in Beijing. We just can’t sit gloating over his glory but rather undertake concentrated efforts to ensure that the younger lot get adequate opportunities to show their wares. And we are doing that.”Ready for the challengeMander, who is in his fourth term as WFI president, feels that the Indian wrestlers should be ready to front up to some stiff competition from grapplers from Australia, Canada, Nigeria and Pakistan at CYG. “I’m not saying we can’t overcome them. Our preparation has come off well so far. The talent pool is deep and we are doing our best to nurture them and hope the results will show at the Commonwealth Youth Games,” reasoned the 73-year-old.
The WFI president believes people’s perception about wrestling have undergone a metamorphosis. And a strong statement from the wrestlers at CYG would only go on to buttress that. “Earlier, people used to think that there is no future in taking up wrestling. But that thinking has changed. It’s no longer a non-lucrative sport. You have seen how an Olympic medal fetch prize money running into crores. An highly impressive showing from our grapplers at the CYG can just set the ideal launchpad for the sport to take off in a big way,” he quipped.
Strikingly, the WFI has taken all ‘care’ to keep the morale high of the wrestlers who couldn’t make the cut for CYG. “All the probables would have to train here till October 10. Just because the seven are selected for CYG doesn’t mean the others who competed with them are lacking in skills. They all are good and would get their chances in future. If any of the non-selected wrestlers for CYG leave the camp, they will be blacklisted and will not be summoned for any camp in future.” Mandir indicated that he means business.
He cited the example of WFI secretary and former Asiad gold medallist Kartar Singh who even at the age of 50, still actively plays the sport. “I take pride in saying that Kartar Singh is a great example for youngsters. Recently, he won the 13th consecutive gold at the World Veterans Wrestling Championship in Russia. There can be no shortage of motivation for the boys when they have someone like Kartar Singh to look up to,” he goes high on the ace grappler of yesteryears.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

High Hopes

Vijender Singh would be counting on cousin brother Balwinder, who would be taking part in the 69-kg category, and rest of the Indian boxers to fire on all cylinders at the Games

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 3, 2008

Pune: The chants of ‘Vijender Zindabad’ reverberated the MIT ground here on Thursday, as the Indian sports’ latest poster boy made his entry to grace the opening function of MIT Summit ‘08 State-level Inter-Engineering Sports Meet here. Soon the ‘Bollywood’ looks of the 23-year-old Bhiwani boxer grabbed fulsome attention of all and sundry.

CYG talk
And with the much-hyped Commonwealth Youth Games just nine days away, the confabulation obviously veered to Indian boxers’ medal hopes at the event.Vijender sprang a surprising revelation about his cousin brother Balwinder (69-kg) taking part in the CYG. “He’s training hard and readying himself to give a good account of himself at CYG. I don’t want to put him under any undue pressure as far as pulling off a podium finish is concerned,” explains the demure pugilist who’s beginning to show a maturity beyond his age.

All Vijender wants is to see Balwinder to give his best effort and not worry much about the result at CYG. “When an Indian boxer takes the ring, billion Indians want that guy to win. I’m not different as a lot of pride and prestige is at stake. As long as he is boxing to his natural strengths, I will be a happy brother,” he chuckles.
‘Not just Balwinder’

So will he be counting on only his cousin brother to corner glory at CYG? “No. I’m not saying that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t be rooting for the other seven boxers.
Interestingly, the howling success of the boxers at Beijing even prompted the world boxing body president to ask the Indian boxing contingent in ‘jest’ whether it was indeed the ‘Indian’ boxers who boxed at Beijing.coming off ageEven Vijender reckons the Indian boxing has come off age. “I know the momentum is with us, especially after the way all the Indians boxers performed at Beijing. “Not just me, even Akhil and Jitender gave a magnificent showing at Beijing. Let me tell you, this is just the beginning, and we have many more miles to traverse in our pursuance of glory,” Vijender added, wearing pride in his sleeves.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ready to 'grapple'

Three State wrestlers Ajit Patil, Ranjeet Nalawade and Rahul Aware made the cut for the CYG team

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, October 1, 2008

Ranjeet Nalawade (63 kg)
He's the second grappler from Kolhapur after Ajit Patil to make the cut for the CYG. A silver medallist at the National Sub-junior Championship in Jallandhar last April, Ranjit was up against some tough competitors in the selection trials. He was pitted against National sub-junior champion Sandeep of Haryana and 2008 Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship gold medallist Arun. But he seemed to reserve his best in front of a vociferous home crowd, first defeating Delhi's Arun before going to pin down Sandeep to seal his selection.

Rahul Aware (58 kg)

The 16-year-old Latur boy trains at the Gokul Vastad Talim under the tutelage of Harishchandra Birajdar. It was there that Rahul honed his skills on the mat in his pursuance of attaining bigger things in the sport. His selection in the CYG squad was pretty much on expected lines. Known to set high standards for himself, he was touch disappointed after winning the bronze medal at the 2007 Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship in Taiwan. This year, Rahul lifted his game up by a few notches and looked hungry for the gold medal as he won the same at the 2008 Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship in Tashkent. A potential gold medal candidate.

Ajit Patil (42 kg)

Inspiration can be a good thing to derive when one pursues a sport with utmost seriousness. Kolhapur wrestler Ajit Patil drew the maximum from his cousin brother Sandeep Patil (a former national level wrestler) in his bid to make a name for himself in the sport that is riding high after Sushil Kumar's bolt-from-the-bolt kind of bronze medal effort at the Beijing Olympics. Son of a farmer, Ajit has been in red-hot form off late. He won the gold medal at the Asian Cadet Wrestling Championships held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan last July. He followed that up scooping up a silver medal at the Children of Asia Games in Moscow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Circle complete

Having worn several hats as player, coach, manager and curator, Surendra Bhave is now sanguine about carving a niche for himself in his new responsibility as national selector

Pune Mirror, September 29, 2008 Suhrid Barua

Pune: Surendra Bhave has always taken huge pride in wearing different cricketing hats — be it as a player, coach, manager and curator. And the ‘big man’ from Pune will be donning another one — that of a national selector. Widely known as a domestic powerhouse (someone who scored loads of runs at the domestic circuit between 1986-87 to 2000-2001, but always fell prey to the cut-throat competition that existed for berths in Indian team during his playing days), Bhave supplants hitherto chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar from the western zone.

The 42-year-old has carved a niche for himself as a coach in the Maharashtra’s cricket circles and is highly rated for the way he has handled the youngsters over a period of time. But, an entirely new responsibility awaits the big man and he’s up for it. “It’s a gargantuan responsibility, something I’m looking forward to. Among all, the biggest responsibility would be to carry forward the good work done by the earlier selection committee in the right spirit. The earlier committee has taken some outstanding decisions and our job would be to maintain those high standards,” gushed a chuffed looking Bhave.

For the former Maharashtra batsman, who even today regrets missing playing for India, it would be a nice opportunity to give deserving players a fair crack of the whip. “See, only eleven guys get to play for the country. I appreciate the fact that there is a plenty of talent coming up, but at the end of the day, someone has to go home disappointed,” he explains.

How about the pulls and pressures that are synonymous with being a selector or the subtle politicking that goes behind the scenes? Bhave offers a straight bat. “I would like to take up the new assignment with a clean slate. I know the other selection committee members quite well and it would definitely help the new panel dish out a good performance.” His elevation to the national selection committee means he will miss coaching the state’s youngsters. Until now, he has been coaching the under-16 and under-19 lads and was instrumental in Maharashtra winning the Polly Umrigar Trophy (U-15) title last year pipping Mumbai in their own den. “I’m not sure. I don’t know whether the BCCI norms allow one functionary to assume more than one responsibility. I need to speak to MCA on this and decide whether we can balance both roles without each affecting the other,” he quipped.

What’s more, he is on the selection committee panel that would be tagged as the first paid one. “The good thing will be that accountability factor will play a big role in the way we discharge our duties,” was all he would say (grins). The new innings in Bhave’s life will get a formal kickstart when he sits down with the new panel to pick the Indian team for the opening Test against Australia to be held in Bangalore commencing October 9.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

'Nothing to worry'

MCA president Ajay Shirke douses fear of losing lone foreign player Enamul Haque after the tweaker was picked in national probables for the home series against New Zealand

Pune Mirror, September 28, 2008 Suhrid Barua

There was great deal of consternation in the cricket circles of Maharashtra cricket when Y Venugopal Rao choose to withdraw from the team for the 2008-09 Ranji season, opting to ply his skills for Rajasthan. Then came the BCCI's one foreign player norm which effectively ruled former Sri Lankan left-arm seamer, Sujeeva De Silva out of the selection equation, leaving Bangladesh left-arm spinner Enamul Haque jnr as the only foreign player of the State for the coming season.

Even his availability has come under the scanner after the left-arm tweaker was picked in the 24-men national probables for the forthcoming home series against New Zealand. The lurking fear is that if Enamul gets handpicked in the final 14 or 15 for that series, how can he make himself available for Maharashtra's Ranji campaign which begins with a tie against Tamil Nadu on November 3.

What is pertinent here is that Bangladesh would be in the middle of a tough tour of South Africa commencing on November 5.Clearly, from the looks of it, the Sylhet-born tweaker, provided he is picked in the final 14 or 15, looks all set to miss at least three of Maharashtra Ranji games against Tamil Nadu (Nov 3-6), Andhra (Nov 10-13) Uttar Pradesh (Nov 24-27).So does the Maharashtra Cricket Associatiion (MCA) have any contingency plans in place if Enamul does national duty. "Why are you reading so much into Enamul's selection in the national probables? We are not dimwits sitting here. We do our homework well," fumed MCA president Ajay Shirke.

The MCA 'big boss' have his reasons not to lose much sleep over this development. "See, Enamul is the second-choice spinner in the Bangladesh side. Shakib Al Hasan is their first-choic spinner. I am pretty sure that Bangladesh would not pick two spinners for the South African tour where conditions are more conducive for fast bowlers. So, on that count, we feel we will be able to secure the services of Enamul for the whole season," he said.

Shirke says it is unfair for people to jump the gun when certain decisions are taken with a lot of factors in mind. "I am regularly in touch with Enamul and also in Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons. We know what we are doing," he added

'Seven dropped catches leave a lot to be desired'

Noted coach Vasu Paranjape witnessed Maharashtra's sloppy fielding in the practice tie against Karnataka

Pune Mirror, September 26, 2008

Morning shows the day is a popular dictum and if one has to go by that saying, things are not looking bright for the Maharashtra senior cricket team if one is not sounding cynical. Of course, one can easily take comfort in the alibi that this was the first practice game of the season and the boys were a rusty look.But can that explain the insipid fielding display of the State side in the four-day game against Karnataka at the PYC Gymkhana ground on Wednesday? Certainly no. The State team brought their butter fingers to the fore, literally lampooning the 'Catches win matches' cricketing phrase.

The Kedar Jadhav-led side team dropped two chances at the fag end of day one and continued their sloppy work on the field on day two as well, putting down another five catches to allow the Karnataka batsmen to pile on the runs. Karnataka motored along to 444 for 3, gaining a handsome 191-run first innings lead."The fitness levels of the boys have clearly improved after they were put through the paces under newly-appointed Aussie trainer John Hetherington. There's no doubt about that. But the manner in which they grassed sitters here left a lot to be desired," quipped noted coach Vasu Paranjape.

Paranjape, who coached the great Sunil Gavaskar, says there can never be an excuse for dropping catches. "I do understand that the boys are playing their first game of the season, but that doesn't give you the licence to put down easy catching opportunities," he said.

He, however, feels the boys look a promising lot and but must learn to develop quickly. "Talent is there but you got to be developing your skills. Motivation has to come from within to improve. You don't expect others to give you the drive to excel," remarked Paranjape.

Mixed Feeling

The ASI bantamweight boxer feels bad for good buddies Jeevan and Bajrang, as the duo failed to make the cut in the same weight category for the CYG

Pune Mirror, September 24, 2008 Suhrid Barua

There's one man who is plumbing a mixed feeling on being picked in the eight-member Indian boxing team for the much-awaited Commonwealth Youth Games to be held in the city beginning October 12. Normally, a national selection is a big moment for any sportsman, but for bantamweight boxer V Durga Rao, there's some excitement laced with remorse - reason- his good buddies Jeevan and Bajrang failed to make the cut as the troika slugged it out for the lone in the three-cornered fight in the 54 kg. "I am bucked to see my name on the final list of eight boxers, but at the same time, I feel bad for Jeevan and Bajrang as they too have tried hard for a place in the CYG team," said the Army Sports Institute (ASI) boxer.

Durga is among six boxers from the Army Sports Institute to be handpicked in the Indian team. The other ASI boxers are T Nanao Singh , V Durga Rao, Vikas Kishan, Niraj Goyat, V Santosh and Satender. Durga admits that both Jeevan and Bajrang are 'attacking' boxers, something he lacks. "I know I'm not as attacking as Jeevan and Bajrang who are bellicose but technically I am more sound. I think that was the clinching factor in me outpunching them in the selection trials here," he explains.

The boy from Andhra, who has been attached with ASI since 2004, is positive about making a podium finish at the Commonwealth Youth Games."The biggest threat in my weight category would be from the boxers from England and Ireland. I think I've trained well enough to be ready for any challenge thrown at me," he said on a confident note.

'Landscape of boxing has changed in India'

India's chief junior boxing coach G Manoharan feels the Indian boxers must make the most of the momentum given our stellar show at Beijing at the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Games

Pune Mirror, September 21
Suhrid Barua

Making it big in Olympics can act as a springboard for a sport to build on it in and produce more champions. The Vijenders, Akhils, Jitenders have made boxers from other countries sit up and take notice of them with their intrepid, doughty style of boxing and clearly changed the face of Indian boxing.

The upcoming Commonwealth Youth Games in the city will be a huge opportunity for our boxers to make the most of this momentum given by our Beijing ‘high’. Though one is not suggesting that Indian boxers will be going hammer and tongs at their opponents, there are enough reasons for Indian junior coach G Manoharan to hope for an eye-catching performance at CYG. “See, the momentum is there after our superlative effort in Beijing. There’s no doubt that our Beijing showing has changed the landscape of Indian boxing. I expect a similar display from our pugilists at CYG,” Manoharan said.

The Indian coach said youngsters want to take up boxing as they see a future in it. “Every youngster wants to take up boxing because they know that if they make their country proud with their performance in the ring, everything will be taken care of. Now, there are a lot of jobs for the boxers and tell me who doesn’t want a fillip like that? It’s all bodes well for the future,” he explained.

Not many know that Manoharan is actually the first ‘Akhil Kumar’ of Indian boxing (first to come close to winning a medal in Olympic boxing event). The bantamweight boxer won his first two rounds convincingly at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and dominated his quarterfinal bout, but was disqualified after he failed to heed the referee’s signal to stop the bout after flooring his opponent with a knockout punch. A semifinal round would have at least fetched him a bronze. "That was a long time back. Let’s leave that aside (Chhodo woh saab),” he says with a shrug.
Like he used to box in his playing days, Manoharan was willing to stick his neck out when it comes to predicting medals at CYG. “We will field eight boxers. My boxers are in great shape and if everything goes according to plan, I am confident of winning at least six gold medals in the event,” he oozed confidence.

Talking of individuals, he feels that Nanao Singh is India’s best bet for a medal. “He’s looking good in training and his recent performances have been impressive. I’m counting on him to come up with a big effort at CYG,” he added.

He perceives boxers from England, Australia and from the African countries as India’s biggest threat. “African countries like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria pose a huge threat. Pugilists from England and Australia are equally formidable. So we have to be on our guard,” he said.

Talking of individuals, he is counting on K Nanao Singh and V Santosh to make a big impact in the mega event. “All my boxers are capable of making a podium finish but my biggest hopes are rested on K Nanao Singh and V Santosh. They have matured a lot and know how to make it count when it matters,” he added.

ICL Hunger

Former Bangladesh coach Shaun Williams' take on six top players quitting the national side and joining the rebel Indian Cricket League

Pune Mirror, September 17

Suhrid Barua

Pune: It's nothing short of a tremor that has rocked Bangladesh cricket all of a sudden. But for those who follow Bangladesh cricket closely would know that it was something waiting to happen. Six top players - Habibul Bashar, Aftab Ahmed, Shariar Nafees Ahmed, Dhiman Ghosh, Mohammad Rubel Hossain and Farhad Reza gave a vent to their pent-up frustration by choosing to quit the Bangladesh national team amid widespread media reports that they would be joining the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL).The fast-paced developments have sent the Bangladesh Cricket Board mandarins into a tizzy almost like a batsman, who is not just at sixes and sevens against a short-pitched delivery and also struggles to find answers to questions posed by the bowler.

And one man who have seen these players evolve for a period of time is Shaun Williams, who has served a quite longish stint as Bangladesh 'A' team coach and also a High Performance Manager, even dabbling in as senior coach for a brief while before taking up the job as Director of Maharashtra Cricket and Ranji coach. "I'm not at all surprised by these developments. I'm in touch with these boys every now and than. I'm not sure what might have prompted the boys to take such a step but there must a solid reason behind it," Williams said.

Quiz him about the reports of six players joining the ICL, Williams says better prospects beckons every cricketer. "Who doesn't like to have financial security? Not just cricketer, all of us want that. So, I feel these players must have found it hard to resist the temptation of big 'moolah'. Bashar has two grown up children to take care of. Aftab was recently blessed with a baby girl. So they have responsibilites in life. They've every right to take decisions which stand them in good stead," he opined.
There is also increasing talk of the Bangladesh national players fed up of being given a rough ride by the Bangladesh Cricket Board? Williams toes a soft line. "Mate, I can't say sitting here what is happening there. If you look at the players, Habibul Bashar is close to the evening of his career, so he has a lot to gain. But for guys like Aftab Ahmed (middle-order batsman), Shariar Nafees Ahmed (former Bangladesh vice captain, Dhiman Ghosh (wicket-keeper), bowlers Mohammad Rubel Hossain and Farhad Reza, it must have been a decision taken with a lot of thought."

How about a tremor turning into a calamity if the likes of Mohammad Ashraful and Mashrafe Mortaza decide to jump the ICL bandwagon? "Look, if they are fit and in form, they would automatically work in the XI. But surprises can never be ruled out. If Ashraful and Mortazatwo call it quits, I can tell you for sure that it won't be music to the ears of BCB top-brass," he added.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

'Quality must be there'

Pune Mirror, September 7, 2008

Suhrid Barua

Pune: The BCCI's decision to put in motion the rule of allocating one foreign player in State teams for the 2008-09 Ranji season has only set the cricketing tongues wagging. A lot has been documented about the new 'one foreign player' rule but has the thought ever crossed our minds whether foreign players are absolutely imperative for Indian domestic cricket? One can understand that the induction of foreign players can help fine-tune the skills of our domestic cricketers but then, no one can question the flush of home-grown talent which must be given the proper launchpad to blossom.
Former India batting great Gundappa Viswanath said the question of whether Indian domestic cricket need foreign players is a tricky one to answer as every Ranji team would have different requirements. "It's not about whether we need foreign players for our domestic circuit. Every team would have different permutations to work on and combinations and would opt for players accordingly," he said.
Viswanath was, however, clear on one count. Quality cannot be compromised at any cost. "Even though we're going to have allocation of one foreign player in Ranji teams, every effort should be undertaken to ensure the best of the lot ply their skills here as having below-par players would only have a deleterious effect," he explained.
Similar sentiments were echoed by former Indian all-rounder Chandu Borde. "If at all we want to induct foreign players in State Ranji teams, it must be ensured that 'quality' is not compromised. If the home-grown talents of a particular State team fits the ball, then there is no need to go for foreign players. It all depends on what line of thinking the braintrust of each teams have," he remarked.
However, another former India all-rounder Madan Lal, a member of the 1983 World Cup winning team, struck a discordant note. He feels the BCCI is getting carried away by the foreign flavour. "They're giving everything to the foreigners. Coaches are from outside and now foreign players coming into Ranji sides, I don't think having foreign players is the right way to go about things," he said in a tone almost dismissing the entry of foreign players in Ranji teams.
The former medium-pacer believes that all the perennial talk of the gloss missing from Ranji trophy can be a thing of the past if BCCI makes it mandatory for the Indian 'star' players to play in our premier domestic competition. "I do understand that the BCCI is hard-pressed to follow the Future Tours Program (FTP), but the board must find a way out to space out our calender so that our 'stars' can play.
"If 'competitive juice' has to retained in our domestic circuit, making the 'stars' play is the only possible way. Tell me which bowler won't like to get Tendulkar or Dravid out in Ranji trophy? It's every bowler's dream. In my playing days it's the same joy I got bowling to the likes of Gavaskar and Viswanath and dismissing them," he added.
Former national chief selector and wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani says the move could act as an added incentive for our domestic players to raise their performance bar. "It's not about whether we need foreign players in State Ranji teams, it's about whether their presence are going to help our domestic cricket.
"No doubt, our domestic players would get added fillip to perform playing alongside foreign players and that way, our domestic cricket can only get better. Only time will tell whether the entry of foreign players serves the desired purpose," Kirmani quipped.