James strikes it rich for Bagan
Sunil Kumar impressive; Sanguinetti wins
Australians lay platform for a clean sweep
Bijen’s injury a big blow, says Bhowmick
Uzbek forward arrives
Kafelnikov a complete player now
City to host Open, sub-jr rowing meet
New Year offers hope for RCTC
Keen fare on tomorrow’s card

 
 
JAMES STRIKES IT RICH FOR BAGAN 
 
 
BY SUJIT BHAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3 
MOHUN BAGAN 1 EAST BENGAL 0

A late second half strike, following a well-dominated first session, had Mohun Bagan kicking off the millennium on a winning note today. The better news from the Salt Lake Stadium was that it was at the expense of arch rivals East Bengal. That pushed Mohun Bagan to ten points in the National Football League, while East Bengal remain on seven, from five matches each.

After two James Singh shots were either rebounded or saved (plus a header parried), his third found the target, and in style.

It was, surprisingly enough, an atypical Mohun Bagan-East Bengal encounter today, with neat passing games, pace and strategy in view. That made the winter afternoon refreshing and raised hopes that Calcutta soccer can again be tolerable, after all.

Former champions Mohun Bagan’s domination was clear. The ball was being released quickly and flanks were being switched with elan. Being able to use the width of the field allowed Bagan to effect neat snatchings and R. P. Singh and Stephen Abarowei combined well. Abarowei seemed to have shaken off his early league lethargy and put in a good effort.

Compared to that, East Bengal depended too heavily on Bijen Singh, and then on Raman Vijayan. Both had to be taken off following injuries, and, for a small period before the final whistle East Bengal were down to ten, having substituted in haste earlier.

The most heartening aspect of Mohun Bagan’s win today was that every player tried. And none was willing to be a passenger. Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy was exceptionsl, bringing off two brilliant saves.

There were early signs, in the first minute, in fact, as a Basudeb Mondal lob to the goalmouth was headed to goalkeeper Prasanta Dora by an overlapping Samuel Omollo. Omollo, who returned this morning from home, acted the sweeper with the freedom to lope into action zone. That was when Satyabrata Bhowmick and Hussein Mustafi took charge. Dusit Chalersman kept the left flank moving with his overlaps.

The East Bengal defence line was jittery too. In th 15th minute an Abarowei move into the box was met by Jackson Egygopong, but in the haste the ball rolled out. Goalkeeper Prasanta Dora was out of charge and had it not been off target, the century would have started with a suicidal goal for East Bengal.

East Bengal’s big boomer was Willie Brown, unleashing long pot shots (long pot shots was the order or the day), though soccer-wise he had less to be talked about. In the 26th minute Brown’s powerful 22-yarder was saved well by ’keeper Nandy.

At the other side James tried the first of his long shots, in the 31st minute. From the right a swift grounder kept the East Bengal defence standing and goalkeeper Dora watching it roll just off target. Emmanuel Opoku repaid compliments across the field, the relay of a free-kick just missing the goal.

James rounded off the first half with a 42nd-minute header that Dora scrambled to tip over. In the first minute of the second half a James volley off Basudeb took Dora’s hands, then the post before returning to play.

East Bengal had been piling on the pressure by then, though goalmouth probes remained tardy. Satyabrata had been rested, and Satyajit Chatterjee had come onto the field: fresh pairs of legs were making things more difficult for East Bengal.

In the 29th minute of the half Abarowei received a Chanda-James pass and spooned a fine lob ahead that James spanked home in a volley. Dora had advanced, but the ball was over him.

Six minutes to time Chanda’s tap at the goalmouth was picked up by Dipendu Biswas. He shot hurriedly at goal and Dora sent it back. He got it again, and made a hash of it.

The match per se apart, what should remain in memory is the supervision of referee K. Shankar of Tamil Nadu. He reined in frayed tempers early with a couple of bookings, making it easy for him thereafter.    


 
 
SUNIL KUMAR IMPRESSIVE; SANGUINETTI WINS 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 3 
The face of Indian tennis in the 21st century was launched at the Gold Flake Open this evening. And, to put it in a nutshell, Sunil Kumar confirmed what the Krishnans and the Paes’ have been saying in the last few weeks — the 16-year-old sure has potential.

The Chandigarh lad, who monopolised tennis headlines after winning the national hardcourt championship three months ago, played his guts out only to go down in two tight sets to a man 20 years his senior. Haitian Ronald Agenor’s 6-4, 6-4 victory came after an hour and 40 minutes of full-blooded toil.

Left-handed Sunil, playing his first match with the ‘big boys’ of ATP Tour, had nothing to lose once he was granted a wild card. But what fans, players and officials were keen to find out was how he would cope with the pressure of performing under the microscope. A product of Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association’s youth programme, Sunil didn’t take time to announce that he was comfortable on the big stage and free of nerves as well.

Brandishing an impressive first serve (he often clocked 185 kmph) and a swinging forehand, Sunil warmed the hearts of a decent opening-day audience which included Indian cricket’s face of the Nineties, Mohammed Azharuddin.

The entire Indian tennis contingent, including Leander Paes, cheered the youngster as he earned the first break of the match in the third game.

Agenor broke back immediately and ultimately captured the first set when Sunil’s ambitious forehand top-spin drive sailed long. The Indian, favoured to make the Davis Cup squad to fill in for the injured Mahesh Bhupathi, held comfortably but lacked the firepower to attack Agenor’s serve.

Sunil had a couple of chances to break Agenor in the second game of the second set. Once the Haitian, amazingly fit for a man of his age, weathered that crisis, he didn’t face another break-point thereafter. Maintaining his basics in the face of sudden bouts of flamboyance from his opponent, Agenor closed out the match as Sunil overhit a routine forehand.

Earlier, Italian Davide Sanguinetti and Romanian Adrian Voinea had the honour of kicking off the country’s first major sporting event of the new century. The Centre Court stadium was just about half-full, but those who came were treated to some fiercely competitive tennis. After 100 minutes of good entertainment, Sanguinetti prevailed 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.

Voinea, who won his maiden Tour title in Bournemouth last year, was the early aggressor. A solid baseliner, the 25-year-old Monte Carlo resident ran his Italian opponent from end to end and won a lionís share of the long rallies. On the key points, though, Voinea seemed to freeze.

The Romanian had three set-points, two of which he threw tamely. The third one, in the tie-break, saw the Italian pull off a sensational running pass which left Voinea bewildered.

Mobility was the key to Sanguinetti’s recovery. After taking some time to settle down, he ran round potential Voinea winners like a man set on super-fast mode. His backhand did the maximum damage and with a big first serve also in his armoury, Sanguinetti wore down Voinea slowly but surely.

Surprisingly adept on faster courts, unlike traditional Italian claycourters, Sanguinetti had peaked in 1998 to rise as high as No. 46 — a year in which he made the Wimbledon quarter finals. But the year just gone by saw the 27-year-old Sanguinetti slip out of the top-100 for the first time in three years. Going by today’s form, the Italian could well be back on hunt for some more glory.

On the outside courts, Chennai regular Orlin Stanoytchev eked out a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Australian wild card Paul Kilderry.

In a match-up of similarly ranked players, Swiss Lorenzo Manta (117) did well to see off Czech Republic’s Tomas Zib (115) 7-5, 6-2. His decent serve-and-volley skills came in handy this evening. Czech Republic’s Martin Damm chalked up the quickest victory with a 50-minute shutout of Belgian Christophe Rochus who managed no more than three games.

Paes-Black duo advances

Top seeds Leander Paes and Byron Black fought off some patchy form to beat Laurence Pieleman and German Sander Groen 6-3, 7-6 (8-6). Paes and Black wasted one match point in the second set before rallying from a 1-5 deficit in the tie-breaker to go through in one-and-a-half hours.    


 
 
AUSTRALIANS LAY PLATFORM FOR A CLEAN SWEEP 
 
 
AGENCIES
 
Sydney, Jan. 3 
INDIA 150-AUSTRALIA 331/4. Day 2 Justin Langer scored an unbeaten 167 today to notch the first Test century of the new Millennium as Australia reached 331 for four at stumps on the second day of the third Test against India. It sets them up nicely for a possible sweep of the three-Test series.

The Australian No. 3 shared a 121-run partnership with skipper Steve Waugh, who scored 57, and a 97-run partnership with Mark Waugh, who contributed 32, as Australia raced to a 181-run first innings lead.

Ricky Ponting survived a torrid few overs against the second new ball to remain unbeaten on 34.

After a rain interrupted opening day, India resumed today at 121 for eight but were skittled out for 150 within 35 minutes as Glenn McGrath picked up the last two wickets to return figures of five for 48 and earn his 16th five-wicket haul in a Test innings.

In reply, Langer made a nervous start and had a lucky escape — playing onto his stumps off a Jawagal Srinath no-ball — to compile 98 by the tea interval.

The 29-year-old left-hander waited patiently after the break, adding just one run off 23 balls before reaching his sixth Test century with a cover-driven boundary off the front-foot. Langer’s 100 came off 172 balls and included 15 boundaries.

He stroked a boundary to bring up his 150 too before getting another lucky break when he edged a Srinath delivery past his stumps to the boundary.

Langer went to the crease when Michael Slater was caught behind off Srinath in the fifth over, Australia’s openers again failing to reach double figures.

The West Australian then combined with Greg Blewett (19) in a 40-run partnership before Blewett chopped a Venkatesh Prasad ball onto his stumps to make the total 49 for two.

Langer dominated a third-wicket stand with Mark Waugh, who received a standing ovation from the SCG crowd when he strode out to bat in his 100th Test and proceeded to score five boundaries and a six before he was bowled by Sourav Ganguly.

Steve Waugh replaced his twin brother and scored his half-century off 113 balls with eight boundaries, before Srinath trapped him leg-before with the first delivery with the second new ball.

Srinath was the most effective of the Indian bowlers, taking two for and beating the bat every now and then.

Australia already have an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the three-Test series and are now in strong position to clinch their seventh successive Test triumph following a one-off win against Zimbabwe and a 3-0 washout of Pakistan earlier in the summer.

After receiving a caution yesterday from Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle for his exuberant ‘send off’ of Indian skipper Sachin Tendulkar, McGrath got back to work in his first over today when he had Srinath (3) caught by Ponting at third slip with only five added to the overnight total.

Anil Kumble played a defiant innings, scoring 26 runs off 56 balls before miscuing a McGrath slower ball to Langer, who took a running catch at mid-off.

Paceman Brett Lee, playing his second Test, finished with four for 39 from 21 overs.

   


 
 
BIJEN’S INJURY A BIG BLOW, SAYS BHOWMICK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3 
Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya today did not want to lay any special stress on the fact that his team dominated proceedings in the day’s key National Football League match versus East Bengal. After his team’s 1-0 win, he said: “East Bengal, too played well, and they too got chances. It was a well-contested match.”

Bhattacharya was basking in the glory of a well-deserved win and, moreover, a display of fine soccer. “I had told them to be on their feet for 90 minutes. In modern football that is necessary. When I saw one getting tired (Satyabrata Bhowmick, who has just recovered from a bout of illness, was substituted) I managed to put in a new pair of legs. That kept them going,” he added.

He had a great deal of praise for James Singh, the scorer, and said he was also happy that Stephen Abarowei was coming back to form.

Basically, Bhattacharya has struck upon a winning combination, player-wise and tactic-wise.

East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick admitted it was a “bad match, lost to a good, not better team.”

“James Singh’s effort was brilliant, but defenders — Jackson and Chanchal — should have cleared the ball. One mistake cost us the match,” he said.

“They dominated the first half, and then we had things under control, but when the goal was scored it upset the rhythm completely.”

He said Bijen’s injury was a big blow. “He was at the centre of my plans. Losing him early was unfortunate,” he said.

Mohun Bagan’s midfield mobility made the difference in the first half, Bhowmick said, adding that the goal came against the run of play.

“No reason to be disappointed, though,” he said. “Many more matches remain, though the next few matches we have to play under extra pressure.”

He said that apart from regrouping as a team, psychological recuperation becomes important now.

Raman Vijayan’s injury “may put him out for 3-4 weeks, though I am not too sure about Bijen’s injury at the moment,” he added.    


 
 
UZBEK FORWARD ARRIVES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3 
The team has settled down. The attackers are working, the defence is working, but Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya will now have to deal with a problem of plenty. Two brand new forwards, one from Brazil (Jose Barretto) and one from Uzbekistan — Igor Shkvirin — are waiting to be tested.

Barretto has been seen, but the over six-feet blond Shkvirin arrived only at 2pm today and all he could do was watch the match and be witness to the post-match effervescence.

The 36-year-old, who was a major player in Uzbekistan’s fantastic win over China in the final of the Hiroshima Asian Games, missed a visit here for the IFA Shield. His team Pakhtakor did come, but he was held up at home because his father had passed away.

The man, who has a 17-year professional career to fall back on, played his last match a month back and is here on a three-month contract with Mohun Bagan. “That is the present arrangement, but the time could go up,” he said.

He said the heat later would not be problem. “I have played professional league in Malaysia, and the weather there is similar,” he said. “I should not have any problem.”

Carrying also an almost six-year playing experience with Israel’s Macadin club, Shkvirin expects to blend into the team quickly. He is expected to be present at practice tomorrow.    


 
 
KAFELNIKOV A COMPLETE PLAYER NOW 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 3 
For tennis lovers the world over, Yevgeny Kafelnikov has been an interesting case study in the men’s game. From the time he broke into the world stage as a teenaged prodigy to his current status as one of the leading players, it’s been a fascinating journey to superstardom for the Russian who’ll be blowing 26 birthday candles only next month.

The talent surfaced shortly after he turned pro at 17. Very soon, he was winning his first match on the tough terrain of the ATP Tour. At 21, he made his mark in the Grand Slams — making the semi-finals of the French Open and quarter finals at US Open and Wimbledon. A year later, Kafelnikov conquered Roland Garros (both singles and doubles) to become Russia’s first ever Grand Slammer.

More success followed, but a second Grand Slam singles title eluded him till he won the Australian Open last January. It couldn’t have come at a better time for Kafelnikov because, just a few months earlier, the Russian had got disinterested with the game and even thought of quitting.

Hiring a new coach (Larry Stefanki) helped as Kafelnikov scaled the summit of world rankings in May. And though he finished 1999 at No. 2, there’s a lot to look forward to as the charismatic Russian has rediscovered his hunger for success.

Arguably the most versatile male player since John McEnroe strode the men’s game like a colossus, Kafelnikov owns three Grand Slam doubles titles (all with Czech Daniel Vacek) to go with the two in singles. His interest in doubles has meant that Kafelnikov topped five of the last six years in the maximum-number-of-matches-played count.

Known to be brash and arrogant at times, the wealthy Russian — he’s close to crossing the $14.5 million mark from prize-money only — hurt Aussie sentiments last September in his most recent outburst. After landing in Australia for the Davis Cup semi-final, he predicted a rout for the home team and refused to give them credit after losing.

“I wasn’t boasting or anything. I really felt we were the favourites in the absence of their top players (Rafter and Philippoussis). But the grasscourt was terrible,” Kafelnikov explained during a 40-minute session with the Media this afternoon.

He kept newsmen waiting for half an hour, but fielded questions ranging from his game to Boris Yeltsin with aplomb.

Following are excerpts

On whether he has been an under-achiever, considering his immense talent

No, I don’t think so. I’ve achieved everything I wanted to since I started playing the game although there are some goals left to be attained. I have another four-five years to go, so I think I’ll be able to achieve those goals.

On what those goals are

Well, I’ve always had this big desire to win as many matches in my career as possible. The more matches I win, the more titles I get. The same desire still drives me, that’s why I play so many matches.

On whether he can add to his Grand Slam collection

Realistically speaking, I stand a good chance of winning the US Open. But I don’t think I have a big chance at Wimbledon as grass is my least favoured surface.

On why Russia hasn’t won the Davis Cup yet

We have come close on a few occasions, but haven’t quite made it. That’s one of my next goals. Winning the Davis Cup is important not only for me but for Russia as well. Just as my success has lifted the game back home, a Davis Cup triumph would give it another big boost.

On the importance of the Olympics in his schedule

Oh, it’s quite high on my agenda. To be an Olympic champion, specially in my country, will be a matter of great prestige. I think it’ll be more prestigious than winning Davis Cup. So I’ll definitely be trying hard at Sydney this year.

On the secret of his versatility on the Tour

My body is so healthy, I can take the punishment. That’s how I manage to play so many matches year after year.

On whether he’s consciously cutting down on his doubles activity

I’ll definitely be playing less doubles matches this year. When I began, I knew doubles would help my singles play. Doubles is still great fun, but since I have become a complete player, doubles is no longer a necessity.

On areas he can still improve on

None. All aspects of my game are working so well, there’s no room for improvement. As I said, I am a complete player now.

On whether he’s ever been afraid of failure

Yeah, it’s bound to happen to everyone. There have been times when I have felt very tired and the body has refused to continue. Then, when you lose in early rounds to lower-ranked players, you ask yourself whether it’s worth continuing. But then you realise there will be ups-and-downs in every player’s career.

On whether the fire is burning in the belly after going through a low phase in end-1998

Under the new system, we’ll have a longer break from the game. Playing 18 weeks in a year is much better than playing 25-26. Those extra weeks should be enough to recharge one’s batteries.

On his reaction to President Boris Yeltsin’s resignation

I was quite shocked when I heard that he had resigned. President Yeltsin was a very special person whom I knew quite well. A few months earlier, after I won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, I thanked him for all the support he had extended tennis in the last 10 years. He also thanked me for supporting the country and putting Russian tennis on the world map in a big way. But it’s good that another good person (Putin) has succeeded Yeltsin.

On his private aircraft

Well, I’m much more comfortable with it since it’s easy to travel according to my convenience. I have wife and kids, so it really helps.    


 
 
CITY TO HOST OPEN, SUB-JR ROWING MEET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3 
The fifth Open sprint and the second sub-junior national rowing championships get underway at the Lake Club course on Wednesday.

Ten states would take part in the four-day event in addition to the two Pune military teams — College of Engineering Rowing Association (CERA) and the College of Military Engineering.

Competition will be held on a 500 m course for the single sculls, coxless pairs and coxed fours in the two junior categories (boys and girls) and the two in the Open (elite and challenger). The elite category is open only to India internationals and to former national champions.

With India qualifying for the first time in a rowing event at the Olympics (CME’s Johnson Xavier and Surinder Singh making the mark at the Asian meet in Japan in October), the mood is upbeat but organisers here rued the lack of a proper course in the city.    


 
 
NEW YEAR OFFERS HOPE FOR RCTC 
 
 
BY STAR RACER
 
 
If the New Year’s Day trend continues, the turn of the century may see a big change in RCTC’s fortunes. The social obligations may not permit RCTC to come out in the open to solicit its cause, but the race club has been targeting the young crowd in its own way.

The I-want-more type of crowd was there in unusually large numbers. Perhaps, the first day of the new millennium inspired the trendy brigade to pack the stands. In any case, they are welcome to the new experience — in the coming months and the years — and the sport is starving for their support. Unconsciously or conscientiously, they definitely added colour to the proceedings.

Also lending colour to an already popular Magor Group annual meet were The Telegraph and Britannia Industries. While the former is no new in the world of racing, the latter left a favourable impression with the type of hospitality offered. The craving stomachs were treated with generous supply of complimentary refreshments.

The afternoon’s fare too met all expectations. Unlike previous years, favourites were to the fore. Barring a few hiccups, form held true and the odds offered by overly busy shatchelmen were delightfully fair. However, the ‘professional of the day’ award handed to jockey Cristopher Alford, was resented by some in the large crowd. They were perhaps unaware of the points system. The system had only to do with the wins and placings and nothing else. Kader’s artistry in the saddle on Alternor in the Eveready Gold Cup and Giorgio in the Enerziger Cup stood to gain nothing extra against points earned by Cristopher through Athletico, Fame Star and Allodium in their respective events.

It is another matter that Athletico was somewhat lucky as his two potential rivals were withdrawn owing to injuries at the start. Allodium’s victory was, however, made easy by Ruzaan, on Super Smile, who took the strong finisher to a start-to-finish mission only to run out of gas inside the last furlong. But Fame Star, in the Produce Stakes, was made to sweat to beat the favourite, Aloritz (Kader), by three parts of a length. The Gaswar-Dancing Flame daughter has to hold on in training for there lies a bright future ahead of her.

A reprimand by officials for looking over his shoulders and dropping his hands before passing the winning-post gauges the ease with which Paul Eddery partnered Merano to victory in the Eveready Heavy Duty Cup. The Placerville-Rose of Sharon daughter, known to run erratic, did not shift in the stretch-run and if she continues to run in an orderly manner, she may win a of couple more races.

Head Hunter complemented his master, Richard Alford, for sending his top-hole fettle for a sprint-race, the Tez Tea Sprinters Trophy, after doing donkey-work in classics. The Gold Discovery-Calabali colt made short-work of the opposition. The second placed Clarice Cliff was impressive but Alsadena ran far below his outstation form. The Padmanabhan-trained even-money favourite filly had no business to finish behind the third placed Joe The Pro. The Bangalore clashes of the two visiting horses speak loudly in favour of the favourite.    


 
 
KEEN FARE ON TOMORROW’S CARD 
 
 
BY OUR TURF CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 3 
The Wednesday racing may not be any match for the New Year’s Day fare, still the card bears a competitive look. First race starts at 12.55 pm. ACCEPTANCES

1. Irma La Douce Plate 1,100m (Terms, 3-y-o only) 12.55 pm: Act Of Kindness 55; Bird’s Empire 55; Crucible 55; Allaying 53.5; Queen’s Logic 53.5; Sapphire And Silk 53.5; Scarlet Raider 53.5.

2. Kempion Handicap 1,400m (Cl V; Rt. 00-28) 1.35 pm: Art Smart 61; Dramatic Turn 61; Diplomatic Gesture 54.5; Sixteen Sixtyfour 54.5; Carabineer 53.5; Single Dawn 53; Tabasco King 49.5; Zingari 48.5; Lord Of The Manor 47.

3. INS Hooghly Cup 1,200m (Cl IV; Rt. 22-50) 2.10 pm: Arizona Star 60; Finest Hour 60; Amanda 59.5; Silver Raising 59; Work Order 56.5; Alezaan 56; Comeback Kid 51.

4. Beresford Cup 2,200m (Cl III; Rt. 44-72) 2.45 pm: Milano 60; Aldebro 57.5; Master Charlie 52.5; Acadameus 47.5; Coalbrookdale 47.5.

5. King’s Counsel Handicap 1,100m (Cl V; Rt. 00-28) 3.20 pm: Gul 60; Kargil Soldier 60; Magic Ring 58.5; Tableaux 58.5; Knight Charmer 55.5; Aristotemus 53.5; Dizzy Diver 52; Skitop 51.5; Kiana 47.5.

6. Easter Parade Handicap 1,400m (Cl IV; 5-y-o & over Rt. 22-50) 3.55 pm: Volcano Top 60; Storm Centre 59; Mikado 59; Friendly Knight 58; Millenium Affair 57; Jayaashva 55.5; Crown Prince 54.5; Unlimited 53.5; Accentor 53; Celtic Bleu 52.

Jackpot: 2; 3; 4; 5 & 6.

Treble: (i) 1; 2 & 3; (ii) 4; 5 & 6.    

 

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