Children of Asia Games: Indian girls’ basketball team wins hearts

Chinese team wasn't a piece of cake for the Indian basketball players. Source: Press Photo

Chinese team wasn't a piece of cake for the Indian basketball players. Source: Press Photo

The Indian under-16 team played bravely against over-matched opponents to finish 5th in games, earning the praise of spectators and competitors alike.

Far away from the tropical heat and humidity of India, the under-16 girls’ basketball team played against hosts the Russian Republic of Sakha, China, Mongolia and Siberian teams in difficult conditions.  The team, coached by Jagat Narain Nehra, played at a high level and competed in most matches but was over-powered by their larger and more muscular opponents.

“It wasn’t a piece of cake competing with strong teams like China, Siberia and the host team,” said Nehra, who has coached Indian teams of various age-groups. “The Chinese and the Yakutian team were very fit and strong while the Siberians were speedy,” he said. The competition was a learning experience for the Indian girls, who displayed a tremendous fighting spirit. 

The Indian team had a particularly difficult time against the Chinese team, which had many players over 6 feet tall.  China’s strong defence and rebounding helped them pull away from the Indian team, but coach Nehra, who prefers working with young teams, took heart from the loss. “The Chinese were the strongest team in the competition,” he said adding that the Indian girls played to their potential. The Chinese team went on to defeat Sakha and win the gold medal.

India’s finest moment in the competition came in a victory over Mongolia. The Indian team, again heavy underdogs, scored more than 100 points in a brilliant display of 3-point shooting to defeat the Mongolians.

“This is just the first of many victories,” said Nehra, who thinks the girls’ open-mindedness and flexible attitude will help him mold them into a winning team. The team shoots well, but needs to be better rebounders he said, adding that their lack of height also made them attempt more long-distance shots.

The Indian team came in for praise from all corners for their demonstration of fair play. The team received a resounding applause when Indian girls rushed to the aid of an injured Siberian opponent in a tense and closely-fought match. The Siberian girl who hurt her knee was helped up by her Indian opponents, who also assisted in the first aid procedure.  

Nehra says that the good performance at the Children of Asia Games, which is often called “Children’s Olympics”, can pave the way for a good performance by the girls at the Asian Games and the Olympics. He sees a bright future for Kavita Akula and Pooja Ambastha. Akula, who is the captain of the team, scored 29 points in the game against China.

It’s not the first time that Nehra has participated in Children of Asia tournament.  He has been part of the Indian contingent that has taken part in the previous 4 editions.  The coach believes that the cricket-crazy country has been traditionally good at sports such as wrestling, lawn tennis, shooting, and basketball, which is becoming increasingly popular in the country. India was supposed to send the largest contingent to the Children of Asia Games but just 31 athletes came from India as the country has given priority to the upcoming Olympic Games in London.

Nehra is happy to see the improvements in the facilities in Sakha, including new stadiums, better accommodation and logistics, but said that there was still room for improvement. The coach was happy with the fact that the entire contingent stayed in the Olympic Village unlike the previous edition, where they were scattered. 

“The games are spectacular and demonstrate the talent and dedication of the participants and the championship also gives young sportsmen a chance for exposure at the international level,” Nehra said. 

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