India – The New Hotbed of Darts?
Doctor Darts with Prasanta Saha, Secretary General of the All India Darts Association’
When I launched my darts history website in the year 2000 I was unsure how many dart players out there in the ether were genuinely interested in the history of our great sport. Over 34,000 visitors later, I like to think that I have helped, and provided a service for, any number of darters who write to me or e-mail me with questions about darts past and present.
In particular I was hoping to forge links with the wider darts community and find out more about the nations which are only just beginning to show an interest in the game. I knew that darts was a worldwide concern the work of the World Darts Federation (WDF) over the years has demonstrated that with the number of participating nations in the World Cup growing year on year.
Imagine then the pleasure I felt when I received an e-mail back in 2003 from Ashfaque Sayed, a dart player from Pune (formerly Poona) in India. Ashfaque was writing an article for a newspaper and asked me to help him with ‘some tips...on the authentic history of the game’ which he could include as background in the article.
Ashfaque is no ordinary dart player.
He introduced himself as India’s National Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles Champion in the first national darts championships to be held in that country. After winning those two tournaments, and following ‘accolades and good wishes’, Ashfaque was asked to write an article on darts for a leading newspaper. I was keen to help but also to learn more about this new nation in darts.
The national competition had been organised by the All India Darts Association (AIDA) based at Kolkotta (previously Calcutta ). Ashfaque informed me that the AIDA had been formed in 2002 and that the most active member of the Association is its General Secretary, Mr. Prasanta Saha. Ashfaque went on to confirm that the AIDA is very active in the West Bengal State where tournaments are held for both school children and ladies. They also run Men’s InterClub competitions and a ‘Merchant’s Cup’. The AIDA successfully secured a sponsor for the national championship from Haywards (Shaw Wallace Distilleries) through Procam International Ltd., a Mumbai based company which promotes sports in India and particularly minority sports such as darts and golf.
The AIDA organised numerous regional tournaments in the various participating states all over India and the winners were then gathered for the All India Haywards 5000 National Tournament. This is where the Maharashtra State, led by Ashfaque as their Captain won no less than three titles. Ashfaque was nominated to lead the team by virtue of winning the singles title in his region. Given that players could play a maximum of two events, he chose to enter his friend and rival Vinod Sawlani in the national men’s singles, so that he (Ashfaque) could pair up with Vinod in the Men’s Doubles and with his wife, Ayesha, in the mixed doubles. This decision paid dividends as the final results show. The results were:
Men’s Singles - Vinod Sawlani
Men’s Doubles - Ashfaque Sayed & Vinod Sawlani
Mixed Doubles - Ashfaque Sayed & Ayesha Sayed
Ashfaque was captaining Maharashtra State, so the haul of three out or five titles was a tremendous result for his team. In addition to the three titles, representatives of the Maharashtra team were runners up in the Women’s Doubles and in the Women’s singles one of their team reached as far as the semi-final.
As Darts Player 2004 is published, Ashfaque, Vinod and Ayesha are participating in the regional tournaments in Pune. An enthusiastic Ashfaque told me, “We are all looking forward to a good future ahead. We have good equipment available, but we all know that that’s no good without practice, practice and more practice.”
Ashfaque has already decided on his own future personal plans and goals. He told me “I would love to list them and disclose them’.
So here they are:
- to help promote the game in my region to be the nationals singles winner next year
- to eventually be a member of the Indian Team
- to take part in the Singapore and or the Malaysian Open in 2004 somewhere around July 2004 either individually or with the support of sponsors
- to encourage my wife to be a champion too, alongside me (hopefully )
Ashfaque has promised to keep me posted of all future developments.
Vinod told me that the AIDA is really pushing ahead in ‘creating an awareness and promoting darts at a fast pace.’ The Association has put into place a national coaching and training committee in which Amit Raha, an experienced player from Calcutta is playing a key role. Amit and Vinod plan to go round the country in the coming year holding ‘dart camps’ and workshops.
In addition, to ensure that the just concluded National Championships received a good response, the AIDA also took charge of the entire expense of the fourteen participating states, covering the cost of travelling, hotel accommodation and meals. Vinod says this indicates that AIDA’s commitment to the development of darts and that it is ‘wholeheartedly trying to promote the sport’ throughout India. Vinod credits much of this rapid success to the efforts of one man, Mr. Prasanta Saha, who is the General Secretary of the Association. Further information on the AIDA can be found on the Association’s website at www.dartsasia.org. As a result of my contact with Ashfaque, I was put in touch with the All India Men’s Singles Darts Champion, Vinod Sawlani. He was extremely pleased that I was taking an interest in what is happening with darts in India. Apart from being Men’s Champion Vinod had also paired up with Ashfaque to win the National Men’s Doubles Championship.
Of his background, Vinod revealed to me that he, quite literally, picked up darts from his father who used to play regularly in Nigeria. His father was the National Champion there and was also instrumental in forming the All Nigeria Darts Federation. Vinod played darts on and off for about 13 years in Nigeria. However, on returning to India, shelved his darts for five years. That is until 2002, when he read about the ‘western zonals’ and decided to enter. Vinod told me, “I won the Best Player of the Championship and was selected to represent the state of Maharashtra in the Nationals.”
Vinod rates himself as ‘a good player.’ About the recently concluded Nationals, Vinod said “in the league we were playing 301 straight in double out, best of three, I finished the first game in 7 darts and the second in 9, and in the singles final I did a 7 and 11 dart finish.” Sounds like more than a ‘good player’ to me. Vinod originally used 20gm tungsten darts with a torpedo-shaped barrel but has recently changed to 22 gm torpedo-shaped 90% tungsten ‘Dennis Priestley’ darts, with a short shaft. Of his friend Ashfaque, Vinod commented, “Considering Ashfaque has just taken up darts, he has made tremendous progress. He is really committed to darts.”
Quite modestly, both Ashfaque and Vinod feel that they have a way to go before they reach world standard. Ashfaque told me, “We plan a visit to the Singapore Open next year. This will help us gauge where we stand. We have a year to practice.” Ashfaque added, “We have a long road to traverse before we reach England one day! Please pray for us and bestow your good wishes.”
I believe that everyone in the darts world reading this will wish them both the very best of success.
© 2003 Patrick Chaplin
This article was first published in Darts Player 2004 published in November 2003.
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