T.I.B. This Is Basketball. Nothing can ever be taken for granted. In the most exciting match so far in the 28th RMBT, Chhattisgarh overcame the seemingly invincible Southern Railway team to win by a single point. The statistics don’t matter in this game. What matters is the never-say-die attitude of the Chhattisgarh players, who started the match knowing they were the underdogs. Southern Railway has been one of the most dominant women’s basketball dynasties in domestic competition. They are the reigning Savio Cup champions and the defending champions at RMBT, winning the 27th edition back in 2011. Unfazed by these historical facts, Chhattisgarh played this game as if they were meant to win. Deepa L starred for Chhattisgarh. The pint-sized guard with a big heart scored 14 crucial points, none of which mattered more than her go-ahead 3 pointer with 19 seconds left in the match. Southern had a chance to tie the game immediately thereafter, courtesy a foul on centre R Rajapriyadarshini. She made the first and missed the second. Chhattisgarh secured the defensive rebound and managed to keep possession until the final buzzer.
Chhattisgarh are now through to the finals, having already beaten Maharashtra in their first league encounter. SR will now have to win one of their next two games to book their spot in the finals. SR play Chhattisgarh again on 19th April in what will be the last league game of the 28th RMBT.
Apart from Deepa L’s stand-out performance, critical scoring contributions were made by Sangeeta Mandal (15 points), Anjana Ekka (11 points) and Captain Pushpa Nishad (8 points) that carried them all the way till that clutch three.
Southern Railway ran their offense through their centre R Rajapriyadarshini, who had 10 rebounds to go with her 16 points.
The lead changed hands 17 times in this game. The game was tied 9 times. That’s how close this game was from beginning to end. Chhattisgarh led at the end of the first quarter 10-7. Southern Railway then led at the end of Q2 and Q3. When it mattered most, Chhattisgarh nosed ahead in the last 19 seconds of the match and held on till the final whistle.
“Mujhe bas ring dikha. Kaise bhi ho mujhe shot maarna tha. (All I saw was the ring. I had to score any which way.)”
– Deepa L on her go ahead three pointer with 19 seconds left on the shot clock
“Kuch bhi ho, aar ya paar, humey accha khelna tha. (Whatever happened, win or lose, we wanted to play well.)”
– Pushpa Nishad, Chhattisgarh Captain after the game
Chhattisgarh’s tactical brilliance: With Southern Railway leading at the half 20-15, Chhattisgarh coach Iqbal Ahmed Khan made a slight modification to the zone defense being employed by his side. He advised his team to start playing a zone-cum-man hybrid defense. In a classical zone defense, the defender’s sole responsibility is to ensure that the ball is pushed out of that particular zone. In other words, each player must ensure that no scoring can happen from his or her zone. In a zone-cum-man hybrid, a player not only has to push the ball out of her zone, but also guard the opposition players within their zone on a (wo)man-to -(wo)man basis (whether they have the ball or not). The move worked to perfection. The increased pressure meant that SR missed their outside shots forcing Anitha P to lace up her shoes and get onto the court. She was greeted immediately with a block.
Vociferous vocal support from the Chhattisgarh bench: The Chhattisgarh bench outnumbered SR’s bench 7 to 3. SR had turned up for this tournament with just 8 players. The Chhattisgarh bench players kept wailing their lungs out whenever SR was on offense, virtually turning the neutral venue of Indian Gymkhana, Mumbai into a Raipur den. The relatively young SR side seemed flustered and shaky as a result. Anitha P’s efforts to calm her teammates down were drowned out in all the noise.
The Southern Railway think-tank comprising Coach Raneesa Ranoof and Captain Anitha Pauldurai can be blamed for taking this game too lightly. In the absence of superstar Geethu Anna Jose, Anitha chose to continue to sit out for the second game in a row. Giving her company on the bench was the other consistent scorer for the side Adhirai M. These key players only came on in the second half, which, in hindsight, was a little too late. In just 14:48 mins on the floor, Anitha P had 11 points. Had she come in earlier, the tie in all probability would have ended in SR’s favour. You can be pretty certain that Anitha will now check in a lot earlier in the remaining league games against Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Controversy! Sometime in the third quarter, a Chhattisgarh player drove to the basket. A whistle was heard allegedly just before the player starts the two steps of her layup. The Southern players stopped defending and the Chhattisgarh player layed the ball in the basket. The referees consulted amongst themselves and decided to let the basket count. Southern Coach Raneesa objected vehemently, “How can you let the basket count after the whistle was sounded?” The match eventually continued. Considering Chhatisgarh’s final 1 point winning margin, this third quarter incident assumes huge significance.
Aiyyo vizhu da! In the fourth quarter, Anitha P is heard praying to the basketball gods for her shot to drop through the basket as she stretches away from the defender for an under the basket shot.