From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.04 :: Jan. 24, 2009
A jubilant Indian Railways men’s team after winning the title.
As the Indian Railways men’s team bus entered the Municipal Indoor Stadium in Surat, the players received a shocking news — their coach, Ram Kumar, had lost his younger brother, Ashok Kumar.
A stoic man that he is, the coach fell silent for a minute and then asked his boys to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted. After handing over charge to his trusted deputy, Senthil Selvan, Ram Kumar rushed to Jaipur to be with his grieving family members.
The tragedy couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate time for the Railways men’s team as it was to take on the two-time defending champion, Services, in the semifinals of the Karp-Jyoti 59th National Basketball Championship in the port city of Gujarat famous for textiles and diamonds. Besides, Indian Railways’ run to the round of four wasn’t, in any way, convincing. Its defeat to Tamil Nadu in the opening match showed that the team lacked teeth in the attack. Thereafter, Railways’ jittery showing in the quarterfinals against a lowly Andhra Pradesh indicated that the former champion was not in the best of form. As a result, not many expected Railways to do well against Services.
Adversity, they say, brings out the best in people. And that’s what happened to Railways. More than talent and style, it was dogged determination that helped Railways script an 89-72 victory. Gagandeep Singh, who played a vital role in Railways’ victory, said: “This is a tribute to our coach.”
Railways’ Snehpal Singh, who had earlier played for Punjab, did not have a successful outing in the National Championships until the semifinals. But in the match against Services, he was a transformed player. Orchestrating moves with Gagandeep, Snehpal shot baskets at will. Going by the energy and enthusiasm that he and his team-mates displayed that day, one could well imagine the amount of attention the coach had bestowed on his players.
Tamil Nadu men, coached by S. Baskar, turned out to be the most improved team in the other group. Boosted by the reinstatement of star international S. Robinson, TN kept improving with every match. The victory over Railways in its first league match was inspired by Robinson and C. V. Dinesh, who showed promise of becoming a future star.
In the second group fixture against Punjab, with the match hanging in the balance, Abhilek Paul tilted the scales in favour of TN. The debutant, possessing a fine physique and excellent rebound skills, produced a dazzling display to help TN put it across last year’s finalist Punjab. Vineeth Revi Mathew’s presence was reassuring for TN, while Chandrasekaran, whose form was in doubt early on, came up with an exceptional performance.
Indian Railways, which won the women’s crown, defeating Delhi in the final.
Born in Nedungadu in Tamil Nadu, Robinson, who had most of his schooling in Surat, was a big hit during the championship. He was like a mentor to his team-mates. And despite being marked, Robinson put up a sparkling show to rescue TN time and again.
A lot was expected of TN following its unbeaten run in Pool ‘B’. After a one-sided victory over Karnataka in the quarterfinals, TN ran into a tough Uttarakhand.
With a host of internationals and great players such as former India captain Riazuddin and Trideep Rai, Uttarakhand proved to be TN’s toughest opponent. Chandrasekaran peaked at the right time, scoring four three-pointers. He combined well with other forwards to help TN put it across Uttarakhand (74-71) in a close encounter.
The final between Indian Railways and TN was closely fought. Nobody could say which team had the upper hand until early in the fourth quarter; it looked like anybody’s match. Leading by a point (57-56) in the third quarter, TN suffered a huge blow when Chandrasekaran, who was going strong with his three-pointers, was sent out after having committed his fifth and final foul. That proved to be the turning point of the contest.
TN was also done in by its poor defence. Yadwinder Singh, easily one of the best shooters in the championships, along with Snehpal and Gagandeep, performed several set-piece moves. The manner in which they drove-in for baskets showed TN’s marking in poor light.
In the women’s section, Indian Railways, as expected, won the title. Geethu Anna Jose, currently India’s best shooter, revelled. But to say that she was the sole architect of Railways’ win would be unfair. There were others such as P. Anitha and captain Anju Lakra who toiled hard to secure Railways its sixth successive title, defeating Delhi in the final.
The championship was a big success, for which credit should also go to the sponsors.
At a time when the diamond business is at its lowest ebb, KARP’s decision to honour its commitment was laudable. KARP, incidentally, stands for the four brothers, Kishore, Anil, Ramesh and Pankaj, who are the key members of the group. Kishore represented Gujarat in table tennis, while the other three brothers represented the state in basketball. At the inaugural ceremony, the entire stadium rose to honour the brothers and Jyoti Automation Pvt. Ltd. for their support to the sport during these difficult times.
For the first time in the history of National basketball cash awards were given. The men’s and women’s champions took home Rs. 1 lakh each, while the second and third-placed teams got Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 25,000 each.
’PROFESSIONALISM IS THE KEY’India’s foreign coach, Aleksandar Bucan, is of the view that the state of affairs in Indian basketball could certainly improve provided there is professionalism in all aspects of the game. “Professional league alone is not the solution. You need professionalism at all levels,” he says.
Securing a job is not easy here and most sportspersons in India, says Bucan, forget basketball once they join an organisation.
“The urge to improve and excel should come from within,” he says.
According to Bucan, the system in India is not conducive for taking basketball to the next level. He, however, feels that individuals with desire and drive can make a difference.
Bucan, who has 14 years of coaching experience in Serbia, says professionalism is the only solution for the ills plaguing the sport in India. “What I mean by professionalism is professional players, professional coaching and professional approach. Most of the Asian countries have moved ahead. It’s possible for India to follow them. With the present system, we have our limitations,” he says.
The biggest challenge for both the Indian men and women, according to Bucan, is the Asian Basketball Championship to be held in China. “Our priority is to finish better than last time,” says the coach.
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