Maiden title for Jharkhand

THE 33rd senior National handball championship for men, jointly organised by the Jharkhand State Handball Association and Tata Steel at Jamshedpur's Gopal Maidan, proved to be a great success in terms of showcasing the sport in this steel city. Matches played both in the day and under lights drew a large gathering and were well received.

The National meet being an inter-State affair, enabled a large section of the armed and para-military force players to represent their respective States on two counts: place of posting or place of birth.

Naturally, the availability of all the talent meant the standard of the championship was very high and matches were keenly fought. The meet also had its share of ugly incidents with some of the players taking the law into their hands and trying to rough up referees. Fortunately, nothing serious happened except that Chhatisgarh's Mohammad Sohail Ali, in full view of all those officials present, tried to rough up referee P. Jayasimhan of Kerala in the semifinals against Jharkhand and was suspended.

In the semifinals, Punjab walked out of its match against Services with minutes to go for the final whistle, blaming poor refereeing, but was persuaded to continue by the Handball Federation of India (HFI) officials. Defending champion Punjab, fielding all Punjab Police players, eventually lost the match.

The tournament saw the emergence of Jharkhand as the new champion. Jharkhand's side was boosted by the presence of a number of para-military force players. The team defeated former champion Services 43-36 in a keenly fought final of the six-day tournament. Last year's runner-up Chhatisgarh beat Punjab for the third place.

Jain Prasad and Aqeel Akhtar were outstanding for the home team with their speedy runs and deft placings against Services, whose forte was fitness and stamina. Jharkhand's ability to bottle up Services' best player, the Manipur-born Nice Singh on the left wing, was the clincher. With the tight marking of this acrobatic player and the non-availability of the team's pivot A. K. Chauhan, out with a broken finger, made Jharkhand's task easy.

In all, 26 States took part in the championship, which was played on a league-cum-knockout basis. Rajasthan, one of the strong sides, failed to turn up after confirming its participation while teams such as Jammu & Kashmir, Goa and Steel Plants Sports Board did not take part.

Four groups — three groups of seven teams and one group of six teams — were formed for the league matches. The withdrawal of Rajasthan meant another group also had six teams. The top two teams from each group made it to the quarterfinals, played on a knockout basis.

Punjab and Gujarat qualified from group A as the No. 1 and 2 teams respectively. Chhatisgarh and Maharashtra emerged from group B; Jharkhand and Services qualified from group C while Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh moved up from group D. All the eight teams, which made it to the quarterfinals, also qualified for the next Federation Cup.

Former India basketball player, P. C. Srivastava, MD (Tayo Rolls), was the chief guest and gave away the prizes. — S. Sabanayakan

The results

Final: Jharkhand 43 (20) (Jain Prasad 20, Aqeel Akhtar 8) bt Services 36 (15) (Nice Singh 11, P. Sajeesh 9, S. Y. Puroshotham 6).

For third place: Chhatisgarh 40 (17) bt Punjab 32 (11).

Semifinals: Jharkhand 36 (15) (Prasad 12, Shiva 7, Akhtar & Sekhar Singh 5 each) bt Chhatisgarh 29 (13) (V. Binu 11, Feroz Khan 7); Services 34 (16) (P. Sajeesh 9, Rashid Khan 8, Sajeesh 5) bt Punjab 32 (17) (Naveen Kumar, Lakshman Singh and Sukhdev Singh all 6 each).

Quarterfinals: Services 37 bt Tamil Nadu 30; Punjab 35 bt Maharashtra 20; Jharkhand 33 bt Andhra Pradesh 19; Chhatisgarh 20 bt Gujarat 10.