End of a long wait

A great moment… Punjab players celebrate with the trophy after defeating Tamil Nadu in the final.-PIC: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

Putting their superior physique and height to good use, the robust Punjab players outmanoeuvred Tamil Nadu to land their sixth National title. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

Immediately after the final whistle Talwinderjit Singh removed his jersey, waved it around, and then rushed to the referees' table and plonked his right foot on it, right in front of the officials' faces. It was his way of expressing joy following Punjab's victory in the 62nd National Basketball Championships in Chennai recently.

However, the officials didn't take the 25-year-old pivot guard's over-the-top reaction seriously. His team-mate Jagdeep Singh, who repeatedly showed his middle finger to the partisan crowd, too escaped punishment.

Talwinderjit, though temperamental by nature, kept his cool in the summit clash against Tamil Nadu and came up with wonderful drive-ins and lay-ups. His timely scoring ensured Punjab the Todd Memorial Trophy after a 13-year wait.

As one who was part of the Punjab team that won the Nationals last in 1998-99 in Jaipur, skipper Gurkirpal Singh understood the excitement of his players. “It's been a long, long wait. With our talent, we should have won it (the National title) more number of times. But we have been unlucky in the past, losing some close finals. This is our moment, we are thrilled,” he said.

With their height and strength, the Punjab players appeared to be made for the sport. Quick on their feet, they used their physique and height to not only score but also do well with the offensive and defensive rebounds.

In Group ‘B', Punjab's biggest threat was Services, Uttarakhand and to a lesser extent Delhi. The way Punjab disposed of the first two teams reflected its wonderful planning and execution. Against Uttarakhand, Punjab packed its defence, thereby denying any leeway to pivot Murali Krishna. In the match against Services, Punjab went all out on the attack and the ploy worked very well for the team.

In the semifinals, Punjab, unbeaten in its group, faced Indian Railways, which was struggling to find its feet after the departure of its two big players, Yadwinder Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, to Uttarakhand. Incidentally, the two players couldn't play for Uttarakhand as they did not get the NOC from their employer, Western Railway. Punjab scored at will against a diffident Indian Railways with Talwinderjit and Amritpal Singh (Jr) playing major roles in the team's victory.

TN was the surprise package of the championship. With seven players making their debut, nobody gave the team even a semblance of a chance. But TN sprang a surprise by defeating Indian Railways and topping Group ‘A'. Playmakers Vinoth Kumar, Akilan and Praveen Kumar delivered whenever they were pressed into service. Rikin Pethani, measuring 6ft. 6in., was the find of the tournament for Tamil Nadu. The 23-year-old pivot's performance against Services (in the semifinals) and Punjab (in the final) were outstanding.

The reign continues... players of the Indian Railways team with the trophy. Indian Railways defeated Chhattisgarh to win its ninth successive National title and 25th overall.-

The manner in which TN defeated Uttarakhand in the quarterfinals won many a heart. When the going got tough, M. S. Nazar, the chief coach, relied on his rookies and they delivered. Playmaker Akilan and forward Raghu Ram put in stellar performances as the host defeated Uttarakhand 56-54 in an exciting match. Rikin's performance was instrumental in TN defeating Services in the semifinals. His defensive rebounds proved to be valuable, so were Mihir Pandey's and Saravana Rajan's shooting.

In quest of a sixth National title, Punjab was the overwhelming favourite in the final. TN, however, fought hard with Rikin playing his heart out. Mihir Pandey was patchy. Had he given good support to Rikin, TN could have run Punjab really close.

The contest, though, was equal till the fourth quarter when the score read 58-55 in favour of Punjab. But in a matter of minutes, Jagdeep and Talwinderjit changed the complexion of the match with quick baskets that swelled Punjab's lead to 10 points. And from thereon, Punjab cruised without any problem.

“It's a great moment for Punjab basketball,” said the Punjab coach, Ashwani Kumar. “We have been very unlucky in the past. It happens in sport. For us, Talwinderjit and Jagdeep played very well in the final. Amritpal Singh (Jr.) and Amyjot Singh too proved their mettle. But Talwinderjit and Jagdeep were the pillars of the team. The team revolved around them,” he added.

Indian Railways' domination continued in the women's section. However, the team did not expect the final against Chhattisgarh, coached by the redoubtable Rajesh Patel, to be tough. Playmaker Deepa, though short in stature, stood tall with her three-pointers and accurate passing and assists. Deepa, Seema Singh and Aruna Kindoo ensured Chhattisgarh remained in the hunt till the third quarter. But with Geetu Anna Jose and Anitha in impeccable form, Railways maintained its composure and raced ahead in the final quarter to win its ninth successive National title and 25th overall.


Men's final: Punjab 70 (Talwinderjit Singh 17, Amritpal Singh Jr. 21, Jagdeep Singh 17) beat Tamil Nadu 62 (Saravana Rajan 11, Rikin Pethani 24).

Third place: Indian Railways 89 (Vikram Parmar 12, Prakash Mishra 14, Gagandeep Singh 37, Jasjot Singh 14) beat Services 81 (Joginder Singh 14, Narender Kumar Grewal 37, Gopal Ram 14).

Women's final: Indian Railways 94 (Geetu Anna Jose 31, P. Anitha 19, Smruthi Radhakrishnan 11, Anju Lakra 14) beat Chhattisgarh 70 (L. Deepa 20, Kavita 17, Seema Singh 17).

Third place: Tamil Nadu 68 (N Shyamala Jothi 20, Sunita Suren 10, Neena Hareendran 13, M. Apoorva 15) beat Delhi 45 (Sonika Ohlyan 14, Asha Hegde 11).