Indian skipper Virat Kohli knows how to win hearts. Time after time, Virat has done generous acts for his fans and co-workers. Despite being busy, he took some time out of his schedule to celebrate the birthday of his security personnel Faizal Khan. He not only arranged the cake for the birthday boy but also gifted him an expensive present.
After his brief rest from international arena, Virat will be leading India in the T20 and ODI series against Australia.
Australia led by Aaron Finch have landed in India to play two T20 internationals and five ODI matches.
This is the last international assignment for Men in Blue before the World Cup in England and Wales.
Virat will also be seen leading RCB in the upcoming Indian Premier League season.
It is not just India but also, other cricket teams around the world that are raising the critical issue of managing workload, particularly with the attention now squaring turning towards the ICC Cricket World Cup. But while some have suggested a two team policy to reduce the burden on cricketers, the issue is far more complicated than it seems on paper.
At the present time, there is no current Test playing nation that is composed entirely of Test cricketers alone. In fact, if anything, there has been the contention put forth by the most players themselves that they would not like to be branded as a one trick pony and therefore, relegated to any one format alone.
Even those that play Twenty20, sometimes accepting their fate as specialists in limited overs cricket or those looking at an easier route to retirement, often do prefer to play both formats, one day internationals as well as Twenty20, rather than be chosen for just the one. In such a scenario, there are very few players who have cut themselves off from playing Test cricket or even contemplate playing Test cricket in the future.
With the Indian captain most vociferously raising the issue of managing workloads, while some former cricketers have contended they spent longer time on tours, others are of the opinion that there has to be a method to the madness even in such a scenario. However the rotation of players has been a somewhat contentious issue because no player likes to be rested while in form given the competition for places in the lineup and also, given the proximity of major tournaments such as the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup.
Unless a particular player enjoys the favour of the captain, it is not easy to see how players take to being given a break without a certain pattern given that very few have managed to cement places quite like the captain himself.
Besides even if a team fields two different teams at any one time, which is cutting off their talent pool, it is not an easy proposition on the fans either because of the level of competitiveness that is likely to take a beating when certain versatile players are cut off from the roster altogether. What could, also, precipitate with such a move is cricket boards, already looking to double and triple their pockets, may look to host tournaments simultaneously across formats, thereby reducing the weightage given to each platform and premier event and thereby also, reduce their overall cricket fan base.
There are already contentious issues of players playing far less cricket, particularly in the five day format and forgoing domestic cricket and four day games as a result of it and not being held accountable for the lack of match practice as well as for the fact that their experience could broaden the intensity base to strengthen domestic cricket. These are matters that must be taken into consideration before the powers that be can decide if cricket can exist as a cohesive whole if its world were to be divided into two clear divisive lines that players must now choose. While it puts the format with less commercial interest for cricket administrators in peril, it threatens to devalue the sport’s credibility overall, not to mention, depriving the sport of some of its greatest, most versatile champions.
Former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar has condemned the Pulwama terror attack. He said India have a right to pull out of the World Cup clash against Pakistan as their country was attacked.
“Should sports stay political? Not at all. So these differences set in matters of circumstances. We strongly condemn the loss of lives,” Akhtar told a Pakistan news channel.
However, he backed Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had denied India’s claims that Pakistan was behind the attack.
“But when it comes to our country, we are one nation, united and we will stand by our Prime Minister’s statement without having a second thought. They have a right to pull out. Their country was attacked and hence the decision.”
He further added that the governing body of Indian cricket also wants to play against Pakistan considering the amount of money they would earn by hosting rival nation.
“BCCI wants to play with Pakistan, the government says no. Had they played with Pakistan, the broadcasters and BCCI would have earned the maximum revenue. The series would have a monetary value of 600 million dollars. Do you think they don’t? Of course, they want that,” the former Pakistan speedster said.
“The Pakistan board had mentioned that they want to play a bilateral series and you cannot deny it although the series can be held at a different venue altogether. But they (BCCI) have said that they have a board to run which falls under (the purview of) Supreme Court. That is their argument and that is logical.”
Former cricketers, fans and celebrities from different spheres of life are urging BCCI to boycott the World Cup match against Pakistan, which is scheduled to be played on June 16 at Manchester.
However, there are many, who are not in favor of forfeiting the upcoming game against arch rivals in the showpiece event. Former minister Shashi Tharoor took to twitter and batted in favour of the tie.
He stated that if India refuse to play with Pakistan, it would be worse than surrender.
His post read, “Reminder: at the height of the 1999 Kargil War, India played Pakistan in the cricket World Cup, & won. To forfeit the match this year would not just cost two points: it would be worse than surrender, since it would be defeat without a fight.”
Cheteshwar Pujara made an unbeaten 61-ball 100 for Saurashtra in the Group C encounter of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 against Railways at Holkar Stadium, Indore. Pujara has been in red-hot form and was also the star of India's first Test series win in Australia. He even shone through with the bat in Ranji trophy.
Pujara is considered to be a Test specialist, so for many people, his T20 hundred came as a surprise. But, it wasn't the case with the Saurashtra player, who could see it coming.
Pujara stated, "It is special. This was expected because I have done well whenever I have got the opportunity in white-ball cricket. I am not surprised by this century, but I am sure many people are. I knew this one would come at some stage in my career, and this is the right time. I have been really batting well. Good form in Test cricket can help you bat well in shorter formats. It helps you get into good positions, you pick the ball early so I am really happy. Although it came in a defeat, but it was a close game where Railways needed 12 off the last over and they pulled it off."
He also reflected on getting unsold in IPL auctions. He said, "I think twice for sure (after being unsold). I put my name in because somewhere down the line I am very confident about playing white ball, whether it is ODI or T20. If I am not picked, I am not picked. But with such results, if I can carry on like this, people will start noticing. Even franchises might take notice. If I am still not picked I will carry on doing things I am doing. I don't want to change anyone's perceptions."
The two-match T20I series between India and Australia is all set to begin from the 24th of February at Visakhapatnam. India and Australia have enjoyed a great rivalry in Test and ODI cricket in the recent past and this series will be the perfect opportunity to revive that rivalry between the two sides in the shortest format.
As we wait for the T20 series to begin, here is a look at some interesting stats and numbers from the India-Australia T20I history.
The first ever T20 between India and Australia was played at the ICC World Twenty20 at Durban on Sep 22, 2007. It was the all-important semi-final of the event and batting first, the MS Dhoni-led India posted 188-5 on the board and then went onto restrict Australia for 173-7, thus winning the game by 15 runs.
The highest team total in India-Australia T20Is is India’s 202-4 at Rajkot in October 2013. While chasing Australia’s massive total of 2013-14 in the one-off T20 between the two teams, India reached the target courtesy a sublime 77 off 35 balls by Yuvraj Singh.
India’s batting superstar Virat Kohli leads in this category with 488 runs in 14 matches at an incredible average of 61 and a strike-rate of 142.69. He has struck 5 T20I fifties against Australia thus far with a best of 90* at Adelaide in January 2016.
Shane Watson’s unbeaten 124 at Sydney against the Men in Blue is the highest score by a batsman in India-Australia T20Is. Watson’s effort took just 71 balls and included 10 fours and 6 sixes. No other batsman from either side is yet to score a hundred.
India’s fast bowling sensation Jasprit Bumrah leads this category with 12 wickets in 9 matches at an average of 21.33 and an economy of 7.87. His best bowling figures against Australia has been the 3-23 at Adelaide in January 2016.
The highest strike by a batsman in an innings in India-Australia T20Is (minimum 25 runs) is 288.88 by Shikhar Dhawan. The left-handed Indian opener achieved this stunning strike-rate in a T20I at Sydney in January 2016 where he smashed 26 off just 9 balls.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s terrific 4-11 in at the World T20 at Dhaka in March 2014 has remained the best bowling figure in India-Australia T20I history. The Indian off-spinner achieved those figures in a spell of 3.2 overs that helped India shoot Australia out for 86 runs and win the match by 73 runs.
The massive 134-run stand for the third wicket between India’s Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina in the first match of the series at Sydney is the highest partnership by runs for any wicket in T20Is between India and Australia till now. The two came together at 41-2 in the 5th over and were separated when they had taken India to 175 in 19.2 overs.
He always said his first goal was to get into the top 100 of the ATP rankings. And now that he has achieved that – he is perched on No 97 in the current rankings list – Prajnesh Gunneswaran will no doubt set his sights higher. It will not be easy in a fiercely competitive field and Prajnesh is aware of the tough task ahead. He just has to look at the fortunes of two of his colleagues Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan. Not too long ago Yuki reached a high of 83 while Ramkumar had a best of 111. But they found it hard to stay at these spots. Yuki is currently ranked 137 while Ramkumar too has slipped to 133.
So does Prajnesh have it in him to stay in the top 100 for an extended period and then looking further ahead to rise in the rankings? Standing over six feet and looking fit he has the game at least for a slow and steady rise and it all depends on how hungry he is for success. At 29 he does not have time on his hands and will have to move quickly if he is to make a considerable impact. But at least he is on the right track and the steady improvement is underlined by his maiden entry into a Grand Slam. Last month he won the qualifying competition to make his debut into the main draw of the Australian Open. He however went down in straight sets to 29th ranked Frances Tiafoe of the US.
Actually Prajnesh should have made his Grand Slam debut last year but was a trifle unlucky. At the French Open he lost in the final qualifying round. However, he was chosen as the lucky loser after Nick Kyrgios of Australia withdrew from the competition. But Prajnesh could not participate in the main draw as he had already left Paris before Kyrgios announced his withdrawal thus missing out narrowly on making his first main draw appearance at a Grand Slam.
Indeed 2018 was a breakthrough year for Prajnesh. At the start of the year he was world No 243 but a series of commendable performances saw him end the year on a career high ranking of 104. He reached four ATP Challenger finals winning two of them. He won his first ATP Challenger title at the Kunming Challenge in China defeating Mohammed Safwat of Egypt in the final. Then in an all Indian final he defeated Saketh Myneni at the Bangalore Challenger. He finished runner-up at the Ningho Challenger in China and the Pune Challenger events. And in August he won the bronze medal in the men's singles event at the Asian Games in Jakarta.
So it can be seen that Pranesh has made steady progress over the last year. But from now on the climb will be that much tougher and it remains to be seen whether India’s leading player can rise to the occasion.
Sunil Gavaskar and Imran Khan were contemporaries during their playing days. But, they were friends beyond the cricket field. They still share cordial relations. But, the Pulwama terror attack has shaken India to the core. In this shameful attack, at least, 40 CRPF Jawans were martyred. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the cowardly attack.
Sunil Gavaskar said he wants the Pakistan PM and former cricketer, Imran Khan to take the first friendly steps and ensure perpetrators of terror are handed over to the United Nations. He had a direct message for Pakistan's 1992 World-Cup winning skipper.
"I don't want to react to what these young players have suggested but if I may speak directly - Imran, when you took over, you said it was going to be a new Pakistan," Gavaskar told India Today.
"You said India should take one step and Pakistan will take two steps. I want to say that Pakistan should be the one to take the first step. You ensure that those in Pakistan creating problems - maybe to the United Nations.
"You take those two friendly steps and then see the many steps India will take. I am no politician. You are my friend, Wasim is my friend, Shoaib Akhtar is my friend. You take that first step. Let old Pakistan stay. You take that first step, and then see the number of friendly steps India will take.
"If he takes those first steps, it’s a Naya Pakistan. Hand over those responsible for the attacks, stop cross-border infiltration. You see then how many steps India will take. But I am not a politician, I am a sportsperson. But I am sure people in India will appreciate.
"The first friendly steps.. if Imran takes those steps, you will see the steps India will take. I am sure the people of India will appreciate. Imran has spent a lot of time in India - as a cricketer, as a friendly visitor to the India and he knows the Indian people more than any other (Pakistani) prime minister.
"I am not asking for words, I am asking for action to be taken," Gavaskar said.
Yesterday, the Indian all-rounder, Hardik Pandya was ruled out of the upcoming T20I and ODI series against Australia, due to lower back stiffness. The Baroda player will undergo strength and conditioning training at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru from next week.
Sources told Hindustan Times that without a doubt, the Cricket World Cup will be the top priority for Pandya. But there might well be a scenario, where the all-rounder is rested from 2019 IPL.
The source, however, added, “Too early to speak about that (IPL participation) at present. He has a stiff back and it is not like he is carrying any injury. After the three weeks of training at the NCA, he will once again undergo a fitness test and the decision on his participation in the T20 league will be taken then.”
Notably, Pandya had earlier suffered a lower-back injury during the Asia Cup encounter against Pakistan as well, which ruled him out of the home series against Windies and also the T20I series and early part of the Test series against Australia.
A board functionary told HT, “If you realize, Baroda wasn’t playing a game for 16 days since the match against Mumbai from December 14. While it is true that he had played just one game since returning from injury, the team management thought that it was best to have him around the team to ensure that he is fully recovered by the time the ODI series gets underway on January 12. The level of training and prepping goes a level higher when you are with the national team and under the watchful eyes of the Indian trainers.”
Tottenham striker Harry Kane has made a quicker-than-expected recovery from an ankle injury and could be involved in the Premier League game at Burnley on Saturday.
Kane has returned to full training, five weeks after damaging ligaments in his left ankle in a loss to Manchester United. Tottenham initially said Kane wouldn't be back in training until early March.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino says "maybe he's going to be available to be part of the squad (against Burnley). We all know that Harry is an animal and wants to be ready as soon as possible."
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Pochettino said of Kane "of course if you ask him 10 days ago, he was ready to play."
Kane has missed seven matches because of the injury and Tottenham has exited the FA Cup and English League Cup in that time. The team has won four games in the Premier League, though, and also beaten Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in the Champions League.
Tottenham is in third place in the Premier League, five points behind Manchester City and Liverpool.
Andy Murray is currently recovering from his hip surgery, and his mother thinks the two-time Wimbledon champion still has a chance of making a return.
Murray announced last month at the Australian Open that he would compete in the season's first major but might never be able to play again. He lost in the first round in Melbourne and had hip resurfacing surgery about two weeks ago.
Judy Murray, Andy's mother and former coach, told The Associated Press that she doesn't think her son is done just yet.
"I don't think we know anything, for sure nobody does," Judy Murray said at the Rio Open, the biggest tennis tournament in South America. "But I know that he would do everything that he possibly can to give himself a chance to play again.
"I think he had the same operation as Bob Bryan after the U.S. Open, and he was playing doubles again, at Australian Open. But doubles is a very different physical proposition as singles. I think, right now, (we have to) wait and see."
When Andy Murray made his surprise announcement ahead of the Australian Open, he said he would at least like to keep playing until Wimbledon — the tournament he won in 2013 to become the first British male champion at the All England Club in 77 years.
Murray won the Wimbledon title again in 2016, as well as winning one U.S. Open title and two Olympic gold medals. He was also ranked No. 1 in the world for 41 weeks.
Judy Murray, speaking at the stylish Jockey Club after being invited to the ATP tournament, said she thinks her son is still struggling with the idea of never playing again. If he sees a chance to return, he will take it, she said.
"I think he will, (but) I think he's aware that it might not be possible," Judy Murray said. "He is a smart guy, he has a lot of interest in different things, he has a lot of options in life after tennis. But the most important thing is that he's free from the pain he's had for 20 months. He has a young family, you have to think about the quality of life for the rest of your life. Actually, that's the most important thing."
Andy Murray has said that "overtraining" during his younger years may have led to the recent operation that included removing the damaged bone and cartilage within his right hip socket and replacing it with a metal shell. Judy Murray was coaching both of her sons during those early years, but she didn't necessarily agree that too much practice was the reason.
"Well, not too much," Judy Murray said. "You learn from your mistakes, both with Jamie and Andy we were learning as we went along, because nobody had done it from Scotland before. So, there was nobody to follow, nobody to give us advice."
Still, she did quite a job coaching her boys. Besides Andy reaching No. 1 and winning Wimbledon, Jamie reached No. 1 in doubles and won a pair of mixed doubles titles at the All England Club, among others.
"They did amazing things," Judy Murray said. "Nobody could have ever having expected them to become No. 1 coming from a small town in the middle of Scotland."
The highest point in her memory, however, came in the Davis Cup. Britain was facing Australia in the semifinals, the best-of-five series was being played in Glasgow, and both of her sons were on the team.
"Andy played with Jamie, and we weren't sure if he's going to play the doubles, because of course he has to play singles on Friday and Sunday, and to play three matches in a row best of five sets is tough," Judy Murray said. "So we weren't sure until the last minute that he was going to play the doubles. And it was in Glasgow, in Scotland, where we live, where tennis is a very tiny sport, just 1 percent of the population plays tennis. Nobody would ever have expected us to have Grand Slam champions.
"So, I was seated in this venue, which is an Athletics Arena, so 9,000 people in Scotland, I watched Jamie and Andy walk out, with Leon Smith as a captain, who I started with as a coach when he was 20, so he's like my third son. I just look around and said, 'Whoa! Whoever would have believed we would have Davis Cup semifinal with Scottish players, Scottish captain and in Scotland.' So, for me it was the biggest moment, so many things coming together at the same time."
Another moment, possibly a final moment, could still be coming at Wimbledon.
Suddenly, scoring has become a problem for Barcelona's prolific attack.
And it's happening at a bad time, with the team entering the decisive stretch of the season.
Luis Suarez is going through a slump, Ousmane Dembele hasn't proven himself as a starter, and even Lionel Messi has struggled recently.
Barcelona have scored only twice in its last four matches in all competitions. It has won only one of its last five games, being held scoreless in two of its last three matches.
"We've tried to score in every possible way," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said after the team's 0-0 draw at Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday. "We've created many chances but couldn't capitalize on them. Soccer is about creating opportunities and capitalizing on them, and we haven't been able to do that."
Before the recent struggles, Barcelona had won five of six matches in all competitions, outscoring opponents 17-4.
Messi scored only once in his last four games since recovering from a right leg muscle injury, with the only goal coming from a penalty kick in last weekend's 1-0 home win against Valladolid in the Spanish league, when he also missed from the penalty spot.
Messi had scored in nine straight matches before hurting his leg in a 2-2 league draw against Valencia.
Dembele has been playing better recently — having started in two straight games — but he has scored only three goals in his last eight matches.
But the biggest concern is with Suarez, who has only two goals in his last 10 matches.
The Uruguay striker has produced some uncharacteristic mistakes in front of the goal, making poor decisions with the ball and wasting some easy chances that he would normally not miss. It happened a few times against Lyon in the Champions League, and also in previous matches.
"I'm not worried," Valverde said. "I would be worried if he hadn't been creating opportunities, which is what you ask from a striker. Although he hasn't been scoring, he has been helping his teammates."
The squad has come out to support the striker, who has 18 goals in 36 appearances for club and country this season.
"Strikers need goals, but we can't only expect that from Luis," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "The work he does to help the rest of the team is important. This bad streak will eventually end."
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen said the players know they can always count on Suarez.
"He always does everything possible to be at his best," the goalkeeper said. "We hope he can start scoring again soon so he can regain his confidence."
Barcelona will need Suarez to be at his best as it faces a difficult stretch of matches that could ultimately decide its season.
The Catalan club visits Sevilla in the Spanish league on Saturday, then has two consecutive matches against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium — one in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals and another in the league. It then hosts Lyon in the second leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Barcelona has a seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league, with Real Madrid nine points behind.
There are a lot of debates regarding the captaincy of both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. There are quite a few fans, who feel Rohit Sharma should captain India in limited-over formats, given how brilliant he has been when it comes to captaining Mumbai Indians or the Indian team in absence of Virat Kohli. There is a perception that Kohli is tactically not as smart and calculated as Rohit Sharma.
Indian wrist-spinner, Yuzvendra Chahal, who is quite close to both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, opened up on the difference between the captaincy styles of both the players.
He was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times, “They have their own style. While Virat bhai looks a little aggressive on the field like a warrior, Rohit bhaiya looks calmer and is in Zen mode."
Chahal also pointed out to one thing that is common between both of them. "Both are top-class when it comes to their skills. The best part is that both give the bowlers the freedom to set our own fields and express ourselves. They are always there to back us when the going is a bit tough and are equally appreciative when we bowl well,” he said.
Chelsea shook off their recent troubles and easily advanced in the Europa League with a 3-0 second leg victory over 10-man Malmo, a result that takes some pressure off embattled coach Maurizio Sarri.
After a scoreless first half, Olivier Giroud tapped in a cross from Willian in the 55th minute before Ross Barkley made it 2-0 from a free kick. Callum Hudson-Odoi finished it off in the 84th, with Willian setting up his goal as well.
Giroud and Barkley also scored in a 2-1 victory in the first leg, with Chelsea advancing to the round of 16 with a 5-1 win on aggregate.
Earlier Thursday, Arsenal rebounded from a 1-0 loss to BATE Borisov a week ago with a comprehensive 3-0 second-leg victory.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang forced an early own goal before center backs Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos added one apiece for Arsenal to advance 3-1 on aggregate.
Italian clubs Napoli and Inter also had no problems to make the next phase while last year's semifinalist Salzburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Valencia, Villarreal, Dinamo Zagreb, Zenit, Benfica, Kiev, Rennes, Krasnodar and Slavia Prague all made it through.
Former champion Sevilla advanced after knocking out Lazio on Wednesday.
The draw for the last 16 is scheduled for Friday.
The first week of Formula testing ended with Ferrari looking to be a step ahead of Mercedes.
Ferrari showed good pace and reliability throughout the first four days of testing in Spain, while Mercedes didn't look up to full speed.
Although teams often avoid showing their full potential in testing, Mercedes has usually fared better at this point in previous seasons.
"They do seem very strong, no matter which kind of fuel load or engine mode they're running," Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said of Ferrari. "Whatever you try to correct that for, in any case, they are quick, on short runs and long runs. I think we feel, at this point, that they're going to be a bit ahead, but obviously it's impossible to make a detailed calculation."
Renault's Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time of the week on Thursday with a time of 1 minute, 17.393 seconds at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, ahead of Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon. Hulkenberg teammate Daniel Ricciardo was third, ahead of Bottas and his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Charles Leclerc, who led the timesheets on Tuesday, ended sixth with Ferrari on a slower tire compound.
Hamilton and Bottas totaled only 115 laps with both cars on Thursday, while Leclerc ran 138 with his Ferrari.
"I think there is a lot of potential, but it's not yet quite there," Bottas said. "But I feel a sense in the team of a bit of an excitement to discover more about the car and to improve it, because at this point, it looks like we are not miles ahead of everyone. It seems like Ferrari are in a better place."
Hamilton on Wednesday predicted a stronger challenge from Ferrari this year. The five-time world champion beat Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel the last two seasons in the drivers' championship. Mercedes has won the constructors' title for five straight years.
Hamilton and Bottas had faster overall times than Vettel and Leclerc, although their laps came on faster tires. Mercedes also ran 12 more laps than Ferrari during the four days of testing.
Vettel was the fastest driver on Monday.
McLaren had a promising first week, being able to run more laps than in both test sessions combined last year. Williams, which started testing later than the other teams because of delays with its 2019 car, ran only 88 laps in total, the fewest among all teams. Alfa Romeo, formerly known as Sauber, had a promising week, racking up a high lap count and setting fast times.
Testing will continue Tuesday-Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
The season-opening Australian Grand Prix is on March 17.
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