Ranji Trophy: Of music, football and traces of cricket in Meghalaya

Written by Bharat Sundaresan
|

Published: November 4, 2018 1:28:54 am





The Meghalaya Cricket Association ground is dwarfed by a football stadium on the right with cascading houses on a sloping hill in the backdrop. (Bharat Sundaresan)

“WAIT, DID you just say there’s cricket in Shillong,” exclaims Gaurav from the front-seat while his two fellow locals in the taxi cackle away. We are en route from the Guwahati Airport to the “Scotland of the East” — and trust those here to repeatedly remind you of that moniker and give you their version of how it came about. And the three have been informed about their state’s maiden Ranji Trophy match, which is incidentally underway on their homeground in Shillong, as we cross into Meghalaya past some of the densest and greenest vegetation you’ll come across in the country. Each has a diverse reason for his home-coming. While one is returning like he does every year from Mumbai to celebrate Diwali, the other is a photographer who’s here for the annual Cherry Blossom festival while the third, Shubham, is one among the thousands flocking into his hometown for the NH 7 Weekender music festival.

Meghalaya’s opening match against Arunachal Pradesh was the first Ranji game in town since 1948, when Assam took on the United Province in a three-day affair. And they even ended up winning, beating their neighbours within three days by a convincing seven-wicket margin. But unfortunately, not many seemed to care, or perhaps even knew about it. And it includes those around Shillong as well, not just the expats on their annual visit.

To say that cricket really was up against it in terms of pulling its weight in the sport’s traditional outpost would be an understatement. If the most-vaunted music festival in the “music” capital of the northeast isn’t a big enough distraction, there’s always football. And the players from both teams recall how over 5000 turned up for a local league match next door to the Polo cricket ground at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and drowned out even their appeals and the faint applause from the 50-odd who turned up to see them play on Day 2. It’s also one of those rare scenarios in India, where a first-class cricket ground is dwarfed completely by a massive football stadium next to it.

HOT DEALS

It’s the same on Saturday. While Meghalaya’s win earlier in the day was witnessed by few of the family members of the players, the real buzz around the area arrives later in the evening as eager parents rush in on their bikes and cars to drop off their kids for football practice. You find a couple of local Meghalaya players busy in the nets, helping each other out with throwdowns. And they’re pretty much the only ones in Shillong who sound at least a tad excited about their state’s historic victory. “It was good to see the local players step up. In the first innings, there was a period where we lost so many wickets and it looked like we would give Arunachal a big lead. But it was our captain JJ bhaiya, who stepped up and played a very crucial knock,” says one Meghalaya player. And eventually it was Lamere’s 70 that turned the game around, even if it couldn’t stop the visitors from taking a slender lead. Meghalaya then managed to bowl out Arunachal cheaply before their outstation players rushed them to victory in the run-chase.

The local press haven’t gone overboard with their coverage either, though the Shillong Times did carry a front-page photo of the opening day’s play. By Day 2, the match was a 250-word article at the bottom of the sports page, dominated otherwise by football of course. “It’s just that cricket can be played only now since it doesn’t rain here but it’s unfortunate that it clashes with NH7 and so many other more popular activities in town,” the player then tries in vain to defend the lack of exuberance over his team’s performance.

The pine-tree is considered the most “selfish” of the local flora in Meghalaya. They are all over the place, engulfing pretty much every hill and mountain around. “With good reason, because they only let their own grow around them. Somewhat like the people in some parts of this state,” a local vendor quips. But it’s ironic that at the Polo Ground, the pine trees have been kind enough on one-side of the Meghalaya Cricket Association (MCA) ground to allow the cherry blossoms to spring up all around them, if not dominate the landscape. It’s almost symbolic of how the BCCI — though owing mainly to the insistence of the Supreme Court — have let the likes of Meghalaya into the mix after having spent decades of being indifferent towards this part of the country. While the football stadium towers over the MCA ground on the right, the backdrop on the far side is typical of most hill stations in the country — with cascading houses on a sloping hill. The ground is picturesque but not very strikingly so. The houses are part of a Mawlai, which basically translates to “three stones” in English, but also stands for the areas in the state where property can only be owned by those belonging to the local tribe. Property by the way in this matrilineal society is mostly under the name of the mother or her daughters, a local duly informs you.

The dugouts provided for the teams are rather unique and resemble the wooden huts that line the hills on the outskirts of Shillong. The use of wood is due to the abundant rainfall in the state, which is also the reason the names of a number of towns start with an “Um”, which in the local Khasi language stands for “water”. There was a downpour here on Friday evening, but the ground dried up quick enough to ensure that the match finished quick enough without dragging into Day 4, when there is a forecast for a thunderstorm.

For all its serenity, life’s rather manic in Shillong, especially on a Saturday. So much so that even the cabbies seem paranoid of accepting a ride towards the bustling Police Bazaar area. The Bazaar streets resemble the insides of a Mumbai local train — to the extent in some parts of the manic market area, your movement is dictated by those walking behind and in front of you. You could always choose to cover the short distances on foot, but only to realize that it’s at your own peril. The roads are steep — steeper than any challenge a treadmill can pose — and the calves do get a workout, or burnout if you aren’t up for it.

The Guwahati-Shillong highway though carried a surprisingly empty look earlier in the day — according to the locals in the taxi anyway — considering it’s tourist season. The 24-hour bandh in Assam might have perhaps played a role in it. But there are enough tourists — mostly from the east based on the incessant Bengali in the air around Police Bazaar — to ensure profitable business for the multitude of hawkers around the market. Polo Bazaar, which is closer to the ground, is more local — and the only place in town that sells the locally brewed rice beer — and not many claim to have even been aware of the historic occasion that took place less than a km away, even though some do feign knowledge of the fact. You are, however, offered kwai for your efforts by all concerned and also told how reverential a greeting it is considered in Meghalaya. Kwai is the local version of paan almost, basically a few areca nuts laced with lemon and wrapped inside a betel leaf. It’s said here that kwai is a delicacy even in heaven, and that you’re judged as a person based on whether you accept it or not. “It might make you sweat,” says the guy offering it, and he’s very accurate with his prediction. “Your teeth will become red if you have a lot of it. That’s why in Shillong, even the prettiest of faces unfortunately have red teeth,” you’re told.

As warm greetings go, cricket might have to wait a while before it’s in line for one in these parts, despite the arrival of the Ranji Trophy. For now, it’s still waiting to be acknowledged. Brief scores: Arunachal Pradesh 166 and 131 vs Meghalaya 141 and 157/3 (Puneet Bisht 66*, Yogesh Nagar 55*)

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App

Ish Sodhi Tries Out Rap Music And Has His Team-mates In Splits

Ish Sodhi showcased his chess skills the last time New Zealand toured India in 2017 but lost 0-2 to India’s Yuzvendra Chahal. However, this time around, Ish Sodhi ventured into a new avenue and did not disappoint his teammates or his fans. In a video uploaded by the official Facebook page of New Zealand Cricket, Blackcaps, Sodhi could be seen singing, rather rapping, a revamped version of the famous hit song “Ice Ice Baby.” Within hours, the video had over eight thousands views.

Ish Sodhi, the Indian-origin cricketer, made his Test debut for New Zealand against Bangladesh in October 2013. While he played his last Test against England in March earlier this year.

In the 15 Tests that he has played, he has taken 38 wickets, with his best bowling figure for a match being 7/79. He has 422 runs in his kitty from 21 innings, including three half-centuries. His highest Test score is 63.

In the 22 One-day Internationals that Sodhi has played for New Zealand, he has taken 29 wickets, with his best figures being 4/58.

The 25-year-old cricketer also played for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018.

This is not the first time a cricketer has shown his talent off the field. Cricketers like Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle and others have known to showcase their skills in singing. Bravo had come out with the famous song ‘Champions’, after they beat England in the final of the 2016 World Cup T20 in Kolkata.

Gayle on October 7 had uploaded a video on his Facebook account where Dwayne Bravo could be seen singing his famous ‘Champions’ song for Gayle on his birthday.

Asian Games 2018 Day 11 schedule: More gold up for grabs in athletics, men’s hockey team eye finals spot

By: Sports Desk |

Updated: August 30, 2018 12:06:32 am





Govindan Lakshmanan will take part in the Men’s 5000m final. (Source: PTI)

After bagging four medals (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) on day 11 Indian athletes will once again go for gold on day 12 of the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia. A keen eye must be kept on the track and field events where Manjit Singh and Jinson Johnson will take part. Chitra Unnikrishnan, Monika Chaudhary will be in Women’s 1500m final. In Athletics, Seema Punia will be in action in the women’s Discus throw. In hockey, the men’s team will face Malaysia in the semi-finals. Squash event will feature India’s duo of Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa, as they take on Hong Kong, China in the pool match.

Athletics

Men’s 50 km: Sandeep Kumar – 4:30 AM

Women’s Discus Throw: Sandeep Kumari, Seema Punia – 5:10 PM

Women’s 1500m final: Chitra Unnikrishnan, Monika Chaudhary – 5:50 PM

Men’s 1500m final: Manjit Singh, Jinson Johnson – 6:05 PM

Women’s 4 x 400m – India – 6:50 PM

Men’s 4 x 400m – TBD – 7:10 PM

Men’s 5000m final – Lakshaman Govindan – 6:30 PM

Bridge

Men’s Pair Semifinal 1&2- Pranab Bardhan/Shibhnath Sarkar, Subhash Gupta/Sapan Desai, Sumit Mukherjee/Debabrata Majumder- 8:30 AM

Women’s Pair – TBD – 8:30 AM

Mixed Pair – TBD – 8:30 AM

Canoe/Kayak

Women’s K1 Single 500m (Gold Medal match): Soniya Devi Phairembam – 7:20 AM

Cycling

Men’s Omnium:

Scratch Race: Dilawar – 7:30 AM Tempo Race: Dilawar – 9:35 AM Elimination Race: Dilawar – 2:36 AM Points Race: TBD Women’s Sprint: Deborah, Aleena Reji – 7:50 AM

Diving

Men’s 1m Springboard: Ramananda Sharma Kongbrailatam – 12:50 PM

Equestrian

Jumping (individual): Final (Round 1) – Kaevaan Kaevic Setalwad, Zahan Kaevic Setalwad – 6:30 AM (Gold Medal Event at 1:30 PM)

Hockey

Men’s Semifinal: India vs Malaysia – 4:00 PM

Judo

Men’s -81 kg: Harshdeep Singh Brar – 7:30 AM

Kurash

Women’s under 78 kg:

Round of 32: Jyoti Tokas vs Paranwit Meesri (Thailand) – 12:30 PM Round of 16: Amisha Tokas vs Nyugen Thi Lan (Vietman) – 12:48 PM Men’s under 90 kg (Round of 32): Danish Sharma vs Muhammad Dhifa Alfais – 12:36 PM

Squash

Women’s Pool: India vs Hong Kong, China – 11:00 AM

Table Tennis

Women’s Singles (Round of 32):

Mouma Das vs Szuyu Chen (Chinese Taipei) – 10:45 AM Manika Batra vs Nanthana Komwong (Thailand) – 6:45 PM Men’s Singles (Round of 32):

Sharath Kamal vs TBD – 2:00 PM Gnanasekaran Sathiyan vs TBD – 7:30 PM

Start your day the best way with the Express Morning Briefing

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App

© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd

Asian Games 2018: In noisy cauldron, India shuttlers face the music

Written by Shivani Naik
| Jakarta |

Published: August 26, 2018 12:27:21 am





Saina Nehwal had to overcome the raucous support for local challenger Fitriani to register a 21-6, 21-14 win. (PTI Photo)

You can’t shy away from the noise at the Istora Senayan — the badminton venue in Jakarta. Even the silhouette of its roof looks like the biting, dinning teeth of the grating buzzsaw. When Slash (of Guns N’ Roses) brought his searing blend of grunge and blues to music-crazy Jakarta eight Augusts ago in 2010, the rumpus created by that high-pitched wailing sound wasn’t entirely out of place in the confines of these walls.

When badminton stars seek approval with their wordless wizardry of the whooshing bird at the Istora, they are essentially aiming to drown out the loudest spectators in the sport, capable of commotion that makes you want to insure your eardrums.

It is apt that Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu — the two women who have braved the most tumultuous of decibels at the highest levels of Olympics and World Championships — will need to present themselves to this babel of badminton, and find their inner silence if they want success here.

It’s not easy — Nehwal would say after her 21-6, 21-14 win over local challenger Fitriani. It was impossible — Satwiksairaj and Chirag Shetty would concede after their sheer inability to communicate with each other and the coach got out-screamed by the ruckus playing out for a match on the adjoining court. A set apiece, and 15-all in the decider, Malaysian coach Kim Tan Her kept howling to avoid the flick serve, Shetty would do precisely that.

It wasn’t like their Korean opponents Choi Solgyu and Min Hyuk Kang were posing particularly tough questions. It’s just that Indonesian women’s team Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu were on the adjacent court, and the home crowd was willing them on, point by point against a pair of tall Chinese – Tang and Zheng, who literally got shaky hands and failed to serve out two match points.

Miscommunication

A recent experiment subjected mice completing a maze to heavy metal music. They killed each other instead. Satwiksairaj would come out of the match livid – at his partner who he reckoned had rushed through to the net instead of slowing things down, and exposed the backcourt to blitzy attacks.

He also seemed angry at himself – for not managing to change his fate from the last time, when the Indians wilted under the uproar playing against Indonesia’s hottest doubles pair Giedon-Sukamuljo.

“It was the same thing, we ended up rushing in the end,” he would say, not even bothering to hide his fury.

It was as if the noise had scrambled Shetty’s mind – pushing him to play faster than he ought to have. Destroying the coherence in what is perhaps Indian badminton’s calmest minds on the circuit that lost 21-17, 19-21, 21-17.

India’s other pairing Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy came agonisingly close to a stunning upset of the second seeds – but a match point went down as the peculiarly destabilising stadium atmosphere would witness then falter at last point.

It hadn’t been easy for India’s men’s singles stars K Srikanth and HS Prannoy – never mind they had aced these crowds during the 2017 dream Super Series. Perhaps the best equipped to deal with this uniquely raucous challenge is PV Sindhu who downed young Indonesian Gregoria Mariska Tunjung.

“Every year we play here, I’d rate this no 1 in world for its fans in the stadium. You just have to keep patient and keep going on. I knew she was home girl, so it wasn’t unexpected. I didn’t get nervous,” she would say pushing through the din.
Keep going and keep calm — reads a T-shirt like advice.

Easier said than done. Saina Nehwal would face the more challenging Fitriani who had ridden crowd support to bother Nozomi Okuhara in the team championship. “The crowd was with her. I think it’s crazy, how football or cricket matches are. You have to play against so many of them, but of course they cheer for me too. Sometimes it gets tough because you keep losing points. Then the crowd support comes into play,” she would explain.

Battle with the self

In the second set on Saturday’s pre-quarters, Fitriani would go upto 8-4 and threaten to surf the sound wave. “I’m happy I could come back from that,” Nehwal would add. The Indian has wooed the Indonesians before. “I’m used to it, played many finals. I played three back to back Chinese in quarters, semis and again in finals, so crowd supported me. The feeling was amazing,’ she would say.

However, Nehwal understands that an event like the Asian Games can often turn into a battle with the self. “The expectations are high from yourself. Whoever comes out of that pressure is champion. Srikanth’s loss was surprising since he likes playing on these faster courts. But it’s not easy,” she explains.

“When I saw Srikanth and Prannoy playing, when I played, it’s tough, it’s not easy in big tournaments. It’s not like Super Series events. Once in four years and then the crowd, you can’t predict who’ll win or lose. Even top seed might have a difficult day. My experience in big tourneys is it’s never easy to play,” she adds.

The Asiad can be a mind crumbler in east Asia’s cauldrons. “Mentally it’s not about who you are playing. Sometimes, you will end up creating a challenge for yourself by making a match tougher even if it’s an easy opponent.”

Nehwal’s been at the continental Games more than once and reckons the pressure plays tricks on players’ performances because badminton puts a lot of store on these Games – whether in Japan, Korea, China or India – preparing for this to the exclusion of all else.

“It comes once in four years. It’s not easy to take that into your mind even if you try to relax. You’ll be calm but somewhere deep inside, it does play a role,” she adds. And then Istora erupts throwing all composure into a tizzy.

Start your day the best way with the Express Morning Briefing

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App

Asian Games 2018: Indian boxing from chin music to bodyline

Written by Bharat Sundaresan
|

Updated: August 25, 2018 12:40:42 am





Vikas Krishan showed text-book “go for the body” tactic at the Commonwealth Games, where he comfortably won the gold.

ON MAY 18 this year, Vasyl Lomachenko was knocked off his feet and on his bottom for the first time in his boxing career. It was courtesy a full-blooded right cross to his chin from Jorge Linares in the sixth round of their highly-billed WBA world lightweight title bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medallist turned record-shattering pro boxer, would inevitably recover and finish the bout off with a crunching liver strike that would see Linares’ knees buckle under him.

Some 11500 kilometers away in Patiala, Santiago Nieva was going weak in his knees. Indian boxing’s high-performance director had been up since the wee hours, glued to his laptop screen, live-streaming the fight. And Lomachenko was providing him with a blueprint of just the kind of match Nieva had been looking for to explain the change in boxing culture that he’d been propagating to his charges in India ever since he took over last year. The indomitable Ukrainian had come back from a knock to the head and knocked out his opponent with a body shot. Nieva had his eureka fight and would gleefully replay the bout on loop for his boxers later in the day.

“I would often show them videos of world-class boxers, including Lomachenko, whose videos even they have started binging on. But this one was perfect since we had been working on upper-cuts to the body in our training that week, and here was Lomachenko providing a masterclass with various body-shots throughout the bout,” recalls Nieva.

As an Argentine who grew up in Sweden, and boxed for both countries before turning into a globe-trotting coach, Nieva is no stranger to embracing new cultures. It took him 2-3 months to get used to, and in a way resign to, the bureaucracy in Indian boxing that ensured things moved at a slower pace here than anywhere else despite their access to a lot of money. What has taken him longer is to fathom, accept and work towards reinventing Indian boxing’s fixation with going “head-hunting” in the ring. And it’s still a work in progress.

“It will take time. They will realize that it will improve their boxing and give it a totally new dimension when you have a bigger target area. You get better variation for your punches. You can disguise your punches to the head and go for the body or vice versa. Then it becomes natural. Then you don’t even remember why you were only going for the head before,” he explains.

Nieva though is aware of why Indian boxers were “only going for the head before”. In his opinion, it had to do with a few factors, which included the influence of Russian and Cuban boxing here and the Indians’ lack of exposure to professional boxing overseas.

“In America, it’s totally a different philosophy. You might get points to the head but you still have to go for the body, for in the end that will help you to score more anyway. It is normal that the first thing you hear from a coach in the corner over there is him shouting, “Go to the body, go to the body….” Nieva says. Even Lomachenko had credited his father cum trainer Anatoly’s repeated demands to “go to the body” from the sidelines for his finishing manoeuvre against Linares.

Veteran coach and former manager Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu doesn’t agree with there ever having been a “culture” of sorts that prevented Indian boxers from budging from their head-hunting ways. “If the boxers wouldn’t do it at all, what can we do as coaches? But in their defence, successful shots to the head would get more obviously spotted by the referee judges and get them more points. They had also gotten used to the fact that head pe shot maro toh public aur shor karta tha,” he says.

Sandhu does have a point. As a casual viewer, it is indeed tough to spot body shots. It’s often because the opponent doesn’t always “sell” the blow — react to it like it has hurt him bad. Even in the Lomachenko win, it’s only when the ultra-slow motion cameras — which are used for referrals — show the punch from various angles do you realize the potency of the liver strike. For, it takes Linares at least 4-5 seconds thereafter to hit the ground.

***

The one relevant reason for the Indians’ aversion to deliver body shots that both Nieva and Sandhu agree with is the erstwhile scoring system in amateur boxing that existed till the 2012 Olympics in London. The computer punch-count system, criticised by many as ‘bean counting’, would often turn a bout into a glorified sparring session as body shots would account for fewer points.

“Indian boxing grew during the time there was a scoring machine and even though boxers continued to punch at the body, most points were scored when you connected with the head. So they started concentrating to the head from the start,” is how Nieva puts it.

The new rules, which are laced with pro-boxing components, based on the “subjective” 10-point scoring system have completely changed the dynamics of amateur boxing. It’s based on three major criteria: Quantity and quality of punches, dominating a bout with technique and tactics and competitiveness.

“You have to impress the judges. Secondly, we don’t know what impresses them. In close bouts, you’ll always see a 3-2 or a 4-1 decision, so even they do not agree often. Still the most important thing is to land clean scoring blows to the target area,” Nieva says.

The mantra here is to constantly showing the judges your initiative to win. A boxer these days needs to be shown throwing more punches, even if he’s not connecting with all of them.

“Earlier you knew after two rounds whether you were up by 4 points and then accordingly slow down and kill the bout. Now, you might think that you’re winning but there are only 3 rounds but they might give the final round to your opponent if you’re not going in with an offensive mind-set. You need to convince the judges you’re trying to win the fight throughout, which means surging ahead even in the last 30 seconds,” Nieva explains.

***

It’s here that body-shots become vital, as they not just show off your “will to win” but also set you up for more punishing blows to the head. It’s about “investing in body punches early on so that you collect the interest in later rounds” as the old adage goes.

“It’s about getting the right mix. You cannot of course just go directly for the body; then you would open yourself up too much. But I look for a 70-30 head to body ratio. Right now in India we have gone from 95-5 to 90-10. So a lot of catching up to do,” he says.

His highest point as India men’s coach so far was seeing eventual gold-medalist Vikas Krishan knock out Ireland’s seasoned Steven Donnelly at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year. He gushes over that moment with the same unbridled joy that everyone in Indian cricket has been over India’s fast bowlers clocking higher speeds than their English counterparts at Trent Bridge recently. “I never tire talking about that knockout,” he says.

CWG’s record haul was a huge success for Nieva and Indian boxing. But the Asian Games will be a perfect test for how far they’ve come under the new coach, not just in terms of competition, but also in particular with their penchant to “go for the body”.

The likes of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China and South Korea after all are a lot more attuned to “body-work” owing to a greater exposure to pro-boxing. And while medals will be his priority in Indonesia, Nieva will also quietly be hoping to witness Indian boxing’s Lomachenko moment, and maybe go weak in his knees thereafter.

Start your day the best way with the Express Morning Briefing

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App