Bengaluru: The cream of Asian basketball crop have come to town to stake their claim in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2017, being hosted by an Indian city for the first time since 2009 (Chennai).
While the top teams will be playing in the vaunted Division A vying for the four available berths at the World Cup next year, India will be looking to reclaim its elite status, facing a plucky Uzbekistan side in their Division B clash at the revamped Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
After finishing a best-ever 5th in the 2013 edition, things went downhill for them in Wuhan two years later. The Indian eves failed to win a single match and were relegated to Division B. New coach Zoran Visic hopes to turn the heat on the Uzbeks and Sri Lankans in a three-team Group A.
The team recently took part in the 39th William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei, which gave them vital match practice and ideas about tactical variations. While they didn’t win a single game against the leading teams like Japan and South Korea, Visic was pleased with their performance as a unit.
“The experience of playing teams from Division A was good. I think we have improved our basketball – being more aggressive in defence and faster in offence. We try to play modern basketball, and because the girls are very smart, we’ve done a lot in this short period.
“I hope the stadium will be full and that people support the Indian team. I’m an optimist and expect a good result,” said Visic, who took charge of the team some eight weeks ago. The Indian teams, both men and women, have been literally outmuscled by their robust foes on court in the past.
Uzbekistan pose a major physical threat but captain Anitha Paul Durai believes that with accuracy from distance and controlled ball-carrying, the team has a tactical ace up their sleeve.
“Uzbekistan is a good team but we can rival them with our athleticism. Coach has identified that we can counter their physical style with positive shooting tactics,” the 32-year old stalwart said.
Australia, Kiwis add glitter
Meanwhile, the tournament welcomes Australia and New Zealand for the first time, adding glitter to the fixture list. They take on South Korea in a mouth-watering clash, whilst the Tall Ferns face eleven-time winners China. Japan, who are going for the three-peat, battle the Phillipines and Chinese Taipei will state their ambitions against DPR Korea.
For India, the time and place is now. Memories of 2007 when they found their place in Division A will propel them to regain that spot. And while a bumpy road lies ahead in the form of Kazakhstan and Lebanon, there’s no place like home and they’ll seek to begin their campaign on a positive note.
India Squad: Anjana Geetha, Raspreet Sidhu, Grima Varghese, Navaneetha Udayakumar, Jeena Skaria, Shireen Limaye, Barkha Sonkar, Kavita Akula, Anitha Paul Durai (Captain), Anmolpreet Kaur, Rajapriyadarshini Rajaganapathi, Poonam Chaturvedi
‘Start of something new’
The Indian basketball administration has been in doldrums over the past five years, and this has been directly affecting matters on the court for the Indian eves. Two years ago, there was very little by way of exposure matches for the Indian team but things are hugely different now.
“The Williams Jones Cup was an important exposure tour as we didn’t have any trips for the last two years,” said captain Anitha Paul Durai.
“I believe that under President (K) Govindraj, who was recognised by FIBA and the Indian Olympic Association, this is the start of something new. A lot is starting to change, and with a combination of youth, experience and exposure, this can be the future of women’s basketball in India,” she adds.
The Railways shooting guard has represented India for the past 16 years and waxes lyrical about her ninth appearance in the competition. “I am so happy to be representing India for 16 years – especially after getting married. People say you can’t perform after marriage, having children and working a job. It’s difficult, but I’m doing it,” she surmised....