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.

Shown the door

Pune Mirror, August 15, 2008

Suhrid Barua

Pune: The new ruling of the BCCI to allow one foreign player in state teams for the upcoming Ranji season has attracted large-scale debate among cricket experts. And no prizes for guessing why the Maharashtra cricket is hard hit by the new ruling - The state association had already unveiled the induction of two foreign players - left-arm medium-pacer Sujeewa De Silva (he has played only three Tests and no ODI for Sri Lanka) and Enamul Haque (he has played 11 Tests for Bangladesh) for the forthcoming season.
As widely reported, the new norms would automatically put Sujeewa out of the equation while Enamul is expected to be part of the State Ranji team dressing room. Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) president Ajay Shirke, who attended the recently-held BCCI's technical committee meeting, chaired by batting great Sunil Gavaskar, is a disconsolate man.
Make no mistake, the MCA strongman is not losing sweat for having to do with just one foreign player, but spelt out his unhappiness with the way the BCCI technical committee meeting panned out. "You know what, I attended the board meeting as a special invitee and pressed hard for inclusion of three outstation players (it could be even a foreign player) in the playing XI and was asked to leave the meeting thirty minutes after it got underway," Shirke revealed.
He was appalled at how he was kept in the dark about what decision the technical committee arrived at. "Courtesy would have demanded that the technical committee chairman Sunil Gavaskar inform me of their decision but he or for that matter nobody even bothered to inform me about the new ruling. I only got to know it from the media," fumed the MCA boss.
After the meeting got over, the MCA chief even asked Gavaskar on the logic behind their new ruling of having one foreign player playing at least ten Tests and 20 ODIs. "I asked Sunil Gavaskar as to why the committee took such decision. Mr Gavaskar simply told me that they want quality players to play in the domestic circuit and not want sub-standard players to develop at our cost."
Shirke even cited the examples of players like Shaun Watson, Shaun Marsh and Ajantha Mendis, who are already coveted players despite not having played ten Tests. "Are the BCCI's technical committee trying to suggest that a player who has played ten Tests is of top-class material while a guy who has played nine Tests is useless. Look at Marsh, Watson and Mendis, they are making a statement consistently on the international stage despite failing to meet the board's criteria of ten Tests and 20 ODIs," he thundered.

'Abhinav's feat is a slap on the face of his critics'

Pune Mirror, August 12, 2008

Suhrid Barua
The sight of mediamen making a beeline to their house since morning doesn't need to be well documented. It was only to be expected in a nation starved of Olympic heroes.
After numerous sunrises and sunsets, the Bindras woke up to a day they would fondly remember for the rest of their life. Swelled with pride at their son becoming the first ever individual gold medal winner in the men's 10m air rifle event at the Olympics, the Bindra menage was cock-a-hoop to see him stand on the podium and collect the yellow medal.
"I've been attending to calls from mediapersons since morning. This is the last call I'm taking," he pleads.
"As for Abhinav's monumental performance, I can only say that this feat is a fitting response to his so-called critics who have been lampooning about his future, rather I should say it is a slap on the face of his critics" Abhinav's father, AS Bindra, bathed in emotion, said.
Abhinav's forte
Bindra senior said that mental strength is Abhinav's forte and he exhibited that on the world's biggest sporting stage. "Just before the 2006 World Championships in Zagreb, he was written off as a spentforce before he went on to win the title. Again before the Olympics, Abhinav was not even talked off as a medal prospect but look at the way he showed nerves of steel to make the country proud. "He's a true champion who has made his critics eat crow," Abhinav's father," he said.
Abhinav's mother, Babli Bindra is understandably ovewhelmed by the occasion. "Abhinav is a simple, hard working, dedicated guy who is often misunderstood by the media as a snob. He is a reticent kind of guy who likes to keep to himself and does his thing without being in the limelight," Abhinav's mother, Babli Bindra remarked.
Beijing regret
She regrets missing watching the great feat in Beijing. "I wish I was there to watch him script glory. The first thing I want to do is to give him a warm hug when he lands in the country on 14th morning," she said.

'You can never discount experience'

Pune Mirror, August 9, 2008
Suhrid Barua

Hrishikesh Kanitkar's decision to make a move-on (his cricketing association with Maharashtra cricket) may not surprise many but it looked like something waiting to happen. Why? you dig deeper into the stats book and find that the stylish left-handed middle-order batsman belted three half centuries in four innings last Ranji season before the selectors lost 'faith' in him towards the fag end of last season.
Kanitkar has obtained a NOC from the MCA to ply his cricketing skills outside Maharashtra. But you meet him, you can sense the simmering frustration and disappointment at the raw deal meted out to him, but Kanitkar wouldn't go the whole hog. "Who would not be disappointed to get axed after being among the runs. I decided to take everything in my stride, stay positive and move on," the soft-spoken said with a tone tinged with sadness.
Not resting on past laurels may not be the best way forward, but can the huge contribution to State cricket be forced into oblivion in a jiffy? Clearly not! Kanitkar has had his days under the sun while donning the state colours at the Ranji level. He was the top run-getter in the 1996-97 Ranji season (1,000 runs) and was also the leading run-getter in the country. To top it all, it was under Kanitkar's captaincy that Maharastra qualified for the Elite Group in 2003-04.
So how does he assess all the talk of plumbing for youngsters. "I'm fine with that but there has to be a proper balance of youth and experience. Look at the current Indian team, you take out the seniors pros like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Zaheer, what kind of line-up the team would have," he asks like an inquisitive child.
Best known for his last-ball boundary victory over Bangladesh in the 1998 Independence Cup in Dhaka, Kanitkar wonders how one can suddenly become a non-performer after a thirteen-year stint with state cricket. "See, if I hadn't perform, I wouldn't have survived for thirteen years. I'm not questioning anybody but that's the way it is."
Averring that experience can never put on the backburner, Kanitkar reckons youngsters should be given time to blossom. "You can't expect them to fire straightway. They need time to find their moorings on the big stage. I've nothing against more opportunities being given to young turks but they should have senior pros to help them whenever required," he says.
The Kanitkar journey has been a roller-coaster one. But what's the next destination? Is joining the ICL bandwagon a likely possibility? "I'm not interested in joining the ICL. I would be looking to join some state side as I want to continue playing Ranji Trophy and prove to myself if not to anybody else that I have a lot of cricket left in me," the 33-year-old oozes confidence.
As a parting shot, Kanitkar had a stern message for his critics. "Be fair when you criticise. If I play a bad shot and get out, I would like to be flayed. Constructive criticism is all I want and nothing else," he added.