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India�s new star pair

Calcutta, Oct. 24: 
The Lord Paul Condon-headed Anti Corruption Unit (ACU), an arm of the International Cricket Council (ICC), is neither confirming nor denying reports that the October 17 India versus Kenya tri-series match is being investigated.

Much to everyone�s surprise, India (with top quicks Jawagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar having been rested) lost by 70 runs, in Port Elizabeth, only their second defeat to Kenya. The first, of course, was in Gwalior during the summer of 1998.

�In keeping with established practice, the ACU will offer a comment at the appropriate time. It won�t even confirm whether an investigation is underway,� informed ICC spokesman Mark Harrison, when contacted by The Telegraph this afternoon.

Speaking from London, Harrison added: �All I can reveal is that two ACU members (investigators Martin Hawkins and Alan Peacock) were in South Africa at that point of time, but their visit was in connection with a 2003 World Cup meeting, in Johannesburg. It�s possible their presence encouraged Media reports which, in turn, led to more speculation.

�However, as the ACU�s policy is clear, there won�t be any comment now. Anything that is said may lead to even more speculation� Incidentally, the ACU is free to start an investigation on its own. It doesn�t have to wait for a directive/suggestion from anybody.�

Actually, a straightforward confirmation or denial would quickly end speculation. But, then, the ICC has always viewed things differently.

While the ICC�s man in South Africa, Match Referee Justice Ahmed Ebrahim, wasn�t available for a reaction, Indian manager Dr M. K. Bhargava pointed out �nobody� had informed the touring side about the ACU possibly having smelt some mischief.

�Like the rest of the people here, we have seen newspaper reports. We haven�t heard anything from either the ICC or the host Board, though,� the manager insisted, when contacted in Cape Town, before the team�s departure for nearby Paarl and the last league match.

Dr Bhargava added: �Our coach (John Wright) has already gone on record to say he trusts his boys. I endorse that fully� In fact, contrary to the general belief, the reports haven�t upset them. They know they lost only because they played badly.�

[As it turned out, Sourav Ganguly�s team gave a fitting �reply� this evening: playing to potential and smashing Kenya for 351, losing just three wickets.]

Talking exclusively, again from Cape Town, Kenyan coach Sandeep Patil (incidentally, a former India coach) maintained: �I suppose it�s become fashionable for people to suggest match-fixing whenever a lesser fancied team wins... I wouldn�t like to say anything more, except that the ACU does have the right to investigate any match.�

Patil, it may be recalled, set a welcome precedent by banning cellphones in the dressing room during his short stint as India coach, in the second half of 1996.

Meanwhile, India�s cricket boss Jagmohan Dalmiya (too) chose to reserve comments till �details� were received. �It won�t be proper to react till I�ve heard from the ICC,� he said, when contacted in the city.

Though the ACU became functional after Dalmiya completed his three-year term as ICC president, in June 2000, the decision to have an investigative arm was taken during his tenure.


New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
Gagan Ajit Singh, polished yet reserved, is probably a study in contrast with the stocky Deepak Thakur. The two strikers came of age in India�s historic triumph in the just-concluded Junior World Cup in Hobart. While Thakur admits that his omission from the senior World Cup qualifiers� squad egged him on, Gagan Ajit has hockey in his blood.

The junior World Cup win was the recognition round for the two, who represented the country at the Sydney Olympics but failed to impress.

Gagan Ajit is a fox in the box, the typical goal-poacher, and Thakur is the artful dodger, adept in several positions.

Thakur�s approach to the goal always spelt danger at the Junior World Cup, where he finished as top-scorer with ten goals including a hat-trick in the final. Gagan Ajit played the role of provider in this tournament and finished with a tally of two goals.

Gagan Ajit�s father Ajit, who works with Northern Railway, was also a centre forward and played in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. His uncle Harmeek Singh, was captain of India in the 1972 Munich Olympics and played left half in the first and second World Cups in Barcelona and Amsterdam, respectively. His cousin Navsher Singh, a midfielder, was in the Indian team which finished second in the Junior World Cup in Milton Keynes in 1997. �At home there is always talk of hockey. My father taught me the game and was my first coach,� says Gagan.

In the small town of Ferozepur, 4 km from the Pakistan border, Gagan�s family members are hailed as sporting heroes.

Thakur�s father Nardev Singh is a driver with the Himachal Pradesh government�s agriculture department in the small town of Una. Nobody in Thakur�s family has played hockey seriously. He learnt the game watching others play at a field near his house. He got his first hockey stick at 12 and virtually built himself up from scratch. He was selected for the Sports Project Development Area scheme of the Sports Authority of India in 1993 and moved to Patiala. His first coach was Inderjeet Gill.

Thakur came into the limelight when he helped Air India win the junior nationals in Bangalore in 1999. He was declared the best forward. He first played for senior India in the 1999 Test series versus Pakistan. Dropped for the World Cup qualifiers, he has made a strong comeback. �At Hobart I think I matured as a player and my confidence increased after my three goals against Scotland. I played consistently, whereas earlier I would tend to drift.�

Gagan first played for India at the 1998 Commonwelath Games in Kuala Lumpur, but as he himself says. �It took time to adjust to senior hockey.� He was dropped for the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, but made a comeback for the 1999 India-Pakistan Test series. He shot to stardom when he scored two goals against Pakistan in Delhi in the 1999 Test series.

Both are products of the Air India Academy at the National Stadium here, and proteges of coach A. K. Bansal. Already 54 players from this Academy (started in 1992) have represented India in either senior or junior teams. Both played on stipend for Air India and then got jobs with public sector concerns. Gagan Ajit works with Bharat Petroleum Coporation Limited and Thakur is a sports officer with Indian Oil.


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