IPL 2017: Royal Challengers Bangalore need to be more proactive, feels Daniel Vettori
MMNN:17 April 2017
Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) coach Daniel Vettori has admitted that his side need to me more proactive in the remaining games of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
RCB slumped to the bottom of the points table after their after 27-run loss against Rising Pune Supergiant on Sunday at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
"It's tough for everyone in T20 cricket. A lot of domestic players have had to step in and perform after missing a few games or not being in their best form. We know Chris Gayle is a very good performer and we know if he can get on a roll than we can utilise Chris in a positive manner. At this stage we are just trying to find the right balance," he added.
During the run-chase, RCB did not hit a single four and struck only one six between the fourth and 15th overs, which according to Vettori, added to the pressure.
"We are probably creating pressure on ourselves through dot balls, striking at below 100," he said.
"Trying to catch that up in the back end on a slow wicket is incredibly difficult. I think in a lot of ways we need to be more proactive," he added.
The New Zealander also admitted that his team cannot only depend on the likes of Kohli and AB de Villiers to perform and win matches.
"We saw what the likes of KL (Rahul), Sachin Baby, all those roles players from last year performed," he said. "The expectation is on AB and Virat to excel, but we need the likes of Mandeep (Singh), Kedhar (Jadhav), Shane (Watson) and Stuart Binny to complement their performances," he said.
"We haven't made it easy on Mandeep by chopping and changing the line-up. We are trying to find the right combination. Once we find the right combination we can get on a roll," he added.
The head coach also said that no drastic changes are required to change the fortunes in the remaining games.
"I won't say drastic changes are required. We back the quality of our performance on our day and we know that we haven't had enough of those when we need consistent performances across the board," he said.
"We need more of those performances, we can't rely on one or two people and that's why we did so well last year. We need more performances from more people," he added.
B Sai Praneeth shows goodwill gesture after maiden Singapore Open Superseries victory
MMNN:17 April 2017
After securing his maiden superseries win, B Sai Praneeth was over the moon. However, that did not stop the 24 year-old from showing his sportsmanship. In a moment of rare goodwill gesture the Indian shuttler got hold of two Indian flags after his win and handed one to his opponent Kidambi Srikanth. He was also seen consoling Srikanth .
Meanwhile, after suffering a loss at the Singapore Open Superseries, Kidambi Srikanth also took to social media to congratulate his opponent and state that it wasn't the result that he was hoping for. "Not the result I wanted but Sai played well to finish off the game. I had a good lead in the 2nd set after winning 1st but couldn't capitalize on it. Many positives to take from this tournament and will definitely come back strong. Thank you everyone for all your support and wishes.", Srikanth wrote on instagram.
In the historic all India superseries final it is B Sai Praneeth who came up trumps against Kidambi Srikanth. In the beginning it seemed that Srikanth was once more having the edge over his opponent. However, after going down 1-6 in the second game, Praneeth made a sensational comeback to win the second game 21-17. From thereon, Praneeth was all over his opponent. He won the third set 21-12 and thus clinched his maiden superseries title.
Mahesh Bhuptahi's report to AITA will be "strong indictment" of Leander Paes' behaviour
MMNN:10 April 2017
Mahesh Bhupathi will submit his report to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) this week and it is expected to be a strong indictment of Leander Paes' behaviour.
After India's Davis Cup win against Uzbekistan, Bhupathi appeared on India Today and made public his WhatsApp chat with Paes on 5 March.
In their chat, Bhupathi is seen categorically telling Paes that he was still undecided about the combination but logically Rohan Bopanna would suit the conditions in Bengaluru.
Bhupathi is livid that Paes has accused him of bias and using his position to exclude him from the playing squad.
Speaking exclusively to India Today, Bhupathi had said he had never communicated to Paes that his place was assured in the David Cup team before going on to reveal the contents of the WhatsApp conversation.
"At no point did I ever communicate to Leander that he was in the scheme of things to play. I even have a WhatsApp conversation to show to you where I had specifically told him that he was in the reserves and only if he wanted to come should he come knowing that he wasn't in my scheme for the final four. This was as early as March 5. He, to his credit, suggested that he would definitely come and contribute to try and take India back to the world group even if he was in the reserves," Bhupathi told India Today.
"To hear that Leander has suggested I did not inform him and it could have been handled better is not true. I have followed the most transparent method of dealing with every player in the squad. And look it is not about Leander. Nor is it personal. As captain I will never allow it to be. It is about discipline, about respect and about attitude. To suggest a day before the tie that the selection process wasn't handled best and it lacked transparency was disrespecting your country. It was like disrespecting the team and an act that is not warranted. Second, if you are to report on a particular day, you do that as a player. Whoever you are. To turn up a day before isn't going to be good enough for me. Each player who is training from the date assigned could have played a tournament and turned up a day before hoping to play. That's not what they have done. Leander should know it and show respect towards his fellow players," he said.
Paes, after the revelation on India Today, hit back at Bhupathi and argued that the main criteria of form was not taken into consideration before the David Cup selection.
"The main criteria for selection was form. That's clearly mentioned in the exchange. This was not followed when it came to final selection," Paes said in his statement. "I was never categorically told that I would not be playing. But it was apparent that the decision was made before I arrived in Bengaluru. This is what I found unnecessary and disrespectful."
Paes said it was unbecoming of India's Davis Cup captain to reveal the contents of a private WhatsApp exchange.
"That a private exchange has been made public just points to the kind of conduct that I find unbecoming of a Davis Cup Captain."
KXIP v RCB, IPL 2017: Will the sleeping giant finally wake up for Royal Challengers Bangalore?
MMNN:10 April 2017
Despite a depleted team at their disposal currently, the Royal Challengers Bangalore will be pleased with the way they eked out a thrilling 15-run win over the Delhi Daredevils on Saturday night while defending a low score.
However, even as they keep their fingers crossed on the much-anticipated return of their big guns Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, RCB have reason to party very shortly. As they take on Kings XI Punjab at the MPCA Stadium here on Monday night, all eyes would to be on a certain gentleman called Christopher Henry Gayle. Having slammed 9,975 runs in 288 Twenty20 games, the 'Universe boss' is just 25 runs short of becoming the first batsman in world cricket to cross 10,000 runs in the shortest form of the game - a truly incredible feat.
In this edition, the big left-hander has managed only scores of 32 and 6, but would love to gallop past the '10k' mark with a typically scorching innings.
Even as they hope for this 'sleeping giant' to wake up and blow all the bowlers away, RCB would no doubt be buoyed with the way they successfully defended 157 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in their last game. The rejuvenated Bangalore side are now up against Kings XI, who too would feel confident after upsetting Rising Pune Supergiant by six wickets in their own den in an earlier game on the same day. When RCB lost their first game to the Sunrisers Hyderabad by 35 runs in the tournament opener, everyone thought that the team would struggle in the absence (due to injury) of their talismanic players.
In a fast-paced tournament like the IPL, though, all it takes is one game to put things back on track. Suddenly, most things looked like falling in place for RCB. Continuing the splendid form which saw him sizzle against England in the ODI series against England, Kedar Jadhav blasted some huge sixes en route to scoring a match-winning 37-ball 69.
IPL 2017: Match 1: Probable Sunrisers Hyderabad XI against Royal Challengers Bangalore
MMNN:5 April 2017
Hyderabad has one of the most formidable batsmen in IPL in its skipper David Warner, who led from the front last season, and the team hopes he leads them from the front. Warner opens batting in the company of India cricketer Shikhar Dhawan.
Seasoned campaigner Yuvraj Singh also adds to the batting strength of SRH, but the much-talked about middle-order needs to raise the bar, especially in the event of Warner and Dhawan falling short of expectations. Moises Henriques, Kane Williamson, Naman Ojha, Deepak Hooda, and Vijay Shankar are no pushovers and make for a solid line-up. The SRH bowling is one of the best in IPL.
Hyderabad has one of the most formidable batsmen in IPL in its skipper David Warner, who led from the front last season, and the team hopes he leads them from the front. Warner opens batting in the company of India cricketer Shikhar Dhawan.
Seasoned campaigner Yuvraj Singh also adds to the batting strength of SRH, but the much-talked about middle-order needs to raise the bar, especially in the event of Warner and Dhawan falling short of expectations. Moises Henriques, Kane Williamson, Naman Ojha, Deepak Hooda, and Vijay Shankar are no pushovers and make for a solid line-up. The SRH bowling is one of the best in IPL.
Malaysia Open 2017: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal carry India's hopes as usual as bench flops yet again
MMNN:5 April 2017
India has, in recent years, been making waves at the international level in both the women's and men's singles badminton categories of the prestigious Super Series and Super Series Premier tournaments.
Players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth have won Super Series titles in China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia in the face of competition from the world's best, while their lower-ranked compatriots like Ajay Jayaram, Parupalli Kashyap, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma, Sourabh Verma and B Sai Praneeth have bagged titles in the lesser Grand Prix Gold competitions.
Almost all these players now have sufficient ranking points to make it to the main draws of most Super Series events. However, India's inadequate bench strength in the singles events and lack of international-standard expertise in the doubles could be seen from the fact that a fairly large Indian contingent that had to compete in the qualifying rounds of the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open in Sarawak failed to secure even a single berth in the main draws.
In the opening round of the women's singles qualifiers at the Stadium Perpaduan, PC Thulasi, who had played the third singles for India in their last Uber Cup campaign in 2015, had few problems against Indonesia's Purwaningtyas Elyzabeth, who appeared to enter the match with a leg injury, since she could barely move around the court. At 1-18 down, she finally appeared to realise that it was futile to continue, and dragged herself to the net to shake hands with her rival as a sign of retirement.
But the joy of moving into the final qualifying round proved short-lived, as Thulasi found another Indonesian, the fourth-seeded Susanto Yulia Yosephin, standing in her way like the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar. The antagonists engaged each other in lengthy rallies, particularly in the second game, but Yosephin proved the steadier and slightly quicker of the two, and ensured her spot in the main draw with a workman-like 21-11, 21-16 victory.
B Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa were put on their mettle in the first game of their opening mixed doubles encounter against Indonesians Afiat Yuris Wirawan and Nadya Melati, but simply ran away with the second game against the inexperienced Indonesians, for a 23-21, 21-5 win in two minutes under the half-hour mark.
But the high-flying Indian duo were rudely brought down to earth in their second and final qualifying match by the English combination of Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith, despite making a promising start, to lose 21-19, 17-21, 17-21 in a gruelling 56-minute duel of wits.
The powerfully built 16-year-old Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy, who had impressed during the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in January this year as a doubles player with a future, had mixed luck on Tuesday, winning one match but losing two. In the mixed doubles, which is his preferred event, K Maneesha and he had to eat humble pie at the hands of the Malaysian combination of Pang Ron Hoo and Yen Wei Peck, losing 19-21, 21-19, 14-21 in a closely contested 49-minute clash.
Later in the day, Satwik Sairaj was required to be on court for one minute less in the first qualifying round of the men's doubles, in which he and Chirag Shetty downed the Indonesian pairing of Lukhi Apri Nugroho and Tedi Supriadi 21-10, 18-21, 21-13.
The Indians were decidedly the superior pair, and would not have been flattered if they had won this contest in straight games. But they made crucial errors in the closing stages of the second game, to have to stay on court for the decider, the match taking up 48 minutes.
But Chirag and Satwik Sairaj stumbled in their final qualifying match, bowing out to the Chinese Taipei combination of Liao Kuan Hao and Lu Chia Pin, who had been given the third seeding in the qualifers, and were strongly expected to make the cut. The Taiwanese duo won 21-18, 21-16, and progressed into the tournament proper, which is to be played from Wednesday onwards.
Another young Indian pair, Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun, who had won the Iran Fajr International title a few weeks ago, was shown the door by Malaysia's Nur Mohammad Azriyn Ayub and Jagdish Singh, losing 19-21, 15-21.
Three Indian women's doubles pairs were seen in action on Tuesday; and all of them failed to remain in the tournament. Mahima Aggarwal and K Maneesha did not unduly trouble Malaysians Joyce Choong and Jing Yi Tee, and bowed out on the back of a 13-21, 14-21 defeat.
In the post-noon session, Aparna Balan and rebel Prajakta Sawant did not need to raise a sweat while handing out a 21-8, 21-5 thrashing to Indonesians Rofahadah Supriadi Putri and Ganis Nur Rahmadani. But they were subsequently put in their place by the strong Chinese pair of Bao Yixin and Yu Xiaohan by a 13-21, 17-21 scoreline.
In the opening round of the main draw of the women's doubles, which was played in the evening session, Ponnappa and left-hander N Sikki Reddy, currently the strongest pair in India following the virtual retirement of Jwala Gutta, were unlucky to have been drawn to play the strongest pair in the world, Japan's top-seeded Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo.
The Indians, it must be said, fared better than they had been expected to do, and gave the crack Japanese combination a tough time in the opening game before capitulating 19-21, 15-21 after a 34-minute joust.
Wednesday will see all the big guns of world badminton in action. Every player worth his or her salt has entered this competition; and the seedings list, in both the singles and paired events, looks like a veritable Who's Who of the shuttle sport.
Stan Wawrinka Believes Roger Federer On Course To Be World Number One
MMNN:22 March 2017
Roger Federer's comeback from injury has been so successful that his compatriot Stan Wawrinka believes he can become the oldest world number one in history at the age of 35.
Federer beat Wawrinka in the final of Indian Wells on Sunday for his second win of the year following his triumph in the Australian Open - his 18th grand slam title and his first in four and a half years.
Those wins have propelled the Swiss master to sixth in the world as he makes excellent progress aftera six-month layoff caused by a knee injury.
Compatriot Wawrinka believes that not only is Federer back in form but he is playing in a noticeably different manner that gives him a chance to return to the pinnacle of the rankings.
"He's playing really well, what is different maybe is he is playing closer from the baseline, preferring, using less his slice, he is using more top spin, putting more pressure all the time, returning better that's the difference I seem," Wawrinka said Tuesday at the Miami Open.
"For sure he has a shot for number one, he has just won the first Masters final. For sure he has a big shot," he told reporters.
Andre Agassi holds the record for being the oldest player to hold the men's No.1 ranking, at the age of 33.
"It is going to be interesting to see. Rafa (Nadal) is playing well also and we will see when Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray) are back from injury, it is going to be really interesting for tennis fans," Wawrinka said.
'Nothing is a surprise'
Wawrinka said it wasn't a shock to see Federer, who now has 90 career titles, back to such form but that he was particularly impressed by his movement.
"From him nothing is a surprise, but for sure to see him moving that well at that age it is something amazing. It is good for me to see that you can be at the top (at that age). It is amazing to see how he is playing after a six-month injury."
Federer said he was well ahead of his target of reaching the top eight before Wimbledon and said he was enjoying the very different feeling of success late in his career.
"At 25 I was winning 95% of my matches and eventually you are just on this train where you just keep rolling and you just expect yourself to win a lot, you play many more tournaments and you are just racing from one to the next, it was an incredible experience to be able to keep that high level for so long and be beating so many other guys and win so many finals in a row, I had some unbelievable records," he said.
"It is definitely very different, this year is very different to any other year that I have had, last year was also very different with the injury.
But with the age, the comeback, I think this is very very special for me and I definitely see things differently to how I ever have (in the past), it is normal when you realise that you are not going to have another 15 years to play on tour," he said.
Federer could face a strong challenge from old rival Rafa Nadal who is seeking his first ever win in Miami after losing in four finals at the Key Biscayne venue.
The Swiss, a winner in 2005 and 2006, is the only former winner in the field and is looking for a third sweep of Indian Wells and Miami titles.
India Have Been Overconfident Vs Australia: Mitchell Johnson
MMNN:22 March 2017
Former Australia pacer Mitchell Johnson has said that India have been overconfident in the ongoing four-match Test series against Australia and the scoreline shows that. He added that the hosts will be nervous in the Dharamsala Test which is due to begin on March 25. After playing three Tests in Pune, Bengaluru and Ranchi, the series is currently locked at 1-1 with the fourth and final match to be played in the hill station of Dharamsala, another new Test venue.
Johnson, who played international cricket for Australia from 2005 to 2015, feels that India will be nervous considering the pacer-friendly conditions of Dharamsala.
"Dharamsala is an amazing ground and the only times I have seen it are with grass on (the pitch). So I think that's why the Australians will probably be confident and India will be a little bit nervous. I think they've been overconfident in this series and I think the scoreline shows that," Johnson told Fox Sports.
The Australian pace great feels that Pune Test hero Steve O'Keefe may have to make way for Jackson Bird in seamer-friendly conditions when the fourth Test gets underway from Saturday.
"I think we're going to lose a spinner out of this Test match," he said.
"The spinners have been great throughout the series. There's been a lot of pressure on the spinners to go out there and perform and I think they've had some good patches and some bad patches. But that's the game. It's a tough one because they have both had their moments in this series, but I think you have got to go with experience.
"I think Nathan Lyon will get a lot more bounce and he has been turning the ball quite nicely. But then again, you've got to look at left- and right-hand combinations," Johnson said.
Johnson feels that Bird will be more suitable for Dharamsala track.
"If it's more of an Australian kind of wicket, I think you'll see Nathan Lyon bowl and Bird come in as the third quick.
Johnson, a veteran of 73 Tests is happy that Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh saved the game for Australia providing them with psychological advantage.
"(The result in Ranchi) gives Australia a huge advantage I think. For them (India) to know that it's not about Steve Smith and David Warner, other guys in the team can perform and can play out for a draw. They dug in and played exceptional cricket."
"They (Australia) will be pumped after that. Even though it was only a draw, to them it will feel very good and very positive. Because they have collapsed a lot in the past. That's why I'm confident Australia will win."
India vs Australia: Virat Kohli-Steve Smith clash triggers verbal war between BCCI and CA
MMNN:8 March 2016
The Virat Kohli-Steve Smith clash on the controversial DRS call on Wednesday triggered a full blown verbal war between the Cricket Boards of India and Australia with both aggressively backing their respective players.
A day after Indian captain Kohli lambasted the Australian team and just about stopped short of calling Smith a cheat, the two Boards waded into the controversy by coming out with statements backing their teams.
"BCCI has requested the ICC to take cognizance of the fact that the Australian skipper Mr. Steve Smith in his press conference admitted to a 'brain fade' at that moment. BCCI sincerely hopes that the rest of the matches are played in the true spirit of cricket," the BCCI said in a statement.
The drama was triggered by Smith getting caught by umpires while glancing at the dressing room before taking a DRS call during the second Test, which ended in India's favour yesterday.
Smith tried to play down the controversy by calling it a "brain fade" but that did not stop the barrage of criticism that came his way for his on-field actions.
However, he got the backing of his Board with Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland rejecting allegations questioning Smith's integrity.
"I find the allegations questioning the integrity of Steve Smith, the Australian Team and the dressing room, outrageous," Sutherland was quoted in a statement.
"Steve is an outstanding cricketer and person, and role model to many aspiring cricketers and we have every faith that there was no ill-intent in his actions.
"We reject any commentary that suggests our integrity was brought into disrepute or that systemic unfair tactics are used, and stand by Steve and the Australian Cricketers who are proudly representing our country," he added.
Amid the drama, batsman Peter Handscomb sought to take the blame for the contentious call on himself, claiming that it was he who asked Smith to seek a clue from dressing room after being adjudged leg-before off Umesh Yadav.
"I referred smudga to look at the box... my fault and was unaware of the rule. Shouldn't take anything away from what was an amazing game!," Handscomb wrote on his official twitter page.
Smith also got the backing of coach Darren Lehmann, who echoed the sentiment expressed by CA. Lehmann said Kohli's allegation of repeated dressing room referrals by Australian players was merely his personal opinion.
"Never, ever, ever. Very surprised to hear that, but it's their opinion," said Lehmann.
"He (Kohli) has his opinion and we have ours, but at the end of the day we play the game the right way. We've changed the way we want to play, we've obviously changed the side and we're a younger side so I'm pretty pleased with the way we do things now.
"We've never done any of that, so we'll just get on with the next game," said the coach further.
In a fiery post-match press conference yesterday, Kohli had stated that he had twice seen Australians seeking help from the dressing room for DRS referrals.
Lehmann praised his team for not responding aggressively to Kohli's charge.
"Gone are the days when we used to be probably the other way, and I was part of that as an Australian side. The young guys, the way they want to portray themselves and encourage people to play the game and enjoy the game has been exceptional," he said.
"So I'm really proud of the way they went about it this game, even though we lost."
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh, who successfully led an aggressive bunch of players not shy of playing mind games, also commented on the controversy today.
Waugh said Smith's explanation should be taken on face value but admitted that he would not exactly be proud of his actions.
"It was a fantastic Test match. It's a shame we are focussing on one incident. I would go with what Steve has said. I would take him on face value. The best part was umpires stepped in and stopped at then and there. Looking back Smith will be embarrassed and must have learnt a lesson," Waugh told mediapersons at a promotional event today.
However, Waugh too wanted the ICC to intervene and bring a closure to the issue.
"Someone from ICC needs to look into the matter and bring it to a finality. Look we need to move on. Probably he would be cautioned. It was a high intensity game," said Waugh.
Former BCCI President Anurag Thakur was not to be left behind either and he backed Kohli's tough stance on the matter.
Napoli president stokes Italy's north-south rivalry after Champions League match
MMNN:8 March 2017
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis sparked another controversy after his team's Champions League exit against Real Madrid on Tuesday, saying journalists from the north of the country hated him and his club.
De Laurentiis, a prominent Italian film producer, had no complaints about his side after they lost 3-1 at home in the second leg of their last 16 tie to go out 6-2 on aggregate.
But his praise for the team's performance quickly turned into a tirade against alleged northern prejudice as he was interviewed by the Mediaset Premium channel.
"The journalists of the north hate me… they hate Napoli, because they are at the service of the north," he said, adding that the daily Gazzetta dello Sport is "notoriously the newspaper of Inter (Milan), Juventus and AC Milan."
Praising his coach Maurizio Sarri, he added that a reported rift between the pair was also the work of northern newspapers.
"There has never been any friction with Sarri," he said. "I have always spoken of Sarri as a football connoisseur and an excellent coach."
Gazzetta described his words as dangerous and said it was "at the service of everyone."
Last week Napoli complained bitterly after losing 3-1 to Juventus in their Italian Cup semi-final first leg in Turin during which two penalties were awarded against them.
Luigi De Magistris, the mayor of Naples, was among the critics, saying in an official city government statement that "everything is more difficult for us Neapolitans."
Saina Nehwal to represent Olympic Committee in Badminton World Federation
MMNN:27 Feb. 2016
Adding another feather in her cap, star shuttler Saina Nehwal, who was appointed a member of the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission (AC) last year, would be representing the panel in the Badminton World Federation (BWF). She would join the BWF Athletes' Commission as a representative of the IOC AC, IOC said in a communication to Nehwal.
Nehwal has received an official communication in this regard. The Chair of BWF AC has informed others on the panel about Saina's joining the BWF AC as a representative of the IOC AC. In a rare honour for an Indian sportsperson, Saina was appointed as a member of the IOC Athletes' Commission soon after the Rio Olympics last year.
Saina, who has since recovered from a career threatening knee injury suffered during Rio Olympics, won the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold badminton tournament last month. Currently, ranked world number 10 in BWF rankings, Saina is now aiming to win the prestigious All England Championship next month.
India vs Australlia: Jason Gillespie suggests dropping Mitchell Marsh in 2nd Test
MMNN:27 Feb. 2017
Jason Gillespie, former Australian cricket team fast bowler, has suggested Glenn Maxwell may deserve a spot in Australia's line-up at the expense of Mitchell Marsh should the baggy greens consider restructuring their winning formula.
Australia beat India in the first match of a four-Test series which began in Pune's Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. It was the first time Australia had won an away Test against India since their celebrated series win in 2004.
The Aussies had been written off before the series began with several former Indian cricketers, most notably Harbhajan Singh, expecting a whitewash.
However, the visitors overcame the odds to stun the Indian team.
While Gillespie said it wouldn't be prudent to alter a winning side, he saw the withdrawal of Marsh for the inclusion of Maxwell as the most logical replacement.
While he said that Marsh had done well enough with the bat in the first Test despite not being needed to put in a big shift with his bowling abilities, Maxwell's ability to play spin would hep balance the side perfectly.
"I think it'd be unlikely [they'd make any changes]. I think the only guy under pressure to keep his spot will be Mitchell Marsh, who didn't bowl in the Test and is the back-up for the seamers," Gillespie told EON Sports radio.
"I think Mitch will stay in; he made 31 in the second innings in a low-scoring game so he's probably done enough, just, to hang on.
"But if they feel they can get away with two seamers, I'd be tempted to potentially play someone like Maxwell. He's a fine player of spin [and] I think he's an underrated long-form player.
"The reason I say that is he judges length very quickly and that's the key to batting. And I think on these surfaces he could be quite fearless and take the attack to the Indian spinners. And I think he could do a decent job."
Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon did remarkably well in the first Test in Pune as the dry pitch played in favour of the visiting spinners.
Gillespie predicted that the second Test in Bangalore would not have a pitch as crumbly as in the first match which would bring Australia's pacers further into play; meaning Marsh might be needed after all.
"I'd envisage in Bangalore, they'd need the back-up seam option. The wicket won't be as bad as it was in Pune so I think Mitch's bowling will be the real key," Gillespie said.
BIGGEST TEST WIN
Gillespie was a key part of the last Australia squad to win a Test match in India in 2004.
The side built on the pace attack of Gillespie, Glenn McGrath and Michael Kasprowicz helped deliver a 2-1 series victory for the visiting Aussies.
The last Test series win for Australia in India had come in 1969 and the victory 13 years ago was considered a big achievement.
However, Gillespie believes Steve Smith and his teammates have surpassed that feat especially since the current squad were easily written off and not comparable in personal achievement as the legendary players that visited India in 2004.
"I think it's one of, if not the best performance by an Australian side overseas pretty much ever," he said.
"With everything that was going against them, I think it's right up there."
SERIES WIN ON CARDS
The former quick also said the Pune Test win had put the ball was in Australia's court and that Smith's team could push on for a series win.
India had not lost a home Test match since 2012 but the underdog Australian side managed to upset the odds which were against them.
"I really do [think they can win the series]. I don't see why not," he said.
"India have to make the play here and take some risks and be ultra-positive. Australia just need to play, take the games deep, absorb pressure [and] put pressure on the bowlers at times. And with the ball, it's just a patience game.
"The simpler the Australian boys keep it, the longer the games go, the Indians will start to panic a little bit. They'll start to create things when they're not there and that's when they mistakes will come in."
Raghav Shankar gets Best Umpire Award by Singapore Cricket Association
MMNN:23 Feb. 2016
Raghav Shankar told to our correspondent about himself when asked to narrate about his achievements :
I am Raghav and I come from the southern Indian city of Chennai. I currently work as a Senior Engineer in a multi-national oil and gas company in Singapore.
Cricket has always been my biggest hobby since childhood, and I started learning to play the game since I was 6 years old. My interest in the game stemmed from watching both my father and brother play for their respective teams.
I currently lead a division 2 cricket team in the Singapore cricket league. I have also always had a keen interest in cricket umpiring and so, started learning all the laws and playing conditions of the different forms of the game. It amazes me as to how a game that looks so uncomplicated from the outside has quite an extensive framework of rules and laws.
My first competitive game as an umpire was in 2008 in the Singapore cricket league, and since then, I have gone on to become first an emerging panel umpire and now belong to the elite panel of cricket umpires in Singapore. I am also a certified Asian cricket council level 1 umpire.
I recently received the best umpire award in Singapore, presented by the Singapore cricket association. This award is given to the umpire that performed the best in the previous year, and this is determined by a lot of factors including the feedback provided from the various team captains and fellow umpires in the officials committee. Getting this award has motivated me to perform even better and improve myself further as a match official.
It is always said that an umpire has the best seat in the ground to watch the game. So, I am determined to keep growing and reach the pinnacle of becoming an international ICC cricket umpire very soon.
Mary Kom, Vikas Krishan get awards at AIBA 70th anniversary gala
NEW DELHI:MMNN:21 Dec. 2016
The legendary M C Mary Kom and former Asian Games gold-medallist Vikas Krishan shone bright at the International Boxing Association's 70th anniversary gala in Montreux, Switzerland, picking up different awards for their performances.
While five-time world champion and Olympic bronze-medallist Mary Kom was presented the AIBA Legends award for her trailblazing boxing career, Vikas was handed the APB (AIBA Pro Boxing) Best Boxer trophy.
"I would like to thank AIBA President Dr Wu for giving me this award along with APB Director Mr Mirko Wolf. We had no federation for the last four years but now we have one and all of them are working hard and I hope we will do well in the future," Vikas, who competed in two APB bouts this year, said after receiving his trophy.
Mary Kom was picked for the honour for her decorated career during which she also won multiple Asian Championships gold medals besides the spectacular feat of five world titles.
She was christened 'Magnificent Mary' by AIBA after her fourth world title back in 2008 and was also one of the eight brand ambassadors for the event this year.
The 33-year-old Manipuri recently decided to move back to the 48kg category after four years in 51kg. Her move came amid speculation that 48kg could be among the weight categories that would get a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics roster.
Vikas, meanwhile, won a bronze medal in the Olympic qualifying tournament besides finishing a quarterfinalist in the main event in Rio.
Virat Kohli's unbeaten streak in Tests will certainly challenge MS Dhoni's ODI captaincy: Ganguly
NEW DELHI:MMNN:21 Dec. 2016
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly has praised Team India's historic 4-0 series win against England and also hailed Virat Kohli's captaincy skills.
Kohli's brilliant performance as captain of the Test team will once again intensify the long standing ODI captaincy debate.
Even the former India skipper felt Virat's success in Tests will pose pressure upon India's limited overs skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the upcoming ODI series against England.
In an interview to Aaj Tak Ganguly said upcoming series will be critical one for the wicket-keeper batsman and feels the selectors should to start planning accordingly for the 2019 World Cup.
"While it is a justified question and I am sure Virat Kohli's Test success will put pressure on the selectors, I think Virat will have to wait (for some time). He will become the captain in ODIs too one day and it's just a matter of when. But the selectors will mull who they see as captain in the 2019 World Cup and then plan accordingly. I feel the (limited-overs) England series will be critical for Dhoni."
Earlier, former India opener Aakash Chopra too opined Kohli should be made skipper if the selectors do not feel incumbent skipper - Dhoni- can continue till the 2019 cricket World Cup after Champions Trophy 2017.
He also said that Dhoni, who is nearing the dusk of his career, would have no problems playing under the leadership of Kohli.
"Yes, Dhoni can surely play under Kohli in ODI," Chopra said during commentary of the India's ongoing fifth and final Test against England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium here.
"But that's a call selectors need to take post the Champions trophy in 2017. If they don't view Dhoni as a captain in 2019, it's only fair to give Kohli two years before the event," he added.
However, India defeated New Zealand in the ODI series under Dhoni's captaincy.
The Kohli-led team completed a 4-0 series success and ended the year as the top-ranked Test side in the world. India set a new record, being unbeaten in 18 Tests.
Team India's 2017 journey begins with the 3-match One Day International series against England on January 15 in Pune.
Junior Hockey World Cup: India look to recreate history in final
Lucknow:MMNN:17 Dec. 2016
A win away from rewriting history after a long gap of 15 years, Indian colts would look to showcase their best and leave nothing to chance when they take on Belgium in the summit showdown of the men's Junior Hockey World Cup on Sunday.
The wintry Sunday could turn out to be the biggest day for these Under-21 Indian hockey players as they chase a dream of winning the mega event for the second time. India had earlier won the trophy way back in 2001 in Hobart, Australia. This is India's third entry into the final of the Junior World Cup after having finished runners-up in 1997.
Assured of the silver medal, the Indians would now eye nothing less than the yellow metal. India's head coach Harendra Singh had told his players that it is now in their hands to decide the colour of the medal in what is seen as the "biggest game" of their career.
"December 18 match is the biggest game for these boys. I would fold my hands and request them to show their character on that day. They need to decide which colour medal they want to see hanging in their necks," Harendra said after the semifinal win over Australia in a tough shoot-out on Friday.
Indian men's senior team chief coach Roelant Oltmans, who is the manager of the junior side and is also an integral part of the coaching set-up, called on the Harjeet Singh-led side to show their "perfect" hockey.
"Now it's time for the perfect game and that we are going to show on Sunday. Our players will bring their best hockey in the most important match of the competition," Oltmans said.
Besides the momentum, the Indians would also rely on the crowd support. The city knows its hockey and 15,000 odd fans never gave up hope and kept on cheering when India trailed in the last two games against Spain and Australia.
After a lacklustre performance against Spain in the quarterfinals, Indian colts dished out their best hockey of the tournament so far against Australia but come Sunday the hosts would aim to raise the bar further.
India's forwardline was impressive on Friday with Gurjant Singh and Mandeep Singh scoring two fantastic reverse hit goals, while the midfield was under the control of skipper Harjeet Singh.
India's defence has been erratic at times but Dipsan Tirkey and Harmanpreet Singh have managed to weather the storm when it mattered in the company of goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, who was the hero of the win over Australia.
With tips from senior team captain and one of the finest goalkeepers of the world, PR Sreejesh, Dahiya showed he is a big match player and rose to the occasion in the semifinal, making a number of saves in the regulation time and then denying Matthew Bird and Lachlan Sharp in the shootout.
The only area of concern for India's coaching staff is the penalty corner conversion rate of dragflickers Harmanpreet and Varun Kumar.
All said and done, the Indians can't afford to take first-time finalists Belgium lightly. The European side has been making rapid progress in both the senior and junior levels over a period of time.
In fact, Belgium are the only side against whom the Indian colts had lost 2-4 in the four-nation tournament in Valencia, leading up to the ongoing tournament.
India head coach Harendra said they will have to utilise their opportunities against Belgium. "Belgium are strong there is no doubt it. But at the same time against every opponent you get your opportunities. And also against Belgium we will get our opportunities," Harendra said.
"Belgium is a tough team and they have shown it by beating top sides like Holland, Germany, Argentina. It's a very strong side but we are also a very strong side."
Belgium too have made a little bit of history of their own after having lost in the quarterfinals in the last edition of the tournament. Coach Jeroen Baart knows the importance of the game for his wards.
"It's been a dream for the boys. They have been working towards it for two-and-a-half years. They have sacrificed a lot, drove a lot of miles to get into training and so on," Baart said.
"We still remember the disappointment of the last junior World Cup when we lost to France in the quarterfinals. We wrote a little bit of history in the sense that we are first time from the country to play in the semi-final of the Junior World Cup. That was something very special.
"Now the boys are really eager to get very far on the pitch in this tournament as in life and as a hockey player," he added.
Meanwhile, on the final day of competition, six-time champions Germany will take on Australia in the bronze medal clash.
Vijender Singh is ready for title defence
NEW DELHI:MMNN:17 Dec. 2016
The trickery of fake anger often has a narrative - some sort of build-up to make things tense and exciting in the world of boxing. This is where the art of trash talking comes in, something which was missing on Friday during Vijender Singh's weigh-in with his Tanzanian opponent Francis Cheka.
There were no poems, there were no predictions. Even the taunts seemed bland when the two, mainly Vijender, tried to sell Saturday night's fight termed 'Night of Champions', where the Indian's WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title will be on the line. After being greeted to the best of ACDC, some Guns N' Roses and Limp Bizkit, and the usual delay, the boxers - the other 10 men involved in the five undercard bouts filling up Saturday's card - were brought to the stage for their respective weigh-ins. They glared and posed, generating laughter and comments from the crowd: "Abbe dekh aankhon and haatho ko kaise hila raha hain," (Look what he is doing with his eyes and hands). This underlined the point that the idea of professional boxing is relatively new in the country.
Then came the moment everyone was waiting for. The strains of 'It's a Fight' by Three 6 Mafia filled the hall as Francis Cheka, the challenger, made his entry - in green shorts, making a throat slit gesture and signaling how he would make Vijender cry. "I have much to say. But I will say it all tomorrow in the ring," said Cheka, a former world champ and a veteran of 43 fights, through a translator after weighing 74.7 kg on the scale.
The music of 'Singh is King' meant the champ was there. Vijender undressed on the stage itself. Maybe it was his way to intimidate Cheka. The Indian's weight of 76 kg was questioned for a while by Cheka's team management. The mind games were on.
"There is no pressure. This is just a sport. The whole of India is with me," said the boxer with a perfect record of seven out of seven wins with six knockouts. Needless to say, the statement drew huge applause. "It's less than 24 hours away. That will decide who is the best. So I am ready for that. I can't wait to be face to face with him in the ring."
Vijender was last seen in action in July when he won the title by beating Australia's Kerry Hope. In the 10-round title defence contest, he will be up against his most experienced rival so far, who has 32 wins including 17 KOs against his name. However, that did not seem to bother Vijender, who was busy playing to the crowd. "Boxing ka kaam mera hain. Aisi hi seetiyan bajengi, aise hi main maarta rahunga . Don't worry. Singh is King."
FIFA corruption scandal: Argentine firm agrees to $112.8 mn settlement
MMNN:14 Dec. 2016
Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias SA agreed to pay $112.8 million to settle charges in the United States stemming from a massive FIFA corruption scandal, authorities said.
Torneos "admitted to its role in the 15-year scheme, including its role in paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to a high-ranking FIFA official to secure his support" for broadcast rights to the 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 editions of the World Cup, the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.
Under the arrangement, the Argentine company averts prosecution if it avoids charges in the next four years, pays fines and returns tainted funds. "Today's announcement marks another important step in our continuing effort to root out corruption in international soccer and sends a clear message that corporate entities that rely on the US financial system to enrich themselves through bribery will be held to account," said US Attorney Robert Capers.
US prosecutors accused 40 officials and marketing executives of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that sparked an unprecedented crisis at FIFA. Many have since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence. Two companies were also accused.
Only five defendants are left under house arrest in the United States, facing a trial that a federal judge has recommended should begin in New York late next year. The US investigation rocked FIFA to the core and ultimately led to the downfall of its former president, Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from football over ethics violations.
Blatter is now under a fresh investigation over alleged illicit salaries and bonuses totalling $80 million, FIFA's ethics committee said in September.
Junior Hockey World Cup: Rusty India Take On Spain In Quarters
Lucknow:MMNN:14 Dec. 2016
Having received a much-needed wake-up call in their final pool match, favourites India would look to iron out chinks in the armour and play "simple hockey" when they face Spain in the quarterfinals of the men's Junior Hockey World Cup here on Thursday.
Even though India maintained an all-win record in the pool stage, it was their performance in their last pool game against South Africa which has raised some eyebrows.
The Indians were clinical in their first two wins over Canada (4-0) and England (5-3) but against South Africa they had to slog hard to register a fighting 2-1 victory.
But it should come as a big lesson for the Indian colts ahead of the knockout stages as any slip from here on will dash their hopes of reclaiming the title after a hiatus of 15 years.
"I was surprised with our performance because we didn't play to our potential after the first 15 minutes (against South Africa). I always say that I don't think about opponents, I am always concerned about our own methods," India's head coach Harendra Singh had said after the South Africa game.
"We play simple one-touch hockey and that is what we should play. We just didn't play simple hockey (against South Africa) but the good thing is that it has happened before the knockout stages," he said.
Going by present form, India start as overwhelming favourites against Spain. The Indians have defeated the Spaniards twice in the recent past in a four-nation tournament in Valencia.
The Valencia outing, where India went on to win the title by beating six-time champions and current world junior champions Germany, should give the home team confidence going into tomorrow's all-important encounter at the Major Dhyan Chand Astroturf stadium here.
Although India are expected to win the game hands down, Harendra warned his players against complacency. "In a World Cup we can't afford to take any team lightly.
We have defeated Spain twice in Valencia but here it is altogether different. Every participating team wants to win the World Cup," Harendra said.
In their last two pool games, India let their momentum slip in phases. Against England they were sloppy in the last 10 minutes and conceded two goals, while against South Africa the Indians faded away after the initial 15 minutes burst.
Excited and pumped up in front of home crowd, the Indians tried too many things and this is something which Harendra would like his wards to avoid on Thursday.
India's senior team's chief coach Roelant Oltmans, who is here as the manager of the junior side, has called on the colts to use their brains a bit more and stick to their game plan instead of trying too many things.
"The most important thing is to stick to our game plan. If we would have used a little bit more brain, we could have scored more goals (against South Africa) and that is what we have to learn. If you can close the game we should close it. We shouldn't give our rivals opportunity to come back into the game," Oltmans said.
The Indians created plenty of scoring chances but the striking force lacked the finishing touch before Mandeep Singh came to his side's rescue with a brilliant match-winner against South Africa.
India skipper Harjeet Singh has been phenomenal in the tournament so far having led the side from the front. Against South Africa he not only scored a goal but also created numerous chances for his teammates.
Even though the Indians created chances, penetrated the opposition circle and earned penalty corners in numbers, the final execution was lacking and the hosts would need to work on these aspects and raise their game to avoid giving Spain any chance to create an upset.
Meanwhile in the other quarterfinals of the day, Belgium will play Argentina, defending champions Germany will face England and Australia will take on the Netherlands.
Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy praises Jurgen Klopp's transformative ability
MMNN:10 Dec. 2016
Former Liverpool great Alan Kennedy believes manager Juergen Klopp has a transformative ability to bring the best out of any player.
The 62-year-old Kennedy says the German coach has injected an extraordinary new lease of life into the club and that admiration for Klopp stretches beyond the Liverpool faithful.
"If I was player at the club now I'd love to play for Jurgen Klopp. He can bring the best out of any player," Kennedy told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"He has transformed players like (James) Milner into a very solid left back and we've had a problem there for a long time.
"I like the way (centre back Joel) Matip has adapted to the Premier League and he looks like a good acquisition. He reads the game well, he's very quick and he gives confidence to the players around him...
"Every player will be happy to be working for Klopp. He's a very open and positive person."
The former attacking fullback, who won five league titles with Liverpool between 1979 and 1984, says last weekend's last gasp 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth could be the wake-up call that stops the club falling short in the title race.
"Take nothing away from Bournemouth because they were very, very good, tackled the job well and never gave up, but Liverpool collapsed in the last 20 minutes," said Kennedy, who made 359 appearances for the Anfield club.
"It was a massive blow. I think Liverpool thought they could win at a canter and I'm afraid you can't do that in the Premier League.
"If that's the moment that kick starts the season then for me it's a great wake-up call."
Slaven Bilic's struggling West Ham United side, who are just three points off the foot of the table, travel to Liverpool on Sunday and Kennedy cannot see the London club's poor form improving on Merseyside.
"West Ham's form has been dreadful. They've had a wretched run and at the moment they can't buy a win," said Kennedy, who also had spells at north east rivals Newcastle United and Sunderland.
"Liverpool sometimes play with four, five or even six in midfield so it will be congested but they have ways of breaking teams down and I think Liverpool will win comfortably.
"West Ham were such a great team in 1970s and 80s and it was sometimes a pleasure to play against them because they were always playing attractive football and I think that is still the case."
No Premier League side has scored more goals than Liverpool so far this season (35) with the likes of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho all contributing to the tally.
Kennedy, who had an impressive record of scoring in big games -- including the winning goal against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final -- believes having a number of regular goalscorers is a quality that title-winning sides must have.
"Liverpool have played some of their brightest and best football at Anfield," he said. "I love the way they interchange passes and they always look as though the goals can come from any player and that is a very good sign."
New Zealand's 'trepidation' punished by Australia, says coach Mike Hesson
MMNN:10 Dec. 2016
New Zealand's rebuilding one-day international side played with "trepidation" against a resurgent Australia and their lack of intensity in the field contributed to a 3-0 series whitewash, Black Caps coach Mike Hesson said.
Australia, fired by another match-winning century from opener David Warner, completed the sweep with a 117-run rout of the touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.
That followed a pair of stinging losses for the Black Caps in Sydney and Canberra, magnifying a steep decline since Brendon McCullum's team contested the World Cup final against the same opponents last year.
"The first couple of games I'd describe them as a passive performance, especially in the field and with the ball," Hesson told reporters.
"There were some good signs (in Melbourne) with a more complete performance with the ball and in the field but we weren't able to back that up with the bat.
"The energy and intensity in the field is something we've really instilled into whoever has come into the group and those first couple of games that was the most disappointing, that we didn't offer as much as we needed to in the field and didn't back up our bowlers enough.
"We haven't played well at all. We've played a side with a little bit of trepidation. It's exposed us in some areas that we knew a little bit about but it's shown us we've got plenty of room to move."
With Ross Taylor scratched from the tour to have eye surgery, opener Martin Guptill and all-rounder James Neesham were the only New Zealand batsmen to excel with the bat in Kane Williamson's team.
Opener Tom Latham, BJ Watling and all-rounder Mitchell Santner had dreadful series, all averaging under 12.
Pace spearhead Trent Boult battled hard for his six wickets but had precious little support until Melbourne, where left-arm spinner Santner and Colin de Grandhomme made belated contributions.
"We've lost 10 players from our side from a year ago and we've got some players there who are trying to find their feet in international cricket," said Hesson.
"They've played against a very good side and some have shown glimpses and others have been found a little bit wanting in areas where we thought they'd be better in."
New Zealand take on a newly-confident Bangladesh in another three-match one-day series from Dec. 26 in Christchurch before three T20s and a two-test series against the same side in January.
India Vs England: Ajinkya Rahane Ruled Out Of Series, Mohammed Shami Doubtful For Mumbai Test
MMNN:7 Dec. 2016
Manish Pandey was announced as a replacement player for Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur was also added to the squad as a back-up player for injured Mohammad Shami.
India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane was on Wednesday ruled out of the remaining two matches against England, with Manish Pandey being added to the Indian squad as his replacement.
"The BCCI medical team confirms that India batsman Ajinkya Rahane sustained an avulsion fracture on his right index finger and has been ruled out for the remaining two Test matches of the series against England. A ball stuck Rahane during the practice session today," The BCCI release said.
"Manish Pandey has been included in the team as a replacement for Rahane," the release added.
Mumbai fast bowler Shardul Thakur was also added to the squad as a back-up for injured Mohammad Shami, who is also nursing a sore knee and is a doubtful starter for the Wankhede Test scheduled to start from Thursday.
"Mumbai medium pacer Shardul Thakur has been called as back-up for India pacer Mohammed Shami, who is nursing a sore knee. The BCCI medical team is closely monitoring his progress and a decision on his participation will be taken before the start of the fourth Test match," the BCCI release said.
The Indian team is battling with injuries in the series with Wriddhiman Saha, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan already out due to injury and KL Rahul has just comeback after missing out on the first and the third Test match against England and also missed most of the series against New Zealand.
Manish Pandey made an impactful return after the finger injury when he scored 75 runs for home team Karnataka against Saurashtra in Group-B Ranji Trophy match and followed it up with another half-century.
Manish Pandey has scored 188 runs in the two matches of the Ranji season he has played so far. The 27-year-old is now an important member of the Team India's One Day International (ODI) side which possibly can be the reason for his inclusion in the Test squad.
Shardul Thakur has taken 13 wickets in six matches of the Ranji trophy matches he has played so far this season. In the last match against Bengal, he tore through their batting with a six-wicket haul in the first innings at Nagpur.
As far his records are concerned, he has played 45 first class matches and taken 155 wickets.
Since they will be part of the Indian squad now for the fourth Test vs England, their state teams are bound to suffer as they were already playing the match for their respective teams.
India aim to win junior hockey world cup title after 15 years
MMNN:7 Dec. 2016
A formidable Indian team will be aiming to end their title drought spanning over a decade and half when they take on minnows Canada in their opening group league fixture in the 11th FIH Junior Hockey World Cup, starting Thursday.
The last time India won the junior world championship was back in 2001 in Hobart, Australia. It was a side that boasted quality players like Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur, Yugraj Singh, Prabhjot Singh, all of whom went on to represent the senior national team with distinction.
German coach Valentin Altenburg has already declared India to be one of the top contenders for the title. This is the second time that India are hosting the men's junior World Cup in hockey, and it is also the second successive time it is being held in India.
New Delhi hosted the last edition in 2013, where Germany claimed their sixth title beating France 5-2 in the final. A total of 16 teams have been put into four groups of four teams each. India are placed in Pool D alongside Canada, England and South Africa. Should the home team finish in the top two of the group stages, which they are expected to, they will have to face one of the top two teams from Pool C, which comprises defending champions Germany, New Zealand and Spain.
Besides the title triumph in 2001, India's other notable result in the Junior World Cup is a runners-up finish in the 1997 edition of the event in Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom. It was a tournament that featured one of India's then most promising junior Rajiv Mishra, a man whom the hockey fraternity lost due to recurring injuries.
But this time around India are fielding one of the strongest teams in the event which features like captain Harjeet Singh, striker Mandeep Singh, defender and dragflicker Harmanpreet Singh and goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya for the senior team.
The Harendra Singh-coached side is also approaching the World Cup on the back of a strong performance in a four-nation invitational tournament in Valencia in October, where they defeated a strong field comprising Germany, Belgium and hosts Spain to emerge victorious. Defender and drag-flick specialist Varun Kumar and promising striker Armaan Qureishi were in good scoring form for India, with both chipping in with goals in the 5-2 win over Germany in the title clash.
India are also regarded as one of the most experienced and balanced teams in the World Cup with most of the players having plied their trade with the best of world hockey in the last three editions of the Hockey India League.
Senior team's chief coach Roelant Oltmans, who is assisting Harendra in preparing the colts for the World Cup is also confident of a good show. "We have a balanced team and that is our strength. We have more experience than others because of playing in HIL. We have performed well in the last two years and we also have key players in every line," the legendary Dutchman pointed out.
Consistency is something which the Indians will aim for in the World Cup, often regarded as a tournament full of surprises and unpredictable. After Canada, India will play England on December 10 before facing South Africa in their last pool fixture on December 12. Other matches featuring on the opening day of the tournament are New Zealand vs Japan (Pool C), Germany vs Spain (Pool C) and England vs South Africa (Pool D).
It is also the first time an international tournament will be hosted by the city of Nawabs, Lucknow in its newly-built Major Dhyan Chand Astroturf Stadium and India can expect huge crowd support, which is bound to act as tremendous morale booster for the home team.
The tournament, however, has lost some sheen with the last-minute withdrawl of arch-rivals Pakistan. Just days before the start of the tournament, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) withdrew Pakistan from the event, blaming Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) for applying late for the visas and failing to give necessary confirmations to the world body within the stipulated deadline.
In Pakistan's place, the FIH invited Malaysia as a late entrant for the World Cup.
The FIH move did not go down well with Pakistan which blamed world body's new President from India Narinder Batra for mixing politics with sports. But Pakistan's participation in the junior World Cup was always shrouded in doubt even though they had qualified for the event because of ongoing tensions between the two neighbouring countries.
India, Pakistan in the same pool for Hockey World League semi-finals 2017
MMNN:3 Dec. 2016
Asian champions India has been clubbed along side arch-rivals Pakistan in the same pool in the men's Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final 2017 to be held here.
The HWL Semi-Final, a qualifying event for the 2018 World Cup, will be held from June 15 to 25 June at Lee Valley's Hockey and Tennis Centre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and will feature 10 of the world's best men's hockey teams.
Six teams have already been confirmed so far for this showcase event, including hosts England, Rio Olympic champions Argentina, reigning European champions Netherlands, India, Korea and Pakistan.
Another four teams will qualify from the Hockey World League Round 2 events taking place between January and April next year.
In the HWL Semi-Final, June 18 has been dubbed 'Super Sunday' as the first game of the day features India playing against Pakistan. With 11 Olympic titles between them this has historically been one of the fiercest rivalries in the game and it shows no sign of letting up.
India had the edge at the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy and Pakistan will be out for revenge in what will be an action-packed encounter.
Following that up will be hosts England taking on Olympic Champions Argentina.
Besides Pakistan, the other confirmed team in India's pool - Pool B - is Netherlands.
A lot is at stake for teams participating in these Hockey World League Semi-Finals. Whilst vital FIH Hero World Ranking points will be awarded depending on final standings, the top teams from each Semi-Final will qualify for the 2018 Hockey World Cups in India (men) and England (women) in addition to the Hockey World League Finals taking place in India (men) and New Zealand (women) later in 2017.
Thailand gears up for maiden live telecast of Women's Asia Cup
MMNN:3 Dec. 2016
There was an unusual buzz around the Asian Institute of Technology Cricket Ground (AIT) on Friday (December 2). You would be forgiven for believing that the hustle-bustle was to get the scheduled India vs Nepal game going. After all, the unpredictability of Bangkok's weather was on display. The early morning drizzle had already delayed the toss by 15 minutes, clouds were lurking around even though they looked far less threatening, and the outfield still sported a wet patch here and there.
But even as the two teams went about their business - the morning drills, the warm-ups and the team meetings - members of the ground staff were busy putting together a giant scaffolding behind each of the sightscreens.
Come Sunday, Thailand will become the first country to live telecast a game of Women's Asia Cup.
The tournament has seen five previous editions, four of which were in a Test-playing nation, but none, or a part thereof, was televised. The format underwent an overhaul to involve more developing participant countries. Now a T20 challenge, the tournament was awarded to China as a part of the same plan but still, the broadcasters stayed away from the less profitable product that was women's cricket. With a revamped format, as the Asia Cup returned after a four-year hiatus, the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) had made up its mind. If not more, at least the knockouts games of women's competition need to be televised and the 2016 edition's final seemed as good a time as any to kickstart the new tradition.
"It is quite big for us," says Saurabh Dhanuka, the marketing manager for Cricket Association of Thailand. "It gives us a good opportunity to show that Thailand Cricket can host internationals; that we have the facilities, we've got the manpower, we've got the experience. And we welcome all other countries to please come," he adds.
"There have been a lot of countries who have played here and they know a tournament like this can be hosted here. But now, the Test-playing nations will come to know that there exist the facilities, that the people here know what to do. (They will consider) that it was within the budget, there were no serious complaints, so maybe we can also go and have a tournament there."
Thailand, as Dhanuka stresses, is not a new host to various classes of cricket-playing nations. Exactly a year ago, the eight-team qualifying event for the 2015 ICC Women's World Twenty20 was hosted at its two grounds - AIT and Terdthai Cricket Ground - in Bangkok. ACC admitted that having seen the ICC awarding a tournament as big as the qualifiers to Thailand prompted them to consider it's candidature. The women team's recent success - they won the Asian region qualifiers and have constantly challenged stronger teams like Malaysia, China and Hong Kong - further simplified the decision-making process.
"Thailand is amongst the top teams, after the Test-playing countries, in our region," notes Sultan Rana, the events manager of ACC. "So, they were to be a part of this tournament. Now, having a home team in the tournament serves the purpose of promoting women's cricket. We knew that they had the grounds. (We awarded them the Asia Cup) because we realised they have the expertise to run the tournament. After all, they had organised the ICC qualifiers last year," he adds.
The telecast, however, was a last-minute call with the intricacies of the deal being finalised only in the week leading up to the tournament. Calls were made - to the broadcasters and the organisers - lengthy discussions ensued and despite all of it materialising only at the eleventh hour, the game is now on. Though not before inviting a major shuffle in the schedule.
The final was to be held on December 5, a Monday, and was later advanced by a day for Sunday. A host of people was left struggling to find out what the correct dates were.
"I wouldn't say it was a last-minute decision but it materailsied only at the last moment. It was always in the plans. That is why we had to change the date," Rana reveals. "We had a word with the organisers and the broadcasters. Sunday, perhaps, you get more viewership.
"You have to look at the schedule from their point of view too because they want viewereship. More the number of eyeballs, more money they get. Our interest was that the match should be televised but obviously the broadcaster has his own angle. So, it is a mutually agreed decision."
But only those involved know that there has been a last-minute change in the tournament venue as well. The heavy rains that lashed the city in the weeks leading up to the tournament, had forced the organisers to move the initial stages of the competition, and subsequently all of it, to AIT ground instead of a more-preferred TCG, which also serves as the home of the local team.
Inside a college campus and otherwise a football ground with a track and field around its circumference, the venue has been in use for various league and practice games in recent times.
"We've done the ICC qualifiers here last year, so we were confident that AIT will be able to take the load. And here we are," Dhanuka clarifies. "I'll be honest; somewhere in the week before the tournament began only did we get the green light (for the telecast). The infrastructure, the equipment, the requirements, the team - it has all come together in the last week itself. So, regardless of what venue it was going to be, we were prepared to put this together."
"Everything is on track and... on 4th (December), we will be perfectly comfortable to roll this.
"It was a of work to move stuff and plan, logistically speaking... but purely from a live telecast point of view, AIT seems to be a better venue as well. There's more greenery here. From the spectators' point of view, there are a lot of students around (who belong to Asian countries). The final is on a Sunday, the exams are over and it's (likely to be) India vs Pakistan."
The broadcaster, Star Sports, too has put things together at a short notice, flying in the equipment and the crew. The 16-camera step-up that was installed on Saturday morning underwent a trial run during the afternoon game of the double-header. There haven't been any complaints or disappointments thus far, despite the local staff being new to the intricacies of televising what is still seen as a foreign sport.
Are there butterflies in the stomach, handling the expectations of a perfect debut in a game as high-voltage as an India-Pakistan clash? "No, not really. We are pretty excited," Dhanuka dismisses the thought. "(The telecast) will be a good tool for us to dissect and use for the future. After this, there would be no question marks over whether Bangkok can host cricket or not. This will clear everyone's doubts.
"Well, the doubts have been quite cleared in the Asian region, because we have done so many tournaments, seminars, courses and camps previously, but this is next level. This is like hosting a World Cup for us at the moment. This will (help us) invite more international tournaments to Thailand (as well as) to promote the sport among locals," he notes.
"This will also pull in sponsors hopefully, for the national team. People, when they see the telecast, will realise if they would have been sponsoring the national side, their logo would have been on the jersey and that they could have had hoardings in the ground, it'll be covered on the social media. (Telecast will help them) understand the magnitude of this."
Former India captain Anjum Chopra and Athar Ali Khan, who is now a selector for the Bangladesh Women's team, are amongst the notable names who have been roped in as commentators. The stage is set, for both Women's Asia Cup and Thailand to make their television debut. The icing on the cake would be arch-rivals India and Pakistan facing off in the title clash, which pleases all parties involved.
It remains to be seen how smoothly it all goes on the day, but what is more encouraging is the fact that women's cricket has seen two new international venues added in under a month's time. The telecast only comes as a further boost to its growing popularity. Be it in a remote village of Andhra Pradesh or on the outskirts of a tourist hub like Bangkok, women's cricket is steadily becoming a sustainable, and an entertaining, product on its own.
Curfew gives Valley its very own karate kid, a 7-year-old
SRINAGAR:MMNN:30 Nov. 2016
The Kashmir Valley has got its very own karate kid. Hashim Mansoor, 7, had to stay away from school for four months after his hometown was thrown into disarray following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter.
Hashim, however, defied curfews and stone-pelting to turn up at a local karate academy every day. On Tuesday , his resilience paid off. His prize: the gold medal for India at the Asian Youth Karate Championship (AYKC).
"Remaining away from school for many months offered me enough time to practise the sport of karate. It was per haps luck that I got so much time to practice under my coach," Hashim said.
Hashim's training was sponsored by his coach, Faisal Ali, who runs a small karate academy in Bandipora, the district that witnessed some of the Valley's most violent demonstrations. Ali's dedication to his pupils, however, produced not one but two champions. Eight-year-old Tajamul Islam, who secured first place at the world kickboxing championship in Italy, also trained under him.
"Hashim had a passion for sports for as long as I can remember. So he joined the local sports academy to learn the art of karate and his coach funded him for the AYKC," Hashim's father Mansoor Shah, who runs a small business, told. Hashim's mother, Mehbooba, is a housewife, and the family resides in Nadihal, a small hamlet in Bandipora.
A student in Class II at the Symbiosis School of Education, Hashim expressed his delight at winning the title for India. "I am thrilled to win gold for my country ," he said while talking about the three-day championship which concluded on November 29.
Hashim had defeated competitors from Bhutan and Malaysia in the first two rounds, and in the final round he defeated his Sri Lankan opponent to win gold. Participants from 19 countries took part in the tournament organised by the All India Youth Karate Federation. The boy will now represent India in the World Karate Championship in Europe in September 2017.
"The victory of Hashim Mansoor was possible because of the hard work of his coach Fasil Ali Dar," J&K Youth Karate Federation president Ghulam Nabi Tantray said.
Bindra-led panel okays mixed-gender events in shooting
MMNN:30 Nov. 2016
In a potentially controversial decision, the ISSF Athletes Committee has recommended mixed-gender team events for the Olympic Games. The committee, headed by Abhinav Bindra, has sought to replace the double-trap men's event with a mixed-gender trap event, convert the 50m prone men's event into a mixed-gender air rifle event and the 50m pistol men's event into a mixed-gender air pistol event.
The move has been welcomed by female shooters in India, though there is some disquiet over the 50m pistol event -- one in which Indians are gaining strength -- being scrapped.
The decision follows the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) objective of international sport federations working towards a 50% female representation at the Games. Currently, shooting has nine men's and six women's events at the Olympics.
In his statement announcing the recommendations, Bindra said that they were buoyed by the success of the 10m air mixed team events at the Youth Olympics. "The guiding principle was to look at [the] situation in a holistic manner which would be beneficial in [the] long term for the shooting sport in order for us to maintain our presence in the Olympic movement," he said.
In November 2015, the committee had recommended to the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) that the 50m rifle prone men, 50m pistol men and double-trap men's events be converted into mixed-gender events. Before arriving at a final decision, the Athletes Committee reviewed its stance taking into account factors such as current participation, youth participation and accessibility. This decision was then released by the ISSF Ad Hoc Committee.
It is subject to a formal ratification at the ISSF governing council and executive committee meeting, to be held in New Delhi in February 2017.
National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) chief Raninder Singh told ESPN that the idea is to test out the mixed-gender team events at the World Cup to be held in Delhi two days after the ISSF meeting. "Since the format and rules of the mixed-gender event are still not clear, we will have to wait it out," he said. "If things work according to plan, we can hopefully test the events out at the World Cup."
While mixed-gender events in contact sports such as wrestling, boxing or football are understandably ruled out, gender segregation in a skill-based sport like shooting, which has little to do with physical strength or stamina, is harder to justify. Both sexes competed together at international competitions for decades in the past. At the 1976 Montreal Games, US's Margaret Murdock, a 33-year-old nurse, tied for gold in the small-bore rifle event against male teammate Lanny Bassham. Though Bassham was awarded gold for having scored three 100s to Murdock's two, at the medal ceremony he pulled his female teammate up to the first-place platform. Murdock was also the first woman to win an Olympic shooting medal. The rifle events were split into men's and women's events in 1984.
Female shooters in India called it a 'long overdue' measure. "Though there's still ambiguity over the rules of the new event, I'm both excited and intrigued to see how it pans out," Indian pistol shooter Heena Sidhu told ESPN. "As a female shooter I have always wondered why men have more number of events than we do. Not only at the Olympics, an equality in terms of participation needs to be brought about in continental meets and world championships as well."
Parthiv Patel Replaces Injured Wriddhiman Saha For 3rd India-England Test At Mohali
HYDERABAD:MMNN:23 Nov. 2016
The Board of Cricket for Control in India (BCCI) on Wednesday announced that Parthiv Patel will replace Wriddhiman Saha as India's wicketkeeper for the third Test against England at Mohali.
Saha, India's first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman in the longest format of the game, developed a strain in his left thigh during the second Test at Visakhapatnam.
As a precautionary measure, Saha has been advised rest by the Indian team's medical team.
Patel's last Test appearance for India was against Sri Lanka in 2008. In fact, the left-hander hasn't played international cricket since his T20I outing against England in 2011.
In 20 Tests, the 31-year-old has accumulated 683 runs at an average of 29.69. Patel has four fifties to his credit in whites.
Parthiv has enjoyed a wonderful start to his 2016-17 Ranji Trophy with Gujarat. He has scored 415 runs so far an average of 59.28, with three fifties and a hundred.
For Delhi's young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, it is not logistically possible to reach Mohali from Wayanad, where he is currently playing a Ranji Trophy match, before 25th late evening after completing the match on 24th.
Pant, who is currently topping the run charts in the Ranji Trophy with 874 runs, would have to travel to either Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram by road from Wayanad, and then take a flight to Delhi followed by another connecting flight to Chandigarh in order to reach Mohali.
The BCCI on Tuesday named a 16-man squad for the remaining three Tests against Alastair Cook's side.
Fit-again Bhuvneshwar Kumar was brought back in place of veteran opening batsman Gautam Gambhir, who was released from the squad.
The Mohali Test is set to be played from November 26. India lead the five-match series 1-0.
India women beat Hockeyroos 1-0 in first hockey Test
MMNN:23 Nov. 2016
The Indian women's hockey team, ranked 12th in the world, began their tour of Australia by beating the fourth-ranked Hockeyroos 1-0 in the first of three Test matches in Melbourne on Wednesday. The win was their first over Australia and set up by a second-quarter goal by captain Rani Rampal and consistent aggression in attack and defense ensured that the Australians were kept playing catch-up for the remainder of this engaging match.
A special mention is also reserved for India's goalkeeper Rajani Etimmarpu, whose smart footwork added to the Hockeyroos' frustration on a day that should rank highly for Indian women's hockey.
Neither side was able to score during the first quarter as the defenders on both ends were kept busy, but a penalty corner by Rani in the 21st minute gave India the lead. The Indian eves pushed the Hockeyroos hard down the front line and even when the hosts had possession it was the Indians who surged forward and kept engaging in defensive tackles to blind the Hockeyroos' attack.
"It was a really satisfying first half, I think we played well. It feels good to do well against higher ranked teams," Rani said during the break, and her excellent stick work helped ensure India maintained their supremacy from the first half.
The aggression was maintained across the third and fourth quarters too, but too many turnovers by the Hockeyroos helped India's cause. India's midfielders managed to keep getting Rani and Deepika Thakur into play and the skipper, in particular, attacked the corners. This sustained pressure meant that the Hockeyroos often struggled to break past India's defensive pack.
The latter half of the third quarter saw the Australians get tighter and more cohesive, but the deficit was still not overturned. Vandana Kataria came close to the goal at the end of the third quarter but missed from the left side, and then the Hockeyroos failed to use three PCs in the last 32 seconds.
The final quarter saw more botched execution from the Australians as India's defenders maintained impeccable cool. India had another opportunity to score with their second PC with just under five minutes remaining on the clock, but the Hockeyroos goalkeeper Ashlee Wells did well to stop Sonika's shot.
The last time the two countries had met was during the Rio Olympics, when Australia won 6-1. The teams resume their series on November 25, followed by the third and final Test on November 27.
India had earlier this month lifted the Women's Asian Champions Trophy with a 2-1 win over China. The Hockeyroos entered the tournament having beaten the Black Sticks women in the inaugural Trans-Tasman Trophy in Auckland last week.
Sindhu enters semis
HYDERABAD:MMNN:19 Nov. 2016
PV Sindhu made an emphatic statement as she stormed into the semifinals of the China Open Super Series Premier with a dominant victory against local girl He Bingjiao 22-20, 21-10 in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Olympic silver medallist exacted revenge by mowing down the fast-rising Chinese teen in clinical fashion in just 39 minutes. Binjiao had defeated Sindhu at the French Open and went on to win the Super Series title last month.
Ajay Jayaram, however, tumbled out of the tournament losing to Chen Long of China 15-21, 14-21 in the men's singles quarterfinals.
Even as TV pundits took turns comparing Binjiao to badminton great Lin Dan, who is also a southpaw, Sindhu worked her way meticulously to tighten the grip over her opponent.
Bingjiao, who is tipped to lead the Chinese challenge in future, had a 4-2 record against Sindhu before this match.
With the Li Ning shuttle moving slowly, Sindhu had to give up the option of playing her favourite smashes. She then concentrated on tiring her opponent with long rallies. Court craft came to the fore as both players tried to outsmart each other with net drops and cross court drives. Binjiao even went ahead at 20-19 but Sindhu relied more on pushes and confused her opponent.
With three straight points, she won the crucial first game. Realising that Binjiao, who has a number of tricks in her repertorie, would go all out, Sindhu played tightly from the start of the second game. The 21-year-old maintained the pressure with her gameplan of playing more pushes. She opened up an eight-point lead at 12-4 and maintained her healthy advantage throughout the game.
Delighted with the victory, Sindhu said that the first game was crucial. "It's a good game. The first game was very crucial. After winning it I wanted to maintain that pressure. I didn't take it easy even though I got an early lead. Overall it was a good match," Sindhu told TOI from Fuzhou.
Meanwhile, the China Open witnessed the biggest upset as Olympic and two-time world champion Carolina Marin crashed out of the tournament losing to Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei 10-21, 20-22.
Asafa Powell says Usain Bolt's 100m record easier to break than 200m
FUZHOU (China):MMNN:19 Nov. 2016
Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell feels that track superstar Usain Bolt's 100m dash timing of 9.58 seconds is more likely to be broken than the 200m mark of 19.19secs.
Former 100m world record holder Powell, who is in New Delhi as brand ambassador of Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday, said that it would be very tough to break Bolt's two individual world records.
"It will be very difficult to break these two records. I feel breaking the 9.58secs (in 100m) could be more likely, if at all it happens. 19.19secs in 200m is ridiculous," Powell said, when asked which one of the two sprint records will be easier to break.
Both the existing 100m and 200m world records were set by Bolt on his way to winning gold medals during the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin.
Powell himself held the 100m world record of 9.72 secs before Bolt took it over.
The 33-year-old Powell is known as 'Sub-10 King' for running 100m dash below 10 seconds for 98 times, the maximum by any sprinter and said he would like to notch up his 'century' of sub-10sec in Jamaica.
"It is difficult to say specifically when I will run my 100th sub-10 sec but I hope it comes sooner than later and I would like to do that in my home country of Jamaica," he said.
'PLAN TO RUN TILL 2018'
Surprisingly for a celebrated sprinter like him, Powell has never won an individual medal in the Olympics though he has two gold medals in the 4x100m relay (2008 and 2016). In the Championships, he has won two 100m individual bronze medals (2007 and 2007) besides two gold in 4x100m (2009 and 2015).
Asked if he thinks he will run for Jamaica in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he said, "It is difficult to say now that I will run in 2020 Olympics. I have not thought that far. As of now I feel I can plan to run till 2018."
Powell said with the advancement in technology and better coaching techniques, more records will tumble and athletes will run faster in future. But, he said that the most important factor for breaking of records was the raw talent of the athlete.
"Coaching play a big role, so does technology. But, ultimately the raw talent is what matters. 100m dash is a very technical race and you need to be perfect if you want to break records. But an athlete having better raw talent are more likely to break records."
Rahul is our No.1 choice opener, declares Kohli
MMNN:16 Nov. 2016
Indian Test captain Virat Kohli on Wednesday declared fit-again K L Rahul as the team's No.1 choice opener, putting paid to veteran Gautam Gambhir's chances of playing any further role in the ongoing series against England in Visakhapatnam.
After the drawn first Test where Indian batting came under scrutiny in the second innings, Rahul was pulled out of an ongoing Ranji Trophy match against Rajasthan to be brought into the Indian team.
With Rahul becoming an automatic choice, it seems to be curtains for senior pro Gambhir who made a Test comeback after more than two years.
"We had it pretty clear in our heads that KL is our number one choice alongwith M Vijay. He is fit at any stage, he comes back into the team and we are going to start with him. Be it pulling him out of a first-class game in between. It's within the rules and the regulations," Kohli told a news conference on the eve of the second Test.
"We were waiting for him to recover as soon as possible. That's how the team combinations go, you go with what you think is the best for the team. Don't think we needed to think any differently to call back Rahul. We are glad that he's back in the side again. That was the whole idea behind it."
In Rahul's absence, Gambhir played two Tests with scores of 29 and 50 against New Zealand and 20 and 0 against England and Kohli said Gambhir "played really well in different situations".
Less than a month ago, New Zealand were skittled for 79 in 23.1 overs at this venue in an ODI and Kohli said he would have no qualms exploiting home conditions which seem spin-conducive.
"Generally in Vizag, pitch has always been something that helps the spinners. So I expect the pitch to play similarly, in the one-dayer here (against New Zealand), the spinners got a few wickets. But at the same time, the quick bowlers also had some assistance early on.
"It's a wicket where spinners will find it really nice to bowl on and expect the same going into the game. As I mentioned in Rajkot as well, I was surprised to see that much grass on the wicket. I hope it's not the case this time around in Vizag because we want to focus on our strengths and play the cricket that we have as a team at home and put the pressure on the opposition."
Kohli said they are not concerned about skill or the conditions but it's their sloppy fielding which separated both the teams.
"We caught up really well in last 14-15 months. In Test cricket, if you don't take your chances, the game is very difficult to pull back. That was the main difference rather than skills or pitch. If you take your chances, you have a team down 100/5 compared to 250/3."
"Then it's a different ball game altogether. We need to catch well, we need to take our half chances, we need to be more focussed on the field and that makes a hell of difference in the game. That's something we are really looking forward to correct in this game," Kohli said.
Set an improbable 310 from a minimum of 49 overs on the final day, India found themselves cornered with 71//4 as they battled their way to draw the Rajkot Test.
Known to be an efficient batsman while chasing, Kohli said, "Pressure is the most when you are trying to save the match. When there is the pressure to win the match, you can at least play your shots.
"But when you are trying to save the match you have to keep the intent going and at the same time you cannot play as many shots as well. You have to be very selective and a lot of concentration is required there."
Kohli said it was a learning opportunity for their batsmen.
"Many would have been looking at that situation in a different way that we struggled and we were put under pressure, but as a cricketer internally we know what we learnt from that situation. We look at it differently. It's your choice to look at a particular scenario.
"We approached it as an opportunity to improve on that aspect which we would need for the next 10-12 years. Because to be a successful team you need to play in every situation and the good thing was that two-three of our players applied themselves along with me and relished and cherished that situation rather than being under pressure. So it was a big positive for me."
The Test skipper said drawing the match with his dogged innings in Rajkot was more satisfying than slamming a century.
"I was just focussing on one ball at a time and trying to take my mind off the situation. Actually that helps a lot in that situation, not actually thinking too much about that situation. So, you need to put you mind on the back-burner as soon as possible and to play that one particular delivery.
"It gave me more satisfaction as a batsman than scoring a hundred or getting a big score. Taking up a challenge is always something that feels nice when you achieve it. As I said and as you mentioned as well, it was an opportunity for me to learn as well and that's something that I learnt about myself."
On a rank turner, toss may play the most crucial role with the team batting last facing the biggest challenge but Kohli said his team is game.
"We tried to make sure in the last match that all are bases are covered because toss is not in our control. Yes, you get a little advantage initially if you win the toss but it's not that you will be put on the back-foot and will be a disadvantage (if you lose the toss).
"Toss has its importance but you cannot define the result of the game because of that."
Asked whether Jayant Yadav would be a better choice than Amit Mishra who had a forgettable outing in Rajkot with three wickets, Kohli said there's little scope for grooming a player against a top side like England.
"Obviously we would like to take the best possible 11 on the field and the best bowlers who are mentally ready to pick up 20 wickets for us."
China Open: Saina loses on comeback; Sindhu, Ajay, Prannoy reach second round
FUZHOU (China):MMNN:16 Nov. 2016
Saina Nehwal's comeback ended with a gruelling opening round loss but Olympic silver-medallist P V Sindhu crossed the first hurdle at the $700,000 China Super Series Premier here on Wednesday.
Three months after limping out of the Rio Olympics due to a severe knee injury, fourth seed Saina was back on the court but her fight against Thailand's Porntip Buranaprasertsuk ended with a 16-21 21-19 14-21 loss in a women's singles match that lasted for almost an hour.
London Olympics bronze-medallist Saina, who had won the China Open title in 2014 and reached the finals last year, will next play at the Hong Kong Super Series next week.
Seventh seed Sindhu, however, had no problems in disposing off the challenge from Chinese Taipei's Chia Hsin Lee 21-12 21-16 in just 34 minutes. The two-time bronze medallist at World Championship will next take on USA's Beiwen Zhang.
In men's singles, Ajay Jayaram and H S Prannoy also reached the second round after notching up contrasting wins over their respective opponents in the opening round.
World No. 23 Jayaram dished out a gritty performance as he staved off the challenge from China's Zhu Siyuan and prevailed 21-19 20-22 21-17 in a match that lasted for an hour and two minutes.
He will next take on the winner of the match between Hong Kong's Wei Nan and sixth seeded Korean Son Wan Ho.
World No. 28 Prannoy got rid of Hong Kong's NG Ka Long Angus 21-13 21-13 in another match. The Swiss Open champion will face the winner of the match between Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien Chen, seeded seventh, and China's Qiao Bin.
8-Year-Old Kashmiri Girl Tajamul Islam Makes India Proud, Crowned World Kickboxing Champion
MMNN:12 Nov. 2016
Eight-year-old Tajamul Islam - the first Kashmiri to represent India at the world kickboxing championship - made the country proud and created history by clinching the gold medal on Friday.
A class two student from Bandipora district in Jammu and Kashmir, defeated her rival from USA to win the championship held in Italy's Andria where ninety countries participated in the event.
Tajamul's coach Master Fasil Ali Dar said that it was for the first time that a player from sub-junior category won a gold medal in the game.
Tajamul came into limelight last year after winning the gold medal in sub-junior category National Kickboxing Championship in New Delhi. Coach Dar was impressed with Tajamul's skills instantly. "I spotted Tajamul from the distance. She wasn't yet completely conversant with the rules of the game but she had the speed. I found her instinctively aggressive," Dar had said earlier.
Her father, Ghulam Mohammad Lone, is a driver for a construction company and does just enough to make ends meet. However, there is no lack of encouragement from his side as he sends Tajamul and her two sisters and two brothers to learn martial arts in Dar's academy.
The best fighter of the state, Tajamul's story is inspiring a lot of girls to break barriers and achieve their dreams. "Our village is very backward but I, along with other kids like me, are going to take it to new heights," she said.
PR Sreejesh nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year Award
Dubai:MMNN:12 Nov. 2016
India men's hockey captain P R Sreejesh has been named as one of the candidates for 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year award of the FIH while Harmanpreet Singh made the grade as one of the 2016 Rising Women Star of the Year nominees.
The nominees for the 2016 Hockey Stars Awards, the annual prizes recognising the best players, goalkeepers, rising stars, coaches and umpires in a given calendar year were announced during the Hockey Revolution Part 2 Conference of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) which is currently taking place in Dubai.
There was no Indian in the 2016 Player of the Year nominations (both men and women) and in the 2016 Coach of the Year nominations (both men and women). Five male and five female nominees have been selected for each award.
The player, goalkeeper and rising star awards were selected by a panel consisting of the FIH Athletes' Committee, Continental Federations, Coaches and media. All awards are based on performance at international events during the 2016 season, as well as the player's overall contribution to the sport.
Winners will be decided by the combined results of an online vote that is open to the public and a peer vote from international athletes. Voting for players, goalkeepers and rising stars will open on November 16 and closes on December 2.
The Coach of the Year nominations, three from each gender, were selected by the FIH High Performance and Coaching Panel, with winners decided by a peer vote.
The 2016 Umpire Award winners, one male and one female, will be selected by the FIH Umpiring Committee.
All winners will be announced in January next year.
Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponappa, India's foremost badminton pair, end 'bad marriage'
MMNN:9 Nov. 2016
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, India's foremost women's doubles pair in badminton, have parted ways on court.
According to a report in the The Hindu, Jwala said that that the decision was taken before the 2016 Rio Olympics since both felt that "things were not going as well as they wanted them to." Jwala won't be continuing in women's doubles either, focusing only on mixed doubles from now, says a report on ESPN.
The pair, who were pegged as medal hopes for India in the Olympics due to their strong record, failed to make it past the group stage in Rio.
"I realized that Ashwini and I weren't growing as a pair. I felt that we were stagnating. Whenever I expected a lot, the results were not coming. So I thought, 'why don't I let her play with someone else?' It was a very difficult decision to make, but one that had to be made." Gutta was quoted as saying by ESPN. Ashwini was quoted in the same report as saying, "Partnerships take time to develop. Jwala had tons of experience. She shouldered the responsibility really well. And then we just clicked."
Both insisted that the decision was mutual and that they parted on good terms.
"It was not a difficult decision since it was on the cards. It is like a bad marriage which cannot continue," Jwala told The Hindu. "I don't see it as a painful decision. For, we have had our share of success at the highest level. We have to move on. It is as simple as that," said Ashwini.
Jwala and Ashwini have won several titles together, internationally as well as in multi-sport events for India, and have consistently been ranked in the top 10 or 20 in the BWF rankings. Together, they have notched up gold and silver at the Commonwealth Games, a record bronze at the World Championships, Uber Cup victories and more recently the South Asian Games, showing the potential the pair had before bowing out of Rio.
Jwala will now play mixed doubles with Manu Attri, while Ashwini will continue her women's doubles career, partnering Sikki Reddy, continues the ESPN report.
"I am only training in mixed doubles with Manu Attri and never know whether I will play women's doubles again," Jwala told The Hindu. "I am keen to play both women's doubles (with Sikki Reddy) and mixed doubles (with Nandagopal), Ashwini said.
Shakti Singh scored India's fastest first-class century, not Rishabh Pant
New Delhi:MMNN:9 Nov. 2016
Delhi batsman Rishabh Pant may have scored the fastest first-class hundred off 48 balls in a Ranji Trophy match against Jharkhand, going past the previous best set by former India and Tamil Nadu opener VB Chandrasekhar, who got to his century off 56 balls in an Irani Cup match against Rest of India.
But it really was Shakti Singh who had smashed the fastest first-class ton from 42 balls and unfortunately there is no mention of this milestone in the record books due to absence of official scorers during that Ranji Trophy match between Himachal Pradesh and Haryana in 1990-91.
Coming in to bat at No.8, Singh went after Haryana's bowling attack which included former India bowler Chetan Sharma. The fast bowler's innings of 128 was studded with seven fours and 14 sixes.
Singh, who is now a match referee with the BCCI told the Times of India that in that match, his team-mates started the count when he neared his half-century.
"The unofficial stat is I got to my century in 42 balls. That was the time when there were no official scorers and scoring was done by the team members," says Singh.
"I remember going in at number eight and started to hit my shots and it was only when I neared by fifty that they (team members) started to count. I got to my fifty in 18 balls with two fours and seven sixes. I went on to hit three more fours and five more sixes and hardly blocked four or five deliveries. But the number of balls was not recorded. However, my official time registered to get to the 100 was 59 minutes," Singh told TOI Sports.
Singh represented Delhi and Himachal Pradesh in a career spanning 16 years and retired from the game in 2003 with 200 first-class wickets. After retirement, Singh also did some playback singing for a few Bollywood movies.
1st Test: Duminy, Elgar guide South Africa to big lead
PERTH:MMNN:5 Nov. 2016
South Africa's JP Duminy and Dean Elgar both scored centuries in a third-wicket partnership of 250 to drive the tourists to 295 for three and a lead of 293 runs over Australia at tea on the third day of the first Test on Saturday.
Duminy's brilliant innings of 141 finally came to an end to bring up the break, Peter Siddle benefiting from a DRS review when the technology revealed a nick off the bat that carried through to wicketkeeper Peter Nevill.
It was a rare moment of pleasure for the hosts on a day when they were unable to separate the pair of left-handers, who had resumed on 104-2, for nearly two full sessions despite 22 wickets having fallen over the first two days of the test.
Elgar will resume unbeaten on 112, having finally claimed his fifth test century half an hour before tea after a prolonged spell in the "nervous nineties".
Australia took the new ball halfway through the second session but it was in the last few overs of the old ball that they had the previous best chance to break the partnership when Elgar, on 81, skied the ball towards Mitchell Starc at mid-off.
The left-arm paceman is usually a reliable fielder but lost the ball in the Perth sun, tripped himself over trying to readjust his position and spilled it on the turf to the despair of bowler Nathan Lyon and skipper Steve Smith.
By then, Duminy had already secured his fifth test century in a fluent four-hour knock, studded with fine strokes and featuring 17 fours.
The 32-year-old brought up the milestone off 169 deliveries with two runs to deep cover, celebrating his first century in two years and third against Australia by thrusting his bat up into the air at the ground where he made his test debut in 2008.
Elgar made a pair last time he played at the WACA four years ago but after 390 minutes at the crease he was kissing the badge on his helmet and tapping his chest to celebrate his century after smashing the ball through the covers for his 13th four.
South Africa skittled Australia for 244 in reply to their 242 on Friday but also lost key paceman Dale Steyn for the rest of the series with a fractured shoulder. Steyn said on Saturday he thought he would be out for at least six months.
After Perth, where South Africa have won on their last two visits in 2008 and 2012, the series continues in Hobart before concluding with a day-night test at Adelaide Oval.
James Anderson to join England squad for Test series against India after encouraging progress in recovery
New Delhi:MMNN:5 Nov. 2016
Veteran English speedster James Anderson is all set to join the England squad for the five-match Test series against India.
The 34-year-old, who was left out of the 16-man squad for India tour after missing the tour of Bangladesh with a shoulder injury, will join England's Test squad in India next week.
In a statement released on Saturday, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said Anderson could play a significant part in the upcoming series after encouraging progress in his recovery.
Anderson is set to arrive in Rajkot on Tuesday, ahead of England's first ever Test in Gujarat. This means that while he will miss the first Test, he can be included in the playing XI for the next match.
Anderson last played a Test against Pakistan at the Kia Oval in mid-August.
England will play five Tests against number one ranked side India, starting in Rajkot on 9 November.
India v England: Hardik Pandya handed maiden Test call-up, Gautam Gambhir retained
MMNN:2 Nov. 2016
The unavailability of KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan has extended Gautam Gambhir's lease on life as an international cricketer, but the BCCI selectors sprung a surprise by including the uncapped Hardik Pandya in India's 15-man squad for the first two Tests of the five-match series against England staring November 9 in Rajkot.
A thigh strain to Rohit Sharma, which reportedly will keep him out of action for six to eight weeks, has apparently forced the selectors to include Pandya as an all-round option.
MSK Prasad, the chief selector, said of Pandya's inclusion: "In case we want to play three spinners, Pandya is a better bowling option than Stuart Binny at the moment."
Pandya, 23, made his ODI and T20I debuts this year and has been included for the first time in India's Test squad. The Baroda allrounder has played 16 first-class matches, scoring 727 runs at 27.96 with a best of 90 and 22 wickets at 33.72, with a solitary five-wicket haul. The uncapped pair of Haryana allrounder Jayant Yadav and Karnataka batsman Karun Nair - who came in as replacements for Ishant Sharma and Dhawan against New Zealand - have been retained. This means that Virat Kohli has four spinners to choose from, with Jayant Yadav's offspin following R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
Ishant has returned after missing the New Zealand series while recovering from the mosquito-borne viral infection chikungunya, but there is no Bhuvneshwar Kumar as he has not proved his full recovery from a back strain picked up during the last series. Ishant's most recent matches have been for Delhi in the ongoing Ranji Trophy, where he has bowled 62 overs for five wickets.
The selection committee took into consideration the fitness report of the Indian team's physiotherapist Patrick Earhart, in which it was confirmed that Rahul (hamstring) and Dhawan (minor thumb fracture) have yet to fully recover from injuries sustained during the recent Test series against New Zealand. This confirms Gambhir as one half of the Indian team's opening pair, with no other opener picked.
Gambhir, 35, made a return to international cricket after more than two years when he was drafted into the Test squad for the second match against New Zealand in Kolkata last month, as replacement for the injured Rahul. He played in the final Test of that series after Dhawan picked up a hand injury in Kolkata, scoring 29 and 50 as India won 3-0 to reclaim the top spot in the ICC Test Championship. Gambhir's retention comes after he impressed in Indore, and his most recent innings was 147 for Delhi in the ongoing Ranji Trophy.
The England team's stunning capitulation to Bangladesh in what proved the final session of the second Test in Mirpur on Sunday - they lost ten wickets, all to spin, in 22.3 overs - to level the series 1-1 has brought further into focus their ability to play quality spin in tough conditions. India offspinner R Ashwin spun a web around New Zealand's batsmen, taking 27 wickets at 17.77 apiece, and was backed by Ravindra Jadeja's 14 at 24.07. Amit Mishra's legspin was not called on during the Tests but following his Man-of-the-Series performance in the subsequent ODIs, which culminated with 5/18 in the decider, he could slot in with a three-man spin attack a very realistic tactic.
Kohli's team is ranked No 1 in Tests, while England are at fourth. England last toured India in late 2012, famously winning the Test series 2-1 after being beaten in the series opener in Ahmedabad. Skipper Alastair Cook was at the forefront of England's revival, scoring a marathon 176 in the second innings in Ahmedabad to show his team how to tame India's rampaging spinners. In Mumbai, he laid the foundations for victory with a steely 122 while Kevin Pietersen made merry and then in Kolkata went a step further and recorded a historic 23rd century to put his team in a commanding position as India were beaten in back-to-back home Tests for the first time since 1999-00.
The series begins in Rajkot on November 9, followed by Tests in Visakhapatnam (November 17-21), Mohali (November 26-30), Mumbai (December 8-12) and Chennai (December 16-20).
Virat Kohli (capt), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Cheteshwar Pujara, Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Jayant Yadav.
Asian Champions Trophy: Indian women's hockey team beats Malaysia to remain unbeaten
SINGAPORE:MMNN:2 Nov. 2016
India raced to an emphatic 2-0 win over Malaysia in their third match of the 4th Women's Asian Champions Trophy on Tuesday. With this win, India continue to top the pool table with seven points over Korea, China, Japan and Malaysia respectively.
Playing the first game of the day, India were under pressure to stay in contention for the knockout stage and they did not disappoint. Any hope of Malaysia taking the lead was undone in the first seven minutes, as Poonam Rani scored a well-executed field goal to give India the lead. Now that they were off to a strong start, the Indian eves were stubborn in defence through the game, not allowing the Malaysian women too many forays into their D and constantly keeping them at bay. In fact, right till the end, the Malaysian team was denied an opportunity to seek a penalty corner.
Though the opponents took desperate attempts at field goals, they were palmed away rather brilliantly by Indian custodian Rajani to help preserve India's lead. The game was a perfect example of how far the Indian eves have come and the positive impact the Rio Olympic appearance has had on them.
The Indian eves continued to put up an inspired show as they came back stronger after halftime, when Deepika converted a penalty corner in the 45th minute. Until now, India had three failed attempts at converting a penalty corner despite trying different variations, however, Deepika's experience and presence of mind helped in taking a 2-0 lead over a hapless Malaysian team. With this goal, Deepika became the highest goal-scorer in the tournament with three goals against her name.
The final quarter saw India hold their nerves, play tactful hockey and deny any room for Malaysia to come back into the game thus earning a well-deserved victory. Next, India will take on China on November 4.
Asian Champions Trophy 2016: Irresistible India find rhythm and fluidity in 9-0 demolition of China
MMNN:26 Oct. 2016
The Indian hockey team getting their play right in the opposition striking circle is a sight to behold, and against China on Tuesday, they did exactly that, nine times in 60 minutes! Though the pitch had become sluggish owing to incessant rain, India had enough firepower to dismantle China in their penultimate group match of the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan and confirm their place in the semi-final. India now have 10 points after three wins and one draw. On Wednesday, Sreejesh and Co play Malaysia in the final group match, en encounter which will decide final group positions.
On Tuesday, Akashdeep (9th and 39th minute), Affan Yousuf (19th and 40th), Jasjit Singh Kular (22nd and 51st), Rupinder Pal Singh (25th), Nikkin Thimmaiah (34th) and Lalit Upadhyay (37th) all scored for India.
The in-form Indians were never going to be tested by China. Indeed, it wasn't the result itself but the margin of victory that was the surprise. In the 23 matches played against China, India have won 17 and lost just three. The last encounter between the two sides came at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, when India won 2-0 despite China playing a packed midfield that kept Indians away from the striking circle.
However, China did contribute to one of the darkest chapters in Indian hockey; at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, China beat India 3-2, which put in motion a chain of events that ensured India didn't qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
But times have changed. The India of 2016 play to a rhythm, and when they do that, their fluidity is beautiful to watch. China is on a path of revival, and in Yu Xin, Zhang Taozhu and Lin Changliang, they have a set of forwards who can cut a defence down with their speed and runs from either flank, especially the left.
On Tuesday, the Chinese tried hitting back with swift counterattacks, especially in the third and fourth quarters, but the Indian defence, strengthened by the return of Birendra Lakra, probably one of the best tacklers in the world, ensured that China didn't get the consolation of returning with a few goals.
Rupinder Pal Singh also had a good game; he played outside the striking circle and cut away at least five midfield crosses. Whenever Rupinder stayed back, Jasjit Singh Kular was a sight, galloping the length of the pitch to strike two goals. His first was marvelous effort; after receiving the ball back from Talwinder, he almost dived full length to smash the ball in. Then, in the 51st minute, he was perfectly positioned on top of the circle to get a free ball, which he whacked in with such power that it almost tore through the net.
The scoring spree started in the ninth minute when Akashdeep latched onto a Chinese back pass that didn't carry to a defender, ran into the circle, and with a reverse hit, beat the goalkeeper Wang Hongyu. It was slightly surprising the Chinese didn't pull out the goalkeeper after the fifth or sixth goals had been scored.
The first quarter was roughly even, and India only got momentum going in the second, when goals from Affan Yousuf, Kular and Rupinder Pal Singh put them ahead. Rupinder, India's penalty corner specialist, got his eighth goal of the tournament.
China had two penalty corners in the third quarter and in the absence of Sreejesh, Indian goalkeeper Akash Chikte pulled off a few saves to maintain India's lead. At the other end, India scored four more goals in the third quarter. In the 39th minute, Akashdeep rounded off a lovely move, picking up a pass from the left of the circle, before speeding in and swerving past a few defenders and smashing the ball in from the top of the circle.
One minute later, a Sardar Singh pass created their eighth goal.
The final quarter saw just the one solitary goal. The pace had slowed by now and India were content just rotating the ball on the flanks. A few moves got close, but the Chinese defence managed to play tightly around their circle.
"I want the team to get the goals. And every player has to put in his best irrespective of the opposition," Indian coach Roelant Oltmans had said before the match. An emphatic win like this would have certainly made him happy.
Up next is a clash against hosts Malaysia; it promises to be a close battle. Malaysian coach Stephen van Huizen believes that India's former coach Terry Walsh might provide some answers for the hosts to carry the battle to the Indians. Walsh is the High Performance Director of Malaysia and every aspect of Malaysian hockey is under the former Australian player and coach. "It's great to have Terry on our side," van Huizen said. "He knows India and world hockey very well. And it would be a great match. We know that India is a top team but we will do our best."
Terry Walsh's departure from Indian hockey after winning the Asian Games gold was controversial and never fully explained, although a fallout between Walsh and Hockey India president Narinder Batra was obvious. The last time the two nations met, it was in the 2015 Azlan Shah Cup, which India won 6-1.
In the last match between both the nations, India beat Malaysia 6-1 in the 2015 Azlan Shah. The hosts are yet to lose a match. More than just hockey is at stake here.
Women's Challenger Trophy: BCCI needs to fix format to get most out of women's cricket in India
MMNN:26 Oct. 2016
The women's Challenger Trophy, the premier event in the women's domestic calendar, wrapped up Tuesday, at the Moti Bagh Palace stadium in Vadodara. The final saw India Red, lead by Harmanpreet Kaur, lift the title beating India Blue in the final. Red's Smriti Mandhana stood out in the run tally with 192 runs from three matches, including three fifties, ahead of Blue's Veda Krishnamurthy who scored 126 runs. But in the final, it was a superlative bowling performance that saw India Red restrict the Mithali Raj led India Blue to just 129. Pace bowlers Jhulan Goswami and Sukanya Parida (two wickets each) ripped through the Blue's top order after Harmanpreet chose to bowl first. The spinners then tightened the noose, to hand India Red the title.
There are however, larger questions hanging over the format of the tournament, which has one team, India Green, made up entirely of U-19 players.
India Green (U-19) still searching for first win
The flashpoint of the tournament had come one game earlier though, as India Green almost pulled off a win against the much fancied India Blue on Sunday. Fitting with the team name, some India Green players are as young as 16. Even their combined experience would not come close to the number of games played by the Blue's skipper Raj alone. Yet they had the Blues in serious trouble, reducing them to 24 for five before restricting them to 111.
India Green's inexperience showed when they batted though, as they fell short by 21 runs. Nonetheless, it was the closest any India Green team had run their older and wiser opponents since the U-19 team system was introduced in 2012-13.
Which tells us that the format needs to be given some thought. The Challenger Trophy is meant to be the pinnacle of Indian domestic cricket, the most competitive tournament in the country. It is supposed to distill the talent spread over the vast geography of India into three teams, to provide the selectors a crucible from which to pick the Indian team. It was the first women's tournament to be played in coloured kit, and also the first to feature the Kookaburra ball. Yet, since India Green was made an U-19 team, the two teams that will play the final have been a forgone conclusion.
Format change required
In the eight matches India Green have played since 2012, they have lost all heavily, barring the one game above. The smallest margins of defeat for India Green before this year was 47 runs and 8 wickets.
Having played in the Challenger Trophy before and after this change in format, I can attest to how much more competitive the tournament was before. With the best talent in the country, irrespective of age, spread out over three teams, it provided a fitting precursor to the international season, a function it serves till today. In this current format though, the best talent above 19 years of age has only two teams in which they must be squeezed into. While the U-19 players gain invaluable exposure playing against a superior team, most of their skills are inchoate. The resulting mismatch affects the competitiveness of the tournament, and undermines its value as preparation for an international series.
A similar experiment is underway in the Australian male domestic tournament, with precocious young players from across the country being clubbed together in a Cricket Australia XI, and pitted against the six state teams. A brainchild of Greg Chappell, Cricket Australia's National Talent Manager, they have met with similar results so far, winning one out of 12 matches over the last two years, and struggling to be competitive in a number of games.
"I don't think there's any way that young players are going to get better other than playing, particularly playing against good opposition, and being stretched by that opposition", said Chappell recently.
One of the biggest criticisms of the format though, is the lack of any experienced players who could pass on their knowledge, and provide hands-on, in-game guidance. Not unlike being thrown into the deep end with nothing more than a coaching manual: teach yourself how to swim or drown. While some, most notably Mandhana, have navigated these waters, there are many others who have not.
To its credit, the U-19 Challenger team provides a few younger players valuable captaincy experience, which they certainly would not have been afforded had they been a part of a more experienced squad. The cost to Indian cricket overall though, of making the tournament less closely fought, is far greater.
Good thinking, questionable execution
It would be foolish to discard the intentions behind the introduction of the U-19 team in the Challenger Trophy. And with the next edition of this tournament likely to be held at the start of a new World Cup cycle, the time is ripe for a change.
Two alternatives emerge in an attempt to raise the standard whilst still giving younger players the needed exposure. First, remove the U-19 team, but insist that each team should have at four U-19 players. It would immediately make all three teams of equal strength, while still providing 12 U-19 players exposure to the Challenger Trophy. While six of them may well warm the bench (each squad usually comprises of 13 players), all 12 will certainly gain priceless experience.
The second alternative involves replacing the U-19 team with an U-23 team, an age group the BCCI recently started for females as well in the domestic setup. From this year's Challenger squads, five players from the India Red and Blue squads would fit into an U-23 team, opening up five spaces for talented players above that age bracket in those two teams. Combined with the eight best U-19 players, they would have formed a team that most would back to compete, and even win.
With little chances of India facing Pakistan in the ICC Women's Championship, their next opponent is likely to be the World T20 champions West Indies. Even if India do manage to grab all six ICC Championship points on offer, it is impossible (assuming forfeiture of points against Pakistan) for them to qualify directly for the World Cup, to be held in England next year. Which means that now is the time for India to pick 15 players who will play both the World Cup Qualifiers, and the World Cup itself. Unfortunately, the Challenger Trophy in its current avatar is not the best preparation.
"By 2020, India women should be No 1", Anurag Thakur had said soon after ascending to BCCI presidency. If the BCCI believes in this vision, a Challenger Trophy rejig is something that needs to be looked at urgently. And if they truly wish to give youngsters more opportunities, they need to restart the women's U-16 age group, one that was held under the previous association, but discontinued when the BCCI took over in 2006. It is a glaring hole in the hull of the India's domestic system, that has meant that the effect of small international successes has leaked away, instead of trickling down into domestic cricket.
Kabaddi World Cup 2016: India have hit top gear, and Iran could be mere admirers in the final
MMNN:22 Oct. 2016
India vs Iran! The game that everyone has been waiting for, the game that was supposed to pit two of the strongest teams in the Kabaddi World Cup 2016 against one another. It will finally happen, and it will decide the destiny of the world cup. The game has all the ingredients to be a worthy final, and after a series of one-sided games, the tournament's last game could be its best.
India and Iran have long had a kabaddi rivalry, stretching over two decades. The two have met in four major finals (two World Cups and two Asian Games) and India have won gold every single time. However, the one loss that will hurt Iran the most was the last one: At the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, they squandered an eight-point lead in the dying minutes to lose 27-25.
Margins of defeat, however, have been reducing steadily, and this would be a silver lining for Iran, although silver is probably a colour they are sick of by now! Captain Meraj Sheykh has made it clear that only a gold medal would do for the two-time World Cup silver medalist.
Ten days ago, that prospect appeared brighter than ever, with India scratching for their best form as Iran steamrolled every opponent that came their way. However, the manner in which India demolished Thailand in the semi-final on Friday was evidence enough to suggest that the defending champions had hit top gear.
Before the semi-finals, India had been coasting along pretty well, but were up against Thailand, an opponent that had hugely impressed in the World Cup. They took their game to the next level, a place few others could reach. The Indians seemed too quick, too sharp for the Thais and by the time they could grab their breath, the game was already gone.
The combination of Pardeep Narwal and Ajay Thakur has blossomed through the course of this World Cup, and the duo put on its best show till date. The two attracted the Thai defenders to make a slightly advanced tackle, and their opponents obliged. The result: A combined tally of 25 raid points.
The change in defence also did the trick, as Surender Nada picked up four tackle points playing at left corner, a position where India had previously struggled to find great joy.
However, tracing India's progress in the last five games would only give you an inaccurate assessment of the hosts, as they haven't really faced sides with any sort of kabaddi pedigree. Their only tough encounter this tournament was their opening match against South Korea, and that ended in defeat.
But numbers suggest that Anup Kumar's men have slowly regained their touch and head into the final at the peak of their powers. Against Korea, India scored just 10 tackle points, then repeated that tally against Australia. In the latter game, the Australians' inexperience to deal with the Indian raiders was exposed, and the hosts were comfortable winners.
There was a marked improvement in the raiding department though, as India doubled their tally from the previous game and didn't allow Australia to trap them even once.
Thereafter, against Bangladesh, the raiders produced a similar performance, but this time the defence clicked in tandem. The Indian defending in the first two games was uncharacteristic of the champions and a tally of 20 tackle points against a formidable Bangladesh side meant they had put that right.
The defensive points rose to 24 in the next game against Argentina, while the raiders also hit the average of their previous two performances. The Argentina game went a long way in calming the hosts down after the early jitters and confidence was back.
Against England in the final group game, it was evident. The duo of Ajay-Pardeep put on a show as India racked up 42 raid points. The defence didn't score a lot of points, but also didn't allow England many points. A lowered tally of 12 tackle points had a lot to do with avoiding injuries, but the hosts were under firm control of proceedings.
As India reached the semi-final, every passing performance appeared to be their best and it was no different in the semi-final against Thailand on Friday. A total of 42 raid points could have been a lot more had India decided against taking their foot off the pedal.
While the hosts have had an easier ride to the final since the opening day, but stats show they have constantly been improving. In the end, you can only beat what's in front of you, and India have done that in style.
The Indians had always highlighted Iran as their greatest rivals in the World Cup and would need no added motivation in the final. Even though Iran will come hard and give it their all, one actually expects the Indians to do the same.
"Every team in this World Cup is here to win. I'm not surprised that Iran think they can beat us. But we want to win and feel we can win the World Cup. I won't say anything now and we will do the talking on the court," said Indian captain Anup Kumar after his side's win over Thailand.
Both teams are packed with power and there's little to choose between the two sides on that front, but in terms of technique, there is bit of a daylight between the two. "Iran is a very good team, but I feel we have the best technique in the game. Our raiders and defenders are superior in technique and we are confident of our abilities," Anup added.
The biggest worry for Iran will be the effortlessness with which India demolished Thailand and England. They were ruthlessly efficient in those games and it appeared that they had plenty left in the locker. Iran were watching when Thailand was being decimated and would hope they wouldn't be one again in the final on Saturday as India threaten to run riot.
Pardeep Narwal vs Abozar Mighani: This promises to be the mother of all battles. The two players have come to the fore for their national teams this World Cup. Abozar was more of an unknown quantity than Pardeep, but has been a revelation in Iran's defence. The 27-year-old has been one of the best right corner defenders in the World Cup and will test Pardeep.
The young Indian raider has been by far the best in the game, carrying on from his exploits in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) that earned him the best young player and most valuable player awards in successive seasons. Pardeep was unplayable against Thailand, and Iran must find a way to stop him or kiss another gold medal goodbye.
Meraj Sheykh vs Surjeet: This is a battle where the Iranian captain may hold the edge. Meraj stamped his class against Korea. Scoring seven points, he led his team back into the contest from a tight corner. The all-rounder has the skill, the temperament and the character to win a final single-handedly and India will be wary of him.
With Meraj not being someone who attacks the corner a lot, it will be critical for the right cover to stop the raider. India's Surjeet has been in great nick and has usually started games well. Even though one may feel Meraj has the edge in this contest, Surjeet will believe he can pull off a coup and hand India another gold medal.
Ajay Thakur vs Fazel Atrachali: This is a titanic battle. India's best raider in the World Cup will be up against Iran's best defender. The two might have come up against each other on many occasions in the PKL, but no stage is bigger than this. Ajay is just four points short of becoming the World Cup's top raider and if Fazel can stop him from doing so, Iran will be in with a great chance.
There has been nothing that's stopped Ajay Thakur in this World Cup, but there isn't anything close to Fazel Atrachali he's faced till now. The 30-year-old raider will have to be wary of the deadly ankle-hold which Fazel possesses and try and use his long arms to negate his threat.
This could well turn out to be the battle that decides the encounter.
The game would be similar to the semi-final between Korea an Iran where tactics takes over flair, where every inch will be fought for but eventually with India's quality and sublime form, Iran may well be forced to be mere admirers of their hosts' superiority on the court.
India v New Zealand, 3rd ODI, Mohali: India eyeing improved show against reinvigorated New Zealand
MOHALI:MMNN:22 Oct. 2016
Stung by an improved New Zealand the other night, a wary India would like to quickly get their house in order when they square off with Kane Williamson's boys in the third ODI on Sunday.
While the six-run defeat in Delhi has given India plenty to ponder about, it has also renewed interest in the contest which had been dominated by the home team prior to Thursday, stretching from the one-sided Test series to the first ODI in Dharamsala.
From a New Zealand point of view, a victory was all that they needed after a string of deflating defeats. As a result of their first win on Indian soil in 13 years, one can expect a certain spring in the stride of the visitors when they take the field at the PCA Stadium here.
India, on the other hand, can only blame themselves for suffering a rude shock after failing to chase down a 243-run target, a total they were expected to overhaul with little difficulty.
As captain MS Dhoni put it, the hosts would have won the game had some of their batsmen had made an extra 10-15 runs instead of getting out at crucial junctures.
Ajinkya Rahane, who has got the opportunity to cement his place in the ODI side in the absence of injured Shikhar Dhawan, squandered starts in both the games while opening alongside Rohit Sharma, who would also be keen to be back among the runs after a couple of failures.
Rohit had hurt his biceps during the last game but there hasn't yet been any news about the extent or seriousness of the injury.
Number four Manish Pandey also needs to make an impact after he too could not capitalise on promising starts. In fact, most batsmen got their eye in at Kotla before throwing their wicket away, hurting India's chances badly.
One of them was number six Kedar Jadhav, who impressed with his 41-run cameo and shared a 66-run fifth wicket stand with Dhoni. Had he been alongside Dhoni for another three-four overs, the outcome of the game could have been different.
Jadhav may get another game on Sunday as there is still no update on Suresh Raina's health.
With most batsmen not showing the required maturity to bail the team out of a tricky situation, it would be a tad unfair to only point fingers at Dhoni, who was made to work hard for his 39 before falling to a brilliant return catch by Tim Southee.
The Indian skipper, who is clearly past his prime but his countless fans would be hoping for another 'Dhoni' special in the games to come, considering the team plays only a few limited overs matches during this home season.
Interestingly, in the last ODI played here three years ago, Dhoni had smashed an unbeaten 139, albeit in a losing cause against Australia. He is yet to score an international hundred since then.
Last but not the least, India's batting mainstay Virat Kohli will be expected to showcase his masterclass yet again after getting out to a brilliant leg-side catch by Luke Ronchi on Thursday.
In his last international match at this ground on March 27, Kohli had famously hammered 82 off 51 balls against Australia to singlehandedly take India into the World T20 semifinals. The local crowd would certainly be hoping for an encore.
The dew at this time of the year, will be a factor again, just like it was in Delhi and Dharamsala. With the home team having won all the tosses so far, the bowlers have done a decent job bowing first.
Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya have been effective with the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah providing a strong back-up, especially reducing Dhoni's headache in the death overs by bowling yorkers at will.
Pandya has made his presence his felt, both with bat and ball, since making his ODI debut in Dharamsala. He almost got the team over the line in the tense chase at Kotla before falling to a rather ordinary shot selection in the penultimate over of the innings.
Spinners Amit Mishra and Axar Patel have performed their role well, especially the leg-spinner who ended up with a three-wicket haul in both the matches.
While India would look to reassert themselves over the opposition again, a reinvigorated New Zealand would be keen to cash in on the slight momentum they have gained with their first win of the tour.
The Kiwis made three changes in the last game but only pacer Trent Boult delivered on his return, ending with tidy figures of 2/25 in 10 overs. Anton Devcich playing in place of Jimmy Neesham did nothing to write home about while speedster Matt Henry, picked ahead of spinner Ish Sodhi, finished with figures of 1/51 in his full quota of overs.
It will be interesting to see whether New Zealand stick to picking only one specialist spinner in Mitchell Santner or they bring back Sodhi.
The bulk of the burden in the batting department will be borne by skipper Kane Williamson, who led from the front by smashing his eighth ODI hundred, also the first of the tour from a New Zealand batsman.
But the one batman that has been consistent for them is opener Tom Latham, who has carried his form of the Test series smoothly into the one-day series.
The away side would also have to ensure there is no batting collapse like it happened in Delhi. New Zealand had ended with a below-par score after losing their way from 158 for two in the 30th over to end up with 242.
They would also be hoping opener Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor return to form after a prolonged lean patch.
India: MS Dhoni (captain and wk), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jayant Yadav, Mandeep Singh.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Jimmy Neesham, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Anton Devcich, Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry, BJ Watling.
Asian Champions Trophy 2016 preview: India vs Pakistan the big game for PR Sreejesh and Co
MMNN:19 Oct. 2016
After almost a two month 'think fest' combined with intense drills, workouts and match simulated training, the Indian hockey team is currently enjoying temperatures of 32 degrees laced with a humidity factor of 86 percent in Malaysia. They are back on Malaysian soil, where they have played a total of 29 tournaments, virtually home turf. The national team embarks on a new season with the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan, a port city, with a tournament that holds much promise after the inaugural at Ordos where India won beating Pakistan in the 2011 final.
However later the ACT was used as a preparatory tournament, especially by India in 2013 when it sent its under-21 squad. In 2014 and 2015, the tournament was not held till the International Hockey Federation decided that points from the Champions Trophy would be the parameter for world rankings and qualifications for Olympics and World Cups. Bang - all the six top continental teams are back in the fray with more or less their best sides.
For the Indian team, there hasn't been much introspection under public gaze after the disappointing quarterfinal loss to Belgium in Rio. In terms of the Olympics, it was the most topsy-turvy edition for hockey.
Nobody in their wildest dream, not even the most die-hard Argentine fan, dreamt of an Olympic gold. In fact, a semifinal, with due respect to the South Americans, would have seemed a major achievement. But good for the sport, Argentina won apart from the predictable and somewhat tediously mandatory - Aussie, Dutch and German finish.
India was one of the few teams to have beaten Argentina and it then appeared that a possible semifinal place might open up. But the Belgians are now a power-house and it showed in a match where India's possession in the third and fourth quarter didn't go past the 40 percent mark.
It's in the shadow of that 1-3 defeat to Belgium that India starts on a new four-year-cycle. There is no doubt that questions still persist, but Roelant Oltmans has a core that can achieve mastery in the continent and be ambitious enough to conquer territories that still seem intertwined with fantasy. In the coming four years, India plays the World Cup, Asian Games, Asia Cup, and Champions Trophy, and of course, the proverbial and the only medal that matters - the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It might be an exaggeration that Kuantan would lead to bigger things but it will not be way of the mark that this team, combined with a bunch from the Junior World Cup to be played in December at Lucknow, would decide India's plans till Tokyo. "I do believe that a few players will lose their spots in the team," says Col Balbir Singh, the 1968 Mexico Olympic bronze medallist and former selector. "In fact, the team did under perform at Rio. It's not the loss to Belgium that bothered, it was the way we let them dominate us in the third and fourth quarter that exposed us tactically. In terms of player quality, we are good. But to be consistent, skill and tactics need to match each other."
It might be unfair to blame all the issues on Roelant Oltmans, but the Dutchman who took Holland to the 96' Olympic and 98' World Cup title, is calling the shots. The team plays well under him and there is a unity rarely seen before under any coach. It's also rare that a player in the team and in this case, the captain PR Sreejes,h has come out openly in support of a contract renewal for Oltmans.
Appointments and sacking of coaches usually never elicited any response from the players. Oltmans contract expires in December and a win at Kuantan would be a good bargaining tool against Hockey India. After the loss to Belgium at Rio, Oltmans said, "We have the youngest team in the competition and for most of them this is their first kind of experience. You do need experience to win this level of game." If at all, the Dutchman remains beyond his contract date, the wish of having an experienced team might be fulfilled.
At Kuantan, if one goes by form and team on paper, India is the favourite. But defending champions Pakistan and hosts Malaysia along with South Korea are capable of creating more than a few upsets. Pakistan has won two golds and silver while India, after winning the opening championship, has a silver and a fifth place to show.
And like any championship in India, Asia Cup, Asian Games or the Azlan Shah, it's the India-Pakistan match that is creating the maximum interest. With more than ten percent of the Kuantan population Indian, a full stadium is guaranteed. And after Sreejesh spoke about 'winning the match for the Indian soldiers', there is enough hype to power nationalistic sentiment.
"An India-Pakistan match brings a lot of excitement," said Sreejesh. "We don't want to disappoint our soldiers by losing, especially when they sacrifice their lives in the exchange of fire at the borders." But Sreejesh did add that 'Pakistan has a strong mental attitude and they can beat any team anytime. That is their specialty.'
Pakistan holds an edge when it comes to the ACT in terms of head to head. Both have clashed five times with India winning once, drawing twice and losing twice. But the last time when both the teams met on Malaysian soil, India beat Pakistan 5-1 in the Azlan Shah. Sreejesh is right when he says 'Pakistan is strong mentally.' It's also the syndrome of having your back to the wall and many times Pakistan has fought back strongly after being a few goals down against India.
What might also help them is that a few players just played the League in Malaysia thus getting used to the sultry conditions. Pakistan captain Mohammed Irfan was part of the Terrengganu HT club which won the league. Ali Shan, Umar Bhutta and Haseem Khan also played for the third placed Kuala Lumpur HC.
Left to skills and quality, it will take something more than just mental strength to bring this Indian side down. India will be without SV Sunil, Manpreet Singh and Raghunath, all nursing injuries but the rest of the side has enough fire-power in all the three departments - defence, midfield and forward-line to clinch the trophy. Sardar is back in the midfield after the change of position in the Olympics where he was asked to contribute as a forward.
"I am looking forward to the tournament and we all want to win this for India," he said. "I am also happy that the coach wants me back in the midfield slot and I will do my best to ensure that I play at my best." It's no secret that Sardar didn't particularly enjoy the stint as a forward in Rio. In a few matches, he was far too out, in a corner, constantly boxed in by the defenders. There were flashes of the old Sardar whenever he went back to create moves ensuring through balls for the forwards. But they were far and few during the Olympics. Kuantan might just see the old fox back.
One of Sreejesh's best moments came in the inaugural ACT in Ordos, when in the final against Pakistan, he brilliantly stopped two penalties to ensure India picked up the trophy.
Later, when the players were celebrating on the pitch with the then coach Michael Nobbs, Sreejesh was asked, "Tense affair?" Laughing out loud, pads and gloves still on, he said, "No, I knew I would stop them." It's this confidence that would help India in Kuantan.
Kabaddi World Cup 2016: Near-perfect India have ironed out all flaws before semifinals
MMNN:19 Oct. 2016
India's 2016 Kabaddi World Cup campaign started out with several questions marks facing them. A first-match loss at the hands of South Korea left the hosts plenty to ponder. But four games later, and more importantly four wins later, Anup Kumar and co have managed to turn those question marks into exclamation marks, one by one.
Disorganised defense, broken defensive chains, and patchy raiding form had plagued the Indian team that was hailed as the 'Dream Team' at the start of the tournament. Despite being favourites, they had plenty of problems, which the South Koreans exposed. But slowly and steadily, India have managed to get rid of each one of them, and against England on Tuesday, they produced a completely flawless performance.
England aren't the strongest team in the world, but they have certainly had their moments this World Cup. Against India though, they were made to look like a bunch of rookies who have been thrown on the kabaddi mat for the first time in their lives.
The Indian defense was like a carnivorous plant, and the English raiders like the insect that walked into their trap. Right cover Surjeet and right corner Sandeep Narwal, being particularly efficient, were all over the Englismen. A combined total of 13 points between the two tells you the story.
The raiders on the other hand went to an altogether different level. Pardeep Narwal who has earned a name for himself for running riot in the opponent's half, finally showed that side of his game. He went into the English half and kept on scoring points as if plucking low hanging fruits from a tree. Agility, trickery, confidence - the young raider put up quite an exhibition. During a raid in the first half, Pardeep got England's right corner out with a swift surge. He faked an outstretched leg as if trying to get a toe touch, before a flash of his left hand caught the defender off-guard and sent him to the bench. The Englishmen failed to get his upper body away as he tried to avoid a toe touch and fell into Pardeep's trap.
During another raid in the first half, out came the trademark dupki as he shrugged off a dash with minimal effort. It almost made the defender look silly as he was flunked over by Pardeep after the dupki. The clever, quick surges finally worked wonders for Pardeep in the World Cup and that's great news for the home side going in the knockout stages.
On the other hand, Ajay Thakur, who's now the tournament's third most successful raider, scored his third super ten in a row. Having failed to work out a potent combination with Rahul Chaudhari and Jasvir Singh in the first match and then trying to do the same with Rahul and Pardeep, India have found a lethal partnership in Ajay and Pardeep. The right and left raider combination has worked excellently for the hosts and hasn't allowed any opposition defense to settle to a defensive pattern with both corners being attacked equally and consistently.
What that has done, is allowed Anup Kumar to stay on court for large parts of the forty minutes and overlook proceedings carefully. As much as kabaddi is a game of great strength and agility, it's equally played between the ears. And Anup Kumar is that brain of the Indian side. He may not raid a lot, he may not tackle, but you will find him whispering in the raider's ears before he goes to raid. More often than not, that raider has returned successfully.
With every passing game, a key member or two of the Indian side have found form. To the credit of coach Balwant Singh, he has stuck with them and they have carried that form forward. Ajay, Surjeet, Pardeep and Sandeep are classic examples of that. India struggled to get Manjeet-Surjeet combinations working in the first two games, but in the last couple of matches, those cover defenders have come to the party. They have pounced on every half opportunity and succeeded almost every time.
Right corner Sandeep too gave glimpses of his aggression and tackling against England. A few quick pursuits, one of which ended in a super raid shows that Sandeep is beginning to enjoy himself out on the mat. Known to always comes good at the business end of a tournament, as proven in the Pro Kabaddi League, his performance against England suggests he may be set for a take-off.
The bench too is in great shape to contribute when required with Rahul Chaudhari, Nitin Tomar, Mohit Chhillar and Surender Nada all in fine form. Rahul scored an impressive super ten against Argentina in the previous game, while Nitin Tomar showed what he's capable of against England with his seven raid points. Surender has been excellent whenever called upon and Mohit has improved with every game.
The only worry if have to look at it that way has been at the left corner. Dharmaraj Cheralathan has consistently failed to score tackle points. His presence hasn't been felt in certain games. One may term him as India's weak link, but his lack of points hasn't made the Indian defense look fragile. He has done alright and not made many mistakes. He has played a part and formed a part of a cohesive defense. However, with Surender Nada firing all cylinders every time he's given a chance, it's time Balwant Singh realises that ankle-hold specialist is an upgrade over the slightly pale-looking Cheralthan right now. The two high fives against Bangladesh and Argentina were followed by three tackle points against England and the raiders trying to pinch bonus points from India's left corner have been terrified by Surender's presence. India need that presence, that threat in the knock-out stages as it will add another dimension to the side.
This though is a problem of plenty for Balwant Singh as most sides in the world would gladly play Cheralathan over their left corners. It's a coach's choice and he may be pardoned for making that considering the 41-year-old defender's vast experience.
The win against England wasn't India's biggest in the competition, but it was certainly the most comprehensive. While in previous games, India seemed all charged and on a mission, the win over England was achieved rather effortlessly. It was like a daily routine that was being carried out, it was almost clockwork. There was no chink in the Indian armour and the players knew it. Ruthless and supremely confident, India made a mockery of their opponents.
The host needed time to achieve this level of efficiency, but now it can be said that this Indian team is near perfect. They go into the semifinals with all their flaws ironed out, and ready to be crowned champions once again. Despite the increased challenge to their throne this time, India, after their win over England, certainly appear the team to beat at this World Cup.
India vs New Zealand: Ravichandran Ashwin gets a perfect 10, Virat Kohli earns points for captaincy
MMNN:12 Oct. 2016
India clinched a massive 321-run victory against New Zealand on Tuesday, whitewashing the visitors 3-0, and also moving to No 1 in the ICC Test rankings in the process. The win in Indore was a carbon copy of what took place in the series earlier, as the hosts outplayed a very good New Zealand side.
India are now looking extremely strong, ahead of the long Test season at home. They have 10 more Tests at home this season, and they have gotten off to the best possible start. The Indians have batted, bowled and fielded with real purpose and intent, and will surely start heavy favourites for the matches to follow.
Most Indian players performed admirably and there were few exceptions. Here are marks out of 10 for the Indian squad:
Murali Vijay: 6 - It wasn't a vintage series for Murali Vijay, but he did more than enough to secure his place as India's senior opener for the medium to long term. He made two half-centuries, with a best of 76, to finish with 186 runs in the series. He is sure to keep his place for the upcoming series against England.
Cheteshwar Pujara: 9 - Pujara has continued his amazing form since returning from the West Indies and finished the series as the leading run-scorer with 373 runs at an average of 74.6. His second innings hundred in the final Test showed that he has the versatility to up the tempo if needed.
Virat Kohli: 7 - It had been a very poor series with the bat by the Indian skipper, before he made his career best 211 in Indore. That innings boosted his contribution as a batsman. As a captain, however, it is difficult to find too much fault with how he has gone about things, and a 3-0 series win is a fair reflection of his side's dominance. If you were being really picky about tactics, you could point out that he sometimes moves away from the bowlers who are most likely to take wickets even when they still have the energy to bowl more, but that is being really pedantic.
Ajinkya Rahane: 8 - The unsung hero of this Indian team, Rahane is the lynchpin that holds the top and bottom of the batting line-up together. Calm, assured and rarely flustered, Rahane just goes about scoring runs in a way that you don't even notice he is doing it. This quality is entirely to his credit. A career best 188 in the final Test saw his series average jump to 69.4.
Rohit Sharma: 7 - A half-century in each of the Tests, and playing a part in setting up declarations with quick scoring, this was a very good series for Rohit Sharma, without him playing the one stand-out innings. Batting at six with the licence to score quickly, he had the best strike-rate of anyone in the top seven in this series. Rohit finally has a role to play in the Test team, which is something he had been missing for much of his career. He finished second in the averages with 79.33 and can walk away knowing he is in the side for the foreseeable future.
Wriddhiman Saha: 6 - Saha did well enough with the gloves and scored two half-centuries from three innings in the series. Such was the dominance of the Indian top-order that he wasn't often needed with bat in hand. He made a duck in the first Test, but came back well to make undefeated 50s in both innings of the second. Such was the abundance of bowled and LBWs that there were few chances for Saha behind the stumps. However, his keeping was tidy and uneventful.
Ravichandran Ashwin: 10 - Ashwin has been immense for India for a long time, but he was virtually unstoppable in this series. He claimed 27 wickets, the second most by an Indian bowler in a three-match Test series, and had three five-wicket hauls. In the final Test in Indore, he claimed a career best 7 for 59 to finish with match figures of 13 for 140. We did not see the heroics with the bat that were a feature of the series in the Caribbean, but his bowling was more than enough to get him full marks.
Ravindra Jadeja: 8 - A 50 with the bat and 14 wickets with the ball, this was a very good series for the hirsute Jadeja. An excellent foil for Ashwin, his ability to get natural variation from Indian surfaces is second to none. While he has struggled while playing away from home at times, there is no doubting that he is a real wicket-taker at home.
Mohammad Shami: 6 - There were just eight wickets for Shami in this series, but he did the job that was asked of him. Conditions have not been favourable to seam bowlers during these three Tests and Shami got as much out of the pitch as any other quick in his team. He conceded just 3.23 runs an over, and never allowed the New Zealand batsmen to get on top of him.
Welcome back, Gautam Gambhir
MMNN:12 Oct. 2016
"I'm disappointed but not defeated; I'm cornered but not a coward. Grit my partner, courage my pride, for I must fight, I must fight," Gautam Gambhir had tweeted after selectors announced the squad for three-Test series against New Zealand. Meanwhile, he was busy leading India Blue in Duleep Trophy 2016-17. With pink ball under lights, the dynamics aren't the same. For a change, the conditions favour the bowlers. The ball moves around, leaving very little time for the batsman to judge it. Amidst all this, he wasn't picked for his national team. Yet, he did not bog down.
Gambhir did what he is known for: he scored heaps of runs. His scores read: 77, 90, 59, 94, 36. At such phase of life, one is victimised by failure. Gambhir was indeed disappointed, but he translated his disappointment into motivation. An angry-looking personality, he takes things seriously. He wears his heart on his sleeves. He takes the bull by its horn. In short, he is a tough nut to crack. He was India's most dependable batsman from 2008 to 2011, so much so that he once was the No. 1 batsman in ICC Test Rankings.
Gambhir can attack as well as play defensive cricket. He, as a matter of fact, does what his team needs him to. At one point of his career, his resilience and endurance were compared to that of Rahul Dravid's. He was called the next wall of Indian cricket. It was a huge compliment, if truth be told.
Come T20 cricket and he fired on all cylinders. Come Test cricket and he played risk-free. Come ODI cricket and he sensibly applied himself. He was a complete batsman, by all means.
Every time one speaks of India's triumph in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, Gambhir's characteristic 91 surfaces. Every time one reads of India's victory over Pakistan in the final of ICC World T20 2007, Gambhir's match-winning 75 pops up. As a matter of fact, Gambhir has etched his name in India's cricketing history, for his peerless contribution will never be forgotten.
India toured England in 2011 for a four-Test series. So far, Gambhir had proved his mettle, with scores of 74 and 72 at Galle and Colombo respectively, 72 in Hamilton, 137 and 167 in Napier and Wellington respectively, 80 and 93 at Centurion and Cape Town respectively.
These are his numbers overseas. In that phase, his performance was even more staggering at home.
Come England series and Gambhir goes through a rough patch. All the chinks in his armour that took years of hard work for him to weld were undone.
15, 22, 38, 14, 10, 3 were his scores in that series. The only batsman to have achieved success was Dravid, the same personality Gambhir was compared with.
India lost the series 0-4. Gambhir failed, nonetheless.
India then played West Indies. The southpaw scored two fifties. It was an easy outing for India. They won it 2-0.
Then came the second version of his downfall. India toured Australia in 2011-12. Gambhir could reach the 50-run mark only once, and that too in a losing cause. India, however, lost the series 0-4.
India then played two home series, one against New Zealand and the other against England. They won against New Zealand but lost to England. In 9 innings, Gambhir scored only 2 fifties. Gradually, Gambhir's poor form reflected on his team's performance. Soon, the inevitable happened. He was dropped from the side.
To make matters worse for him, the last time he scored a hundred was in 2010.
Then opportunity knocked the door in India's tour of England, 2014. He replaced the erratic Shikhar Dhawan in the fifth and final Test and could amass only 0 & 3 in two innings. Thus, he was dropped yet again, the third and final version of his downfall.
Gambhir found a go-to man in Justin Langer, former Australia batsman. "I met Langer during the Champions League 2014 when he was touring with Perth Scorchers as their coach. We spoke about a few things about my batting. I read Langer's interviews and his books. I could relate to him a lot. He too is an intense character like me and these things pushed me to come here," Gambhir told ESPNCricinfo.
Gambhir worked with Langer and made the necessary amendments in his technique.
His stance is wider than it was in his heydays. He faces extra-cover, though not as unconventional as Shivnarine Chandepaul. He comes soft at the ball. The wide stance gives him the extra time to read the delivery. In addition, it now has become easier for him to change his shot at the last moment. Above all this, his flicks look even more elegant.
Gambhir did all these with ease and grace before as well. All the same, Gambhir v2.0 looks more comfortable at the crease.
After KL Rahul was ruled out due to hamstring injury in the recently concluded India-New Zealand series, Gambhir was drafted in the squad.
He was all excited to make a comeback. However, Virat Kohli played Shikhar Dhawan instead. Like a debutant, Gambhir had to wait for his opportunity. He was the 12th man in the Kolkata match. He fielded for couple of overs. Meanwhile, he dropped a catch at point. Could his life get any tougher?
Nonetheless, as fate would have it, Dhawan was ruled out due to injury as well. Kohli called Gambhir a 'natural replacement'.
The wait was over. The chants of 'Gambhir, Gambhir' echoed Indore's Holkar Stadium, the home of India's first captain - CK Nayudu.
Gambhir walked in with Murali Vijay. The moment had arrived. He donned India's jersey once again. And it was time to repay selectors' faith in him.
Gambhir's first three deliveries garnered no run. There was fire in his belly, spring in his walk and intent in his eyes. Matt Henry bowled short and wide. Gambhir quickly rocked back and flawlessly cut it to point boundary.
He wasn't nervous anymore. He smashed consecutive sixes instead. Virender Sehwag, in the commentary box, was proud of his former colleague. The sixes, in fact, reminded the armchair cricket-fanatics of Sehwag, for the ball travelled over the boundary line in the longest format.
Gambhir then tackled spin with vigour. He played a deft touch off Mitchell Santner, followed by a late-cute off Jeetan Patel. However, his innings was cut short on 29. He played a wrong line, getting trapped in front.
India posted a mammoth 557 for 5 (declared) on the scoreboard. Whether Gambhir would get to bat again in the second innings, was a question that left everyone curious. As a matter of fact, India's plan was to bundle New Zealand out twice. Nonetheless, Kohli did not enforce follow-on despite gaining a lead of 258 runs.
India played only 6 overs on Day Three. Gambhir, on the other hand, didn't field for an hour due to shoulder injury.
He was unlikely to open with Vijay. For the fighter Gambhir is known for, he did come to bat.
Yet again, his first boundary was a cut-shot.
An over later, his shoulder injury flared up. While completing the second run, he desperately dived to reach the crease, eventually hurting his shoulder. Physio ran to attend him.
Gambhir appeared in pain. He shook his head in disgust and was retired hurt.
Day Four saw Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara take the field. There was no update on Gambhir's injury. Given the pain he looked in, he was likely to rest. Be that as it may. Yet again, Gambhir fought his demons and took the crease when Vijay was dismissed. Gambhir wasn't the one to easily back down.
Let's cut to the chase. Gambhir scored 50 off 56. Mark the strike-rate: 89.29.
India had no option but to score runs at a brisk pace. At the other end was the traditional Pujara. He is a boundary-hitter, no doubt. But India needed more than that. To be precise, India needed Gambhir, someone who can scale up the run-rate without losing his wicket. The southpaw was at India's service with distinction. He looked good for a hundred, but was perished while trying to clear extra-cover.
Gambhir would have taken his time to play a long innings. He, instead, selflessly threw away his wicket. What that did was, it gave the bowlers the extra time to dismantle the New Zealanders. Well, the game ended on the very day, with India whitewashing New Zealand for the first time in a three-Test series. The game, for that matter, didn't stretch to Day Five. It was done and dusted on the penultimate delivery of the penultimate day.
There's more to Gambhir's innings than it appears. The scorecard reads Ravichandran Ashwin as Man of the Match. No doubt the match will be remembered for Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara's top-drawer batsmanship.
On the other hand, Gambhir scored only 79 runs in the match. The contribution is small in number but huge in impact.
World Cup 2018 qualifiers: Last minute thriller gives the Swiss victory over Hungary in five-goal fest
MMNN:8 Oct. 2016
Substitute Valentin Stocker scored in the last minute to give Switzerland a 3-2 win away to Hungary on Friday after Adam Szalai had twice equalised for the hosts in a thrilling World Cup qualifier.
The Swiss went top of Group B with six points from two matches following a game in which all five goals were scored after halftime, while Hungary were left with one point and already look unlikely to make a first World Cup appearance since 1986.
The Faroe Islands are second with four points after their shock 2-0 win in Latvia, while Portugal and Latvia have three and Andorra none.
Switzerland struggled to get going in the first half without the suspended Granit Xhaka, who usually dictates the rhythm in midfield. But striker Haris Seferovic, widely criticised for his performances at Euro 2016 when he failed to score a goal, put them in front six minutes after halftime, scoring from a rebound after Xherdan Shaqiri's shot was saved by Peter Gulacsi.
Szalai equalised two minutes later, also from a rebound after his own shot hit the post.
Left back Ricardo Rodriguez put Switzerland back in front in the 67th minute, volleying home from Valon Behrami's lofted cross for his first international goal, only for Szalai to again equalise four minutes later.
Switzerland were not to be denied, however, and snatched the points when a long thrown-in was twice headed on and Stocker scored at the far post.
"Hungary applied lots of pressure on us during the game which was intense and entertaining. Hungary came back at us twice, but we showed character at the end," Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic told reporters.
His Hungarian counterpart Bernd Storck added: "It was a dynamic and good game, both teams gave all they had. We are very disappointed because came back twice against a top team, but we made too many mistakes and they made us pay for them."
Japanese Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg completes hat-trick of pole positions at Suzuka
MMNN:8 Oct. 2016
Championship leader Nico Rosberg seized pole position for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, the German marginally fending off Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton in a close-run qualifying session. Rosberg has led every session of the race weekend and confirmed his superiority around the Suzuka Circuit with a fastest lap of one minute, 30.647 seconds, just 0.013 seconds quicker than Hamilton on an overcast afternoon.
"I'm happy with the result in the end," Rosberg told reporters. "I was going well the whole weekend and had a good balance in the car, feeling good, feeling comfortable so that's what allows me to put in a lap like that in the end."
Rosberg's 30th pole position of his career was the German's third in a row at Suzuka as Mercedes, who can wrap up a third successive constructors' title on Sunday, claimed first place on the grid for the 52nd time in the last 54 races.
Starting from the front also gives Rosberg a golden opportunity to extend his 23-point lead over defending champion Hamilton with four rounds remaining after Japan.
The Briton had been poised to vault back into the overall lead at the last race in Malaysia until he was forced out with an engine failure while on his way to a landmark 50th win just 16 laps from the finish.
Hamilton tends to save his best for the third qualifying session and the triple world champion appeared on course to snatch pole away from the German after going faster on the pair's first attempts in the final 12-minute shootout.
Rosberg was not to be denied, however, and did just enough on his final flying lap to deny the Briton a maiden Suzuka pole.
"It's been a weekend of a lot of work.. so considering that to be that close, I was really happy with it," said Hamilton, who won the race from second on the grid in the last two years and can draw encouragement from that.
"I did as well as I could. History has shown that you don't have to be on pole to get the win."
Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari on what has so far been a strong weekend for the Italian squad, one place ahead of team mate Sebastian Vettel, who will drop three spot as punishment for shoving Rosberg into a spin at the start in Malaysia.
Red Bull, who arrived on a high after inheriting a first one-two finish since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix in Malaysia, were unable to match the qualifying pace of their German and Italian rivals.
Max Verstappen, second in Malaysia, was fifth ahead of Sepang race-winner Daniel Ricciardo.
Elsewhere, McLaren endured a disappointing day at what is a considered a home event for engine-suppliers Honda with Jenson Button not even making it through the opening 18-minute qualifying session after setting the 17th-fastest time.
Double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso fared marginally better after the Spaniard was eliminated in the second phase and will start 15th.
Kabaddi World Cup 2016: A handy guide to the format, rules and how the sport works
MMNN:5 Oct. 2016
The Kabaddi World Cup 2016 is upon us, and it will be hosted by India, in Ahmedabad. The promos for it on TV, newspapers and streets might have already caught your eye. The tournament is highly significant for the sport as it returns after a gap of seven years, with a new lease of life. The success of the franchise-based Pro Kabaddi League has been at the heart of a huge turnaround in the fortunes for the sport - not just in terms of popularity, but also in terms of sustainance, professionalism and organisation. With several celebrities putting their money in the game, it's fair to say that kabaddi is now not just rural Indian sport, but a global business.
Very few times in sport do tweaks and changes in the original format of the game work out perfectly, but with kabaddi, the revamped rules and format were an instant hit. With added factors that made the game more engaging and entertaining, it hardly comes as the surprise the new edition of the Kabaddi World Cup will follow the same format that the Pro Kabaddi League so successfully pioneered.
For all those wondering how to go about following the sport and the upcoming World Cup, here is guide to all the rules, terms and how the game works.
How kabaddi works?
A game of kabaddi is a forty-minute affair where two teams try to outscore each other by getting the opponent players out, either through a raid or a tackle. The team with the most number of points at the end of the forty minutes is declared the winner. A kabaddi team typically consists of raiders and defenders. During a raid, a player enters the opponent's half, tries to touch an opposing player and escape back into his side's half. The number of defenders the raider touches corresponds to the number of points the raider's team earns. In addition, the raider can also score a point by crossing the bonus line. However if the raider is caught by the opposition team, they win the point.
The player who gets out, goes off court until his team wins a point to revive him. Every point won by a team helps it revive a lost member (unless it already has a full quota of players on field.) Similarly, the team that loses a point, loses it's player. The number of revivals corresponds to the number of points a team earns.
If any of the players go outside the court (cross the end line) during a raid, those players are out irrespective of the way the raid pans out. However, once a touch is made by the raider on a defender, the whole of a player's body must go off the field for the player to be ruled as out. This applies for both the raider and the defenders.
When all players of the team get out, an all-out is inflicted on that team. The game doesn't end for that team there, as the full quota of players from the team are restored to the court and the game proceeds. This goes on till the end of the forty minutes.
Field of play
The field of play in kabaddi consists of the playing court and the surrounding area. The court where the action takes place measures 13x10 metres, and is divided into two parts by the half line. The two competing teams take guard in each half. The other components of the court consist of the baulk lines, bonus lines, lobbies and the end lines. The end lines mark the court area that is in a rectangular shape and measure the length and breadth of the court
The baulk lines (one each in one half) are parallel to the shorter end line. A raider who enters the opponent half has to cross the baulk line to legitimise his raid. While the bonus line, also parallel to the shorter end line, and is placed between the end line and baulk line. The bonus line is deeper in the half as compared to the baulk line, and hence it's not mandatory for the raider to cross it to make his raid legal. It just serves as an incentive for the raider to gain an extra point and thus pushing him to take extra risk.
The lobbies are narrow rectangular sections along the longer end lines that stretch on either side of the half line. The lobbies are differentiated from the rest of the court by its distinct yellow colour. The lobbies only come into play after a raider touches an opponent defender and triggers a struggle.
Each team consist of seven starting players and five substitute players. The seven players line up on the court in a typical fashion. The two widest players are called corner players (right and left corners), they are specialist defenders. The players immediately besides the corner defenders are called 'ins'. The top raiders of the team usually play in this position. In the centre, there are two cover players (right and left) and these are occupied by two defenders. The center-most player is called as centre and that's where the team's all-rounder takes guard.
However, the team doesn't always retain the typical formation and lines up different formations according to the raider and match situation. The formation of full seven players usually consists of one isolated players and three chains of two players each. The formations and the chains become further flexible as the number of players on the court reduces.
What is a raid?
A raid begins when a player enters opponent's half. It lasts for thirty second within which the raider has to try and score a point - either a touch point or bonus point - and return back to his half. Failure to return within 30 seconds, rules the raider as out.
For a raider to win a bonus point, he has to ensure he crosses the bonus line with in his leg. But while his outstretched leg touches the area between the bonus line and the end line, his trailing leg must not be in contact with the ground to win the bonus point.
In the case, if a raider returns without scoring any point, no point is scored by either team and its deemed as an empty raid.
If a team has two consecutive empty raids, then its raider in the next raid has to score a point. If he doesn't, then he's ruled as out. Quite aptly it's called the 'do-or-die' raid'. So a team can't have three empty raids in a row. A do-or-die raid, thus, often serves as a turning point in the game.
Apart from the bread-and-butter stuff of winning points, a raider also has to follow few more mandatory aspects. He has to chant 'kabaddi kabaddi' loudly and clearly throughout the course of the raid. It's called the cant. If the raider fails to cant at anytime during the raid, he's ruled as out and the opponent gets the point. In addition, the raider must also cross the baulk line to legitimise his raid.
Special events and terms
A Super Raid happens when a raider scores three or more points in a single raid. Both touch points and bonuses are included in it.
A Super Tackle is when a raider is caught by the the opponent who has just three or less defenders left on court. In case of a super tackle, the defending team gets an additional point apart from the point from the tackle.
However, it only revives one lost member, despite the number of points earned is two. A super tackle serves teams in a spot of bother, giving them a good chance to comeback in the encounter, thus keeping the game in the balance.
Various kabaddi moves have typical names. Toe touch, scorpion kick, frog jump, ankle hold and blocks are a few moves that one needs to get acquainted with to watch the kabaddi world cup.
The game of kabaddi is very fast and new viewers will require a few games to to get used to how its played. To make it simpler, make sure you have this explainer handy when you sit down to watch the World Cup opener when India takes on South Korea on 7 October.
Bengaluru boy Ishan Pandita joins La Liga club Leganes
MMNN:5 Oct. 2016
Ishan Pandita, 18, from Bengaluru has become the first Indian player to get a professional contract from a La Liga club when he signed a one year deal with Leganes. The city is located on the outskirts of Madrid and is currently placed 11th in the league table.
Handed the No 50 jersey by club vice-president and owner Felipe Moreno, Pandita who has joined the first team but given the exposure required at this age, he will start by playing for the junior side - Leganes B who ply their trade in the Tercera Division (the fourth division of football in Spain).
"It's been a tough, hard three years here in Spain but at the end, it was all worth it," Ishan said to Times of India from the Spanish capital. "It feels great to be the first Indian to go down this path. Right from the moment I decided to take a break from studies till now, I never gave up on my dream," he added.
"What impressed us most about Ishan were his physical attributes and ability to score goals," Leganes academy director Jorge Broto Benavente said. "It's too early to say when he will break into the main team - he is a young player, a rough diamond to be worked on."
Besides Leganes, Getafe had also shown interest in signing the Indian striker who has Kashmiri roots. But Getafe's relegation allowed Pandita to choose Leganes as his destination.
Late last year, Pandita had an eight-month spell with the junior side of Almeria in the Segunda Division (second division) but because he was not 18, he couldn't sign a professional contract. However, his early days began with Alcobendas CF (current in Tercera Division) - feeder club for Atletico de Madrid.
Pandita has now had a taste of the facilities and infrastructure at Leganes for a month now and he says the rise to La Liga has also helped the Cantera (the junior side). "We've got a new field for the youth players since we moved to La Liga. The facilities are state-of-the-art and we have a fantastic coaching and support staff. We get a lot of attention and in every training program, they make you feel as professional as possible. More importantly, everyone is an equal here," he stated.
Wuhan Open: Sania Mirza-Barbora Strycova suffer a straight-set loss in final
Wuhan:MMNN:1 Oct. 2016
Sania Mirza and her Czech partner Barbora Strycova suffered a straight-set loss against Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova in the summit clash of the WTA Wuhan Open, at Wuhan on Saturday.
The third seeds lost 1-6, 4-6 to the fifth seeded US-Czech pair of Mattek-Sands and Safarova in the finals of the $2,589,000 tournament that lasted a little over an hour.
Mattek-Sands and Safarova converted six of the eight break points that came their way, while the Indo-Czech pair squandered six out of eight.
Sania has won three titles in her last four tournaments she has played after splitting with Swiss Martina Hingis.
Last week, the pair of Sania and Strycova registered a easy win over Chen Liang and Zhaoxuan Yang, the unseeded Chinese pair, and won the Toray Pan Pacific Open title in Tokyo.
The Indo-Czech duo won the game 6-1, 6-1 in just 51 minutes in the final of the women's doubles event.
Before bowing out in the quarterfinals of US Open, the duo also won the Cincinnati Open in August.