Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exclusive interview: Doesn't matter when I make my Test debut: KL Rahul

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Kannaur Lokesh Rahul – better known as KL Rahul – is touted as the next big thing of Indian cricket. The 22-year-old Karnataka opener made it to the Australia tour sheerly on the basis of consistent domestic performances. His knocks of 185 and 130 for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy final against Central Zone in Delhi were probably just what the doctor ordered in terms of convincing the national selectors that he was indeed ‘ready’ for the big league.

The soft-spoken right-hander spoke in an exclusive interview. Here are the excerpts:

Q. How do you assess your selection in the Indian team for the upcoming 4-Test series in Australia?

It’s a special feeling to be picked in the national side for the upcoming Australian tour. Every cricketer grows up with the ultimate dream of playing for the country and I’m no different. I’m really excited at the prospect of playing in Australia.

Q. You had a superb 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season for Karnataka, scoring 1,033 runs at an average of 68.86 studded with three hundreds and four fifties, followed by twin centuries in the 2014-15 Duleep Trophy final against Central Zone in Delhi. Do you think the two centuries in the Duleep Trophy final really tilted the scales in our favour?

Of course, the Duleep Trophy performance turned things in my favour as the team selection for the Australia tour was nearing. I thought my consistent showing in the 2013-14 Ranji season also helped my cause. Strong domestic performance is the passport to national selection and I’m glad that my performances caught the selectors’ attention.

Q. How challenging is it for the openers to see off the red ball in Australian conditions where the wickets offer plenty of purchase to the quick bowlers?

Getting the team off to a good start is really the key in Australia. Not to lose early wickets in the first hour or so is crucial as it can put a lot of pressure on the middle-order. I’m sure we will strive hard to overcome these challenges and emerge as a strong unit.

Q. You were part of the India ‘A’ team that toured Australia in July this year for two four-day Tests and triangular ODI series. Were they any lessons to be learned from that tour?

Well, I played in both the Tests and got starts in every match, but was not able to build on those starts save for a knock of 52. The wickets we played in Australia were not as fast as it is known to be and was mostly on the slower side. The biggest learning was that I had to make the most of the starts.

Q. Are you making any special preparations to counter the Aussie bowlers?

I’m doing my training keeping in mind the kind of pitches I’m going to play on in Australia. I’m talking to my coaches and using their inputs and hopefully things will work out well for me.

Q. Rahul Dravid has backed you over a period of time, tipping you to be a big thing in Indian cricket. Your thoughts?

He has been backing me since junior cricket days. It feels great to get such encouragement from one of the stalwarts of Indian cricket. Other Indian greats like VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly have supported me a lot and I hope to live up to everyone’s expectations..

Q. You are picked in the side as the third opener – Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are the two frontline openers. Given this scenario, how optimistic are you of making your Test debut?

As a team member I want my country to do well against Australia and it really does not matter which Test I make my Test debut in. Murali and Shikhar are proven performers and if they can do the job for India, that’s what matters. I will celebrate my Test debut when it happens, but won’t keep thinking about it, rather want my team to win in Australia.

Q. Finally, how do you assess India’s chances against Australia in the four Test series?

Well, it’s not going to be easy; our record in their own backyard is not great, but we are confident of rectifying that this time around.

Hope to do well as stop-gap coach: Oltmans

It’s not the first time that Hockey India High Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans has been entrusted with the responsibility of serving as the national hockey coach for the upcoming Champions Trophy. Only late last year, Australian Michael Nobbs had stepped down on health grounds, with Oltmans taking charge of the Indian team at the Asia Cup, which attached so much significance given the fact that the 2014 World Cup berth was up for grabs.

The Dutchman did his job to near-perfection in Ipoh as India qualified for the World Cup after finishing runners-up in that tourney. Now as uncertainty surrounds the return of Terry Walsh (likely to be handed a fresh contract), Hockey India has handed the coaching reins to Oltmans for the Champions Trophy given the fact that there is far too little time left to scour for a viable alternative.
“I know I’m stepping in as a stop-gap coach for the second time. The boys did well in the Asia Cup and I hope we can come up with a decent effort in the Champions Trophy” Oltmans says in an exclusive interview.

The celebrated Dutch coach stops short of saying whether the Indian team will miss Terry Walsh in the Champions Trophy, but insists the team made rapid strides under him. “It’s a fact that the Indian team have really progressed since the World Cup. The performances in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the four Test series in Australia are a testimony to that. No one can deny that, but the team must look forward and perform well in the Champions Trophy.”

There is talk that Walsh has written to the Sports Minister expressing his willingness to return as national coach. So what’s Oltmans’ take on that? “I’m not the right person to answer that, but I will like to be optimistic. Of course, he won’t be here for the Champions Trophy, but hopefully we will get a clearer picture in the coming weeks.”

The former Netherlands believes no team’s success or failure can be attributed to only one individual. “It’s not the coach who can take the credit or criticism for a team’s win or defeat. The players, team manager, physio, as well as other support staff all play a role in the team’s performance.”

Oltmans developed a rapport with Walsh which he cherishes. “There is no doubt that we got along quite well and had mutual respect for each other. That way, I will miss him but at the moment I have a job to do – that is to help the boys perform well in the Champions Trophy.”

On the expectations from the Champions Trophy, Oltmans reckons the Champions Trophy will demand India to be at their best if they are to go the distance. “All top teams will be here, so it won’t be easy but having said that we have home ground advantage and will look to make the most of it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Indian team will be fine without me: Terry Walsh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The formal exit of Indian men’s hockey team coach Terry Walsh has left hockey fans across the country sad and frustrated. But there is a ‘ray of hope’ for the 60-year-old Australian to return as a national coach, as the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in conjunction with the Sports Ministry is working out a new contract for him. The picture will be clear over the week or so once Walsh responds to the new contract.

With barely two weeks to go for the Champions Trophy, a crisis-like situation has engulfed Indian hockey after the highs the national team scaled beating world champions Australia 3-1 in the four Test series, even pulling off three consecutive wins after losing the opening Test. Under Walsh as coach, the national team won the team’s first Asiad gold in sixteen years, which secured them a berth to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Terry Walsh talks about various issues in an exclusive interview hours before leaving for Perth.


Q. Some much has been said about the talks you had with the committee as well as your meeting with Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Where does things stand as of now?

Well, I had fruitful discussions with the six-member as well as the Sports Minister. They gave me a patient hearing on various things I’m keen to implement to take Indian hockey forward. Wednesday was my last day as India coach as my contract expired on November 19, but the SAI and the Sports Ministry are hammering out a new contract over the next few days, which I will look into it and respond promptly.

Q. So are you saying that you will return to India as national coach once the new contract is sent to you?

I’m not saying anything. Let me get the new contract first and once I get I will respond at the earliest.

Q. It is believed that your new contract includes many of your suggestions. Can you elaborate?

I’m sorry but I can’t reveal anything about it.

Q. Do you think that the changes you want to see in the way hockey is run in India can be addressed at a fast pace?

Absolutely. All I’m asking for is an effective process which will ensure the national team does well and also paves the way for a healthy future. I’m not asking anything with some personal interest, only want things to happen in such a way as it happens in most other hockey-playing countries. For example, our team spends hours on bus travelling to and from the Stadium, something we can do away with. Again we can have players being informed about national camp at least two weeks in advance – these are not really difficult things to implement – everything I have suggested is for the betterment of Indian hockey.

Q. Hockey India President Narender Batra has alleged that you have indulging in financial impropriety during your stint as USA women’s hockey team coach. How do you respond?

Well, there is no truth in it. I have never indulged in financial impropriety and the USA hockey team is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. I spoke to Batra over phone and clarified everything and I don’t think it is an issue at all.

Q. Is it fair to say that relations between you and Narender Batra are strained?

Don’t think so. As I said before, I had a cordial telephonic talk with Batra and there is no bad blood between us. I don’t see any hindrance working with him in future if at all I’m associated with Indian hockey.

Q. The Champions Trophy is just barely two weeks away. Don’t you think it’s a crisis situation for the national team?

The Indian team will be fine without me. There is a process in place and it will take care of everything. For example, if Sardar Singh is injured Manpreet Singh will cover up for him, similarly in my case somebody else will step in.

Q. The Indian players must be downcast at the turn of events as the team was gelling as a unit under you as coach, winning the Asian Games, besides a silver in the Commonwealth Games and the Test series in Australia.

Well, you have to ask the players and they know better. I can’t comment.

Q. India’s win over Australia in the four Test series must have been hugely pleasing for you. Your thoughts.

The boys turned in a superb effort in Australia. The performance of the team was beyond my expectations as beating Australia in their own backyard is never easy. I hope they will take a lot of confidence from that series win going into the Champions Trophy.

Q. Finally, is there any chance of you returning as national coach with a fresh contract so that you are available for the Champions Trophy?

You have to wait and see. I’m not saying anything (grins).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Exclusive Interview: I want to produce ‘thousand Mary Koms, says the celebrated boxer

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

MC Mary Kom is a near-perfect example of an athlete keeping one’s feet firmly planted on the ground. The struggles, hardships she has endured over the years hailing from an economically-disadvantaged family in the Northeastern state of Manipur steeled her so much so that she has learnt to handle ‘success’ with poise and nonchalance.
The iconic Indian women’s boxer opens up in an exclusive interview.


How disappointed are you at missing the World Championships?

I’m disappointed to miss the World Championship as I’m not fully fit. I have sustained a hand and leg injury which prevented me from being available for national selection. Even at the Incheon Asian Games, I was carrying a few niggles, but took it in my stride as I was determined to win a medal for my country.

Will India fare well in your absence?

It is difficult to say how many medals we can win but I wish all the team members the very best. Manipur’s Sarjubala Devi is also there and I hope she delivers.

You have practically won everything except for the Olympic gold. Will your training now be focused towards achieving that?

A gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics is what I’m looking for. I have to pace my training in such a way that I’m at my best in Rio and when I’m in form no opponent can come in my way. Gold will be the ultimate thing for me,” she gushes.

Did the bronze medal at the London Olympics put you at the centre stage in Indian sports?

I agree that my Olympic feat created a mass hysteria. Corporate houses came forward with endorsements coupled with munificent government support. Youngsters taking up boxing will get a lot of encouragement to do something for the country seeing my laurels.

Any comments on the recent situation surrounding your friend Sarita Devi?

We both are good friends, but I don’t wish to say anything on Sarita; every time I comment on her people react negatively and so I want to steer clear of offering any comments.

The movie Mary Kom achieved huge success across India. How upsetting is it that the movie could not be shown in your home state due to the ban on Hindi films?

Obviously, I’m feeling sad over it as I can do little about it. It would have been nice for people in my home state to see this move in theatres, but you cannot help it.

Do you feel that you deserved to win your 2009 controversial bout against Pinki Jangra in the quarters of the Senior National Boxing Championships?

To be honest, I never lost that bout. I was angry because I thought I deserve to win that bout, but my reaction was in the heat of the moment and I have moved on.

How important has the support of your husband been in your boxing journey?

He has been a big factor behind my boxing success. Without his support I don’t think I would have able to achieve so much success in the ring. I feel proud to have him as my husband.

Q Tell us a bit about the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Academy?

The state government has provided her 3.30 acres of land and the Sports Ministry has offered funds worth Rs 4 crore to upgrade the infrastructure at the academy, which is located adjacent to her Langol games village residence in Imphal West. The academy was established in the 2006 with focus on underprivileged potentials. It provides free training and boarding and lodging to its wards. Construction work is on and we will have everything ready by early next year. Once completed, our academy will have separate hostels for boys and girls, an indoor hall having a world-class gym as well as a boxing ring.

Q What do you aspire once you retire from the sport?

I’m not able to devote much time towards training my academy wards as I’m still playing and has to be busy with training and competitions. Of course, I will eke out more time for my wards once I retire. My dream is to produce thousand Mary Koms.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Former hockey greats lavish praise on India’s stellar hockey Test series win over Australia

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Perhaps the feeling hasn’t sunk in yet! Perhaps hockey fans are still not finding it ‘comfortable to believe it to be true’. Indeed, the Indian senior men’s hockey team have performed the ‘unthinkable’ pulling the plug on world champions Australia not once, not twice but thrice and that too, in their own backyard to win the four Test series 3-1. But it all seemed like a ‘familiar disappointing tale’ when India were handed a clinical 0-4 defeat in the opening Test at the Perth Hockey Stadium. The performance dished out by the Terry Walsh-coached side smacked off ‘not often seen’ tenacity and self-belief from the Indian side. 

The manner in which they rebounded from being a goal down in the first half of the second Test and scored twice in two minutes to pull off a 2-1 win, before building on their soaring confidence to win the next two Tests 1-0 and 3-1 tells us something about this vastly improved side.

The phenomenal performance of India has set the tongues wagging as to whether the Indian team have made huge strides since the disastrous 2012 London Olympics campaign. Sample this: India – ranked ninth in the world – have beaten four higher-ranked teams this year.

The Sardar Singh-led side started the year with a stunning 5-4 win over Olympic champions Germany at the Hockey World League Final Round in New Delhi, before going on to prevail over Korea 3-0 at the World Cup. The Blueshirts then pipped New Zealand 3-2 after trailing 02- down at one stage in the semifinals of the Commonwealth Games before going on to put it across the world number one side thrice on the trot. For stats-minded, India’s last win over Australia came four years back when they won 4-3 at the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Clearly, the year 2014 has panned out to be a phase of ‘rapid progress’ for the national team. Former India centre-forward Jagbir Singh believes India have played exceedingly well to beat Australia in Australia. “Beating Australia in their own backyard is a remarkable thing. Not many times we see Australia being beaten at home, so it’s an outstanding effort from our team, hats off to them,” Singh said.

A one-time livewire of the Indian forwardline, Jagbir, who donned the national jersey at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 1992 Barcelona Olympics, has no doubts that India’s tactical play has shown marked improvement. “With coaches Terry Walsh and Roelant Oltmans around there is more tactical awareness than before and the team is combining well, which is showing in the recent positive results,” he said.

The fitness levels of the team drew copious praise from Jagbir. “Look, India played at the World Cup in May-June, Commonwealth Games in July-August, Asian Games in October-November and now the Test series in Australia in November. It is never easy playing back-to-back tournaments and the boys have held their own in all these tourneys, full marks to them, their fitness levels have really come to the fore,” he said.

The former Indian hitman brushes aside the cynical talk that India’s Test series came against a second-string Australian side. “You will always have people talking such stuff. I only feel sorry for the state of mind of these so-called cynics. The fact remains that India have beaten a decent Aussie side and the boys deserve all the credit,” he said.

Jagbir is upbeat about India doing well in the upcoming Champions Trophy. “India are known to fare well playing at home and the kind of confidence they have, I believe they can make it to the semifinals, winning the bronze will be a bonus,” he said.

Former Indian captain and midfielder Viren Rasquinha says the consistency of the national team has served the team well in recent times. “The boys have been consistently playing well be it the World Cup, CWG, Asiad or the Test series in Australia. It’s indeed heartening to see India beat Australia in Australia,” Rasquinha said.

Viren, who called time on his international career in 2008 after having played 180 internationals, believes the team has been on a roll save for a patch showing in the early stages of the Asiad. “The boys have hit the groove since the World Cup. Of course, we did not play well in the first three matches at Asiad, and after the loss to Pakistan in the league stage, the boys really pulled up their socks to win the Asiad gold after a gap of sixteen years,” he said.

The former midfielder dismisses all talk of India’s Test series win coming against a second-string Kookaburras side. “We have to be concerned about how our team performs and not bother much about which team Australia is fielding. Australia are a good side and the absence of two or three players does not make much of a difference. The bottom-line is that we have beaten a good Aussie side,” he said.

Former India winger Thoiba Singh is of the opinion that regular India-Australia encounters are helping the confidence of the national team. “India have been playing Australia regularly, they have played each other eight times this year and when one plays against top teams frequently, the confidence level of the team goes up and our team is benefiting from it,” Thoiba Singh said.

Thoiba, who represented the country at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games as well as at the 1990 Lahore World Cup, was impressed with the way coach Terry Walsh has handled the boys. “Terry Walsh’s style of coaching has helped our side, the team is playing as a unit and I’m sure the team will take plenty of confidence from this Test series into the upcoming Champions Trophy,” he said.

Former Indian forward Ashok Kumar – son of legendary Dhyan Chand – applauded the side but warned against any complacency creeping into the team. “It is wonderful to see India beat Australia, the self-belief of the boys must be quite high now and I hope they do well in the upcoming Champions Trophy. Having said that, I hope they don’t get carried away and maintain the momentum at the upcoming Champions Trophy,” Kumar said.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

4th Test: India pip Australia 3-1, win four Test series 3-1

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The onus was on Australia to throw a serious fight against India in the fourth and final hockey Test at the Perth Hockey Stadium in Perth on Sunday. The Indians only needed a draw to win the four-match Test series, while Australia were in desperate need of a win to level the series.

The contest was a fast-paced affair as both teams looked to seize the initiative. SV Sunil orchestrated a busy run on the left and created India’s first penalty corner, following a hard tackle by an Aussie defender. Vokkaliga Raghunath unleashed his drag-flick, which was saved by the Australian goalkeeper and in the ensuing melee Akashdeep Singh lurking near the far post slotted home in the 10th minute as India held the solitary goal lead in the opening quarter. The match was Sardar Singh's 200th international.

The Kookaburras tried to summon desperate measures in a bid to get back into the match and forced back-to-back penalty corners, but the Indian defence led PR Sreejesh foiled those efforts with aplomb. Australia failed to make the most of the numerical superiority when India had Harbir Singh and Kothajit Singh being given the temporary marching orders.

Australia played with more purpose in the second half, building consistent pressure in the Indian half and were rewarded when they profited from their third short corner. Tommy Craig slammed home after the penalty corner injection was not stopped properly. The Aussies forced two more penalty corners, but the Indian kept them at bay with stout defending – Raghunath’s first running skills helped their side to negate the home side’s fifth penalty corner. India were at a disadvantage in the closing stages of the third quarter after Gurbaj Singh was yellow-carded.

Having weathered Aussie onslaught in the third quarter, India moved forward with conviction and it was left to Akashdeep Singh to regain the lead for his side. Hardly had they celebrated that goal, Gurbaj Singh set up a nice move for SK Uthappa who banged home to give India a cozy 3-1 lead. The double strike pumped up the Indians as they
curbed the Australian raids to ensure another solid win. Thus, India have won the Test series 3-0, having lost the first Test 0-4, winning the second and third Tests 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Keen to break into top-10 by 2014-end, says India's top-ranked men shuttler K Srikanth

K Srikanth has been one of the most improved Indian men shuttlers in 2014. The Guntur-born shuttler surpassed Parupalli Kashyap as the country’s top ranked men’s singles player this year after having starting the year with a ranking of 47. Srikanth, who trains at the Hyderabad-based Gopichand Badminton Academy spokein an exclusive interview.


Q How does it feel to be the country’s top-ranked men’s singles player?
There's nothing like country's top ranked player; there will always be ups and downs in ranking, but what actually matters how you are performing at the international level.

Q  You started the year with a ranking of 47 and soon broke into the top-20 and now you are now perched at 16. What were your plans at the start of the year?
When I started the year being at 47, I wanted to be in the top-20 by the end of the year but since I have already attained a ranking of 16 I now want to break into the top-10. I came close to achieving that in April when I was ranked 13 but couldn't, so now I want to break into the top-10.

Q Parupalli Kashyap has been the country’s top-ranked men’s singles player for a long time. You must be pleased to have surpassed him.
He's been playing in the international circuit for a very long time and he was consistently maintaining his rank in top-25 for many years. Being a junior to him I saw many of his matches on television and now being the top ranked player after surpassing him I feel really good for that, but as I told you my earlier performance matters every time than rankings, so I want to continue performing well on the international circuit.

Q How would you assess your performance graph this year?
This year I've played few very good matches but then I lost a few matches where I should have won, that's little depressing but then overall I’m happy with the way I played.

Q You have played against the likes of Lee Chong Wei, Chen Long, Tommy Sugiarto among others this year. What have you learned by playing against these top-notch shuttlers?
There's always a lot to learn from the top players and playing against them helps me understand my game. It tells me the areas where I’m strong and the areas where I’m weak.

Q Tactically, which are the areas you need to work on if you are to regularly beat the top guys?
For me I've lost quite a few close games even with few top players so I want to improve accuracy in my strokes and consistency.

Q As many as five Indian shuttlers are ranked among the top-50 – do you feel that Indian shuttlers can really dominate world badminton in the years to come?
Yup definitely there is a chance with the way Indian shuttlers are performing at the international level.

Q Which win will you rate as your best in 2014?
The quarter final match at the Singapore Open after which I played my first Super Series semifinal.

Q Do you believe that enough talent is coming through in Indian badminton?
Yes definitely. The BAI is also doing really well conducting enough national ranking tournaments , national camps and the IBl last year was really a very good initiative and after which the sport really grabbed the public attention like never before.

Q  What goals have you lined up for the future?
I’m currently playing in two Super Series tournaments this month and I’m keen to perform well in both these events.

3rd Hockey Test: India pull off another stunning win over Australia

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The Indian men’s hockey team were soaring in confidence after their famous, eyeballs-grabbing 2-1 win over world champions Australia in the third Test at the Perth Hockey Stadium in Perth. And on Saturday, the Terry Walsh-coached Indians seemed to be teeming with confidence from that ‘monumental win’ as they looked to control possession without getting overawed by the reputation of the world number side one.

The opening half witnessed fast-paced hockey with both teams appearing threatening on the counter-attacks, but the defence of two teams held it out to ensure the scoreline was goalless at half-time. India were led by Rupinder Pal Singh, who played his 100th international, in the absence of regular captain Sardar Singh.

SV Sunil fresh from his stunning match-winner in the third Test, seemed to have hit a purple patch as he made the Aussie defence sweat with his blistering runs upfront. It was left to the Coorg lad to put India early in the third quarter when he worked his way on the left and essayed a pass to Akashdeep Singh, whose return pass was tapped home by Sunil beating Aussie goalie Andrew Charter all ends up.

Australia did not help their cause when they were soon reduced to ten men when Eddie Ockenden was given the temporary marching orders for a unfair tackle on Manpreet Singh. The Kookaburras forced their first penalty corner – the first of the game but the Indian defence did well to nullify that attempt.

The home side needed to summon desperate measures going into the final quarter, but they struggled to penetrate the Indian defence, which stood out with aplomb. India wasted three consecutive penalty corners in the closing stages of the final quarter, but did enough to pull off a solitary goal win over the world champions. The fourth and final Test will be played on Sunday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interview: My mother is a perfect role model: World billiards champion Pankaj Advani

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Pankaj Advani is in seventh heaven after having cornered glory at the recently-held IBSF World Billiards Championships in Leeds, England. The 29-year-old Bangalore lad bagged a superb ‘double, winning both the point format as well as the time format beating Singapore’s Peter Gilchrist and England’s Robert Hall in the respective summit showdowns – it was his 12th world crown.

The ace Indian cueist has been on a roll this year, having won the IBSF World 6-Red Snooker title in Egypt and the World Team Billiards title in Glasgow. Pankaj spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.


How would you assess your double triumph in the IBSF World Billiards Championships in Leeds?

It's a stupendous feeling! It's slowly sinking in and I just can't believe the outing I have had this time in Leeds.

The year 2014 has been an awesome one for you. You had earlier won the IBSF World 6-Red Snooker title in Egypt and the World Team Billiards title in Glasgow.

It's been a dream run this year. I'm really glad that the world titles have come in both billiards and snooker, in individual and team events, all over the last four months. This triumph in Leeds proved to me and everyone else that my gut instinct to play both sports has been the right thing to do.

You got the better of Singapore’s Peter Gilchrist to win the point format and defeated England’s Robert Hall to win the time format. Can you briefly walk us through both those wins?

Well, both finals actually were close in the first half. Against Peter in the point format, I was down 2-1 before taking a slight lead before the mid-session break at 3-2. From there I switched gears and won the next 3 on the trot to win the match. With Rob too, I started slowly as I had an advantage of only 260 points before half-time. After scoring 700-plus points in the first two-and-a-half-hour session, I added a thousand more in the next two hours. But in both finals, I believed in myself and knew however I started, my finish would be much stronger.

Touching on the tactical part, what kind of strategizing one needs to do for the time and points format?

In point format, you need to win the first to 150 points and then that's just one frame. So, even if you score the max (150), scoring in subsequent frames you have to be consistent. In time format, you have the chance to score bigger breaks. You need stamina for the big ones, but the 150-point frames need consistent scoring.

You have had fair amount of success in both billiards and snooker. How difficult it is to juggle both snooker and billiards?

It is extremely challenging. To put things in perspective, instead of returning home after the grand double and celebrating, I have come to Sheffield to switch to snooker for the IBSF World Snooker Championship happening later this month in Bengaluru. I’m feeling comfortable with my snooker following the transition from billiards.

The Leeds win was your third double. How would you rate this double triumph as compared to the two other double wins at Malta in 2005 and Bangalore in 2008?

Malta was my first so that was definitely special. In fact, it was the first time they introduced two formats in billiards world championships and I was fortunate to win them. Winning at home in 2008 is a whole different feeling so I rate that highly, too. And this win made a few records, be it number of world titles in a year as well as overall, three grand doubles, etc so I really cannot discriminate between any of them. All have their own charm and significance.

You lost your dad at the age of six. Your mother must have made huge sacrifices to see where you are today. Your thoughts.

I owe all that I am today to her. The kind of struggle she went through made me believe that if someone can go through that, then anything else is possible. She is a perfect role model and I’m truly blessed to have a mother like her.

Legend Geet Sethi has said that you have another twenty years of top-flight of billiards/snooker in you. What’s your take on that?

I'm not one to see too much into the future. I take one tournament, one day and one match at a time. If Geet is right, then that's great.

How do you see the upcoming talent base for cue sports in India?

There are promising names like Jaiveer Dhingra, Aditya Agarwal, Laxman Rawat and Dhvaj Haria that we hope will make a mark.

Finally, would you ever like to get in coaching in future?

As mentioned earlier, I am an in-the-moment kind of a guy. Having said that, opening an academy has been on my mind. Who knows!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

India stun world champions Australia 2-1 in second test

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Australians were dominant in the opening Test against India at the Perth Hockey Stadium in Perth on Tuesday. The onus was on India to show some serious fight in the second test on Wednesday.

And what a performance it panned out to be – India brushed aside the cobwebs of 0-4 loss in the the opening Test with a scintillating second half performance to claw their way from a goal down to script a famous 2-1 win over world champions Australia. It was India’s first win over Australia in four years – the last victory coming at the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where they won 4-3.

The Terry Walsh-coached side exhibited much better hockey against the world champions even keeping the scoreline goalless in the opening quarter. Matt Ghodes had a great opportunity to score, but Indian goalkeeper Harjot Singh thwarted that effort. He later atoned for that when he weaved a slew of Indian defenders to slot home eight seconds remaining for the half-time hooter.
India were guilty of wasting several scoring chances. The Sardar Singh-led side missed as many as three penalty corners besides Lalit Upadhyay bungling a good opportunity.

India showed more purpose in the second half (third quarter) and 2014 Hero Hockey India League’s most expensive player Ramandeep Singh made the most of a counter attack to equalise and hardly had the Indians celebrated that goal, vastly experienced SV Sunil put their side ahead as they went into the final quarter holding a 2-1 lead. Sunil’s goal was of the top order as he essayed a magnificent run and finished off his move with a superb reverse shot beating the Aussie goalie all ends up.

The series is now level at 1-1 with the third Test to be played on November 8.

India lose 0-4 to Australia in the first hockey test

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The year 2014 has seen the Indian men’s hockey team play the world champions Australia quite frequently. Right from the Hockey World League final Round in New Delhi, India have met the Kookaburras four times and every time the margin of defeat tends to give an impression that the Sardar Singh-led side was indeed narrowing the gap with their illustrious opponents.

Of course, India were hammered 2-7 after leading 2-0 at half-time in New Delhi, but the Blue shirts exuded marked improvement in the subsequent three meetings, losing to them 0-4 in the World Cup and perhaps played the best game against Australia in recent times when they lost to them 2-4 in the league phase of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games before going down 0-4 in the final, probably running out of steam after their energy-sapping, hard-fought 3-2 upset win over higher ranked New Zealand in the semifinals.

And both teams squared off for the fifth time at the Perth Hockey Stadium, expectations were that India would build on their recent improvements and stay competitive. The Kookaburras were denied from scoring for most part of the opening quarter, but it did not take long for them to hit the straps.

Jeremy Hayward – named the Young Player of the 2014 World Cup – fired home from a penalty corner in the closing stages of the quarter. India forced a short corner in the second quarter, but failed to profit from them. Australia were reduced to ten men in the second quarter, but India failed to make the most of the numerical advantage. They were soon made to pay for that when Jake Whetton made the scoreline 2-0 as India had plenty of thinking to do at the half-time break.

Australia are so good at consolidating early leads and they showed it in no uncertain terms when Whetton added another in the 33rd minute to ensure the result was very much in their favour. India needed to respond strongly, but Australia had their tails up when Glenn Simpson whipped home a penalty corner in the 39th minute to hold a vice-like grip over their opponents.

Trailing 0-4, India had little fight in them in the final quarter and seemed resigned to their fate. Australia lead the four-test series 1-0.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Exclusive Interview: India have narrowed the gap with Australia: Rupinder Pal Singh

This piece was published in
Rupinder Pal Singh is the ‘Rock of Gibraltor’ in the Indian defence. He defends as his life is depended on him and strives hard to score goals from his lethal drag-flicks off penalty corners. The 23-year-old Indian fullback has been a fulcrum of the Indian side in recent times and has twice emerged as the top goal-scorer at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Incheon Asian Games.

The Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) employee spoke in an exclusive interview.


Q You played a big part in India winning the Asiad gold, even overcoming a hamstring injury along the way. You had a few days rest and now you are back training for the upcoming four Test series against Australia?

It was a good break after the Asiad in the sense it allowed me to recharge my batteries. I attended quite a few felicitation programs during my stay in hometown in Punjab as well as in Delhi where Hero honoured us for our Asiad exploits. I’m now staying focused on the upcoming Australia tour.

Q You emerged as the top goal-scorer in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as well as the Incheon Asian Games. So you must be enjoying the responsibility of being the prime goal-scorer for India.

Well, every player likes to contribute in a team’s win and I try to do my bit in scoring goals through my penalty corner drag-flicks. I’m enjoy the responsibility of scoring goals for my team, but that’s not the only role I perform, I have even a bigger role of defending and keep the opposition at bay.

Q How important is it for a fullback to be a complete player, where the team banks on him not just for his drag-flicks during penalty corners, but also rely on him to blunt the opposition?

No player can survive in the side by just being a good drag-flicker as no team can afford that luxury. There could be times when a team may not win a short corner throughout the whole game and in such a fullback whose main forte is drag-flicks is rendered ineffective. In modern hockey a fullback has to be a solid defender and then comes scoring goals off PCs; basically you have to be a sturdy defender with drag-flicks as your potent weapon. I’m working hard to be a complete defender.

Q You and Vokkaliga Raghunath form a lethal drag-flick combination. Is there any healthy competition between you two?

No, not at all. We play as a team and help each other out whenever. Raghubhai is a great exponent of drag-flick and I have a lot of respect. He is a great teamman and at times tells me to take the drag-flicks during penalty corners if he feels he is not confident to take them. We get along well and always try to do things for the betterment of the team.

Q How do you rate India’s chances against Australia in the upcoming four Test series?

Australia are a tough side and we will look not to build too much expectations and just play our natural game. We have played Australia in last couple of years and you must have seen how we narrowed the gap of winning margins. At Glasgow we lost to them 2-4 to them in the league and it was a contest where we gave them a good fight.

Q The year 2014 has been a good one for Indian hockey. India stunned Olympic champions Germany in the Hockey World League Final Round in Delhi, pipped higher ranked New Zealand in the semifinals of the CWG in Glasgow, followed by silver and gold medal wins in CWG and Asiad.

It has been a good year. Barring the World Cup, we have done this year; we hope to build on this and become a better side in the future. The boys have put in a lot of hard work and the results are there to see.

Q India are ranked ninth in the world, but do you think India has the ammunition to beat most sides ranked higher than them?

If you take the top three – Australia, Netherlands and Germany, I’m confident that India can beat sides like England, Belgium, New Zealand, Argentina and Korea. If we keep playing to our potential, these teams are not difficult to beat.

Q How do you look at the bigger picture – 2016 Rio Olympics?

We still have two years to prepare. I believe if we have Terry Walsh as coach and the boys continue to put in  the same amount of hard work they are putting now, there is no doubt that this team can do well in Rio. At least a semifinal appearance is definitely a possibility, off course a lot of factors are and with a bit of luck riding our way we can surprise a lot of teams.

Q Are you satisfied with the financial rewards handed out to the players after the Asiad gold winning performance?

Well, the government is doing a lot for us, but corporate houses must come forward to support us. Hero honoured us in a great way but there is a need for corporate to lend their sponsorship help for the national hockey team.