Change of guard

Baskaran's return cannot transform everything OVERNIGHT. He will be the first to acknowledge that.

Baskaran is back. He will be the 14th coach of the Indian hockey team in a dozen years. Interestingly, this is his fourth stint. The turn of events after the Commonwealth Games fiasco signalled a change of guard. And that was least surprising.

So is the name of Baskaran. Pointers were available during the PHL at Chandigarh identifying Baskaran and Harendra as the next choice, especially when reports suggested that Rajinder Singh (jr) had left the camp, presumably miffed by the rumours of his impending ouster.

Rajinder's reaction now is predictable. His charge is that he had to train mediocre players owing to flawed selection. But this is not the time for polemics.

Baskaran's return cannot transform everything overnight. He will be the first to acknowledge that.

It should be said in Baskaran's favour that he has a wealth of experience as player and coach in the Olympics (2000 Sydney), World Cup (1998 Utrecht), Asia Cup (1999), junior competitions (1997 Milton Keynes) and a host of tournaments like Azlan Shah (1995).

The high point of his career as player was the last hockey gold at Moscow in 1980. Admittedly, the expectations are high and Baskaran has courageously worn the crown of thorns.

Give him a fairly long stint; then sit in judgement.

S. Thyagarajan * * * Xu Yuhua is queen

Flying to another country to play in a gruelling World championship may not exactly be on top of the list of things to do for most pregnant women. But, Xu Yuhua, a 29-year-old Chinese who is expecting a baby in September, did precisely that.

She did more actually; she won that tournament, the World women's chess championship. Shortly after being crowned as the new queen of world chess on March 25, in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg, when asked what helped her to become the champion, she said, "I think my baby was the one who helped me."

As did consistency and perseverance, one might add. She was easily the most consistent player in a tournament where the big guns failed to fire. Both, the reigning champion, the beautiful Antoanetta Stefanova of Bulgaria, and the highest-rated player in the fray, India's Koneru Humpy, went out in the second round. In fact, none of the top four seeds could make it to the semifinals.

Xu was seeded sixth and she met Russia's Alisa Galliamova in the final, which she won 2.5-0.5, with a game to spare. This is not the first big title for her, having won successive World Cups in 2000 and 2002. She also helped China take the women's gold in the last three editions of the Chess Olympiad. She is the third World champion from China, the undisputed superpower in women's chess (Xie Jun and Zhu Chen are the other World champions who think in Mandarin).

"Her performance was steady in this World championship, while other top players struggled," says veteran Indian international, Bhagyashree Thipsay. "I've played her on a couple of occasions and was impressed with her skills and fighting spirit."

They were on abundant display in Russia last month.

P. K. Ajith Kumar