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Playtime during the pandemic

From triple Olympic gold medallist hockey legend Balbir Singh Senior’s demise to Chandigarh golfers ruling the Indian golf scene to Mohali hosting a fake T20 league, 2020 was a seesaw of a year. The Indian Express takes a look at the lows and highs of the sporting world in Chandigarh.

Death of a legend

It was a sad moment for the Indian sports when triple Olympic gold medallist hockey player Balbir Singh Senior, 96, passed away on May 25 after a long battle with pneumonia and ill health. A member of the 1948 London Olympics gold medal winning Indian hockey team, Singh was subsequently vice-captain of the 1952 Olympics winner and skipper of the 1956 Olympics gold medal winning Indian team. Singh, whose full name was Balbir Singh Dosanjh, was called Senior to differentiate him from the five other Balbirs who played for India. In the 1952 Olympics, Singh crafted five out of the six goals scored by India against Netherlands in the final, a record which stands unbeaten even today.

Singh was also the chief coach-manager of the Indian hockey team starting 1961 and the chief-coach in eight tournaments till 1982. It’s a tribute to his leadership that each time, the Indian team returned with a podium finish. It also netted the World Cup in 1975. Born in Haripur Khalsa village near Moga in Punjab, Singh played for Punjab police and Panjab University, guiding them to three All India University titles in the 1940s, before donning the Indian jersey.

Fake T20 at Mohali

Mohali made waves in the international media, but for all the wrong reasons. Unknown to the locals, betting syndicate and fixers conducted a fake Sri Lanka T-20 league at Strokers Cricket Association ground at Sawara village near Mohali in July. They called it the Uva T-20 league with players from four teams in Lanka before the Uva Cricket Association in Sri Lanka exposed their lie.

Later, Express found that they were actually Punjab players in masks. After this newspaper exposed this scam, the mastermind of the league Ravinder Dandiwal and his associates were arrested by the Mohali Police. The BCCI also sent its anti-corruption team to Mohali and the accused were booked under Section 420 and various sections of the Gambling Act at Kharar (Sadar) police station.

Kuldeep Singh Chahal, the then SSP Mohali, described Dandiwal as “an expert in conducting fake/fixed matches”. “Their modus operandi was to take grounds on rent, manage players and telecast such matches through apps like Fancode, Diamond, Sky, Lotus, Tenbet, Spin, etc. Our investigation has revealed that he used to visit many countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Australia and UAE in the past. He was in touch with some bookies in Delhi but it’s not clear whether he was working under them or running a different syndicate,” the SSP had said.

A giant leap for Amaan

After he was named in the Indian basketball team for the FIBA Asia Qualifiers held at Dubai in February early this year, Mohali youngster Amaan Sandhu got a high school scholarship in USA and joined the First Love Christian Academy (FLCA), Washington, Pennsylvania. Son of former basketball players Gursharanjeet Singh Sandhu and Rajinder Kaur Sandhu, the willowy 6’11’’ player is now aiming to get a full NCAA Division I scholarship in USA. “It will open new doors for me,’’ he beams.

National awards galore for city players and coaches

While Chandigarh footballer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was adjudged the men’s fooball player of the year by the All India Football Federation in September, boxing coach Shiv Singh and footballer Sandesh Jhingan from Chandigarh were among the national sports awardees in August. Sandhu, a product of the St Stephen’s Football Academy, became the second goal-keeper after Subrata Paul to win the AIFF award. “My advice to youngsters is to work hard, be honest and have lots of integrity. Players like Sandesh Jhingan, this year’s Arjuna awardee in football, and Anirudh Thapa, men’s emerging footballer of the year, are also role models for Chandigarh youngsters. I would also like to congratulate Sanju, winner of women footballer of the year and Ratanbala, winner of women’s emerging footballer of the year. I believe women’s football is as important as men’s and we will always cheer for them,” shared Sandhu.

In August, the virtual ceremony for the winners of national sports awardees from the region was held at Chandigarh. It was a proud moment for Shiv Singh and Sandesh Jhingan. “It’s a big day for me and for all the boxing community in Chandigarh as well India. I still remember how I started boxing after seeing a boxer named Ross from Fiji, who studied in my college. Years later, when I started coaching, I would often recall the swift movement of his feet, and tell my trainees to focus on their basics first,’’ says Singh. Good things ever change.

Shubman makes Test debut

More than 22 months after he made his ODI debut against New Zealand, Mohali lad Shubman Gill debuted in the Test cricket when he was named in the Indian team for the second Test match against Australia at Melbourne in the four match series in the last week of December. Gill, whose father Lakhwinder Singh has played a major role in shaping his career, had amassed 440 runs in this year’s IPL and scored 728 runs in nine innings, including a double century for Punjab in Ranji Trophy 2018-2019 season earlier. Last year, Gill was also named in the Indian Test team against South Africa but did not play any match. At Melbourne, Gill scored 45 runs in the first innings of the Test match before he was dismissed by Pat Cummins.

Golfers triumph in PGTI

If Chandigarh youngster 18-year-old Aadil Bedi claimed his maiden title at Bengal Open in March, city golfers Akshay Sharma and Karandeep Kochhar made sure that three out of the five titles in the rescheduled PGTI Tour went to them. Golf activities in the city resumed in May post the lockdown but the PGTI Tour arrived in November. Caddie-turned professional golfer Akshay Sharma pocketed the second title of his professional career when he won the PGTI players Championship played at Chandigarh and Panchkula in the first week of November. The following week, Karandeep Kochhar won his maiden professional title in the form of PGTI players Championship hosted by Chandigarh Golf Club. Three weeks later, Kochhar would pocket his biggest win as the winner in the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational played on the same greens. Kochhar, who pocketed a prize money of Rs 24, 24, 750, won the title with a third play-off hole win over Rio Olympian Anirban Lahiri. With this win, Kochhar climbed to the top of the PGTI Order of Merit.

In women’s golf, Panchkula golfer Amandeep Drall claimed the 14th title of her professional career when she emerged as the champion in the eighth leg of the Women’s Pro Golf Tour played at Gurugram in December. Earlier, Drall had won the fourth leg of the Women’s Pro Golf Tour at Bengaluru in March before the lockdown cut short all golfing events.

Kashvee bowls over fans

City’s 17-year-old medium-pacer Kashvee Gautam became the first woman cricketer to take ten wickets in an innings in a BCCI domestic tournament against Arunchal Pradesh in February. The youngster, who trains under coach Nagesh Gupta, trapped six batswomen LBW while clean bowling four batswomen to achieve the historic feat. The youngster, who had earlier played for Punjab at U-14, U-16 and U-19 level had made the switch to Chandigarh in 2019. At the end of the 2019-2020 season, the youngster finished with 83 wickets in 434 runs in different formats. Later in the year, Gautam was also picked up by the Trailblazers team for the Women’s T-20 Challenge held in UAE. Though Gautam did not play in any of the matches at Dubai, the youngster is looking forward to resume her fine form next year.

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