Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My parents struggled to buy me a hockey stick, says talented Indian women's hockey player Rani Rampal

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

She is considered a precious commodity in Indian women’s hockey. Rani Rampal is indeed one who has managed to make the hockey world sit up and take notice of her exploits.

The talented 18-year-old has been out of the national team for a long while due to a prolonged back injury, but is now ready to shoulder the responsibility as vice captain of the Indian junior hockey team for the upcoming 7th Junior Women’s World Cup beginning in Monchengladbach, Germany from July 27.

The proficient forward is determined to put the back injury behind her and help India produce an impactful performance in the 7th Junior Women’s World Cup. “I’m glad to be back in the national team. I had been dealing with my back injury for a long time ¬– I did not play the Champions Challenge tourney last year as well as the six-match Test series against New Zealand. I played in the Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi. I even went to the Netherlands for an exposure trip ahead of the Hockey World League Round 3 event, but the selectors took a call to rest me for the Rotterdam event keeping in mind the 7th World Cup,” Rani says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.

The mercurial forward, who was voted the youngest player of the 2010 World Cup in Rosario, assesses India chances in the marquee event. “I never see any team as a favourite be it the Netherlands, Germany or Korea; in modern hockey any team  is beatable and no team can be taken lightly. It all depends on how a team plays to its fullest potential on a given day, that’s all matters,” the youngster, bubbling with enthusiasm, calls spade a spade.

There is a lot of talk that the Indian junior women’s team is fairly well balanced as it comprises twelve players from the senior team that finished a dismal seventh in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam. Rani seeks to clear the air regarding the same. “Well, if you look at our side, it still lacks in experience. No doubt, twelve players are part of the senior team that played recently in Rotterdam, but you got to realize that these are all youngsters who have made it to the senior team in the last twelve months or so. If you take me out along with Poonam Rani and Vandana Katariya, the rest are relatively newcomers,” the girl, who was named in FIH All Star XI and Asian All Star XI in 2010, reasons.

Rani Rampal, Poonam Rani and Vandana Katariya are only three survivors of the Indian junior team that finished 9th in the last edition in 2009 in Boston. Clearly, the nippy forward, who is the youngest senior India debutant at 14, is keen to see her country improve on their Boston event. “We trained hard for the World Cup, hopefully we will turn in a much improved effort this time around,” she exudes hope.

At the 2009 World Cup in Boston, India surprised Australia 3-2 in their tournament opener and at the 2013 edition, the Blueskirts are meeting the Jillaroos again in their lung-opener. “We can derive inspiration from that match against Australia. My current team-mate Poonam Rani scored the first goal while Asem Manorami Devi scored a final minute goal to help us glean full points,” the Indian Railways employee recounts.

How difficult was it seeing the senior women’s team performing so abysmally in Rotterdam? “It’s was disappointing to see our girls lose by big margins. But then, we had a young team, lacking in experience. The team missed drag-flicker Jaspreet Kaur who underwent a knee operation, even Joydeep Kaur was missed - who could not attend the first camp because her mother was not keeping well,” she quips.

Rani, who slammed seven goals in the 2012 Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi, endured tough times during her initials days in picking up the tricks of the trade. “My family had to toil to make ends meet – my father worked as a cartpuller, even today we don’t want him to work as it is not required but he insists it’s something he likes, my brothers do small-time works,” she reminisces how the odds were stacked against her.

But there is one man whom Rani owes everything for whatever she has achieved in hockey. It’s Baldev Singh, who has trained stars like Surinder Kaur and Mamta Kharab - he has been coaching the girls from Shahbad Markanda, touted as the nursery of women hockey in the country, for the last 23 years. “I whole-heartedly convey my gratitude coach Baldev Singh Sir  – I owe everything to him.– he gave me hockey stick, dress and kit as my family could not afford it – he want someone like me from a low-income background to make a name in the sport. I trained under him at the Shahbad Hockey Academy,” he lavished praise on her guru.

She revealed one incident which pointed to the strict disciplinarian Baldev Singh was. “Sir was very strict. One day in 2002, I was supposed to attend practice at 5:00 am but I arrived at 5:05 am. He told me to pay fine of Rs 100 for coming late as  a way of telling me to be a disciplined player. Of course, he never took the money as she knew well that I could not afford it.”

Rani, whose role model is Surinder Kaur, is happy to be in the Indian hockey’s scheme of things, but wants more jobs for women hockey players. “You guys should write about it. Only Railways is giving jobs to women hockey players, which does not augur well for the future of the sport. OMCs, banks or government agencies must come forward to offer jobs for women hockey players, “ she signed off.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Indian men's team's biggest wins in international hockey

Opponent/Scoreline                                       Year                        Event

Beat USA 24-1                                               1932                         Los Angeles Olympics

Beat Sri Lanka 20-0                                        2007                        Asia Cup Chennai

Beat Tanzania 18-0                                         1980                         Moscow Olympics

Beat USA 16-0                                              1956                         Melbourne Olympics

Beat Thailand 16-0                                         2007                         Asia Cup Chennai

Beat Afghanistan 14-0                                    1956                         Melbourne Olympics

Beat Cuba 13-0                                              1980                        Moscow Olympics

Beat Sri Lanka 13-0                                       1982                        Asia Cup Lahore

Beat Iran 12-0                                                1974                        Asian Games Tehran

Beat Singapore 12-0                                       1982                        Asia Cup Lahore

Beat Bangladesh 12-0                                     1982                        Asian Games New Delhi

Beat Chinese Taipei 12-0                                 2006                       Asian Games Doha

Beat Japan 11-1                                              1932                        Los Angeles Olympics

Beat Thailand 11-0                                          1986                        Asian Games Seoul

Beat Bangladesh 11-1                                     2009                        Asia Cup Kuantan

Beat France 10-0                                           1936                         Berlin Olympics (Semifinals)

Beat Denmark 10-0                                        1960                        Rome Olympics

Beat Hong Kong 10-0                                    1982                        Asian Games New Delhi

Beat Oman 10-0                                            1982                        Asian Games New Delhi

Beat Hong Kong 10-0                                   1986                        Asian Games Seoul

Beat Hong Kong 10-0                                   1990                        Asian Games Beijing

Beat Bangladesh 10-0                                    2003                       Asia Cup Kuala Lumpur

Beat Belgium 9-0                                          1928                        Amsterdam Olympics

Beat Japan 9-0                                              1936                       Berlin Olympics

Beat Argentina 9-1                                        1948                       London Olympics

Beat Japan 9-1                                              1985                       Asia Cup Dhaka (Semifinals)

Beat Singapore 9-0                                       1998                       Asian Games Bangkok

Beat Oman 9-0                                              2006                      Asian Games Doha

Beat Bangladesh 9-0                                      2010                      Asian Games Guanghzhou

Beat Bangladesh 9-0                                      2010                      Asian Games New Delhi

Beat Germany 8-1                                          1936                      Berlin Olympics (Finals)

Beat Austria 8-0                                             1948                      London Olympics

Beat Japan 8-0                                               1958                     Asian Games Tokyo

Beat Mexico 8-0                                             1968                     Mexico Olympics

Beat Mexico 8-0                                            1972                      Munich Olympics

Beat Korea 8-1                                             1985                      Asia Cup Dhaka

Beat China 7-0                                              1982                      Asia Cup Lahore

Beat USA 7-0                                               1936                      Berlin Olympics

Beat Japan 7-0                                              1962                      Asian Games Tokyo (semifinals)

Beat Singapore 7-0                                       1970                      Asian Games Bangkok

Beat Sri Lanka 7-0                                        1974                     Asian Games Tehran

Beat Ghana 7-0                                            1975                      World Cup Kuala Lumpur

Beat Hong Kong 7-0                                    1978                      Asian Games Bangkok

Beat USSR 7-2                                           1982                       World Cup Bombay

Beat Japan 7-2                                             1982                      Asian Games Delhi

Beat Pakistan 7-4                                         2003                      Champions Trophy Amstelveen

Beat Korea 7-2                                           2007                       Asia Cup Chennai (final)

Beat Malaysia 6-2                                       1982                       World Cup Bombay

Beat Poland 6-2                                          1998                       World Cup Utrecht

Published in Sportskeeda

Friday, July 12, 2013

Factfile: How Michael Nobbs fared as India coach (June 2011-June 2013)

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Inaugural Asian Champions Trophy (September 3-11 2011)

Nobbs’ first assignment was the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy held in Ordos, China. India’s first outing under Nobbs began on an auspicious note as they spanked China 5-0 and remained unbeaten in the league phase, which included an impressive 5-3 win over Korea to march into the final.

In the title tilt, the Rajpal Singh-led side outdueled arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 in penalty shootout after both teams were locked goalless in regulation time. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh emerged as the hero in the shootout, producing two crucial saves of Abdul Haseem Khan and Shafqat Rasool.

Fair to say, Nobbs passed the first test with flying colours.

Three Nations tournament in Australia (October 26-November 3, 2011)

The highs of winning the Asian Champions Trophy soon evaporated as Nobbs’ boys under new captain Bharat Chetri turned in a listless showing in the double-leg Three Nations tournament in Australia.

India were handed a 3-8 walloping by Australia in the first leg – their biggest defeat so far in international hockey – and were then drubbed 0-5 by the Kookaburras in the second leg. India squandered a cosy 3-0 lead against Pakistan to settle for a 3-3 draw in the second leg after playing out a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

India’s inability to convert that 3-0 lead into a win cost them a place in the final, which the Greenshirts surprisingly won against Australia.

The Champions Challenge tournament (November 26-December 4, 2011)

The Champions Challenge tournament held in Johannesburg was the next assignment for Nobbs. India were denied a direct ticket to the 2012 Champions Trophy by a Tom Boon’s last-minute goal as Belgium rebounded from being 1-3 down in the second half to win 4-3 in the final – incidentally, both teams played out a 3-3 draw in the league.

India played free flowing hockey in the league phase scoring two big wins – 7-4 over South Africa and 7-0 over Poland. Despite the disappointing final defeat, the performance of the Nobbs’ boys was seen in positive light. Of course, India were handed a wildcard entry to the 2012 Champions Trophy where they sprang a big surprise finishing fourth.

Five Test series against South Africa (January 16-22, 2012)

Nobbs tried out a plethora of youngsters in the five Test series against South Africa ahead of the 2012 London Olympics qualifying tournament. Kothajit Singh and SK Uthappa made their senior international debuts with the latter making a big impression even scoring in his first international game.

India began the series on a whirlwind note, romping past the South Africans 4-0 in the first Test. India won two more Tests in hard-fought contests and lost and drew one to win the rubber 3-1. Nobbs got a fair idea of India’s bench strength ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

34th FIH Champions Trophy (December 1-9, 2012)

Hockey fans who were frustrated to the hilt watching the Blueshirts cut a sorry figure in London, had something to rejoice as India under new captain Sardar Singh performed beyond expectations to reach the semi-finals of the 34th Champions Trophy before they had to settle for the fourth place after losing the bronze medal play-off tie to Pakistan.

Things started to look up for Nobbs as hockey lovers felt that giving a fair run to the Australian was justified.

Second Asian Champions Trophy (December 20-27, 2012)

India gave a good account of themselves in the second Asian Champions Trophy in Doha. The Blueshirts finished runners-up losing 4-5 to arch-rivals Pakistan in a fast-paced final encounter marred by poor umpiring.

India had put it across Pakistan 2-1 in the league phase, but in the final they were robbed of a win by the Korean umpire. Nobbs was beginning to attract praise among hockey fans after two decent showings in Melbourne and Doha.

FIH Hockey World League Round 2 event (February 28-24, 2013)

India won the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 event held in New Delhi in emphatic fashion. Save for a tense 3-2 win over Ireland, India made a mockery of most other teams en route to their passage in the HWL Round 3.

India inflicted two big defeats on Fiji and Oman – 16-0 and 9-1 to prove that they were without a shadow of doubt the best team in the event

22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (March 7-17, 2013) India rested three key players – Sardar Singh, Vokkaliga Raghunath and SV Sunil for the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Danish Mujtaba was handed the captaincy responsibilities of a side which feature several youngsters.

India finished fifth in the tournament beating Pakistan 4-2 after earlier beating them 3-1 in the league stage. They even ran Australia close losing to 3-4 in their opening game.

FIH Hockey World Hockey League Round 3 event (June 13-22, 2013)

A full-strength Indian side dented the hopes of the hockey fans, coming up with a hugely disappointing performance and failing to seal its 2014 World Cup berth. India did not win a single game in the league phase, which cost them dearly as they finished sixth among eight teams.

Calls for Nobbs’s sacking became more pronounced, something which happened in due course as he resigned after SAI and Hockey India expressed their unhappiness over his non-performance.

Michael Nobbs’ win-loss record as coach

Matches coached: 81 | Wins: 38 | Losses: 32 | Draws: 11

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Only timing of Nobbs’s exit has to be questioned and nothing else

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Hockey coaches in India have never got a fair crack of the whip. They are invariably left at the whims and fancies of the officials or the federation.

Michael Nobbs is perhaps the only Indian coach (I know since the time I started following hockey), who cannot complain about being handed a raw deal by the powers-that-be (SAI or Hockey India).

The Australian’s appointment in June 2011 injected fresh hope among hockey buffs about Indian hockey climbing up the performance ladder.

Nobbs’s candid talk about India faring well adopting Australia’s ‘attacking hockey’ was thought off as a soothing balm that was just required for the sagging fortunes of the sport in the country. Hopes of a revival in Indian hockey received a big boost when India qualified for the 2012 London Olympics in resounding style after missing the bus in 2008.

All the high hopes were brought down to earth with India’s shocking wooden spoon finish in the 2012 London Olympics, with fans, former players and coaches calling for his head.

Refreshingly, Nobbs wasn’t given the marching orders as is the tradition in Indian hockey, where a coach gets the chop after a failure in a major event. Both SAI and HI backed him to the hilt amid mounting criticism of his style of functioning in London Olympics.

The 34th Champions Trophy in Melbourne was one big opportunity for Nobbs to prove his critics wrong. Discarding as many as six senior players, including star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, Nobbs went into the premier event with a relatively young side, which sprang a mighty surprise reaching the semi-finals and finishing fourth after making it to the event only as a wildcard entrant.

Indian hockey seemed to have picked up the pieces after the disastrous Olympics campaign as they won the Hockey World League Round 2 event in impression fashion.

Nobbs rested four key players in a bid to test its bench strength in the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, where India finished 5th.
But it was India’s failure to seal a World Cup berth in the 1st men’s Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam that again set tongues wagging about the need to relieve Nobbs of his duties.

Nobbs’s stature as India coach took a huge beating with every passing match of the Rotterdam event, and probably the patience of SAI and HI were wearing thin.

No matter what any hockey lover may say about Nobbs’s departure, the timing of his exit must be questioned. With a just more than a month to go for the 9th Asia Cup – which is India’s last hope to bag a World Cup by winning the continental event – this issue could have been handled in a much better way.

One is no way trying to defend Nobbs, but probably he could have been asked to continue till the Asia Cup before any decision is taken on his exit.

Changing a coach just a month before the Asia Cup – which has now become a make-or-break tournament for India – could prove to be detrimental to India’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

There is no doubt that Roelant Oltmans has better credentials as a coach than Nobbs. But it won’t be easy for Oltmans to suddenly double up as a national coach along with his high performance manager job, and help India in its desperate bid to seal a World Cup spot in the 9th Asia Cup with just a month left.

The writing was clearly on the wall for Nobbs, but not many would have thought that he would be booted out a month before the Asia Cup.  Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that Nobbs would have been anyway asked to go if India failed to qualify for the World Cup at the 9th Asia Cup.

Clearly, Oltmans has a tough job of galvanising a side which will be low on morale. This is where the top-flight coaching credentials of Oltmans would come to the fore. Like they say the best always thrive when the chips are down and the Dutchman may also like to walk down that path.

As for Nobbs, only the timing of his exit has to be questioned and nothing else.

Picture Courtesy The Hindu

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why winning the 9th Asia Cup is now even tougher for Indian men’s hockey team?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
If at all the Indian men’s hockey team were tacitly seeking any favours from some of their fellow Asian teams in their pursuit to seal a berth for the 2014 World Cup at the second men’s Hockey World League Round 3 event in Johor Bahru, there were none coming!

In fact, the disappointing performances of the three major Asian teams – world number five Pakistan, 8th ranked South Korea and 13th ranked Malaysia - in the second men’s Hockey World League Round 3 event in Johor Bahru have made India’s job of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup by winning the 9h Asia Cup even more tougher.

India’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup would have got a huge boost if two of the three Asian teams finished in the top three of the second men’s Hockey World League Round 3 event in Johor Bahru. Of course, the hopes of two Asian nations making to the World Cup qualifying stage were wiped out in the quarterfinal stage itself when Pakistan pressed the ‘inconsistent button’ and went down to lower ranked Korea 3-4, while hosts Malaysia were handed a 0-6 pasting by Olympic gold medallist and top-ranked Germany.

Effectively going into the semifinals, South Korea was the lone Asian country with the hope of achieving a top-3 finish and sealing its 2014 World Cup berth.

But South Korea’s 1-2 defeat at the hands of 4th ranked England in the third place play-off tie must have been something India, for that matter Pakistan or Malaysia would have wished for – simply because all four teams – India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia would now have to slug it out for the lone berth from Asia – winning the 9th Asia Cup.

Had Malaysia, who finished 5th in the Johor Bahru event, managed to sneak out a top-three finish along with South Korea or Pakistan , the pressure would have eased a bit on India as they would have known that only two Asian teams are fighting for the 2014 World Cup berth in the 9th Asia Cup in Ipoh, as two nations would have already made the cut from the Johor Bahru event.

It is often said that good teams invariably plays to win and don’t care two hoots about permutations and combinations while qualifying for a marquee event.

This precisely should be the line of thinking of the Indian men’s hockey team when they prepare for the 9th Asia Cup at their upcoming national camp beginning in Bengaluru on July 16.

The writing is clearly on the wall for India. But it hardly means that we should give up hope. Fortunately, India is placed in Pool B which features only one strong team South Korea besides unfancied sides like Oman and Bangladesh against whom we are expected to sail through.

So making it to the semifinals should be well within India’s grasp. Look at Pool A – Pakistan has to counter Malaysia and rapidly improving Japan in their bid to make it to the last-four stage.

It’s quite clear that India has got a favourable draw in the 9th Asia Cup. It will all boil down to two big matches – their semifinal and final opponents, though one is not trying to suggest in any way that the Blueshirts can afford to take the league phase lightly.

A bit of favour from the fellow Asian teams would have helped India’s cause, but why bother about things that are not in their control – they just have to play as a team and win the 9th Asia Cup – instead of thinking about ‘ifs and buts’!

Picture Courtesy Khelnama

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lot of hard work left before Asia Cup, says Indian hockey striker SV Sunil

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Inconsistency is something every player looks to iron out. SV Sunil did precisely the same at the Hockey World League semifinals in Rotterdam, where he emerged as one of the finds of the tournament for India.

For someone, who is blessed with the burst of speed, Sunil has often caused tongues wagging among critics about his propensity to indulge in aimless pacy runs on the flanks as well as down the middle of the pitch.

But the Rotterdam event brought to the fore the mature side of Sunil as he used his potent weapon – burst of speed – judiciously, often inflicting damage on the opposition.

“I wasn’t using my speed to my advantage earlier. I saw videos of some of our earlier matches and arrived at the conclusion that I needed to use my burst of speed more judiciously. I did put my thinking cap on at Rotterdam and feel happy that all my hard work is paying off,” Sunil says in an exclusive interview.

The 24-year-old Indian striker, who has played over 100 internationals, is, however, downcast about the national team coming so close and not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Of course, the hoarding board collision-induced injury did affect India’s rhythm in the second half of the crucial play-off tie against Spain. “It’s disappointing to see ourselves not to make it in the Rotterdam event. I got injured crashing into the hoarding board with twenty minutes remaining for the final hooter, which left me frustrated as I wanted to play a part in India sneaking through,” he puts forth his thoughts.

The sight of Sunil crashing into the hoarding board would indicate disaster of some kind waiting to happen, but much to the relief of his hockey fans, Sunil is fully fit now. “At first, I thought this could be disastrous as the collision had full impact on my right knee – which I had operated upon in 2010. To be honest, I feared the worst but thankfully it isn’t that serious. I have had a good rest for the past few days and I’m now doing the daily training schedule assigned to me,” he says.

The Coorg-lad concedes that the team has to work really hard if it has to win the ninth Asia Cup and seal the 2014 World Cup berth. “There is plenty of room for improvement. Our forward line has to put in the hard yards and worked on combining as a strong unit. We also need to tighten up our defence as we are repeatedly conceding soft goals. We also need to score consistently from penalty corners,” he reasons.

Sunil was part of the Indian team which had the dubious distinction of finishing outside the top-four in the Asia Cup for the first-time ever at the last edition in Kuantan in 2009. “I played that match. It was a kind of a humiliation for us drawing China 2-2 as it put us out of the semifinals. We held a 2-1 lead with two Sandeep Singh goals before China scored a late goal to spoil our party. We definitely need to redeem ourselves with a good showing this time around,” he adds ruefully.

India would look for some help from teams like Malaysia and Korea in the 2nd men’s Hockey World League in Johor Bahru. “There are various possibilities for us to qualify for the World Cup. If any two Asian teams among three make it to the World Cup from the Johor Bahru Round 3 event, our job will become a lot easier in Ipoh. Having said that, we will be focusing on winning the Asia Cup and sealing the World Cup berth,” he concludes.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Indian hockey midfielder Kothajit grieves the demise of childhood coach Herojit Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

For Kothajit Singh, the Indian senior men team’s failure to seal a 2014 World Cup berth in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam was not the lone disappointment.

The Indian midfielder was experiencing the blues when he came to learn about the death of his childhood coach, Waribam Herojit Singh, when he was returning home along with his team-mates from Rotterdam.

“I was on my return flight to India from Rotterdam. I came to learn about his demise when I reached Dubai en route to India. I immediately rushed to Manipur as soon as I landed in India. His death is a huge personal loss for me,” Kothajit says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.

Waribam Herojit Singh died after suffering a stroke in Imphal recently. Waribam Herojit Singh was the honorary secretary of Hockey Manipur, whose president is former speedy winger and Olympian Thoiba Singh.

The 20-year-old reminisces how he learnt the tricks of the trade from Waribam Herojit Singh during his starting days at the Posterior Hockey Academy in Imphal.

“I learnt playing hockey under him along with two others at the Posterior Hockey Academy. Herojit was a good coach, who knew how to get the best out of the boys. He is one of the best coaches around in Manipur and his death is surely going to leave a big void in the hockey fraternity.”

Herojit was a decent player as well, having represented Manipur in various national events with distinction. Kothajit says his guru was so fond of hockey that he did not event get married.

“He was obsessed with playing or coaching hockey. His craze for hockey was such that he refrained from tying the knot.”

However, Herojit was beginning to have a change of mind and was considering getting married even though he was in the mid-forties.

“Actually, Herojit Sir was mulling getting hitched after ignoring it for a long time. It’s so sad that his death came about in this manner.”

The death of his childhood coach has left Kothajit only more aware about the realities of life.

“Life is so unpredictable. I was abroad playing for the country and on my return flight back home I hear the demise of my guru,” he signed off on a sad note.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Danish Mujtaba undergoes knee surgery, to miss Asia Cup

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Sports can be a great leveller.  Only a few months back Danish Mujtaba was catapulted into national attention when he was named the captain of the senior men’s hockey team for the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup held in Ipoh, Malaysia.

Things were indeed looking  up for Danish, but he walked on the disappointing path injuring himself during India’s exposure tour of the Netherlands suffering a serious knee injury, which put him out of the national side for the 1st Hockey World League semifinals in Rotterdam.

The severity of the injury meant that Danish had to undergo a surgery on his right knee. And the worst possible news was waiting to emerge. The Indian striker was confirmed to be out of competitive action for at least six months, effectively putting him out of the reckoning for the country’s Asia Cup campaign, which is their last chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Understandably, Danish is gutted but is taking things in his stride. “You can’t control injuries, it is something that is bound to happen for any player. I underwent a surgery on my right knee last Thursday and it went off well. I will be out action for at least six months,” Danish told Sportskeeda.
The striker, who works as a Sports Officer for Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited won’t be see donning the blue jersey this year. “That is certain, hopefully I will come back strongly in 2014,” he sounds optimistic.

The Indian forwardline has been crippled by injuries in recent times. Gurwinder Singh Chandi is another one who is sitting out with a rather prolonged ankle injury. “Both of us missed the Rotterdam event, but I hope he is available for the Asia Cup,” he says.

The nimble-footed striker, who turned out for Delhi Waveriders in the inaugural Hero Hockey India League, is eyeing a return to its second edition. “Realistically, I hope I can be back for the second edition of the Hero Hockey India League. I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he signs off.

Startingly, Danish's name is included in the list of 48 probables announced by Hockey India selectors for the upcoming Asia Cup camp on Tuesday.

Picture Courtesy


Is this the end of the road for Sandeep Singh?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Seasoned drag-flicker Sandeep Singh’s exclusion from the list of 48 probables for the upcoming national camp in preparation for the 9th Men’s Asia Cup throws an air of uncertainty over his playing career.

The 27-year-old experienced fullback was recalled to the national side after being sidelined for nearly a year following India’s wooden-spoon finish in the 2012 London Olympics.

In fact, there was a general perception that Sandeep Singh may never ever return to the national side given coach Michael Nobbs’ oft-repeated insistence that he must reinvent himself to force his way into the national side.

Nobbs has always given the impression that Sandeep must raise his game as other fullbacks like Vokkaliga Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh are snapping at his heels.

His absence from the Indian team for various tournaments – 34th Champions Trophy, Asian Champions Trophy, Hockey World League Round 2 event and the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup only lend credence to the belief that the end-game was round the corner.

Nobbs seems to have been impressed with his short corner expertise, but had voiced serious reservations about his defending skills, especially his man-to-man marking. So, it actually came as a bit of a surprise when Sandeep was given an opportunity to redeem himself in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam.

Sandeep did not do his cause any good by failing to lift his game. Usually, when a player is staging a comeback, he is expected to deliver an impactful performance. Of course, it will be a tad below the belt to only single out Sandeep for the entire team should take the flak for their failure to seal the World Cup berth in Rotterdam.

But yes, even the die-hard Sandeep Singh supporters will agree that the Rotterdam event was not a statement-making performance from Sandeep.

The bigger question is: what does the future hold for the Haryana DSP? Sandeep is 27, which is certainly not the ripe time to retire. He clearly has some years of hockey in him, but the point is can he convince the current team management that he can really make a difference to the side’s fortunes? Will he fit into the scheme of things with so many youngsters around?

These are the questions that will be key to his comeback to the national fold. For now, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Sandeep.

Comebacks are of course synonymous with Sandeep. In 2006, he was hit by a stray bullet while travelling in Shatabadi  - he was on his way to join the national side, which was to leave for Germany for the 2006 World Cup in two days time.

Sandeep was wheel-chaired for a long time before he made a comeback to the Indian team in 2008. That remarkable comeback and his latest comeback post-London Olympics should serve as motivation pills for one of India’s prolific drag-flick goal-scorers.

He can also derive inspiration from the 2004 Junior Asia Cup in Karachi, which India won for the first time, where he finished as the top goal-scorer, which subsequently secured his ticket to the senior team for the 2004 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

These are the times when a player looks at his career highs and earlier tough periods to chart out his comeback plans and Sandeep will be eyeing the same route.

Picture Courtesy Orissa Post

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I want to remain in top-10 by 2013-end, says PV Sindhu

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
PV Sindhu has been touted as the next best thing to have happened to Indian badminton after Saina Nehwal. The world number 12 is now setting her sights on a decent performance in the upcoming World Championships, slated to be held in Guangzhou next month.
“I’m training hard for the World Championships, hopefully I will fare well,” Sindhu says in an exclusive interview.

The gangling Hyderabad-based shuttler last appeared in the Sudirman Cup.

2013 has been a fruitful year for Sindhu. She clinched her first senior singles crown, winning the Malaysian Grand Prix Gold event after getting the better of Singaporean Juan Gu in three tight games.
“That triumph will have special memories for me. Juan was coming hard at me and I had to really to battle hard to overcome her. I just hope this will be the beginning of many more to come,” she recalls.
The last time Sindhu came close to winning a Grand Prix Gold was at the Syed Modi India International in Lucknow last year when she lost in the final to Indonesian Lindaweni Fanetri.

The 18-year-old BPCL employee reached the quarterfinals of the Badminton Asia Championship besides entering the semifinals of the Indian Open. “My consistency has improved this year, I want to keep improving and raise the performance bar.”

A first year B.Com student of St. Ann’s College, Hyderabad, Sindhu’s unremitting focus on the game ensures her academics take a backseat. “Time constraints are always there. I recently appeared in my B.Com first year exams – I think I studied for a week or so – let’s see how my results pan out,” she says.

Born to a family of volleyball players (her father and mother are former volleyball players), Sindhu spares no effort to work on her weaknesses. “I have a height advantage and so delivering smashes is my strength but I need to work on my defence, which lets me down at times,” she opines.

Sindhu is now determined to break into the top-10 by 2013 end.
“I want to remain in the top-10 by the end of 2013. I will take it from there, that’s the realistic goal I have for now,” she outlines her future aspirations.

The might of the Chinese shuttlers seems to be dwindling, and Sindhu feels that it is happening because other countries are catching up fast. “It’s not that Chinese are falling away. In fact, other countries are producing players who can take the Chinese head-on. Look at Japan’s Minatsu Mitani or Thailand’s Ratchanok Inthanon or Germany’s Juliane Schenk, all are coming up. Indian shuttlers are starting to beat the Chinese players, so you could say coaches of other nations have raised the bar,” says the shuttler, whose role model is Lin Dan.

“I like the way Lin Dan carries himself on court. The amount of international success he has had is so inspiring for any youngster and I’m no different,” came the parting shot.

Picture Courtesy The Hindu

Monday, July 1, 2013

Confederations Cup 2013: Is this the renaissance of Brazilian football?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Is it safe to assume that the renaissance of Brazilian football is well underway? Well, the emotionally-driven Selecao fans would certainly think so ahead of the world’s biggest football event on the planet – the 2014 FIFA World Cup – in their own backyard in less than a year from now.

The mood among the Brazilian fans surely wouldn’t have been the same as they went into the 2013 Confederations Cup with a string of unconvincing results. To put it candidly, the Brazilian football have been down in the mouth for a pretty long while now.

Two quarterfinal exits in the 2006 (lost 0-1 to France) and 2010 (lost 1-2 to the Netherlands) World Cups were a pointer to the sagging fortunes of the yellow-and-blue brigade.

The Brazilian Football Confederation had been walking on a tense path after disappointing performance in back-to-back World Cups leading to sacking of coach Dunga, who had led the country to 1994 World Cup glory.

It may be worth recalling that Dunga, a fierce defender in his heydays, was in the hot seat since 2006 and his exit left the Brazilian Football Confederation groping for answers in a bid to arrest the team’s steep slide, not to speak about the demanding Samba fans, whose frustrations were wearing thin.

The Brazilian Football Confederation appointed Mano Menezes as its new national coach in July 2010, but his stint failed to bring about any upswing in the team’s fortunes.

The cracks began to surface during the 2011 Copa America tournament in Argentina, where Brazil – the reigning champions – crashed out of the quarterfinals – going down 0-2 to Paraguay – a match they failed to score a single penalty in the shootout.

Brazil were handed a 0-2 defeat by Mexico in a friendly in 2012, but the last straw probably for the Brazilian Football Confederation was the national side’s failure to win the London Olympics gold and settling for a runners-up finish, after losing 1-2 to Mexico, who were fast proving to be their nemesis.

Brazil slipped out of the top-10 in FIFA rankings for the first time ever in July, 2012 after the rankings were first introduced in 1993.

With the 2014 World Cup not far away, the Brazilian Football Confederation had to act fast for they do not wish to see the hellish sight of their side struggling in front of their home fans in the showpiece event.

The Brazilian Football Confederation fell back on Luiz Felipe Scolari last November – the man who guided the Samba boys to glory in the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and South Korea.

The determination of BFC to set their house in order stems from the fact it hired Carlos Alberto Parreira, who guided Brazil to glory in the 1994 World Cup as Scolari’s technical assistant.

But Scolari’s journey in his second spell as national coach wasn’t an auspicious one as Brazil lost 1-2 to England in a friendly at the Wembley Stadium in February.

Scolari’s record going into the Confederations Cup wasn’t something that would get the Samba fans excited. Two wins, four draws and one loss weren’t exactly indicating a rosy picture for Brazilian football.

Brazil’s performance in the lead-up to the Confederations Cup was a bit of a mixed bag as well. Brazil drew 2-2 with Chile in a scrappy affair before going on to play out a 2-2 draw with England at the Maracana Stadium.

The Samba boys did notch up a much improved 3-0 win over France – a result which ended their 21-year winless run against Les Bleus, which happened to be their final warm-up tie before the Confederations Cup.

With teams like current world champions Spain, former world champions Uruguay and Italy in the fray, not many were expecting Brazil to set the Confederations Cup on fire.

But Scolari instilled a new-found belief in the Brazilian players as well in their fans’ mind with a clinical performance in the league phase – posting eye-catching wins over Japan, Mexico and Italy. They beat  Uruguay in a scrappy semi-final before conquering the Spanish Armada in the final.

The manner in which this Brazil team dismantled the all-conquering Spanish team has rejuvenated the spirits of their fans. This win will surely raise expectations of the Brazilians next summer, which will likely increase the pressure on the players. But, to sum it up, this Brazil team, with a perfect blend of silk and steel, will be one of the favourites to lift the World Cup in the Maracan and exorcise the ghosts of 1950.