Time for a professional league?

The victorious Uttarakhand men.-

With so many television channels providing ‘live’ coverage for a variety of sports, Indian basketball does demand a better treatment, for it has the potential to outshine many other sports in the country, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was a packed arena. The atmosphere was electric and the spectators were robust in their appreciation of quality play. It was a dream scene. Indian basketball looked quite vibrant.

Yet, there was no hiding the fact that the National Championship did not have any television coverage, ‘live’ or otherwise. There was hardly any coverage in the newspapers across the country. Quite honestly, it was not for want of resources. IMG Reliance has been pumping a lot of money into Indian basketball for some years now, but the game does not look to be moving in the right direction.

There was no doubt that the quality of the playing arena — indoors and wooden surface — had helped the players demonstrate their speed, skill and stamina in ample measure.

There was quality accommodation in hotels that ensured a comfortable stay for the players. There were qualified foreign coaches and fitness experts to guide and take care of the players.

However, it was clear that the quality of food during the National Championship was below par. The players also felt that they did not get adequate quantity. There was no doctor on duty in the meet featuring more than 50 teams from across the country, in the men’s and women’s sections. The cold atmosphere in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, could have complicated the matters further, but luckily the championship went through without a major mishap, in terms of injuries to players.

The triumphant Chattisgarh women.-

In the women’s final, Prashanti Singh, one of the best players ever with an impressive of record of representing the country, crashed on to the floor with a leg injury and had to be carried by hand, by fellow players. A stretcher and basic medical support is so easy to procure these days for events of such magnitude, but nobody seemed to have paid attention to such an important aspect.

Despite all the progress, it was clear that Indian basketball was still trapped in basic issues. The champion teams were awarded Rs. 1,50,000, which was nothing much to boast for a team game. Never mind the shortcomings, there was no dearth of quality on the floor, as the teams played to the best of their potential, unmindful of the lack of attention and rewarding appreciation.

The Chhattisgarh team was the cynosure of all eyes. It had beaten Railways to clinch a rare title in the women’s section last year in Delhi. It did one better this time by beating the champion of many years, Railways, in the semifinals.

This was a classic performance as Chhattisgarh led 46-32 at half-time and recovered from a tricky situation in the fourth quarter when it conceded the lead briefly. The towering Poonam Chaturvedi top-scored with 25 points and was ably supported by Sangeeta Kaur, Sharanjeet Kaur, L. Deepa and Akanksha Singh, as the Chhattisgarh team handled the climax with conviction to enact a thrilling 83-79 triumph.

Coach Rajesh Patel, who has been guiding Chhattisgarh at all levels for decades, had hoped for a good start and once the team got off to a 24-13 start in the first quarter, Chhattisgarh handled the match brilliantly despite two of its key players being forced to warm the bench in the fourth quarter owing to five fouls each.

In the final, Chhattisgarh was challenged strongly by Delhi, which was the other team to have tamed Railways for the title in the last two decades or so. However, in the last quarter, it became a no-contest, as Poonam Chaturvedi slotted 48 points, including 32 in the second-half.

Chhattisgarh had lost three of its key players from the title-winning team to Railways, which comprised the cream from every team. Railways had also conducted a preparatory camp for about six weeks prior to the championship. The team did miss some players owing to injuries, but it was literally the national side.

Chhattisgarh stumbled to a defeat to Kerala in the opening league encounter. But Kerala eventually lost in the semifinals to Delhi, without much fight, whereas Chhattisgarh kept improving with every outing. Tamil Nadu played a good match against Chhattisgarh in the quarterfinals, but lacked the conviction in its game otherwise.

In the men’s section, defending champion Tamil Nadu also stumbled to a bad start, losing to Uttarakhand, but could not assert itself in the title contest. Uttarakhand emphasised its supremacy yet again with a classic fare in the final.

It was reassuring to find the likes of Amritpal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, pulling their weight along with Riyazuddin, Trideep Rai and Arjun Singh for Uttarakhand, which functioned like a well-oiled machine, outclassing every team along the way.

Tamil Nadu, with Amjyot Singh and Pratham Singh in its ranks, was quite good, but the team kept missing the basket a lot in the final, much in contrast to the assurance with which Uttarakhand accelerated the scoring whenever it needed.

Services flattered to deceive, and Punjab suffered a shock loss to Haryana in the quarterfinals. The Railways struggled, winning a solitary match in the league, and was easily put out by Services in the quarterfinals. Services played a fantastic match against Tamil Nadu for three quarters when the teams were locked 60-60, but thereafter Tamil Nadu was a class act, winding up the contest with an 86-73 victory in the semifinals.

Overall, it was quite an entertainment, but the tragedy was that one had to be present at the arena to enjoy the proceedings. With so many television channels providing ‘live’ coverage for a variety of sports, Indian basketball does demand a better treatment, for it has the potential to outshine many other sports in the country.

Maybe, it is time to have a professional league in the country and make it a rewarding experience for the players and help them take the game to the next level.