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Lessons for Pillay & Co.
Serve & Volley / Naresh Kumar
Dhanraj Pillay should'nt have argued with the umpire in the Dutch game

Becalmed in the doldrums for decades, Indian sport has at long last dipped an oar in the stagnant waters of our sporting world. Outstanding performances at Asian and international levels in a number of disciplines have filled sporting hearts with joy and brought a ray of hope into our lives.

The media, starved of Indian heroes, lapped up the success stories. The exposure provided a wake-up call to the government and stimulated potential sponsors in a surging economy. The normally tardy-gaited government jumped on the bandwagon and announced substantial financial rewards with promises to fund further training, in one case for an unbelievable Rs 1 crore.

The Prime Minister has now promised income tax relief for all donations to sport! Happily, at last, things are beginning to move. The most significant impact of the good performance by our sportspersons is that it has changed the perception of sport at the political and administrative level.

The enormous gap between the pittance that government budgets provide for sport and the actual requirement to produce world-class performers has become apparent and is reflected somewhat in the financial rewards doled out. What our sportspersons have achieved on shoestring budgets can be termed as miraculous. They deserve the highest praise.

We had high expectations from our hockey team. Its loss in the Champions Trophy was heartbreaking. The team seemed to be full of new-found resolve, but at the end was reduced to tears. Whatever reasons the experts may give, two things in my estimation were vital factors which affected its performance.

One was the blunder of captain Dhanraj Pillay in contesting, with other senior players, the controversial goal the Dutch scored to level the score at 3-3 in the dying minutes of the match. Umpires do not change such decisions.

The prolonged protest resulted in Pillay being sent off, leaving a disheartened team unable to adjust to the fact that victory had been snatched from their grasp. Before they could recover and regroup, the Dutch, who were on a high after the miraculous turnaround from 0-3, quickly slammed the winning goal in the last minute for a 4-3 victory.

Instead of getting them to rally and gear up for one last comeback attempt, Pillay had unwittingly destroyed the morale of the team. Such things happen in sport, especially when you are under great pressure to measure up to the media hype before the tournament. I hope we will learn from this.

I am still upbeat about our hockey team. Jugraj (Singh), who will surely recover fully, (Baljit Singh) Saini and Gagan Ajit (Singh), with a further raised level of strength and physical fitness, can upstage the Europeans with their skill.

Jugraj’s accident is a tragic blow to Indian hockey. A short corner conversion specialist was badly needed in our team. His absence will leave a vacuum which will be difficult to fill. One prays he will recover soon.

Even in his twilight years, it is a joy to watch Pillay make one of his swashbuckling runs weaving his way through the opposition. He is undoubtedly one of our all-time greats. Indian hockey has a good future provided we persevere with our efforts.

The second reason for the failure in Champions Trophy was possibly the training camp in the searing Lucknow heat just before the tournament. Some players complained that it sapped their energy. The concept of improving physical fitness of players in a brief camp is a myth.

To attain a level of physical fitness enjoyed by top European teams it would take 2-3 years of properly programmed physical training along with proper diet control. If you spend more energy in training than you can put back overnight, then you start to lose condition. This could well have happened as players tend to go flat out for getting selected.

I remember in 1962, India were playing against Mexico in Chennai in the inter-zone finals of the Davis Cup. The association, in good faith, engaged an Australian coach — Stan Edwards — to sharpen up and train the team.

Australian regimes of training and ours are poles apart. On the first day, Edwards took the team to the beach and made the players run on the sand while he cruised alongside driving an old Fiat with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Ramanathan Krishnan took one look and firmly said he was going home.

Jaidip (Mukerjea), Premjit (Lal) and Akhtar (Ali), who were contenders for the second singles spot, were furious but did not wish to displease the coach as it might affect their chances of selection. So they ran every morning on the sand. Eventually, Jaidip was selected, but his calf muscles felt like lead and he lost a match he may well have won.

Top-class foreign coaches and physical trainers are a must for Indian sport, but they have to learn to handle Indian sportspersons who normally do not have the brawn and muscle of their European counterparts, and rely more on skill and guile.

Leander (Paes’) illness was most disturbing. The whole nation breathed a sigh of relief when he came out of the shadow of the Big C. With two mixed doubles victories partnering Martina Navratilova in his pocket, Leander was poised at the net to collect yet another Grand Slam title. But, who can anticipate or intercept the passing shots of the Lord that sent him from the tennis court to the hospital'

Even without the threat of the Big C, this is a major blow for Leander. At a time when he was on a roll and in peak form, he may be out of the game for two-three months, which will mean heavy financial loss.

He has to get back that look in his eye, pump his fists and come out of his corner at his fighting best. Good luck to him.

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