New-look India make a statement

New-look India make a statement

Jeena, Grima stand out with fine performances

New-look India make a statement
After a gap of two years India found their way back to the upper echelons of Asian basketball.

India will compete in Division ‘A’ of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in the next edition in 2019. The achievement draws special significance as the feat was achieved at home in front of a rousing crowd at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

Having earned promotion to Division ‘A’ in 2013, India’s stay among the creme de la creme of the continent was cut short by Philippines in the qualifying round in 2015. In a bid to regain their lost status, the Basketball Federation of India roped in Zoran Visic of Serbia as the head coach, a month before the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup.

With three decades of coaching experience under his belt, Visic’s first aim was to get some international exposure for a relatively young team. And that came in the form of William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei. Although the results were far from satisfactory for the Anitha Pauldurai-led side, India gained valuable match practice against superior teams like New Zealand and Chinese Taipei.

That experience proved vital for India as they performed admirably against well-built teams like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

In the Division ‘B’ final against a physically dominant Kazakhs on Saturday, Anitha played with an injured calf just to keep the spirit of the young side high. “The junior players were a bit nervous. I was there to motivate everyone. I thought I can’t play because of my calf injury but I was determined to be there on the court and motivate each and every one of them,” Anitha said at the post match briefing on Saturday.

The 32-year-old guard scored nine points, grabbed three rebounds and provided four assists in the summit clash. Anitha’s average points per game of 16.4 in Division B was second only to Fiji’s Mili Koyamainavure (23.6). The Indian captain is also the tournament’s second highest scorer with 82 points.

Forward Jeena Skaria too showed her class in the competition as she blew away the oppositions away with her agility and accuracy. A big game player, Jeena was the hosts’ top-scorer (20 points) in the semifinal against Lebanon. She also led the chart in rebounds (7) and assists (6). She proved to be the difference maker in the final as well, shining with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists.

The 23-year-old scored a total of 65 points in five games but was still behind another Indian Grima Merlin Varghese, who was fourth on the overall list of forwards with 69 points. Grima, playing her first international tournament, was a late replacement for Poojamol KS, who got injured during the team’s campaign at the William Jones Cup. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, the 22-year-old has emerged as one of India’s biggest find. 
Grima stole the show in the group phase game against Sri Lanka, top-scoring with 20 points while making 10 rebounds. She was in scintillating form again in the quarterfinals against Fiji, scoring 18 points. Forward Shireen Limaye, who scored the winning jump shot for India in the final, aptly described the team’s progress to Division A. “It’s perfect. We have been slogging for five months. It came down to the wire and I am really happy,” Shireen said.

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