By Manish Pandey.
At any National Hindu Students’ Forum (NHSF UK) sports event, be it the London & South Zone sports competition or the National sports competition, the smallest of mentions of LSE causes trepidation. Such is the sporting dominance of LSE’s Hindu Society.
This season, LSE competed in 4 sports: Badminton, Football, Kabaddi (both male and female) and Netball. A total of 10 titles on the line across the two major tournaments.
Numbers often tell a story and it is no different on this occasion. Of those 10 titles, LSE reached the final 8 times, culminating in 6 titles. Considering over 40 universities participated, it is fair to say that this achievement is outstanding.
Let us start with badminton. In the London and South Zone competition, the pairing of Serena Popat and Sagar Ghelani reached the final, playing impressively in the lead up to the final. In the final itself, however, they were not at their best, with unforced errors handing the advantage and ultimately the title to Brunel.
Yet, on the biggest stage of them all, in the National tournament, LSE got their revenge and in some style. Rama Patel came in to partner Serena Popat, and the combination of Serena’s finesse and Rama’s power saw LSE obliterate the opposition and surge their way to the final.
It is a testament to the depth of talent at LSE, that they could also field their ‘B’ team in the competition. The team of Devi Rughani and Rishav Shah showed their mettle and swept their way to the final, to set up an all LSE final. Forget Brunel, Loughborough, DMU and all the other teams. This was LSE all the way.
A final, played in the right spirit saw Popat and Patel emerge victorious. There was no shame in losing to the better team for Devi Rughani and Rishav Shah. Indeed, the responsibility is now on them to maintain LSE’s proud record for the foreseeable future.
Proud records and the Netball team go hand in hand. We talk of dominance, and LSE’s Hindu Society netball team has been absolutely dominant in recent times. Prior to 2016, they were winners at London & South Zone in 2013 and 2014. At Nationals, their record is even more impressive, with titles in 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Despite an ever changing team through the years, the Netball team has maintained its winning DNA.
The 2016-17 season has been a spectacular one for the netball team. Led by inspirational captain Sona Shah, they have never looked like losing. In any successful sports team, it is crucial for players to understand the role they need to play.
With this netball team, every member seemed to understand their role which meant there was no drop in quality even with team rotation. It was because of these fundamentals that the players were able to play some truly stunning netball.
At London and South Zone, the speed of passing, intensity of interceptions and the quickness of transitions from attack > defence and defence > attack was outstanding. It was reminiscent of the Barcelona football team in their prime. With the desperation of Camshaeini Curumoorthy diving around to intercept the ball in the final, a deserved victory came for LSE.
Nationals represent a completely different challenge. More teams, more quality and a much bigger challenge. Yet, for this LSE team, there was no hint of being fazed by the big occasion. They cruised through the opening matches scoring goal after goal after goal. They got over the line in a close semi-final vs Warwick, with their big match experience coming to the fore. In the final, against a talented Leeds team, LSE ran out as 5-3 winners to secure yet another trophy and complete the double for only the second time in their history.
The football team has a proud history and this season has seen a continuation of the wonderful progress they have made in recent years. At London and South Zone, the LSE ‘A’ team implemented a tactically sound gameplan which led to them not conceding a single goal throughout the tournament. This unbelievable defensive record is nothing new. From November 2014 to November 2016, the LSE ‘A’ team did not concede in a single tournament game.
With the solidity of Himanshu Odedra at the back, this gameplan ensured LSE reached the final of London and South Zone. A final often hinges on individual moments and this final was no different. Taken all the way to a penalty shootout after neither team could gain an advantage in normal time, it came down to the quality of the penalties.
With LSE on the brink of losing, their goalkeeper, Akshar, pulled off stunning saves in the shootout, with star striker Mayur Patel ensuring LSE converted their pressure penalty. London and South Zone Champions, LSE maintained their prestigious footballing record.
Nationals saw the arrival of LSE’s ‘B’ team as a formidable unit. Despite losing their goalkeeper, Manish Pandey, at the last minute due to injury, the ‘B’ team did not show any signs of nerves. With Sagar Ghelani at the back, alongside the surging Yusuf Sabir, the team had a solid foundation from which to attack. With the energy and skill of Jeet Vaghela, Nilesh Chhatwani and Nikhil Mehta going forward, LSE had a well-balanced team.
A series of 1-0 wins against Manchester, Nottingham Trent and Queen Mary saw LSE emerge as group winners and into the quarter-finals. The highlight of the entire tournament was the goal scored by Nikhil Mehta, a sumptuous left-footed volley after a spell of quick possession by the team. Facing Westminster in the the quarter-finals, LSE B were beset by injuries to Jeet, Nilesh and Yusuf, whose heroic efforts were unable to overcome the talented Westminister team, who edged past 1-0.
Considering this was the first national tournament for the B team, the performance levels and quarter-final finish was a good achievement and importantly provides an excellent base for future success.
The most interest, as usual, was focused on the fortunes of the Kabaddi teams. For the first time this season, we saw a male and a female team being allowed to compete.
LSE’s male Kabaddi team is widely recognised as being one of the best in the country, finishing as runners up in the 2016 national tournament. At the London and South Zone competition, LSE continued their great run in Kabaddi with raid after raid leading to victory after victory, to reach the final, along with Imperial College London. Much like LSE’s dominance in netball, Imperial have an almost hegemonic hold over Kabaddi.
It was a strange final, with the overall Kabaddi competition being curtailed due to time restrictions. The umpires created controversy with inconsistent scoring and seemingly lacking a basic understanding of the rules of the game. For a major tournament, umpiring should not be an issue. Amongst all of this, LSE started the final well and were on the front foot after the first half. Like all true champions, however, Imperial fought back in the second half to claim a last gasp victory. A gutting feeling without doubt, but second place was still a good achievement.
It was at Nationals where the male Kabaddi team will feel they should have done much better. The talent and skill level has always been there, but the team were not switched on and suffered an early elimination. The team were victims of Murphy’s Law. Plagued by injuries before, during and after the tournament, it is no surprise that they did not perform to the high levels they are capable of. Being in prime physical condition is essential for high level performance at a major competition. This is something they will have to review in the years to come.
The newly formed women’s Kabaddi team, captained by Rhea Shah, have shown sensational progression this season. From Imperial winning the annual Kabaddi Cup to the London and South Zone tournament to Nationals, the improvement shown by the women’s Kabaddi team has been extraordinary.
At London and South Zone, the team showed the first stage of their progression with victory over Imperial. At Nationals, however, with the addition of the University of Birmingham and an increased level of attention, the pressure was on to show just how good LSE were.
Facing Birmingham, LSE stormed into a 20-8 lead thanks to smart plays by Thalya Ming Shan Lim, Nishita Ranpura and Aishwarya Chandgadkar. With elimination rules in play, however, you are never safe, even with a big lead. Somehow, LSE hung on and ended up on the winning side of the 26-23 scoreline.
Facing Imperial in the final, this was a huge mental test for the team. Playing a national final, with hundreds watching on, maintaining concentration under pressure is often the decisive factor. It was a cagey start to the final, with Imperial edging 10-9 ahead at halftime. As is often the case, star player Pooja Tilvawala provided the inspiration, via a rugby tackle, to spur LSE on. In the second half, LSE gained point after point after point, to comfortably secure a 26-16 victory.
It is time to pay serious attention to women’s Kabaddi. No more ‘showcasing Kabaddi’.
It was extremely disappointing that the NHSF (UK) did not see fit to have a trophy for women’s Kabaddi. In a world where it is easy to speak about equality, it is actions which determine true equality. ‘Fair play’ medals, whilst being a novel concept, do not equate to trophies for competition. One would hope that the NHSF (UK) would rectify this in future tournaments.
In the words of captain Rhea, “we want women’s Kabaddi to become the norm; at university level, regional level and national level.” Equality with the men’s game.
For a faith society like the Hindu Society, the importance of sport can often be disregarded. Yet, the determination, dedication and commitment shown this season has been exemplary across all sports.
Each season provides a fresh new challenge, so it is important not to dwell on the successes of yesterday, and instead, confront the new season and all its challenges with the right attitude.