A LOP-SIDED field in the five-nation Middle Asian Zone qualifying tournament for the Asian Basketball Confederation championship had made sure that India and Uzbekistan would be the two qualifiers.


A LOP-SIDED field in the five-nation Middle Asian Zone qualifying tournament for the Asian Basketball Confederation championship had made sure that India and Uzbekistan would be the two qualifiers. The only question was the order of their qualification. In the end, it was Uzbekistan, which rallied from the second half of the third quarter to avenge the loss suffered in the last ABC championship. For the record, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal finished in that order behind India.

On the last few occasions, only India and Uzbekistan formed the qualifying field and made it to the main championship. This time, since the Basketball Federation of India offered free hospitality in New Delhi, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal also made it. Kyrgyzstan, however, failed to turn up and as a result, the interest in the qualifying race was well and truly lost.

Once it became clear that Kyrgyzstan was not going to make it, the league-cum-knockout format was changed to a league format. As expected, India and Uzbekistan easily won their matches against the remaining teams in the fray to complete the formalities of qualifying for the 16-nation Asian championship to be held in Nanjiang (China) from September 23 to October 2.

In what was the virtual `final' of the four-day championship, India overcame a slow start, seized a slender lead in the third quarter before Uzbekistan got it right in the last quarter.

The match was marred by some decisions of the Uzbek referee Ganiev Ravshan, who, in the opinion of the Indian bench, was brazenly ignoring the fouls committed by the Uzbek players while penalising the Indians for the same `offence'.

It was towards the end of the third quarter that an infuriated India chief coach Keshav Kumar Chansoria decided to make his displeasure known to the referee. What made Chansoria lose his cool was the marching orders given to Parminder Singh after a `technical' foul that also completed his quota of fouls. It took some words from the Basketball Federation of India secretary Harish Sharma to calm down Chansoria.

The players too were upset and that took its toll. Within seconds into the fourth session, Uzbekistan snatched the lead and never looked back.

One thing became increasingly clear that unless the Indians shed their fancy for dribbling, they are not going to go too far. The Uzbeks made the most of India's liking for dribbling and easily fell back to defend.

Chansoria agreed that this was one area, which needed to be addressed at once. "The game has changed so much all over the world but we are still wasting our time in dribbling and letting the rivals ample time to defend. We too should change our tactics, pass the ball more and dribble less," said the coach.

Though the average height of the Indian players is over six feet, it was still much lower than their rivals. Using their height to gain optimum advantage, experienced players such as Mikhail Shafenkov, Sergey Demurin, Sergey Kuchin and Hurmatjon Nuraliyev never let the Indians breathe easy.

For the home team, S. Robinson, S. Gopinathan, S. Sridhar Trideep Rai and Riyazuddin did a fair job. Gagnesh Kumar, the captain, however, was a disappointment.

The Indians still have a plenty to look forward to. The qualification means that the Indians now travel to Belgrade for a 15-day preparatory stint leading to the ABC championship.

Overall, apart from the match against Uzbekistan, the Indians did not have much to remember in this qualifying phase.

The final standings: 1. Uzbekistan, 2. India, 3. Bangladesh, 4. Sri Lanka, 5. Nepal.

The scores:

Final: Uzbekistan 87 (Mikhail Shafenkov 26, Sergey Demurin 20, Sergey Kuchin 12, Vyacheslav 12, Hurmatjon Nuraliyev 11) beat India 78 (S. Robinson 20, S. Riyazuddin 16).

Other matches: Bangladesh 70 (Mohammad Raseduzzaman 28, Mohammad Imran Khan 15, Syed Yasser Haider Rizvi 10) beat Sri Lanka 61 (Duke Rajapakse 15, Chanath Danawansa 14, Channinda De Alwis 12).

India 101 (S. Robinson 17, Trideep Rai 13, Riyazuddin 12, S. Sridhar 12, Parminder Singh 12, Gagnesh Kumar 10) beat Sri Lanka 56 (Duke Rajapakse 14, Asanka Suwaris 9).

Bangladesh 66 (Raseduzzaman 26, Mohammad Mustafa Kamal Azad 14, Kamruzzaman 9) beat Nepal 60 (Nirmal Gurung 14, Paresh Shrestha 13, Bependra Maharjan 13 and Sujan Shrestha 11).

India 132 (Trideep Rai 28, Riyazuddin 22, Desraj 17, Gagnesh Kumar 16, Muralikrishna 11) beat Nepal 46 (Nirmal Gurung 12).

Uzbekistan 106 (Hurmatjon Nuraliyev 27, Mikhail Shafenkov 20, Sergey Demurin 12) beat Bangladesh 22.

Uzbekistan 125 (Hurmatojon Nuraliyev 28, Sergey Demurin 26, Mikhail Shafenkov 23, Vyacheslav Belorurov 15) beat Sri Lanka 39.

Sri Lanka 92 (Chanath Danawansa 26, H. Premarchandra 23, Channinda De Alwis 12) beat Nepal 76 (Mependra Maharjan 24, Manish Lama 15, Rabindra Maharjan 10).

Uzbekistan 111 (Hurmatjon Nuraliyev 26, Sergey Demurin 17, Vyacheslav Belorurov 17) beat Nepal 42 (Nrimal Gurung 11, Ajay Manandhar 10).

India 109 (S. Robinson 21, Desraj 21, Gagnesh Kumar 20, S. Sridhar 14) beat Bangladesh 53 (Mohammad Raeduzzaman 19, Syed Yasser Haider Rizvi 8, Mohammad Mostafa Kamal Azad 8).