Tamil Nadu records third win; it's 16th title for Railways

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

INDIAN basketball can be as exciting as any other game in the country, if packaged well, especially on television. There are many tall players, with speed, power and stamina, working hard, within their limitations. The game may not have anything to offer them, except job security, but most of them play for pride.

The victorious Tamil Nadu men's team with the trophy.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Watching Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Services, Railways, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, or for that matter Jammu and Kashmir shining on borrowed colours, you tend to realise that there is no dearth of talent in the country. There is the hunger and the firepower to excel. But where are the outlets, and where are the rewards?

Watching the overflowing crowd, even during the league matches, you know for sure that there is a lot of passion in following the game, which rubs on to the players and their teams.

For their superb athleticism, poise and the assurance with which they play the game, making imaginative moves with a clinical efficiency, the likes of Gagnesh Kumar, S. Robinson, Shabeer Ahmed, Desh Raj, Sambhaji Kadam, Peter John, Parminder Singh, both senior and junior, to name a few, deserve a huge fan-following.

However, television captures their art and craft only during the climax of the National championships, that too from odd angles, that rarely project the stars in all their plume.

Of course, there is a lot of effort by the new set of office-bearers of the Basketball Federation of India, led by secretary Harish Sharma, to provide a fillip to the game, but unless the game is packaged well on television, on a regular basis, the game will continue to languish.

The least the players deserve is recognition, and there is hardly anything about them in the media, except how many points they score in a match! That is because, the system of tabulating scores is primitive, and beyond the reach of the media most of the time. It may sound contradictory, but the fact is that the media is left to run after the results all the time, that it has no time for the players.

It was not a new experience, but it was shocking to find that results were not coming forth from a second court, situated just 500 metres away, for hours together during the 52nd National championship in Ludhiana. That spoke for the inefficiency of the concerned officials to handle such a simple formality as gathering results. One of the men's semifinals score-sheet could not be seen by the media for more than 45 minutes after the match was over, even as scribes struggled to meet their deadlines around 8.45 p.m.

In such a scenario, it is difficult to visualise a bright future for the sport, though there is no doubt that the players deserve everything that anyone can offer, for the sheer joy they provide. Sport can never flourish unless the players are taken care of and projected in a proper way.

The Railways side which won the women's title.-SANDEEP SAXENA

If anything, there has been a distinct rise in the quality of the game, as was evident from the manner Tamil Nadu tamed Punjab in the final, running away with a 25-point lead at the beginning, that served as a cushion when Punjab responded in kind with telling blows in the climax.

It was a hat-trick of titles in the National championship for the Tamil Nadu team, which came as a sweet experience on a pleasant evening, as the roles had been reversed during the final of the recent National Games at the same venue.

The Indian Overseas Bank officers S. Robinson and M. S. Shabeer Ahmed held the key to the fortunes of the Tamil Nadu team, and the duo was consistently brilliant throughout, with their intimidating 'dunks' and outstanding defence.

Punjab came the hard way right from the league stage, when it scored a 107-105 victory in the dying seconds of second extra-time against Services, and later struggled past Railways in the semifinals.

There was the traditional fighting spirit in the Punjab ranks in all those matches, and that was one aspect that was missing in the final, when Tamil Nadu attacked with precision, especially through Robinson and Shabeer.

Gagnesh Kumar was the key to Punjab's success all through the tournament, and the fact that he was allowed only three points in the first half, spoke volumes about the preparedness of the Tamil Nadu camp, under the guidance of A. D. Sendureswaran.

Tamil Nadu was dominant through the league, and into the knock-out stage. The team performed like a well-oiled machine, combining intelligence with efficiency, matching power with power and skill with finesse.

Unlike many other teams, Tamil Nadu played as a cohesive unit, with each member pulling his weight, and not showing any trace of nervousness in trying situations.

Railways, the finalist of the last edition, was left to rue its missed chances, and the team had actually played its cards wrong against Punjab in the semifinals. Height without intelligence can be counter-productive, and Mohamed Islahuddin highlighted this point much to the chagrin of his Railway teammates and coaches. That match exposed the limitations of Punjab, more than Islahuddin, and Tamil Nadu was sharp in taking the cue.

Services was a good team, but somehow seemed to run short of energy in the climax. It was far too erratic to make a match of it in the league against Punjab, in what was perhaps the best-fought contest in the championship.

Unlike the men's section, where there are a few teams to look up to for a rich fare, the Railways has been overwhelmingly superior to the rest in the last few years in the women's section, as it clinched its 16th title. That is because the Railways seems to be the only organisation offering jobs on a regular basis to women.

It was indeed a pleasure to watch the sure-play of Renjini Jose, Ivy Cherian, Sheeba Maggon, Arnika Gujar, Bindu Koroth and B. S. Shyla, as Railways underlined its supremacy, match after match.

Naturally, it is difficult for the State teams to match wits against the Railway line-up, which is virtually the Indian team.

It was no surprise that Railways dominated the women's section, with considerable ease, toying with the opposition, and at times even intimidating them.

Kerala had won the title the last time in 1984, but could not match Railways in the final. Understandably so. Yet, the team put up a good show overall in making the final, especially against Tamil Nadu when it won the league contest by one-point, thanks mainly to the heroics of P. K. Ambily.

That point, and the resultant defeat, cost Tamil Nadu dear, as it could not avoid Railways in the semifinals!

For the women, it has been the race for the silver in the National championship. Tamil Nadu lost its silver in the league, but packed enough punches to clinch the bronze ahead of Punjab.

The Punjab girls played very well despite lack of preparations, in making the semifinals. That was in itself quite satisfactory for a bunch of coaches who guided the fortunes of the team from the sidelines.

Despite all its shortcomings, the National championship was an entertaining experience, because there was plenty of fireworks.

If only the game is as rewarding as it is exciting, the game will be a lot more brilliant.

Will someone package Indian basketball nicely, by getting a platform for the stars to shine, to make the sport a spectacle.

The results:

Men (final): Tamil Nadu 86 (S. Robinson 27, Moses Jeevananth 15, R. Sivashankar 14, M. S. Shabeer Ahmed 11) beat Punjab 76 (Gagnesh Kumar 22, Swaraj Singh 19, Parminder Singh jr. 15, Parminder Singh 12).

Third place: Railways 89 (Ram Kumar 27, Ranjit Singh 25, Mahendra Singh 15, Mohammed Islahuddin 13) beat Services 84 (Phool Singh 22, Peter John 17, Sweeto Francis 16, Gagandeep Singh 13).

Semifinals: Tamil Nadu 103 (S. Robinson 29, S. Sridhar 20, M. S. Shabeer Ahmed 14, R. Sivasankar 14, Moses Jeevananth 10) beat Services 65 (Phool Singh 26, Sai Venkatesh 12, Dalip Kumar 10).

Punjab 73 (Gagnesh Kumar 45, Parminder Singh 11) beat Railways 67 (Ranjit Singh 18, Ram Kumar 16, Mohammed Islahuddin 15).

Women (final): Railways 96 (Renjini Jose 21, Ivy Cherian 20, Sheeba Maggon 18) beat Kerala 63 (V. P. Sini 15, Ambili Thomas 14, M. Sindhu 13).

Third place: Tamil Nadu 84 (N. Shyamala Suguna Jothi 28, Vidya Sridharan 22, Sharmili P. Mathew 15) beat Punjab 58 (Kiranjit Dhillon 19, Savitri Guleria 10).

Semifinals: Railways 106 (Renjini Jose 35, Sheeba Maggon 24, Ivy Cherian 15) beat Tamil Nadu 70 (Sharmili P. Mathew 18, P. Breethi 17, N. S. P. Kaushika 12).

Kerala 85 (V. P. Sini 21, Ligi George 21, Rigi A. Sunny 13, Rollin Sara Kuruvilla 12, P. Lajitha 10) beat Punjab 70 (Savitri Guleria 27, Mandeep Brar 11, Reena 11).