can achieve tennis immortality
power shifting away from Australia
Pakistan hockey begins long road to recovery
The inception of a multi-million-rupee junior hockey league is seen as a major stride towards a better future for the national game. But will it deliver?
By Khalid Hussain
Pakistan hockey intends to finally take a leap into the 21st century from September 1 with the launch of what promises to be a colourful and competitive Junior Super Hockey League in Karachi.
With IPL-style franchises representing ten of the biggest regions in Pakistan and a budget of Rs10 million -- an amount unprecedented in the history of junior-level sport in Pakistan -- national hockey officials are hoping that the September 1-18 tournament will open up new vistas for the national game.
The idea is to stir public support, attract corporate sponsorship and raise the standard of the game at the national junior level.
Another major goal is to kick off the preparatory process for the 2013 Junior World Cup as the youth league will help the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) to sniff out new blood for the next edition of the quadrennial tournament.
Officials at the helm of national hockey affairs are taking pride in the fact that never before had Pakistan begin their training process for a Junior World Cup, almost four years in advance.
The Junior League will also serve as a launch pad for a bigger, more important tournament -- the Super Hockey League -- that is being planned for next April.
"Our junior league is going to be a ground-breaking competition," Asif Bajwa, the PHF secretary, told 'The News on Sunday'. "It will raise the bar and will pave the path for bigger and more lucrative tournaments in the near future," he added.
Bajwa, a former Olympian, said that the PHF is putting in unprecedented funds and effort in a campaign aimed at raising the profile of Pakistan hockey.
"We are taking all possible steps to ensure that there is a substantial improvement in the standard of Pakistan hockey," he said.
Hockey is Pakistan's national game and was once the country's most important and popular sport. Pakistan have won a record four World Cup titles and three Olympic titles and are easily one of the most successful nations in the history of the sport.
But hockey took the back seat in Pakistan in the early eighties with the national team's performance graph on the international circuit taking a dip. It also coincided with the rise of cricket that quickly took over as the national pastime, pushing hockey to a distant second in terms of popularity.
Over the years, hockey continued to lose its sheen in Pakistan and even a historic World Cup triumph in 1994 in Sydney failed to give the sport a new lease of life in a cricket-mad country.
Pakistan's indifferent showing at the world stage in the last 15 years has further dented the cause of national hockey and now football -- previously a counted among minor sports in Pakistan -- is threatening to take over as the country's second-most popular sport.
Less and less youngsters are playing or following hockey in Pakistan and it is feared that the sport might already have lost too much ground to be able to achieve a successful revival through the efforts of the country's hockey authorities.
However, Bajwa remains upbeat.
He believes that hockey still has loads of die-hard fans in Pakistan and the much-expected success of tournaments like the Junior Hockey League will prove his point.
"Hockey certainly has a future in Pakistan and all we need are concrete efforts in the right direction," he said.
One such effort, he says, is to have a comprehensive junior league.
The project will certainly help Pakistan to broaden their ever-shrinking pool of young players. Each of the teams featuring in the league will consist of 20 players which means that the league will see in action a total of 200 players from Karachi to Kot Addu.
One of the reasons why there has been such a dearth of hockey players in Pakistan in the last couple of decades is the fact that the sport has offered little financial attraction in the past.
Hockey remains an amateur sport at the international level and is rarely taken up as a full-time profession even in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, where it is fairly popular.
In Pakistan, hockey players barely manage to earn a decent living unless they manage to land a full-time job. In the past, a job was guaranteed for a good hockey player in Pakistan but with the scrapping of the quota for sportsmen, even that luxury has been snatched away from the players.
Thanks to the legendary Shahbaz Ahmed, who opened the doors of European leagues on Pakistani players in the nineties, a few national players can earn a decent living by playing league hockey in countries like The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and even Russia.
Shahbaz was one of the most sought-after players in Europe, especially after he almost single-handedly helped an average Pakistani team to win the Sydney World Cup.
However, for most of the Pakistani hockey players things are quite bleak when it comes to making ends meet.
Even for a player, who is a part of the Pakistan team, sometimes the only money he makes from playing hockey comes in the form of daily allowances of a few hundred dollars through foreign tours.
Bajwa says that the PHF is certainly aware of this issue.
"One of our aims is to make hockey more attractive for the youth," he says. "We want to ensure that good players are financially rewarded and this is the reason why we have opted to have a decent prize purse even for the junior league."
The junior league carries a prize basket of two million rupees. It may not be a huge amount but when it comes to junior hockey, it is the biggest purse on offer in a youth event in the history of Pakistan hockey.
The event's winners will get the lion's share from the purse as they will get Rs700,000 while the runners-up will receive Rs500,000. The team finishing third will get Rs200,000. The best player of the tournament will get richer by Rs100,000 while the highest scorer and the best goalkeeper will get Rs50,000 each. There will be Rs5000 cash rewards for each man-of-the-match during the 18-day tournament.
"This is just a start," says Bajwa. "We are going to offer a much bigger purse for our Super Hockey League next year," he promises.
Pakistan hockey has also suffered at the hands of a shrinking fan base. Foreign teams may have stopped coming to Pakistan because of security concerns but national, regional and age-group hockey matches continue to take place in all parts of the country on a regular basis. But hardly anybody comes to watch them.
Bajwa and company are also taking steps to overcome this hurdle.
The PHF has planned a series of steps aimed at attracting spectators towards the Hockey Club of Pakistan -- the venue of the junior league. Well aware that very few people would come to the stadium for day games during Ramadan, the PHF has decided to line up most of the big games of the tournament after dusk.
"Plenty of the league matches would be played under lights. We will encourage fans to come with their families and enjoy high-class hockey games," said the PHF secretary.
Dr Muhammad Ali Shah, chairman of the tournament's organising committee, was confident that the event will lure large number of spectators. "It is for the first time that such a big hockey tournament is taking place here and I'm sure that hockey fans will come to the stadium in large numbers," said Shah, who is Sindh's sports minister.
Hopes are certainly high ahead of the junior league. Whether the tournament will live up to the expectations remains to be seen.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of the The News, Karachi
By Abdul Ahad Farshori
At this US Open, Roger Federer will be aiming to achieve tennis immortality with a 16th Grand Slam to his name, a feat that players can only dream of. With his name already carved deep in the history books, by winning the title at Flushing Meadows he can move the bar to a point where it may be impossible to cross, at least in near future.
Coming in the tournament with a win in Cincinnati Masters over fourth seed Novak Djokovic -- his twentieth Masters title -- Federer will be oozing with confidence when he starts his title defence in New York.
Five-time defending champion Federer and Rafael Nadal, who will be returning to Grand Slam competition after withdrawing from Wimbledon, lead the menís singles field for the 2009 US Open Tennis Championships. The player field also features former US Open champions Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. All top-100 men, representing 28 different countries, received direct entry into the US Open.
The Swiss super star, playing his first Grand Slam after becoming father of twin girls, is also top seed for the tournament for the fifth time. He is seeded ahead of number two Andy Murray, Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal at number three, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Roddick.
Federer, who won his fifth consecutive US Open singles title last year will be attempting to join Bill Tilden who is the only man to win six consecutive US Open titles, as Tilden won six straight from 1920-25.
Federer, who has won four titles this year, became the sixth man to complete the career Grand Slam following his triumph at Roland Garros in June recently made Grand Slam history at this yearís Wimbledon, breaking Pete Sampras' record for most Grand Slam singles titles with 15.
Federer can also surpass Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors to become second all-time in menís US singles titles.
In 2007, Federer became the first man to win the Olympus US Open Series and US Open titles in the same season.
World No 3 Rafael Nadal, who was out for almost two months with knee injury, enters the US Open with the chance to be just the seventh man to win the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open to complete the career Grand Slam, provided his knees last him long enough, as this is the first five set tournament he is playing after returning from his layoff.
In the women's side of the draw both 2009 Grand Slam singles champions -- Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova -- will be joined by former US Open womenís singles champions Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, a wild card recipient, in the womenís singles field for the 2009 US Open Tennis Championships.
Ninety-nine of the Top 100 women, representing 34 different countries, are entered in the 2009 US Open. No 88 Nathalie Dechy of France received direct acceptance but withdrew from the event when she announced her retirement from professional tennis earlier this week to start a family.
Serena Williams, the reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, will have the opportunity to win her third Grand Slam of the year, and 12th overall, at the US Open.
Reigning French Open champion Kuznetsova, will attempt to win her second US Open -- she won in 2004 -- and third career major title.
Following Federer on the entry list are World No 2 Andy Murray of Great Britain -- who lost to Federer in the semifinal of the Cincinnati Masters and also was runner-up to the Swiss in the last years US Open; No 4 Novak Djokovic of Serbia; No 5 Andy Roddick of Austin, Texas, the 2003 US Open champion and the man to watch out for in Flushing Meadows.
American, the other finalist at this years Wimbledon, lost the final after a record long match which ended with a marathon last set, is a changed man post marriage and is positive to deliver a blow to the dreams of the top seeds of the tournament.
In all, there are eight entrants who have won Grand Slam singles titles in their careers, including: 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic; 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrer of Spain; and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Maya of Spain.
In women's side of the draw there are six players who have won Grand Slam singles titles in their careers competing in the US Open this year, including Amelia Maurizio of France, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, who won the 2008 French Open.
Leading the entry list is world No 1 Dinara Safina of Russia, who appeared in the final this year at both the Australian Open and French Open. Following Safina on the entry list are No 2 Serena Williams, the defending US Open champion who also won in 1999 and 2002; No 3 Venus Williams, the 2000 and 2001 US Open champion; No 4 Elena Dementieva of Russia, who on last Sunday won the Toronto Cup final by beating former World No 1 Maria Sharapova -- who is seeded 29th in the US Open, the 2004 US Open runner-up; No 5 Kuznetsova of Russia, the reigning French Open champion; No 6 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, the 2008 US Open runner-up.
The 23-year-old, top seed, has won three titles this year, including her back-to-back victories at Rome and Madrid. But the Russian is 0-3 in grand slam finals. Safina will have another chance to prove her ranking and put the cork in her criticsí mouth.
The 2009 US Open will mark the culmination of the Olympus US Open Series, the six-week summer tennis season linking all major ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournaments in North America to the US Open.
The US Open is the highest attended annual sporting event in the world. More than 70 million viewers watched the 2008 US Open on CBS Sports and USA Network, and international broadcasts reached more than 185 countries.
Both the menís and womenís US Open singles champions will earn $1.6 million with the ability to earn an additional $1 million in bonus prize money (for a total $2.6 million potential payout) based on their performances in the Olympus US Open Series.
By Khurram Mahmood
England won the fifth and final Ashes Test at Oval comprehensively by 197 runs last week and snatched back the Ashes trophy. The victory handed England a 2-1 series victory and second Ashes series win since 1986-87.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting becomes the first Australian skikpper in 119 years to lose two Ashes series in four years in England.
The defeat was the cause of missed opportunities and misjudgments for Australia. "We have given our all through the series but unfortunately it has not been good enough," accepted a dejected Ponting after the final Test.
After losing the Ashes, Australia also lost their No 1 position in the ICC Test rankings. They have slipped to 4th position, with South Africa taking the No 1 spot, followed by Sri Lanka and India.
It is the first time when the Australian team has lost the top spot since the ICC introduced its current ranking system in 2003. The competitive nature of Test cricket at present means that just six ratings points separate South Africa and Australia -- while Sri Lanka currently occupy second spot after beating New Zealand in the first Test. India lie in third, just behind Sri Lanka by a fraction of a point.
The Ashes defeat has cost World Champion eight points but despite the series result they remain ahead of their arch rivals England -- who are in fifth place. England gained six points but are still 11 behind Australia. The Test team rankings are only updated at the end of each series.
World champions Australia have lost their supremacy. First India shattered the Aussies' world-beating reputation after defeating them in the home Test series by 2-0. By the end of last year, South Africa added a nail to the Australian coffin by winning their first ever Test series in Australia. In the first Test at Perth, Australian bowlers failed to defend a huge total of 414 and South Africa chased the second-highest successful fourth-innings total in Test history. It was a sign that the balance of power was shifting away from Ponting's men.
Apart from winning the Test Series in South Africa, Australia have lost to India, South Africa and now to England. Australia have won just six of their past 16 Tests, three of which were against the South Africans, and their inability to register a victory in the first three Tests of the Ashes series has drawn Smith's side to within two points of the top ranking.
Australia have the strongest cricket system in the world that produces quality cricketers regularly. For years, the rest of the world tried and failed to Australia in both Tests and ODIs. But times have changed after the retirement of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist with the world's premier cricket nation showing its first signs of decline.
After the retirement of McGrath and Warne, Brett Lee now is the only front line striker for Australia and his absence definitely made the difference. A dejected Ricky Ponting expects his fifth tour of England in 2013 to regain the Ashes in England at the age of 38. Despite defeat, Ponting insisted that the current Australian squad should be continuing for future series.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland showed his full confidence in Ricky Pointing as skipper and refused any chance to sack Ponting from the captaincy.
Overall, Australia dominated recently concluded Ashes series statistically, boasting three of the four highest scorers and the three leading wicket-takers on either side. But in the two Tests that England won, across London at Lord's and here at the Oval, first innings collapses put Australia on the backfoot
The writer works in the art department at 'The News on Sunday' in Karachi