Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can’t blame coach if players are not performing, says India hockey forward Tushar Khandker

This blog was published on Sportskeeda

Tushar Khandker hardly needs any introduction. The 27-year-old Jhansi lad was part of the Indian team which produced its worst-ever performance at the London Olympics. Like his team-mates, Tushar is disappointed with his team’s wooden spoon finish at the Olympics. Tushar talks more about the disappointing London Olympics campaign and the road ahead for India in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.


It’s been more than two months since our worst-ever performance at the Olympics. What do you think could be the biggest lesson to learn for Indian hockey?

Obviously, there are a lot of things that we need to work on and come out strongly in our upcoming tournaments. Hopefully, we would  be able to address these areas and we can perform better in our two forthcoming tourneys.

The manner in which India unsettled formidable Netherlands in the London Olympics opener, especially in the second half, must have lifted the boys. Do you see any specific reason for the steep fall after that?

We kept committing small mistakes, which are not acceptable in international hockey and paid a heavy price for it.

That Netherlands game would hardly have anyone think of us as the side that would finish with the wooden spot. Did you anticipate that kind of possibility?

To be honest, I never thought India would finish last at the Olympics. Although we may not have been serious medal contenders, I could never imagine we would finish 12th.

How difficult is it to look ahead when a team finishes last in a major competition like the Olympics?

Of course, it is difficult. We know we have a bumpy ride ahead but we can’t keep thinking about what happened at the Olympics; instead we must look ahead with a positive frame of mind. As I have said, we’ve got to work on our improvement areas and play good hockey.

India’s Olympics campaign brought to the fore our defensive lapses and our inability to trap the ball among other deficiencies. Do you think fatigue could have been a factor for such mistakes?

Fatigue could be a reason. But I still feel that our main reason was that we were poor with our basic skills like pushing, trapping, etc. Looking at the bigger picture, I reckon a lot needs to be done at the grassroots level.

India have two important tournaments coming up in Australia – the Lanco International Super Series and the Champions Trophy in Australia – in December. What do you think India should do differently to reverse the slide?

First, we should focus more on improving our basic skills like pushing and trapping, along with fitness. And then, we also need to plan things properly to get the desired results. Results will surely come later if we as a team give our best.

Teams like Australia, Netherlands and Germany are dominating world hockey. All these countries have a robust hockey infrastructure, which is providing a strong supply line of players to the national team. Do you think this is one area where India really needs to pull up its socks?

In India, the infrastructure for hockey is nothing as compared to that in Australia, Germany or Netherlands. We hardly have 10-odd turfs in India which are in working condition. We’ve got to have more astroturfs all across the country, so that youngsters can take to hockey in a big way.

A team like Belgium under Australian coach Colin Batch fared so well at the London Olympics. Surely, nothing is beyond India if adequate measures are initiated if we are to take Belgium’s performance into consideration?

I haven’t seen them play on a regular basis, but yes, one thing is sure, if a team like Belgium can perform so well at the Olympics, why not India?

Your are born in a hockey family (your dad and uncle played at the national and international level). How much of a help it is to take up a sport after having seeing your near and dear ones play it?

Of course, it helps a lot. Whatever I’m today is because of my family. Their support and encouragement have been pillars of strength for me.

There is a lot of talk about the emergence of Indian Oil’s 18-year-old drag-flicker Gurjinder Singh – the youngster who impressed all in the inaugural World Series Hockey. What’s your assessment of him?

Gurjinder is a talented drag-flicker but he has to work hard. Since he is only 18, he can only get better.

How excited are you about the inaugural Hockey India League?

Hockey India League will raise the profile of hockey in the country. I’m excited about playing in the HIL. The league should be a big draw as it would feature all the top hockey players of the world.

You have played with different coaches over a period of time. How do you rate Michael Nobbs as a coach?

Michael Nobbs has brought about many positive changes in the team ever since he took over. There is little that a coach can do if the players don’t perform. It’s unfair to blame the coach when the team is not performing.

Michael Nobbs was praised by all when India qualified for the Olympics on an impressive note. And suddenly, a terrible show at the Olympics evoked angry reactions from the same fans who were lauding him. What do you have to say about that?

I can’t say anything about the fans’ reactions. It is up to them to praise or criticise our performance, we don’t have any control over them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yuvraj is the best option for India’s No.6 Test spot

This blog was published on Sportskeeda

The number six slot in the Indian batting line-up could set maximum tongues wagging when the newly-constituted Sandeep Patil-headed national selectors sit down to pick the squad for the upcoming home series against England, beginning November 15.

It’s been a frustrating watch to see selectors constantly trying out various players for the 6 spot. Sourav Ganguly had made this batting position very much his own, but since his retirement in 2008, not one player has shown the resolve to make this batting spot his own.

Come the England series, the focus will be on who would pad up for the said batting position. For long we thought Yuvraj Singh could be the man who would fill in the big shoes of Dada. The southpaw is blessed with a wide repertoire of strokes, and has the ability to pick the length of the ball early and score off even good deliveries. Critics would say Yuvraj hasn’t convinced all that he is at home against the short ball – a shortfall most Indian batsmen have - save for Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

We have seen a lot of great players, who were iffy against the short ball in the early part of their careers but went to overcome this shortfall with sheer tenacity – Steve Waugh is one name that comes to mind.

At the age of 30, Yuvraj can surely his tighten this aspect of his batting. And if he does, he could well pan out to be a huge asset for India in Test cricket. His agile fielding and handy left-arm spin can also lend more value to the side.

The manner in which Yuvraj battled a rare germ cell cancer and took part in the World T20 Championship in Sri Lanka speaks volumes of his grit and pride he wears in his sleeves (to play for the country).

His magnificent double century (208) in the Duleep Trophy for North Zone against Central Zone indicated that Yuvi is close to peak form.

The fact that the selectors have picked him in the India ‘A’ 14-member team for England’s practice game in Mumbai throws enough hints that Yuvraj is very much on the selectors’ radar as far as his Test career is concerned.

Yuvi is in a India ‘A’ team led by Suresh Raina – another southpaw with whom he would be directly competing for the number 6 spot.

A close look at Yuvraj’s career graph in the last one year or would show that injury and not form alone that has derailed Yuvraj’s Test cricket.After playing a pivotal part in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph, Yuvraj gave the West Indies Test series a miss because of a chest infection. 

His absence allowed someone like Suresh Raina to stake his claim. Raina used the three Test rubber (which India won 1-0) to enhance his batting credentials on the Test stage, scoring 232 runs at an average of 46.40, studded with three fifties with a highest score of 82.

Raina by dint of his strong showing in the West Indies series, featured in all four Tests during the 2011 England tour. The leftie started the series on a bright note, notching up a fine 78 in the opening Test at Lord’s before his form dipped rapidly, managing just 27 runs in his next 7 innings, including a golden duck in the Oval Test. 105 runs of 8 innings at an average of 13.12 undid all the good work he did in West Indies and effectively wrote Raina’s temporary obituary from Test cricket.

Yuvraj featured in the lone Trent Bridge Test and scored an impressive 62 before Tim Bresnan unsettled him with the short stuff – Yuvraj injured his left index finger while countering a bouncer of the strapping England seamer and was ruled out of the remainder of the series. Yuvi did mark a comeback to the Test side for the 2011 West Indies series. The Punjab lad managed just 66 runs of 3 innings at average of 22.00 and was dropped for the 3rd Test – the listless showing was a big factor in Yuvraj missing the Australia tour bus.

Coming back to the present, given the current rich vein of form Yuvraj is in, the selectors should try him at no. 6 as I have always felt that a fit and on-song Yuvraj can do the desired job at number 6.

As for Raina, he didn’t exactly let the bat talk during the two home series against New Zealand. One is not sure whether a half-century in the Bengaluru Test, accompanied by two failures would be enough to convince the selectors that he deserves a long rope. Only time will tell.

With due respect to Suresh Raina, I have always admired the way he throws his bat around in the ODI and T20 formats, but have no hesitation in saying that I don’t see him as a long-term investment for India even though he is five years younger to Yuvi.

Hopefully, we would see Yuvraj settle the number 6 batting spot worries by stamping his authority in d England Test series. Indian cricket would richly benefit from it!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Chaosnama called India hockey!

Any defeat in sport creates an overwhelming sense of disappointment. But what would you do when a team finishes last in the men’s field hockey competition at the Olympics? Quite obviously, any association – which runs the sport – would realize that there is something seriously amiss with the sport in the country and that it needs a major overhaul coupled with intense soul-searching. And, accordingly, the association would undertake desired steps to repair the damage.

But Hockey India (HI) – the body who run hockey in India – prefers to be ‘refreshingly different’. In a country where emotions run high and scapegoats are easily found, HI hasn’t done anything over the last couple of months (since the July-August Olympics) to suggest that they are indeed serious about putting corrective measures in place.

Of course, HI do deserve praise for not at least crucifying chief coach Michael Nobbs after the London debacle – a common sight in Indian hockey for years. Other than that, there is nothing much that inspires confidence among hockey lovers.

HI has been extremely vocal about asking for individual reports from the Olympic squad; including the support staff to vindicate its stand that they are determined to set its house in order. It’s been more than two months now, and we are yet to hear anything concrete about the players and support staff’s take on our wooden spoon finish. The recent comments by HI that some of the players are yet to submit their reports only adds a touch of ridicule to the whole exercise.

One is not sure whether HI’s decision to appoint a High Performance Manager to whom Nobbs would report to was meant to silence all those who were crying for his head (or at least wanted Nobbs’ wings to be clipped) or was it a pure forward-looking move. I would remain positive about this rather than being cynical, thinking it is for the betterment of Indian hockey.

The biggest concern for Indian hockey is the amount of red tapism involved. Chief coach Michael Nobbs was nowhere to be seen during the recently-held Senior Nationals in Bengaluru. It is learnt that HI had favored the continuation of Nobbs and physio David John and wrote to Sports Authority of India (SAI), who then forwarded the same to the Sports Ministry for approval.

One is not sure if any unwanted delay on the part of the Sports Ministry (to extend their contracts) led to Nobbs giving the Nationals a miss. I thought Nobbs not being able to watch all the established as well as the untapped talents in action during the Senior Nationals was a humongous blunder.

The Senior Nationals would have given Nobbs a fair idea of all the existing talents across the country and Nobbs’ absence only indicates that accountability and transparency are missing somewhere.

Talking of the Senior Nationals, one failed to fathom how HI is doing its assessment report of the players, especially those who play in the rebel World Series Hockey (WSH) – many of whom turned out for their respective employers.

For instance, Arjun Halappa was named the best forward at the Senior Nationals, but his name was missing among the 48 probables for the first national camp since our calamitous London Olympics campaign.

The cloud of confusion brings into the focus the sustained turf war between HI and IHF. So much has been said about the need for both parties to bury their differences and come under one umbrella – that a discussion on this issue almost borders on boredom. 

I think the Sports Ministry would have to play a proactive role here and ensure the present state of affairs don’t persist for long as Indian hockey would be the biggest casualty and nobody else.

The announcement of the 48 probables left a surprise – the axing of Gurbax Singh – can anyone explain why suddenly he is not among the 48 best hockey players from India? If you are singling out Gurbax for the Olympics debacle, then, the same applies to many others who flopped badly in London.

In fact, the selectors’ decision to retain most of the London Olympians in the 48 probables does not reveal any intent that the ‘non-performers’ have no place in the squad.

Chief coach Michael Nobbs’ absence from the Senior Nationals did raise the hackles of hockey buffs, but can anyone own up responsibility as to why he was not present (along with (physio David John) in Patiala from day one of the national camp? One understands visas of Nobbs and John got delayed, which resulted in their non-presence at the national camp from day one. 

Surely, the people who run hockey could have avoided this and ensure the first camp after the disastrous Olympics campaign sends across the right message with the chief coach in charge of the camp proceedings.

Lets face it; with every passing day, the blanket of chaos only continues to envelope Indian hockey – not sure for how long!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Prestigious Bordoloi Trophy: How it became just another football tournament!

The Lokopriyo Bordoloi Trophy used to be one of the most-talked-about football tournaments in the country - a tournament the country’s top football clubs looked forward to with great deal of excitement every year. The Bordoloi Trophy soared in popularity in the sixties, seventies, eighties prompting the who’s who of Indian football to descend on Guwahati every year just to be part of this prestigious tourney.

The local challenge was spearheaded by the Assam Police team, which became the darling of the home fans and attained ‘celebrity’ status during that time. The manner in which Assam Police outwitted Kolkata’s Mohammedan Sporting and Goa’s Dempo Sports Club to win the 1971 and 1981 Bordoloi Trophy editions is still talked about with great pride even today.

No one can deny the fact the Bordoloi Trophy got a massive ‘lift’ from the regular presence of the ‘Big 3’ from Kolkata – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. In fact, Kolkata clubs made it a habit to lay their hands on the Bordoloi Trophy. Mohun Bagan hit a purple patch in the seventies - winning the tournament four times in a row – 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977 editions, and till date has the record of winning the tournament on most occasions – seven times. 

Even Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal maintained Kolkata clubs’ stranglehold on the Bordoloi Trophy, cornering glory five times. In the mid-sixties, Aryan Club also won the tournament twice on the trot. How can we forget Khidderpore Sporting Union and Eastern Railway SC? They, too, won the coveted title once.

The profile of the Bordoloi Trophy was further beefed up by the participation of foreign teams. Bangkok Port Authority (Thailand) was the one of the standout foreign teams – winning the crown thrice besides a solitary runners-up finish. Iranian club Esteghal also showcased their skills in the tournament, winning the 1989 edition. Uzbekistan-based Narbakhar Club stamped their authority in the 1998 edition when they humiliated TRAU, Imphal 10-1 – the biggest victory margin in a Bordoloi Trophy final.

Even in the nineties, big clubs did take part in the Bordoloi Trophy but their presence paled in comparison to the earlier three decades, as only handful of biggies turned up. The 2001 and 2007 wins of Mohun Bagan and Port Authority of Thailand only underline the behind-the-scenes role played by the organizers to pull in crowd-pulling teams.

One is not sure whether the timing of the Bordoloi Trophy has anything to do with its dipping popularity. Most of the top teams are busy playing in the I-league or other major domestic tourneys, conveniently giving the Bordoloi Trophy a miss. It is easy to fathom that the organizers face a herculean task landing major sponsors for this tournament and lack of sponsors coupled with the tournament’s timing could be the roadblocks towards enhancing its profile in recent years.

Rewind to the present: The recently-concluded 2012 Bordoloi Trophy was a sad as well as a frustrating reminder of the tournament’s glorious past. Like the 2011 edition (Royal Wahingdoh defeated Langsning Club in an all-Shillong affair), this year’s edition was also an all-Northeast affair. This year, the tournament earned a dubious distinction – the non-participation of the Assam Police team for the first time in its 61-year history.

For the statistically-minded, Oil India Limited FC, Duliajan won the 2012 Bordoloi Trophy for the third time, easing past Assam Rifles, Tezpur 4-1. OIL’s earlier wins came in 1990 and 2008. Assam Rifles’ lone Bordoloi Trophy win came in 1964 and they settled for a bridesmaid finish for the fifth time this year – jointly holding the most runners-up record with Mohammedan Sporting.

Surely, the pomp and fervor with which the Bordoloi Trophy used to be conducted in the 60s, 70s and 80s appears to be a thing of the past. Now, the staging of this tournament seems more like a mere formality than anything else.

The sorry state of affairs throws up one crucial question: Can we hope to see the Bordoloi Trophy relive its earlier golden days? Only time will tell!