His goal is top 50

RAJEEV BHATT

Anand Pawar’s victories at the Austrian and the Portuguese Opens have hoisted him into the top 100 list.

Anand Pawar is truly a chip off the old block. The 21-year-old former National junior badminton champion, who is the son of former international Uday Pawar, has been in the headlines with his consistent performance on the European Circuit recently. He returned home with two ‘A’ grade titles, the Austrian and the Portuguese Opens, which pushed him into the top 100 list.

Anand, now ranked No. 85, has set his sights on the top 50 and he is quite confident of making it by the end of the season.

“I feel that is a realistic goal and I am in good form and in terms of technique, I have improved a lot after my recent stint in Denmark with Morten Frost. What I need to do now is keep up the momentum and stay free from injuries, which could offset my gains.”

After competing in the Indian Open, Anand will rush to Mumbai to appear for his B.A. exams. “Actually I am taking breaks between my tournaments to appear for the examination. After my next one on April 11, I have another one coming up on April 23. I plan to squeeze in time and play in the ABC Tournament in Malaysia,” he said.

Anand can sustain his progress with a good mix of tournament play and training. “I feel a lot more confident when I get to play more tournaments at the higher level,” he said.

Anand’s coach at the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore, U. Vimal Kumar, shares his view. “It has to be a good blend of some top class events and good training when he is off the circuit. Now that he has gained enough confidence, it is important for Anand to keep it up and go to the next level. Another important aspect is his fitness. He should maintain that at the highest level to play Super Series and other world-class events and a lot of care also should be taken about his diet,” said Vimal.

Anand sure has that in mind and is ready to chart his course with care and courage.

* * * Ready, steady, go!

Seventeen budding football players, trained by the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in Jamshedpur, stepped out of the campus into the tricky world of Indian football with dreams and aspirations. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the TFA, all the outgoing players were signed up by some of the big clubs in the country with Kolkata’s Mohun Bagan leading the way by snapping up eight of them. East Bengal, another big side from Kolkata, picked up five while Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers of Goa signed a couple of players each in the campus recruitment held for the first time.

Former director of the TFA, Arun Ghosh, who shaped many a dream, once told this correspondent that he would prefer these boys to play outside Bengal for a year or two before joining any of the Kolkata teams. “The expectations are so high in the Kolkata Maidan that it will be difficult for these boys to live up to the billing,” he reasoned. “These boys are brought up in a disciplined and protected atmosphere. They may find it difficult to adjust straightaway to the new life style.”

For the 13 who will be turning out for the two Kolkata giants next season, it will be baptism by fire. The expectations riding on the youngsters are so high in Kolkata that many of them have burnt out very early owing to either poor handling or injuries.

The TFA is the most prominent finishing school for football in India. A number of its cadets are playing for many prominent clubs and some of them are regulars in the Indian team. Two players from the TFA — defender Rakesh Masih and striker Branco Vincent Cardozo — played for India in the pre-Olympic qualifiers.

As many as 13 players from the Academy have played with distinction for India in age-group tournaments. Cardozo was reportedly picked up by Mohun Bagan for Rs. 20 lakhs for two seasons. Masih’s rate was Rs. 18 lakhs. The rest too were given a good deal.

The signings: Chiradip Chattopadhyay (goalkeeper), Branco Vincent Cardozo, Rakesh Masih, Rino Anto, Naveen Kumar, Henry Gangte, Lalramluah and Karan Atwal (all Mohun Bagan), S. Muralidharan and Bineesh T. B. (both Churchill Brothers), Abhijit Ghosh, Gautam Kujur, Jeevan Singh, Malswamkima and Mumtaz Khan (all East Bengal), Hiralal Chetri and Sushil Kisku (both Salgaocar).

* * * Another Dada

There is another Dada (meaning elder brother in Bengali) from Bengal moving into cricket (read Twenty20). After its cricket icon Sourav Ganguly assumed the Indian Premier League knighthood, leading the Kolkata Knight Riders, the state’s other famous dada — Mithun Chakraborty — has jumped into the ring of cricketing wars.

The former superstar of Bollywood and the reigning idol of Bengali cinema has decided to patronise the Indian Cricket League side, the Kolkata Tigers.

Chakraborty — known to his fans as Mithunda — made no less an impact, bringing his reel life image of the action hero alive when he was introduced as the new owner of the Kolkata Tigers. “I am a man from Bengal and I would like my team to be known as the ‘Royal Bengal Tigers’,” he asserted, almost as if he were delivering a line for a movie. “I am always a fighter. I have so far fought on the screen, now I am on a new pitch,” said the film star as he kept playing on the expectations of the gathering. But when it came to a comparison between him and Shah Rukh Khan, who owns an IPL team, Mithunda was quite candid. “He (Shah Rukh Khan) is playing his game, I’m playing mine,” he said.

He then sealed his statement with a straight drive, “He is the reigning superstar. Is there any doubt about it?”

While another superstar Kapil Dev, the ICL’s executive board chairman, accused the Board of Control for Cricket in India of step-motherly treatment to his League, Mithunda preferred to play the game in the right spirit. “We will win all the matches,” he said.

* * * Lame excuse

After crying foul on not getting a wild card for the $600,000 Bangalore Open and then crashing out in the second round of the $50,000 Challenger in Delhi the following week, the US-based Sunitha Rao let her game do the talking as she played some of her best tennis while making the final of the $25,000 event in Greater Noida.

However, the tennis enthusiasts around the country were disappointed as Doordarshan did not have ‘live’ telecast of the event. It was a mystery to the organisers, who had worked hard to put the event together, to find Mandi House pulling out at the last minute, offering a lame excuse.

Ironically, the technical staff of Doordarshan had even given instructions to the hosts, after inspecting the arena during the tournament, for erecting three platforms at the back of the court on either side to position cameras. The organisers had also done a good job of constructing wooden platforms for the telecast of the event. The organisers realised very late that the final day coincided with Holi. The day being a public holiday, the Doordarshan crew decided to skip the event.

It was another matter that Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia outplayed Sunitha Rao in the final. Sunitha was perhaps exhausted after a nerve-wracking semifinal against Margit Ruutel of Estonia where she survived match-points to prevail in the third set tie-break.

Maybe, in Indian women’s tennis, there is nothing much to project after Sania Mirza. Sunitha has vowed to work on improving her doubles ranking to possibly play at the Beijing Olympics with Sania on a wild card.

By Kalyan Ashok, S. Sabanayakan, Kamesh Srinivasan & Amitabha Das Sharma