- Karan Madhok
One look at the team list for ONGC, and it’s immediately clear that there is something special about this team. Of all the team’s playing at the Federation Cup in Raipur, ONGC might not feature most of the current crop of India’s internationals (that honour goes to Western Railways), or feature some of the game’s exciting youngsters who play for teams like Billai Steel Plant, but they’re a squad blessed with some of the most experienced players in India.
“Our experience is obviously our strongest point,” says ONGC coach Rajendra Singh Rathore, who has been a former Junior and Senior India player himself, “We have a mix of former and current stars who are starring in this championship.”
ONGC feature the likes of Trideep Rai, who was part of India’s recent squad that travelled to Guangzhou (China) for the Asian Games. But along with him are a host of other legends, such as the superstar Riyazuddin, who is attempting a comeback from a serious injury, Mohit Bhandari, Murali Krishna, Anoop, and Sridhar S.
Each of their various weapons bring different things to the game, resulting in a well-assembled fit. The wily point-guard Bhandari orchestrates ONGC’s offense, slashing through defenders to shoot, lay-up, or create great shooting opportunities for his teammates. Riyaz, who is one of the best in the country at creating his own shot, succeeds best when the team begins to play a fast-paced game. Their dominating big men, Murali, Anoop, and Nishant Kumar make it difficult for opponents to out-rebound them. And ONGC turn most to Trideep, their best pure scorer, to make the big shots when most needed.
Still, having perhaps the oldest squad in the tournament doesn’t come without its speed-bumps. Several of the players in ONGC are playing the tournament with niggling injuries. But no obstacle, whether internal or from a foe, has been able to defeat the team’s spirit. Even in the toughest of games, ONGC look calm and assured of themselves, ready to strike when the moment calls for.
Unlike the usual run-and-gun offense applied by most of their opponents, ONGC play a slightly slower inside-outside game, relying on half-court set-ups and their beefy big men to help them control the paint.
Coming into this year’s tournament in Raipur, ONGC are the two-time holding champions of the Federation Cup, after their triumphs at Alwar (Rajasthan) and Rourkella (Orissa) in the previous years. “We have done well in this tournament in the past, and we will do our best to retain it,” said team captain Amit Kumar Singh.
So far, it has been smooth sailing in the Semi-Finals for the squad: ONGC have won all three of their group games, defeating IOB (Chennai) and Billai Steel Plant in close contests, and then blowing past Vijaya Bank for an easy victory on Sunday morning.
Coach Rathore believes that it will be their ability to perform well in the close competitions that will give them a slight edge going further in the tournament. “Our experience will count the most in neck-to-neck games,” he said, “This is when we feel we can perform better.”
Featuring the best amongst the best in the country, there are no easy games in the Federation Cup: but with a squad which has been through so many battles and with so many years of experience under their belt, ONGC are looking hungry to make it a three-peat.