Time for final exam now: Santiago Nieva talks about Indian boxers and his own Olympic debut
New Delhi, Jul 18 (Olympics news) "It's like the big final exam after studying hard," said Indian boxing's High Performance Director Santiago Nieva, a touch nervous but mostly excited ahead of his own Olympic debut, aware that all the "good work of past four years wouldn't count if there is no medal to show in Tokyo".
In a telephonic interview to PTI before the nine Olympic-qualified boxers left for Tokyo on Saturday, Nieva spoke about the many changes that have been brought in to the boxers' approach and technique for a successful Olympic outing.
"A little tense, not all the times but sometimes. Mostly I am excited because it is like the final exam after all the hard work," Nieva said when asked about his thoughts heading to Tokyo.
"This is my first Olympics, I was there in London 2012 as an expert on the sport, if that counts for anything," he added.
The nine boxers and the support staff landed in the Japanese capital this morning and cleared the COVID-19 related health safety protocols to enter the Games village smoothly following expected procedural delays.
"Everything that we have done so far, all that we have worked on will not be appreciated if we don't get an Olympic medal. I am aware of that," Nieva said.
Before being appointed by the Boxing Federation of India in April 2017, Nieva was with the Swedish men's team and quit the position after the Rio Olympics.
The 47-year-old former bantam and featherweight boxer has also served as a manager of the Argentine boxing team and even competed for the country at the 1997 World Cup. Nieva was born in Argentina.
The five Indian male boxers who will compete in Tokyo are world number one Amit Panghal (52kg), Manish Kaushik (63kg), Vikas Krishan (69kg), Ashish Choudhary (75kg) and Satish Kumar (+91kg).
The women in fray are six-time world champion M C Mary Kom (51kg), Simranjit Kaur (60kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) and Pooja Rani (75kg).
Nieva is primarily in charge of the men and he said several aspects of their game have improved considerably to give them a fair shot at a medal. Indian boxers could not win any medal at the 2016 Rio Games.
"I believe we have achieved the training targets that we set for ourselves, especially with this last trip to Italy, we could log the sparring sessions that we wanted," he said.
The aspects that needed to be addressed in the Tokyo-bound boxers included balance in the ring, punching while being held in clinches and the ability to think of a plan B without looking towards their corner for ideas.
"Clinch was a major issue in Indian boxing. We were not used to making the time in clinches count. It was random and poorly executed mostly. Now, I can say the scoring rate in clinches is 70-80 per cent better. The idea is not to stagnate," he explained.
"Also, lack of strength in close range boxing, that was an issue. For example, Amit is a fantastic long range boxer and we have made sure that he improved in close range as well. He is not the tallest boxer in his category, so he had to be better in close range boxing," he said.
Apart from this, Nieva said Indian boxers will step inside the ring in Tokyo with a better control over their minds.
"I am confident that it will be a stronger performance. They have to take control of the centre of the ring. They cannot evade that and expect to win. They have to control the pace, ease up a bit when in lead. The disbalance problem is also sorted now.
"They have to think quickly and adapt quickly to any situation without looking at the corner for tactical guidance. We have worked on all these aspects," he elaborated.
And what about the uncontrollables, like the COVID-19 threat, which is looming heavily over the Games? "We are dealing with it for over a year now. It is not coming as a shock to anyone anymore. We have kept ourselves in a good state of mind and made the health safety protocols a habit," he said.
With the Olympics, starting July 23, it is the completion of a cycle for Nieva and women's High Performance Director Raffaele Bergamasco, both of whom joined in quick succession.
"It has been an amazing ride. I was made to feel welcome from the very first day. My suggestions and inputs were taken in good spirit and I found it very easy to work in India. I can say I have been fortunate to work in the country," he said.
"I am also aware that nobody will like any of what I did if there is no medal in Tokyo and I am confident that we will meet the expectations of medals. But even otherwise, we have done our job to the best we could," he added.
Also read: World champion Gitika makes winning start at youth national boxing championships
Being an Argentina-born, football is Nieva's other passion and he recently drew happiness from Lionel Messi finally getting his hands on an international trophy -- the Copa America.
"Hopefully we can also do something great in Tokyo. I mean, watching Messi lifting Copa was so much happiness. He deserved it because he had worked so hard. Nobody deserved it more than him," he said.
News source: PTI
Picked Rahane's brains, we are mentally prepared for England: Indian cricketer Harmanpreet Kaur
Bristol, Jun 14 Indian women's team vice-captain Harmanpreet Kuar on Monday said the squad is mentally prepared to take on mighty hosts England in its first Test in seven years, especially after "picking the brains" of red-ball specialist Ajinkya Rahane.
India and England will play a one-off Test here from Wednesday, which will start the visitors' full-fledged tour of the UK, where they will also feature in ODI and T20 series.
"I have not played much of red-ball cricket, I have played just two Tests. This time we got a chance to speak to Ajinkya Rahane, we picked his brains on how to bat in the longer format, mentally we are prepared," Harmanpreet said during a virtual press conference.
The swashbuckler has made a name for herself in white-ball cricket and is now looking to stamp her class in the traditional format.
She added, "Even in the nets, we try to be in the right frame of mind. When you are happy, you play good cricket. We try to play to our strengths.
"We had an easy and friendly talk with Rahane, he is very experienced, we had a chance to talk to him and we did exactly that." Elaborating on the interaction with Virat Kohli's deputy in the men's Test team, she said, "Rahane has so much experience, he shared them with us, offered us tips on how to bat, what kind approach should we have to batting because it's long format, how to break your inning in parts..." Asked about teen batting sensation Shafali Verma's chance of making her Test debut, Harmanpreet said the team management doesn't prefer tinkering with her game.
"Shafali is someone we always want to play, she is someone who can dominate the opposition.
"We never tried to tinker with Shafali's game as she is a natural player, it's not a great idea to talk too much about technique and game planning with her.
All of us are trying to create a very nice situation for her so that she doesn't feel the pressure and enjoys her cricket. She was looking great in the nets, and I hope, if she gets a chance to play, she will do better." She said it will be imperative that the players adapt quickly to the conditions in the UK as they din not get enough practice with the red ball.
"I know we did not get much time to prepare, we did not get enough time to practice but, as players, we need to adapt. Wickets here are different, today and tomorrow, we need to do the needful to prepare ourselves.
"Well, it is totally different scenario when you play red-ball cricket, it is important to get used to the conditions. We did not get domestic games with the red ball, but, in the coming seasons and years, we will get more red-ball games, which is a very good sign," she added.
"We need to feel good and happy instead of thinking too much about our batting. We have to play to our strengths, continue to play the way we have been playing so far." One of her two Test matches was the memorable triumph in England in 2014. Asked about playing a Test match after such a long time, Harmanpreet said, "As a batter, there is only one approach: watch the ball and react.
"I know I have played more T20Is and ODIs, don't have enough experience of Test cricket. But I know the game is about patience and spending as much time as possible at the crease.
"For me as well as others, the approach will be same: watch the ball and react. " "Wickets will aid swing and for that we practised in the nets. We have two more days to prepare ourselves in the best possible manner for the match.
When asked about veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami's role in the squad, Harmanpreet said, "She is someone who will always take the lead, she will always give us breakthroughs whenever we needed them.
Not only her, all the bowlers are very important in Test matches and you need someone who can come and bowl, take wickets. I think she will be fantastic in this match too." She is also looking forward towards playing Test cricket with the Kookaburra ball.
"Kookaburra did not feel much different, the wight of the ball and both sides are the same. I think there is not much difference between red ball and white ball when it comes to kookaburra." Harmanpreet was also asked about recognising the role played by her predecessors in developing the women's game in India.
"When you represent a team it's good to know the history. Unfortunately, we don't know much about the past when there was not much media coverage. So it was a great feeling to know about them, their struggles, how it all started.
"Our respect for them has increased manifold because if they had given up that time, we would not have been sitting in this position today. We are very thankful to them," Harmanpreet signed off. News source PTI
India have got enough time to prepare, how quickly they adapt will be key: Former Indian cricketer Venkatesh Prasad
New Delhi, Jun 14 Former pacer Venkatesh Prasad feels that a high-on-resources India has got all bases covered to get past a high-on-confidence New Zealand in the World Test Championship final beginning June 18 at Southampton.
Unlike his playing days, Prasad feels India now have a third or a fourth seamer who can maintain pressure built by the new ball bowlers. At the same time, he feels the team has the batting to put 350 runs on the board irrespective of the conditions.
"Two best teams are playing the final. India have got a lot of options as their bench is also very strong," Prasad told PTI on Monday.
"Be it a batting or seaming track, India have got the upper hand for the simple reason: In early 90s and later 2000s, there will be two good seamers but the team did have not a third or fourth option.
"Now the squad has got the strength of that and a couple of very good all rounders. We always had world class spinners but now we also have a world class pace attack." Prasad formed the new ball pairing alongside the great Javagal Srinath in his heydays. Prasad said he expects India to dominate the game.
"And we also have the batting to 350 runs on the board. Now we have got everything covered. It doesn't matter what sort of a pitch it would be. It should be India all the way," he said.
New Zealand look like the team to beat after they humbled hosts England in a two-match series. It was their first triumph on English soil in 22 years.
Talking about the playing eleven, Prasad said it will be a straightforward decision for captain Virat Kohli.
He himself wants to play both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with three pacers -- Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
"Ashwin and Jadeja and three fast bowlers seem to be the best combination. Bumrah, Shami and Ishant sharma have the experience of playing in different conditions, they know their roles very well.
"The strategy is very simple. Who can make use of the new ball better? Both Bumrah and Shami have got an amazing seam position and great control over line and length.
"I am surprised that Ishant is considered number three even after playing 100 Tests. He also has a lot of experience of playing county cricket in England." Prasad said he rather not pay too much attention on the opposition's strengths.
"I hope to see the game go to fifth day. Especially in India we didn't see it go beyond third or fourth day. It should reach day five but in English conditions, the Dukes ball does something more often than not.
"The batsmen will have to adapt quickly and the bowlers will need to figure out the end which is more suited to them," said the 51-year who played 33 Tests and 161 ODIs.
He also feels India have got enough time to prepare though New Zealand have a slight advantage having already played two Tests.
Asked if he too wants to see a best of three final like India head coach Ravi Shastri, Prasad added: "See most sports it is just one final. It is also about having the window to play three finals.
"If you do that it is going to 25 days of cricket with three days of gap in between. Where is the window to do that?" he aked. New source PTI
Indian cricketer Ruturaj Gaikwad banks on core strength of adaptability to impress in maiden India outing
Pune, Jun 11 Overwhelmed by emotion after getting his maiden India call-up, batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad of Friday said he would be banking on his ability to adapt quickly when he tries to make an impression during the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.
The 24-year-old from Maharashtra is one of the six uncapped players named in the 20-member squad for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka next month. The Shikhar Dhawan-led side will play three ODIs and three T-20 matches between July 13 and July 25.
"I am just happy. Right from the moment I got to know about it, you know a journey comes in front of your eyes that from where you started and where you wanted to reach...it's a pretty emotional feeling," Gaikwad told PTI after his net practice session near here.
"You get the thought of people who have supported you throughout the journey, be it my parents, friends or coaches. So, obviously proud feeling for everyone and happy feeling for everyone," he said.
The right-hander averages over 47 in the 59 List A matches that he has played and has a strike rate of more than 130 in the T20 format.
Gaikwad feels adapting to any situation in the game is his "core strength".
"...be it in an attacking manner or be it playing according to situation, taking some time or making sure your team crosses the line, the way I adapt to both situations, that is what I think my strength is more often," he asserted.
The youngster, who rose to prominence after his successful stint with IPL team Chennai Super Kings, said he is looking to reconnect with Rahul Dravid, who would be head coach of the team. Dravid has, in the past, coached the Indian under-19 and A teams.
"The opportunities would be limited but I'm just looking forward to learn from this journey as much as I can. There are experienced players in the group and obviously once again I will get a chance to reconnect with Rahul Sir," he said.
"The last India A tour happened one and half years ago, so again, there is a chance to regroup with him (Rahul Dravid) have a chat about the game, so there is lot more than just performance or scorecard.
"Obviously if I get opportunity, just hoping that I can give my best and wish to win a game for India. One of my biggest goals is to get a win for the Indian team or my country." Gaikwad has shared the dressing room with the likes of Faf du Plessis and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in CSK and he believes that he has learnt several things from the duo.
"I think with Mahi Bhai, obviously whatever he speaks it is always eye-catching and I had heard that he spoke about me in the post-match presentation and all, I don't talk much with him, he knows that I'm a quiet and shy guy," he said.
"When he (Dhoni) thinks I'm under the pump or pressure, he is first one to come and ask me that 'are you feeling something like that and you need not worry'," he recalled.
"Even last year there was a situation, where I started badly in IPL, so he was the one who came up first and asked me to relax and enjoy the game...it calmed my nerves a little bit and it helped me enjoy my game.
"There are lot of inputs he has given me throughout and they have not just helped in cricket but also helped me in life," he said.
Gaikwad joins the illustrious list of Maharashtra cricketers like Chandu Borde and Kedar Jadhav, who have played for India.
He said that Jadhav has played an influential role in his journey.
"Kedar (Jadhav) was with me from the start of my journey, from the time my first-class career started and I think he has been very influential right throughout the journey...he was always been encouraging me." New source PTI
Debut for senior team at Olympics will be a fairytale, says Indian hockey defender Manpreet Kaur
Bengaluru, Jun 2 Aspiring to make her "fairytale" debut for the Indian women's hockey team at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, young defender Manpreet Kaur is focussed on staying at the top of her game by putting in the hard yards.
After gaining useful experience and exposure representing the junior team around the world, the 22-year-old earned her maiden call-up for the senior group in January last year.
"Debut for the senior national team at a dream event like the Olympics will be a fairytale for me. I mean, it will be a different feeling altogether, but I want to keep my feet on the ground and continue doing my hard work," Kaur was quoted as saying in a media release.
"Team selection is not in my hands, but I would say this phase is really exciting. It is bringing the best out of me in our training, and I would like to continue doing it without bothering about the team selection.
"We all are pumped up, and just working hard, making each and every day count in the training," she added.
Speaking about the transition from the junior to senior camp, Kaur said one needs to adapt quickly.
"You are surrounded by all the experienced players on and off the field, so there is so much to learn every day.
"Things are very different to what I experienced when I was with the junior team. From training to diet to fitness, everything is at a different level here, and you need to adapt to it as quickly as possible." Kaur was also a part of India's recent Argentina tour, which was her maiden international tour with the senior national team but those were only practice matches.
"I was also given a chance by the coaches to express myself on my maiden international tour with the senior team.
"I was very nervous, but the senior players motivated me, and match-by-match, I kept gaining confidence, so it was a great learning experience even though those were practice matches." Born in Shahabad Markanda, Kaur is also product of Shahabad Hockey Academy, like skipper Rani, experienced forwards Navjot Kaur, and Navneet Kaur.
"I have followed Rani di, Navjot di and Navneet di from very close quarters while growing up. Just like other girls in Shahabad, I also idolised Rani di.
"She is my biggest inspiration, and it's a special feeling to spend time with her at the camp. She guides young players like me in the right direction, and she is the biggest motivator in the team," she concluded. New source PTI
Worried about the lights, players will need to adapt quickly: Kohli
Ahmedabad, Feb 24 (PTI) Indian skipper Virat Kohli is worried that the lights at the Narendra Modi Stadium here could potentially impact visibility and said the players will need to adapt quickly. The refurbished stadium, the largest cricketing arena in the world, doesn't have the traditional floodlight towers but a ring of LED lights around the perimeter of its roof. It is similar to the 'ring of fire' at the Dubai International Stadium, which often poses a challenge to the fielding side. "It is such an exciting atmosphere here at the largest cricket stadium. I'm a bit more worried about the lights than the colour of the seats," Kohli said at the toss ahead of the day/night Test against England. "When it gets lost with the lights at the back, it's hard to spot the ball. We've played at a similar stadium at Dubai. It's about angles, body positions. You need to adapt pretty quickly," Kohli added. During last year's Indian Premeir League in the UAE, several regulation catches were dropped by fielders in Dubai due to the blinding lights, as compared to the stadiums Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Kohli also reiterated that he doesn't think the orange seats at the stands would pose a visibility challenge for the players.