Breaking new ground

National champions. I. Ilavazhagi of Tamil Nadu and Yogesh Pardesi of the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board.-V. GANESAN

For the first time in the history of the National carrom championship, both the men’s and women’s singles winners pocketed Rs. one lakh each.

A sport that has been struggling to gain national attention, carrom has come a long way over the years. Shedding the image of a recreation activity, carrom is now a fiercely competitive sport that has transcended national borders. Even sponsorship, which was missing for quite some time, has been taken care of now.

That carrom is into happy times was evident at the National Championship in Chennai. The venue — the Nehru indoor stadium — was not only agog with competitive spirit but also reflected the changing times with sponsors’ banners all around. What’s more, for the first time the singles winners — both in the men’s and women’s sections — received Rs. one lakh each.

“This is a great moment,” beamed Bangaru Babu, the man who has dedicated the best part of his life for the upliftment of carrom.

Observers agree that a big credit for this should go to Christodas Gandhi, the chairman of the organising committee and secretary in the Sports and Youth Affairs department of the Tamil Nadu Government.

For the carrom fraternity, Gandhi is regarded as the new messiah. His fixity of purpose is reflected in the social service organisation, ‘Paalam’ that he heads.

‘Paalam’ takes care of talented carrom players who have everything but the financial backing, which is so essential for fulfilling a dream. He has been the source of inspiration to the carrom players.

One of the big gains for Tamil Nadu this year was the emergence of I. Ilavazhagi as the women’s National champion. Gandhi has been supporting Ilavazhagi, helping her to develop her game and break free of the shackles of financial burden. Her next big moment will be when she lands a job.

Tamil Nadu, however, did not find success in the men’s section where Yogesh Pardesi, an unassuming youngster from Pune representing PSPB, won his maiden title. Maharashtra dominated the team events while PSPB and LIC took the honours in the institutional section.

The Nationals, which came to Chennai after a gap of three decades, had certainly broken new ground.

* * * Tough job on hand

Aleksey Yefremov, India’s newly-appointed National table tennis coach, has already made some crucial notes about the Indian players. He is of the view that the Indian players generally score high when it comes to talent, but what really lets them down is their poor physique.

The 33-year-old Belarussian, appointed by the Sports Authority of India to take charge of the Indian paddlers, will focus on preparing the players for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. According to Yefremov, making the Indian players, especially the women, among the best in the world will be his greatest challenge as the National coach.

Having had a fair idea about the country’s talent pool after watching the team and individual events at the 69th National Championship in Siliguri (Assam) recently, Yefremov said the Indian players scored poorly when it came to their physique and tactical planning. “These two aspects are essential if one has to succeed internationally,” he said. “My efforts mainly will be to ensure improvement in these two areas,” the coach added.

Yefremov has a huge task on his hand. He has to first help India improve its position in the forthcoming World Team Championships (Guangzhou, China, February 24 to March 2) and then successfully guide it through the Beijing Olympics qualifiers (March 6-11).

* * * The struggles of a goalkeeper

Cedric de Greve, a veterinary doctor by profession, loves to be among animals as much he does guarding the goalpost. The Belgium hockey team’s goalkeeper, though not in the best of form in the five-Test series against India in Chennai recently, is confident of finding his moorings at the right time (read Beijing Olympics).

One of the senior-most players in the team with 111 international appearances, the 28-year-old Belgian said he, along with two other youngsters, were undergoing training from the team’s goalkeeping coach, Frank Leistra, on how to tackle penalty corner situations. Leistra joined the Belgian team for the 2007 European Cup in Manchester.

“We have made a few changes in our style. We are working on them. The positive side of Frank’s training is that we’ve become more calm; we don’t get stressed out easily. We are not perfect now, but will become soon in time for the Beijing Olympics,” said Greve.

Greve, who was the second choice to Vincent Deneumostien for two years, explained the difficulty of a goalkeeper in finding a place in the first XI.

Though he was in the Belgian team for several tournaments, he did not get a chance to play as he was on the bench watching Deneumostien in action. “One cap for a goalkeeper is like two for a player,” he said.

* * * Control freaks

Better late than never. Yes, Tamil Nadu has finally decided to take up archery seriously. And to take control of the sport in the state not one but three organisations have staked their claims, which has thrown the Archery Association of India (AAI) in a quandary.

All three factions sent their teams to the National Championship in Jamshedpur even though they had no valid affiliation with the National body. Yet, keeping in mind the greater interest of the sport in Tamil Nadu, the archers of the three factions were allowed to participate under the AAI banner.

Two of the three factions have their headquarters in Chennai, while the third is based in Rajapalayam. A leading lawyer, a businessman and a former Union minister head each of these factions.

The AAI, meanwhile, swung into action and sent its secretary-general, Anil Kamineni, to Chennai in an attempt to unify the warring factions with a message that the three sections should join forces and work together for the development of the sport. The Tamil Nadu Olympic Association was also brought into the picture and its secretary, K. Murugan, was requested to help in the unification of the three groups into a single unit with representations from all three splinter groups.

However, after observing the poor scores of the Tamil Nadu archers at the Nationals, the AAI should have also helped the state by providing technical and other support.

By S. R. Suryanarayan, S. Sabanayakan, K. Keerthivasan & Amitabha Das Sharma