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Will this be the basho in which Kisenosato claims his first yusho?

by Mark Buckton

When the basho opens today, few rikishi will be as ill-prepared as the two yokozuna: Hakuho and Harumafuji.

Neither man has had time to properly prepare for the annual jaunt in Osaka, Japan’s third largest city.

Subject to such events as PR visits to local dignitaries, supporters club parties, museum visits and dedicatory ceremonies at the Sumiyoshi-taisha shrine in the south of the city in the fortnight leading up to shonichi, both will be entering the tournament short on practice, undoubtedly tired, and far from peak condition.

Harumafuji, in particular, has seen his prep-time cut dramatically from this time last year when relatively little was expected as an ozeki off the dohyo, and he was still losing to the likes of Yoshikaze.

How he will react with this only his second tournament away from Tokyo as a yokozuna will be one many will be watching.

His only other time away from the capital at rank, with the run-up to the tournament a case of juggling practice sessions with pressing the flesh, he turned in a very poor 9-6 scorecard. Following this disappointment, some were even hinting that his promotion was premature — until his critic-silencing 15-0 victory in January back in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Hakuko is a big fan of Osaka’s Haru Basho with a total of four Emperor’s Cups of his 23 to date won in the city, including the last three to be held in the city. As such, as tired as he may be, he will need to rely on almost six years of experience as a yokozuna to get him through the first few days of action before he settles.

Fortunately for both yokozuna, the current crop of ozeki have only one real standout in their ranks — the man from Naruto Beya in northern Chiba, Kisenosato. Riding the wave of four consecutive 10-5 finishes and an 11-4 before that, he will be hoping to add one or two more wins this time out to finally push for the Emperor’s Cup no Japanese has won since 2006.

Overdue his first yusho, and a hair’s breadth from turning his oft-demonstrated natural talent into a consistent yusho-chasing machine, Kisenosato remains Japan’s only realistic chance at yokozuna promotion so many millions pine for.

Kotoshogiku and fellow Sadogatake Beya stable mate Kotooshu should offer little resistance to the eventual winner having rarely even reached double figures in their Osaka outings of late. Kakuryu will, however, have fond feelings for the city — his 2012, 13-2 jun-yusho securing his promotion to ozeki — and will be out to impress after a relatively poor run since.

Local boys Goeido and Ikioi, the latter ranked at a career high maegashira 3, will be carrying the hopes of the people of Osaka. Neither man having won a basho yet does not bode well, even if Goeido has at times in the past been referred to as a future ozeki. His last six basho at sekiwake have never really looked like they could metamorphasize into a 32-win record over three basho at rank (to earn promotion to ozeki) although a breakout 13 or 14 would see him considered for the sport’s second rank.

Slightly further down, Jokoryu is at a career high in makunouchi and is one to watch with a trio of lower division championships to his name, and courtesy one of his two 11-4 scores in juryo the same feat in sumo’s second highest division last September.,

Chiyotairyu too is looking good having wrapped the January Hatsu Basho in Tokyo with a very impressive 10-5, his second consecutive finish in double figures.

Now sitting at maegashira 2, whether or not he has the heart at this level to make it further up the ranks will depend on his ability to master his own sumo that so far seems pretty limited to ‘oshi’ pushing attacks a la the Chiyotaikai of old.

Going against the yokozuna and ozeki so soon into his makunouchi career will prove too much this time out but if he learns from the experience he could well be knocking on the door of the sanyaku ranks before the year is out.

For now though – Osaka 2013, is the time for Kisenosato to turn the corner and show whether he can consistently compete with the Mongolians….or not.

Scribblings 2013 prediction update: of the predictions made back on January 8th, ahead of the Hatsu Basho, two have already come true: the retirement of former komusubi Takamisakari, and Baruto’s failure to retain his ozeki rank. Watch this space for the next update ahead of the May Natsu Basho in Tokyo.