Tamil Nadu too good

"AS long as they follow outdated systems, the Tamil Nadu men's team will keep winning the National championship," said the Tamil Nadu coach A.D. Senthureshwaran, a former international.

M. C. RAMAN

"AS long as they follow outdated systems, the Tamil Nadu men's team will keep winning the National championship," said the Tamil Nadu coach A.D. Senthureshwaran, a former international. He was quite confident of his team taking the top honours for the fourth time in a row and did not mince words when he was talking to the media prior to the final. He feels, in India, the teams still adopt outdated methods, despite the tremendous advancement in the game elsewhere in the world.

The problem is with the entire sports administration. It is still in the Stone Age.

Former players and professional administrators do not come into the Indian sports system to change the existing obsolete methods. This is the bane of sports in India and the game basketball is no exception.

After Harish Sharma has taken over as the Secretary of the Basketball Federation of India, there is a perceptible change in the activities of the Federation. He wants to put the game back on the rails. But for that there should be support from every side.

Robinson, one of the top performers for Tamil Nadu in the final against Punjab, is about to pass.-Pic. MOHAMMED YOUSUF

The coaches, officials, fellow administrators and players must realise that they have an important role to play in taking India to past glory. But if you see the quality of even elite group matches, you will be depressed at the total indifference of State associations and coaches, who prepare their sides for the major event.

It is a difficult process to build a strong team. It takes two to three years to form a good combination if the coach is intelligent enough to understand the players' performance level and preferences, in addition to their physical ability to play under various conditions.

This is what the Americans do even at school level. This is what the American coaches say in various clinics.

Unfortunately, there is no effort to improve things on the part of the coaches and State associations, some of whom are in pathetic conditions as far as administration is concerned.

"When we do our part, the State associations must respond," said the BFI Secretary once. When clinics are conducted, the coaches, the players and the officials must be keen to utilise them fully and apply them quickly to improve the standard of their teams.

It is imperative that there should be at least seven or eight States that must work hard to lift the standard of the game in India, so that the BFI can prepare a strong team for the Asian championship. But this is not happening.

It was amusing to see the Punjab officials finding fault with the towering pivot Parminder Singh (Sr.) for not shoring up the team's game in the final against Tamil Nadu, which, after a tentative start, began to find its rhythm and virtually outplayed its archrival in the last quarter of the match that saw Punjab in poor light.

In fact, it was Parminder Singh who, despite his aging frame, managed to barge in for some baskets in the third quarter. When Tamil Nadu applied full court press and bottled up sharp shooters Gagnesh Kumar and Harminder Singh, the former champion was down by 20 points.

It did not have outside shooters to save it. Nor Punjab had the ability to break the close marking of Tamil Nadu players, who did not allow them to shoot freely.

Most of the State teams are accustomed to leisurely game and easy shooting conditions. But in international competitions it won't be that easy. For the last four years, Tamil Nadu has been showing its superior skills and strong defence.

The Delhi team which sprang a surprise, beating the favourite Railways in the final.-Pic. MOHAMMED YOUSUF

No wonder then it was a start to finish domination by Tamil Nadu, which lifted the Todd Trophy for the fourth year in succession without losing a single match. In fact, it ran into Services, in the semifinal, trained by a Cuban coach and assisted by S.K. Raja, a prolific scorer in the 80s. But the Army team was a complete disappointment in many aspects. Its aging pivot Phool Singh was good only in patches. Ball handler Sambhaji Kadam was, of course, brilliant as he was sharp with his magic passes and as long as he was in, the Army side fought well. But when he left with a nose injury, the Services' game went down, and the team lost the semi-final match. This exposed poor bench strength and preparation of the team for a difficult task.

Much was expected of Jharkhand, a young and vibrant side, which has been participating in various All-India competitions and one of the leading sides.

But its game against Punjab was a total disaster and a bad ex<147,1,7>ample to follow. It made a rousing start with an 18-3 lead and then sank without a trace. Des Raj, Mohit Bhandari, Bhuvaneshwaran, Wasim Raja and Murali Krishna formed the main combination. But the team was not a threat to any of the top teams because of its wrong approach.

In basketball, the end game is important, but Jharkhand's performance plummeted in the third and fourth quarters. It has to change its mental make up and plan its game better.

Des Raj is undoubtedly one of the best outside shooters. But basketball is not a one-man game. Jharkhand is yet to realise it. Its defence was also weak. Even these four teams that figured in the semi-finals, there was a big gap in standard between Tamil Nadu and the rest.

Robinson was unstoppable right through. Shabeer Ahmed was strong in rebounding. But he did well in shooting in the final against Punjab.

Ball handler Gopinath, despite his knee surgery, swung the final decisively in favour of Tamil Nadu with his deceptive passing and shooting. Sukhavaneshwar's performance was patchy in the early matches, but he basketed when it needed most, in the final. Sridhar scored steadily in the early matches, but did not do well in the final, commiting four quick fouls.

Another ball handler Shivakumar also did his job neatly. So also Mohan Raj. Shivashankar, a shooter, was used sparingly like Sivarajan and Moses Jeevanand.

Sheeba Maggon is all set to score in the final against Railways.-Pic. MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Services and UP finished in that order in men's Group `A' and qualified for the knock-out. Rajasthan, which lost all the matches in the Group, was relegated.

Karnataka raised its level of performance against the Services to take the No. 2 spot.

Punjab, Railways, Jharkhand and Kerala came in that order and qualified for the next stage. Winless Delhi was relegated.

Both Punjab and Railways fought for the No. 1 spot in the Group in a match that went into extra-time after they tied at 81 points. Punjab's Pritipal Singh missed two free throws in the dying seconds and the Railways had another chance to fight in the extra-time. But a Railway coach abused the referees, who awarded a technical foul.

It took place after the final whistle. Punjab had a head start in the extra-time with two free throws due to a technical foul. Despite Ramkumar's superb shooting, which he did after a long gap, Railways lost the tie and finished runner-up.

Andhra finished on top among the four qualifiers, beating Uttaranchal. In the pre-quarter-finals, Andhra got the better of Kerala, which fought and lost its matches closely in the elite Group. But failed to maintain that form and Uttaranchal beat UP.

Delhi sprang a big surprise in the women's section by toppling Railways, champion for 14 years in a row. Delhi, the winner in 1973, lifted the Prince Basalat Jha Trophy.

One girl who made it possible for Delhi was Sheeba Maggon, who was with the Railways for six years. Now she is with MTNL, Delhi. It was Divya Singh who gave a head start to Delhi and then Sheeba made mincemeat of the Railways' defence. The Railway coach used only tall Ivy Cherian. But Renjini Jose was missing.

That affected the Railways game badly in the first half itself.

Delhi, which failed to win in 1998 at home, achieved it now with a stunning victory.

Rajalakshmi, Rollin Sara, Rameshwari, along with Sheeba and Divya, fought their way from the qualifying round and won the title for the first time in the history of the championship.

Unable to control the rebound, the Railways struggled and its outside shooting was also not good. However, Anju Lakra and Seema Singh fought well in the final stages, but Delhi by then had built a huge lead.

It was the most competitive encounter in the women's section. Madhya Pradesh, which did well in the Group phase, went down to Railways.

Savitha Deshwal and Meenakshi Rao and Prasanna combined well to help MP reach the semi-final. It was responsible for eliminating Tamil Nadu, a well-balanced side, out of the race in the first phase itself, by beating it with a spirited game.

Delhi eliminated Kerala in the other semi-final, exposing its weak defence. Railways, Punjab and Chattisgarh from Group `A' and Andhra, Kerala and MP from Group `B' qualified for the knock-out phase.

Delhi and Bengal made it through qualifying round. Of all the teams, MP's was the most inspiring game, but the team, without height advantage, fought its way up because of its organised game.

The results:

Men: final: Tamil Nadu 86 (Robinson 18, Shabeer Ahmed 13, Sridhar 19, Sukhavaneshwar 14) beat Punjab 57 (Parminder Singh (sr) 28, Harminder Singh 11).

Third place: Services beat Jharkhand 92-59; Semi-finals: Tamil Nadu beat Services 98-72, Punjab beat Jharkhand 82-56; Quarter-finals: Services beat Railways 95-79, Jharkhand beat Karnataka 77-74, Punjab beat Uttaranchal 107-74, Tamil Nadu beat Andhra 65-34.

Women: final: Delhi 75 (Sheeba Maggon 36, Divya Singh 16) beat Railways 61 (Seema Singh 22, Anju Lakra 11, Philomina 14); Third place: Kerala beat MP 80-71; Semi-finals: Railways beat MP 79-36, Delhi beat Kerala 59-50; Quarter-finals: MP beat Punjab 63-51, Railways beat Bengal 104-42, Delhi beat Andhra 53-46, Kerala beat Chattisgarh 57-40.