Odds favour Azhar�s return
Sandipan falls to Evgeny
Indians fail in final hurdle
We have no hope in Olympics: Sriram Singh
Saddle Up gallops to narrow win
Clash of titans today
Track trials

Calcutta, Feb.12 
Eight months ago, Mohammed Azharuddin was India�s villain No.1. Today, without the former captain doing anything exceptional, many are actually seeing him as a messiah.

If not anything else, this turnaround could provide the perfect script for a runaway hit should there be takers in Azhar�s �adopted� home, Mumbai.

Of course, Azhar still hasn�t been recalled, but it may not be wise to bet against his return, in the first Test versus South Africa (Mumbai, from February 24).

According to The Telegraph�s sources, the Board �- which okayed Azhar�s ouster from the captaincy (for the second time) last July, a move which also kept him out of the team �- has itself done a U-turn.

Indications are should captain Sachin Tendulkar and coach Kapil Dev resist Azhar�s recall, one more time, the Board will probably ask both to lay-off.

Equations could change, between now and February 20 when the selectors meet in Mumbai, but it�s unlikely the shift will be appreciable.

At the moment, then, the odds are favouring Azhar. Strictly by default but, with the team faring abysmally, few are in the mood to raise a toast to the new generation.

�Enough is enough... The team (sans Azhar) didn�t deliver and, if his inclusion is again made an issue, the Board will let it be known that somebody�s personal likes and dislikes cannot dictate the team�s composition,� informed a well-placed source.

As was reported in these columns last month, the Board (through the selectors) had lobbied hard for Azhar�s return (in the tri-series) but Kapil and Sachin were more than just firm in saying �no.�

That was while India were still only 0-2 down in the Test series. Within days, the bottomline read 0-3. And, in the next couple of weeks, the tri-series itself proved to be an equally big disaster.

Significantly, even then, it was a limited �victory� for Sachin and Kapil as the Board �retaliated� by holding back Ajay Jadeja. It was a pathetic game of one-upmanship and, by now, the Board would have realised the high cost.

At least, one hopes so.

For their part Kapil and Sachin may continue to argue the Azhar-specific ground realities, which led to his exclusion in the first place � specifically, damaging team spirit and whispers that had little to do with cricket �- haven�t changed one bit. But, today, their bargaining power is zilch.

Perhaps realising the Azhar-related pressure could rise, Kapil made a shrewd move on the eve of the team�s return from Australia.

Indeed, for maximum mileage, he chose a news agency to go public with what was privately known on the circuit: That Azhar was far from popular with the players.

The Board promptly replied �- again, through a news agency �- that Kapil may not be invited to the February 20 meeting.

Our cricket would be infinitely better off if the Board paid as much attention to matters that really need to be quickly addressed but, it probably is pleased as punch at having conveyed a �message� to Kapil.

Ironically, Kapil is himself a Board-appointee. And, for two years.

It�s unlikely Kapil won�t be invited �- such a stunning break with convention can have disastrous consequences �- but it�s Azhar who must have broken into a series of chuckles.

On the circuit, incidentally, it�s widely believed Sachin and Kapil would already have had the last laugh had they taken Azhar along to Australia. After all, the Glenn McGraths and Brett Lees would have paid him some (unwelcome) attention, too, instead of largely targeting Sachin.

Should Kapil and Sachin eventually have to �swallow� Azhar �- that�s how the well-placed source put it �- they may, in time to come, regret what appears to have been an off-the-field tactical blunder.

For the record, Azhar is two shy of becoming the fourth Indian �- after Kapil (131), Sunil Gavaskar (125) and Dilip Vengsarkar (116) �- to complete a century of Tests.

Azhar turned 37 on Tuesday.    

Calcutta, Feb. 12 
Gregory Kaidanov held second seed Viktor Korchnoi to maintain his lead after Round 7 in the Goodricke International Open chess meet at Gorky Sadan today. Kaidanov signed the peace treaty after 13 moves today. The American GM now has six points, Korchnoi five.

Sandipan Chanda�s dream run came to an end as he lost an 82-move battle to Kazakh GM Vladimirov Evgeny. This win put Vladimirov in sole possession of the second spot (5.5). Sandipan stayed on 4.5.

IM Sudhakar Babu (3) and Macedonian GM Tony Najdoski (3) drew their game, while Argentine GM Maxim Sorokin (5) was held by K. Sasikiran (5). Sorokin employed Queen�s Gambit against Sasikiran�s Tarrach Defence. The point was split after 19 moves.

GM Bogdan Lalic (5) was held by Kunte (5) in 23 moves. GM Vladimir Akopian, the top seed, beat Kazakh GM Leonid Yurdaev (4) to take his tally to five. Indian youngster P. Harikrishna (4.5) scored a smart win against R.B. Ramesh (3.5) while GM Pravin Thipsay (4) tamed Aarthie Ramaswamy (3.5) in 38 moves. Koneru Humpy (3.5) lost to T.S. Ravi (4.5).    

Calcutta, Feb. 12 
Fourth-seeded Armenian Harut Sofyan and second seed Peng Shuai of China posted contrasting wins to clinch the boys� and girls� crowns, respectively, in the ITF Junior world ranking meet at the DKS courts today.

Sofyan ended city boy Vinod Sewa�s dream run with a 6-1, 6-1 victory while Shuai had to work hard against top seed Radhika Tulpule before winning 7-5, 6-3.

Sofyan, who had defeated Sewa in their previous encounter at the Chandigarh ITF meet, broke the local favourite in the very first game of the opening set and held serve for a 2-0 lead. Sewa held serve in the next game but was broken again in the fifth and seventh to lose the set in a mere 20 minutes. Sofyan raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set but dropped serve in the fifth game. That, however, did not prove costly as Sewa was broken again in the next game. The Armenian then held serve to win the match.

The girls� final was a close affair and the Indian erased a 0-2 deficit before conceding a 2-5 lead. But Tulpule broke Shuai again to draw level. The Chinese held serve in the next game for a 6-5 lead and Tulpule saved three set points, wasted a game point before dropping serve in the 12th game to lose the set. Shuai broke Tulpule in the second game of the second set to open up a 3-0 lead but the Indian fought back once again to make it 3-3. But Shuai broke the top seed again in the eighth game and retained serve in the ninth to clinch the title.    

Calcutta, Feb. 12 
The state of Indian athletics, though improving, has yet to go a long way before it can reach world standards, opined Sriram Singh, Asian Games gold medal winner and Olympic finalist.

Sriram was in the city today to grace the final day of the Druk inter-school Trackfest, an inter-school athletics meet.

Though a delayed flight from Delhi prevented him from watching the action from the start � he reached Rabindra Sarobar Stadium around 3.30 pm � Sriram seemed very enthusiastic about the nature of he meet.

�We need to have more and more children coming into athletics. Only when there is a large number of participants can you hope to spot champions on a regular basis. There should be more championships of this nature,� he said.

Sriram came into athletics driven by his urge to prove himself in an individual sports. �I used to play football in school, but then I realised that I can do better in an individual sport and so I took to running.

�Athletics is rather ignored today, but to excel in any sport one needs to be a good athlete. Physical fitness, a prime attribute of an athlete, is today a must in any sport.�

Sriram was optimistic about India�s chances in the Asian level, but was not really very hopeful of creating ripples in the Sydney Olympics. �We really have no hope in the Olympics,� was his frank admission.

He said that if Jyotirmoyee Sikdar worked hard and was able to return a timing of under-two minutes in the 800, then she might make it past the semi-final stage. Others to have impressed him recently are Punjab long-distance runner Sunita Rani, Bengal�s sprinter Saraswati Dey and high jumper Sanjai Rai, also from Bengal.

Sriram was of the view that though the Amateur Athletics Federation of India (AAFI) was trying to boost the state of athletics by holding regular camps and also trying to send some athletes abroad for exposure, lack of infrastructure at most places was still a bane.

Asked about the paucity of synthetic tracks in the country, he said that the expensive Tartan tracks should be used mostly for competitions, while cinder tracks can be used for practice.

�Most of our athletes come from rural areas, where it is difficult to install and maintain Tartan tracks,� he said.

Sriram was also not happy with the way the Sports Authority of India (SAI) were conducting their athletics programmes. �They are not really doing the best for the game,� he said.    

Calcutta, Feb. 12 
Brilliantly handled by Pesi Shroff, Saddel Up notched up a sensational victory over Allied Forces in the 2,800m Queen Elizabeth II Cup today. Expected to cruise home because of his much higher rating, the last year�s Indian Derby winner, rather the Mumbai challenger for the forthcoming a Stayers Cup latter in the month, was fully stretched by the local hope ridden by Aslam Kader. Allied Forces had, however, established a winning lead until the Bold Russian-Queen�s Rule five-year-old walked on to the scene. A keen duel that followed in the last 150m of the race was a delightful treat for the Saturday race crowd.


1. Bergamo Cup 2,400m: (3-2-1-4) Amerrico (Shanker) 1; Supreme Desire (Kharadi) 2; Assyrian (C. Alford) 3; Consolidate (M. Reuben) 4. Won by: 2-3/4; Dist; 3/4; (2-40.1). Tote: Win Rs 41; Place: 18; 15; Quinella: 32; Tanala: 193. Fav: Supreme Desire (2). Winner trained by A. Goenka.

2. Necessity Handicap 1,400m: (1-5-3-6) Global Harmony (Manohar) 1; Tribal Warlord (Nasruddin) 2; Angstrom (C. Alford) 3; Wild Dreams (Rabani) 4. Won by: 3/4; 6-3/4; 1-1/4; (1-30.6). Tote: Win Rs 15; Place: 11; 25; 13; Quinella: 120; Tanala: 319. Fav: Global Harmony (1). Winner trained by Mujeeb R.

3. Princess Jani Handicap 1,100m: (6-10-1-8) Endless Surprise (Kader) 1; Oriental Pride (Merchant) 2; Privy Council (Connorton) 3; The Stud (Shanker) 4. Won by: 1-1/4; 4; 1-1/4; (1-8.2). Tote: Win Rs 12; Place: 11; 19; 51; Quinella: 51; Tanala: 419. Fav: Endless Surprise (6). Winner trained by D. David.

4. Ming Dynasty Cup 1,200m: (1-3-2-6) Amarante (C. Alford) 1; Freeatlast (Chavan) 2; Sky Hawk (Sher) 3; Klondyke Rose (Shanker) 4. Won by: 1-3/4; SH; 2; (1-15.8). Tote: Win Rs 21; Place: 12; 13; 61; Quienlla: 20; Tanala: 419. Fav: Amarante (1). Winner trained by Vijay S.

5. Queen Elizabeth II Cup 2,800m: (2-1-6-5) Saddle Up (Shroff) 1; Allied Forecs (Kader) 2; Astrodance (Chavan) 3; Audible (C. Alford) 4. Won by: Hd; 2-1/4; 1/2; (3-4.6). Tote: Win Rs 17; Place: 13; 15; Quinella: 18; Tanala: 143. Fav: Saddle Up (2). Winner trained by Dhariwal.

6. Fair Haven Cup 1,200m: (2-1-4-7) Diplomatic Gesture (Gowli) 1; Piece Of Cake (Bird) 2; Double Dancer (Connorton) 3; Queen�s Theatre (M. Reuben) 4. Won by: 5-1/4; 1-1/4; Hd; (1-16). Tote: Win Rs 68; Place: 17; 17; 12; Quinella: 186; Tanala: 766. Fav: Dancing Wonder (4). Winner trained by Bath.

7. Canny Scot Handicap 1,200m: (8-3-6-2) Jayaashva (Razzak) 1; Heaven�s Blessing (Gowli) 2; Aileron (C. Alford) 3; Kargil Soldier (Engineer) 4. Won by: 1; 1/2; Nk; (1-15.8). Tote: Win Rs 702; Place: 86; 43; 16; Quinella: 2,623; Tanala: 39,096. Fav: Winning Hand (5). Winner trained by Jaiswal.

Jackpot: Rs 20,731; (C) Rs 115.

Treble: (i) Rs 32; (ii) Rs 8,085.    

The best of Indian jockeys and their overseas counterparts are set to contest the title � Clash Of The Titans � in Mumbai on Sunday. Of the five events marked for the test of skill, the Nanoli Stud Juvenile Stakes may see a keen duel between Aslam Kader on Moment Of Truth and Kevin Darley who partneres Victory March.


1.30 pm: Prince Of Fashion 1. Topaz 2.

2 pm: Alice Charm 1. Razana 2. Cryptonite 3.

2.45 pm: Act Of Trust 1. Rich Babe 2. Insatiable 3.

3.15 pm: Bonjour Tristesse 1. Declaration Of Love 2. Saranayu 3.

3.45 pm: Baffin Bay 1. Antwerp 2. Sonalika 3.

4.15 pm: Indiscretion 1. Amusing 2. Intel 3.

4.45 pm: Moment Of Truth 1. Victory March 2. Stavros 3.

5.15 pm: Pleasures 1. Leit Motif 2. Dressed For Dinner 3.

6 pm: Mujahedin 1. Great Pasha 2. Sariano 3.

Day�s Best: Baffin Bay Double: Prince Of Fashion & Pleasures    

Calcutta, Feb. 12 
Legal Steps, Giorgio, Flaconhead and Splendid Pride were impressive in today�s work outs.

Outer sand track

2,000m: Legal Steps (Kader) in 2-24s; (1,600m) 1-52s; (400m) 28s. Handy.

1,400m: Artifact (C. Alford) and Famwe Star (Kader) in 1-39 3/5s; (29 3/5s. Former easily 3 ls better. Giorgio (Rb) and Acceptor (Kader) in 1-39 3/5s; (400m) 26 3/5s. Both level and impressed. Compliance (Rb) and Super Smile (Rb) in 1-41 2/5s; (400m) 28 2/5s. Both easy. Athletico (C. Alford) and Treasurer (Kader) in 1-38s; (400m) 28s. Former was handy.

1,200m: Mystic Hill (A. P. Singh) in 1-22s; (400m) 27s. Good. Astoria (C. Alford) and Crucible (Rb) in 1-27 3/5s; (400m) 25s. Former easily a length better. Alvarada (Amil) Quizzical (Surender) in 1-27s; (400m) 28 2/5s. Former moved well. Ocean Sunset (C. Alford) in 1-22 3/5s; (400m) 28s. Easy. Flaconhead (C. Alford) and Aquaria (Kader) in 1-22 3/5s; (400m) 27s. Former too good. The Royals (Merchant) in 1-27s; (400m) 27s. Easy. Bountiful Treasure (Kader) in 1-26s; (400m) 27s. Fit. Splendid Pride (Merchant), Opera Star (Rutherford) and Dominate (Gurang) in 1-23s; (400m) 25 2/5s. Note the first named. Silver City (Rb) and Aflicker (Rb) in 1-24s; (400m) 27s. Former better.

1,000m: Remember Me (Rb) 1-9 2/5s; (400m) 28s. Urged. Sheerness (A. P. Singh) and Tawny Rebel (Rb) 1-10s; (400m) 27s. Former too good. No Regrets (Rb) in 1-10 3/5s; (400m) 29s. Polar Falcon (Merchant) in 1-9 3/5s; (400m) 25 3/5s. Note. Consul�s Secret (Bird) in 1-16 2/5s; (400m) 29s. Silver Toy (Rb) and Appear (Kader) in 1-9s; (400m) 27s. Former much superior. Merano (Rb) in 1-8 3/5s; (400m) 26 1/5s. Urged.

800m: Silver Raising (Rb) in 55 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Easy. Celtic Blue (Merchant) in 56s; (400m) 28s. Annalee (Rb) and Magnifico (C. Alford) in 27s. Former to note. Annella (Surender) and Quizargo (Rb) in 56s; (400m) 29s. Former was easy. Optimum Choice (Merchant) in 56s; (400m) 29 3/5s. Easy. Rock Flacon (P. Alford) and Arctic Fancy (Salim) in 54s; (400m) 26s. Former too good. Scarlet Raider (Rutherford), Santillana (Merchant) and Noble Cononire (Gurang) in 54s; (400m) 28s. First named was too good. Flying Power (Rb) and Scimitar (Engineer) in 56s; (400m) 26s. Note former. Sky Command (Manohar) in 55s; (400m) 26 2/5s. Easy. Light Reflections (Merchant) and Prosperous (Gurang) in 55s; (400m) 26s. Both level. Amarula (Amil) and Dizzy Diver (a. P. Singh) in 55 3/5s; (400m) 27s. Former moved well. Classic Wonder (Salim), go With The Wind (P. Alford) and Time Of Times (Rutherford) in 55s; (400m) 27s. First two were level. Priceless Asset (Merchant) in 56s; (400m) 28s. Easy. Allotrophy (surender) in 57s; (400m) 28s. Easy. Desert Force (Rutherford), Defiance (P. Alford) and Single Dawn (Gurang) in 54s; (400m) 26s. First two were handy. Whitney (Brij S.) in 59s; (400m) 30s.

Sand track

1,800m: Master Of The Rolls (Connorton)in 2-3s; (400m) 30s. Eased up.

1,400m: Eau Savage (Shanker) in 1-47s; (400m) 30s. 1,200m: Harry The Horse (Connorton) and Imperial Choice (Akhtar) in 1-20s; (400m) 25s. Former good. Prizren IRb) in 1-24s; (400m) 28s. 1,000m: Tequila Shot (Shanker) and Zingari (Rb) in 1-7n 3/5s; (400m) 26s. Former 3 ls better.Island Empress (Shanker) in 1-11s; (400m) 26s. 800m: Aristotamus P. Alford) in 53 2/5s; (400m) 26s. Vested Interest (Manohar) in 56s; (400m) 28s. Fit. Joe The Pro (Connorton) in 49s; (400m) 23s. Note. Rheinheart (Rb) in 53s; (400m) 26s. The Epicurean (Akhtar) in 50 2/.5s; (400m) 24s. Prince Obolensky (Connorton) in 48s; (400m) 23s. Moved well. Software (Amil) and Floral Path (Rb) in 50s; (400m) 24s. Latter burst blood vessel. Smooth Jazz (Akhtar) in 50 2/5s; (400m) 24 2/5s. Aznavour (Connorton) in 59s; (400m) 29s. 600m: Strictly Royal (Rb) in 38 2/5s; (400m) 24s.

Today�s barrier trial (Race track)

1,400m: Tsavo (M. Reuben), Affliction (Kader), Sharp Sensation (Surender), Alyssum (C. Alford), Adventure (A. P. Singh) Avionic (Rabani), Hurricane Star (Kujur) and Tabasco King (Engineer) in 1-28s; (400m) 27s. They dinished in the order named and were separated by a head, Neck, 6 ls and a distance.    


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