Indian shooters drew a blank at the year’s biggest World Cup, in a stark contrast to 12 medals from events that were also contested at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Only 3 Indians reached the finals, and Munich served as a reality check.
While the big stage seemed to have got the better of youngsters Anish and Manu Bhaker as their scores at the star-filled Munich range dropped drastically, Mehuli Ghosh will need to take a leap up in her average scores to make the transition to seniors.
On Sunday, Heena was expected to lead the Indian charge in the 10m women’s air pistol event. But her performance in the opening series saw her shoot a low total of 92. It was a poor start in a highly competitive field that – despite the 28-year-old’s improved performance following series of 96, 98, 96, 95 and 97 – gave her no chance to salvage a spot in the finals. Her total score was 574, three short of the 577 (with 18 inner 10s) that made the final cut-off.
Historically, Sidhu has been a slow starter though she has worked on improving in this aspect over the past year. At the Commonwealth Games, where she eventually pocketed a silver in the air pistol event, she shot a relatively low 94 in her opening qualification series. In Gold Coast, the projected cutoff was a low 560, attributable to the relatively easier field, and her projected score (over six series) was 569. But with all the top shooters showing up in Munich, the “poor presence of mind,” as her husband-coach Ronak Pandit put it, cost her a spot in the air pistol final.
Meanwhile, in the 25m pistol event, the CWG gold medallist had been in the process of experimenting with her shot timing, resulting in her 576 finish in Munich when the eventual cutoff was 582.
“You’re allowed to take the shot within 3.2 seconds, so people would normally shoot around the 3- second mark. Once in a while, someone might shoot a bit faster and that can throw you off because you’d feel the time is up,” Pandit says. “Now what we’re trying to do is to get Heena to be more aggressive and take the shot in 2.6 seconds, make that the normal, and then be patient and ease back to 2.9.” At the CWG, Sidhu had shot a 579 to finish third in qualification.
In March, 16-year-old Manu Bhaker competed in her first ever senior World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico, and returned home with a gold in the women’s 10m air pistol. To qualify for the final, she scored a 572 which became the new qualification world record for a junior shooter. A month later at the Commonwealth Games, she set a new Games qualification record when she scored 388 over four series (projected to 582 in regular six-series World Cups), and then went on to win gold. A 582 in Munich would have earned her a spot in the top three, but Bhaker’s form dipped drastically.
She shot a low 93 in her opening two series, falling significantly in the leaderboard. Eventually, she finished 47th with a score of 567 – her lowest qualification score in the three World Cups she’s competed in.
A 567 would have been a score good enough to take her to the final at most junior World Cups (it would have put her third at the junior World Cup in Sydney), and even in the CWG, which is devoid of the top international shooters. In Munich though, in the midst of a full field, her inexperience showed.
Still only 15, Anish Bhanwala had created quite a stir in the Indian shooting circuit in January, when he shot a world record-breaking (though not ratified) 37 in the national trials. He followed it up with a gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, setting a Games record 33 in the finals. What the teenager has struggled with, however, is getting a good score in the qualification rounds – a problem that resurfaced at the World Cup in Munich.
His qualification score of 571 placed him 30th in the strong field in Germany. This, however, was his worst showing in the three World Cups he’s competed in, and was much lower than the qualification score he put up on his way to winning gold at CWG.
“To be honest, the competition and scores were not very high during CWG,” says junior national pistol coach Jaspal Rana. “In the final he shot extremely well, but with that (qualification) score, he will not be able to make it to the final of a World Cup.”
In Gold Coast, he shot 580 to top the qualifiers, but that score was lower than the 581 cutoff in Munich.
Rajput”s qualification score of 1176 in 50m Rifle 3 Positions event was his second highest qualification score in the eight world cups in the last two years, but the Haryana shooter finished 16th in qualification. Rajput, who won the gold medal in CWG, had shot 1180 to top the qualification in Australia where India’s Chain Singh was the next best shooter with 1166 in the 18-man qualification.
In Munich, a shooter with a score of 1166 was placed 54th in the 75-man qualification. While Rajput’s score in the prone series has never gone below 390 in the world cups in the last two years, his low scores in standing series, including 377 in last year’s Munich World Cup, coupled with scores close to 390 in the kneeling series have hampered his scores. In Munich, Rajput shot 387 in standing position with only three shooters in the top 20 shooting a score at par or below his score.
While Ravi Kumar shot his third best score in qualification (628.6) in the 10m Air Rifle event in the nine world cup appearances so far, his average starts in the first series of qualification have hurt his chances at the big stage. While Kumar won the bronze medal at the Mexico World Cup with a qualification score of 627.1, his score of 103.3 was his second lowest in the series in the World Cup.
In Munich, the qualification cut-off was 629.2 with three shooters shooting a score of 630 or more while Kumar had won the bronze medal in CWG with a qualification score of 626.8, where he scored 103.2 in the first series.
A look at his scores at the world stage also suggests that Kumar’s scores in the sixth series are his second-lowest or third-lowest in world cups with the Munich event being an exception as he shot a career best final series score of 106.0.
The 17-year-old had won silver at Gold Coast with what would have been a projected score 620.6 (since CWG was 4-series). While she shot at the same range in Munich, the youngster would have realised that the competition in seniors at the highest level is much stiffer. A score of 614.4 would’ve pitchforked her into the Goal Coast finals but in Munich, where the nerveless Koreans, Chinese and Russians fetched up, had hitched up its cut-off to 629. Having shot 620 at the world Cup, she was almost one shot off the mark. Incidentally, Mehuli’s highest in World Cups had been a bronze-winning 629.1 at the relatively weaker competition in Mexico.
It had been a qualifying Junior World Cup record. Still early days in the talented shooter’s career, but her sights will need to be firmly calibrated to a higher standard. Mehuli’s first series was 101.9, and her second 102.8 – the listless start at the big stage pegging her back.