The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) allowed skeet coach Ennio Falco to have a say in the selection of the team for the ISSF World Cup being held at the Karni Singh Ranges.
The Italian expert recommended the name of Sheeraz Sheikh. Though Sheikh wasn’t in the merit list, he was given a chance. An experiment, according to Falco, paid dividends as Sheeraz Sheikh, 26, not only scored 121 in qualification but also edge past a more seasoned shooter, Jesper Hansen of Denmark, in the shootout to enter the final.
It’s another matter that he finished sixth and last in the finals. He was the first to be eliminated after 20 shots, scoring 16.
In the 60-shot final, Italy’s Ricardo Filippelli won gold with a score of 57, a world record. Compatriot Gabriele Rossetti, the world No. 1, settled for silver with a score of 55, while Australia’s Paul Adams was third with 45.
In qualification, Mairaj Ahmad Khan, who represented India at the Rio Games, scored 119, finishing 13th, while Angad Veer Singh shot 116.
Falco, however, expressed satisfaction with Sheikh’s, saying the fact that the shooter reached the final was a big achievement. “It’s the season’s first competition and we are still working on improving basic. His overall performance augurs well for skeet,” he said.
This was Sheikh’s first World Cup final at the senior level and the new rules, which were just implemented by the ISSF, perhaps made things a bit difficult for him.
“The qualification was good…it gave me added confidence as I defeated the world champion from Denmark. In the final, I wasn’t able to adjust properly,” said Sheikh, adding that since the emphasis has been more on improving scores in the qualification round, there is scope for improving skills to earn a podium finish. “There has been big improvement in the last one year. Hopefully, by yearend, there shall be better result,” he said.
With the World Championship in September being the main goal, Falco said, Sheikh should be the one to watch. “The national team has been improving. I expect better results in the next seven months,” he added.
NRAI president Raninder Singh said, it was an experiment to give some liberty to the coach. “It was a trial, but it’s uncertain whether other foreign coaches shall be given the liberty. It’s too early to think on those lines,” he said.
Singh said the recommendations given by the panel headed by Abhinav Bindra to improve the system for better medals tally are being implemented. “We have incorporated almost all the suggestions. Only five per cent is left…that too we are working on.”
After the dismal performance in Rio, the NRAI had constituted a three-member panel with Bindra as chairman. The panel, in its report, also suggested giving more say to coaches for better results in the Olympics.
On the scrapping of three events --- double trap, 50m pistol and 50m rifle prone --- from the next Olympics, Singh said, the move will not have any significant impact on India’s medal prospects, “since our core strength is rifle and pistol”.