Jakarta : Pranab Bardhan became the oldest man in Indian contingent to win a medal at the 18th Asian Games as he joined forces with Shibhnath Sarkar to clinch gold in men’s pair event of the bridge competition on Saturday.
The 60-year-old Bardhan and his 56-year old partner finished the men’s pair event with a score of 384 as they edged out China’s Lixin Yang and Gang Chen, who finished with 378 points after five round of competition.
Bridge made its debut at the Asian Games, this year.
Indonesia’s Henky Lasut and Freddy Eddy Manoppo finished third with 374 points to claim one of the two places on the podium along with Hong Kong’s Mak Kwok Fai and Lai Wai Kit, who had 373 points.
Another Indian pair in the fray, Sumit Mukherjee and Debabrata Majumder finished ninth with a score of 333 while Subhash Gupta and Sapan Desai ended at the 12th position.
“I could not sleep last night and ate only fruit for breakfast. It’s tough, the blood circulation shoots up with tension, we beat China and Singapore, it’s great result for us,” said an elated Sarkar, who is a teacher at Jadavpur University.
Bardhan, who had a construction business, said, “Bridge is more challenging than chess. It’s the most competitive indoor game.”
In mixed pair, India’s Bachiraju Satyanarayana and Kiran Nadar finished fifth to miss out of a medal after scoring 333 in the final.
Another Indian pair in fray, Rajeev Khandelwal and Himani Khandelwal finished at the seventh spot with a score of 329.
In women’s pair event, Hema Deora and Marianne Karmarkar ended their campaign at the seventh place with a score of 349.
India finished third overall with one gold and two bronze medals.
India had won a bronze each in men’s team and the mixed team events.
Moments after Kolkata duo clinched the men’s pair bridge gold, Indian men team’s non-playing captain and coach Debasish Ray said he now hopes more youngsters would take up the sport.
Ray, who was also the national selector for the Asian Games, had to return to Kolkata on August 29 in preparation for Inter-State Bridge Championship to be held in Mysore from September 5-9.
“I feel the moment of reckoning has finally arrived for the sport. I hope the youngsters will finally take up bridge after the Asian Games success,” Ray said.
“I’m on phone since the news has spread, and both my lines are busy, so much so that I’m still to talk to them (Bardhan and Sarkar) after they won. But I’m very happy as we badly wanted this to happen. Finally there will be awareness for bridge,” an ecstatic Ray added.
In a sport where the average age is 50-plus in India, Ray feels the youngsters involvement will improve the quality by leaps and bounds.
Terming it the most-scientific mind game, Ray said: “It’s more advanced than chess. It has got higher number of permutation and combinations that you won’t believe.”
“But let me tell you, it will be highly beneficial for the youngsters if they take up bridge. It’s a mind game. But nobody ever cared for our sport; it’s mostly confined to veterans now,” the 61-year-old said.
When asked about popular perception that card games are synonymous with gambling, he said: “Cricket is the most gamble sport in India. But look at the awareness and it has helped the sport.”
Ray, however, wants to be realistic and says: “If not cricket, at least bridge can look up to chess. Look how many youngsters play the sport in India. I hope now bridge too can attract youngsters now.”
He further pointed out that the sport can offer you job security.
“Railways have been offering job to successful bridge players for over 10 years now, while new avenues have opened up in Income Tax and Central Excise departments,” Ray, who is the youngest-ever winner of the National Ruia Gold Cup and Singhania Trophy, said.
A veteran of the sport since four decades, Ray was in constant touch with the gold medal winning duo of Bardhan and Sarkar till they won by a handsome six-point margin against Chinese pair of Lixin Yang and Gang Chen.
A businessman in Santoshpur area in South Kolkata, Bardhan is a family man with a grand daughter.
Sarkar, who is an employee of Hyderabad-based Navayuga Engineering Company Limited, is unmarried and stays in a one-room flat in Salkia in Howrah district.
But they do nothing other than playing bridge whole day, Ray says.
“They play bridge online for about 10 hours a day. They know each other for about 20 years now and good friends off the board,” he said.
The duo had a solid preparation in the build up to the 18th Asian Games where bridge made its debut.
Early this year, the duo won a invitational tournament in Incheon where Asia Pacific countries competed, besides winning a team bronze for India in the Asia Cup in Goa in June ahead of the Asian Games.
India returned with one gold and two bronze medals — men’s team and mixed team — in bridge from the Asian Games.
“I am sure this success will make the sport popular in India. Finally there will be publicity in the media, something that was our biggest regret so far,” he signed.
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