In a country where cricket pretty much encompasses sport, it is heartening to see a few who choose not to tread the beaten path. Although historically tied to India since the mid-1800s, rugby has not pervaded popular imagination.
But with the discipline being on display (in the 7s format) at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, there arises a hope of Indian rugby announcing its arrival.
On Thursday the team, led by captain Nasser Hussain and head-coach Usaia Buimaiwai, left for China to contest in the 'Shanghai Sevens' where they are grouped with Guam, Chinese Taipei and Asian giants Korea. The tournament, being held over September 4-5, is the final preparatory competition for the CWG.
The Indians won the Istanbul 7's in Turkey and as the Bee's International 7s rugby tournament at Bradford (England), where they beat local favourites Yorkshire Select Green with a final-minute try.
“The wins in Istanbul and England have been a morale-booster for the team. At the moment, confidence-levels are high and we're looking to continue the good form in Shanghai,” said Hussain.
He explained, “Shanghai will be important because rankings are at stake. The pool features Korea who are second in Asia and Taipei who are experienced campaigners. Wins here would help us climb the ladder and would stand testimony to all the hard work that the team has put in over the last few years.”
When asked about the conditions at the Balewadi camp where the team has been training, Hussain said, “Barring a few problems with the ground itself, the infrastructure provided is state-of-the-art.”
About the CWG practice venue, Hussain told Hindustan Times, “We have visited the venue and played two Test events there earlier. As for the ground and facilities provided, we liked it and have no complaints.”
The team returns to India on September 6 and after a few days of rest, training for the Games will commence. Then they arrive in New Delhi on September 23 for the final conditioning that could include the possibility of a few friendlies with the Scotland team.
Although currently ranked 73rd out of 95 sides, the Indian team's determination to succeed is evident and has been complemented with much-needed foreign success. Shanghai will serve a tough test, but Hussain and his boys seem ready to pass with flying colours.