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15-04-13: Finally the team we have all been waiting for! ONGC took to the court in their opening campaign in the 28th Ramu Memorial as clear tournament favourites. Boasting of an All Staresque line-up that included three players who have been India captains, in the form of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Trideep Rai and Riyazzudin, apart from internationals, forward Yadwinder Singh and centre Murali Krishna, this team had depth, experience, size and versatility.

RCF entered the match knowing they would have to battle all the way to even stay competitive. They didn’t disappoint. They stuck to their game plan and stayed within their known limits. In the end though, for everything RCF threw at them, ONGC found an answer.

The first half saw the very aggressive Murali Krishna and Yadwinder establish themselves in the post.The 2 of them combined to give ONGC a 46-26 point advantage in the paint. ONGC led 39 to 31 at halftime, surviving a furious 7-0 scoring run by RCF. In the second half, Vishesh took over the game for ONGC with his unstoppable drives, scoring a mammoth 36 points. ONGC cruised home 80-63.

Key Performances

Vishesh Brighuvanshi came of his own in the third quarter using his strong upper body, making attempts to strip the ball from him look ridiculously futile. He showed a veteran maturity in moulding his aggression around the form of his teammates. The first half was marked by him deferring to the low post beasts Murali Krishna and Yadwinder ‘Yaddu’ Singh. In the second half, once he realized that Murali Krishna was getting tired and Yaddu was unable to finish his moves, he turned on the offensive switch, virtually steamrolling his way to the basket. He made scoring 36 points look easy. He was also a perfect 11 of 11 from the free throw line.

Highlight Plays

RCF no 14, the young and extremely talented Arjun Singh brought out his A game with off balance deep fadeaways, turnaround jumpers and wonderful last second no look passes created out of seemingly doomed plays.

Not a highlight Late in the first quarter, ONGC’s Anoop Kumar broke away for an open layup. He missed the shot and came crashing down on his ankle, just as his teammate Murali Krishna grabbed the miss for a thunderous two handed dunk. Confirmation of Anoop’s status for the rest of the tournament is still awaited.

Momentum Shifts

The first quarter was dominated by ONGC. In the second, the momentum shifted in favour of RCF, mainly on the back of the inspired performance of No. 4 Bijender Kumar. A pudgy looking player, Bijender belied perceptions and kept miraculously converting layups from improbable angles. In the second quarter, the momentum was wrested back by ONGC, solely on the back of Vishesh’s dominant display.

“Mein to bhayankar tired tha. Kal meri sister ki shaadi thi so I got only 5 to 6 hours of sleep. You would have seen that I wasn’t moving very well.”

–       Vishesh, who appears to have scored 36 points and a perfect 11/11 from the FT line in far from ideal pregame conditions

Bole bina mujhse raha nahi jaata. Har team mein ek do players aise hone chahiye jo baate karte rehte ho. Without talking you can’t play defense.”

–       Yadwinder ‘Yaddu’ Singh, explaining his vocal barrage throughout the game

Individually woh better hain. Hum thoda slow down karke team basis par khelna chahte the. Anyway, we are confident about the remaining matches because the other teams in our pool are equally matched.”

–       Ram Kumar, the well respected RCF Head Coach readily concedes that he lost to a much better team

Thumbs up

With big stars come big egos. The referees for this game Manoj Kotian, Asham Khan and Rashid S deserve a mention for surviving the verbal onslaught and sarcastic smirks thrown at them from distraught players on both sides. They also had to deal with the precarious situation of allowing the game to continue while players got injured and the ball was still live. Eventually the referees ended up calling a technical for abusive language late in the fourth quarter.

The animated Yadwinder exercised his vocal chords as much as the muscles of his body. But his energy had a positive impact on all his teammates. ONGC never let up on their defensive assignments even in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.

Thumbs Down

Former India captain Riyazzudin seems to be a shadow of the player he used to be. In the 5 minutes that he was on the floor late in the second quarter and early in the third, all he did was bring the ball up without turning the ball over. He was a “zero” on the stat sheet. Also inactive, but in this case due to a back injury, was Trideep Rai, the sharpshooting ace who is still remembered for the legendary 50 point game in the 2004 RMBT.

The energy level of the entire ONGC team on the offensive end started dropping by the end of the second quarter. Murali Krishna showed that age unfortunately had caught up with him. In the first quarter he was a beast down low, and like any beast, he was eating up the person guarding him. However, by the end of the second quarter, he was unable to establish position close to the basket, getting the ball farther out than he would have liked.

Yadwinder Singh showed lack of composure in his drives to the basket and was unable to lay the ball in softly. This seems to be a recurring limitation in his game that restricts his contribution on the international scene. He also needs to either dribble less or improve his ball handling.

Sights and sounds

Paaji side throw?! Yadwinder Singh expresses his surprise to the referee in inimitable Punjabi fashion, as he is fouled in what looked like an act of shooting.

The advertising billboards enclosing the 4 sides of the court were also not spared by the ONGC players. Yadwinder Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, in trying to save the ball from going out of bounds dented the side hoardings. This worried the organizers. But the hustling efforts drew vigorous nods of approval from India Coach Scott Flemming who was watching closely from the sidelines.

Day 3 Matches (16TH April 2013):

4.00PM Savio Club vs. Mastan YMCA, Juniors (A)

5:30 PM Maharashtra vs. Chhattisgarh, Women

7:00 PM Rail Coach Factory (RCF) vs. Punjab, Men

8:30 PM Karnataka vs. ONGC, Men (A).

This event’s coverage is also available on the official Ramu Memorial website.

Gopalakrishnan R
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