Last-gasp equaliser Pole-axes Indians
Sound of silence
Chess is not all mental, says Anand
A title for Bagan at last
Merano looks much improved
Magnifico shines

 
 
LAST-GASP EQUALISER POLE-AXES INDIANS 
 
 
FROM SUJIT BHAR
 
Sydney, Sept. 26: 
It was close for India, yet the result today seemed all too familiar for Indian hockey fans.

India started with a distinct advantage of having to just clear a seemingly small hurdle in winning versus an unfancied Poland. And, then, being up till the 69th minute on a 53rd-minute Dilip Tirkey goal, allowed the defence go into a coma to let the Poles draw even through Tomasz Cichy.

That put India and South Korea even at eight points each, and also even on goal difference (plus two), and the third statute of pool match head-to-head came into play. India paid heavily for having lost to South Korea in the preliminaries and will now have to be content with playing for fifth to eighth positions.

There was drama in group A. Pakistan surprised all by beating the Netherlands 2-0 to finish atop the group. They will meet South Korea in the first semi-final, while the Netherlands, second in the group, take on pool B toppers Australia in the other. Today’s loss almost eliminated the Dutch but Britain did them a big favour by putting it across Germany.

The rains had started early in the day, the drizzle sometimes thickened to a downpour, but mainly stayed a steady irritation. The swirling winds and dipping temperatures also did not make for an ideal day of hockey. However, that also reduced the pace of the match somewhat and kudos to the hundreds of Indian supporters who had turned up and were cheering, clad in unassuming raincoats. The Indian stars, however, did not seem to care.

With Australia having beaten South Korea 2-1 earlier, India knew exactly what to do. It was not that India dominated the match. Far from it. Poland ran rings around the Indian defence and centre-halves and India were lucky to have come off unscathed in the first half.

Strange was the way former star centre-forward (now playing advanced centre-half) Dhanraj Pillay played today. His mind was elsewhere, his reflexes were hesitant, his effort worth immediate substitution. He had the best seat any spectator had in the field today. Mukesh Kumar was trying, but his efforts were half-hearted and the forwards never really combined. He started practising his misses from the fourth minute when he hit out from the left.

Polish hockey is not exactly stuff for the connoisseur. They run fast, use long hits to pass, and are quick in ‘dragging’ the ball with their sticks. But then technique be damned, if such basic approaches also yield results. It was aided by the fact that the Indians were rather well-behaved, never wanting to snatch.

In the 14th minute Sameer Dad and Baljit Singh Saini hit goalkeeper Marcin Pobuta from close, and then Baljit Singh Dhillon and Saini failed to combine, thereby losing a great opportunity. At the other end, Poland’s Lukasz Wibieralski and Piotr Mikula were having a merry time terrorising the Indian defenders. They were the first to earn a penalty corner, in the 19th.

The pattern for India was the same, almost, like Mukesh’s pass in the 24th minute for Deepak Thakur in the D and the latter failing to collect. The passing was atrocious, and trapping seemed an unknown art. By the time Poland had got and wasted their third penalty corner, a Dad and Dhillon combination attack had been padded away by the Polish goalkeeper, and on this side, Jude Menezes managed to pad out a Mikula shot.

The skies refused to exercise restraint in the second half, the drizzle as nagging and the winds as irritating as ever. In no time Mukesh had missed another, trying to pass to nobody instead of shooting home and India had wasted their first penalty corner, and their second (failing to shoot home a rebound) and their third.

From the fourth, 18 minutes into the second half with everybody looking around rather nervously, Tirkey’s first shot came off a defender’s stick, but Tirkey took the rebound to goal.

The cheers were deafening, but the play wasn’t half as better. Mukesh — and how he does it time and again without getting bored is a wonder — had missed one more in the 21st minute of the latter session before, four minutes later, Dhillon made it to the D from the right. There was surely a good deal of Indian pressure (so concerted, probably for the first time in the match) and Polish defenders were in a bit of a fix. But Dhillon passed to Thakur who was comforting thought for the defenders. He hit into one of them.

As Poland wasted their sixth penalty corner, the issue seemed to be settled on India’s behalf. There was general jubilation in the stands, there was relief showing in coach Vasudevan Baskaran’s face, there were happy faces around and many were patting themselves on the back.

Incidentally, nobody told the Poles that it was all over. They probably forgot to give up and, with just above a minute to go, a counterattack reached the defence zone. Ramandeep Singh looked startled. Maybe it was not supposed to happen. He let it go. They were poor Poles after all, he might have thought. The problem was that one of those ‘poor Poles’, Tomasz, was following from the right and materialised from nowhere to drive the ball home.    


 
 
SOUND OF SILENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Sydney, Sept. 26: 
The players turned to the dressing room quiet and sad. Nobody spoke and there were no words to comfort each other. Probably, it was finally dawning upon them how they had defeated themselves by allowing the most crucial match to slip into a draw from a win situation.

After all, another Indian Olympic hockey dream had just come to a premature end.

Coach Vasudevan Baskaran did not blame the weather, which had been extremely testing. Temperatures hovered around 14-15 degrees Centigrade and the rain was incessant. Added to that were whirling winds, as much of a cyclonic set-up as any.

“No, the weather was not the problem,” said Baskaran. He did not pass the buck to the players either, despite it being evident that Dhanraj Pillay was today no more than just an on-field spectator. “We tried our best and dominated most of the time, but we just could not make the chances come true. We kept on missing. This just was not our day.” Not a very technical hockey answer, but honest enough, nevertheless.

“I had not underestimated the strength of Poland. They are capable of surprises but had we been able to make use of our own chances, this match would have been easy.”

Skipper Ramandeep Singh and Baljit Singh Saini both agreed that this was the most shocking and sad day of their careers. “Can’t think of another day,” they said in unison.

No talk of strategy, no fixing blames and Baskaran even said “we will keep fighting, even in the fifth to eighth place matches and try to give our best.”    


 
 
CHESS IS NOT ALL MENTAL, SAYS ANAND 
 
 
FROM SUJIT BHAR
 
Sydney, Sept. 26: 
India’s world No. 3 chess star Viswanathan Anand believes the spadework is being done properly and the possibility that chess will be a demonstration sport in Athens in 2004 “is very bright.”

“I believe what we (the Fide, Spanish star world No. 7 Alexi Shirov and he) managed to do here has put the Fide perspective right in front of the International Olympic Association. I was in a good position in the first game and then in the last moment Shirov escaped, while in the second he was in a better position and then I managed to pull out the right pawn.

“I and the Fide had a discussion on this subject with IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch (who Anand knows well) over a year back (he has not been able to meet him here yet), and he is sold on this subject,” said Anand, relaxing in the lobby of the high-security Sydney All Seasons Menzios Hotel, one of the Olympic Family hotels.

“However, these things take their own course, and I believe it can only be a demonstration sport in Athens and then come into the full Olympic fold from the next Games. I am pretty excited by this prospect, and am definitely willing to be in the Olympics. I am so excited by this I could be in the Olympics yesterday if I could.”

Anand said it was obvious that only the rapid chess format will be acceptable at the Olympics, in a two-game knockout mode. “The classical game will be too long for the interest to be kept alive in such an extraordinarily charged atmosphere as the Olympics. It does not matter if a top player moves out in the early rounds, you must be able to take that chance, and I am all for it.” Anand, incidentally, is the acknowledged world champion in rapid chess.

So how does Anand think chess can merge into the special psyche that the Olympics represent? “Look, chess is not all mental. There is a rather large physical aspect to it as well,” he said. “For me, I do an hour of workouts each day — including some real tidy somersaults and all that on a new type of machine that I don’t even know the name of — and that prepares me for the game.

“Likewise, I believe, there could be athletes who are already eager to take on a mind game, so to say. I mean Anna Kournikova plays chess, and there are others who are into this”

But does the common man, the man on the street (those who play), get to ever involve him or herself in the chess world? “Why not? I mean this has been tried before? The main difference is in the commentary. Without proper comentary, the man on the street will just see pieces of wood. The right commentary, and the technology associated with it, can involve everybody.

“This is not new. I remember in 1990, in Paris, there were 2,000 ordinary people seated enthralled in a theatre hall for nearly four hours observing a top class match,” Anand explained. “There were top class players, who were specially instructed to ‘keep it down’, meaning to cut out as much of the technical jargon as possible. The moves were electronically displayed on a giant screen, and the commentators quickly explained what the positions were and how each player was at an advantage and at a disadvantage, by drawing suitable graphs and charts impromptu.

“After a while, the commentators were talking even less about chess, stressing instead on the physical aspect of players — how one was getting agitated, his usual tait, and how the other was scratching his head.... Believe me, this held the gathering of ordinary, down to earth people enthralled for those four hours.”

Anand has a point. That, combined with all the fine technology available today, can really make the day for chess. “Sure. You watch a tennis match on television these days and you see this player has had so many unforced errors or double faults... so much data that we never really knew existed in a game. I mean it was fine to watch the ball go this way and that.”

The big question

Anand has become less coy these days about the Garri Kasparov issue, and how this special match between them keeps evading the light of day. There was a major match-up scheduled some time back and then Kasparov withdrew at the last moment saying there was no sponsor.

There have been more false alarms in this set-up, and this has become almost a stale story today. So when do we get to see this match-up?

“Yes, I guess he (Kasparov) has been dragging this on for too long now, and the basic urge within a player for this can slow down. But then he is a very good player, and he keeps getting better. It is always a pleasure to play him, in any form,” said Anand who arrived here two days back, moved around a bit, did the promo chess games at the Olympic Village, and will be going back straight to Chennai tomorrow.

For the time being, Anand seems to have put aside the Kasparov issue. “My main objective now is the World Cup (to be held in New Delhi from November 25). I am determined to do well in the meet (the final will be held in Iran if no Israeli qualifies for the final, the chance of which is minimal).

“I believe the fact that the world championship is being held in India is a great thing for this country. For a good deal of time, the world will focus on New Delhi, on the top players of the world (except Kasparov and also possibly not Vladimir Kramnik and Nigel Short) and this is a great opportunity to really give a big boost to the game.”

India, as host country, will be represented by four Grandmasters — Anand, Dibyendu Barua, Abhijit Kunte and K. Sasikiran. That itself gives India an advantage, and the special knockout format means anybody can move up. “I remember Kunte from 1986, when I played him in the national junior meet,” said Anand.

How is Anand preparing? Actually, it is more through staying out of the game, really. I have been really busy this year, but in April-May I stopped playing and then came back, and now there is this rest period. I will not be back except for a rapid chess meet in November. I want a few days off chess before the meet. That freshens up the mind.”

He said it was tiring to be out travelling for so many months on the trot. “Into hotels and out of hotels, and back again, it’s really tiring.”

His wife Aruna said it would be nice to have a holiday at home. “Too much travelling, and any holiday, I want to rush home (in Spain),” she said. “The hotels are of course good, but you don’t feel good. A simple thing like getting a late snack is not easy, because you have to worry about whether the restaurant will shut. At home you just go to the kitchen and prepare a snack.”

This transit existence has had its comic quota as well, as Aruna narrated. “Once I had left instruction at the reception that we were not to be disturbed. Anand wanted a late night snack and forgot his key. When he asked reception to wake me up, they simply wouldn’t, despite Anand telling them he actually was staying in that room. Then a guy calls me up and says ‘m’am, there is this person named Anand who wants you to open the door now, says he stays in that room.’ ”

Anand gets little time to do serious reading apart from chess these days. “I stick to magazines, and newspapers and TV news. Sometimes I surf, mainly chess sites, but I do follow some links sometimes, then lose interest and I go off.”

He says he is eager to go over to Calcutta for a match or even a meet, “but the people there must give me a clear date. I have yet to receive any clear date from them. I am surely eager to be able to fit that city into my schedule.”    


 
 
A TITLE FOR BAGAN AT LAST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Mohun Bagan 2
Tollygunge 0

Mohun Bagan rode the Brazilian sparkles of Jose Ramirez Barreto and Joao Dos Santos to a 2-0 victory over Tollygunge Agragami in the final of the 16th All Airlines Gold Cup football tournament at their home ground today.

If Barreto’s 22nd minute strike could vaguely be traced to the class, so typical of the land he hails from, Santos’ second-half goal reflected the quality of a striker: being at the right place at the right time to encash an opportunity.

Both teams were, however, reduced to ten men in the first half after Tollygunge Agragami’s Abayomi Felix and Mohun Bagan’s Basudeb Mondal were given marching orders by referee Jayanta Chakraborty following a fracas in the middle.

En route to clinching the season’s maiden title, Mohun Bagan started cautiously note and took some time to interpret the chinks in the heavily-guarded Tollygunge defence. Their first organised move came in the 15th minute, when Satyajit Chatterjee’s cross whisked over the rival defence.

The Tollygunge citadel fell after seven minutes to the class of Barreto, who was adjudged both player of the match as well as the tournament. Reaching a Satyajit Chatterjee through, the nippy Brazilian first beat an off-side trap and then moved ahead with two Tollygunge defenders following him desperately. Amit Singha Roy, the man under the bar, was dithering to act and finally decided to charge ahead only to see Barreto placing the ball perfectly to his left.

The green-and-maroon outfit extended the lead in the 67th minute. Samuel Omollo’s header off a Amitava Chanda flagkick, landed in a melee in the dreaded area and Santos acted faster than others to tap the ball in.

Tollygunge came closer to scoring twice, thanks to the utter lack of concentration on Bagan custodian Rajat Kumar Dastidar’s part. On both occasions, he slipped the ball through, before a defender came to his rescue.

All this was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the match was held up for about eight minutes following a fracas in the middle.

In the 35th minute, Abayomi Felix elbowed Debjit Ghosh hard when the two were locked in a tussle for a ball in the air. Seeing Debjit lying in pain, the Bagan players, led by Basudeb Mondal, homed in on Felix and subjected him to shoving and intimidation.

Almost all players soon joined the fray. But before things went out of control, the referee showed the red card to Basudeb and Felix.

TEAMS

MOHUN BAGAN: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Dulal Biswas, Samuel Omello, Hussain Mustafi, Amitabha Chandra, Basudeb Mondal, Debjit Ghosh, Satyajit Chatterjee, R.C. Prakash (R.P Singh, 46m), Jose Barreto and J Santos.

TOLLYGUNGE AGRAGAMI: Amit Singha Roy; Reazul Mustafa, Debashis Paul Chowdhury, Satish Kumar Bharti, Napoleon Singh, Bhabani Mohanty, Parthasarathi Dey, Aboymoy Felix, Sandip Das (Samsan Singh, 74m), Sashti Dulay and Seriki Abdulateef.

REFEREE: Jayanta Chakraborty    


 
 
MERANO LOOKS MUCH IMPROVED 
 
 
FROM WILLIAM TELL
 
 
Working brilliantly and looks to have improved by leaps and bounds, Merano may re-produce his Calcutta-form and lift the 1,200m Brave Dancer Plate, tomorrow. Aslam Kader partners the Darius Byramji-trained four-year-old by Placerville out of Private Collection.

SELECTIONS

1.15 pm: Dunhill Star 1. Bessie 2. Swift 3.

1.40 pm: Scandal Sheet 1. Morroccan Prince 2. High Zoom 3.

2.05 pm: Furia Rossa 1. Saffron Finch 2. Splendid View 3.

2.30 pm: Complimentary 1. Antecedent 2. Machrie Bay 3.

2.55 pm: Merano 1. Great Estate 2. Sea Witch 3.

3.20 pm: Rizer 1. Appeaer 2. Glencruitten 3.

3.45 pm: Supreme Ark 1. Laugh It Off 2. Ultima 3.

4.15 pm: Lake Baikal 1. Beautiful Bird 2. Dictate 3. 4.45 pm: Winning Charm 1. Ratn 2. Prismatic 3.

Day’s Best: Furia Rossa Double: Rizer & Supreme Ark    


 
 
MAGNIFICO SHINES 
 
 
BY OUR TURF CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Magnifico was impressive during today’s work outs.

Outer sand track

1,400m: Bernadine (Amil) and Adventure (C. Alford) in 1-45s; (800m) 56 1/5s; (400m) 26s. Former was a length better.

1,200m: Treasurer (C. Alford) and Falconhead (Amil) in 1-28s; (800m) 57s; (400m) 26s. Former to note. Acquest (C. Alford) in 1-26s; (800m) 55s; (400m) 25s. Note.

800m: Giorgio (Upadhya) and Chivalrous (Rb) in 1-0s; (400m) 30 2/5s. Former a length better. Ashbury (Upadhya) in 58s; (400m) 28s. Mystic Hill (Amil) in 57s; (400m) 27s. Scavenger’s Son (Rb) in 59s; (400m) 29s. Acadameus (Rb) and Adeline (Brij S.) in 1-0s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Former was a length better.

400m: Iron Warrior (Brij S.) 30s. Fit.

Sand track

1,600m: Magnifico (Amil) and Alvarada (C. Alford) in 1-51s; (800m) 52s; (400m) 25s. Former too good.

800m: Software (Som S.) in 56s; (400m) 23s. Good. Crest Star (Yasin) 56s; (400m) 26s. Heaven’s Blessing (G. Singh) in 1-2s; (400m) 28 3/5s. Easy.

600m: Ballard Lady (Gowli) in 47s; (400m) 28s.

400m: Bird’s Empire (Rutherford) in 28s. Mountain Memory (Gurang) in 26s.

On Monday, outer sand track

600m: Consul’s Secret (Bird) in 43s; (400m) 27s. Friendly Knight (Bird) in 43 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s.    
 

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