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'Super-sized egos killing idea of team'
Usain Bolt had just beaten his rival Yohan Blake to the most coveted title in the London Olympics - the 100m. But there was not an ounce of animosity between the two. The younger Jamaican went up to his "big brother", gave him a big hug and the two started jogging across the arena, draped in their national colours. Meanwhile, in faraway West Indies, play was being stopped in the West Indies-New Zealand cricket Test match in Kingston. Chris Gayle, like he had when the diminutive Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce successfully defended her women's 100m title, was going bonkers.
Everyone - Bolt, Blake and Gayle - knew that this was just the beginning. They will now partner each other in the 4x100m relay and when they do that, it will be Team Jamaica that will be competing, not just two high-profile sprinters.
Let's jump cut to the the Indian scenario. Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan were playing a doubles match against Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra in fading light at Court 14 at Wimbledon. Barring a few Indian journalists and Leander's group, not a single other member of the tennis contingent was present. And that too, when there are six in the Indian tennis team at the Olympics, which includes Sania Mirza, with whom the 39-year-old would be playing mixed doubles the very next day.
That, in a nutshell, tells all about the team bonding in the Indian ranks and it doesn't surprise anybody that they haven't come close to winning a medal in the Olympics in any team sport. It's almost an acknowledged truth now that Team India doesn't click until and unless it's playing cricket.
Tennis is not essentially considered a team sport, but it does become one when you are playing for the country. It's the same for archery as well, where the Indians did miserably in every event that they took part in. Jaideep Mukerjea, former India player and a Davis Cup captain, concedes that the fellow feeling in the Indian contingent when it comes to tennis right now is at its lowest ebb. "The rivalry between Mahesh and Leander has taken an ugly turn. It has taken a heavy toll on our tennis and unless we unearth some new players very quickly, it's going to get worse, " Mukerjea said.
People talk about Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. The legendary Aussie pair was not even on talking terms when they were at the fag end of their careers. But that never stopped them from gelling as a team when they took the court. Nor did it hurt the Aussie cause and they remained the same force till their last playing days.
"I think the players these days are too self-centred . . . There's nothing bigger for them now than their egos and it's hurting our cause. Probably it has a lot to do with the fact that we don't have a sports culture, " Mukerjea, under whom Bhupathi made his Davis Cup debut, said.
Mukerjea, though, defended both Leander and Mahesh, saying that they are not too far away from retiring and even if they were playing together, they might not have won a medal. He, like, many others, feel that it is hockey that has really let India down in the Olympics.
Once the superpowers of the sport, India lost all their group matches in London, something that had never happened before. The cupboard looks empty, the team doesn't play as a unit, and the experts feel that a sea change is required in the set-up.
V Baskaran, captain of India's 1980 Olympic gold medal winning squad, feels that to do well in a team sport like hockey, the most important factor is the preparation. "Look at the German, Belgian, Dutch leagues and see the quality of hockey that these guys are playing throughout the year. . . In India, you do not have a single national-level tournament that will test your skill at the highest level. If you are going underprepared on a stage like the Olympics, you will be found out, " Baskaran said.
Baskaran was the coach of the Indian hockey team that came close to making the semifinals in the Sydney Olympics and had it not been a lastminute defensive lapse against Poland, his side would have gone through. The former captain feels "it's sad that Indian hockey didn't move forward from there".
"If you have to do well in a team sport, it's important to groom a bunch of boys with a definite goal in mind. The brilliance of a single player doesn't win you anything, " an agitated Baskaran said.
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