Like a curate’s egg

The victorious ONGC men.-PICS: K. MURALI KUMAR

The Basketball Federation of India needs to give the talent pool more exposure trips to make them competitive at the Asian level at least, writes Avinash Nair after watching the Federation Cup.

Is the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) going on the right path? Going by what one saw at the 27th edition of the Federation Cup at Bangalore’s Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium, there are still areas that need a great deal of attention.

Scheduling a major event like the Federation Cup just three weeks after the Ludhiana Nationals resulted in many of the star players giving the Bangalore event a miss.

It was understandable. Railway players in particular had a long camp prior to the Nationals and then to come back and play for their State or institution in Bangalore was not a welcome option.

So the ‘big names’ like Geetu Anna Jose of Tamil Nadu and Amrutha of Maharashtra plus a few others skipped the tournament.

This pull-out weakened teams like Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh considerably amongst the women and South Central Railway in the men’s section.

If one thought turning out for their institutions or clubs would be an inspiration in itself for the players, one was sadly mistaken as Vijaya Bank, Karnataka, Jind District from Haryana and Delhi’s young Captains Club were all guilty of not performing to their optimum level.

The Bankmen had all things going for them — home court, local support and even to an extent the referees’ favours — but they squandered the opportunity by winning just one match in the five-team Group ‘A.’

The triumphant Tamil Nadu women.-

In the men’s final, Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, too seemed to give in easily — playing the game at walking pace with little fighting qualities. And ONGC, easily the best equipped of the teams in the men’s segment, waltzed through to the title. It won all its league engagements in Group ‘B’ with consummate ease barring the match against IOB, Chennai, where it prevailed 58-51. But then against holder Punjab Police in the semifinals and IOB again in the final, the men from Uttarakhand faced little or no challenge.

Vishesh Bruguvanshi, the current India captain, was consistent throughout the five-day event and deservingly walked away with the ‘Best Player’ award. There were some interesting and well-fought matches. Indian Air Force stunned Punjab Police on the very first day, while Central Excise and Customs, Kochi, lost a narrow match to Vijaya Bank and had to win against the Policemen from Punjab to make the semifinals. It lost there by two points and bowed out despite the likes of Basil Paul and Manoj putting up a stellar performance throughout.

On the women’s side, much was expected of the South East Central Railway team from Bilaspur, the inter-Railway champion. But in retrospect, Tamil Nadu had become a stronger side with the induction of international P. Anitha, who propelled her team to the title along with P. Adhirai , Apoorva and Priyadarshini. Anitha, who is getting married next month and is even contemplating quitting the game altogether after that, was not the right choice for the women’s best player award despite her stellar showing all through. The award to either Renu Mourya or even Manisha Dange of Maharashtra, could have boosted the young girls’ morale a great deal.

Renu Mourya, the ‘pint-sized’ playmaker-shooter from Maharashtra stole the show with some telling performances and even converted the crucial basket to clinch a thriller against SEC Railway in the semifinals. But Maharashtra could not repeat the effort against Tamil Nadu, losing 62-63 in the final. Tamil Nadu had defeated the same team convincingly in the league stage.

P. Anitha (Tamil Nadu) and Vishesh Bruguvanshi (ONGC), the `Best Players' in the event.-

Kerala was another team that played much below par though it came into its own against SECR in the third place match, winning by a whopping 22 points (88-66). The Delhi State team disappointed along with Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The Chattisgarh women, in particular, lost some key players to SEC Railway and came to Bangalore with some promising junior internationals. But they failed to win close matches against Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, despite the presence of the towering 6’ 9” Poonam Chaturvedi in its ranks. Meanwhile, the Karnataka women’s team had nothing going for it and the over-reliance on players from one particular club — Mounts — proved costly.

The BFI needs to give the talent pool more exposure trips to make them competitive at the Asian level at least. Scott Fleming, the American coach for the national team, subtly said: “I have been here only for the last two and a half months and watched just three tournaments — the Nationals at Ludhiana, the Savio Cup at Matunga (Mumbai) and this and will need to look more at available talent.”

THE SCORES Men: Third place: Women: Third place: