Close, really close

The jubilant Railways men’s team.-PICS: AKHILESH KUMAR

The Nationals emphasised the potential of the Indian players once again. It is for the authorities to package the material nicely, and make stars out of the basketball players. Indian basketball can take a leap forward, if it gets quality television, and a healthy domestic league. But it is easier said than done, says Kamesh Srinivasan.

There is nothing quite like bearding the lion in its den. It was an ideal climax in the national basketball championship with the defending champion Railways beating host Punjab by a solitary point in Ludhiana on a world class wooden floor, in a compact indoor arena in front of packed stands.

The noise was deafening as the home players were virtually charging towards the trophy. The physical strength and speed of the Punjab players could have intimidated any opposition. But Railways was not. Coach Ram Kumar, a superb player in his time, had taken nearly an hour and a half in the morning, to remind the Railway players about their own strength. He had visualised the entire scenario and told his players in clear terms that they had to hold on and not let Punjab have a free run.

The Railway players may just be content with their job, and the chance to lead a healthy life, pursuing the game. The Railways has also stopped the additional increments for winning national championships some time back, but Ram Kumar had done very well to motivate his players into an energetic unit.

“We knew that their game revolved a lot around Jagdeep Singh Bains and Talwinderjit Singh Sahi. We tightened our defence around them. We knew that the others would get a chance to play better, but we were ready for it. We played zonal defence, and our strategy worked,” said Ram Kumar after Railways had recorded a thrilling 75-74 victory over Punjab in the final, stunning the crowd.

“We made the best use of the material available. We knew that some of our key players would not be able to make the team owing to injuries. Our players pulled together as a superb team. I am very proud of them,” said Ram Kumar.

Railways was defending the title that it had won in Surat. But Ram Kumar could not be present for the semifinals and final then, as he had lost his brother Ashok Kumar.

“I had told my team that I didn’t want to hear a second bad news. The whole team was crying when we had won the title last time, and the players were on the phone talking to me,” recalled Ram Kumar.

This time around Ram Kumar was chaired by the players after the dramatic finish, brought about by the energetic play of Yadwinder Singh, Arjun Singh, Vishesh Briguvanshi, Harpal Singh (‘Best Block Shot’ of the tournament), Prakash Mishra and a clutch of other determined players.

“In a way, I would like to dedicate this title to the memory of my brother who was himself a good player. There will be cash awards, but what the players did was great. There is nothing to match the joy of winning the title. You do it purely because of the pride you have in representing the Railways,” said Ram Kumar.

Railways had got past Uttarakhand in another dramatic encounter, the semifinals, by two points. It was Vishesh Briguvanshi who stole the show in the climax then, basketing with assurance and ensuring the exit of Uttarakhand, a champion team with players from the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

Vishesh Raghuvanshi takes a net as memento after Railways’ thrilling win.-

Tamil Nadu was unable to live up to its stature. The team was runner-up last time. It failed to get past Punjab in the semifinal, despite scaring the wits out of the host. It was Hareesh Koroth with his razor sharp three-pointers who intimidated Punjab in the end. And it had been Hareesh, who had turned the quarterfinals against the Services, as Tamil Nadu prevailed 80-77. The team, however, had the consolation of winning the Best Rebounder award through S. Robinson.

Punjab was a delight to watch. The team’s fortunes revolved around Jagdeep Singh Bains and Talwinderjit Singh Sahi, the top-scorer of the tournament. The duo delivered right through, till the team stumbled in the last minute in the heady climax.

In the women’s event, Railways overcame a sluggish start to outclass its regular opponent, Delhi, in the final. The prolific scorer, skipper P. Anitha, and the face of Indian women’s basketball, Geethu Anna Jose, were unable to strike with their usual flair in the beginning, and so Delhi with a bunch of talented girls was able to match them.

However, Railways had too many players capable of delivering the goods, and it raced past Delhi in the third quarter, taking a decisive lead.

“MTNL was the only company that appointed women basketball players apart from the Railways. Now that MTNL has stopped recruiting players, all the good ones are with the Railways. Of course, Delhi has a lot of young players,” reasoned Anitha, who emerged the top-scorer of the championship.

Quite willing to get back to the bench when she found herself out of touch in the final, Anitha was all praise for the Chhattisgarh girls in her team, apart from, of course, the surety of touch of the gangling Geethu Anna Jose, who was adjudged the Best Rebounder and Best Block Shot.

“We are capable of playing a much better game, if we get more international exposure. Things have been good in the last few years, but there is nothing much in terms of international competition except for the ABC every alternate year,” said Anitha.

Railways women flash the smile of victory.-

Indian basketball can take a leap forward, if it gets quality television, and a healthy domestic league. But it is easier said than done.

While the President of the Basketball Federation of India, R. S. Gill, lauded the players, the Secretary-General, Harish Sharma, said that he wanted to make a difference to the lives of the players, but was helpless without television coming into the picture in a big way.

The Nationals emphasised the potential of the Indian players once again. It is for the authorities to package the material nicely, and make stars out of the basketball players.

As Ram Kumar stressed, “Yadwinder Singh is the most energetic player in the country,” but who knows about him, as there is not much exposure in the media except for a few glimpses on the Doordarshan sports channel.

It is high time the Yadwinders and Talwinderjits, entertained us in our drawing rooms. It is time for television to take over Indian basketball and take it to the next level.

THE RESULTS

Men (final): Railways 75 (Yadwinder Singh 22, Arjun Singh 17, Vishesh Briguvanshi 17, Prakash Mishra 13) beat Punjab 74 (Talwinderjit Singh Sahi 27, Dilawar Singh 18, Jagdeep Singh Bains 16, Mod Singh 11).

Third place: Tamil Nadu 76 (Hareesh Koroth 26, S. Robinson 13, Mihir Pandey 11, M. Vinod Kumar 10) beat Uttarakhand 68 (Murali Krishna 20, Suresh Ranot 12).

Semifinals: Railways 73 (Yadwinder Singh 23, Arjun Singh 19, Vishesh Briguvanshi 16, Harpal Singh 10) beat Uttarakhand 71 (Murali Krishna 21, Trideep Rai 12, Mohit Bhandari 11, Suresh Ranot 11).

Punjab 87 (Jagdeep Singh Bains 43, Talwinderjit Singh Sahi 34) beat Tamil Nadu 84 (Hareesh Koroth 25, S. Robinson 23, C. V. Dinesh 20, Mihir Pandey 10).

Women (final): Railways 84 (Geethu Anna Jose 28, Manisha Dange 13, P. Anitha 12, Anju Lakra 10, G. Reshma 10) beat Delhi 62 (Prashanti Singh 20, Shiba Maggon 16, Pratima Singh 10).

Third place: Chhattisgarh 67 (L. Deepa 17, Ranjeetha Kaur 16, Kavita 14, Aruna Kindo 13) beat Karnataka 66 (Kruthika Lakshman 24, Sneha R. Tiwari 15, L. S. Savitha 11).

Semifinals: Railways 130 ( P. Anitha 30, Manisha Dange 21, Anju Lakra 21, Geethu Anna Jose 11, Karanjit Kaur 11, Kawaljeet Kaur 10) beat Karnataka 59 (L. S. Savitha 15, Kruthika Lakshman 14, Sneha R. Tiwari 11).

Delhi 77 (Prashanti Singh 21, Pratima Singh 13, Shiba Maggon 11) beat Chhattisgarh 32.