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An exceptional defence and a nerveless approach enabled the Services to retain the title. G. Prasad reports.
The triumphant Services men and Indian Railways women (below).
Basketball, though a team game, at times depends on individual brilliance.
Sambhaji Khadam’s outstanding performance enabled Services to retain the title at the 58th National basketball championship in Puducherry.
The Services defence was exceptional throughout the tournament, a key factor that helped the team to stay unbeaten.
Ever since the start, Services’ chief coach Rajinder Singh firmly believed that his boys had it in them to defend the title. And going by the way the team dominated the championship, especially the final against Punjab, he was dead right.
“Sambhaji was brilliant throughout the tournament and others supported him well. He was not fully fit for the final, but still wanted to play. Any coach would love to have such a committed player in the side,” Rajinder said.
Tamil Nadu, which won the title five times in a row between 1999 and 2003, finished a disappointing sixth in the tournament.
It lost to Indian Railways in the quarterfinals, after leading by almost 20 points at the end of the third quarter.
The all-attacking game played by the Railways in the final session took the Tamil Nadu men by surprise. Before they could re-group the former ran away with the match.
The Railways cagers did the same against Services in the semi-finals, but the champion side had experienced players in its ranks and they did not choke under pressure.
The Indian Railways meeting Delhi in the women’s final of the championship has become a routine. The two teams met for the sixth successive time in the Puducherry championship. Delhi gave a bit of a fight in the earlier part of the match, but sadly could not sustain it, as the Railways women raced to an easy win in the end.
This year’s championship also saw three persons officiating on court. “The game is played at a much faster pace these days and there is a need for a third person on court to reduce pressure on the referees,” said G. M. Sampath Kumar, Chairman, Technical Commission, Basketball Federation of India (BFI).
Also, the BFI’s decision to launch the National Basketball League in October 2008 is a welcome initiative. The top six finishers in the Puducherry championship will compete in the league, which will be conducted for a month in two or three venues.
The teams will be allowed to engage two guest players, either local or foreign. “In due course a similar league will be introduced for women. But for now it will be only for men,” the BFI Secretary General, Harish Sharma, said.
The Serbian coach of the Indian basketball team, Aleksander Bucan, termed the BFI’s move as a “big step towards popularising the sport in India.”
“Serbia could emerge a force in Europe only because of our professional basketball league.
The best Indian cager can only find a place in the second division league in Serbia. But I firmly believe the National Basketball League will take them to the next level,” he said.
Men: 1. Services, 2. Punjab, 3. Indian Railways, 4. Uttarakhand, 5. Karnataka, 6. Tamil Nadu, 7. Uttar Pradesh, 8. Kerala.
Women: 1. Indian Railways, 2. Delhi, 3. Chhattisgarh, 4. Tamil Nadu, 5. Punjab, 6. Kerala, 7. Karnataka, 8. Andhra Pradesh.