INDIA STILL HAS A LONG WAY TO GO

AKHIL KUMAR, in action against Louis Richard Julie of Mauritius, won the gold in 54 kg bantamweight.-AP

It is easy to project a picture of plenty, which it was in shooting, but India's performance in athletics, swimming, gymnastics, basketball and men's hockey fell below expectations, writes K. P. MOHAN.

Will the Indian fans be able to rejoice the way the Australians did at Melbourne every day during the course of the Commonwealth Games when we host the Games four years from now?

Will we be able to win gold medals in athletics and swimming in 2010? Or will the country have to be satisfied with the rich collection of medals from shooting and weightlifting? Perhaps archery and cue sports, if they are included in Delhi, will help boost that tally.

But will that be enough for a host nation?

Australia has set a benchmark both in organisation and on-field success that will be difficult to match. Two hundred and twenty-one medals including 84 golds. India, in comparison, had 50 medals including 22 golds. All but six of that golden collection came from shooting.

The dope-tainted weightlifting team produced three golds, the table tennis team two and boxing one. Compared to Manchester, India has slipped on the medals table. An argument has been made out that there was only one gold in each weightlifting category this time in contrast to the three in the last Games. But then that should hold good for the rest of the nations as well. And yet, the gap for India from the rest of the countries widened. In short, it is easy to project a picture of plenty, which it was in shooting, but India's performance in athletics, swimming, gymnastics, basketball and men's hockey fell below expectations.

It was creditable in table tennis, boxing and women's hockey, but one has to keep in mind the standards in these disciplines at the Commonwealth level.

That is what counts; the standards. In athletics and swimming the standards are world-class in a majority of the events, though Michael Johnson would not agree that athletics standards are anywhere close to the Worlds or Olympics.

In shooting, it is world-class in shotgun events and quite high in rifle and pistol events. The fact that Gagan Narang shot a record 598 out of 600 in the 10m air rifle event for the gold and later shot a 597 to tie with three others and then won the final with a narrow margin to claim the World Cup title in Guangzhou, China, only goes to prove that Commonwealth shooting standards are pretty high in given events.

On that count, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had to battle hard in the double trap competition in which there were two former Olympic champions in Mark Russell of Australia and Richard Faulds of England. That they did not finish among the medals with him goes to prove how tough the contest was, especially given the conditions with winds and flies out to spoil the shooters' aim.

There is hope for the future, especially at the Commonwealth level, in table tennis, when Sharath Kamal's brilliant triumph in the men's singles event in a surcharged final in front of a shouting, clapping Aussie crowd is put in perspective. True, his opponent, William Henzel was several rungs below him in world rankings. Yet, anything looked possible when the match extended into a seventh game. Sharath held his nerves when it mattered most. The men's table tennis team also fared very creditably, while winning the title, with Soumyadeep Roy contributing the deciding point against Singapore in the final. The women's team contributed a bronze.

Commonwealth table tennis standards are very much within India's level and there is a feeling that the country would be able to sweep the titles when Delhi hosts the Games in 2010. In boxing, Akhil Kumar, the 27-year-old bantam from Bhiwani emulated Mohammed Ali Qamar by winning the gold. He had failed to get a berth in the team last time since Qamar made it.

Vijender (welter) and Harpreet Singh (heavy) won silver medals while Varghese Johnson, a silver medallist at the 2005 World championship, was extremely unlucky to lose while leading on points in the fourth round of the semifinal. The referee stopped the contest when Varghese's rival Englishman David Price shook him up with a flurry to the face. The other bronze came from flyweight Jitender Kumar. Olympian Munuswamy Venu and Cuban coach B. I. Fernandez should be complimented for the larger share of medals that the boxing team fetched this time (5) compared to the three last time.

There was considerable excitement in the manner in which young Saina Nehwal won her matches in the mixed team event in badminton where India eventually won the bronze, but she could not keep up the momentum in the individual event. Aparna Popat, after a below-par run in the team competition, did well in the women's singles, but failed to get a medal. The lone individual bronze was claimed by Chetan Anand. The 19-member athletics team returned with just two medals, both silvers. A five-member team had won two medals last time as well. It could have been just the one by Seema Antil in discus this time had not Jamaica dropped the baton in the women's 4x400m relay.

The Caribbean country was the odds-on favourite for the gold. And when England was disqualified after crossing the wire first, the Australians' joy knew no bounds and the Indians too rejoiced, for a lucky bronze had suddenly turned into silver. India clocked 3: 29.57, way below its best in recent years. Seema came from nowhere this season to qualify for the Games and with a second-round throw of 60.56 metres, her season best, she was in the top two right through the competition. Of the other two Indians in the competition, Krishna Poonia had a personal best 58.65m for fifth place while Harwant Kaur, around whom there was so much controversy before departure, finished a poor seventh with 57.64 metres.

The biggest disappointment from the Indian perspective was Anju George not finding a place on the podium. She failed to come out of the 6.30-6.50 bracket and eventually finished sixth with a 6.54m, just three centimetres shy of a medal. The silver and bronze went for 6.57. Australian Bronwyn Thomson won with 6.97 and she had two other jumps of over 6.90 to prove in what a great form she has been this season.

"I wasn't prepared well enough," said Anju on return.

The rest of the Indian athletes fared well below expectations. Obviously there is a world of difference in performances recorded at home and those achieved in international competitions abroad. The enormous expenditure borne by the Union Sports Ministry in sending an athletics team for training in South Africa could have been justified had the athletes performed above their routine.