Monday, March 30, 2015

More domestic tourneys will help Indian swimming: Sandeep Sejwal

Sandeep Sejwal is on a high. The 26-year-old Delhi-born swimmer had a field day in the 35th National Games in Kerala, where she snapped up four gold and two bronze medals- including three gold in his pet events - 50m breastroke, 100m breastroke and 200m breastroke. Sandeep, who won India’s second Asiad swimming medal in last twenty four years, is now gearing up for the 2015 World Aquatics Championship to be held in Russia. Sandeep, who is employed with Western Railway, spoke on various issues concerning swimming in an exclusive interview.


Q You had an impressive haul in the 35th National Games in Kerala, bagging four gold and two bronze medals.

It was really satisfying to deliver as I had expected prior to the games. I was pretty confident of winning gold in my three pet events – 50m breastroke, 100m breastroke and 200m breastroke. Winning another gold medal in the 4 X 100 M relay medley was a bonus. I was also happy to win two bronze medals in the 200 M individual medley and 4 X 100 M relay freestyle events.

Q So many big names like Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar have skipped the 35th National Games in Kerala. But you took part and had a great run.

I always get excited about participating in the National Games as it is one of the prestigious events in the country. There was always attractive prize money announced by the Madhya Pradesh government – every gold, silver and bronze medals winners were to bag Rs 4 lakh, Rs 3 lakh and Rs 2 lakh. I ended up getting rewarded with Rs 17 lakh for my exploits.

Q Indian swimming did not produce an Asiad medal for 24 years since 1986 when Khazan Singh won a silver in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games until Virdhawal Khade picked up a bronze in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and you winning a bronze in the 2014 Incheon Asiad. Do you think that two back-to-back bronze medals in Asiad show that Indian swimming is heading in the right direction?

There is no doubt that Indian swimming is on the upswing. Two consecutive Asiad medal gives adequate reasons for all of us to be optimistic about Indian swimming. There are a lot of talented youngsters coming up across the country with Bengaluru serving as the swimming hub for so many years now. The future holds a lot of promise.

Q Do you really see Indian swimming taste its first Asiad gold in the 2018 Asian Games?

Well, there are a lot of factors which are not under your control – staying injury-free and in peak form is crucial. Gold is a realistic possibility although I don’t like to say precisely how many medals we are going to win in the 2018 Asiad.

Q There is feeling that there is a paucity of quality swimming coaches across the country, especially Bengaluru, which has two top-notch coaches. Your thoughts.

I won’t say there is scarcity of quality coaches in the country. I think most coaches outside Karnataka do not have access to desired facilities to groom their wards. There is no shortage of facilities, but coaches need access to all such facilities across the country.

Q There is a huge need for increasing the number of tournaments in the country, especially at the senior level. Your thoughts.

Absolutely! We should be having a senior-level tournament every month. Having more tournaments during the years will really develop our swimmers and allow them to raise the performance bar.

Q The 2015 World Aquatics Championships will be held in Kazan, Russia later this year.

The World Aquatics Championships serves as the Olympic qualifier and I will be keen on doing well. I’m hoping to finish in the top-16 and hopefully with better timings I will make the cut for the Rio Olympics.

Q What forthcoming tournaments are you taking part?

I’m leaving for Dubai later this month to participate in the Dubai Open – it starts from April 1-4. I hope to fare well in the Dubai Open.

Q How do you manage your finances for your training, diet etc?

Well, I end up spending around Rs 60,000-70,000 monthly – my supplements which come to around Rs 20,000, are sponsored. I stay in a rented accommodation very close to my training center and barring the supplements, I take of everything from my own purse.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Keen to keep performing: Karun Nair

Making a mark in a big game can often be defining moment of a player’s career. And Karnataka’s talented middle-order batsman Karun Nair can hope to be on the national selectors’ radar after his gruelling knock of 328 in the recent Ranji Trophy final against Tamil Nadu in Mumbai. The 23-year-old Jodhpur-born cricketer, who turned out for Rajasthan Royals in the 2014 IPL, struck 46 boundaries and one six in his 328-run knock, which came off 560 balls and was at the crease for 872 minutes, sharing a huge 386-run sixth wicket partnership with KL Rahul. Karun, who went on to score 59 and 80 in Karnataka’s impressive win over Rest of India in the Irani Cup final, spoke in an exclusive interview.
Q How does it feel to be a member of a state side that have won back-to-back Ranji titles?
It’s a ‘special feeling’ to be part of this talented Karnataka side. And to win it twice on the trot makes it really worth remembering for many years to come. Not many sides have won the Ranji on two consecutive occasions save for Mumbai who have done it on quite a few occasions. Interestingly, this is the second time that Karnataka have won the Ranji Trophy on two consecutive occasions – earlier we did it in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons. I’m really honoured to be part of the Karnataka side.

Q Karnataka had dismissed Tamil Nadu for a measly 134 in their first innings and then Karnataka posted a huge first innings score, which sealed the fate of your opponents.

Our bowlers really bowled well on the first day – they kept plugging away, dried up the runs and built pressure from both ends. I think we had conceded 60-odd runs in thirty overs and they lost three or four wickets in the process. The Wankhede strip had bounce for the seamers and other than it was a good wicket to bat on.
Q. Karnataka were in a deep hole at 31 for 4 when you walked in to bat and then came the massive 386–run sixth stand with KL Rahul. What was going through your mind?
Well, we were pushed on the backfoot but me and Rahul looked to bat session by session and not think far too ahead. We were glad that our big stand helped our side tilt the scales in our team’s favour in the Ranji final.

Q. You had lean run in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season but you seemed to have reserved your best for the final coming up with a massive 328 off 560 balls, studded with 46 fours and one six.

To be honest, I was not out of form. I was getting starts and then getting out in the thirties and forties. I told Rahul during our partnership that I want to get a big one and make up for not capitalizing on my starts in our earlier games. Thankfully, I managed to get a big hundred and it gave me huge satisfaction because it helped my team win the match.

Q. There is cut-throat competition in the Karnataka side. Most of your batsmen seemed to be among the runs. Must be a good augury for the side?

Healthy competition keeps every player on his toes. It allows every player to push the extra yard for success, which means a player is not just doing well for himself but also for the state side.
Q You played in the Indian Premier League (IPL) first for Royal Bangalore Challengers and then for Rajasthan Royals. How much has the IPL helped your game?

IPL has immensely helped my game, you get to play the world’s top bowlers and when you score runs against them it really boosts your confidence. Playing these top bowlers enables me to handle the bowlers at the domestic level with even more confidence.
Q Your state-mate KL Rahul recently made his Test debut against Australia and even scored his maiden Test ton. Are you confident that this big knock will help to attract the attention of the national selectors?
Well, I’m not thinking about all that now. I just want to keep performing, stay injury-free and take it one tournament at a time.

Q Karnataka have shown that they are a quality side. Do you think the state side can create the same dominance that a side like Mumbai had in the past?
There is no doubt that we have a talented side. Surely, Karnataka have the potential to dominate Ranji Trophy over the next few years.

Analysis: Men shuttlers look to make big impression in Indian Open

Indian shuttlers will be looking to dish out an impressive performance in the upcoming Yonex Sunrise Indian Open Super Series Tournament beginning at the Siri Fort Indoor Sports Complex from March 24. The six-day event will afford Indian shuttlers (especially the men’s shuttlers) an opportunity to resurrect themselves after their pretty disappointing showing in the prestigious All England Championships in London.

Of course, Saina Nehwal – the world number two – had put up a massive performance to become the country’s first woman singles player to reach the final of the All England Championships, the rest of her counterparts fell by the wayside pretty early in the tournament.

Kidambi Srikanth – the country’s top-ranked men’s singles player – was expected to progress at least till the business end of the All England Championships, but he came a cropper going down to Japan’s Kento Momota in three games with the world number four pulling one back in the second game. Of course, Srikanth made amends by winning the Swiss Open and is seeded second in the Indian Open (the only Indian men to be seeded), where he faces Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk in the first round.

Parupalli Kashyap was another guy, who was tipped to sail through the early rounds, but he was shown the tournament’s exit door by Chou Tien-Chen of Taiwan. Kashyap hardly offered any kind of fight and went tamely 13-21, 12-21 in the opening round.
The 13th ranked player will open his campaign in the Indian Open against Taiwan’s Hsu Jen Hao. Ajay Jayaramn will be high on confidence when he takes on Hong Kong’s Hu Yu  in the first round after having risen eight places in the world rankings this week to 35, following a semifinal finish in the Swiss Open after his early exit in the All England Championships.

HS Pranoy, the lone Indian men’s singles player to cross the first round hurdle, faces Russia’s Misha Zilberman in the first round. World number 36 Sai Praneeth takes on Swiss Open runners-up Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the first round, while 51st ranked Anand Pawar takes on a qualifier in his round one match.

The damp squib of the men shuttlers were largely atoned for by Saina in the All England Championships – she will undoubtedly carry the biggest expectations from the Indian camp in the women’s singles with the likes of PC Thulasi, Saile Rane, Tanvi Lad looking to make an impression.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Indian shuttler on course to dominate world badminton: Gurusaidutt

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Injuries can not only dent a player’s morale, but also can severely cripple his performance. Wriggling out of injuries is never easy, and Indian ace men’s shuttler RMV Gurusaidutt has had a torrid time with injuries over the last twelve months. However,he has done exceedingly well to come out of it, pulling off a runners-up finish at the 2014 Tata Open in Mumbai (where he lost to HS Pranoy in a tight summit clash) among other impressive performances. The 25-year-old shuttler, who is ranked 59 in the world, spoke on various topics concerning badminton in an exclusive interview.

Q How would you sum up your performance over the last twelve months?
Well, if you look I haven’t played too many tournaments over the last twelve months, but whatever few tournaments I have played I performed quite well, especially in important tournaments for India like Thomas Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Badminton Championships.

Q You had reached the final of the Tata Open last December where you lost to HS Pranoy. Case of so near and yet so far.
The Tata Open has always been a good event for me and I was happy with the way I played. It was a high quality, long final match but Prannoy was better on that day.

Q Your bronze medal effort at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games must have been really special. Your thoughts.
Yes, I trained really hard for the Commonwealth Games and I was glad that my efforts paid off. There were a lot of mixed emotions when I lost my semifinal match in the morning to Derek Wong. I had won the first game and was up 19-14 in the second but lost that match. It was tough for me to forget that loss and had a bronze medal match coming up against England’s Rajiv Ouseph whom I haven't beaten him in my three previous encounters. My coach Pullela Gopichand (Gopi sir) and my close friends really pumped me up for the evening match.

Q You are currently ranked 59 and had once reached a career-high 19 in 2013. Does it bother you as dip in rankings can prevent you from playing in the top-notch tourneys?
Yes, it does bother a bit because the 2016 Rio Olympics is coming up but the drop in rankings was not because of my bad performance. I sustained multiple injuries over the last one year and the ranking drop was just because of the injuries and I couldn't play the big tournaments. I'm sure I will bounce back as I have the best coaches, training partners and world-class facilities at the Gopichand academy.

Q What are your areas that need attention in your pursuit of excellence?
The first and the most important thing that affected my performance was my injuries, but now everything has been sorted out. I need to work on my strength on my legs and endurance as well as need to play more without any breaks. (injuries)

Q The Indian Badminton League will be held later this year after the inaugural edition in 2013. How much has the league helped the sport in the country?
The Indian Badminton League was a hugely successful event – it really changed the scene in India; people started watching badminton and more kids started taking up badminton, all thanks to the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and the organisers for conducting the league. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming IBL.

Q India have as many as five shuttlers in the top-50. Do you think Indians are well on course towards dominating world badminton?
Definitely Indian badminton is on course to be the best in the world. All the 5-7 Indian men's singles players are as good as the world’s top-10 players and I'm sure we'll see more players breaking into the top-10 and top-20.

Q Tell us a bit about initiation to badminton – who did you first train under ?
I started my career when I was 10 at a summer camp at the LB Stadium under late Nani Prasad sir and Govardhan. I moved to the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy when it started in 2006 at the Gachibowli Stadium.and since then I have been training under Pullela Gopichand (Gopi sir).

Q Do you think badminton has spread to every corner of the country – in terms of talents emerging from only a few states and not from all states?
Badminton has spread all over the nation and many youngsters are taking up badminton and the competition in India has increased at the national level.

Q What are the forthcoming tournaments you are playing?
I’m in Poland playing the Polish Open and then I will be off to Delhi next week for the India Open Super Series. I will also be playing the Singapore Open in May.
Q What are other interests you have besides playing badminton?

Whenever I have free time or off sessions, I like to play cricket and follow cricket and tennis quite a lot. I prefer to go home and spend time with family and cousins over the weekends.

Karnataka will dominate domestic cricket in coming years: Vinay Kumar

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The script unfolded near-perfectly for Vinay Kumar. The former Indian seamer hit a purple patch by captaining Karnataka to their second consecutive Ranji Trophy crown and also keeping the statisticians busy en route to taking a five-for and slamming an unbeaten century batting at number nine to help his state side pip Tamil Nadu by an innings and 217 runs in the final clash at Mumbai.
Vinay, who had a match haul of seven wickets in the final and scored a fine ton, became the first captain and second player (after Vijay Hazare) to score a century and take five wickets in a Ranji final. Vinay, who became the second Karnataka captain after Erapalli Prasanna to win the Ranji Trophy, twice last played for India against Australia at Bengaluru in November 2013. The 31-year-old Davengere-born cricketer has featured in 31 ODIs so far and played a lone Test against Australia at Perth in January 2012.

Vinay spoke in an exclusive interview.

Q. How does it feel winning back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles under your captaincy?

It feels fantastic to win the Ranji Trophy and that too, twice on the trot. The boys have showed a lot of consistency and it really helped. We have slew of all-rounders in our side who can both bat and ball – we bat deep, even our number eleven batsman can score crucial runs.

Q. Karnataka had won the Ranji Trophy last year beating Maharastra at Uppal and this time around you beat Tamil Nadu at Mumbai. What would you attribute your success to?

Our boys exuded plenty of hunger for success. All the team members kept pushing themselves and raised their performance bar. Collectively we were really good in all departments of the game. Robin Uthappa was consistency-personified, KL Rahul racked up two big hundreds, Manish Pandey also got one big ton, CM Gautam, Shreyas Gopal, Ravikumar Samarth all chipped in when it mattered. Even in the bowling department, (Sreenath) Aravind, (Abhimanyu) Mithun and (Shreyas) Gopal performed really well – all in all it has been a huge team effort.

Q. There is competition for places in the Karnataka side. It must augur well for your side.

It’s good that there is a healthy competition in the side as it keeps everyone on their toes. Every player knows he has to keep performing and it benefited the side immensely.

Q. Karun Nair slammed a magnificent 328 in the final against Tamil Nadu. Your thoughts.

Karun has been through a lean run this season initially, but really dished out a superb knock in the final. He is a talented bloke and I’m sure he will soon make his international debut like KL Rahul did some months against Australia.

Q. Karnataka were in more than a spot of bother at 31 for 4 after bowling Tamil Nadu for a measly first innings score of 134 on day one. Elaborate on the massive stand between Karun Nair and KL Rahul?

We were in the soup at 31/4 with (Ravikumar) Samarth, (Shishir) Bhavane, (Robin) Uthappa and (Manish) Pandey back in the hut. Abhimanyu Mithun scored a breezy 41-ball 39, which eased the early pressure somewhat and the stage was set for the Nair-Rahul combo to orchestrate a memorable match-winning 386 six wicket partnership, which allowed us to bat Tamil Nadu out of the game on day two.

Q. Your are known more as a tailender who did not have great credentials as a batsman, but over the last few years you have worked on your batting.

It’s important to be a handy lower-order batsman across all formats in contemporary cricket. I used to start off my career as a batsman who could ball and when I came to Bengaluru to play cricket, I probably did not realize my batting potential as my bowling took centrestage and remained a bowler who could bat. I think I did not know initially how to get hundreds and easily scored nice forties, fifties and sixties.

Q. Your finished the 2014-15 Ranji season as the joint top wicket-taker alongside Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur with 48 wickets. You became the first cricketer after Vijay Hazare to score a century and take a five-for in a Ranji Trophy. Do you think such a robust performance will help you make a national comeback?

I’m always passionate my about playing for the country and I hope my Ranji performance is watched by the selectors. There is nothing like playing for the country.

Q. Karnataka have won the Ranji trophy for two consecutive seasons. Do you feel that the state cricket is in great health?

Indeed it is. The junior cricket structure in Karnataka is strong and I feel that a lot of talent will come through the ranks. I have no doubts that the state will dominate domestic cricket in the coming years.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Indian eves looking good to win Hockey World League Round 2 Tourney

The Indian women’s hockey team have dished out some ‘consistent hockey’ in the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 Tourney being played at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi. The Ritu Rani-led side has gelled as a unit and exhibited ‘cohesive hockey’ throughout the tournament. A whopping 31 goals in four games is a phenomenal achievement by the Blueskirts, who (without being unfair to them) have also been guilty of frittering away numerous scoring chances.

As Indian stop-gap hockey coach Roelant Oltmans pointed out, “No team can score of every opportunity, scoring chances will always be there and it is unfair to expect any team to make the most of every scoring opportunity.” Point taken, but like every team does, there is always room for improvement since every team looks to outwit their opponent.

Indian have hardly been ‘challenged’ in the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 Tournament. Barring the first half of their third league game against Thailand, where they were not allowed to break free – the Indians found it hard to open the scoring, although their nerves eased a lot when Amandeep Kaur finally scored in the 25th minute but not before the Thai girls made it exceedingly hard for them to score by throwing everything inside their ‘D’.

That perhaps was the only time that the Indian team management had to ‘think hard’ about their game or else, it has been pretty much smooth sailing. India began their campaign in rollicking fashion, clobbering Ghana 13-0 before downing Poland 2-0 – a game they dominated but could not add any more goals to their kitty. They rounded off their third league tie with a 6-0 win over Thailand.

The Indians made a mockery of their quarterfinal tie against Singapore handing them a 10-0 drubbing and now faces Thailand in the semifinals. The Indian forwardline has clicked with Vandana Katariya leading the way with 10 goals, including two hat-tricks.

All and said done, it is safe to assume that the Indian eves are looking good to win the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 Tourney. At least, if their hitherto performance is anything to go by, it is difficult to believe that this 13th ranked side can be halted in their tracks by any other team.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interview: Enjoy my rivalry with Somdev: Ramakumar Ramanathan

He has injected a fresh dose of excitement into Indian tennis, which has struggled to churn out names that can be seen doing great things for the country. Ramkumar Ramanathan is increasingly being talked about as the player to watch out for future – the 20-year-old Chennai lad made a phenomenal climb in rankings to break into the top-250, occupying the 211th position last November.

Ramkumar, who is under a scholarship scheme with the Gas Authority of India (GAIL), has been training in Spain over the past few years. The 6-foot-2-inch youngster first shot into prominence when he stunned the country’s top ranked player Somdev Devvarman at the 2014 Chennai Open and again defeated him at the recent Kolkata Open. Ramkumar talked on a range of topics concerning tennis in an exclusive interview.

Q You had a significant ranking leap in 2014 as you broke into the top-250. What would you attribute to your superb run last year?
I have really worked hard on my game and I think the results are on account of that. I strived for consistency, always looking to raise the improvement bar and pretty chuffed with the way things have panned out for me. Tennis is all about having the right attitude backed by skill sets. Possessing the right attitude holds the key.

Q You have been training in Spain for the past four years. Tell us a bit about your stint over there?

I first went to Spain and spent three months over there. In the subsequent years, I have spent most part of the year over there and only came to India for my exams. I have worked under various coaches like Emilo Sanchez, Sergio Casal and Juan Balcells. The good thing about my training stint in Spain is that I don’t have to waste much time in travelling as my place of stay and training is the same, which allows me to focus on my game alone. I train for seven hours (gym and playing sessions) a day except for Sunday. My fitness has also improved in Spain. The Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) along with IMG has supported me all these years and I owe a lot to them besides my dad, who has sacrificed a lot to see me emerge as a solid tennis player.

Q You first came into the limelight when you upset India’s top-ranked player Somdev Devvarman at the 2014 Aircel Chennai Open. You again beat him at the recent Kolkata Open Challenger Event. How do you look at your rivalry with him?
He is a great bloke and has done well for the country. I enjoy my rivalry with Somdev and I respect him for all he has achieved for the country.

Q Your are now ranked 257 in the world. When can we see you break into the top-100?
Look, it is difficult to set a time-frame as things can be unpredictable on court. You never know it can happen very soon – who knows I may have a great run in a big event which can boost my rankings – it is also possible that it may take a few seasons for me to break into the top-100.

Q India’s Davis Cup non-playing captain Anand Amritraj says you are the ‘rising star of Indian tennis’. What’s your take?
I’m glad that he thinks highly of me, but at the same time there is plenty of room for improvement. I have done well to reach where I am now, but there is a long way to go. I will keep working hard and stay focused.

Q Chennai has a rich tennis legacy. The likes of Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan have served the country with distinction. It is after so many years that Chennai has found in you who can take the legacy forward.
All these guys you have mentioned were stalwarts. As I said, I have a long path to tread and for now I’m just looking to keep improving and move up in the rankings.

Q How do you assess the state of Indian tennis?

Well, a lot of talented juniors are coming through and I’m sure with the right support, they can do well for the country.

Q What are the upcoming tournaments you are taking part?
I will be departing for Spain later this month, just waiting for the visa to be through. I will be playing in quite a few Challengers in Spain alongside my training stint over there.

Q Tennis players have a hectic schedule. How do you unwind when you are not playing tennis?
I like to read books and prefer playing play poker online!

Analysis: Did England deserve to be shunted out of World Cup early?

Every World Cup would have its fair share of ‘shockers’ and England being shown ‘the 2015 ICC World Cup exit door’ by Bangladesh has to be without a shadow of doubt the ‘biggest stunner’ of the marquee event. A team that have reached the World Cup final four times and settled for a bridesmaid finish each time – was never expected to endure such an ignominy despite the lean trot they have been enduring in recent times. What could have gone wrong with England at the World Cup? Did their preparations for a tournament as huge as the World Cup go the desired way? Was the team selection faulty? Questions like these stare us on our face.

First and foremost, the axing of regular ODI skipper Alastair Cook just two months before the World Cup was something the English selectors could have done without. How often do we see a regular ODI captain being not just stripped of his captaincy as well as of his place barely months before the World Cup, with the baton handed over to another southpaw Eoin Morgan? Cook hasn’t done himself any good with his prolonged slump in form but how did it vindicate Morgan’s elevation to the hot seat considering his equally ‘not so happening’ batting form? The selectors did miss a trick or two by opting for a new skipper just two months before the World Cup, which demanded one question: did the ECB and the selectors treated the World Cup seriously or did they just merely went through the motions of picking a squad like they do for any other international series. Clearly, the impression one got was that the move reeked off a lack of planning and serious intent to put their best foot forward preparation-wise for the big-ticket event.

Another factor that let England badly down was the appalling run of captain Eoin Morgan. Every team derives inspiration in a captain leading from the front and in Morgan, England found someone, who was struggling to get runs, let alone dominate their batting department. The southpaw began the World Cup with a duck against Australia, before coming up with scores of 17, 46, 27 and followed with another duck in their must-win game against Bangladesh - his batting failures dented England’s morale and aspirations in the World Cup.

Not just Morgan, England appeared like a sloppy handwritten book with no player foisting it upon himself to take the fight to the opposition barring some flashes of brilliance here and there. Ian Bell was the only batsman, who looked consistent throughout the World Cup with scores of 36, 8, 54, 49, 63 – of course this sequence of scores may sound good for the record books but England needed much more from an experienced campaigner like him – England wanted someone like Bell to drop anchor at one and tough it out playing the big knocks and not exit to the pavilion after making promising forties, fifties and sixties.

Joe Root has been England’s best batsman over the last twelve months and showed that in ample measure when he slammed a fine century against Sri Lanka besides standing tall amidst the ruins in their big loss against New Zealand. James Taylor and Mooen Ali did play a few handy knocks, but lack of consistency of these guys bereft England batting of any firepower needed to punch holes in the opposition game plans. Gary Balance was the biggest flop in their batting unit, much ahead of skipper Morgan, scoring a measly 46 runs off four games before being asked to warm the reserves bench in the crucial tie against Bangladesh. Seriously speaking, England’s batting was principally responsible for their shameful early World Cup exit - not that their bowlers deserve copious praise.

The bowling unit was ragged and it meant if their batters provided a veneer of respectability to the team’s score, the bowlers undid that with some slipshod stuff. Take for instance the England-Sri Lanka game – a match where English bowlers managed to take just one wicket while defending a score of 309. The seasoned duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad were pedestrian for most part and purely featured in all five games on past reputation. Anderson struggled to get a wicket in the first two games, while Broad also cut a disappointing figure. Between them, Anderson and Broad picked up seven wickets from five games, which just tell you England’s bowling woes. The question one needs to ask is: why were the duo of Anderson and Broad persisted with if they were out of form. Steven Finn and Chris Woakes performed much better than the two new ball operators – this is where the team management blundered – they needed to take some tough decisions and not just bank on past laurels of players.

In trying to get a perspective about England’s ODI performance, it is important to understand that it’s not as if something has suddenly gone awry for them. Statistics do tell a story. Going into the 2015 World Cup, England had made losing a habit they found it hard to get rid off. Prior to the World Cup, England had lost 26 of its 31 ODI matches, a fair assessment how the beginning of their ODI decline started in 2014. England were soundly beaten by Australia 1-4 after the Ashes mauling – they subsequent lost a five match ODI series to Sri Lanka 2-3, they also lost to India 1-3, followed by another 2-5 series loss to Sri Lanka in the latter’s backyard.

The biggest kneejerk reaction to a shocking defeat of a fancied side in the World Cup is to ensure heads roll – in this case skipper Eoin Morgan and coach Peter Moores are under the criticism scanner. But the point is: how is England going to rebound from this low and show the cricketing world that they are not finished as an ODI side? Only time will tell!


Monday, March 9, 2015

Bangladesh fast shedding ‘minnows’ tag

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Every dog has its day goes the saying and the Bangladesh cricket team cannot be fault for thinking that their day under the sun or should I say under floodlights has finally come! Ever since the Bangla Tigers were inducted into the cauldron of international cricket, they have been at the receiving end of lop-sided defeats, which bordered on morale-pounding kind far removed from the confidence-injecting triumphs, which would spur on bigger things.

There was always a lurking feeling that the Bangladesh team was teeming with flair and promise, but a lot of times they have only contrived to exude a ‘flatter to deceive’ feeling. Over the years, Bangladesh has churned out the likes of Mohammed Ashraful (his singlehanded demotion of mighty Australia in one game in England is still remembered fondly) and Mohammed Rafique, who were talked about in glowing terms – it’s a different matter that the former didn’t quite realized his potential, while the latter served his country with distinction.

Somehow, Bangladesh never seemed to have a coterie of five-six solid players, who on their day can inflict serious damage on the opposition irrespective of whether it was a world number one side or any other top side. Over the past few years, there is strong criticism about the Bangladesh side that was heavily reliant on one Shakib Al Hasan, who is not just a fluent strokemaker, a brilliant fielder and more than a handy left-arm spinner. Without mincing words, one felt that Shakib had to do everything by himself for Bangladesh to look competitive against any frontline side. We have seen on umpteen occasions Shakib performing the ‘rescue act’ for Bangladesh be it a Test match or a one-day game either with the bat or ball. Bangladesh also has another hugely talented Tamin Iqbal, who would occasionally fire befitting his reputation (we all remember his Test ton at Lord’s) much to the frustration of his team.

The perspective one is trying to draw is that Bangladesh never had the batting and bowling units to threaten top sides, though there are signs that this team was getting closer towards fast shedding the tag of ‘minnows’. The 2015 World Cup saw a vastly transformed Bangladesh side, which got hunger instilled in their ranks to push the envelope and make other sides realize that their days of being minnows are close to being over.

Bangladesh’s epochal victory over England on Monday, which saw the latter out of the World Cup has was a statement-making one – a realization that top sides cannot afford to take them lightly. Shakib Al Hasan, one man Bangladesh counts on to fire every time missed out against England and despite that Bangladesh were able to amass a decent score in excess of 270- thanks largely to a fine century by Mahmudullah, who has grown in stature over the past few years, having played the second fiddle to the likes of Shakib and Tamim. Former skipper and gloveman Mushfiqur Rahim, who started off as a grafter, accumulating the ones and twos with a occasionally boundary, now seems to have armed himself with more strokes in his repertoire than ever before. The sight of Mushfiqur unleashing the big shots effectively is a novelty for all of us – his batting has rapidly improved, especially in the last couple of years.

Skipper Mashrafe Mortaza has been an able soldier for the team over the years, despite a plethora of injuries dogging his cricketing career. Mortaza was perhaps the only bowler, who used to clock speeds in excess of 140 kmph for some years, as most others were gentle medium-pacers who could be only expected to do the containment job at best of times rather than blast batters out.

This current side has the duo of Rubel Hossain and 19-year-old Taskin Ahmed, who touch excess of 140 kmph with ease and can make things difficult for the opposition with their pace and swing movement – the delivery by Taskin that prised out a well-set Jos Butler would aptly sum it up. Rubel showed a lot of maturity first accounting for vastly experienced Ian Bell before polishing off the English tail to trigger joyous celebrations in the Bangladesh camp.

This Bangladesh side appears more ‘complete’ than ever and does not easily get overawed by the reputation of other teams and are armed with brimming self-belief that enables them to compete without bothering about the outcome of a match. Expecting Bangladesh to go beyond the quarterfinals would sound slightly over the top, but any team that is going to underestimate them as minnows will have to pay a heavy price as this side thrive being underdogs.

India’s Azlan Shah camp begins on March 15

The Indian senior men’s hockey team players will assembly in New Delhi for the preparatory camp for the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which begins at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. As many as 33 probables will be put through the paces under the watchful eyes of newly-installed national coach Paul van Ass and his support staff.
The national players had a good match practice in the third Hero Hockey India League turning out for different franchises and had a three-week rest before they hit the practice drills once again. The camp is expected to be held till April 1 – the day the team departs for Ipoh on April 3 – the Sultan Azlan Shah Cupbbbll begins from April 5 and runs till April 12.
Besides India this year’s edition features defending champions Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Korea and hosts Malaysia, who interestingly have never won this event, having finished runners-up twice on the trot in the 2013 and 2014 editions. South Africa was another team that was supposed to be part of the 2015 edition but backed out at the eleventh hour.

Thornton to take charge of Indian eves on March 11

The Indian women’s hockey team’s newly-appointed foreign coach Anthony Thornton will take up his new job on March 11. Thornton, a member of the Black Sticks team that finished eighth at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, will replace Australian Neil Hawgood, who had stepped down after more than a two-year stint to take up a consultant job with the Malaysian hockey team.
Thornton will have to carry on the good work done by Hawgood, during whose stint the Indian eves bagged a bronze at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games besides winning a bronze in the 2013 Asia Cup. It was under Hawgood that, the Indian eves won a historic bronze in the 2013 Junior World Cup in Monchenladbach, Germany.

The 47-year-old has been working with the New South Wales Institute of Sports in Australia over the past four years and has also worked with the Australian Under-21 men’s team as its head coach.

Thornton, who outsmarted Canada’s Mathias Ahrens and Fabian Gregory of South Africa for the coach job, is giving the ongoing FIH Hero Hockey World League Round 2 Event a miss as he needed adequate time to secure release from his present employers.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rohit Sharma really needs to step it up!

Rohit played an air-fairy shot against Pakistan, which brought about his exit. He appeared to essay a premeditated shot when Sohail Khan’s delivery got big on him even as he tried to execute a pull shot on the front foot. Thankfully his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan blazed away against Pakistan, which eased India’s concerns at the top of the order.
It is so easy to paint a bright picture about the Indian team at the World Cup. After all, four wins and an unbeaten run will point to an ‘all is fine’ kind of feeling around the team. There is no doubt that the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led side has exuded plenty of resilience after a poor tri-series outing – not many would have expected India to win all of their first four games – three of the opponents being the tougher opponents of the group.

Not to take away any credit from Dhoni’s men, but one has to say that there are areas that the Indian team should still like to address. Opener Rohit Sharma’s ‘up and down’ form will be a concern for India. Of course, he got an unbeaten half-century paving the winning chase against UAE, but otherwise hasn’t done much with the willow in the World Cup.
The Mumbai lad faltered against South Africa courtesy a daft run out after being caught out of his crease even as Dhawan nudged one to the covers. The fact that Shikhar Dhawan blasted a whirlwind hundred against South Africa ensured India did not feel the pinch of Rohit’s early dismissal there either.
The consistent lapses in concentration continued against West Indies – he played away from the body to a superb Jerome Taylor delivery which hit the good length area and swung away late. One hoped Rohit would take the opportunity from Shikhar’s miss on the day, but he flattered to deceive.

If one takes a close look at India’s batting unit, most of the other guys have been among the runs. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni overcame his lack of runs going into the World Cup with a convincing match-winning knock against West Indies.
Virat Kohli has been in fine fettle and so is Ajinkya Rahana, who essayed a sublime seventy-odd against South Africa. Even Suresh Raina, who has been under the scanner for his inability to fire on bouncy Australian strips, came into his own against Pakistan and seems to be well prepared to overcome whatever is thrown at him by opposition bowlers.

Skipper Dhoni may not have acknowledged that Rohit is a concern area for India, but he hasn’t needed to because the team is on a roll. It’s only in the crunch games in the knockout phases where such inconsistency from Rohit can cost his team dearly. From the Indian perspective, one hopes the opener rises up to the challenges in the upcoming few games and provides at least one meaningful contribution at the top of the order.

You just cannot write off the unpredictable Pakistanis!

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Unpredictability has always been synonymous with the Pakistan cricket team over the years. On one day, they can be just brilliant and on another day they can be absolutely poor. The world cricket has learned to accept the unpredictable ways of the men in green. The Misbal-ul-Haq-led Pakistan side were pitted in a tough pool alongside the likes of defending champions India, South Africa and West Indies. Lack of consistent international exposure has hit Pakistan cricket hard over the years and with no foreign team touring Pakistan citing security concerns and opting to play in neutral venues like the UAE.

Pakistan team is far from having a ‘settled’ look with too much of chopping and changing happening on a regular basis. The team is bereft of quality of the team that won the 1992 World Cup and is probably banking on a few guys to do the job. Skipper Misbah and Shahid Afridi are now ageing and with no youngster really stamping their authority in the side, the going is always going to be stern for Pakistan. Given this backdrop, the Pakistan suffered a listless opening game defeat against arch-rivals India and later against West Indies, which put them under severe pressure. They were given a scare by Zimbabwe before romping home – their first win of the tournament. The win injected some dose of confidence in the side as they went on to pip the UAE and the best of all – stunning tournament favourites South Africa in
Auckland to literally assure their quarterfinal berth.

Although Pakistan’s fightback in the World Cup was crystal clear, the team haven’t shown signs that they are playing as a unit. Skipper Misbah has been in prime form with four half-centuries – most by any batter in the World Cup and if you take him out of the equation there is not much to write home about the Pakistan batting department. Ahmed Shehzad has looked good but hasn’t been able to get the big knocks, which would release the pressure on their middle-order. In fact, the opening slot has been a concern for Pakistan with southpaw Nasir Jamshed going through the horrors in the three games he played and was replaced by wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed, who scored a breezy 49 opening the innings against South Africa and later gobbled six catches to bag the Man of the Match award. Ukmar Akmal also hasn’t fired as the team management would have desired and hopefully being released from keeping duties (Sarfaraz kept wickets against South Africa) will allow him to focus more on his batting.

Pakistan fans will be happy with the resolve the team have shown in the last three games, but it will not be easy for their batting department going into the knockout phase as there is overreliance on Misbah to hold fort. Veteran Shahid Afridi has a key role to play – he can come with those lethal cameos as well as chip in with handy wickets with the ball.

It’s the Pakistan bowling which has really come off well. The seven-footer left-arm Mohammed Irfan has troubled all batsmen with his awkward bounce and movement and it is not surprising why batters are struggling to get on top of it. Another left-armer Wahab Riaz has also hit a purple patch with the ball and even with the bat, scoring his maiden ODI fifty. Rahat Ali also made an impression against South Africa in Auckland.

Maybe Pakistan’s batting can take a lesson or two from their bowlers – the way the likes of Irfan and Wahab have stood up to the challenges. We all know that Pakistan can be a dangerous side and upset the applecart of any side on their side. They seriously need to fix their batting unit and if they manage to do it, they would give all teams a run for their money.