For the first time since 2007,Manisha Dange was given an opportunity to represent her country at the inaugural FIBA Asia 3×3 Basketball Championship held at Doha,Qatar. This time,she received her first international medal after the team beat Mongolia in the final.
It was a very good feeling for me to play international matches again, said an ecstatic Dange on her return. What was even better was that we won the tournament.
While fondly speaking of her return to the international arena,Dange showered praise onto her three teammates,Geethu Anna Jose,Anitha Pauldurai and Pratima Singh. Citing that her teammates had represented India during her six year absence,Dange mentioned that she fell back on them to support her against any nervousness she might have hadabout getting back into the game. Along with that,the rough style of play adopted by other teams was another factor that caught Dange off-guard. The play in India is touch-me-not style. Any phy ical contact at home can be called a foul, said Dange. Before the first match,they came up to me and said Didi dont feel bad if the referee doesnt call a foul.
I got a better idea after the first game against Lebanon. Along with the negatives,the nervousness and rough play,there were positives,mainly inthe form of the formidable Chinese and Thai teams pulling out of the tournament. She expressed her relief at knowing that the two giant sides were not playing. With the Thai and Chinese teams not playing,India became an instant favourite. The public there felt that we were a strong team, she said. We got a lot of support because there was a large Indian audience there.
However,Dange insisted that just being favourites wasnt enough,especially for the 3×3 format. She mentioned that while the original format gives one the time to rest and think,the 3×3 game is fast paced and has no set winner. A good team can lose because the game is short and has no time for comebacks.
Which is why it was important for the team to get their tactics right. The four players attended a training camp in Ludhiana before they left for Doha. While the camp worked on aspects such as fitness,coordination,and skill,it also helped the players get used to the new 3×3 format of the game. It took some time for me to adjust to the new format, said Dange.
We trained well and managed to come up with an effective strategy. When asked if the 3×3 basketball can help raise the popularity of basketball in India,Dange said that the format is relatively new but has already caught the attention of newer players,and that India has been invited to several tournaments following the new format.
What also helps is that matches are featured on television more regularly than they did when I was growing up.
Given the ocean of experience that Dange has,it is hard to imagine that Dange only started playing basketball in an attempt to increase her height. I was fond of Kho-Kho when I was young, said Dange. But my mother wanted me to play basketball because she thought it would help increase my height.
If I wasnt short,I may have never gotten into basketball. She jokingly added that her height did improve after taking up the sport. She’s 5’5″.
Ever since she first started training at the Agradneya Vyayamshala while in her second grade at school,Dange hopes to remain in contact with the sport when she eventually retires by taking up a coaching role. She had already coached the Maharashtra Under-16 girls side in 2011,a stint which was cut short by her call up into the national squad. When asked if she would like to get back to coaching,she maintained that she wanted to start on the lowest rung and coach the state team and later on work with the national side. I need to prove to myself that I have the ability to coach, she said. Only If I do well will I consider coaching the national side. Currently,Dange is preparing for the 4th All India Invitation Basketball Tournament,organised by the Jeppiaar Institute of Technology (JIT) Basketball Club to be held later this month. After that she is hopes to be selected to the national side for the Asian Games in November.
In a country dominated by the popularity of a single sport,Manisha Dange remains to be an unsung legend in the country. What may be a consolation is that if the Doha tournament was her last as a player,then she would bow out as a champion.