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Gaikwad, a handy captain with different strokes

sports Updated: Jun 23, 2011 01:39 IST
Tomojit Basu

Talk of unique tactics to rattle opponents and the one example that comes quicker than you can say 'free kick' in India today is Raju Gaikwad. More specifically, Gaikwad's ability to launch a football into opposition boxes, not with his feet but hands.

Gaikwad, the captain of the India Under-23 squad which will play Qatar on Thursday at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune, has made it a point to make his opponents more uncomfortable in their own box with his long throws.

"I don't know why but I always wanted to excel at throwing. From the time I started playing football, I conditioned myself to utilise throw-ins," said the Mumbaikar who also led the Indian Arrows in their commendable I-League debut last season.

Comparisons have been made to Stoke City's Rory Delap who's once earned his keep by contributing more with his hands with actual passes since joining 'The Potters' in January 2007. Against Wolverhampton Wanderers in April 2010, the Irishman dispatched 27 throws and played 16 passes.

Not surprising given that Delap used to be a javelin thrower once.

"I had to build my muscles accordingly, my chest and shoulders in particular, to get distance," said centre-back Gaikwad, 20, a fan of Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand. "It's unique and it gives my team a better chance in the box."

It's true too, given that an overwhelming number of Arrows' goals came from Gaikwad's accurate throw-ins last season, usually taking a flick off the head of those getting into the 18-yard box.

For HAL and Air India, the throws struck opposition defenders and went in for self-goals due to the enormous backspin they generated. "It feels good but it's not something we can rely on entirely," he said.

Arsenal legend Lee Dixon, Wigan Athletic's (now with Qatari club Umm Salal) Mario Melchiot and La Liga club Valencia's Marius Stankevicius are a few examples of those who have perfected the art of long throw-ins.

Air India had Uttam Singh whose throws were likened to corner-kicks by former India coach Bob Houghton.

Does Gaikwad wish he perfected free-kicks instead? "Never, this leaves the opponents with less time to react which makes it more fun," he said.