Sonn will have to explain comments
Johansson, Santoro out
Lack of big names a deterrent for fans
I had nothing to lose, says Srichaphan
EB crave for victory
AIFF may push in NFL ties
Battle for supremacy
Bangalore Oaks/ Nairn has best credentials
Bangalore Racing/Vivid Dreams scores upset win
Race Review/ Sunny crowds, shallow pool

 
 
SONN WILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN COMMENTS 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Jan.4: 
The Hansie Cronje-specific remarks of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) president, Percy Sonn, will dominate its executive committee and general council meeting this month.

In fact, well-placed sources of The Telegraph insisted Sonn “will be formally asked to explain” his headline-making utterances in Sydney yesterday.

[Quoting chief executive Gerald Majola, a Johannesburg-datelined agency report confirmed this late in the evening. The report talked of a “special meeting” next week itself.]

Sonn, whose trip Down Under has turned out to be highly controversial, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the UCBSA was prepared to forgive Cronje and, in the future, find a role for him.

Cronje, who has admitted to dealings with bookies, is serving a life ban and isn’t even eligible for Media accreditation from the UCBSA. If, for instance, Cronje wishes to enter the Wanderers or St George’s Park, he must come through the turnstiles.

Specifically, Sonn said: “Our Board is not God in terms of determining what rehabilitation is sufficient… Hansie deserves to enjoy all the freedom of South African society. He is a child of the UCB… We will look at it, but I’m sure there’s a place for Hansie in South African cricket…”

Ever since Sonn’s comments were aired, many within the UCBSA have been in “regular” touch. All, of course, have been stumped by the president.

While Sonn hasn’t himself spoken after that interview, a UCBSA vice-president and Majola did react yesterday itself.

Contacted in Johannesburg this afternoon, Majola unambiguously maintained: “Look, status-quo remains and the life ban on Cronje stays… The president’s views are his own and don’t reflect the UCBSA’s opinion.”

After a pause, Majola added: “Frankly, when I was first informed of Sonn’s remarks, I just couldn’t believe it… I was hoping to speak to him today, but haven’t been able to so far.”

Obviously aware that Sonn didn’t consult anybody before holding forth on Cronje, the former captain’s family hasn’t gone overboard.

Talking exclusively from East London (where he is on a business trip), Cronje’s father Ewie simply said: “We don’t wish to react. Certainly not now, possibly not in the future either. So, from our side, it’s a simple no comments.”

In any case, as the International Cricket Council has ratified the life ban, the UCBSA can’t ever unilaterally have a re-think without far-reaching consequences.

[Incidentally, in India, Ajay Jadeja has already appealed for a “review” of his five-year ban, while Mohammed Azharuddin still hasn’t given up hopes of playing his 100th Test.]

While most in South Africa are deliberating on what prompted Sonn to speak in the manner he did, sources felt it had something to do with the president wanting to be seen as “even-handed,” specially after the furore over the forced inclusion of Justin Ontong in the Sydney Test.

After all, despite every effort to “assimilate,” the White and non-White factor remains in South African cricket. Ontong is a coloured from Boland and, at the moment, Sonn (himself a coloured) appears to have lost support among the Whites. The sources, then, are convinced Sonn had a purpose (read:Damage control) in going public with his Cronje-remarks.

Not too long ago, when Cronje lost an appeal in court and the UCBSA hardened its stand, a comparison was made with the (sympathetic) treatment meted out to Makhaya Ntini, accused of rape three years ago.

Pastor Ray McCauley even went to the extent of saying: “Let us take the example of a fast bowler who was charged with rape. He was found guilty and, on appeal, was let out… Why can’t Hansie be given the same chance?”

Significantly, though the Justice Edwin King Commission’s work is over, Cronje is under investigation from government agencies — the Revenue Service besides the Public Prosecutor’s Office itself.

The probe is focussing on concealed income, forex violations and “corruption.”

   

 
 
JOHANSSON, SANTORO OUT 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 4: 
On a night of high drama and some champagne tennis, the second and third seeds took their leave from the $400,000 Tata Open. Swede Thomas Johansson was the first to bow out, Thai Paradorn Srichaphan doing the damage. Frenchman Fabrice Santoro followed suit, losing a three-hour thriller to Slovak Karol Kucera after saving seven match-points.

Top seed Guillermo Canas is still alive, though. He had the easiest passage to the last four, following a lower back injury to Czech Jiri Vanek. Canas was leading 7-5, 1-1 when Vanek threw in the towel.

The fourth seed also went through late tonight, Andrei Pavel beating Spain’s Alex Calatrava 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. In tomorrow’s semis, Canas will face Kucera and Srichaphan meets Pavel.

Top seeds Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi advanced to the doubles semi-finals without having to hit a ball as Juan Balcells and George Bastl withdrew due to a wrist injury to the former. The Indians will meet third-seeded Frantisek Cermak and Petr Luxa tomorrow.

Srichaphan, ranked a moderate No. 112, lived out a sweet dream on Nungambakkam Stadium centre court. Coming into the match riding two straight-set wins — over fifth seed Max Mirnyi and 2001 losing finlist Andrei Stoliarov — the 22-year-old Thai conquered world No. 18 Johansson 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Outplayed in the first set by a smooth-stroking Johansson, Srichaphan turned the match around by raising his level well beyond his ranking. Striking the ball better from the baseline and serving like a top-tenner, the Asian champion broke Johansson in the sixth game and closed out the second set with one of his 11 booming aces.

The third set was a total washout for Australian Open quarter-finalist Johansson, what with Srichaphan spraying winners at will. The one which stood out clinched him the first break. Pushed to a corner by a deep Johansson return, Srichaphan came scurrying for the next ball which he hit back, crosscourt, for an amazing winner.

Johansson didn’t know what hit him. He didn’t hold serve till the seventh game, by which time the Thai had the match in his pocket. He sealed his second career semi-final entry — after Singapore 1999 — with another of his big serves, down the middle, which the Swede put tamely into the net.

The match of the tournament, indeed one of the best here in six years, featured comeback-man Kucera and the chicken tikka masala-loving Santoro. For reasons best known to the organisers, it was scheduled on an outside court.

Kucera, keen to get back to where he belonged in 1998 (top 10) after his worst year in eight seasons, raced through the first set 6-2. It looked as if Santoro, who lost six of his previous eight meetings with the Slovak, was headed for another disaster.

The Frenchman, more of a streetfighter with a unique double-handed forehand, gave different signals in the second set. He led 3-0, only to lose the next three games. Kucera, hitting forehand winners clean as a whistle, broke again in the seventh game and was serving for the match at 5-4.

Santoro’s heroic battle for survival started then and there. He fought off two match-points in the 10th game and two more in the tie-break which ultimately went the Frenchman’s way after 20 fiercely fought points (11-9).

Kucera had three more match-points on Santoro’s serve in the 10th game of the decider. But the Frenchman just wouldn’t give up, retrieving unreturnable balls from 15 feet behind the baseline.

It went to another tie-break and after one more bull-fight, Kucera finally came through and lay prostrate on the court to celebrate a famous victory.

RESULTS (All quarter finals)

SINGLES: Guillermo Canas (Arg, 1) bt Jiri Vanek (Cze) 7-5, 1-1 conceded; Paradorn Srichaphan (Tha) bt Thomas Johansson (Swe, 2) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2; Karol Kucera (Svk) bt Fabrice Santoro (Fra, 3) 6-2, 6-7 (9-11), 7-6 (7-5); Andrei Pavel (Rom, 4) bt Alex Calatrava (Spa) 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. DOUBLES: Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind, 1) walkover Juan Balcells (Spa) & George Bastl (Swi).

   

 
 
LACK OF BIG NAMES A DETERRENT FOR FANS 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 4: 
Where have the crowds gone? That’s the question doing the rounds at the Nungambakkam Stadium these days.

True, the centre court was abuzz with excitement around 7 o’clock last evening when the Indian Express started its journey in quest of a fourth title here. But there were no more than two and a half thousand people on the stands. On the first three days of the tournament, the average turnout at the 5,500-capacity stadium was no more than a thousand or thereabouts.

Compared to the figures in the first four years, these are pathetic numbers. Ever since the ATP event was shifted from New Delhi to this southern metropolis five years ago — mainly because of poor public response in the capital — the tennis-loving crowds here have lived up to their reputation.

Who will forget that day in April 1998 when not a seat was empty on the terraces and over a couple of thousand ticketless fans waited outside to watch Boris Becker play? That’s a distant dream now, but why is it so?

For starters, IMG — which owns the only ATP event in this country — has failed to attract a single marquee name for this year’s edition. Forget Becker, or even the likes of Patrick Rafter-Richard Krajicek, there’s not a single top-10 player who has the charisma to blindly draw the crowds. There are a couple of top-20 players in the draw (Guillermo Canas and Thomas Johansson), but someone like Gustavo Kuerten or Marat Safin would have done the trick.

“There’s no charm in this year’s meet… I will only be interested in watching Leander and Mahesh’s match,” said 15-year-old Kavitha before last evening’s doubles first round match. She echoed the sentiments of the fans who would have liked one or two big (read: established) names to convince them that this was, indeed, a top-grade event.

“It was unfortunate that Sergi Bruguera pulled out because of health reasons. His presence would have made a difference,” said Promit Chatterjee, a senior representative of the Tata Group which has replaced ITC as the title sponsors. He is partly right. Bruguera, after all, won back-to-back French Open titles in the early nineties. But it is also a fact that a 30-year-old Bruguera wouldn’t have been half as popular as a 30-year-old Becker.

The absence of big names apart, there are other factors which have contributed to such a lukewarm public response. The build-up and promotion to this year’s meet has hardly matched those of the five previous editions.

“Preparations started very late this time, maybe because the sponsors were finalised a few months before the meet,” said a former Davis Cupper who didn’t want to be identified. “Ticket sales have also not been well organised and coordinated. Most of the people coming to the stadium this time have got complimentaries.”

This is surely not the way the new sponsors would have liked to begin their big-time association with tennis. Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learnt for them and, more importantly, for IMG. And that is — the public cannot be taken for granted.

   

 
 
I HAD NOTHING TO LOSE, SAYS SRICHAPHAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Jan. 4: 
For a man who had just a few minutes ago authored a stunning upset at the Tata Open, Paradorn Srichaphan was remarkably cool and humble.

“I had nothing to lose, I could play my natural game… he (Thomas Johansson) was under more pressure being the second seed,” the 22-year-old Thai said at the post-match conference.

Getting into the main draw only after the withdrawal of Sergi Bruguera, Srichaphan didn’t have too many expectations from this event. “I was just happy to get a chance to play without having to qualify. I had no goals for this week,” said the Asian champion who would be making his second semi-final appearance in an ATP meet tomorrow.

Happy to have beaten the world No. 18, Srichaphan still considers his win over another Swede, Magnus Norman at the 1999 Singapore Open as his best result. “This was memorable in its way… coming back from a set down, getting so much support from the crowd. I think they supported me as they wanted an Asian to win.”

The beaten man admitted that he got frustrated as the match wore on. “I started well and should have capitalised on it,” said Johansson. “But he played remarkably well to turn it around.

Fabrice Santoro, the night’s other seeded casualty, was anything but upset after his three-hour defeat at the hands of Karol Kucera. “It’s better to lose this way, I am quite happy with the way I played,” said the third seed from France. And so he should be, after saving seven match-points in a torrid fight for supremacy.

“I took it one match-point at a time… such things (saving seven match-points) happen when you give it your hundred per cent,” Santoro said.

Kucera, a former top-10 player determined to get back to the elite league, confessed he was a bit nervous when he had those two match-points in the first set. “I should have wrapped it up in two sets, I think I was a bit nervous. It would have been far easier for me that way as I’d have got more time to recover for tomorrow’s semis.”

   

 
 
EB CRAVE FOR VICTORY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
East Bengal go into their sixth match of the National Football League with the objective of collecting three points. They should, considering rivals Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) are yet to attain stardom in the big league of Indian football.

Even otherwise, East Bengal start clear favourites since tomorrow’s Salt Lake Stadium clash pits the defending champions against a team which finished tenth in the 12-team competition last season. But there are these points the home team would do well to remember.

No. 1, they had lost the away tie to ITI during their victorious campaign last year. No. 2, the Bangalore outfit is one of the three teams (HAL and Mahindra being the other two) yet to taste defeat in this edition of the meet — where all teams have completed five matches each.

Perhaps that’s why the East Bengal coach struck a note of caution after this morning’s practice session. “Can’t take any team lightly, and there is no room for complacency,” said Manoranjan Bhattacharya whose team has posted successive victories at home against JCT and Churchill Brothers.

“But most certainly, I want three points from this match. It doesn’t matter how other teams are doing, a win tomorrow will stand us in very good stead,” noted Manoranjan.

ITI coach Krishnaji Rao is well aware of that and also the fact that East Bengal will leave no stone unturned to glean full points against his team. Naturally, he is likely to adapt a safety-first ploy, while looking to score on the counterattacks. Obviously, he won’t mind taking three points here but hinted that he won’t be too unhappy to return with one.

With a win and four draws under their belt, ITI rely heavily on Nigerians George Ekeh and Kenneth Onu for goals. There is one more from Nigeria, defender John Okora, along with East Bengal reject Ghanaian Mohammed Salisu.

“We can’t rely only on them, the Indian players must also take some responsibility,” said Rao, the former technical director of the Indian team. Talking about that, he has so far been impressed by the showing of goalkeeper N. Balaji, defenders K. Dhanesh and Firoze.

There is also a strong Calcutta connection in ITI, with several TFA graduates — after unsuccessful stints with some city clubs — having joined them this season. The coach identified the likes of Sheikh Sanjib, Trijit Das, Zaheer Abbas as the future of Indian football but did not seem too excited about the way they are faring at the present.

Talking about resources, East Bengal will continue to miss medio Dipankar Roy and defender Dipak Mondal, while striker Bijen Singh will be out with two bookings. Isiaka Awoyemi, however, will return after a one-match suspension and that will add power to the right side of their midfield.

Elsewehere, Suley Musah is a threat with his ventures from the heart of the defence. The ITI coach will instruct his men to keep a watch on this Ghanaian. He added there will be special care for I.M. Vijayan who he thinks can still be a handful.

East Bengal have so far collected ten points and ITI seven.

   

 
 
AIFF MAY PUSH IN NFL TIES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
Growing uncertainty over the SAFF Cup has given the AIFF a chance to cut short the proposed January 16-February 16 break in the National Football League (NFL).

With Bangladesh set to host the meet in end-January, the AIFF had decided to suspend NFL action for the above-mentioned period and squeeze the Rovers and Durand Cup in between.

However, following changes in guard at the Bangladesh federation, the SAFF Cup has become uncertain, forcing a re-think in the AIFF ranks. In a letter to the IFA, the AIFF has asked the state body whether it could organise matches here during that period.

However, what happens to the Rovers and Durand Cup in case the NFL does continue, remains to be seen. A decision is expected soon.

Habib resigned: ITI

Mohammed Habib, who quit as ITI coach after just three NFL matches, did so on his own. ITI team manager C. Ramakrishna, here for tomorrow’s match against East Bengal, said the management was unhappy with Habib but didn’t ask him to leave.

   

 
 
BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
Bengal and Orissa will battle for supremacy in the East Zone Ranji Trophy league with the four-day tie in Baripada tomorrow.

It will be a grudge match for Bengal who lost to Orissa at home last season. Both teams have won three matches each this time and the winner will top the zone. Orissa have been strengthened with the inclusion of India opener Shiv Sundar Das. Orissa, with a deep batting line-up and a balanced attack, will certainly enjoy some home advantage. Sanjay Raul, R.R. Parida and P. Jayachandra have been in good nick with Debashish Mohanty and Sanjay Satpathy carrying the load in bowling.

India ‘keeper Deep Dasgupta will once again don the big gloves after playing against Bihar. His presence is sure to lift the morale of the Bengal team.

   

 
 
BANGALORE OAKS/ NAIRN HAS BEST CREDENTIALS 
 
 
FROM WILLIAM TELL
 
Bangalore, Jan. 4: 
The winner of the Mysore 1,000 Guineas before her close second to Ansbach in the Derby, Nairn may be hard to toss in the 2,400m The Hindu Bangalore Oaks here tomorrow. K, P, Appu partners the Z. Darashah-trained Razeen Warm Feelings daughter.

SELECTIONS

2.30 pm: Rusticana 1. Dancing Beat 2; Trap A Spy 3.
3 pm: Society Dream 1. Spark of Zeus 2.
3.30 pm: Carnival Craze 1. Belief 2. Renzino 3.
4 pm: Nairn 1. Battle Star 2. Caressing 3.
4.30 pm: Swinging Conquest 1. Go Honey Go 2. Soviet Bay 3.
5 pm: Rizer 1. Gypsie’s Wish 2. Saturn Star 3.
5.30 pm: Save The Day 1. Good Win 2. Kisunugntly 3.

Day’s Best: Nairn

Double: Society Dream & Swinging Conquest
   

 
 
BANGALORE RACING/VIVID DREAMS SCORES UPSET WIN 
 
 
BY TITAN BOY
 
Bangalore, Jan. 4: 
Trained by Michael Eshwer, Vivid Dreams scored an upset victory in New Millennium Cup, the main event at the Bangalore races held on Friday. F. Norton partnered the four-year-old filly by Classic Sport out of Escada to victory.

RESULTS

(With inter-state dividends)

1. Madhugiri Plate 1,200m: (6-5-8) Wooli U Gooli (Appu) 1; Great Splendour 2; Royal Satsuma 3. Won by: 4-1/4; 5; (1-17.4). Tote: Win Rs 33; Place: 15; 31; 21; Quinella: 203; Tan-ala: 948. Fav: Diamond Harbour (1).

2. Splendid Role Plate 1,600m: (2-5-3) Auchterarder (Appu) 1; Sinatra 2; Special Request 3. Won by: 3/4; Nk; (1-43.5). Tote: Win Rs 110; Place: 25; 28; 24; Quinella: 568; Tanala: 10,215. Fav: Stingaroo (4).

3. New Millennium Cup 1,400m: (8-5-9) Vivid Dreams (Norton) 1; Blue Hare 2; Flying Scotsman 3. Won by: 1-1/4; 5; (1-27.8). Tote: Win Rs 88; Place: 22; 20; 13; Quinella: 212; Tanala: 1,007. Fav: Flying Scotsman (9).

4. Kelachandra New Year Trophy 1,400m: (6-1-4) Priceless (Prakash) 1; Brave Persian 2; Flirt With Speed 3. Won by: 5-3/4; 3-1/4; (1-30.4). Tote: Win Rs 37; Place: 15; 14; 20; Quinella: 71; Tanala: 424. Fav: Generation Next (2).

5. Somwarpet Plate 1,200m: (10-2-7) Silvertre (F. Ismail) 1; Old Meldrum 2; Noble Minstrel 3. Won by: Dist; 1-3/4; (1-15.8). Tote: Win Rs 17; Place: 11; 18; 17; Quinella: 51; Tanala: 153. Fav: Silvertre (10).

6. R. H. Shaw Memorial Plate 1,600m: (5-8-1) Sacristia (Norton) 1; Dover 2; Forest Rose 3. Won by: Dist; 2-1/2; (1-41.7). Tote: Win Rs 28; Place: 13; 16; 17; Quinella: 62; Tanala: 190. Fav: Sacristia (5).

7. Star Contender Plate 1,400m: (2-9-4) Mumbai Dancer (Shukla) 1; Silver Touch 2; Aryawun 3. Won by: 5-1/4; 2-3/4; (1-30.9). Tote: Win Rs 53; Place: 18; 126; 16; Quinella: 1,562; Tanala: 7,444. Fav: Fly Past (8).

Jackpot: Rs 13,115; (C) Rs 529.

Treble: (i) Rs 4,193; (ii) Rs 242.
   

 
 
RACE REVIEW/ SUNNY CROWDS, SHALLOW POOL 
 
 
BY STAR RACER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
It was fun and excitement at the races on the New Year’s Day making it a memorable fixture. With a carnival like atmosphere, the colourful crowd not only rooted for favourites, it also made a beeline for goodies and freebies, courtesy the likes of Movenpics ice-creams, Dabars juices, Gangaurs and many more. A new trend that demands the sport to be marketed that way. Horseracing alone does not seem to be selling any more without an entertainment ‘package’.

However, despite the 19,000-plus crowd and competitive fields, the gross totalisator collections failed to shoot beyond the last New Year’s Day mark of Rs 75 Lakh. More surprisingly, the jackpot pool fell far short of the normal Rs 10 lakh collections. Vineet Verma, CEO RCTC, however, felt he needs to sit with his subordinates and analyse this anomaly, though it was otherwise a satisfying day. He then went on to make certain observations for the betterment of the sport. But, a nine event-card, in his opinion, was too long a fare for a city blessed with less than 11 hours of sunlight in winter months.

The racing public, on the other hand, got what it longed for — close finishes in five events and as many favourites winning in the long-drawn card. The Eveready Alkaline Sprinters’ Trophy produced the closest encounter. The fact that owner-mates were involved for camera verdicts in as many as three of the five races made the sport that much more exciting. Unfortunately, for paying public, the lesser-fancied runners from the stables got the winning verdicts. For instance, the Alcalde-Ancheta encounter was the most exciting event, but the 35-100 hot-favourite buckled under the superior class and finishing prowess of Alcalde.

If Aslam Kader failed in his start-to-finish effort to drive home the advantage on Ancheta, jockey S. Shanker performed the same trick on Announcer in the Eveready Indian Produce Stakes. It is another matter that Kader was, once again, at the receiving end on the favourite Romantic Notes. Making his debut, the well-bred colt Sea Royal failed to impress. The Alnasr Alwasheek-Sea of Tranquility son definitely needed the run.

Daniel David’s two wards Soviet Ride and Regency Times were left to decide the outcome of the Oakmead Cup that the former just about managed to win when ridden in a check. However, it was the last outing comfortable winner Comedy of Errors who could have won the race had the Darius Byramji-trainee not been drawn 11 in a field of 13. He was a creditable third and could win again.

Darius and Kader had, however, the satisfaction of seeing Altenburg come right to win the 2,200m Nepal Gold Cup. The fact that the Razeen-Try Kola five-year-old had placed a good second to Storm Again but had failed to anything worthwhile over the months, his return to form was a good news for all concerned.

   
 

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