Cup fever hits town

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 11-Aug-2017

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Pakistan captain Haseeb Qureshi and India captain Sudip Chakraborty.
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INTERNATIONAL football comes to Golden Square’s Wade Street Oval tonight when India hosts Pakistan in an AFL International Cup grudge match.

The matches form round three of the triennial competition, with both sides losing their opening two games in division two. Both teams played on Wednesday

India is the adopted home team, having spent time in Bendigo last week and played a practice match against a team of Golden Square players.

Adding to the clash is the rivalry between the two nations, legendary on the cricket field but fierce no matter what the sport is.

India captain Sudip Chakraborty said the rivalry extends far beyond leather and willow.

“It’s a friendly, respectful rivalry. Whether it’s kabaddi, hockey, any sport, India and Pakistan share languages and are right next to each other so that rivalry is there no matter what,” he said.

The game is very much in its infancy in both countries, but in India it already has a strong Bendigo connection.

Bendigo resident Mikey Dynon has been involved with the Indian team for several years and set up a connection with Golden Square club chaplain Bruce Claridge.

A yearly trip of a Bendigo delegation has since gone to India to run clinics, lead coaching and umpiring education sessions and helping to promote the game.

Chakraborty said the sport has the potential to have a big impact in his home country.

“It’s an amazing journey we’re going through in India,” he said.

“The majority of the players come from underprivileged backgrounds because it’s just a really big new meaning to their life.

“Some of the players who’ve come from the slums and the villages, their entire communities around them are excited.”

One of the more difficult aspects is putting the team together. Every nation can have only 12 Australian-based players, so building team chemistry is a challenge.

“We’ve got seven states playing in India and we’ve named them after AFL clubs. So the Kerala Bombers need to travel 40-plus hours to play the Bengal Tigers, so you can just imagine that train journey,” Chakraborty said.

“We managed to get the team together for five days in Calcutta before they came out here so that’s the five days they got together and then the local squad joined in, so it’s tough to bring together.”

Pakistan coach Matt Embling knows that all too well. The game is even newer to his country.

“Most of it is about decision making. We know the skill acquisition will improve the more they play, but we just want them to be making the right decisions of where and when to kick or handball and where,” he said.

Embling has been involved with Collingwood in the AFL Women’s competition, and put himself forward to AFL international development manager Grant Williams as a prospective international cup coach.

“They’ve been great to be involved with, there’s a real respect for the game and they have come together well as a group,” he said.

“We improved in our second game against Japan (on Wednesday), we were all square at half time, and I think we surprised them with our physicality a bit.”

Working in India’s favour is the fact they spent last week in Bendigo, mostly with the Golden Square club and has already played at the ground.

“We loved Bendigo and the hospitality we got and are looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd on Friday night,” Chakraborty said.

Pakistan won the corresponding match last year, and Embling is confident both sides will deliver an entertaining contest.

“It’s really raw footy. The guys and girls in this competition just take the game on so it will be great to watch,” he said.

Tonight’s match at Wade Street Oval begins at 7.30pm, entry is free.

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