Indian Overseas Bank extends lease on trophy

TAMIL NADU basketball has never had it so good before. In the last two years the State has achieved a grand double twice.

M. C. RAMAN

TAMIL NADU basketball has never had it so good before. In the last two years the State has achieved a grand double twice. Though Tamil Nadu has been among the top five for decades, its real ascendancy started in the early 90s. It had managed to win the National senior championship for men on a couple of occasions. But in the last four years it has been the National champion in the men's section and in addition to that the Chennai-based Indian Overseas Bank has won the Federation Cup men's titles back to back — 2002 and 2003.

The IOB team which won the men's title in the 20th Federation Cup basketball championship. Standing (from left): Shabeer Ahmed, Sridhar, Chandrasekar, N. Ramamoorthy (Coach), Gopinath, Venkatasubramanian, Robinson and Sundar. Kneeling: (from left) Prakash Varkey, Hariharasudan, Shivsankar and Swaminathan. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

This is a big achievement indeed. They have done the State proud. But can the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association afford to bask in this glory, ignoring certain realities? Unlike the National senior championship final in which the same players clashed and Tamil Nadu recorded a runaway victory over Punjab, the Cup final was a tough one.

At Hyderabad the margin of victory — over 20 points — was a flattering one. But within two months Punjab reappeared on the court at Fr. Agnel Technical Education complex at Vashi (Navi Mumbai) as Punjab Police to face its archrival IOB, in the men's final of the 20th Federation Cup, hosted by the Basketball Federation of India.

This time the Punjab players made it pretty close and IOB won by just one point to retain the S.A. Arjuna Raja Trophy. Of course, it was an exciting finish and the spectators enjoyed it because of the tough competition. But from Tamil Nadu's point of view it was a bad show and there was an alarming dip in its performance. True, most of the IOB players were not physically fit because of participation in various All-India tournaments. Its main player and point guard Robinson, an Asian Allstar nominee, joined the team two days later as he was nursing a muscle pull in the right thigh. Hariharasudan, a good three-point shooter, just recovered from his hand injury and his failure in the final made it difficult for IOB. Only Shabeer was somewhat fit and Sridharan was not in his elements in the early stages.

So it was a big challenge for IOB to defend the title it won at Bhilwara in 2002. But it did not realise it was going to be such a tough one. It is better if the TNBA gets ready to prepare a strong second squad to strengthen its bench strength to replace players like Robinson and Shabeer in case of injury.

Punjab Police always performs better as a club than as Punjab. That happened this time also. In the National final at Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu could bottle up Parminder Singh (Sr). But in the Cup final, both the Parminders, senior and junior, played havoc with the IOB defence till the final whistle. In fact, the towering Parminder (Sr) committed four personal fouls quickly, but stayed on to push the Chennai side to the rope. Ball handler Parminder (Jr) did well in shooting too. Harminder, Manpreet, Gurkripal and Swaranjit added further thrust to the Police attack. Harminder and Manpreet shored up Punjab Police's basketing in the final and that gave it an edge till the fourth quarter in which too many things happened too fast. Sridhar's three pointer was credited as two and when IOB brought it to the attention of the referees they changed the scores from 68-all to 69-68 in favour of IOB. It was this advantage that helped the Chennai team to fight confidently and clinch the title by one point (71-70).

In the last 12 seconds IOB was ahead 71-70 and the Police players could have taken the ball and scored. But they committed three fouls and ruined their chance. The Punjab team protested, but the referees stuck to their guns. It was a tough grind, but the IOB players kept their cool to win. If it was Sridhar who basketed in the early stages to prop up IOB's game it was Robinson who unleashed his jumpers superbly to keep IOB in the race later. In fact, IOB did take a five point lead in the third quarter, but surrendered it quickly. Hariharasudan failed miserably, but Gopinath's timely basket came as the winner (71-70).

Even IOB's group campaign was not impressive. It could beat only Tata Steel (TISCO), Jamshedpur, comfortably. But it was trailing against Integral Coach Factory, another Chennai-based team, till the last quarter. IOB wiped the deficit only in the final minutes. ICF was without its three main players, ball handler Tony Leslie, Arul and Senthil Selvan, who were with the Indian team that won the silver medal in the World Railways tournament. Still it fought well against IOB, setting up good pace and doing well in outside shooting. It failed only in rebounding. As Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Dehradun, lost to Tata Steel narrowly it had to beat IOB to get a place in the semi-final knock out.

It turned out to be a challenging one for the defending champion and Des Raj played a great game mixing both outside shots and lay-ups. Though IOB was leading by 13 points at the third quarter, ONGC fought well to make it very close. However, IOB won all its three matches and finished on top in Group `A'. Tata Steel, which finished runner-up, moved into the semi-final along with IOB.

Punjab Police dominated in Group `B,' winning all its three matches. Indian Army, without Phool Singh, struggled hard against Vijaya Bank, Bangalore, but managed to win. Hyderabad district started badly, but improved its game later. But its defence was poor for this level of competition. Punjab Police and Indian Army moved into the next stage from this group.

Both the semi-finals ended in anti-climax. For the first time IOB combined smoothly to thrash Indian Army and Punjab Police crushed Tata Steel. IOB and Punjab Police were too good for others. As the Police team was fitter it could sail smoothly. However, it was not so with IOB.

Barring Western Railway, the Inter-Railway champion from Mumbai, all the other women teams came as State teams. Though Kerala changed its name to Kerala State Electricity Board later, it also started as a State team. Western was undoubtedly the best side in the competition. Ivy Cherian joined the team a match later. After that Western became even more strong. Whether it was outside shooting or inside basketing there was no match for the Mumbai side. In fact, Western paraded its strength. It introduced the bench player, Nimmi Menon, in the final against Andhra and that girl swung the match in favour of her team. Western regained the D.K. Ramammal Trophy, dashing the hopes of Andhra, made up of South Central Railway. This was Andhra's maiden entry into the final.

With three point guards in Ivy Cherian, Sheeja Mathew and Menaka Antony and sharp shooter Arnika Gujjar, who, however, struck a bad patch in the semi-final and final Western had an edge over others. Andhra did not have that much depth in shooting and depended heavily on Sofi Sam and Jetty Jose, an outside shooter. But the Western players, enjoying height advantage, did not allow Sofi to shoot freely. Incidentally, both Western and Andhra came from Group `B'. It was their second clash and earlier too Western beat Andhra and finished on top.

However, the most interesting development was in Group `A' in which the current National champion Delhi participated. First it was stunned by Chhattisgarh, made up of quick-footed young girls who kept the pressure on Delhi with steady shooting. Delhi caved in. The champion side, however, managed to beat Madhya Pradesh and made it to the knock-out stage as Punjab failed to turn up in this group. But Western played brilliantly with strong defence and attack to wreck Delhi's chances in the semi-final. Only Sheeba Maggon basketed and the other shooters failed. It was a big blow for the National champion.

In the other semi-final Chhattisgarh also fought well, but Andhra managed to hang on to its early lead to beat the rival by just five points. Bengal and Kerala put up a poor show and bowed out in the group stage itself.

The results:

Men: Final: IOB 71 (Robinson 35, Shabeer Ahmed 14, Gopinath 11) beat Punjab Police 70 (Parminder (Sr) 17, Harminder 13, Parminder (Jr) 24).

For third place: Tata Steel beat Indian Army 58-51; Semi-finals: IOB beat Indian Army 85-61, Punjab Police beat Tata Steel 78-56.

Women: Final: Western Railway 74 (Arnika Gujjar 15, Sheeja Mathew 10, Nimmy Menon 20, Ivy Cherian 19) beat Andhra 58 (Sofi Sam 25, Jetty Jose 10).

For third place: Delhi beat Chhattisgarh 68-61; Semi-finals: Western Railway beat Delhi 50-38, Andhra beat Chhattisgarh 59-54.