Friday, May 31, 2013

We should focus on beating top Asian teams, says India’s ace women basketball player Geethu Anna Jose

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian women’s basketball is on a high after the national team won the inaugural FIBA Asian 3×3 basketball championship held in Doha, Qatar recently. The Indian cagers dished out a superlative performance, putting it across Mongolia 21-14 in the final to corner glory.

Vastly experienced Geethu Anna Jose was among the four-member Indian team, whose stupendous showing made Indian basketball fans sit up and take notice of them.

Undoubtedly, Geethu is on cloud nine after the Indian basketball eves covered themselves in glory in Doha. “It was a pleasing victory. We performed exceedingly well throughout the tournament and deserved to win. Of course, we did not have to face Turkmenistan, which looked very impressive in the tournament. The Turkmenistan cagers enjoyed the height advantage and were really good with their rebounds, but they surprisingly lost to Mongolia in the semifinals by a narrow margin. Having said that, we played solid basketball consistently and reaped rich dividends for that,” Geethu says in an exclusive interview.

The 27-year-old ace Indian woman cager attributed the title win in Doha to exemplary teamwork. “We really combined well. I have been playing with Anitha Pauldurai for the last ten years be it for the national team or for Indian Railways – we have a good understanding; even the likes of Manisha Dange and Pratima Singh did their bit to help us bag the gold,” she says giving credit to all her team-mates.

It may be worth recalling that the Indian women hoopsters had won the 2012 Asian Beach Games in China as well as clinched the gold medal at the 2011 South Asian Beach Games in Sri Lanka.

Geethu, who works as a Deputy Chief Ticket Inspector with Southern Railways, believes the 3×3 format can be India’s trump card in future. “We have the potential to make it big in the 3-x3 format. However, we should look to build our bench strength as it can hugely help our team fare well.”

Although the Kottayam-born girl is savouring the moment, she is disillusioned at the powers-that-be for their reluctance to recoginse their achievements. “The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is doing a lot for us – late Harish Sharma Sir (former player and BFI secretary and CEO) took active interest in lifting the popularity and performance of the national teams. He always talked about India winning a medal in big-ticket events. But it’s sad that the government authorities are not doing anything to boost the morale of the basketballers. There is hardly any felicitation ceremony when we win a medal in any international event. BFI is holding a felicitation programme for us soon,” she vents her frustration.

Geethu joined the Indian Railways in 2003 and has been a member of the national-winning team on nine occasions – Railways have won the national crown a whopping 27 times. Why does the Indian Railways women’s team enjoy such an overwhelming dominance? “Well, it is only Railways who are recruiting women basketball players. Unlike other sports, banks or oil companies like Indian Oil, ONGC, BPCL, etc are not hiring women cagers, So when only Railways are giving jobs to women cagers, it is quite obvious that all the top players would join Railways,” she explains.

The 6ft 2inch Kerala girl cites her own example as to how basketball players have often got a raw deal. “Indian Railways have been supporting me a lot over the years. But having played for India for so many years I still don’t have a sponsor; I have struggled so much to reach where I’m today. In India, youngsters take up basketball for the passion and pride to represent the country one day and not for money. We don’t get match fees for playing for the country but we take immense pride in donning the national colours.”

Geethu is also the captain of the Indian senior women’s basketball team which is ranked 40th in the FIBA rankings. Interestingly, the national women cagers are ranked higher than our men who are placed 58th. What needs to be done to bridge the gap with the top women basketball sides like Australia, USA and Russia? “We first need to focus on the top Asian teams who are ranked in the top-25 bracket. China (world no.8), South Korea (11th ranked), Japan (18th ranked) and Chinese Taipei (25th ranked) are the Asian powerhouses; we must look to raise our game and start beating them or at least give them a run for their money before we can think of beating teams like Australia, USA and Russia,” she says matter-of-factly.

The gangling cager touched a new career high when she featured in Australia’s Big V league for Ringwood Hawks during the 2006-08 period. “It was a fantastic experience for me. Australian basketball have extremely high standards. The Aussies play so many tournaments and have such an organized training schedule that we can learn so much from them. Sponsors also support them a lot. I really wish more Indian youngsters play in Australia so that they can improve themselves by leaps and bounds,” she recall.

Geethu also played in the inaugural women’s professional basketball league in Thailand last year. “Thailand have started taking up basketball, the experience was different from the one in Australia.”

The seasoned hoopster says she is getting offers to play in foreign league, but is yet to take a call on it. “I have got offers from Qatar and Iraq but I’m yet to decide on it. Ideally, I would like to help more youngsters to play in foreign leagues as it can help raise the Indian basketball standards in a big way,” she fires a parting shot.

Picture: Courtesy

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

European tour vital for World Cup preparations, says Indian junior hockey team captain Amit Rohidas

This piece was published in Sportskeeda 

Bagging the captaincy of a side is always a significant ‘high’ for a player. And for young Indian hockey fullback Amit Rohidas, it isn’t any different. The 19-year-old defender is bracing up to take charge of the Indian junior men’s team for the upcoming European exposure tour which kicks off on Saturday.

Amit is leading a 18-member Indian junior side which would tour three countries – Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The team would play two games against Belgium on May 25 and 26 before heading to the Netherlands where they would feature in three games on May 28, May 29 and June 1 before wrapping up the tour with a match against Germany on June 4.

Understandably, Amit is excited to be leading a bunch of talented youngsters. “Obviously happy to be named the captain of the Indian junior team. There is a lot of responsibility on me to guide my team members and fare well on this European tour. This tour would be vital for our preparations for the Junior World Cup later this year,” Amit said in an exclusive interview.

The demure, soft-spoken fullback is loaded with positive energy after capping off a 21-day training camp in Bengaluru. “All of us worked really hard in the camp. South African Gregg Clark offered his inputs on very focus areas. Clark Sir concentrated on trying out different techniques in defence which we would try to employ during the European tour,” he says.

Having been closely associated with Gregg Clark during the Hero Hockey India League, Amit is full of praise for the Indian junior team chief coach. “I know him well as he was the coach of Ranchi Rhinos for whom I played in the HIL. He treats every player equally and is calm by nature. Even when we are not doing certain things correctly, he would nicely explain to us.”

Son of a farmer, Amit endured the initial struggling days in  Saunamura village where he started playing with the local boys. “Hocket is very popular in my village. I joined the Rourkela-based Panposh Sports Hostel in 2004 and honed my hockey skills and soon started representing the PSH in many district and state-level tournaments,” he recalls.

Amit’s hockey career got a shot in the arm when he was bought by Ranchi Rhinos at a price of $29,000, five times more than his base price of $5,600 at the HIL Players' Auction.

Not just the money, the HIL provided him an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the world’s top hockey players like Moritz Fuertse (Germany), Ashley Jackson (England), Austin Smith (South Africa), Floris Evers (The Netherlands) and Francisco Cortes (Spain). “I was richer with the HIL experience. I’ve evolved as a player. You get to learn so much playing alongside players like Moritz and Jackson.

Not many know that Amit is a decent drag-flicker but hardly got any opportunities during the HIL. “I like to take my drag-flicks but during the HIL guys like Austin Smith and Ashley Jackson were so accurate with their flicks, the team did not feel the need to utilize me. I will surely get my opportunities in future,” he says with a touch of maturity beyond his age.

Amit made his junior international debut in 2009 and also donned the national colours in the 2009 Junior Under-18 Asia Cup hockey tournament held in Myanmar. He represented the Indian junior team in both the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Sultan of Johor Cup. Indian colts had finished runners-up in 2012.

For someone, who came from an economic disadvantaged background , the HIL money ($29,000) was definitely a big motivating factor to excel. “I was happy with whatever I got. I bought a snazzy mobile phone for myself as well as one for my elder brother,” he says coyly.
Amit idolizes former India captain Dilip Tirkey. “Well, I play at the same position and tackle like him. He is from the same village like me. He is my role model which is the case for many other boys in my village. I want to become a proficient  player like Dilip Tirkey," he signs off.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Staying focused for 70 minutes will be the key, says Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The preparatory tour of the Netherlands for the upcoming FIH Hockey World League Round 3 (semifinals) tournament was a huge learning curve for the Indian senior men’s hockey team.
The team played five games against top Dutch clubs, winning two, losing two and drawing one. The men in blue played two matches against the Netherlands side, winning both the ties 2-0 and 4-2 to cap off a relatively satisfying exposure trip.

No wonder, Indian captain Sardar Singh is pretty chuffed with the way things panned out in the Netherlands. “It was a handy tour for the boys. Our high performance director Roelant Oltmans did all he can to ensure we played against some of the top Dutch clubs. It was a massive learning experience for all the team members, especially for the many youngsters in the side,” he says in an exclusive interview.

The 26 year old, touted as the world’s best midfielder, was rested for the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia and seems to be peaking at the right time for the HWL semifinals in Rotterdam. “The tour enabled us to identify our weaknesses and we are going to work hard on ironing them out at our final preparatory camp which begins at the Netaji Subhas Southern Centre (NSSC) in Bengaluru on Thursday. This camp will be vital for all the 33 probables as it will be pruned down at the end of the camp on June 4,” the demure medio quips.

India are clubbed in Pool B in the first FIH Hockey World League Round 3 (semifinals) tournament alongside Olympic silver medallists Netherlands, New Zealand and Ireland. “Look, no team can be taken lightly. Rankings don’t matter much. Netherlands and New Zealand are ranked above us but it doesn’t mean we can’t beat them,” he reasons.

Sardar has a wealth of experience, and has made 169 international appearances for the Blueshirts. He believes staying focus for the whole 70 minutes is imperative. “Modern hockey is all about fast-paced stuff. You can’t let your guard down just because you are leading by a goal or two as your opposition can hit back with goals in seconds or minutes. Sometimes, we have seen teams score twice inside sixty seconds. The success mantra would be to stay alive to the situation for the full duration of the game,” he remarks.

So, what are the areas the Indian team really needs to work on? “Well, we have strengths in a lot of areas but there is always room for improvement. We are focusing a lot on how we should respond when the opposition is in possession of the ball or when we are dispossessed by an opposition player. We are also paying heed on how to maintain possession and keep the ball away from the opposition. Head coach Michael Nobbs is always helping us with his inputs,” he reveals.

Defending penalty corners is another area the team has set their sights on. “Most top nations have drag-flick specialists to score goals for them. So it is really important to stoutly defend short corners as the outcome of a match is often decided by set-pieces,” he says.

There must be also extra motivation for Sardar given the fact that he was recently nominated for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. “Playing for the country is the ultimate motivation for a player, but yes, being nominated for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award makes me feel happy. Recognition of any form spurs you to excel more,” he sounds realistic.

The first FIH Hockey World League Round 3 (semifinals) tournament features top-flight teams like the Netherlands and Germany. So, does India stand a realistic chance of making a podium finish? “No team goes into a tournament thinking they can’t win it. We have a solid team and would give our best shot in Rotterdam. Like I keeping saying, no team is unbeatable and any team can win on any given day,” Sardar signed off.


Future augurs well for Indian wrestling!

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The stellar performance of the Indian wrestlers in the recently-concluded 26th Senior Asian Wrestling Championships exudes hopes that the sport is in good health.

The Indian contingent suffered a gargantuan blow when two of its best medal hopes and Olympics medallists – Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt – chose to give the championship a miss.

Sushil, who became the only Indian to win back-to-back individual Olympic medals, bagging a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the 66-kg category, could not fully recover from a shoulder injury. 

He hasn’t been seen in any competitive action after his silver medal-winning effort at the London Olympics.
Yogeshwar Dutt, who picked up a bronze medal in the 60-kg category, was undergoing rehab after he tore a ligament in January.

The lanky grappler had suffered a knee injury after the London Olympics and was out of competitive action for two months.

Give this scenario, the odds were clearly stacked against the Indians. A lot was at stake when one has to take the mat in front of the home crowd. But as they say, adversity brings out the best in a player and that’s precisely what happened with the Indian grapplers.

The country’s wrestlers came out firing, determined to prove a point after being depleted with the injury-induced pullout of Sushil and Yogeshwar.

Talented Amit Kumar gave the country its first reason to rejoice when he snaffled a gold medal in the 55-kg freestyle category. The 20-year-old is touted as a bright prospect for the future, and the gold-winning effort should instil more self-belief in him going forward.

The 2012 Asian championship bronze medallist made a sedate exit from the 2012 London Olympics, but holds immense promise of making a podium finish in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Another wrestler – starting with the first name Amit – Amit Kumar Dhankar made everyone sit up and take notice of him when he scooped the gold in the 66-kg freestyle category. Amit, who was only a last-minute replacement for Sushil Kumar, more than atoned for the star’s absence by winning the yellow metal.

Another last minute replacement – Bajrang – for Yogeshwar Dutt made the most of the opportunity to pick up a bronze in the 60-kg freestyle category.

Also spare a thought for Hitender, who won a bronze in the 120-kg freestyle category, as higher weight categories haven’t been India’s forte in recent times.

The country’s women wrestlers also turned in a power-packed performance. Navjot Kaur was the star, winning a silver in the 67-kg category. Geetika Jhakar and Jyoti J also made their presence felt by winning a bronze apiece in the 63-kg and 72-kg respectively.

Vinesh and Babita underlined their immense potential, garnering a bronze medal in the 51-kg and 55-kg category respectively.

Amid the euphoria, wrestling fans had to ensure a disappointment when the country’s first Olympian women wrestler Geeta Phogat made a second round exit in the 59-kg category.

However, the performance of the Indian greco-roman wrestlers left a lot to be desired. Asian Games bronze medallist Ravinder Singh failed to make a podium finish in the in the 60-kg category. Asian Games bronze medallist Sunil Rana also disappointed in the 66-kg category.

But by and large, Indian wrestlers have been able to paint a bright 
picture for the future with their exploits in the Asian championships.

Picture: Courtesy:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

AFC Qualifiers: We are upbeat about our chances,says Indian women's football team chief coach Anadi Barua

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian senior women’s football team is giving finishing touches to their preparations for the upcoming 2014 AFC 2014 qualifiers at the Pune FC Ground in Pune today.
The women football probables had been training in Pune for more than a month now (the camp started on May 1) under the watchful eyes of national chief coach Anadi Barua.

It may be recalled here that Anadi was recently retained for the national coach job after guiding the India eves to a stunning solitary goal win over the Netherlands in an international friendly game in Navi Mumbai last January, after the hosts had lost the first of the two matches at Kolhapur 0-2.

And the national coach is now determined to maintain the winning momentum in the upcoming 2014 AFC Qualifiers. “We surprised a lot of people when we beat the Netherlands side at Kolhapur in front of a huge crowd. We now want to carry the same form in the 2014 AFC Qualifiers,” Anadi says in an exclusive interview.

The former India midfielder, who donned the national colours in the 1986 Nehru Cup in Thiruvananthapuram, believes the camp has panned out well for the girls. “It’s always good to have such a long duration camp. The girls have been able to shake off all their rustiness and are in good shape,” he quips.
The women footballers have been doing a lot of on-field and off-field training for the past one month. “We have a morning training session from 7:00 am to 9:00 am where girls on some days play few practice matches between themselves. Girls have gym sessions in the afternoon. A swimming session is also scheduled for girls in the first half of the day,” Anadi reveals.
Anadi, who played for various Delhi clubs like Simla Youngs, Indian Nationals, Moonlight and SBI in a career spanning nearly 16 years (1978-1994), knows the importance of studying videos of opposition teams and doing all the needful to fine-tune the team’s strategy for the 2014 AFC Qualifiers. “No team can be taken lightly. We are studying videos of our Group D opposition teams – Chinese Taipei, Myanmar and hosts Palestine. The video session is held every Sunday,” he affirms.
The State Bank of India employee discloses that the team’s focus at the training camp has been on attacking football. “We want to play attacking football. We are concentrating hard on this aspect of the game. Besides attacking football, we are also focusing a lot on zonal marking.”
Set-pieces often hold the key to a team’s fortunes and Anadi is putting extra emphasis on optimizing them. “Girls are working hard in sharpening their set-piece skills. Whether it is taking a shot in a penalty shootout or a corner or a free-kick, girls have to be fully prepared. Having skills to score goals from flag kicks and free kicks are a good weapon to have. We have quite a few players who can strike free kicks with ferocity from 25-30 yards out – we’ve a few girls who have got a lethal left foot.”

However, the team is facing injury niggles. “Four of our players – Rebika Devi, Ashalata Devi, Romi Devi and Tuli Goon are carrying niggles. We are hopeful about these girls being fit and available for selection.”

The women probables were pruned to 29 earlier in the week and would be finally trimmed to 23 on May 7. The team would play two practice games in Bahrain and leave New Delhi for Bahrain on May 12. “We were originally slated to visit Nepal but that trip has got cancelled. Now we would go to Bahrain to play two practice matches on May 14 and 16 before we reach Palestine on May 19,” he apprises.

India would launch their campaign on the opening day of the tournament, taking on Myanmar at the Faisal Al Huseni Stadium, West Bank on May 21st. The women in blue next take on Chinese Taipei on May 23. “We are bullish about our chances and would give more than 100% percent to top the group. I know it is not going to be easy but we would spare no effort to achieve that,” he sounds upbeat.

India eves would wrap up their engagements with their final league tie against Palestine on May 25.

It may be mentioned here that the Group B matches would be held in Bangladesh around the same time (from May 21-25) featuring hosts Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines and Iran.

The Group C matches would be held in Bahrain from May 22-26 featuring hosts Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Hong Kong, while the Group A matches would be held in Jordan from June 5-9 featuring hosts Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Uzbekistan.

All the four group winners will join the four direct entrants – Korea, Australia, China and Japan at the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

Australia are the current champions, having won the 2010 edition edging out North Korea 5-4 (11) on penalties in the final held in Chengdu, China.

Photo: Courtesy: - 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

India will be the team to beat, says world's top goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Touted as the best hockey goalkeeper in world hockey, Netherlands’s Jaap Stockmann is a name that even the best of strikers treat with respect.

The 28-year-old tall Dutch goalkeeper has carved out a reputation for himself that most other goal-tenders would struggle to match.

Stockmann strutted his world-class stuff in front of the Indian hockey fans during the inaugural Hero Hockey India League (HIL) earlier this year, while turning out for the Jaypee Punjab Warriors.

Superb reflexes, acrobatic saves, poise and picture of confidence are things synonymous with Stockmann. He has represented the Netherlands national side in more than 70 internationals matches.

The Rabobank employee, who runs a hockey goalkeeper academy – Oranjekeepers -  spoke in an exclusive interview.

Tell us a bit about your early days as a hockey player. How did you come through the junior ranks?
I started playing hockey when I was 6 years old. First I was a striker but when I became 12 years of age, I wanted to become the number one goalkeeper. That’s when I decided to switch. It turned out pretty well.

Share us your memories about your first senior international match for Netherlands.
I made my senior international debut against New Zealand in a Test series held in New Zealand. We won that match 4-3 and it was an amazing match to play. I will never forget that match.

Can you elaborate about the hockey structure in the Netherlands?
Hockey is quite popular in the Netherlands. It is the second most popular team sport after soccer. Most people who are playing hockey are youngsters. There are over 600 astroturfs in the country. The number of people playing hockey has more than doubled since the 1998 World Cup held in Utrecht. This will promise something for the upcoming 2014 World Cup slated to be held in the Hague.

You were the reserve goalkeeper at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the Dutch team finished fourth. But at the 2012 London Olympics, you were part of a silver medal-winning Dutch side. It must be hugely satisfying to make a podium finish in London after the disappointment in Beijing?
Although I didn’t play in Beijing, the fourth place finish was a huge disappointment. You see other athletes who win medals and we didn’t. It made me really determined to win a medal in London.

You are considered the world’s best hockey goalkeeper. How does it feel?
I’m honoured when people call me that. There are lots of good goalkeepers around on the international stage.

Which has been the most memorable senior international match for you as a goalkeeper and why?
The 2012 London Olympics final and the final of the 2009 Punjab Gold Cup held in Chandigarh. The Olympic final is the highest level you can play as an athlete, and the Four Nations Punjab Gold Cup was very special because we played in India against the hosts (we beat them 2-1). Both matches were very close and played in front of big crowds.

What do you think are the qualities that define a good hockey goalkeeper?
You need to stay calm, be flexible, have good reflexes and coach your defenders.

Has the role of hockey goalkeepers changed over the years owing to various changes in the rules of the game?

Since the speed has gone up, reflexes and flexibility have become more important.

Who is your favourite hockey player and why?
I think Sardar Singh is definitely one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately, I’m yet to play with him.

Netherlands are considered one of the top teams of the world. How much gap do you think India has to bridge to come anywhere close to top teams like Netherlands, Germany and Australia?
I think the gap is getting smaller. India is on the right track by using foreign expertise in terms of tactical knowledge. They have the best technical players, so if they keep on improving tactically, they will be the team to beat in the future. India needs to realise that it takes time before the results start to show, it doesn’t happen overnight.

How do you assess the current Indian team, especially after our disastrous London Olympics campaign?
Indians were very unlucky at the Olympics. They almost beat us in the first match, we finished second and they came last. This shows that the differences are very small. India’s fourth-place finish at the Champions Trophy is a further indication of the upswing in their performance.

Celebrated Dutch striker Teun de Nooojer has retired from international hockey. How much would the Dutch team miss him?Of course, we will miss him. He is the best player Netherlands ever had and will have. However, hockey is a team sport and everybody is replaceable.

How do you assess Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbs?
I have never worked with him so I cannot address that question.

Tell us your experiences of playing in the Hockey India League?
The HIL was an absolute cracker! In the first year, I think it already became the best league in the world. All international superstars are playing and those who didn’t get picked were very disappointed. It set a new bar for international hockey. I think that all international tournaments and national leagues will depend on the HIL. For me as a player, it is the best league to play in and I hope to play in the HIL for a long time!

Are you employed with any organization?
Besides playing for the Dutch national team, Jaypee Punjab Warriors and my Dutch club Bloemendaal, I work at the Rabobank when I have no hockey obligations.

Tells us a bit about your hockey goalkeeper academy?
In Holland, I run my hockey goalkeeper academy, Oranjekeepers ( Goalkeepers are always a little forgotten and deserve more attention. It is probably the most important position in the field. That’s why I organise daily and weekly camps for young goalkeepers and train with them like I train. I already have had talks with Jaypee to get involved in the academy which they plan to start in the future. It would be great if I can contribute something to Indian hockey.

Tell us a bit about your family?
We are five in my family, my parents and two elder brothers. My brothers and I don’t live at home any more, but we see each other regularly. I have got a nice family!

What other things you do when you are not playing hockey?
I love to travel. I am lucky that I travel all around the world. Since I have only been to India for hockey purposes, I plan to go to India one day with only a backpack and not a hockey stick. India and the Indian people fascinate me. I love it. Chak de India!

Photo: Courtesy