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.

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