Providing an insight into the women's campaign

RUSLAN SHERBAKOV was the coach of the Indian women's team for the Olympiad. An organised taskmaster who had readied the team to take up any challenge in the competition could do little as the team ran out of steam in the closing stages of its campaign.

RAKESH RAO

Ruslan Sherbakov, the Indian women's team coach, is an organised taskmaster. — Pic. RAKESH RAO-

RUSLAN SHERBAKOV was the coach of the Indian women's team for the Olympiad. An organised taskmaster who had readied the team to take up any challenge in the competition could do little as the team ran out of steam in the closing stages of its campaign. During the preparatory camp in Kozhikode, Sherbakov had charted out an enjoyable and beneficial training programme for the quartet of K. Humpy, S. Vijayalakshmi, D. Harika and Nisha Mohota. It was due to the introduction of table tennis and yoga, among other things, that the team members almost met the physically demanding schedule.

Three defeats in the last four rounds put paid to India's otherwise splendid effort. This soft-spoken Russian coach made no secret of his disappointment when he spoke to The Sportstar on the final day. Creditably, he backed every member of the team to the hilt even as he provided a rare insight into some of the high and low moments of India's campaign. Excerpts:

Question: Your thoughts on the performance of India's women team?

Answer: After all, we came in the top-10. But, in fact, it was very much disappointing. Disappointing because till the 10th round, we were aiming for the silver and unbeaten after beating Russia. A day earlier, we defeated Ukraine. Most probably, these great efforts took a lot of energy from everybody. In the end, the girls were too exhausted to fight. The girls reached very good positions in the final round (against England) but they had already dropped too many points in the last few rounds.

The slide began with the match against Georgia in the 11th round. How did you view it?

Yes, I saw this many times but it is important not to pay too much attention to what is happening on the next board. It all happened in the space of less than five minutes. Vijayalakshmi did not play well (against World junior champion Nana Dzagnidze) but at the same time Humpy rejected a draw-offer from Maia (Chiburdanidze). May be she tried to equalise the score. For every half point matters. After that, we lost the match 0.5-2.5.

Usually in team events, is a player not required to consult his/her coach when a draw-offer is made?

Every player should ask the coach. But in this case, I knew nothing about what was going on. May be Humpy was a bit too excited and tried very hard. But this I saw many times in this competition and I felt great danger. In certain match situations she was getting much worse and even better positions could get worse in such circumstances. Soon enough, she blundered and lost a bishop by putting it on the wrong square. Next match, against Azerbaijan, India did well to win (2.5-0.5) but that again took a lot of energy. On the last two days (when India lost 1-2 to China and England), I saw it very clearly that players were tired. They somehow managed to move the pieces.

On the brighter side, we had victories over Russia and Ukraine. How did they come about?

Frankly speaking, we had lot of luck in the match against Ukraine. Vijayalakshmi was just lost against Inna Gaponenko. She could have resigned in that position. But suddenly, her opponent started playing without much confidence and gave a lot of chances. After all, it was unbelievable that Vijayalakshmi won an ending with a rook and three pawns against a rook and four pawns. Her opponent just lost control. This also affected the first board. Humpy was fighting very well. But that day things went in our favour and Humpy checkmated her opponent. Against Russia, it was very good. The first two boards played very well and won but Nisha lost her game (to Nadezhda Kosintseva).

In your assessment, what was the overall strength of the top 10 teams?

I think the first four teams — China, Russia, USA and Georgia — had better potentiality as compared to the other six. This was because these teams had four very strong players. In a long tournament like this, where each of the 14 rounds is very tough, it is very important to have strong players of equal strength. For instance, China and Russia could have put any of their four players on any board. There was not much difference between their first and fourth players.

Wasn't India's last-round defeat to a very much beatable England most unexpected?

Yes, At one stage, I was anticipating a 3-0 victory or at lest a 2.5-0.5 result for India. Vijayalakshmi was already crushing her opponent's kingside. Harika was clearly better and had an extra pawn. Humpy had a very good position. Then the lack of energy showed up. The pieces were playing in a very strange way. If we had got similar positions in the first few rounds when the energy levels were high, we would have won easily. But on the last day, we did not win even on such position.

And one more thing, at one stage I thought we had finished out of the top-10 list. But some of the results involving countries like Poland, Romania etc, who were below us, turned out in our favour. In other words, they did not go on to win by big margins and we finished ninth. But when I looked at the final standing, I thought with an extra point we could have finished sixth.