Wiser by the experience, the Indian vice-captain is hell bent on setting a trend. As Bengal open their campaign in the Ranji Trophy Super League against Delhi tomorrow, the fair sprinkling of grass on the Eden Gardens pitch is sure to make the contest more interesting.
�I�ve never seen so much grass on the Eden wicket,� says Delhi skipper Ajay Sharma.
In fact, it has also prompted the Bengal thinktank to include Sumit Panda as the second seamer. Sourav�s insistence for a third in the form of Subroto Banerjee was not met with. Obviously, the skipper hasn�t been impressed with Abdul Masood�s showing at the nets.
The conditions have also led to Sharma rueing the absence of his two frontline pacers � Amit Bhandari and Ashish Nehra. While Nehra is injured, Bhandari will be doing duty for the Board President�s XI against South Africa. Rajesh Gehlot and Sanjay Gill have come in as their replacements.
�We�ll be missing Nehra and Bhandari badly. Our strength would have been far greater had they been around,� lamented Sharma.
The visitors are likely to go in with a two-pronged new ball attack. Robin Singh will be partnered by either Gehlot or Gill.
Sharma believes that, though the presence of grass will ensure movement of the seam, not much bounce is expected. And it will be the first innings lead which will decide the outcome. Delhi have already garnered five points from their opening Super League encounter versus Rajasthan.
�Sourav is the main man in the Bengal line-up. We�ll have to go after him,� the veteran added.
The Bengal skipper, who was running a slight temperature, skipped practice today but is expected to be fit in time. He is using the opportunity to get back in condition for the forthcoming South Africa series following the knee injury Down Under.
Also back in the team is Devang Gandhi. The opener will be looking forward to return to his runscoring ways after the disastrous Australian tour.
Bengal are still undecided on whether to include Alokendu or Sourashis Lahiri. But the latter�s allround ability may finally see him through.
The Sourav-Devang brilliance had seen Bengal walk away with the first innings lead when these two sides met last at the Ferozeshah Kotla. While Devang made 176, Sourav had a nine-wicket match-haul.
The hosts will need more of such performances to prevail over their rivals this time.
The day�s most heartening result was, of course, Vishal Uppal�s three-set win over lucky loser Stefano Cobolli � an Italian who sneaked into the main draw as South Korean seventh seed Hyung Taik Lee failed to show up. Heartening not only because this could be the big break the Delhi youngster has been looking for in recent times, but more importantly, it�s not often that a second-string Indian player wins a round at the Challenger level.
Even as Uppal was utilising his wild card to perfection on Court Two, second seed Oleg Ogorodov was struggling against South African qualifier Damien Roberts on Centre Court. The experienced Uzbek, who makes no bones about his dislike for grass, ultimately lost in two tight sets to be the lone seed eliminated in first-round action.
It wasn�t smooth sailing for the other seeded men, though. Tuomas Ketola and Igor Gaudi, Nos 3 and 5, were both taken the full distance by Ashley Fisher and Oren Motevassel. And fourth seed Mose Navarra, an Italian, did it the hard way against Fazaluddin.
The tall and muscular Fazal, who finds himself elevated to the status of No. 2 Davis Cup singles player in Mahesh Bhupathi�s absence, did well in both sets, only except when it mattered most � in the tie-breaks.
It wasn�t that Navarra had raised his game to a higher plane, rather it was a case of Fazal getting tight in both tie-breaks. These are opportunities players like Fazal need to grab and convert the �gallant-shows� into victories.
Having lost to Tomashevic twice earlier, the Indian ace was prepared for a tough fight. It didn�t materialise beyond a stage as Paes played a perfect match. He wrapped up the first set with a break in the 10th game and ran away with the second in 23 minutes.
Rock-solid on serve (six aces and 62 per cent first serves in), Paes barely allowed Tomashevic a sniff at a service-break. In fact, the only break-point the Uzbek had was late in the match when the Indian was up 4-1 and coasting to victory.
�I am happy with the way I played, specially my serve today,� Paes said later. �It was close in the first set but once I got my range, it clicked nicely.�
Leander will be presented the amount for his outstanding performance last year, during which he reached the doubles finals of all four Grand Slams with Mahesh Bhupathi and won the French Open and Wimbledon titles.
Ajit Pal Singh, the skipper of the victorious 1975 World Cup hockey team, acknowledges the influence of his village Sansarpur. �I was lucky to be born there. My village was my coach,� he says. Long-distance runner Gulab Chand took to running because of the green fields near his village in Uttar Pradesh.
Three-time national badminton champion Pullela Gopichand, though from an urban background, also falls in the same category.
Born in the coastal Andhra town of Ongole in Prakasam district, the family moved to Hyderabad when he was young. He did not take to badminton like the proverbial duck to water. Instead, it was a form of recreation, due to the proximity of a stadium near his house in Hyderabad.
�I took to the game when I was 11, more as a hobby. My house was hardly a kilometre away from the Lal Bahadur Shastri Indoor Stadium. My elder brother Rajsekhar used to play there. One day I happened to be there and he taught me the game,� Gopichand told The Telegraph.
Gopichand just played badminton to keep fit. The impetus came when he won the junior nationals in Goa, as a 17-year-old. It has since been a long, winding road to success. Two knee operations in 1994 and 1997 jolted his progress. �I have now learned to value fitness,� Gopichand says philosophically.
In his formative years, Gopichand was coached by S.M. Arif in Hyderabad. Success, though, has come the hard way. For three years he toiled at the BPL-Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. Under the tutelage of Padukone and Vimal Kumar, he improved his fitness, defence and variations in his game. �Before my stint at the Academy, I was just an attacking player. Now I am a more complete,� he recounts.
To further improve, he played as a professional for three successive years (1997-99) with FC Langenfield, in Germany. This exposure tightened his game and enabled him to overcome the so-called complex Indians face against foreign opposition.
Gopichand played in Germany and the lucrative European circuit from September to December. If he qualifies for the Sydney Olympics, he is unlikely to renew his contract this year. He is the fourth Indian after Padukone, Vimal and Sanjay Sharma to play as a professional abroad.
Winning a berth for the 2000 Olympics is his immediate target. And coach Vimal feels that if he can sustain his current form, that should not be a problem.
The top 32 players in the world get direct entry into the men�s singles. Top nations like China, Denmark and Indonesia are allowed only four entries each. So, if Gopichand�s ranking remains within the top 40, he should qualify. By April, Gopichand will know if he has made it to the Sydney Games.
Twenty-seven-year-old Gopichand�s long term ambitions are �to make it to the top-10 in the world and, hopefully, win a Grand Prix tournament. For that to happen, I�ve to be more consistent and improve my speed on the court.�
His coach, however, feels Gopichand �needs to improve his concentration and mid-game variations. He tends to get into winning positions against top players and then drifts and loses easy points�.
Gopichand is assured of a place in India�s Hall of Fame. He is the first Indian to reach the final of two Grand Prix tournaments after Padukone. In 1997, he reached the final of the Air India Indian Open but lost to Heriyanto Arbi of Indonesia.
Then, in 1999, he made it to the final of the German Open, this time surrendering to China�s Xia Xunze 3-15, 15-13, 4-15. His greatest hour came at the 1997 Sanyo World in Jakarta when he recorded two successive victories in group matches over higher ranked opponents. He overcame world No. 8 Luo Yigon of China 13-15, 15-6, 15-11 and Thomas Johansson of Sweden 15-7, 15-17, 15-3.
Gopichand�s other memorable moments include reaching the last-16 of the prestigious All England Championships in 1997 and 1998.
But how is Gopichand rated in the echelons of Indian badminton as a player? Ex-international Sanjay Sharma feels that Gopichand lacks the control of Prakash, the stamina of Dinesh Khanna or the touch artistry of Nandu Natekar or Suresh Goel. But that he has imbibed certain elements of their style in his game that sets him apart.
�Gopichand is a modern player with emphasis on speed, fitness and powerful smashes. He has a good all-round game now and uses the flick at the net and close control quite well,� says Padukone.
Gopichand is the new generation man, media savvy and whose hobbies include surfing the Net and reading. He idolises current world No. 1 Peter Gade Christensen of Denmark. �I admire him for his powerful smashes and speed.�
�The game has changed. I have to rely more on power and speed, just deceptive shots won�t do,� adds the pragmatic Gopichand, who is an officer with Indian Oil Corporation and is sponsored by Yonex.
The team of Jumman, Ravi Naware, Vikram Singh and H. Sahney was second with 107, while Ali Sher, Arun Nanda, Shekhar Burman and T.K. Gooptu were third with 106.
Vijay Kumar returned the best individual score of seven-under 65 but his team failed to make it to the top three. Amish Jaitha returned the second best individual score.
The main event gets underway tomorrow. Feroz Ali, Vijay Kumar, Mukesh Kumar, Gaurav Ghei, Shiv Prakash and Amritinder Singh are some of the players competing in the Rs 20 lakh event.
Ossius Luis Ferreira�s hattrick in his very first match in the city soured State Bank of Travancore�s maiden outing at the Salt Lake Stadium today. More importantly. it ended East Bengal run of defeats in the Coca-Cola National League.
The Brazilian striker, unimpressive in two away matches earlier, scored in the fourth, 20th and 50th minutes to take his team to a 3-0 victory and a tally of 17 points from 15 matches. It will help the Calcutta giants wriggle out of the embarassing ninth rung on the League ladder that they found themselves in before the match .
SBT, however, are still ahead with 20 from 15 games.
The handful of diehard supporters had hardly settled in their seats when East Bengal drew first blood. Tushar Rakshit found Ossius on the edge of the box and the tall striker, taking good advantage of the early sluggishness among the SBT defenders, wrongfooted one before firing in a low left-footer on the half-turn. The quick outside dodge and the crisp finish caught the SBT defenders by surprise.
The second goal was a gift from former India goalkeeper Feroz Sharif who invited trouble by failing to grip Dipankar Roy�s left-footer. A scramble to get the rebound out of harm�s way followed before Ossius, standing close to the goal, saw the ball coming his way and finished gleefully.
SBT, who sorely missed two frontline defenders because of suspension, did try to force their way back after the first goal but there was nobody to finish the sixth-minute move initiated by Abdul Hakim.
Seven minutes later, Siva Kumar failed to head home Suresh Babu�s cross from the left. It was SBT�s best chance of the tie.
The second goal took the sting out of their attack and the striking pair of Sylvester Ignatius and Ashif Zaheer never really tested the East Bengal goalkeeper. An 81st-minute free-kick by Jiju Jacob, however, hit the left post after beating the �wall� and �keeper Prasanta Dora.
The Brazilian, essentially a left-footer, came close to completing his hattrick in the 35th minute, but his header, after Sharif charged out and missed the flight of a Falguni Dutta cross, went over the bar. Another header by Ossius in the 55th minute, off Ratan Singh�s cross from the left, was connected well but went straight to the goalkeeper.
The hattrick was set up by a brilliant pass from Carlton Chapman and Ossius, who had no option but to shoot with his right foot, generated sufficient power to beat a diving Sharif. It may have caused a muscle pull as he was taken off a little later.
Chapman marshalled the midfield with authority after a long time and Dipankar also worked hard, but the overall display was not cohesive. The early goal made things easier but a better attack from the opposition could have had East Bengal in trouble as midfield blocking was not solid. It will still be an uphill task if they want to finish in the zone of respectability in this League.
Having already ensured a Super League berth, the Indians now find themselves in group X along with three-time champions Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong.
Singapore, the other Super League qualifiers, today trounced Australia 4-1. Singapore will be in group Y with five-time winners Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
The highlight of India�s win was the pleasing debut by sturdy 17-year-old Jwala Gutta. Upset at not being given a chance to play thus far, Jwala excelled on court today.
Jwala replaced Manjusha Kanwar in the second doubles and, with another teenaged prodigy Shruti Kurien, crushed the frail Sri Lankan duo of Dishanti and Gayanthi 15-3, 15-2 in just 15 minutes.
In the singles, India were untroubled with Aparna Popat, B.R. Meenakshi and Manjusha Kanwar winning in straight games. Meenakshi was in devastating form and whipped De Silva 11-1, 11-4.
Madhumita Bisht and P.V.V. Lakshmi won their doubles match easily.
Coach Arif was glad the Indian girls didn�t have to over-exert themselves on the eve of their crucial tie against Indonesia in the Super League tomorrow.
Indian men to meet Japan
In a vital group Y Super League match of the Thomas Cup tomorrow, India meet Japan. The Indian brainstrust is undecided on the doubles combinations. Pullela Gopichand, Nikhil Kanetkar, and Abhin Shyam Gupta are the trio of singles players.
The coach feels the match will hinge on the opening singles between Gopichand and Keita Masuda. The Japanese No. 1 is ranked No. 27 � five slots higher than Gopichand. But this advantage could be offset by Gopichand�s familiarity with the drift in the stadium. Gopichand has never played Masuda before.
The Lt. Gen. Jameel Mahmood Memorial Cup, named in memory of a very popular soldier, may see a consistent performer Black Mane making it a start to finish bid for the trophy.
Read as: Horse number, last four runs, horse name, trainer, jockey, weight & draw:
Kirkwick Handicap 1,100m (Cl V�Rt. 00-28) � Indian jockeys only
1 - - 00 Tequila Shot [Stephens] S. Shanker 60.0 2
2 - - 00 Avionic [Bharath] Dalpat S. 59.0 5
3 3130 Strides [Vijay] A. P. Singh 58.5 1
4 0444 Swingtime [Jaiswal] A. Razzak 58.0 4
5 1000 Magic Ring [Sanjeev] N. Akhtar 58.0 3
6 0421 Time Of Times [R. Alford] A. Merchant 56.5 6
1. tequila shot (1) 2. time of times (6) 3. avionic (2)
Tequila Shot: Returns to the track after a long lay off working well, however. Time Of Times: A fluent winner. May repeat. Avionic: May upset all with a level start.
Philosopher Handicap 1,100m (Cl IV,5-y-o & over,Rt.22-50)-Indian jockeys only
1 - 123 A Ma Dats�E [Rodrigues] S. Shanker 60.5 3
2 3124 Smooth Jazz [Stephens] N. Akhtar 59.5 1
3 0040 The Epicurean [Stephens] M. Reuben 58.0 5
4 1033 Silver Raising [Javed] R. Gowli 57.5 2
5 0034 Volcano Top [Javed] Manohar S. 57.5 9
6 3103 Cavonnier [R. Alford] B. Gurang 54.5 7
7 0300 Legal Fiction [Bharath] S. Rabani 53.5 8
8 4000 Work Order [Mujeeb] Md Islam 52.5 4
9 - - 00 Mfungano [R. Alford] Salim K. 50.5 6
1. silver raising (4) 2. A Ma Dats�E (1) 3. smooth jazz (2)
Silver Raising: An unextended third in last start. May win. A Ma Dats�E: Knocking at the door but ideal for a 1,400m race. Smooth Jazz: A place prospect only.
Partisan Handicap 1,200m (Cl V,5-y-o & over�Rt. 00-28)� Indian jockeys only
1 3322 Vested Interest [Mujeeb] Manohar S. 60.0 4
2 0000 Infierno [Stephens] N. Akhtar 59.5 3
3 4320 Carabineer [Jaiswal] A. Razzak 57.5 2
4 0033 Aristotemus [R. Shaw] P. Alford 54.0 6
5 0022 Tribal Warlord [Rodrigues] Nasruddin 52.5 1
6 0000 Lord Of The Manor [Vijay] Brij S. 49.0 5
1. tribal warlord (5) 2. aristotemus (4) 3. Vested Interest (1)
Tribal Warlord: Went down valliantly to Global Harmony. May make amends. Aristotemus: Improving with each run. Vested Interest: Will be right at the finish.
Eastern Command Cup 1,400m (Cl II�Rt. 66-94 )
1 2021 Prince Obolensky [Stephens] N. Connorton 60.0 8
2 - 311 Desert Force [R. Alford] Rutherford A. 56.0 3
3 3010 Bright Bouquet [R. Alford] A. Merchant 53.0 4
4 3400 Cyber Freak [Javed] M. Reuben 53.0 1
5 1400 Defiance [R. Alford] R. Gowli 52.5 6
6 - 003 Swash Buckler [Rodrigues] S. Shanker 52.0 7
7 1204 Attire [D. David] C. Alford 49.0 5
8 0303 Citadel [Bharath] S. Rabani 48.0 2
1. prince obolensky (1) 2. attire (7) 3. citadel (2)
Prince Obolensky: Beat a better set of opposition. May win again. Attire: Ignore last run. Will be there abouts at the finish. Citadel: May place.
Lt. Gen. Jameel Mahmood Memorial Trophy 1,400m (Cl IV,�Rt. 22-50)
1 0221 Go With The Wind [R. Alford] Rutherford A. 60.5 4
2 0331 Analyzer [D. David] Surender S. 57.5 3
3 0340 Arizona Star [R. Shaw] Sher S. 55.5 6
4 0020 Pricne Of War [R. Alford] A. Merchant 52.0 5
5 3422 Black Mane [D. David] S. Tanang 51.5 2
6 - 000 Armed Alarm [Bharath] M. Reuben 50.0 1
1. black mane (5) 2. GOne WITH THE WIND (1) 3. ARIZONA STAR (3)
Black Mane: A model of consistency. May strike this time. Gone With The Wind: Another one known to be a consistent runner. Arizona Star: May place.
Pilot Handicap 1,400m (Cl III, 5-y-o & over�Rt.44-72)
1 0300 Consul�s Secret [Jaiswal] N. Bird 60.0 4
2 1443 Scimitar [S. Ahmed] Manohar S. 58.5 2
3 1221 Gentle Priest [Bharath] S. Rabani 58.5 1
4 0304 Mountain Memory [R. Alford] A. Merchant 58.0 3
5 0241 Iron Warrior [D. David] C. Alford 52.0 5
6 3434 Ironstone [Javed] M. Reuben 51.5 6
1. iron warrior (5) 2. GENTLE PRIEST (3) 3. CONSUL�S SECRET (1)
Iron Warrior: Looks to be improved. Merits regards. Gentle Priest: A runaway winner, may repeat.Consul�s Secret: Down a class. May upset.
Day�s Best: Black Mane Double: A Ma Dast�E & Tribal Warlord
Outer sand track
1,400m: Prizen (Rb) in 1-44s; (400m) 30s. Easy.
1,200m: The Royals (Rajinder) in 1-23s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Moved well. Garden Of Heaven (Saran) in 1-27s; (400m) 28 2/5s. Easy. Remember Me (Rb) in 1-27 3/5s; (400m) 32s.
1,000m: As Ever (Islam) and Starry Flag (Rabani) in 1-10 3/5s; (400m) 30 2/5s. Former too good. Lockers Park (Rb) and Three Good (Rabani) in 1-14 2/5s; (400m) 28 2/5s. Former easy.
800m: Clarice Cliff (M. Reuben) in 52 2/5s; (400m) 27s. Good. Stately Girl (Rajinder) in 1-0s; (400m) 29 3/5s. Kansai (Rabani) and Kaizen (M. Reuben) in 52 3/5s; (400m) 27s. Both moved well. Great Eastern (Rajinder) 56s; (400m) 28 4/5s. Easy. Priceless Asset (Merchant) in 54 3/5s; (400m) 26 3/5s. Good. Star Prospects (Rajinder) in 55s; (400m) 25s. Moved well. Anntary (C. Alford) and Slice Of Life (Rabani) in 57 2/5s; (400m) 28 2/5s. Former easy. Alsadena (C. Alford) in 54 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Moved well. 600m: Atacada (C. Alford) and Queen�s Logic (Rabani) in 38s; (400m) 25s. Former 2 ls better. Note. Polar Falcon (Merchant) in 41 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Easy.
1,400m: Harry The Horse (Akhtar) in 1-51s; (400m) 30 2/5s. Arlington (Rb) in 1-48 2/5s; (400m) 30s.
800m: Prince Of War (P. Alford) in 59s; (400m) 28s.
600m: Mfungano (P. Alford) and Cavonnier (Gurang) in 40s; (400m) 26s. Former a length better.
3 pm: Thundering Grey 1. Josh King 2. Kargil 3.
3.30 pm: Krishna Priya 1. Lightning Arrow 2. Millennium Money 3.
4 pm: Amar Jyoti 1. Badgering 2. Superbo 3.
4.30 pm: Deep Sensation 1. Stolen Kisses 2. Phraoje 3.
5 pm: St. Vincent 1. Diane In Demand 2. Ressurrection 3.
5.30 pm: Court Of Appeal 1. Musical Melody 2. Royal Partner 3.
6 pm: Sould Mate 1. Impatiens 2. We Win 3.
Day�s Best: Thundering Grey Double: Krishna Priya & Court Of Appeal