Gaekwad turns down NCA directorship
Wildcard Dent on Norman hopes
Ramesh to persuade Bhupathi for singles
Bengal, Bihar battle for final zonal berth
One-year ban for Basak
278-run opening stand puts Bengal on way to big lead
Vandana in the lead
Mysore Racing/ Red Radior for main event
Track Trials/ Baffin Bay, Anntari shine
Breeder dies in copter crash

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Aunshuman Gaekwad, who sportingly accepted the Board invitation to act as stand-in India coach earlier this season, has declined the Bangalore-based National Cricket Academy’s (NCA’s) directorship.

According to well-placed sources, Gaekwad was “almost certain” to be appointed Hanumant Singh’s successor, next month, but Gaekwad himself has said “no.”

“I was sounded out by a senior Board official, the other day, but I’ve expressed my regrets,” Gaekwad told The Telegraph late tonight, when contacted in Vadodara.

He added: “My mind is made up... I won’t be persuaded to re-think. For purely personal reasons, I’m not game.”

Gaekwad is firm on not adding to his already impressive CV: India opener, national selector and, then, coach.

Ironically, Gaekwad’s stand could have something to do with NCA chairman Raj Singh Dungarpur’s comments about desi coaches after John Wright took charge as the first coach from overseas.

Gaekwad was coach for two years from October 1997 and, then again, for six-odd weeks late last year.

The appointment-process for the NCA director, of course, will (officially) gain momentum once Raj Singh returns from a private visit to the UK.

Hanumant, the NCA’s first director, stepped down on health grounds.

There has already been talk that Brijesh Patel, the Karnataka State Cricket Association secretary, would get Hanumant’s job. Now, with first-choice Gaekwad not inclined, Patel’s backers may again get into overdrive.

In fact, the Board could even consider sounding out the city-based Arun Lal, though he hasn’t always been a favourite with the Establishment.

Incidentally, not too long ago, the Board was keen to ‘thank’ Gaekwad (for agreeing to the recent ad-hoc arrangement after Kapil Dev’s resignation) by appointing him a talent-spotter.

However, Hanumant’s resignation came in handy, and yet another precedent (that of naming a talent-spotter) wasn’t exactly necessary.

It’s another matter that though a suitable vacancy has emerged, Gaekwad won’t play ball.

Meanwhile, it’s confirmed that former India new-ball bowler (and ex-Mumbai coach) Balwinder Singh Sandhu will succeed Vasu Paranjpe as the NCA coach.

Paranjpe quit for personal reasons —- apparently, he wished to take some time off from full-time coaching —- and his resignation has nothing to do with the high-voltage Raj Singh-Sunil Gavaskar spat.

As Raj Singh is overseas the initiative for a patch-up, to be undertaken by Board president A.C.Muthiah, has been put on hold.

Gavaskar, it may be recalled, quit as member of the NCA advisory council following a Raj Singh observation in an interview to a Mumbai tabloid.

There was an NCA meeting in Mumbai this morning but, obviously, Gavaskar’s resignation was not discussed. A wire agency had incorrectly reported the Gavaskar-issue would be sorted out today.

We will probably have much to write about.


Chennai, Jan. 2: 
How many times in recent years have we heard top players say that no match is easy these days. Well, Cedric Pioline was on guard this evening and fully focussed in a humdinger of a decider. It paid off for the third seed from France as he outwitted doughty Spaniard Galo Blanco 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in a high-quality first-round match at the $400,000 Gold Flake Open.

Leander Paes lost his cool, broke the net in the first set tie-breaker and surrendered to Spanish teenager Tommy Robredo. The Indian, who later said he was very upset over his John McEnroe-like tantrum, lost 6-7 (4-7), 0-6.

Sixth seed Andreas Vinciguerra, the 19-year-old Swede with promises to keep, got off to an encouraging start with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 shutout of Swiss Michel Kratochvil.

Another early winner on a windy day was Haitian Ronald Agenor. The oldest player in the draw at 36 year and a month, Agenor took an early service-break in his stride to whip Czech Republic’s Tomas Zib 6-3, 6-2. The African veteran’s next foe across the net will be Pioline.

Defending champion Jerome Golmard survived a Swiss test on the outside court, pulling up his socks in the nick of time to oust George Bastl 7-5, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1. The left-hander will next meet Romanian Adrian Voinea.

Danish qualifier Kristian Pless advanced with an impressive 6-2, 7-5 rout of the younger of the Black brothers Wayne.

The breeze factor

Pioline and Blanco kicked off proceedings on Centre Court with a stiff breeze blowing across the stadium. Both players, especially the 31-year-old Frenchman, had problems controlling the backhand sliced shots.

It wasn’t long before the classy Pioline found a way out, hitting flat and hard with the minimum of fuss and a great degree of grace. Coming off his most successful season when he bagged a career-high two titles, the French No. 1 was the first to get into groove. His effortless backhand winners, struck clean as a whistle, were a connoisseur’s delight.

Pioline missed the first break-point in the match, Blanco pulling off a crafty first serve to escape in Game 4. The Frenchman looked in control before losing serve in the seventh game, quite against the run of play. He crept up to 30-40 after conceding the first three points, but then hit a routine backhand half-an-inch long.

As if that wasn’t enough, Blanco snatched the set with a second service-break. Two go-for-broke forehand service returns did the trick. Blanco, a middle-rung player whose biggest scalp last year was the one against two-time US Open champion Patrick Rafter at Flushing Meadow, was suddenly looking bigger than life.

Pioline, who lost a soul-stirring semi-final here last year to Markus Hantschk, knew he had a match on his hands. And true to his pedigree, the tall Frenchman eased into a higher gear without much extra effort.

Notching a double-break to go 3-0 up, Pioline relaxed a wee bit to surrender his serve in the fourth game. But the rest of the second set was a breeze, Pioline sealing it with three backhand winners in Game 9.

Blanco wasn’t through, though. He was up against a quality opponent but that didn’t deter him one bit. The short-statured Spaniard stuck to the basics, cut down the errors to the bare minimum and used his two strengths — a whipping forehand and a hard first serve — to keep Pioline waiting.

With Pioline also playing flawlessly, it made for some terrific tennis. Both men held comfortably and the set’s first break-point came only in Game 10.

It also happened to be the first match-point for Pioline. The 24-year-old Blanco shirked it off with a cool head, pushing it to a tie-break.

The breaker turned to be another close affair with neither giving anything away. Blanco cracked on the 10th point, forced into a mistake by the consistent deep returns of the Frenchman. And then, the Spaniard threw in a double-fault on second match-point to signal the end of a one-hour, 45-minute thriller.

Pioline gave Blanco credit for a “great match” at the post-match conference. “It’s not easy in the first match of the year, but he played some great tennis. He served big and didn’t make many unforced errors. In the end I was happy to come through it unscathed.”

Pioline refused to blame the high breeze for his up-and-down play in the first set, quipping that he had to get used to it. He was happy to win, but thought there was scope for improvement in his game. Asked about his title-winning prospects, Pioline said: “It’s a pretty strong field and the final’s a long way off. But if I can improve you never know…”


Chennai, Jan. 2: 
Ramesh Krishnan was among the 2,000-strong audience for Mahesh Bhupathi’s match against Andrei Stoliarov at Nungambakkam Stadium last night. And he really liked what he saw.

“Considering that he was featuring in a competitive singles match after ages, I thought Mahesh played an extremely good match,” the Davis Cup captain observed. “He looked quite sharp. Ran out of steam a bit in the end but that’s understandable.”

Like most of Bhupathi’s admirers, his captain feels the Bangalorean’s decision to stop Davis Cup singles activity may be a trifle too immature. For his part, Ramesh will try and persuade Bhupathi to retract his decision.

“He’s been toying with this idea for some time now because of his shoulder problem. It’s his decision entirely, but I’ll have a talk with him to see if I can change that,” Ramesh told The Telegraph. “Anyway, he has said that he’ll consider playing the fifth rubber if it’s a 2-2 situation.”

Bhupathi, satisfied with his performance last night, couldn’t remember when he last played a decent singles. In his only match last year, Bhupathi got into Wimbledon on a wild card and lost in four sets to Frenchman Stephane Huet.

According to coach Enrico Piperno, Bhupathi’s shoulder is much stronger now and should stand up to the test of singles if he doesn’t exert too much. “He’s eager to play singles in some Challengers as well as Grand Slam qualifiers if he can get in. The problem with Davis Cup is that it could turn out to be three five-set matches in three days and that will be quite strenuous,” said Piperno, endorsing Bhupathi’s view.

His entry system ranking having plunged to 889, it will be impossible for Bhupathi to get into any singles main draw without the help of a wild card. That’s why the two ensuing Challengers at home (Mumbai and Chandigarh) are of utmost significance to him.

Fazaluddin looks likely

If Bhupathi does stick to his decision of avoiding Davis Cup singles, Syed Fazaluddin should be India’s No. 2 man for the February 9-11 tie against China. The Asia-Oceania zone first-round match comes off at the hardcourt of an indoor hall some 50 km east of Beijing and although the third and fourth members of the team haven’t been announced yet, the tall Calcuttan is a near-certainty for one of those berths.

The elder son of soccer coach Syed Nayeemuddin, who received a wild card for the Gold Flake Open here, lost in straight sets to Romanian Adrian Voinea last evening. Fazal was also a beaten finalist in last week’s all-India invitational meet at the Krishnan Training Centre, losing a rain-interrupted match in three sets to Harsh Mankad.

Ramesh, though, doesn’t want to read too much into those two defeats. “Yesterday he (Fazal) was a bit overawed by the occasion… it was his first main-draw match in a big tournament and he was playing against a much higher-ranked opponent,” Ramesh argued. “Last week, he played four good matches at my tournament despite losing in the final.”

Mankad, Fazal’s principal rival for the second singles player’s slot, did his cause no good by losing all three singles matches at last fortnight’s Asia Cup in New Delhi. The son of former India opener Ashok Mankad, who along with Prahlad Srinath played singles in the last Davis Cup tie (against Sweden in Bastad), looks set to lose that status. Even his place in the quartet is not guaranteed.

The team (read: third and fourth members) for the China tie will be announced in the third week of this month. “There are two back-to-back Futures meets in the next fortnight. We’ll watch the performances there before finalising the team,” Ramesh said.

It’s the fourth slot which is up for grabs and anyone with a good run in those two weeks may nudge Mankad out of reckoning. The teenaged Sunil Kumar, however, is not in the race as his promoters (CLTA and Paes En Sport) want him to play the junior circuit full-fledged one last year.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Threatened by possible aftershocks of devastating defeats, Bengal and Bihar begin battle tomorrow for the final Ranji Trophy berth from East Zone. The clash promises to be more than a mere battle between bat and ball.

Both teams come to the Eden Gardens having made ‘history’ for the wrong reasons —- Bengal doing so at home with a first-ever defeat to Orissa, and Bihar scripting their embarassment with an innings defeat at Assam. The next four days will test the character of these ‘teams out of trauma’.

While the message in both camps is to ‘forget the past and look ahead’, the teams will step onto the turf tomorrow with very different goals.

For Bengal, for whom a draw will suffice, caution may well be the key word. It won’t be a bad thing for a team that has shown a streak of recklessness in the way it has gone about its batting. They will also have to be ready for a Bihar team that has nothing to lose and has promised to come out firing on all cylinders.

“A draw is as good as a loss for us, so we will have to do what we have to do for a win,” Bihar coach Randhir Singh pointed out. Captain Rajiv Kumar was quick to point out that Bengal’s loss has kept them in the race, and they would now want to do something about it at the Eden.

“We have a young and enthusiastic side. There are some very talented players in the side, but we haven’t really done justice to all that. May be, it will all change here,” he said, adding: “After all, it’s a whole new year.”

And they have noted the weak spot. “Bengal batsmen haven’t done well against good medium-pacers in recent times, and we want to put a lot of accent on that,” Randhir said. Leading their new-ball attack will be Mihir Diwakar, a member of India’s under-19 World Cup-winning side.

Bengal have, of course, new discarded their opening pair for one with a dash of experience. Nikhil Haldipur and Alokendu Lahiri will be walking out together, for their first Ranji outing of the season.

While Amitava Banerjee was dropped when the squad was announced after the Orissa match, Aurijit Bose is almost sure to be out of the playing XI.

Also making comebacks to the playing XI will be left-arm spinner Shib Sagar Singh and medium-pacer Laxmi Ratan Shukla.

The most important among the ‘missing men’ from the squad will, of course, be Sourav Ganguly. There was some drama over his participation today, but it was alll settled after the India skipper sent a fax to CAB confirming his unavailability.

The overcast sky and a few drops of rain have left the Bihar team undecided on the playing XI. “We’ll have to wait till tomorrow,” coach Randhir Singh said.

Bengal are a much better team on paper, but after the Orissa defeat, not many are about to see too much into that. Not Bihar, at least.

It is former India Schools’ skipper Raja Mukherjee’s benefit match.

BENGAL: Nikhil Haldipur, Alokendu Lahiri, Devang Gandhi, Rohan Gavaskar, Srikant Kalyani, Deep Dasgupta, Utpal Chatterjee, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Shib Sagar Singh, Sourashish Lahiri, Shib Shankar Pal.

BIHAR (from): Rajiv Kumar, Zeeshan-ul-Haq, Nikhilesh Ranjan, Tariq-ur-Rehman, Sunil Kumar, Amir Hashmi, Manish Kumar, Mahender Singh Dhoni, Aunshuman Raj, Mihir Diwakar, Dheeraj Kumar, Syed Khan, Kunjan Sharan, Sanjay Singh.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
In a drastic disciplinary step, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) today suspended former national champion Arup Basak till December 31. The decison was taken at the TTFI executive committee meeting in Delhi.

According to a faxed message from TTFI vice-president Probir Mitra, who could not attend the meeting, the Bengal Table Tennis Association (BTTA) has been asked to show cause for issuing a false certificate to former state champion Sadhan Dutta and fielding several overage players in various national-level meets.

The TTFI has also dropped coach Jayanta Pushilal from the Centre for Excellence at the SAI, Eastern Centre, for being irregular and instigating some players to leave the camp conducted by a North Korean coach. TTFI secretary M.C. Chowhan said Pushilal will not be considered for any coahing assignments henceforth.

Speaking to The Telegraph from Delhi, Chowhan, however, informed that no show-cause notice has been issued against the BTTA for fielding overage players. “We have sought their explanation which will be discussed in the TTFI annual general meeting next month.”

According to Chowhan, 12 Bengal players were found overage over the year, in different tournaments, and similar allegations were made against players from few other states including Madhya Pradesh and Assam. All states concerned have been asked to explain this, he said.

Basak, a SAF Games gold-medallist and veteran of several other international events, has been punished for misbehaving with officials at the SAI camp earlier this month. Basak even left the camp with some other players including women’s national champion Mouma Das.

He apologised to Mitra late last evening but according to the official, appeared unrepentant when he was called to settle the dispute earlier. His reply to a show-cause notice was also found to be “rude and arrogant”.

The other players have been allowed to rejoin the camp and take part in the forthcoming senior nationals after tendering unconditional apologies.

Chowhan, however, said that Basak’s case may be considered again if he appeals to the federation before its AGM. As of now, he stands no chance of taking part in the senior nationals beginning in Cuttack Friday.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Reducing somewhat the pain of Bengal seniors’ recent nightmarish Ranji Trophy outing versus Orissa, the state’s under-16 team today came up with an impressive performance in the Vijay Merchant Trophy pre-quarter final against Tamil Nadu.

Chasing the visitors’ first-innings total of 270 at the Narendrapur Ramkrishna Mission ground, Bengal openers Mayukh Biswas and Ajoy Garai remained unseparated till stumps on Day II, notching up 278. This looks at a decisive first-innings lead on the last day tomorrow.

Bengal look on course for a quarter final showdown with holders Uttar Pradesh. This match begins at the same venue Friday.

Ajoy remained unbeaten on 117 which came off 266 balls and included 17 fours. Mayukh played 290 balls in his 116 and struck 23 fours. Tamil Nadu bowled 29 no-balls in an extras’ tally of 45.

Delhi took first innings lead against Orissa at the East Calcutta District Sports Council ground in another pre-quarter final. They will face Mumbai in a quarter final from Friday.


At Narendrapur: Tamil Nadu 270. Bengal 278/0 (Ajoy Garai 117 batting; Mayukh Biswas 116 batting).

At ECDSC: Orissa 231. Delhi 280/6 (Shikhar Dhawan 135, Himanshu Mehta 71).


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Vandana Agarwal, with a gross score of 74, was leading in the gold division of the Bengal Ladies’ Amateur golf championship at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club today. Following her are Anjali Chopra (75) and Parnita Grewal (78).


Kanungoe Trophy (Silver Division, gross): Manavi Halwasiya 84, S. Sangwan 87. West Bengal Challenge Cup (nett): I. Chaudhri (70), S. Bindra (73). Burdwan Cup (gross): T. Srusta (98), S. Vakharia (101). Burdwan Cup (nett): S. Kohli (73), N. Lall (75).

Millennium Cup

There will be free bus rides for spectators with valid tickets during the Millennium Cup beginning January 10, said state sport and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty today. He heads the 33-member local organising committee which also includes former players Sukumar Samajpati, Sudhir Karmakar and Prasun Banerjee. Tickets, printed in Japan and priced at Rs 50, 75 and 100, will be sold from Friday. Teams for the Calcutta leg will arrive Sunday.    

Mysore, Jan. 2: 
On his impressive trial gallops, Red Radior hailing from the yard of Britto, to be partnered by Satish Narredu, looks best of the six in contention to lift the juvenile event, the 1,100m Victory Zone Cup, tomorrow’s main attraction. Solar Spirit and On The Post may put up a fight, but their last runs are far from encouraging.


2.30 pm: Waves Of Emotion 1. Storm On The Run 2. Shathabdi 3.
3 pm: Portalino 1. Snorter 2. Swiss Knife 3.
3.30 pm: Deion 1. Random Hearts 2. Chuck Berry 3.
4 pm: Red Radior 1. Solar Spirit 2. On The Post 3.
4.30 pm: Prestigious Baby 1. Lucky Chand 2. Red Malibu 3.
5 pm: Tabreez 1. Sunspirit 2. Subtle Rumours 3.

Day’s Best: Red Radior

Double: Deion & Tabreez

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Baffin Bay, Anntari, Harry The Horse and Flying Power were impressive from among the following horses worked today:

Outer sand track

1,200m: Googy Gangster ((Rb) in 1-35s; (800m) 1-0s; (400m) 31s.

1,000m: Harry The Horse (Connorton) 1-12s; (400m) 27s. Good. Flying Power (Kujur) in 1-11s; (400m) 29s. Acaress (Rb) in 1-20s; (400m) 33s. Baffin Bay (Rb) and Altimara (Khalander) in 1-8s; (400m) 27s. Former better.

800m: Anntari (Rabani) in 54s; (400m) 28s. Moved well. Clarice Cliff (Rabani) in 54s; (400m) 28s. Was handy. Armed Alarm (Rabani) and Three Good (Islam) in 57s; (400m) 31s. Former 2 ls better.

Sand track

1,400m: On The Bit (Connorton) in 1-34s; (800m) 57s; (400m) 24s. Fit and well. Alvarada (A. P. singh) in 1-39s; (800m) 58s; (400m) 28s. Easy. Alterezza (Surender) in 1-40s; (800m) 59s; (400m) 29s.

1,200m: Hurricane Star (Salim K.) in 1-28s; (800m) 1-0s; (400m) 32s. Freeatlast (Rb) in 1-34s; (800m) 1-3s; (400m) 32s.

800m: Pure Energy (Rutherford) in 53s; (400m) 25s. Fit.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Major Pradeep Kumar Mehra, one of the leading thoroughbred horse-breeders in the country, died in a helicopter crash today morning, according to well informed sources. The tragedy occured on his way back to Delhi from Mussourie where he had been holidaying with family. The Usha Stud and Agricultural Farm supremo was travelling with wife and his second daughter in the ill-fated copter said a source. Reports last reaching the city confirmed that none from the family of three survived from the crash.    

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