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2012 US Nationals

Sep 14-16, Edison, NJ

by Bala Parthasarathy, Sunnyvale, CA

Jump to: Srikanth's Journal | Mani's Musings | Vamshi's Experience

Hello everybody!

Here's this year's eyewitness account of the US Nationals, written exclusively for carrom lovers in California, now ribbed and scented for your reading pleasure! The United States Carrom Association (USCA) conducted its 17th annual National Carrom Championships on Sep 14, 15th & 16th at the TV Asia Auditorium in Edison, New Jersey. This year saw unprecedented levels of participation, with 60 pro carrom players from all across US and Canada battling for bounty and bragging rights. Saravanan Chandrababu of Cleveland, OH lifted the title for the 6th consecutive year, asserting his supremacy as the greatest player in the history of US Carrom!
TV Asia Auditorium

I am happy to announce that California once again put up a commendable show, bringing home 2 trophies and $100 in prize money! Mani Chandrasekar & Vamshi Boinpalli helped retain the Doubles Group B trophy (5th place) in California, and in singles, Bala Parthasarathy won Group C (17th place, $100), Mani Chandrasekar won Group D (25th place), Srikanth Bangalore and Vamshi Boinpalli finished in 26th and 30th places respectively. This was the debut appearance in the national arena for Vamshi and Mani, and they both won kudos from fellow participants for their brilliant first performance, while Srikanth and Bala upset several higher ranked players and delighted spectators with their crowd-pleasing "magic" shots. Read on for the juicy details! The report is a little longer this time, as some of you had requested me not to spare any detail!

The four of us had flown in separately at ungodly hours, and convened at the venue for practice on friday morning after a frugal breakfast. As if breathing the New Jersey air wasn't enough excuse, Mani was quick to point out that the coins were too thin and of not exactly the right color. He would later prove he needs no excuses. Vamshi on the other hand had a real disadvantage - he stayed at a place called Piscataway!

Inaugural Break
After we acclimatized to the surroundings, the Doubles event was officially kicked off at noon with an inaugural break by the president and CEO of TV Asia, Mr. H.R. Shah. The format was to play 5 rounds of Swiss Round Robin (SRR) among the 20 teams, with the top 8 teams moving on to quarterfinals and the rest eliminated from the tournament. Both the CA teams made it to the top 8, with Bala & Srikanth finishing 4th and Mani & Vamshi taking the last spot at 8th place. In the quarterfinals, Bala & Srikanth fell to SRR #5 and defending national champions Shekhar Challa & Vishal Karangutkar in a thrilling 3-setter. Srikanth was especially in scintillating form during the 2nd game, which put even the formidable Shekhar & Vishal uncharacteristically under pressure, who went on to finish as runners up of the tournament. In the other quarterfinals, Mani & Vamshi lost to SRR #1 and last year's runners up Subbu Lakshminarayanapuram & Shivaram Gowdagere (the only team to have beaten Saravanan & Neil 2 years in a row!). Having hence lost the golden opportunity to make it to Group A (top 4), as fate would have it, the two teams from CA had to face each other off at 9pm on friday for the Group B semifinals! It was either the reduced pressure of seeing familiar faces across the board, or the sugar high from the delicious dessert served at dinner, Mani & Vamshi were in epic form, and brought their A-game. Before we could settle down, they defeated us in 2 straight sets thereby putting us in the 8th place. I feel they were the toughest opponents we faced that day. This wrapped up Day 1.

Early the next morning, the aggressive team of Saravanan Chandrababu & Neil Khatu easily defeated defending champions Shekhar Challa & Vishal Karangutkar to win Group A and claimed the doubles championship! Meanwhile, Mani & Vamshi faced Guinness World Record holders in Carrom Narayan Paranjape & Atul Kharecha, and emerged victorious yet again to clinch the Doubles Group B trophy (5th place in the US)! This is the 3rd consecutive year a team from California has won this trophy (Bala & Srikanth won it in 2011 in Texas, Bala & Sebastien won it in New Jersey in 2010), which establishes California as a powerhouse in the doubles arena! Woohoo!!
Fantastic 4

After the excitement of the doubles event, the singles tournament started at 11AM on saturday with 58 players vying for the top prize and the opportunity to represent USA at the upcoming World Championships in Sri Lanka. Apart from Saravanan who was considered a shoo-in for the finals, there were at least 10 players who had the potential to go all the way, such as Vishal Karangutkar (2012 Eastern Open Winner), Shekhar Challa (2-time National Champion & 5-time finalist), Jayadev Suryadevara, Neil Khatu, Shivaram Gowdagere, Atul Kharecha, Narayan Paranjape, Francis D'Costa (Canada), Madhu Rao, Shibu Jose, etc). The format was to play 7 rounds of SRR and pick the top 32 players for knockouts, and eliminate the rest from the tournament. Out of the 32 players to survive the SRR, the top 16 (1-16) would play for Groups A & B, and the next 16 (17-32) would play for Groups C & D. All the SRR matches were played for 1 game of 8 boards, and all knockouts were played for best of 3 such games. It is important to note here that at least 45 out of the 58 participants would stand a high chance of winning the Bay Area Open - such is the level of carrom at the Nationals.

After 7 rounds of SRR,
- Bala finished 18th; with 4 wins (Mandar Pimpalkhare 25-0, Naveen Chandran 20-19 after tie breaker, Wajahat Mohammad 25-0, Neil Patel 19-11), and 3 losses (Sridhar Galipelli 14-18, Atul Kharecha 4-25, Vishal Karangutkar 0-25)
- Srikanth finished 23rd (4 wins - 3 losses)
- Vamshi finished 30th (3 wins - 4 losses)
- Mani finished 32nd; with 3 wins (Palani Sundaram 25-7, Srikanth Bangalore 20-15, Rajesh Kulkarni 20-10), and 4 losses (Subbu Lakshminarayanapuram 17-18, Wajahat Mohammad 13-18, Francis D'Costa 12-25, Shreenivas Mallishetty 11-12)

There were wasted opportunities to make it to the top 16 for all of us. I had hoped to make the cut as I finished 9th last year. And I was on track too at 9th place again after 6 rounds with a 4-2 record, but a devastating loss to a ruthless Vishal Karangutkar in the 7th round bumped me down all the way to #18 killing my Group A dreams :-( In the SRR, I think I played my best against Canada's Wajahat Mohammed, beating him 25-0. Srikanth too entered the 7th round with a 4-2 record, but a loss to <?> put him at #23. Mani and Vamshi both entered round 7 with a 3-3 record, but they did not realize they still had a chance at top 16, and lost the 7th round having lost hope. Still, it was a relief for California that all 4 of its players survived the SRR. Phew!

Group Photo
In the prequaterfinals, I faced SRR #31 Derrick Silveira of Canada, one of the best players I have had the pleasure of playing with till date! He plays from the heart, executes mindboggling shots with amazing precision, and above all, has fun while playing - a hard trait to find at tournaments. He inspired me to relax and play for the love of the game, which I did, by bringing back my unreliable-but-potentially-beat-anybody middle finger grip after a 3 year hiatus. We had a fantastic match which saw several spectacular shots played with ease by both sides, and I won by a narrow margin 25-21, 17-16. For his approach to the game and his skill with the striker, I hereby confer the "Sportsman of the tournament" award to Derrick! Keep it up Derrick!! In the other prequarterfinals, Srikanth lost to Parag Pandit of NJ in a close 3-setter match, Vamshi lost to SRR #19 Neil Patel of NJ, and Mani lost to SRR #17 Manuel Coelho of Canada in a 3-setter. This put me in Group C, and Srikanth, Vamshi and Mani in Group D, wrapping up Day 2.

Srikanth and Vamshi did not play for positions on Day 3, therefore their quarterfinals opponents received walkovers. So Srikanth finished the tourney at Rank 26, and Vamshi at Rank 30. Mani and I arrived at the venue by 8am on sunday after a 5 hour sleep and a 3 hour drive. Mani faced SRR# 25 Balaji Murali of Tennessee (who won the Best New Player award) in the quarterfinals of Group D, and defeated him in straight sets 25-5, 25-7. I faced Srikanth's nemesis Parag Pandit in the Group C quarters, but my middle finger did its magic and I won my match with ease 25-3, 25-7. Mani's semifinals and finals opponents did not show up, and he won the bragging rights for the top spot in Group D (Final rank #25). I faced USCA Secretary and tournament coordinator Atul Bhave in the semis who was in excellent form, but I was able to triumph with my aggressive style at 23-7, 16-11. In the rest of Group C, SRR #20 Devang Shah of New Jersey knocked out SRR #21 Shreenivas Mallishetty of Texas (1st US national champion) and SRR #17 Manuel Coelho of Canada to face me in the finals. Devang played very well, but again my Derrick-inspired free-form style easily secured victory in straight sets 25-2, 25-5, earning me $100 in prize money and Rank #17. The funny thing is that Group B winner (#9) gets only a $10 trophy, and Group C winner gets $100 but no trophy - now you know why I deliberately fell to Group C ;-) This is the 1st time I have ever won money in carrom, and I can feel the addiction already!

Show me the money!
On the other side of the aisle in Group A, Saravanan was walking on water and finished at SRR #1 as expected with a 7-0 win. SRR #2 was taken by 82-year old Narayan "Appa" Paranjape, who played a fantastic game despite his injured elbow (he wore a supporting brace)! A very humbling experience for the rest of us. Shekhar Challa was not finding his rhythm throughout the tournament and finished at SRR #14. But he quickly found his groove during the knockouts and reached all the way to the finals, challenging Saravanan for the title for the 3rd time. The other players in Group A consisted mostly of expected names (Madhu Rao, Neil Khatu, etc), but there were 2 new faces who cracked their way into the big league - Hari Venkatesan of Virginia (SRR #7) and Sridhar Galipelli of New Jersey (SRR #3), both of whom are now considered champions in the making. So anyway coming back to the Group A finals, many say this is Saravanan's most aggressive play yet. He took a 20-0 lead in 2 boards in the finals, a target too hard to chase for even experienced players like Shekhar. He won the championship in straight sets 25-0, 25-2, winning the big prize and going down in history as the undisputed king of carrom in the US. It has become implicit these days that he will win every tournament he will ever play in the US, so I have proposed to USCA that they set up direct deposit for his prize money :-) "Are you saying nobody can beat him?", you ask. "No, he has been beaten before...", I say, "by yours truly!" (Hey! What good is bragging right if you can't brag, right?!).

Okay enough of that shameless self-promotion... It was yet another well organized tournament by USCA. I have formally committed to them that I will be conducting the Western Open in California in early 2013. It is about time you lot see all this with your own eyes.

A few light-hearted moments from my trip:
- During a particular board in our doubles match with Hari Venkatesan & Ravi Ravichandran, we were playing white, and I had just pocketed a white. I tried to pocket the next one and missed. Hari put the white I had pocketed earlier back on the center of the board! The 3 of us - myself, Srikanth and Ravi - had no clue why Hari did so, and were blinking around. Then suddenly Ravi yelled at Hari, "You crazy blind b*#$! That was white and not Red!!" The coins were pretty bad and in certain angles it was hard to tell the coins' color, Hari thought I missed covering the queen in my second shot, LOL :-)
- During my Group C finals against Devang Shah of New Jersey, his family of 7 showed up at the venue to watch his game. He kicked them out saying they were putting him under pressure, and made them wait in the parking lot until his match was over, LOL :-)
- During my Group C prequartefinals against Derrick Silveira, there was one board where I had 7 coins on the board and Derrick just had the queen and cover to finish.
The queen was stuck in my base, and all four pockets were blocked - 3 with my whites, and the other with his own last coin very close to his thumb pocket - there was hardly a centimeter gap between the coin and the pocket. He thought long and hard about how to disentangle this situation, just exclaimed "F*** that!", and doubled the queen into his thumb pocket without even touching his coin, with nano-precision, and won 10 points! Amazing!!
For the Group B Doubles Finals on saturday, Atul Kharecha & Narayan Paranjape came in late in the morning as both were not feeling well. Mani & Vamshi therefore received an automatic walkover for the trophy. However, both Mani & Vamshi exhibited true sportsmanship and offered to play Atul & Narayan after they showed up (which was quite late in the morning). They had time to play only one game, which was won by Atul & Narayan. Now it was their turn to be gentlemanly, and they graciously accepted the 2nd place and declared Mani & Vamshi as the winners. I have never seen a more friendly match in doubles! :-)
- And lastly, I am very proud of my fellow CA players, especially first timers Mani & Vamshi! They played really well and displayed excellent tournament temperament. None of us have played professionally back home, while many of the other participants have experience playing in clubs and bet matches in the highly competitive Indian carrom circle. Bravo guys!!

I now hand over the pen to my fellow CA team mates to reminisce their experience in their own words.

- Bala

Srikanth's Journal
by Srikanth Bangalore, Los Angeles, CA

I arrived in New York on Thursday midnight, and went to my uncle's house. I went to bed at 2 am New York time, and woke up at 7am New York time (that's 4 am California time). So, clearly jetlagged, I was still functioning OK. I rented an amazing red Volkswagon Beetle and arrived at the venue just shy of noon.

Bala, Shreenivas and I regrouped quickly for the carrom hub launch announcement. It was decided that the primary focus was going to be playing awesome carrom. I have a carrom voodoo belief: if a shot you try works the first time, it will generally work again. Likewise, if a shot you try doesn't work the first time, it will not work in future either. There is no point in trying to figure out why it is not working. Rather, it is better to avoid that shot, and do things that you know will work.

Generally, I am plagued by lack of form, but this time, I was performing well. All my wacky shots were going, and I felt good. For example, there is this one shot I play where I deep cut the queen to the top-right pocket (the queen is on dead center of the board), with my striker being a little right of the center on my base line. It needs a lot of force, and high degree of precision. Since this shot went the two times I tried it in our practice boards, Bala suggested that I should play this shot in my real matches too. So, I made a point of playing that shot in my real matches, and they worked!

In the game that I and Bala played against Shekhar and Vishal, there was a particularly huge lump of powder near the pocket, and no matter where my coin hit the walls near the pocket, the powder was guiding it into the pocket. I realized this on one of the shots, and then just tried to pocket all the coins into that one pocket. And it worked !!! I think we scored 12 points on that board, and won that game. One of the coins I vividly remember was located on the right side of the board, and I deep cut it to the top left corner. On the way it touched a million other coins, but the momentum and powder saw to it that it went into the pocket. Moral of the story? if you see that for some weird reason, coins are falling into one pocket, just target all your shots into that one pocket. In this match, I played a lot of specator-friendly shots. And most of the time, they worked. So, I was so happy. It just so happenned that my opponents played well too. So, we came 8th in the doubles, and I came 26th after the pre-quarter finals. I believe I played much much better than I played in any of my previous Nationals.

Finals: Saravanan (left) Vs Shekhar
Memorable opponents included Manikandan from California, Neil Patel, Sekhar/Vishal in doubles, Shreenivas Mallisetti, Neil Khatu and Parag Pandit. Also, I think the quality of coins were really low ... they were jumping out of the pockets, not just for me, but for all (other) top players as well. It is difficult to console yourself that it is not your fault that the coins are flying out of pockets for both you and your opponent again and again. But, somehow, all the players adapted to the lousy coins, and still executed their shots well. Kudos to everyone!!!

Mani's reply to Srikanth's write up: Good one Srikanth, I enjoyed your write up.. One thing to add from my side as well---The moment I saw the carrom board at 9.30 am on friday morning, I told repeatedly to Bala that the coins were very thin and it looked like of low quality and I asked many of the players including Saravanan to see how he felt and his answer was " those thick fat coins are much better in quality " and naveen was not at all happy with the coins and at one point before the start of singles match we talked to Atul and he discussed with top players and since they were neutral, it was decided to go on with the same set of coins and one more reason why these coins were used because these are the type of coins which will be used in world championships and they wanted to give practise to the team who is going there next month. Anyways, I enjoyed the tournament and especially the trip with Bala where he made millions of jokes and stories.. :)

Srikanth's reply to Mani: Oh Mani, how can we forget our match man? It was a battle of powder vs no powder.
You were a firm believer in the power of powder. But, I felt that powder was slowing down the board too much.
So, after every board, if it was your turn, you would sprinkle generous amount of powder, while if it was my turn, I would wipe every atom of it out of the board. It was hilarious. I know you even asked me whether I was doing this to annoy you or something. But, I was not. I liked no powder, and just used my prerogative.

- Srikanth

Mani's Musings
by Mani Chandrasekar, Sunnyvale, CA

Won 3 lost 4, at the end of SRR ranked 32 but finished 25th at the end of the tournament
After SRR, defeated Murali in 2 sets, dont remember the score.
I won against rajesh kulkarni, srikanth and palani and lost the first match to Subbu I think 18-19 even though I was leading 17-5 after 6 boards, as I went defensive and never played my game in last 2 boards, the toughest match was with Francis who was terrific and I played the best with him and if I remember right, the score was 11-15 something after 8 boards and he won.
Amsath or Majakat, something :) who had a beard [Bala to Mani: It is "Wajahat", and he is one of Canada's top players], I took him very lightly as Bala told me he beat him 25-0 but he started off with 10 points in 1st board as I under estimated him and could never come back :(
The game with Srikanth was fantastic, it was anyone's game till last board I guess, and I felt we both played very well.

Shreenivas Mallishetti, 7th round, I lost hope and didn't play my game as I thought I wont be able to make it to 16 even if I win, and lost to him in tie breaker 12-11, it was a last coin finish :-(

My best part was after 4 rounds, I was ranked 14, but went downhill afterwards.

Doubles :
We ended up 5th out of 20 teams and me and Vamshi were declared the Group B winner, we both got a trophy and I felt we were terrific, me and Vamshi both with Bala & Srikanth, I am sure had we played like those with the other teams, me and Vamshi would have ended up at top 4, may be even ended up in finals, you never know.

Lessons learnt from the trip:

* Never get under pressure (which is easy to say though, tough to execute)
* Dont underestimate anyone as all are good players
* Play your style of game, for example my style is aggressive and I went defensive seeing the opponent's style in 2 matches and it backfired

Trophy time!

Overall I enjoyed the trip, especially the game of Saravanan in finals with Sekhar challa as he crushed him in 2 sets 25-0 and 25-2.
His straight coin shots are 9-9.5/10 consistent and it was a pleasure to have watched 1 hour of finals and 1.30 of semi finals with Neil Kattu
One thing I observed was Shekhar was under pressure right from word go mentally and he was missing straight coins and Neil for example gave him the queen many times near the pocket and was not finishing. Still Neil brought 17 all going in 8th boards of 2nd set but Saravanan won.

Technically Neil had many range of shots and many players are too good and it was a pleasure to watch - Shivaram, Atul kharecha, 82 year old Narayan "Appa" Paranjape, Shekhar Challa's shots, etc.

But having seen all of your game and all the others there, I feel we 4 are top 20 material and can definitely move to to 16 next time if we execute the things well. Only Saravanan stands out of all the players there and any of us can beat the others on our given day :)

- Mani

Vamshi's Experience
by Vamshi Boinpalli, San Jose, CA

Reached the venue @ around 11.30AM, thanks to Bala and Mani :) They were kind enough to pick me up from my friend's place in the middle of all the preparations!!!

The first doubles match started around 1 PM I believe. We played five rounds in total. I don't remember all the opponents we played with. The first round I believe was against Subbu and Sivaram, which we lost quite badly I think. We won 2 at end of 4th round and we knew we had to win the last round. It was a pretty close match and the opponent pocked our last coin to give us the final win that was need to get into the top 8. We played at probably 50% our potential and barely made it to the knock-outs. Mani was really good in most of the games. He was very consistent with his straight shots.

Organizing committee in full swing!
So reached the quarters. Played with Subbu and Sivaram again, as they were ranked 1st at the end of the group stages. It was a best of 3 sets. We lost the first set badly. The second set we were leading all along till the 6th board. End of 6 boards we were leading by 3 points I believe. 7th board was very tense and everyone was missing straight shots. Both teams had one coin remaining on the board and with the red to pocket. I got my turn with the red and the follow on either side of my hands. And I went too cute with the red and missed an easy pocket. Lost that board and the difference was 1 point or so. The final board, we had the upper hand all along. Now it was Mani's turn to screw up an easy finish and we lost the board and the chance to take the game to the 3rd set. Looking back, I think that was the worst game we played in the doubles. Having lost the quarters, we were placed in the Group B and were asked to play our semis match with Bala/Srikanth. Having lost to Bala on numerous occasions before, it was nice to beat him for once (still not in singles though). We won Group B semis comprehensively in straight sets, thanks to Bala and Srikanth for going easy on us :) Group B finals was a walkover as the opponents didn't show up on time. We played one set with them which we lost very badly. If we had completed the actual match, we porbably wouldn't have ended up at the 5th place. But we were eventually declared Group B winners and were awarded a prize :) Not a bad result for first timers.

Singles was fun too. I won the first match with a slight margin after playing horribly in the last few boards. Lost the second match badly to Sridhar who ended up in top 4 after the group stages I believe, very good player and I had to be at my crazy best to beat him. I was no where near that. Third match was the one I liked the most all tournament. Was playing with Parag Pandit, who was up 19-0 after 3 boards. I played very badly the first 3 games and gave away the red so easily every time. I thought I lost the game already and started playing freely. Got 5, 10, 4, 2 points in the successive board making it 21-19 in my favor at the end of 7th board. The best come back i had since my college days. Determined to not screw up having fought so hard, I started clearing all the open coins(blacks) I had. Finally had 2 of my coins and red. I took the red and the follow holding my breath all along. I was so exhausted, I didn't even want to go for the finish and I just gave the strike back knowing that I will win with a one-point lead. In hind-sight that was probably a mistake. Should have finished it off and taken the 4 points which would have given me a +6 point difference. So after 3 games, it was 2-1. Fourth game was against Shivaram, with whom we lost in the doubles quarters. He's a very good player and I played some very good boards against him. But every time I couldn't take my finishes and lost to him with some 10 point difference I believe. 2-2 after 4 rounds. Fifth round was against Shibhu from Dallas. He's a very good player. His grip is just like my Dad's(two finger grip and flicks the middle finger), and I became all nostalgic admiring each and every shot he was playing. With the grip that he has, I was amazed how precise he was in all the shots he played. Didn't feel bad at all to lose to him. I later came to know that he was a national champ once upon a time. I was happy I won a couple boards in that game :)

Now it was 2 wins and 3 losses after 5 boards. I am now ranked in 20s. Played with Subbu in the 6th round. He was Sivaram's partner, the guys who beat us in doubles quarters. I was sure I will beat him. Was leading 22-10 at end of 7 boards and the time was up. I should have left the game there. But the person wanted to strike one last time and I didn't want to say NO to the elderly person. So said fine. He got 8 points in the final board and made it 22-18. Another missed opportunity which probably brought my rank down quite a bit. Anyways, end of 7th board 3-3 in my favor and I still had a chance to make it to top 16. Final round was setup with Prakash Kagal. I took the first board with 8 points and was feeling very good. Opponent had a crazy break on his turn and took some 7 coins in the opening strike, along with red. I took a couple of coins and he finished the game in next turn. 11-8 in his favor at end of board 2. He took the next 2 boards and I took 5th board and it was 23-9 at end of 5. I started playing more steadily and tried to come back slowly taking next two boards. It was 23-17 in his favor at end of 7 boards. Final board, and he had a decent opening strike and it was too much for me to get 6 points. Got 4 points on the final board and lost the last round 23-21. It was a game I knew I should have won. But the nerves got better of me again, just like it did during the Doubles Quarterfinal game. With 3-4 record at end of the final round, I was placed 30th in the rankings. The person who beat me in the last round was 16th and was the last guy to make it to the next stage :)

Overall, it was a very good experience. There were some very good moments and equally bad one's. I am getting better at controlling my nerves. It'll probably take a few more tournaments and some big wins before I can play my natural game against every opponent.

It was very heart touching to see the commitment of few folks who played the tournament. There was the 82 year old Narayan Paranjape who is an awesome player. He had a pain in his right hand all along, and still played all the games. Was in top 5 after the group stages having lost only 1 game out of 7. It's simply amazing.

Venue was also really nice. And the arrangements were excellent. Especially liked the food they provided throughout the tournament. Jilebi, samosa, biryani, Gulab jaamun and what not. The list goes on and on. No complains whatsoever, kudos to the organizers.

Special thanks to Bala who was ever so encouraging and even let us win the doubles Group B semis to get our confidence back :) I am so glad that he won the GroupC knock-outs. He was very unlucky to not be in top 16.

And very very special thanks to Mani. My partner who played well throughout the tournament and was supportive inspite of me playing horribly bad :) I am so glad we atleast won the Group B trophy in doubles :)

Looking forward for the next tournament already.

- Vamshi

* All the scores quoted are from memory, necessary corrections will be made once the results are published at uscarrom.org
* No scoresheets were injured the making of this report