The beautiful game could bowl a bouncer at India’s obsession

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England won the recent Under-17 World Cup held in India, a tournament that attracted record crowds and full stadiums and stirred the country’s love of the game. (AP)
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Updated 08 November 2017
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The beautiful game could bowl a bouncer at India’s obsession

MUMBAI: In March 1951, less than four years after India became an independent nation, the men’s football team won gold at the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi — beating Indonesia 2-0, Afghanistan 3-0 and Iran 1-0 on their way to the title. They repeated the feat in 1962, seeing off South Korea, who had beaten them in the group stages, in the final.
Earlier that year, the cricket team had gone to the Caribbean and been routed 5-0 in a Test series. To add injury to humiliation, Nari Contractor, the captain, never played for India again after having his skull fractured by a Charlie Griffith bouncer. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that Indian cricket began to be taken seriously. In the summer of 1971, a team captained by Ajit Wadekar won a Test series in England, with Bhagwat Chandrasekhar taking six for 38 at The Oval.
Chandrasekhar, bowling arm withered by an attack of polio in childhood, was no orthodox leg-spinner, and England had no answer to his wiles, especially to a quicker delivery that was nearly unplayable. In that memorable Test, “Ek Mill Reef daalo (Bowl the Mill Reef)” became the rallying cry behind one of Indian sport’s most celebrated triumphs. Mill Reef was the champion thoroughbred who had won the Epsom Derby earlier that summer.
By then, Indian football had begun its slide into irrelevance. Between 1984 and 2011, the team didn’t even qualify for the Asian Cup. In 2011, it was the special pathway created by the AFC Challenge Cup that gave India an opportunity. The defeats to Australia (0-4), Bahrain (2-5) and South Korea (1-4) merely illustrated just how far behind they had fallen.
India will once again be part of the Asian Cup in 2019, thanks to an expanded competition that gives the continent’s lesser lights second chances. But while no one expects miracles from the national side against Asia’s elite in two years’ time, there is an air of optimism around Indian football after an unforgettable 12 months.
The main reason for feeling good was last month’s successful hosting of the Under-17 World Cup, which also marked the first time an Indian team had matched its wits on the FIFA stage. The team lost to the United States (3-0), Colombia (2-1) and Ghana (4-0), but the response to their games in Delhi, not a city known for its football culture, was the first sign that the tournament would leave a mark.
The eventual aggregate for the 52 matches was 1,347,133, a record for a FIFA junior World Cup. A staggering 66,684 crammed into the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata to watch England beat Spain in a memorable final. Nearly as many were present to watch Brazil eclipse Germany in a quarterfinal, while 63,881 saw Rhian Brewster’s hat-trick see off Brazil in the last four.
Also, in October, Bengaluru FC, a team that has been existence for just four years, made a valiant bid to reach the final of the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier club competition, for a second straight season. The city had been lashed by torrential rains in the previous week, and flooded roads had made the already notorious Bangalore traffic even more of a challenge. Despite that, 7,862 turned up at the Kanteerava Stadium to see their heroes in blue take on Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol.
Bengaluru drew 2-2 on the night, losing 3-2 on aggregate, but there was no mistaking the enthusiasm and angst in the stands. The name of Albert Roca, the coach who was once Frank Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona, was chanted throughout, and the city is now preparing for the team’s maiden season in the Indian Super League (ISL), which kicks off on Nov. 17.
The cricket team is ranked No. 1 in the world in Tests, and just a decimal point behind South Africa in the ODI rankings. Yet, while the Under-17 World Cup was on, the exploits of Virat Kohli (pictured left) and his men were often relegated to the bottom of the sports pages. Football enjoyed pride of place, a state of affairs almost unthinkable in recent years outside of the weeks encompassing the World Cup.
Much still remains to be done. The traditional football heartlands of Bengal, Goa and Kerala aren’t throwing up talented players like they once did — as many as eight of the 21-man squad for the U-17 competition came from the tiny northeastern state of Manipur — and India cannot afford to continue with two national leagues. The most storied clubs in the land — Kolkata’s Mohun Bagan and East Bengal — still play in the I-League, and not the ISL.
The glory days of the 1950s and ‘60s, when Indian stars like Sahu Mewalal, Neville D’Souza, Chuni Goswami, Jarnail Singh and Peter Thangaraj were reckoned to be among the best in Asia, are long gone, but this October revolution has given football fans hope that there is much to look forward to. 


MS Dhoni drives Chennai to 5-wicket win over Bangalore in IPL

Updated 25 April 2018
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MS Dhoni drives Chennai to 5-wicket win over Bangalore in IPL

BANGALORE: Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni bludgeoned an unbeaten 70 off 34 balls and led Chennai Super Kings to the top of Indian Premier League points table with a five-wicket victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday.
Dhoni smashed seven sixes and a four and featured in a match-winning century stand with Ambati Rayudu (82) as Chennai reached 207-5 with two balls to spare.
Earlier, AB de Villiers (68) and Quinton de Kock (53) had lifted Bangalore to 205-8 with their 103-run second wicket stand after Dhoni won the toss and opted to field first.
“You will win some, you’ll lose some but the job of the finisher is to finish the job and help others,” Dhoni said.
Rayudu and Dhoni put Chennai back in the hunt with some brilliant display of power hitting after Chennai struggled at 74-4 in nine overs.
Legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal (2-26) and seamer Umesh Yadav (1-23) bowled economical spells upfront before Rayudu, who hit eight sixes and three fours, and Dhoni took charge by clearing the short boundaries.
“Rayudu is important in this line-up because he keeps the scoreboard moving, and small grounds are ideal for him,” Dhoni said.
Both batsmen targeted seamers Corey Anderson (0-58) and Mohammad Siraj (0-48) in the latter part of the innings which left Bangalore captain Virat Kohli disappointed.
“The way we bowled was just not acceptable, giving that many runs in the end was criminal,” Kohli said.
“Dhoni is looking in really good touch, he’s hitting the ball really well in this IPL but not great to see it against us.”
Rayudu got a life on 61 when Yadav dropped a sitter but made amends when he ran him out of a direct throw in the 18th over.
Needing 16 off the last over, Dwayne Bravo (14 not out) hit Anderson for a four and six off the first two deliveries to ease out pressure. And Dhoni finished off the game by lofting the New Zealand seamer over the long-on boundary for a winning six.
“What’s important in a chase is to know which bowler has how many (overs) left and who the captain will bowl when, and you play accordingly,” Dhoni said.
De Villiers’ blistering knock off 30 balls included eight sixes and two fours as he put on 103 runs with de Kock off just 53 balls.
But Bangalore lost three wickets for four runs as Bravo (2-33) took a smart return catch to dismiss de Kock and de Villiers got a leading edge off legspinner Imran Tahir (2-35).
Mandeep Singh survived a first ball missed stumping by Dhoni before played a little cameo of 32 runs off 17 balls which carried Bangalore beyond the 200-run mark.
Chennai now has 10 points from five wins in six matches while Bangalore is at No. 6 with four points from just two victories.