Friday, September 25, 2015

Women boxers exude ray of hope amidst the odds!

It’s not just the Indian men boxers, who are bearing the brunt of the headless federation (worth recalling the AIBA appointed ad-hoc committee has been entrusted with the responsibility of finding a group to run the sport in the country) – even our women boxers have been at the receiving end of lack of international competitions-cum training sessions that used to be a regular feature when the sport was run by a fully fledged federation.

Given all the administrative roadblocks the Indian women boxers have shown that ‘off-ring developments’ are no way going to hamper what they dish out in the ring. The Indian women pugilists turned in an impressive performance in the 2015 Asian Boxing Championship held in Wulanchabu, China, bagging six medals – one silver and five bronze medals. Saweety Boora won the silver in the 81 kg category, while Sarjubala Devi (48 kg), Meena Kumari (54kg), Pwilao Basumatary (57kg), Pooja Rani (75 kg) and Seema Poonia(81+kg) cornered a bronze medal each.

India had the second highest number of boxers (six) in the semifinal stage only behind hosts China, who had eight boxers in the last four stage and ahead of countries like South Korea, Kazakhstan and Uzbeskistan – which speaks volumes about the gritty showing of our pugilists. Indian women boxers earlier had a great run in the 2015 President’s Cup, with Sarjubala Devi (48 kg) and Pinki Jangra (51 kg) winning gold – as they were crowned overall champions for the first time.

Things may not be rosy administrative-wise, but on the ring Indian women boxers have shown that they have the ammunition to surprise many at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “All our women boxers are quite talented – they had a good run in the 2015 Asian Boxing Championship. Saweeta did well to reach the final of the 81 kg and even Sarjubala, Pooja, Meena, Pwilao and Seema also performed well,” says Indian women’s boxing coach Anoop Kumar.

However, all this solid performances will not count for much as the 2016 Rio Olympics only has three medals on offer for lightweight, flyweight and middleweight. More importantly, iconic boxer MC Mary Kom will have to fight off the likes of highly talented Sarjubala Devi and Pinki Jangra for the 51 kg category. Anoop, a former national-level boxer, who has been with the Indian women boxing team since 2001, believes problem of plenty is not a bad thing for Indian women. “It’s good to have two-three boxers pushing each another for one slot. It is too early to talk about who stands better chance of qualifying for the Olympics,” he quips.

Dhoni never interferes in team selection matters, gives us free hand, says Ranchi Rays’ coach Harendra Singh

Defending champions Ranchi Rays have always been the team to beat in the Hero Hockey India League – the sheer tenacity of the side have invariably come to the fore in the earlier editions of the HIL. The Harendra Singh-coached Ranchi franchises made some ‘well calculated moves’ prior to the auction retaining some of its key players (Ashley Jackson, Barry Middleton, Fergus Kavanagh, Manpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra and Kothajit Singh) as well as during Thursday’s auction, snapping up discarded Indian drag-flicker Sandeep Singh for $81,000 besides plumbing for a plethora of talented youngsters fully convinced that these bunch of young turks have it in them to ‘do the job’ in the 2016 HIL. “We tried to bid for Rupinder Pal Singh but could not as Delhi Waveriders bought him for $68,000. We needed another solid drag-flicker in case our captain Ashley Jackson has a bad day in office or sustain any injury. Sandeep has been a prolific from the short corners and his high conversion rate in the HIL will further shore up our side,” says Ranchi Rays coach Harendra Singh.

Harendra, of course, enjoys a ‘competitive advantage’ over most other coaches – being the national junior men’s team coach means he knows most junior boys inside out, which will work in Ranchi Rays’ favour. “We have picked some talented juniors, who will do well in the HIL. Look for Sumit Kumar – he is quite talented – the likes of Akash Chitke, Simranjeet Singh and Imran Khan exude immense promise. We also wanted to buy Amit Rohidas but lost out to Kalinga Lancers. The great thing about this auction is that a lot of players who are not even part of the national camp have been bought at more than a decent price. It shows franchises have high hopes from these youngsters,” he puts his perspective.

Harendra, who has also served the Indian senior men’s team for a brief while, believes Rays have the right blend of youth and experience to retain the HIL crown in 2016. “I think we have the right balance we are looking for. In Ashley Jackson and Barry Middleton we have two guys who can push forward as well as play in defence or midfield and take a lot of workload off from the rest of the guys. We have two good Aussie midfielders – Timothy Deavin and Daniel Beale – our defence and midfield are strong. Our team is ready to retain the crown in 2016,” he sounds bullish.

What about Ranchi Rays’ co-owner Mahendra Singh Dhoni – is he is anyway involved in the process of whom to pick and whom not to pick? “Dhoni is a fantastic co-owner. He never interferes in the team selection matters and gives us a free run to run the affairs. He even tells the boys to give their best and not worry much about the result as the former is in one’s hand and not the latter,” he concludes.

2016 IBL – Just what the doctor ordered for Indian badminton

Indian badminton has been ‘consistently’ making the newspaper headlines for all the ‘performance’ reasons. It won’t be a sweeping statement to suggest that the badminton scene in the country is probably at its best with our shuttlers showing ample signs of holding their own against the best in the business, be it in singles or doubles. And the timing of Badminton Association of India’s (BAI) announcement of the second Indian Badminton League (IBL) happening in January 2016 must be a ‘big lift’ for the sport.

It was a bit like ‘early promise that never blossomed’ when it comes to the IBL – the league was launched amidst much fanfare in August 2013 and just when the league was seen as a ‘significant leap’ in the fortunes of the sport in the country, it was greeted by roadblocks one after another. It was almost like the event was jinxed.

The IBL was talked about as the potential cash cow for our shuttlers, who otherwise apart from their secure government jobs, don’t have much to look forward to in terms of cash awards unless they do really well in major competitions – which is always a tough ask.

For a country, that stands tall on the world stage with the likes of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth, HS Pranoy, Ajay Jayaram, B Sai, Praneeth, Mannu Attri/B Sumedh Reddy and Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Poonappa regularly making all sit and take notice of their performances, the 2nd IBL will sound like music to their years.

And with promise of more money and glamour for the 2016 edition, the IBL will set to be the best ever with Chennai expected to replace Pune as one of the franchises as BAI strongly feels that one state should have only one franchise. “Players will be keen to make a mark in the 2nd IBL. It is being held after nearly three years and our shuttlers will get a great platform not to just improve their game but also earn good money,” said a BAI official.

Clearly, the 2016 IBL is making all badminton buffs excited!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Aim to beat more top ranked shuttlers: Ajay Jayaram

Ajay Jayaram is feeling ‘great’ after his resounding performance in the recent Korean Open Super Series Event, where he pulled off a string of upsets to reach the final before finishing second best to world number one Chen Long. The 27-year-old Mumbai lad, who trains in Bangalore-based Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy under English coach Tom John, is optimistic about climbing up the ranking ladder. Ajay, who is now focusing on the upcoming European circuit, spoke in an exclusive interview.


Q How would you sum up your maiden Super Series final at the Korean Open?

It’s a great feeling to be in a Super Series final and playing against the world number one shuttler only accentuated its importance. I did not play badly in the final even though I lost in straight games. I think I made some unforced errors and could not quite maintain the sustained pressure that is needed to match a player of Chen Long’s calibre. He was relentless throughout, hopefully I will have better plans for him the next time I face him.

Q You essayed a string of upsets at the Korean Open – your straight games win over world No 7 Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei in the semifinal and your first round win over world no. 6 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark must have really special.
I really cherish these wins – Chen had beaten me twice this year and I had beaten him a few times earlier and obviously playing him number of times helped me this time around. I was better prepared and was glad to put it across him. I think both were highly satisfying wins. I believe I was a lot more patient and solid at the net in the semifinals against Chou Tien Chen. Beating higher ranked players is always a boost for any player and I’m no exception.

Q You are currently ranked 32 in the world. Surely, the fabulous run at the Korean Open will help up move up the ranking ladder.
I am hoping to break into the top-25. My career-best singles ranking is 21 and going forward I will back myself to beat more top players and improve my rankings.

Q The 2016 Rio Olympics will have two men’s singles entrants from India – how bullish are you sealing your berth with the kind of form you are in at the moment?
To be honest, I’m not thinking about the Olympics for now. I just want to continue pulling off wins against top players and everything will fall in place. 

Q You had battled with prolonged injuries for most part of 2014 and this year as well.

I had a shoulder surgery last year and was out of competitive action for a long time. I only played a few months in 2014 and this year I had sustained an abdomen injury in May-June and missed a few tournaments. Injuries can set you back as rankings take a toll. Hoping to stay injury-free although injuries are not in one’s control.

Q How much of your success would you owe it to your coach Tom John?
I owe my success to him as he was the one who pushed me when I was down. He kept encouraging me and that worked wonders for me.

Q The Indian Badminton League (2016) is expected to be held in 2016. Your thoughts.
The IBL is a great concept and I have no doubts that Indian badminton will richly benefit from it.

Q India badminton have consistently seen six-seven shuttlers in the top-50 of the men’s singles – does it say something about the rising popularity of the sport?
Of course this is a great time for Indian badminton. Indian shuttlers have been coming up with great wins every now and then and it just shows how youngsters are taking to badminton in a big way.

Monday, September 21, 2015

FIBA Asia Championship: Indian men cagers have their task cut out

Indian basketball has attracted a lot of bad press in recent months thanks to two feuding rival factions competing over whom who will run the sport in the country and FIBA’s recognition to the K Govindraj-faction breathed some life into the sport in the country as things started limping back to normalcy.

Much to the relief of the country’s basketball lovers, the focus has shifted to on-court developments – the latest being the Indian men’s basketball team gearing up to take on the might of reigning champions Iran, Japan and Malaysia in the 28th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship beginning in Changsha, China from Wednesday. The national team has a new head coach in Sat Prakash Yadav, a former player and former national women national team coach. The Indian is coming off a strenuous training camp at Nitte, near Mangalore in Karnataka, and is now looking to put their best forward in the upcoming 28th edition. “The team has worked really hard at the camp in Nitte. We are confident of doing well in the 28th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship. We know Iran and Japan are tough opponents in our pool but we will give our best shot,” Indian player Yadwinder Singh said on the eve of the team’s departure. Led by vastly experienced Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the team will bank heavily on the duo of Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh – who have been playing professionally in Japan's D-League. India, of course, will miss the services of 19-year-old Satnam Singh Bhamara, who earlier this year became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA but chose to focus on developing his club career instead of wearing the national jersey.

The Indian men’s basketball haven’t had a great run in the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship in recent years, finishing the outside the top-ten in last five editions – they last attained a top-10 finish in the 2003 and 2001 editions, where they finished 8th each time. India have never made it to the top-six of this event for twenty-seven years now since last finishing 6th in the 1989 edition at Beijing. Interestingly, India used to regularly feature in the top-7 in the initial years of the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship, which started in 1960 – India missed the first two editions and made their debut in the 1965 edition in Kuala Lumpur, where they settled for the 7th spot. It was Kuala Lumpur, where India made their best-ever finish taking the 4th spot. India have finished 5th thrice in the 1969 edition in Bangkok, 1979 edition in Nagoya and 1983 edition in Kolkata. The odds are clearly stacked against the Indian men’s team but the kind of talent they possess, one can expect them to improve on their 11th place finish in the 2013 edition in Manila and even pull off a top-10 finish for the first time since 2003 or probably spring even bigger surprises.

‘There is not much joy in fighting under AIBA flag’

One thing that comes out from a confabulation with India’s top middleweight boxer Vikas Krishan Yadav is that he likes to call spade a spade. The 23-year-old pugilist is hardly showing any glint of happiness despite being the only Indian to win a silver medal in the recent Asian Boxing Championship in Bangkok. And his reasons are crystal clear. “There is not much joy in winning a medal when you see the AIBA flag go up during the medal presentation ceremony of any international event. Winning a medal for the country and seeing the Indian flag go up gives you much more joy and then to see the AIBA flag go up,” he says in a freewheeling chat.

The Bhiwani lad, who also got married early and has two sons, agrees it was his below par performance that plotted his downfall in the middleweight final against Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev in the recent Asian Boxing Championship – a bout he lost 0-2. “Bektemir is a tough opponent no doubt but then I was not at my best in the final bout. I was overconfident and that led to my downfall. I can surely beat him the next time I face him, just that I have to be at my best,” he says matter-of-factly.

Given the current scenario of a headless federation coupled with administrative turmoil, Vikas has no doubts that the number of boxers for the 2016 Rio Olympics will be lesser than the 2012 London Olympics. “Look at how many international competitions we played. Since the 2014 Asian Games we were starved of any international event for around eight-nine months until we played in a tourney in Doha and now this Asian Championships. Just two events in nearly a year is something not what we want. At the most, we can have four-five boxers for Rio Olympics. We desire more training-cum-competition sessions overseas, I’m having one in Kazakshtan but we need more,” he vents his frustration at the current state of affairs.

The talented youngster, who made all sit up and take notice of him when he won the gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games, says he will throw all his might in bagging an Olympic medal. “I will strain every nerve to win a gold medal for the country at the 2016 Rio Olympics. I hope the AIBA ban on the Indian federation is lifted in the next few months and we can see the national flag go up at Rio,” he asserts.

Clearly, India’s best Olympic medal hope after Vijender Singh turned pro, has indeed raised the bar for himself in pursuit of doing the nation proud.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why Indian pugilists will find it hard to ensure bigger representation in 2016 Olympics?

The International Boxing Federation’s (IBF) move to allocate 43 Olympic quota places through the World Series of Boxing has made it ‘exceedingly tough’ for boxers angling for berths in the 2016 Rio Olympics. It effectively means that Olympic qualifying slots through the AIBA World Championships have been significantly reduced. For the last Olympics in 2012, boxers merely had to make it to the quarterfinals of the AIBA World Championships and seal their Olympic berths as eight boxers made the cut from each weight category. The start of the World Series of Boxing and AIBA’s decision to reserve 43 Olympic quota places from this event has made the challenge of qualifying for the Olympic even stiffer than before.

India had fielded seven boxers in the 2012 London Olympics and expecting the same number of boxers in the 2016 Rio Olympics will be ‘asking for too much’ when one factors in the non-availability of iconic Vijender Singh, who turned pro. The recent Asian Boxing Championship was a first instance of how our pugilists scrambled to seal their World Championship berths. Take the case of Manoj Kumar and Manpreet Singh – they had lost in the quarterfinals and only qualified for the World Championships because the opponents they lost to in the quarterfinals went on to reach the final – a new rule, bit like wrestling where a grappler gets to play in the repechage round if the opponents he loses to goes on to reach the final. The change in norms by AIBA will ensure only a few boxers will qualify for Olympics through the World Championships unlike earlier times when a quarterfinal finish guaranteed an Olympic spot. “I will tell you why boxers will find it really hard to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Unlike the last Olympics, when merely reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championships was enough to seal an Olympic berth, this time around it will get even stiffer. For 49,52 and 81 kg categories, only the gold and silver medal winner will qualify for Olympics, for five categories 56,60,64,69 and 75 categories only gold, silver and bronze winners will qualify and for 91 and +91 categories only the winners qualify for the Olympics. You can well imagine how tough it is going to be,” says Indian boxing head coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.

The rules clearly indicate that a boxer may enter the semifinals of the World Championships and may still not qualify for the Olympics. However, Sandhu believes all is not lost if boxers do not make the Olympic cut through the World Championships. “If our boxers don’t qualify from the World Championships, where getting a medal is so tough, they have two more qualifying tournaments next year to make the Olympic cut. Because there is so much competition for places qualifying through the other two events won’t be a piece of cake,” says Sandhu.

Taking everything into consideration, how many boxers will India have in the 2016 Olympics? “Boxing is an unpredictable sport. At the recent Asian Meet the top Uzbek boxer lost in the quarterfinals of the 75 kg category. Anything can happen on a given day and we see a lot of bouts where a boxer wins by the skin of his teeth. Boxers will take confidence from their performance in the Asian Championship and keep working hard for the World Championships, Olympics amongst other tourneys,” he makes his point.

The rule changes are an impediment for India as it will require a superhuman effort to earn an Olympic spot from the 43 quotas reserved for WSB. Let’s hope our boxers tide over the new rule challenges and come out all guns blazing.

Interview: Taking over from Mary Kom will be exciting and challenging: Sarjubala Devi

There is little doubt that boxing lovers will hear a lot about Sarjubala Devi in the coming years – her precocious talents have always come to the fore whenever she made the most of the ‘limited’ opportunities she got to represent the country as she was forced on the sidelines in the light flyweight category over the last few years largely owing to the presence of her idol MC Mary Kom. The 22-year-old Manipuri girl, who won a silver medal in the 2014 World Championships – her first senior international tournament is gearing up for bigger things. Daughter of a water tanker driver, the diminutive pugilist, who has won the senior nationals twice so far, is current training in Kerala. Nicknamed ‘Punching Machine’ by her coaches, Sarjubala spoke in an exclusive interview.

Q You are considered the next big thing in Indian women’s boxing after iconic MC Mary Kom. Your thoughts.

I really don’t know about the expectations from the boxing lovers of the country, but Mary didi is my role model and it is because of her exploits in the ring that I got inspired to take up boxing way in 2004 in Imphal.

Q You box in the light flyweight category (45-48 kg), which is not an Olympic weight category as summer Olympics has only three categories.

Well, I’m trying to do my best in the light flyweight category and have been winning medals for the country whenever I have got an opportunity. I won the gold in the 2015 President’s Cup in Indonesia as well as a bronze medal in the 2015 Asian Championships in China. As for Olympics, I will take it as it comes.

Q The 2016 AIBA World’ Women Boxing Championship will be held in February – the event assumes extra significance as it serves as a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics?

I will certainly taking part in the selection trials for the 2016 Olympics despite knowing that Mary didi and Pinki Jangra have a better qualifying chance than me. At least, I can gain experience from the trials as my main focus is on winning a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics.

Q Mary Kom has said that she will quit competitive boxing after 2016 Olympics as she wants to focus on coaching youngsters in Manipur.

Mary didi has achieved so much for India and I know I will get a lot more opportunities in my weight category once she retires. I hope I can carry forward her exploits in this weight category in future.

Q You won the 2011 World Youth Championship in Turkey and did not get opportunities at the senior level due to the presence of Mary Kom and you won a silver medal in the 2014 AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship in Korea.

It is easy to get frustrated but I took all this ‘waiting’ positively because Mary didi is my idol and how can one feel bad about one’s idol. I have huge respect for her and I have learnt a lot during this period. Taking over from a champion will be exciting and challenging.

Q You beat Nazym Kyzaibay of
Kazakhstan in the final of the 2011 World Youth Championship in Turkey – a girl who beat you in the final of the 2014 AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship and denied you a gold medal.

I think Nazym Kyzaibay got more international exposure than me as I kept waiting on the sidelines. She won the bronze medal at the 2012 AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship. I beat her at the 2011 World Youth Championship but at the 2014 AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship I thought she was better prepared than me with the kind of international experience she gained.

Q As a boxer what do you think are your strengths and weakness?

I think my power-packed punches are my strong points and even my coaches call me a ‘Punching Machine’. As for weakness, I don’t have a great height and always have to work extra hard against boxers who are taller.

Q Tell us about your family?

My father works as a driver of a water tanker in Imphal – I have one younger sister who expired a few years back and one brother. I want my boxing to keep them happy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hard work, experience key to World Championship success: Narsingh Yadav

He has been tirelessly slogging the hard yards in pursuit of a World Championship medal. September 12, 2015 will always remain a special day for Narsingh Pancham Yadav, who scooped up a bronze medal in 74 kg freestyle wrestling category at the 2015 World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas. For someone, who was making his fourth World Championship appearance, and never gone beyond the second round, his stellar effort shows he is perhaps in the form of his life. The 26-year-old Maharastra Police DSP spoke in an exclusive interview.


Q How does it feel winning a bronze medal in the World Wrestling Championship in the freestyle 74 kg category – the country’s first in this category since Ramesh Kumar garnered a bronze in the 2009 World Wrestling Championship in Denmark?

It feels great to do something for my country. Bahut badhiya lag raha hai! All our wrestlers gave their best and were unlucky not to be among the medals. I was happy to win a medal as it ensured we did not return home empty-handed. A lot of effort has gone in preparing for the World Wrestling Championship and I’m glad it paid off.

Q You are 26 and have been representing your country for a long while now. This was your fourth World Wrestling Championship – you lost in the second round of the 2010 World Wrestling Championship , you lost in the first round of the 2011 World Wrestling Championship and you lost in the second round of the 2013 World Wrestling Championship. And the 2015 World Wrestling Championship panned out to be the best-ever performance so far.

I made my debut in the 2010 World Wrestling Championship in Moscow, where Sushil Kumar gave India’s first gold medal in this big-ticket event. All my three appearances in the World Wrestling Championship have been a huge learning curve for me. The experience of playing in four World Wrestling Championships definitely helped coupled with my sustained hard work.

Q You launched your campaign in the 2015 World Wrestling Championship against Israel’s Hanoch Rachamin, a bout you won convincingly. You subsequently beat grapplers from Turkey, Cuba and France en route to your bronze medal finish. Which has been the most toughest bout for you?

Look, all bouts are tough as every country comes well prepared and gives nothing away. But I would say my quarterfinal bout against Cuba’s Liván López was the toughest among all – he is a 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist and three-time World Championship medallist and beating such a redoubtable opponent gave me immense satisfaction. The 16-5 final scoreline hardly reflects how intense the bout was.

It was a bout I should have won – I was leading 4-3 with five seconds remaining but Onorbat equalized and then went on to bout by virtue of winning the last point after both of us were tied 4-4.

Q Tell us a bit about your bronze medal play-off bout against France’s Zelimkhan Khadjiev where you endured some anxious moments.

I started well taking a 4-2 lead but Khadjiev rebounded to surge to a 12-4 lead after two rounds. I was with my backs to the wall and managed to pin my French opponent with a headlock and even though I was trailing him 8-12 on points, I was declared the winner by fall.

Q You have been in great form in the last couple of years – you won a bronze medal in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games as well as bronze in the 2015 Asian Championship in Doha – a hat-trick of bronze medals in 74 kg.

I think I’m playing solid wrestling and as I have said before all my hard work and international experience are coming in handy and they were big factors in winning the World Championship medal.

Q Talking of your 74 kg category, American Jordan Burroughs has been having a dominating presence for a long period - he is the current Olympic champion as well as the current world champion – three times World Championship gold medallist. Do you think he will be your biggest hurdle in your pursuit of winning an Olympic gold.

There is no doubt that Jordan Burroughs is a champion wrestler – he is tough to beat but definitely it is not impossible to overcome him.

Q Now that you have a bronze medal in 74 kg at the 2015 World Wrestling Championship, it will trigger more talk about who will represent India in this category at the 2016 Rio Olympics as iconic Sushil Kumar is also being fielded in this category.

For now, I just want to enjoy my moment for winning a medal for the country. There is lot of time as far as team selection for the Olympics is concerned and I don’t want to say anything on this.

Q You work in the Maharashtra Police as DSP – how much of your wrestling success you owe it to your employers.

Maharashtra Police has always supported me and I think they have played a big part in my wrestling success so far.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Advanced training in Kazakhstan a boon for Indian boxers

After battling the odds stacked against them and settling for a fourth-place finish in the recently-concluded Asian Boxing Championships with a medal haul of one silver and three bronze only behind Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Thailand among 28 participating countries in a huge competitive field, it is time for the Indian boxers to look forward with optimism notwithstanding the headless federation they have to counter with.

The International Boxing Federation’s (IBF) ban on Boxing India and the creation of an ad-hoc committee to run the affairs in the country have affected our boxers to no end. Given this scenario, it is heartening to know that three of our top pugilists will be off to Kazakhstan for a two-week training stint starting later this week. Middleweight boxer Vikas Krishan Yadav – the lone Indian to reach the final of the recently-concluded Asian Boxing Championships along with light flyweight boxer Laishram Devendro Singh and bantamweight boxer Shiva Thapa will be looking to make the most of their two week trip to Kazakhstan. “Obviously, sparring with top-quality boxers will stand these boxers in good stead for the upcoming AIBA World Championships to be held in Doha next month. Training in Patiala has worked well for these guys and but training abroad always has its advantages,” said a boxing coach.

It is important for the Indian boxers to maintain the ‘highs’ attained in Bangkok and take it forward. “The morale of the boys is high given that six of them qualified for the upcoming AIBA World Championships despite all administration mess. I’m sure the boys will let their punches do the talking in the ring,” the boxing coach added.

Vikas Krishan Yadav, Laishram Devendro Singh and Shiva Thapa are availing this much-needed foreign exposure under the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme – which was announced by the Sports Ministry. They are not the only boxers under the TOP scheme. Mandeep Jangra, who was recently bestowed with the Arjuna Award along with three women boxers – MC Mary Kom, Sarita Devi and Pinky Jangra are part of this scheme. In fact, two more boxers – Sumit Sangwan and Sarjubala Devi are picked for this scheme but the duo will be prepared for the 2020 Olympics.

For the likes of super heavyweight boxer Satish Kumar, Manoj Kumar (64 kg) and Madan Lal (52), they will be training in NIS Patiala for the the upcoming AIBA World Championships.

Guys like Mandeep Jangra, Gautam Bhiduri, Manish Kaushik, Kuldeep Singh and Manpreet Singh, who failed to qualify for the the upcoming AIBA World Championships, will train in Patiala and hope to make the Olympic cut through two qualifying tourneys next year.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

VFI may stage much-postponed Indian Volleyball League in 2016

It was with much fanfare that the Indian Volleyball League (IVL) got rolling in May 2011 at various venues with six franchise teams slugging it out with Chennai Spikers emerging champions. The IVL was seen as the best thing to have happened to Indian volleyball with the general public perception being that the sport was poised to take off to new heights across the country, creating a robust supply line to the national team. But the IVL hit a severe roadblock with the much-talked-about league postponed on more than one occasion. The second edition of the IVL was slated to be across three venues in October 2013 but the event was postponed to February 2014. The 2nd IVL did not take place in February 2014 and was again put off, leaving many uncomfortable questions about whether the league will be at all held in the near future. Four years have lapsed since the inaugural Indian Volleyball League and volleyball lovers in the country are left with one question: Will the Indian Volleyball League be ever held again?
“I’m not in a position to reveal anything. All I can say is that Indian Volleyball League won’t be held this year. But we are likely going to stage the second edition of the Indian Volleyball League in 2016,” says Volleyball Federation of India secretary-general Ramavtar Singh Jakhar, a former international player.

Jakhar, who played with distinction for the national team from 1989 to 1994, believes the response from the sponsors is encouraging. “It’s too early to talk about it but I can tell you that the response has been good. Let’s hope for the best.”

The VFI secretary general stopped short of revealing about the dates and month of the IVL in 2016. “As I have said, the IVL will be held in 2016 but can’t say whether it will be held in the first half or second half of 2016.”

Indian volleyball have been showing marked improvement in recent years, making their presence felt in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, finishing fifth. Of course, the country’s 11th place finish at the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran last month can be seen as an aberration as the national team comprised a largely young side. Jakhar had raised the bar of expectations for the Asiad. “I was expecting our men’s team to bag a medal in the 2014 Asiad and so our fifth place finish was disappointing. One hopes that the Indian Volleyball League is held in 2016 – that must be some good news for volleyball lovers given the great deal of uncertainty over whether the event will be held or not.

Friday, September 11, 2015

World Championship Woes: Spineless performance by Indian women wrestlers

Much was expected from the Indian women wrestling contingent at the 2015 UWW World Wrestling Championships, which concluded in Las Vegas, USA. The kind of performance our women grapplers have been dishing out in major international competitions in recent times has led to increasing expectations about a podium finish in Las Vegas. The Indian women grapplers had scooped up six medals comprising two gold, three silver and one bronze at the at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and two bronze medals at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

Probably, India’s biggest medal hope – Babita Kumari – who won a bronze medal in the 2012 World Championship in Canada along with her elder sister Geeta Phogat, thus halting a six-year medal drought in this marquee event since Alka Tomar bagged a bronze medal in the 2006 World Championship in Guangzhou. It has to be said that Indian women wrestling have come up in leaps and bounds only in the last five years or so. Sample this: the first Women’s World Wrestling Championship was held at Norway in 1987 and since 2005 the World Wrestling Championship for men and women were combined. Effectively, India never came close to winning a World Championship medal until Alka Tomar cornered glory in the 2006 before the Phogat sisters made a podium finish in 2012.

The rapid strides of our women wrestlers made us believe Babita was our best medal bet this time around in the 55 kg category. Playing in her third World Championship after missing the 2013 and 2014 editions, Babita was the lone female grappler to win three rounds before being shown the tournament exit door in the quarterfinals losing to a Chinese opponent. Barring Babita’s fighting showing, the rest of our grapplers came a cropper. Vinesh Phogat – cousin of Phogat sisters – the 2015 Asian Championship silver medallist, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and also the Asian Games bronze medallist – playing in her second World Championship failed to give a good account of herself against North Korea’s Kim Hyon-Gyong going down 0-4. The 2013 World Championship prequarterfinalist must be disappointed with her effort.

Another medal hope – Geeta Phogat (58 kg) – who won a bronze medal in the 2015 Asian Championship on return to competitive action only this year after a long injury-forced break – just couldn’t going in her opening round bout against Norway’s Grace Bullen – the 2012 World Championship bronze medallist struggled to find the form she is known for losing 0-4. 2015 Asian Championship bronze medallist and 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Lalita Sehrawat lost her first round bout to Japan’s Anri Kimura 0-7 in the 55 kg category.

What is more disappointing is that most our female grapplers did not even cross the first round hurdle. Barring Babita Kumari’s quarterfinal finish, Anita Tomar was the only grappler to go beyond the first round, losing in the second round to Colombia’s Sandra Roa 2-5 after defeating Azerbaijjan’s Nadya Mushka 9-1 in the opening round.

Vastly experienced Navjot Kaur also cut a poor figure, losing Alina Stadnik of Ukraine 0-8. Playing in her third World Championship, the 25-year-old grappler, who had won a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, put up a below par performance. Nikki completed India’s woes losing 0-7 to Japan’s Chiaki Iijima in the first round continuing the sequence of first round exits for a large chunk of our grapplers.

The appalling performance means India will have to wait till the 2017 World Wrestling Championship to be held in Paris, to add to her World Championship medal haul of three bronze medals. Until then, its’ back to the drawing board for the wrestlers, who would now need to put extra efforts so that they can redeem themselves with a power-packed performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics, which of course, is easier said than done.

Interview: Head injury prevented me from going after gold: Super heavyweight boxer Satish Kumar

He is touted as the country’s best super heavyweight boxer. One can probably say that Satish Kumar has done ‘enough’ in the last twelve months or so to give an impression that he is India’s best bet for a medal in any major international competition. The 26-year-old Bulandshahar lad had cornered a bronze medal in the +91 kg of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and followed it with another bronze medal effort at the recent Asian Boxing Championship in Bangkok. Surprisingly, he was not selected for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games for reasons best known to the selectors. Satish subsequently delivered a telling statement for his non-inclusion in the CWG, bagging back-to-back bronze medals (2014 Asian Games and 2015 Asian Boxing Championships). Son of a farmer, Satish, who is employed in the Army as a Naik Subedar, took to boxing quite late unlike most others. He joined the Army in general category in 2008 and first started training in boxing there a year later and made his senior nationals debut in 2011, where he won a silver medal. Satish spoke on his boxing and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q How would you sum up your bronze medal effort in the Asian Boxing Championship?

I was happy to have reached the semifinals and sealed my berth for the 2015 AIBA World Championship. It would have been even better if I had reached the final and won the gold. This bronze medal performance will surely stand me in good stead for the future.

Q What went wrong in your semifinal bout against China’s Wang Zhibao?

Obviously, he is the second seeded boxer and a tough opponent to counter. I suffered a head-on collision in the early stages and after that I really don’t know how I survived the next two rounds. My head injury affected my rhythm as I was struggling to land points scoring punches and preventing me from going all out in pursuit of the gold medal bout. I had beaten Tajikistan’s Siyovush Zukhurov in the quarterfinals via a technical knockout after my opponent received two warnings for excessive bending, besides showing an inability to deal with the ferocity of my punches. I had outpunched North Korea’s Jin Hyok, a bout where I completely dominated.

Q Talking of the AIBA World Championship, this will be the second time you are taking part.

Yeah, this will be my second World Championship. I had reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 AIBA World Championship in Baku, where I gave a walkover to Kazakshtan’s Ivan Dychko. Hope to better my performance in the 2015 edition.

Q You have played London Olympics bronze medallist Ivan Dychko of Kazakshtan three times in three major events. Besides the 2013 Asian Boxing Championship and 2013 AIBA World Championship, he beat you in the semifinals of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games where you bagged a bronze to match the effort of Paramjeet Samota at the 2010 Asiad.

He is a top boxer and I have never beaten him. I will keep working my game and hope to come out with more weapons when I meet him next time.

Q Tell us about your family?

I hail from Bulandshahar city in Uttar Pradesh. My father is a farmer and I have four brothers. My elder brother is working in the Army, while my two younger brothers are studying.

Q You are quite a late developer. Unlike boxers who take up boxing and join the Army for better training, you joined Army in general category and then gradually decided to focus on boxing.

I joined the Army in 2008 and after one year took boxing training and won a silver medal in my first Senior Nationals in Chennai in 2011. I won the gold in the 2012 Nationals in Hyderabad. The Senior Nationals were held after a gap of two years earlier this year at Nagpur, where I again won the gold.

Q Every boxer who represents the country from a particular weight category hog the limelight, but what about the second, third or fourth ranked boxers in respective weight categories. Do you think a lot needs to be done?

Absolutely! These boxers work as hard as I do and just because they are losing out on representing the country does not mean they are inferior. These boxers must be encouraged and given incentives in terms of jobs and other facilities. If these boxers are taken care of boxing will be become strong across the country.

Q The 2015 AIBA World Championship is the next big thing for Indian boxing. Who are the boxers you have to watch out for in the super heavyweight category?

There are four really solid boxers I have to watch out for in the super heavyweight category. Azerbaijan’s Magomedrasul Majidov is two-time world champion and bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, Italy Roberto Cammarelle is another one – the current Olympic champion, then there is Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua, 2012 Olympics runners-up not to forget Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko – the current Asian Games gold medallist and 2013 World Championship runner-up. I will take all the positives from my Bangkok performance and look to raise the bar at the upcoming 2015 AIBA World Championship.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Indian volleyball is in good health: Indian team captain Sinnadhu Prabagaran

Sinnadhu Prabagaran has been one of the most rapidly improving players of the Indian senior men’s volleyball team. The 25-year-old captained the national side for the first time ever at the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran last month and is now keyed up for bigger challenges. Prabagaran, who is employed with Railways, played a big part in his employers winning the 2015 World Railway Games in Germany. 

The demure Tamil Nadu lad spoke in an exclusive interview.


 Q. India finished 11th among 16 countries at the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran last month. How would you sum up our team’s performance?

We went into the tournament with a pretty young team. I think besides me the rest of my team members did not have much experience under their belt, but they put up their best efforts in Tehran. We beat Turkmenistan but lost to Australia and Qatar in the preliminary round and then beat Sri Lanka but lost to Bahrain in the classification round. There is always scope for improvement.

Q. At the age of 25, you captained the Indian senior men’s volleyball team for the first time. How was the experience?

It was exciting for me to lead the national team. I was nervous at times and thought our young team did well in Tehran. Captaining a team is an honour and I have learnt a lot from this stint.

Q. At the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran, India lost to Bahrain 2-3 in the classification round but exacted revenge beating by the same margin in the play-off round to take the 11th spot.

Both games against Bahrain went down to the wire. We lost a close five-setter in the classification round losing the final set 14-16, and again in the play-off round,we lost the first set, won the next two sets before they won the fourth. We held our nerves to bag the final set at 15-13. It was a battle of attrition against Bahrain in both games and we were glad that we could beat them when it mattered the most.

Q. You are known for your telling smashes. How would you sum up your own game?

Smashing is my forte and I keep looking at ways to improve in this area. Having said that, I’m constantly working on my blocking and setting skills as well.

Q. You were one of the key performers of India’s campaign in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, where India finished fifth.

The Asian Games was a good tournament not just for me but for the team as well. We were pitted in a tough Pool alongside Asia’s top side Iran. It was not as if we lost to them convincingly to them – of course, we lost in straight sets but we gave everything we had. We lost the first two sets 22-25, 22-25 and the third set 18-25. We again fought hard against another top side Japan in the quarterfinals, losing to them 2-3 after leading 2-1 at one juncture. We lost the decider 13-15. With a little bit of luck we could have made it to the medal round at the Asiad.

Q. Indian volleyball is on an upswing –  have the team shown that they are a force to reckon with at least in Asia?

We are narrowing the gap with Asia’s top teams like Iran, Japan, Korea and China. I think in coming years we would start beating these teams, provided we keep working hard on our game.

Q. How would you rate India with world’s top sides like current world champions Poland, Brazil, Germany, France, Russia, USA and Canada?

Look, we have been competing well with Asia’s top sides and it shows as we are coming up in leaps and bounds. The more we play the world’s top teams the better we will get. I believe Indian volleyball is in good health and with a good bunch of young and experienced players we will be a formidable unit in the next two years.

Q. The Indian Volleyball League (IVL) was first held in 2011 and was slated to be held in October 2013 but was put off to February 2014 and was again postponed. Thoughts?

I have no idea about whether the IVL will be held this year or next year. If it happens it will be good for Indian volleyball.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Asian Championship: Indian boxing is very much alive and kicking!

Administrative mess may have put Indian boxing in poor light over the past few months, but there was ‘no messing around’ in the ring by the national boxers at the recently-concluded Asian Boxing Championships in Bangkok. A tournament, which carried so much significance since the berths for the 2015 AIBA World Championship were up for grabs, the Indian pugilists had a ‘real battle’ in their hands as they had to cope with the stringent qualifying norms for the marquee event.

Indian boxers showed why there are a still a formidable boxing force in the Asian region, finishing a creditable fourth among the record 28 countries (behind tabletoppers Kazakhstan  - 42 points, Uzbekistan - 38 points and hosts Thailand - 17 points) even without their iconic boxer Vijender Singh, who turned pro recently. In fact, middleweight boxer Vikash Krishnan Yadav has shown that he has the ‘ammunition’ to take over from Vijender in the 75-kg category as he settled for a silver losing a tough final bout to Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan – the lone Indian to reach the final. A former World Championship bronze medallist, Vikas is undoubtedly India’s best bet in the 2015 AIBA World Championship as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. Even head coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu thinks highly of this Haryana lad.

The so-called ‘Uzbekistan hurdle’ came in the way of more Indian pugilists entering the final. Big prospect – Laishram Devendro Singh did his reputation no harm romping into the semifinals of the 49-kg category before top-seed Hasanboy Dusmatov prevailed over him. The 2012 London Olympic quarterfinalist is fast maturing and it won’t be surprise if he upsets some big names in the 2015 AIBA World Championship. There was another Indian – reigning champion Shiva Thapa, who fell to the tenacity of an Uzbek boxer - Murodjon Akhmadaliev – for the record three Uzbek boxers stopped the Indian boxers from their march towards gold. Super heavyweight boxer Satish Kumar just had to be merely satisfied reaching the final of the 91+ kg category as he lost tamely to China’s Wang Zhibao.

Fortune favours the brave and boxers – Manoj Kumar (52-kg) and Madan Lal (64 kg) – fought bravely before losing their quarterfinal bouts and still sealed their berths for the 2015 AIBA World Championship as their respective rivals after the Uzbek boxers who beat them in the quarterfinals -- Shakhobidin Zoirov, seeded second, and Fazliddin Gaibnazarov respectively – stormed into the final.
Clearly, the haul of one silver and three bronze medals as well as a fourth place finish in the Asian Boxing Championships are  a fair indicator of what our boxers are capable of given they are operating under literally a ‘headless’ federation with boxing administration girdled with uncertainty.

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