Sports en Sun Nov 24 14:54:47 IST 2019 saviour-swimmer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For Bengaluru city, it was just another day (Wednesday, August 21, 2019) with never-ending traffic snarls and incessant honking on its roads. But, it was a fateful one for Manu, 18, a Kerala-born lad who was in the city for his undergraduate studies, and four of his friends—George, Salman, Sanjay and Nidhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Those were our initial days in college; Wednesdays were off-days for us,” says Manu. “We had been waiting for a chance to explore Bengaluru. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we got an offer from [rental car service] Zoomcar for a discounted ride. And, we decided to drive to the Royal Meenakshi Mall in Bannerghatta Main Road.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the way to the mall, the group took a turn to the Bengaluru-Mysuru Infrastructure Corridor—popularly known as the NICE Ring Road. “We thought it would be fun to take a ride on the NICE Road,” says Manu. “But it proved to be a terrible decision.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The group entered NICE Ring Road from the toll booth on the Electronic City side around 11:30am. Just after the toll booth, they overtook Haradar Santosh Sashwath Jain’s car. The 30-year-old former national-level swimmer was heading home to Girinagar from Electronic City. “The way they overtook my car, I thought… it was rash driving,” recounts Sashwath. “My driver tried to throttle a bit and match them. I told him, ‘You drive calm. You know my mindset when it comes to NICE Road. Let them go’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had lost his older brother in a tragic road accident on NICE Road on March 26, 2019. “My sister-in-law was paralysed below the waist in that accident. She is still in wheelchair,” says Sashwath, who is vice president of Garuda Aerospace Pvt Limited, a company that builds drones and helps farmers in spraying fertilisers and pesticides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manu was driving the Zoomcar when they started the ride. Rattled by the speeding vehicles on NICE Road, he handed over the wheel to George. Their car took a U-turn close to Bannerghatta, and just after that, the accident happened. “We were going at 120-130km/hr,” says Manu. “I do not know what exactly happened. For a few minutes, we were all numb. I think the steering got locked. All I remember is that the vehicle toppled twice and the left side of the car hit the ground.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sashwath crossed Bannerghatta, he saw the Zoomcar in a ditch and asked his driver to stop. “By the time my driver stopped the car, we were 200 to 300m past the accident spot,” he says. “So, I asked him to take a U-turn, and I ran to the accident spot. Some people were standing there as mere spectators—no one was helping the kids.” George and Nidhi were in the front seats, and Manu, Sanjay and Salman in the back. All of them were in panic and shock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On reaching the spot, Sashwath took charge of the situation. “First, we pulled the girl [Nidhi] out, then Manu, and after that Sanjay,” he says. George and Nidhi were unhurt as they had worn seat belts. Manu also seemed to be stable. But Sanjay and Salman were in pain. Sanjay was bleeding from his ears and nose. “His face was covered in blood,” says Sashwath. “When we tried to pull out Salman, he screamed. I said, ‘Do not pull him out’ because I sensed that his spine must have been hurt badly. The same thing had happened to my sister-in-law.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sashwath then flagged down a taxi cab and asked for help. “I asked him, ‘Can you help us, because I cannot wait till an ambulance arrives. I will pay you the diesel price. You just have to follow me to the hospital.’ The cab driver replied, ‘No need for money, brother, I will help you out.’” By this time, Manu also started experiencing severe back pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Salman, Manu and George were taken to hospital in the cab, and Sanjay and Nidhi were taken in Sashwath’s car. “We took them to the SSNMC Hospital—the same hospital where my sister-in-law was admitted,” says Sashwath. “I paid the initial charges in the hospital.” He also ensured that the police case filed against George—who drove the car—did not have severe charges. “It was an unintentional incident,” he says. “They were all students. I did not want this incident to ruin their future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay’s condition stabilised after he was given the first aid. However, Manu and Salman had suffered spinal cord injuries. “Salman’s case was severe. He suffered damage to the nerves, too,” says Manu. “He had to undergo surgery. He was shifted to Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, the next day. I had to stay in hospital for three to four days. Later I was shifted to a cousin’s home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sashwath stayed as a helping hand during their days in hospital. It has been one and a half years since the accident. Salman is still bedridden; he could not return to college. The group is still in contact with the good Samaritan who saved them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the death of his brother that had made Sashwath a road warrior. “My brother’s life would have been saved if someone had helped him the way I did,” says Sashwath. “Those who have seen that accident waited for an ambulance for more than an hour. By the time he was taken to hospital, we had lost him.”</p> Thu Feb 04 16:59:06 IST 2021 it-was-the-biggest-moment-of-my-life <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Border-Gavaskar</b> series was perhaps a coming-of-age period for Rishabh Pant—wicketkeeper, batsman, match-winner of the final Test and the team’s funny man all rolled into one. Back home, he is feeling happier and more confident. Before leaving for Chennai to join the team camp for the England series, he spent a few days in Delhi with his mother and sister, who joined him from Roorkee, his hometown.</p> <p>When THE WEEK spoke to Pant, he was in a playful mood—wearing a Tom and Jerry sweatshirt and a cap. He talked at length about the series victory in Australia, the challenges of balancing his wicketkeeping, batting and fitness, and how he plotted the unforgettable run chase on day five in Brisbane. He admitted that after long, he is once again happy in his life.</p> <p>The win at the Gabba and all that unfolded after it are still hazy, and he cannot recall a single thing anyone said to him. But he has one grouse. That his mother did not pick up his phone call. “She never picks up my phone on time!”</p> <p>After just a day’s rest, he was back in the nets training with his childhood coaches, Tarak Sinha and Devender Sharma, at the Sonnet Club in Delhi. Management agency JSW Sports signed him even before he landed in Delhi. He already plays for the company, which owns Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League.</p> <p>Chirpy, cheeky and affable, this is the Rishabh Pant that the nation has grown to love. As a batsman, he has proven that he can be a match-winner for India anytime, anywhere. As a wicketkeeper, he is a work in progress. And he knows it. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p><b>Q/ It has been a few days since the team returned from Australia. Has it sunk in that you were one of the heroes of the series win?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>Yeah, it is just sinking in. Spending time with my family has helped. [But] I do not want to keep thinking about it because there is a new series coming up. So yes, I am feeling happy after a long time!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You had lost your place in the limited-overs squads. So going into the Test series, what was your approach and mindset like?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>I lost my place in the ODI and T20 squads, so I had to tell myself to focus on the [things I can control]. I had to focus on playing all four Tests. I was spending good time in the gym, training hard. I was practising well, so my whole focus was on how I could do better there and improve every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your last tour to Australia was a good one too. Did that give you confidence going into this series?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>Yes, it does give you confidence when you tell yourself you have been there and done well, but I did not think about that too much. I was only focusing on myself and my cricket. My mindset was clear that I need to improve every day. I needed to make good use of the days ahead of the Test series. We had all gone there together and had enough time to prepare. I was putting myself through the furnace so that I could become better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ After lockdown and during the IPL, you focused on fitness and lost weight. When you left for Australia straight after the IPL, how difficult was it to strike a balance between wicketkeeping, fitness and batting?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>The lockdown was long, but I have been playing cricket for 17-18 years now. So even if I do not play for 7-8 months, it still remains. But there is also no limit for improving. One has to distribute time accordingly for all aspects—sometimes you bat less and keep more during training, sometimes you spend more time on physical training. I have three roles—all three cannot be the same every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were you feeling the pressure when the Melbourne Test did not go well for you as a wicketkeeper?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>No, there was no such thing. It did not go as bad as it looked from the outside. But since I was playing a Test match after a long time, the bounce (on Australian pitches) is different. No matter how hard you practise, you do feel a bit nervous. But I was confident. At the end of the day, it all ended well. I was in a better space at the end of the match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How bad did you feel when you missed out on your century in Sydney?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>I was feeling bad not because of missing a century, but because I was thinking about the match. We had the game in our grasp. Pujji <i>bhai</i> (Cheteshwar Pujara) and I were playing, and winning the match would have been different. That was more heart-breaking for me than missing a hundred.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the second innings at the Gabba, at what point did you decide you would chase down the total?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>The plan was to play normal cricket, to let the game unfold and then see what happens. I was not thinking too much about winning, but it was there at the back of my mind. I did not try to do too many different things, and gave myself time to stay at the crease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you saw the way Pujara was getting hit, did that give you incentive to play with more freedom? How is it batting with Pujara?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>I have been batting with him now for a long time. Most of the time, we get to play the role together. When he was getting hit, I was amazed at his commitment! Even after playing for so many years, he is getting hit, standing there doing his job. That is the kind of environment we have created in the team—that no matter what, we have to stick there and believe in ourselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What did you make of the Aussie tactics</b>—<b>bowling short or into the body</b>—<b>to get the breakthrough?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>We have been practising [short-pitched deliveries] so well with Raghu (throwdown expert D. Raghavendra) and our bowlers. We knew what their bowlers could do, and we had planned accordingly. We were prepared for everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are young, but you played the senior role when Washington Sundar came out to bat. Talk us through what you told him.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>When I am batting, I am very proactive and I keep talking to [my partner]. I like to appreciate the cricket­—if someone is leaving the ball, I say well left or good defence. All these things keep me motivated and involved, too. So, when Washy came, he was pumped up and said, ‘<i>Macha</i>, what should we do? I have to hit, etc.’ I told him to take a chill pill, one of us has to stay till the end. I told him to decide what to do, because both of us wanted to go for the win. Either you go for the runs or I have to go. He responded, ‘I will go for the runs, you anchor the innings.’ That is how it started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you remember anything that was said to you immediately after the win? Or is it still all hazy?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>It is still hazy. When we won the match, I was standing there and everybody was rushing towards me. I had no idea what was happening. I looked around, seeing everyone jumping and told myself, ‘Something good has happened today, boss. It feels good.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you ever experienced this before in other series?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>This was the biggest moment of my life! To help win the series decider outside India was a different feeling for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was different about this series that you all got together and executed plans so well?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>I think it was difficult for everyone because once Virat [Kohli] <i>bhaiyya</i> left and [Mohammed] Shami <i>bhai</i> got injured, there were so many things happening. But it was an opportunity also for someone else to do something good for the team. It was an opportunity for others to stand up and help the team win the match. You will not get a better time to win a match for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ At the end of the day, one could say Rishabh Pant has grown a lot, courtesy this Australia series?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>No no, I still have black hair, I am still young! This series made me realise I am maturing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is not enough time to get over the tiredness or work on your wicketkeeping before the England series starts. How will you manage all this?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>Since my return, I have been training at the club. I guess one has to work on the mindset since you cannot work on your skills as much in such a short time. You just need to remember what else you need to do or add to your game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see England as an opposition?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b><i> </i>They are a very strong team, but as the Indian team, we have the self-belief. We know if we play to our potential, we can win the series.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 28 16:11:18 IST 2021 preparing-for-launch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I really miss playing tournaments,” said badminton star P.V. Sindhu, when asked what she misses the most from the pre-Covid days. Her last event was the All England Open in March 2020. “But with tournaments starting from January, I am really looking forward to performing well at the Thailand Open,” she said.</p> <p>The world champion is working with sports scientist Rebecca Randell of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and training with Badminton England’s Toby Penty and Rajiv Ouseph at the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes, England.</p> <p>All Olympics-bound Indian athletes like Sindhu are itching to compete, having resumed their training in June. The break may have come as a welcome one for some initially, but the long period of inaction that followed had its own challenges.</p> <p>Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, India’s brightest hope for an Olympic medal in athletics, had an injury-plagued 2019 and an equally forgettable 2020, which saw him competing in only one event. “It has been a long time since I competed,” said Chopra, who is training at the national camp in Bhubaneshwar.</p> <p>For a young Sindhu or Chopra, time is on their side. But the clock has never ticked so loudly for seniors like P.R. Sreejesh, former captain of the Indian hockey team. “As a goalkeeper, it is good that I got more time to prepare,” said the 32-year-old. “But at the same time, I need to be playing at the highest level to remain at my best.”</p> <p>With teams undergoing training camps since June-July, coaches have had to prepare plans for different scenarios—be it for pre-Olympic competitions or for going to the Olympics without any international competitions.</p> <p><b>Shooting</b></p> <p>The National Rifle Association of India, along with the Sports Authority of India, held two national camps for Olympic core-group shooters in New Delhi. But 2020 was a tough one on Indian shooters who are used to training and competing all year round. “I usually train 365 days a year,” said pistol shooter Abhishek Verma. “But because of Covid, I was forced to take a long holiday. Only the 10m air pistol and air rifle shooters were able to train at home after the lockdown ended. And still, the ranges were closed.”</p> <p>For Suma Shirur, national coach of the air rifle team, the first camp organised for the core Olympic probables squad was to sort shooters’ equipment. “It was about fine-tuning equipment with their body and basic fundamental training,” she said. The second camp, which started in October, was about technical training. The third camp is set to resume after a break interspersed with selection trials. “The second camp was very positive,” said Shirur. “Everyone got into the groove of competitive training together, so they know what level they are at.”</p> <p>The national coaches have meanwhile devised all their plans keeping in mind the ISSF World Cups in New Delhi in March and in Changwon, Korea, in April. “Once it was clear that the Olympics would take place, we knew we have to be ready for it even if there were no competitions,” said Shirur.</p> <p><b>Hockey</b></p> <p>Rani Rampal, captain of the Indian hockey team, would rather look at the “extra time” her team got as a boon. Having qualified for the Olympics, the women’s team is looking to better its record at the Games. “I do not think Covid has affected our preparations because we are doing exactly the same things we would have been doing had the sport not stopped,” said Rampal. “When it comes to following the SOPs and the protocols, there have been some adjustments. But our focus has remained intact.”</p> <p>Sjoerd Marijne, chief coach of the women’s national team, feels the extended break has given players an opportunity to bond off the field. “One of the first things that came to my mind was to keep the team together as a family,” he said. “Another aspect was to keep the players fresh both mentally and physically. Our coaching staff made sure that the team could improve their fitness levels, and also utilise time to analyse their past performances.” Marijne is hopeful of travelling for competitions soon.</p> <p>Graham Reid, chief coach of the senior men’s hockey team, said the Covid-enforced break was an extended off-season that was turned into two four-month-long camps. The focus of these camps has been on tactical play and scenarios to prepare the team for any situation during games, said Reid.</p> <p>He expressed satisfaction with where the players were, technically and physically, despite no competitions. “It is challenging to gauge where the team is at, when compared with other teams in the world,” said Reid. “We have done everything possible to get the players back to the level they will need to be to compete against the best.”</p> <p><b>Athletics</b></p> <p>Javelin thrower Johannes Vetter recorded the second-best throw in the history of the sport in September 2020. The German, who made a comeback after an ankle surgery, competed in seven events in Europe in the last three months of 2020. In contrast, India’s number one javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has competed only in one competition in 2020—in January, when he qualified for the Tokyo Games. “Yes, I faced a huge problem in training in 2020,” he said. “It had completely stopped during the lockdown. In 2019, it was like this too, because of my surgery and rehab.”</p> <p>The Athletics Federation of India revised its domestic competition schedule thrice in 2020 but failed to hold any meets. They persisted with training camps at NIS Patiala and now Bhubaneshwar, but it has not been easy for the athletes. In November, the AFI’s high performance director (HPD) Volker Hermann resigned as he could not meet his “self-imposed expectations”.</p> <p>“We are absolutely on track,” said AFI president Adille Sumariwalla. “People like Neeraj who were undergoing rehab got a little more time to recover. While they (Chopra’s competitors) are more experienced, Neeraj is younger. He has an advantage. The whole contingent is very young. Therefore, one more year of preparation will put them in good stead.”</p> <p>Sumariwalla admitted that the lack of international competitions was a setback. “We definitely missed the competitions, but we are planning for our top guys to be outside India competing from January-February onwards,” he said. “It is important to keep athletes safe also. It is a real balancing act.”</p> <p><b>Boxing</b></p> <p>The Indian boxing contingent has perhaps been the best-placed in terms of competition exposure in 2020. Nine Indian boxers (five men and four women) qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and Indian boxing’s HPD Santiago Nieva had eyes on a few more berths to make it India’s best-ever qualification.</p> <p>After the lockdown was lifted, boxing camps were held at NIS Patiala, followed by a training-cum-competition tour to Italy, France and Germany from October to December. Nieva was a happy man as the Indian team bagged nine medals at the Cologne Boxing World Cup, including three golds. “We were in the final [stage of] preparations for the Olympics, but then we had to wait for almost a year,” said Nieva. “But we are in the same situation as the rest of the world. We had good preparation and fortunately we could come to Europe and do this 67-day trip.”</p> <p>Raffaele Bergamasco, coach of the Indian senior women’s team, though happy with the results, said he will have to come up with some new training plans in January. “The Italian federation arranged a joint training camp and a small tournament in Milan with good opponents,” he said. “I plan to start the preparation from January in India after some initial evaluation tests and improvisation in training methodology.”</p> <p>Bergamasco said that European nations held mini-competitions by creating small bio bubbles and their boxers had their noses in front. “It is good to have more international exposure than training with the same partners at home,” he said. “In Europe, they are organising small tournaments even during the pandemic by taking good precautions. In 2021, from February, there will be tournaments in Bulgaria, Spain, Hungary, Belarus and Ukraine as preparations for the Olympic Games.” Apart from the European events, the BFI will host the Asian Championship in the first quarter of 2021.</p> <p><b>Wrestling</b></p> <p>It has been a very different story for Indian wrestling, being a contact sport. Following the high of 2019 with several World Championships medals, the grapplers had almost a full year of restrictions. From March to August, it was about individual training at home. Then the wrestling federation announced camps with severe restrictions and only Indian coaches. Women’s coach Andrew Cook had his contract terminated during the lockdown while foreign coaches for the men’s team could not travel to India. The women’s camp in Lucknow was called off entirely after Diwali.</p> <p>An Indian contingent participated at the Individual World Cup in Belgrade against a depleted field in November. India returned with only one medal—a silver by Anshu Malik in women’s 57kg division—winning 15 bouts and losing 28. World Championships silver medallist Deepak Punia was beaten in the bronze-medal playoff and Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik could not progress to the second round. The lack of proper training was evident. The Olympic qualifiers start in February 2021. Bajrang Punia has been sanctioned a month-long training stint in the USA and Vinesh Phogat is recovering from Covid-19.</p> Thu Dec 24 16:16:33 IST 2020 tournaments-in-jan-will-tell-us-where-we-stand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q\ Covid-19 made 2020 an unprecedented year. How do you assess the preparations of the Indian badminton team for the Tokyo Olympics?</b></p> <p><b>A\ </b>Luckily for us, we still have time. Players needed this break also, so I do not see much of an issue with that. It is going to be a challenging year. We start off with two tournaments in the first two weeks of January. The players are experienced and we should be on schedule regarding our preparations for the Olympics. 2020 was a tough year and players were looking forward to the Olympics from February. We had to encounter surprising circumstances, but our players are used to dealing with issues. Luckily for us, things seem to be on track. Tournaments in January will tell us where exactly we stand. We will take necessary actions after that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How did you approach the long break in 2020?</b></p> <p><b>A\ </b>The break was needed because the players were taking part in a lot of tournaments. If things had gone back to normal in August-September, it would have been perfect. But in the last three to four months, players were itching to get back and start playing. From a career perspective, it depends on who takes what out of it—some of the players would have come out stronger physically and mentally, and some careers would have finished by the end of it. So, we will have to wait and see until some tournaments happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ When players returned after the break, what did you observe in terms of their fitness and training?</b></p> <p><b>A\ </b>They came back well. The present lot of players, the seniors particularly, has the muscle memory to come back quickly. There is no rustiness. If there is, it is on the physical front. If you have about a month of training, they are back physically as well. For me, the challenge is more with the younger players who have lost a year-and-a-half in momentum compared with the seniors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ P.V. Sindhu is training abroad. How is she shaping up?</b></p> <p><b>A\ </b>I think the proof of the pudding is when you play the tournament. That will decide where we are. Sometimes in training, we do not have similar competition. Wherever she is, she will have younger players to play with. So eventually, how well she trained and where she stands will be seen in the tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How are you managing the return and workload of players who had the virus?</b></p> <p><b>A\ </b>Satwik (Sairaj Rankireddy) came through after a prolonged spell of Covid-19 infection. It affects people differently. Satwik has put on a little bit of weight, so we are focussing on the physical strength since he came back. He has actually done a good job, so hopefully he should be in perfect shape before the tournaments. Saina [Nehwal], [Parupalli] Kashyap and [H.S.] Prannoy have been a little tired in the last few days, but they have been asymptomatic for the most part of it. Their lungs have not really been affected. That is the feedback. I think they will come back soon.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 24 16:08:18 IST 2020 willow-fight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SYDNEY CRICKET</b> Ground and the Manuka Oval in Canberra—venues for the three-match ODI series between India and Australia—are “sold out”. But, they will be at 50 per cent capacity owing to Covid-19 protocols. After two months of playing to empty stands in the Indian Premier League, the players will finally have a real audience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team India, led by Virat Kohli, returns to Australia as holders of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The three ODIs and T20Is will be a prelude to the real deal—the four-match Test series. The first Test is a day/night match in Adelaide. It will be India’s first pink ball match away from home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Cricket Australia (CA), close to AUD300 million hinges on India’s visit. It has gone all out to ensure a smooth process. It got India’s request for soft quarantine cleared (they can train every day) and flew in players from South Australia early to ensure they do not get stuck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australia are bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner. Both missed the last Test series against India, in 2018-2019, because of the sandpapergate ban. Former India captain Anil Kumble told<br> THE WEEK: “Prior to their ban Smith and Warner accounted for 40 to 45 per cent of the team’s runs.ÅTheir return obviously is a huge advantage for Australia.”ÅSmith, the No 1 ranked Test batsman, had a tough time facing short balls by Jofra Archer in England and Neil Wagner in New Zealand. But, those were bowled at around 150kmph. All eyes will be on how Jasprit Bumrah and company plot and execute against Smith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marnus Labuschagne, the South African-born player who came on as the first ever concussion substitute (for Smith) during the Ashes in 2019, has had a superb run ever since. His batting statistics are right up there with Smith’s (1,459 runs in 14 matches, four 100s and an average of 63.43). Former Australia pacer Michael Kasprowicz said Labuschagne has adapted his game to suit conditions. “He will pose a big challenge, he is a real competitor, there is a desire to do well,” he said. Australia have promising youngsters Cameron Green and Will Pucovski on the bench.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India will be without Rohit Sharma for the ODI and T20I series, and Kohli after the first Test in Adelaide (Ajinkya Rahane will take over the captaincy). That means opportunities for the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill. The star of the last series, Cheteshwar Pujara, will also be vital. Last time, Pujara batted for 22 hours in the four Tests, scoring 571 runs, including three centuries. He never looked under pressure during long stays at the crease—a quality that is rare in modern cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumble said Pujara, India’s No 3, is the team’s batting fulcrum. “I am glad someone is talking about Cheteshwar and his value,” said the spin legend. “His success will decide how well India does, especially in Kohli’s absence.” Kasprowicz said: “It is great to see Pujara, someone who is batting [against] time. He is definitely the key wicket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bowling attacks are fairly even. Both teams have pace and variety, though India may miss Ishant Sharma. Navdeep Saini’s raw pace could complement the guile and experience of Mohammed Shami, Bumrah and Umesh Yadav. There is also the exciting prospect of Mohammed Siraj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bumrah was the first Indian to take five-wicket hauls in Tests in England, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies. He was destroyer-in-chief the last time with 21 wickets at an average of 17. Dangerous with both the new ball and the old, Bumrah returns to Australia with a formidable record—68 wickets in 14 Tests at an average of 20.33.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumble said the absence of a left-hand pacer, like Australia’s Mitchell Starc, would not be a disadvantage for India. “The bowling attack has enough variety,” he said. “You need to find a bit of reverse swing in Australia. If India can find that it will be a major challenge.”ÅKumble, Shami’s coach in IPL 2020, said the pacer would take confidence from his recent success into the series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hosts, too, have strength in depth in their bowling department, especially pace. “[Pat] Cummins, Starc and [Josh] Hazlewood keeping out the others coming through is indicative of the depth,” said Kasprowicz. “James Pattinson is in the squad, so is [Michael] Neser, Queensland player of the year for the last three to four years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Starc, Kasprowicz said: “Swinging the ball at 150kmph always helps! Yeah, you can compare him to fantastic left-arm pacers in history like Wasim Akram. He can get wickets at any point in the game. That is what Starc has shown. And if used the right way, that is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team India needs its batting to click. “If your opening partnership is good and Pujara comes good, too, then it is game on,” said Kumble. “To be 40-3 and then try to build an innings will be a massive effort.” For a change, it will not be the bowling but the batting that will decide India’s fate Down Under.</p> Thu Nov 26 18:42:51 IST 2020 i-enjoy-leading-the-attack <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since 2018, the Indian pace attack has thrived at home and away. Mohammed Shami has taken 61 wickets in 21 Tests. Shami led the pace attack of the Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2020, taking 20 wickets in 14 matches. He was as deadly with the new ball as he was with the old. His yorkers were spot on and his bowling rhythm was smooth. In an interview with THE WEEK during the IPL in the UAE, Shami talked about the series in Australia and the key to his success. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You had a successful IPL. What aspect of your bowling are you enjoying the most?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/When you are given the opportunity to lead the bowling attack, it becomes very important to back yourself and your skills and execute them. That is what I enjoy the most.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/So, you enjoy being a leader in the bowling unit, digging into your experience?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes, the weight of responsibility is more. But, as a senior, I always try to ensure that the other bowlers remain positive. When they do that the chances of executing plans become better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think you have cracked the T20 code, considering there will be a series Down Under and then the T20 World Cup in 2021?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I always strive to improve. In the IPL, for example, we did not start well. But we came to a point where we had to back ourselves, defend five runs in a super over. That was the turning point. It is important to be a good learner, to be hungry to learn even during adverse results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Would you call yourself a complete bowler now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Whatever the format, I want to use the skills accordingly. If you tell me to use yorkers in a Test match, it would not help. I did not get enough opportunities earlier to showcase all my skills. In the last two years, I have got that opportunity. I used to always believe in bowling yorkers. I have done that at international level, too, but just that with more opportunities it gets better.</p> Thu Nov 26 18:40:59 IST 2020 it-hurt-to-be-beaten-last-time <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the last two years, Mitchell Starc has been Australia’s most lethal bowler, across formats. Since 2018, he has taken 58 wickets in 12 Tests. Australian legend Glenn McGrath called him the team’s X factor because of his pace, swing and adeptness with both the new and old ball. He skipped IPL 2020 and is refreshed for India’s tour. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Starc said there was very little to separate the sides. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Glenn McGrath called you the X factor. Do you feel your skill with the old ball gives you an advantage over Indian batsmen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is nice of Glenn to say. I think consistency and pace are key. Being a left-armer can also help at times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you plan to exploit India’s lack of preparation for Test matches?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They will be ready, they have too many world-class players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Most Indian batsmen have experience playing both at the top and in the middle order, especially in Tests. How does that impact the bowling plan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have plans for all of the batters we play against regardless of where they bat. It is [about] sticking to those plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you look at the tour as a revenge series?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It certainly hurt to be soundly beaten last time. But, that was two years ago and we have a very different side. [One that has] not played together a lot. We played really well last summer, so we will be looking to continue that momentum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Cheteshwar Pujara has not played competitive cricket for 10 months. Do you feel he is at a disadvantage?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Not at all. He was so important to India last time and will be again. He faced a lot of balls and kept us on our legs for long periods. We need to be sharp against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/India lacks experience in day/night Tests, especially away from home. Your thoughts on how to exploit the pink ball, especially in Australian conditions.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Hopefully, it is as much the conditions that will help, not so much the fact that it is a night game. India won their only Test under lights. We do not see that being an issue for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What aspect of your bowling are you enjoying the most?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I really enjoy bowling as part of the unit and working together. I also enjoy the contest in the closing overs in tight games.</p> Thu Nov 26 18:39:15 IST 2020 rohit-is-still-70-per-cent-fit-ask-him <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Sourav Ganguly&nbsp;</b>era in Indian cricket administration has seen some pathbreaking decisions being taken. Just like the captain he was, Ganguly is leading the BCCI from the front, being the body’s voice and chief decision-maker. But he is also facing a myriad of issues.</p> <p>With the 2020 Indian Premier League running successfully, Ganguly pushed for the Women's T20 Challenge matches to happen alongside it, even though IPL chairman Brijesh Patel expressed reservations. The four matches took place, but the perceived lack of effort to ensure the Indian women get game time has raised questions on how serious the BCCI is about women's cricket. The women’s demand for a one-point person—preferably a woman in the BCCI—to go to with their issues is still pending. With the BCCI operating with an interim CEO and Saba Karim, general manager, cricket operations, set to serve out his notice period soon, Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah will have to ensure that day-to-day management is back in the hands of professionals and that key reforms of the Lodha Committee are not ignored.</p> <p>Ganguly's appearances in various advertisements while holding office has also raised concerns about conflict of interest. Moreover, Dilip Vengsarkar, former chairman of selectors, told a national daily that by making statements on selection matters, the IPL and player injuries, Ganguly was “undermining the credentials of the national selectors and the IPL chairman”.</p> <p>Ganguly has dealt with critics in his own way throughout his career. Speaking to THE WEEK from Dubai, the BCCI president took the criticisms on the chin and attempted to clear the air on key issues. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>You must be satisfied with the conduct of IPL 2020. What aspect of it are you most happy about?</b></p> <p>Yes, I am very happy to conduct and complete a tournament in these testing times. What has satisfied me is the competitiveness. It has been a great tournament.</p> <p><b>Did you or the BCCI face any challenges going into this season?</b><br> </p> <p>No, it has been very smooth. The most important challenge was to create a healthy tournament for everyone. To safely conduct a two-and-a-half-month tournament with 400 people involved has been remarkable.</p> <p><b>All eyes are on the BCCI for what is next for cricket in India.</b><br> </p> <p>We could not have cricket activity because of Covid-19. We will slowly get back to cricket. We will organise our domestic cricket, then England tour India for ODIs and Test matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some state associations have started local tournaments. Will you encourage more states to resume cricket activity after the IPL?</b></p> <p>A bio-secure bubble is very important in the current situation. That is the first condition. I think it is still early to ask states to hold their own leagues because health issues are a bit uncertain. It is important to organise first-class cricket and then the England tour in a healthy and safe environment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But if you are hoping to start the Ranji Trophy first, then the states will have to organise their pre-season training camps, trials and competitions.</b></p> <p>Yeah, a lot of them are doing it. They have created their own safety parameters and their players are getting tested regularly. The SOPs have been forwarded to them on how to hold tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it true that if not for your insistence, the Women'sT20 Challenge may not have taken place this season, and that women are not getting enough cricket?</b></p> <p>No, women will get a lot of cricket. It is not just me; the entire BCCI wants to see women's cricket go forward. We had challenges. So many tours got cancelled. Covid-19 has made things difficult for us. The women's game is very important.</p> <p><b>But if the BCCI could create a bubble for the IPL, could it not have gotten the Indian women's team to England to play a series there like Pakistan did?</b><br> </p> <p>No, we could not because the Covid-19 numbers were very high. And, we did not want our women to take the risk. When the whole world is suffering, one small tournament would not have made a difference. The Women's IPL (T20 Challenge) was very important. We wanted to send our team to Sri Lanka, but their cricket board cancelled that. We invited the West Indies to India. But the WICB said Covid-19 numbers in India are very high so they did not want to come. We had all these issues to deal with.</p> <p><b>There is a sense that there is not enough information coming from the BCCI—like injury updates of centrally contracted players like Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha. Is the BCCI lapsing into the old era of less communication?</b><br> </p> <p>How is that? Who should know? We know, the Indian physio knows, the NCA knows. I think people don't know how the BCCI works. The BCCI trainers, physio and Wridhi himself know that he has two hamstring issues. People don't understand injuries, that is why they talk rubbish. Wridhi is travelling to Australia because he will be fit for Tests. He is not part of the shorter formats. For the entire duration of the IPL, Indian physios and trainers were in Dubai. Dr Nitin Patel is managing injuries and monitoring it all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But what about Rohit Sharma? You and the BCCI said he is injured, but he played for Mumbai Indians immediately after that.</b></p> <p>Rohit is still 70 per cent [fit]. Why don't you find out from Rohit himself? That is why he is still not picked for the ODIs and T20s down under. He has been added to the Test squad. Certain things are confidential in a board. [We] don't need to tell everything, but things are going on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about more communication with the states? It has been scarce till now.</b></p> <p>Of course, it will be given once dates [for domestic tournaments] are ready, when we are absolutely sure it is safe for everyone. We have to create bio-bubbles for 38 teams—20 players each, plus support staff and officials. It is not easy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When will the BCCI hold its general body meeting? Many sports federations have done so online.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will have the AGM after Diwali. The Registrar of Societies of Tamil Nadu, where the BCCI is registered, has stopped AGMs from being held online due to a court order. We will get it done.</p> Fri Nov 13 15:15:44 IST 2020 2020-has-been-crazy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ben Stokes has a larger than life image in English cricket: A superhero who has won England its first ever World Cup, followed by an Ashes victory; a cricketer who can do almost anything on the field, be it with the bat or ball. Over the last year and a half, Stokes’s cricket career has seen not a single blip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But 2020 has been more than just those unforgettable cricket performances for Stokes. It has been a tough time for his family as his father, Gerard Stokes, was diagnosed with brain cancer. In August, the Christchurch-born player rushed to be with his family in New Zealand after being granted leave during England’s Test series against Pakistan. He spent five weeks with his parents, before heading to the United Arab Emirates to join his IPL franchise, the Rajasthan Royals. Stoke’s IPL outings this season—including a 107 not out from 60 balls—has not helped his team seal a berth in the play-offs. But it has set the tone for an enticing 2021 season, which will see an India-England series in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says that he was prepared to open the innings for the Rajasthan Royals even before joining the team. He credits the consistency in his performances to the maturity and experience he has gained as a cricketer. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/England captain Eoin Morgan stated that playing in a bio-bubble can cause early burnouts. What are the challenges of playing in a bio-bubble over a long stretch?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I think it is a very challenging thing to go through. Being in a bio-secure bubble takes away the freedom that we are used to, but look at the bigger picture. I think it is a responsibility that we have on our shoulders as professional cricketers—to keep the game on TV screens, [and] give the fans the entertainment that they want. It obviously comes with challenges, being away from family, being in the same place for such a long time, but we would much rather be in a bubble playing cricket, than sit at home and not being able to do what we need to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How would you sum up the last year and a half—World Cup win, Ashes win, lockdown and father’s health?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It has been crazy, really. We were in Sri Lanka in December [2019] when the virus had started to get serious, and we came home from that tour at the right time. If we had stayed for another week, we would have stayed in Sri Lanka, for God knows how long. If you look back at December 2019, everything was running smoothly. I do not know how long it will take for things to get back to normal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Where do you get so much courage from?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I do not know.... [I] think just being a sportsperson, you always want to win your individual battles and be on the winning side as much as possible. Being an all-rounder, you always have to be switched on—you have to concentrate on your batting, your bowling and even fielding. Always being involved in the game is probably, I would say, a better way to explain the courage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/This IPL season saw you in a different role—as an opener.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I am really enjoying it. It is something that I always wanted to slowly and gradually get into. In the England team it is tough [to become an opener]. Jason Roy, Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow, Alex Hales—all these guys are phenomenal openers. So, it is a hard place to get into.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The ongoing IPL season has already seen several Super Overs. Being involved in an unforgettable one—in the World Cup 2019 final—do you like the concept of Super Over?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I think it is in very rare occasions that it happens, even though this IPL [season] has seen it quite a few times. At the end of 240 balls, if there is no victor, then I guess it is the best way to go about it. I am sure both teams do not want to walk away with split points if it ends in a draw. I think it is good that since that World Cup final, few things have been adjusted to the rules. I do not think anybody ever thought it would go that way, so they [the International Cricket Council] went back, rethought the whole process of Super Over and decided to keep doing it till there is a winner. It is a great way to find a winner at the end of a tie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/In terms of mindset and intensity, do you see a difference between playing in the T20 World Cup and the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In the IPL, compared with T20 WC, you got more time to, maybe, find a formula that works. In a T20 World Cup, you do not have that much time—if you do not do well in the group stage you are gone.&nbsp;In the IPL, you can afford to&nbsp;try a few things like selection, and how your line-up looks, because there are so many games (in the group phase).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Any bowler that you found challenging facing up in the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I think [it is] pretty obvious, if you look at the two top bowlers—Jasprit Bumrah and Rashid Khan. Rashid has all those tricks, he bamboozles batsmen every time he walks onto the field, he is fantastic. Bumrah is very good with what he does whether it is with the new ball or the old ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you feel you are at the peak of your performance? What will it take to maintain that consistency?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I would have obviously loved to do a lot better this year, especially with RR. I am nearly 30 now, so I know what works for me in terms of preparation, and what I need to do before going into a game. I do not try to go too far away from that, [and] do not try to overcomplicate things too much because once you get to game day, there is not much you can do—you just try to perform as well as you can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your thoughts on the upcoming India-England series in January 2021.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Hopefully, that is the big one! One does not know what is going to happen. As always, one hopes to prepare well as a team and individual.</p> Fri Nov 06 17:26:18 IST 2020 knight-now-king-next <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LONG BEFORE</b> the schedule and venues for this year’s Indian Premier League were announced, Shubman Gill knew his role and brief. The 21-year-old would not only open for Kolkata Knight Riders, but he would also be groomed for a bigger role—that of a team leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around the halfway mark of the tournament, the youngster is his team’s top scorer (311 runs), and is in contention to play for the Indian side that will tour Australia later in the year. Gill is part of the 20s class—a group of standout cricketers including England’s Tom Banton, 21, and Ollie Pope, 22, —which the cricketing world is eagerly following.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From playing a side role last season to being central to KKR’s plans this time around, Gill has earned a reputation quite quickly. Last year, captain Dinesh Karthik had drawn the ire of former India players such as Gautam Gambhir for sending Gill in at number seven in the batting order. The fact that Gill had scored three half centuries made the decision even more baffling.</p> <p>So, when former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum became KKR head coach in August 2019, one of his first declarations was that Gill would open. “Shubman is better suited at the top of the order,”he said after landing in Dubai this year. “He is a quality player, especially when the wickets are a bit tricky. When you have fast bowlers, you want your batsmen with the best technique, batsman-ship and craft, and he is certainly one of those guys. I am really impressed with the way he carries himself and plays the game. I feel he has a bit of presence about him even at this young age, [and he is] very respectful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KKR is not the only side to see his leadership potential. In 2019, national selectors made him captain of the India Blue side for the Duleep Trophy. Before that, he was vice captain of the under 19 team that won the 2018 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though only two ODIs old, expectations from the Mohali boy are sky high. And he knows it. Asked about being groomed for a leadership role in KKR, he told THE WEEK: “My reaction was not that of surprise, but there was a sense of responsibility when I was told about it. My personality is such that, the more the responsibility, the better I like it and work for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His ongoing apprenticeship under two dynamic leaders—McCullum, who raised the bar for New Zealand cricket as captain and player; and Eoin Morgan, who changed England’s approach to ODIs and led them to a World Cup—is an invaluable experience for the young man. “The way Brendon motivates players and boosts their confidence is unique,”said Gill. “When we used to watch him on TV, he played with an intensity; you could never keep him out of the game. The same is visible in our training sessions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On captain Morgan, he said: “It is a good experience playing with him. He is a world-class batsman. His personality is inspiring. Whenever he speaks, on or off the field, he is always motivating us. He has an aura about him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of this IPL season, and after months without cricket because of the lockdown, Gill and three of his Punjab teammates—Abhishek Sharma, Anmolpreet Singh and Prabhsimran Singh—were part of a month-long training camp with Yuvraj Singh at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali. “We prepared for the IPL and the Tests against Australia,”said Gill. “The focus was more on Test cricket. We discussed the conditions Down Under; the pace attack, the wickets and how to deal with the short ball. In the last two weeks before heading off to Dubai, we practised T20 cricket with Yuvi&nbsp;paaji.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said India Under-19 coach Paras Mhambrey: “The first time I saw him, I knew he had talent; he was special. Seeing his ability against the spinners as well as the quicks, plus his overall game at that age, you could see he had a little extra time than the rest to play the bowlers.”Mhambrey added that Gill’s ability to read the situation and his grasp of his own game, at 21, put him just above his contemporaries, in India and around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gill has been a standout in every age group he has played in. In fact, in 2017, Punjab selectors led by former India player Yashpal Sharma fast-tracked him into first-class cricket, even before he had made it to the Under-19 World Cup squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He got his maiden Test call-up for the 2019 home series against South Africa, but he is yet to get his Test cap. He got the ODI cap on the 2019 New Zealand tour, but got out cheaply in both games. The wait for a permanent spot has tested his patience, but he reportedly had many conversations with National Cricket Academy chief Rahul Dravid, who made him focus on the present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was under Dravid’s coaching that he was named player of the tournament in the 2018 World Cup; he made 372 runs, including a hundred against Pakistan in the semi-final. And, as he was doing that, KKR snapped him up for a whopping Rs1.8 crore, a fat sum for an uncapped player.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked about playing at the senior level and in the IPL, he said: “Your game does go up. Confidence is a huge thing, and getting used to playing at that level is key. How quickly you adapt is totally up to you. I think it is more about mental adjustment than about technique.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gill was born in Fazilka, Punjab, but his father and first coach, Lakhwinder Singh, moved the family to Mohali to give his son access to better cricketing facilities. Punjab senior men’s team coach Munish Bali, who has watched Gill from his Under-16 days, said it was his ability to play long innings that stood out. “There was an Under-19 match against Tamil Nadu in Patiala; Punjab were 25 for five on a difficult wicket,”he said. “The ball was doing quite a bit. He scored 235 and took us to 500. He was just 16.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spending time with the national team has made Gill even better, added Bali. “His shot selection has improved,”he said. “Even in T20s, he will not go at the ball from the start; he plays himself in. He keeps things simple and his work ethic is good. His preparation is very specific.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coaches described Gill as shy and quiet on the field, but quite jovial off it. There are no over-the-top celebrations; he tries to be calm and collected on the field. And though he lost his cool with the umpire in a match against Delhi in the previous Ranji season, it was seen as an aberration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt that Gill would one day take the baton from the likes of Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Till then, as Mhambrey put it: “Even though he is ready technically and mentally, we might have to groom him initially [for him to] make it to the next level.”</p> Thu Oct 22 19:44:13 IST 2020 i-do-not-encourage-mankading <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kane Williamson is the antithesis of everything the Indian Premier League and Twenty20 cricket are about. Understated both in persona and with the bat, as opposed to the IPL’s glitz, glamour and loudness, Williamson is a quiet and cool leader in the most demanding T20 league. He brings an old-world charm to the neo-richness of the game. You will not get towering sixes but his class speaks for itself, as was evident in the 2018 season, when he captained the SunRisers Hyderabad to the playoffs, scoring a whopping 735 runs in the process. Above all, Williamson brings to the IPL his growing stature as one of the finest ambassadors of the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>SRH has consistently made it to the playoffs of the IPL in recent years; they won the title in 2016. The captaincy mantle has been returned to David Warner. But Williamson, Warner and Jonny Bairstow will be expected to shoulder most of the run-scoring responsibilities this year in the UAE. With the change in the SRH coaching staff, it remains to be seen how World Cup-winning coach Trevor Bayliss will use the Kiwi for maximum impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Williamson opens up about being in the bio-bubble, his thoughts on SRH’s preparations and also the ill-fated 2019 ICC World Cup final. Lastly, the statesman in him makes it clear that he, for one, is not a supporter of ‘Mankading’. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the experience of being in the IPL bio-bubble, cut off from the outside world?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is pretty unusual for all cricketers and [it is my] first experience of the bio-bubble. Sports around the world are doing something similar. It is also great that the tournament can go ahead. It is definitely nice to get out after six days of quarantine to catch up with the team and have some social interaction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A lot of players have not played competitive cricket since March. How do you prepare for a high-intensity competition like the IPL after a long break?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yeah, it is a challenge as all the players have been in different situations in terms of their preparations. But I guess having such a long period away from the game and coming to the IPL a few weeks early, getting used to the conditions and the demands of the league has been something quite nice as well. There is no doubt as [the tournament] progresses that match fitness will improve. There is a lot of excitement to get back to cricket after such a long time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you feel about your game mentally and physically going into the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When Covid-19 struck NZ, we were towards the end of our season. We saw the lockdown as a break from cricket, with the schedule being so intense. Having said that, it allowed for a pre-season mentality which we had not had. We had a couple of camps to try and get the fitness levels up to where we would like them to be. But you also want to manage your preparation well so that when the time comes to play again, you are fresh and you have not overdone it. The training volume here (Dubai) is high. We have tried to strike that balance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You scored over 700 runs in 17 matches in the 2018 season. What would you try to replicate to get those kinds of scores again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There have obviously been a number of changes here at SRH. The first thing is to get some clarity about my role. I am not captaining this year and the team has new players as well, so the balance always changes. I have to be clear about my role and make a big contribution. Rather than replicate things, it is about trying to prepare as well as I can and offer the team as much as I can with the bat. As well as support Davey (Warner) and the others in the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Glenn Turner mentioned in his book that coaches have taken a back seat, with the emergence of strong captains. Your thoughts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think it is a really important relationship and without a doubt, there is a very important role for both captain and coach. The coach and captain drive the team and give it direction. It is important to have clarity and direction in the team, (and about) the style (in which) you want the team to play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ SRH has consistently made the playoffs. What does the team have to do to come up with similar results this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The key over the last few years has been the ability to play as a team, having a number of contributions throughout the season and adapting to changing conditions, which will be important here again. The team was picked based on the tournament that was to be played in India. The conditions and environment here are different. We talk of our squad having changed, but that is also the case for the oppositions. To make adjustments quickly will be important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How much of a challenge will it be for players to remain in the bio-bubble and do things as they would do on a normal tour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It will be a challenge. It is important for players to get out of their rooms and socialise. In India, there are whole travelling days. Here, it is about one-and-a-half hours by road. It will be important to come up with activities and options for players to get enjoyment on off days and to keep them fresh. It is a long time to be isolated. We are very fortunate that the hotels are brilliant. Franchises look after support staff and players very well. But the bio-bubble is unique. There will be something to address certainly when we see these [issues] surfacing further down the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did the Covid-19 enforced break help purge memories of last year’s World Cup final?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was probably the first time since starting my international career that (I have had) a gap of four months. It was quite nice, getting into a new routine and not thinking a lot about cricket for four months. At home, spending a lot of time with family and friends and doing a few chores was really enjoyable. It was refreshing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you still get stopped and asked about the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Sometimes. I suppose from the point of view of a viewer, it was one of the most amazing games to watch. They will probably make a movie out of it someday. But with the schedule that we have in cricket, the focus has to change quickly to what is next. And that has been a really good part of moving on from something like the World Cup [loss]. You cannot live in the past. You have got things right in front of you that you have to address and that is why we are here in Dubai and then there will be a summer of cricket in NZ and the T20 World Cups later. A lot of people watched the World Cup and felt strong emotions of how things unfolded. The special thing about sport is it does affect people and it is amazing that you get to be involved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ People credit you with making the NZ team and cricket a lot humbler, happier and kind. Do you like that description?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People always have different opinions on what you do and how it should be done. As a team, the most important thing is to have an identity that is suited to the people involved in it. That is what we try and do, and we know if we are doing that day in and day out, then we can be proud of our efforts and know it was channelled in the right direction, rather than being somebody we have not been, which is a lot harder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We work hard at what we do and the behaviour we try and uphold. We want to always improve on those as well, remind ourselves of what is important and ensure we do not stray too far from it. It is an ever-evolving thing. Every time the team changes or support staff changes, there are always certain elements that change with it and you have to just keep moving with the times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on ‘Mankading’? R. Ashwin is a strong advocate but Ricky Ponting is not too comfortable with it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, I certainly do not encourage it. That is not something that we look to do at all as a team. As I said, we have behaviours that are important to us as a group, and something like that does not fit with us, so that is my stance. However, if someone is looking to cheat, I think it would be worth having a quiet word with him and make sure the rules and spirit of the game are upheld. As ambassadors of the game, I think it is really important to stay within those lines.</p> Fri Sep 18 23:12:22 IST 2020 gold-rush <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE WIDE GRIN</b> on his face said it all. It had been several days since Vidit Gujrathi, grandmaster and Indian team captain, and his team of 12 were declared joint winners by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in the first-ever online chess Olympiad. The victory was yet to sink in fully. “Right now, I am just waiting for the gold medal to arrive,” said Gujrathi, who turns 26 in October.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s number three chess player, Gujrathi had aimed to break in to the world top ten this year, before the pandemic struck. He has a popular YouTube chess channel, is a strong advocate of meditation and loves basketball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 30, the Indian team made history when it was awarded the chess Olympiad gold jointly with Russia, overturning the original decision in Russia’s favour. Two junior players, Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh, lost their internet connections during the last match and forfeited on time, prompting Gujrathi to file an appeal immediately. FIDE ruled in India’s favour despite protests from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The victory was every bit hard-earned and fair. It tops the Indian team’s previous best performances—in 2014, when it won the bronze in the open section, and the women’s team’s best performance of a fourth-place finish in the 2012 edition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India was seeded seventh with an average rating of 2419 at the recent Olympiad, which had 163 nations participating, and was placed in Pool A alongside formidable teams like China and Georgia. Each team had to include one male and one female player aged 20 years or less. The top three teams from the three pools advanced to the knockouts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nashik-born Gujrathi is currently ranked 24 in the FIDE world rankings; the only Indians above him are Viswanathan Anand (15) and Pentala Harikrishna (20). He was a part of the Indian team in 2016 and 2018 as well. The ongoing infighting in the All India Chess Federation (AICF) led to him being made captain after R.B. Ramesh, who served as India’s non-playing captain for a decade, stepped down. “Both Hari and Vidit have the capability to carry the team along,” said Ramesh, who is a member of the selection committee. “They do not inflict any punishment on players who lose a match. Hari, however, was playing in a tournament, so we asked Vidit to lead the team, and he agreed.” Srinath Narayanan, 26, was made vice-captain, as he has worked with the juniors in the Indian team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The victory is sweeter given that the credit goes solely to the players amid the turmoil in the national chess body. “Our problems were not chess-related but off-the-board problems,” said Gujrathi. “We had three-four days to install extra internet and power backup when we reached the knockouts. When the tournament started, I had one bad internet [connection]. Now I have three stable connections!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The captain and his deputy approached power secretaries and other top officials of state electricity boards to prevent load shedding during matches of all players. As a result, Koneru Humpy had an engineer and linesman stationed outside her house during matches and Anand’s neighbourhood had no power cuts for a change. The team did not even have a dedicated server due to the lack of federation support, but as they progressed, the duo arranged for one with the help of some Indian fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When R.B. Ramesh asked me to be the captain, I asked him what the job would entail,” said Gujrathi. “He said team selection and strategising, and that sealed the deal for me. I like to strategise. In certain team events, if one player lost, they immediately replaced him. His confidence would be shattered. That is one thing I was very mindful of. I was very clear we would select a team that was good for India, even if it meant dropping myself. As soon as I became captain, I realised I had to be ready to take responsibility for whatever happens. I had to be the problem solver.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After much bickering between the two AICF factions, the team was carefully selected. “There has been no precedence to this event as we never had this format at the Olympiad before,” said Ramesh. “It was the first time there was a mix of seniors and juniors…. Online, there is likely to be less pressure than while playing over the board. It would have been easy for juniors to get overwhelmed, but all of them came through with flying colours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In normal circumstances, the AICF would organise preparatory camps before the Olympiad, but not this time. Giving an insight into the backroom work that had to be done before the tournament, Gujrathi said, “The first thing I had to do was take care of a lot of administrative work, correspond with FIDE and understand the rules. Srinath and I share a good rapport. We made a database about where every member stood. We planned an internal competition and the juniors agreed. This made us understand everybody’s style, strengths and weaknesses. It helped later on in the tournament to take a decision on who was better against China.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujrathi and Narayanan drew the best out of the teenagers. Deshmukh, 14, played a stellar role in the tournament, as did R. Praggnanandhaa, 15, as they starred in crucial wins against a strong China in Pool A. But a loss in an earlier round put Deshmukh under pressure. Gujrathi reassured her. “She lost on time in one of the games,” he said. “It was not her fault but she was very upset. I told her that in the next few games, if she lost it would be my responsibility, and if she won, the credit would go to her. After that she won all the games.” Other senior members like Anand and Humpy, too, had called Deshmukh and encouraged her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not easy leading the team, considering Gujrathi had to prepare for his own matches too. “It used to be crazy,” he said. “Matches would happen between 1:30pm and 4:30pm. As soon as these finished, I would get on call with the team or Srinath to figure out who would play the next matches. The entire night used to be spent over the selection of juniors, and then I prepared for my matches in the mornings. During my games, Srinath took over completely.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujrathi had a fantastic 2019-20 season, hitting a high of 2736 in ELO ratings and even becoming the second-highest ranked Indian for a while. “Before the pandemic, I felt I was at my peak,” he said. “I had a very good tournament in Prague. The pandemic came at the wrong time, in that sense. Game-wise, I am [up] there, but I will use this year for preparation, so that when I am able to travel, I will go all out. I aim to be in the top five.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With no competitions happening in India right now, Gujrathi spends time growing his streaming channel. He likes to multitask. “I have a lot of ambitious plans,” he said. “One of the things different in this Olympiad was the huge following. Even when I stream every day, I see a lot of people following. I plan to make it bigger and better from my end, maybe with some interesting collaborations.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early in his career, Gujrathi was known to be a very emotional player. He has mentally trained himself to be calmer, more focussed. To take his game to the next level, he should have ideally been in Europe now, but due to visa and travel restrictions, he is training remotely with his coaches—grandmasters Vladimir Chuchelov and Alon Greenfeld. His stint with Anish Giri led to a marked improvement in his game, which also reflected in the results last year. “To be the best you have to train like the world’s best,” said Gujrathi. “You need a professional outlook and environment. I feel in India there is a lack of professionalism in sports. When I trained with Anish in the Netherlands, we had complete Olympic-level training—diet, fitness and the best trainers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the high of winning the Olympiad and gaining an online following in chess, Ramesh has some cautious words of praise for the Indian captain. “It is heartening to see how he has evolved over the years,” said Ramesh. “He is already working with strong players like Giri, who has been a good influence on him. He is more active on YouTube these days, and it could work both ways for him. I hope he can handle all these things maturely as his chess preparations should not suffer.”</p> Thu Sep 17 16:36:03 IST 2020 game-theory <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A separate </b>wing of the hotel or resort, a private beach, a gymnasium and swimming pool solely for the team, an exclusive tennis court and cycling track, rooms with a view or a balcony, and a dedicated Covid-19 treatment room. These were part of the must-have list of Indian Premier League franchises hunting hotels for their teams in the UAE, which will host season 13 of the IPL.</p> <p>All eight teams had landed in the UAE by August 23; they had been tested thrice before they boarded chartered flights from India. Each member of the squads and support staff—franchises had sent around 60 persons each—went into the mandatory six-day isolation. Once they clear three Covid-19 tests, the players and staff will move into a ‘bio-secure bubble’.</p> <p>That is not the end of testing. As per the BCCI’s standard operating procedure, every individual in the bio-secure bubble will be tested twice in their second and third week in the UAE. After that, there will be tests every fifth day for the remainder of the season.</p> <p>Welcome to cricket in Covid-19 times. Rigorous testing will be paramount; specialist teams will ensure foolproof security. The sound of dhols and music after each shot or wicket will echo in empty stadiums, because keeping the bubble secure will be key to the season’s success. “One person’s negligence can bring down the whole tournament,” said Dhiraj Malhotra, chief executive officer of Delhi Capitals. “When the travel dates were announced, we had to test every player thrice. It was tough monitoring players at home and asking them to go into isolation. But everybody saw the bigger picture.”</p> <p>Jake Lush McCrum, chief operating officer of Rajasthan Royals, is confident that the bio-secure bubble would remain safe. “Different zones have been identified for people with different roles within a group,” he said. “So even after the quarantine period is over, the zones will not mix with each other as much as possible. Individuals outside the bubble cannot come into contact with the players. That is a strict BCCI protocol everyone must follow.”</p> <p>Setting up and maintaining the bubble has not been an easy task. “We have managed to form a healthy cohort of individuals around us and have enforced strict measures to keep it that way,” said Dr Charles Minz of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). “Anybody coming in contact with the team must undergo two Covid-19 tests; only after furnishing two negative reports can he be part of the bubble. This includes all hotel, security and transport staff. They, too, will have to follow strict protocols once they enter the bubble.”</p> <p>Those inside the bio-secure bubble will only be able to travel from their hotel to the ground and vice versa. Teams have recruited their own net bowlers for training. All movements will be “tracked and traced” by Restrata, the security agency the BCCI has hired to keep the bubble secure. There will be around 450 persons in a venue during a match, including players and support staff, match officials, production staff and commentators, and security, housekeeping and administrative staff.</p> <p>Satish Menon, chief executive officer, Kings XI Punjab, said everyone knew the importance of staying in the bubble. “I don’t think anyone will breach it,” he said. “The hotel we have chosen is exclusive to us, completely cordoned off; there is no way people can go out. There will be punitive action [if there is a breach].”</p> <p>McCrum said the teams would soon get an SOP from Restrata, which would track all players and staff. “This will ensure that players are following protocols,” he said. “If there is a positive case, you will be able to see who that player has been in close contact with, and then you can isolate them as well. It will be a strict bubble, but given the fantastic facilities here, the players can relax and enjoy.”</p> <p>Team managements have been taking care of logistics ever since the BCCI announced in July that this year’s IPL will be held in the UAE. They had been testing domestic players and ensuring that they adhered to the standard procedures. “Our primary objective was to identify a hotel that is in complete compliance with the need of the team,” said Sanjeev Churiwala, chairman, RCB. “A full risk assessment was carried out while choosing the hotel. The SOP was explained to the hotel management. The dedicated staff serving the team members are part of the bio-secure environment; they will be tested every fifth day throughout the season.”</p> <p>Menon said the weeks leading up to the team’s departure to Dubai were maddening. “Starting from the choice of hotel to the choice of facilities and the size of rooms, we went into even small details,” he said. “We wanted rooms with a balcony, and cycling track, private beach, gyms, swimming pools and gaming rooms to keep players occupied.”</p> <p>McCrum said the Rajasthan Royals had plenty of time for preparation. “One key focus area was getting a really high-class hotel, which we have done,” he said. “The main focus, however, was to get the players and support staff [to the UAE] safely. Our international players [will] come in the next days and weeks.”</p> <p>If a person in the bio-secure bubble tests positive, teams will follow strict guidelines. “[He] will not be allowed to enter the bubble,” said Churiwala. “Individuals who are awaiting test results will also not be allowed to enter until their negative report is available. Those who test positive will be in quarantine for 14 days, during which they will be tested on the tenth, thirteenth and fourteenth days. If the results from days 13 and 14 are negative, and if the individual does not have symptoms for more than 24 hours after that, [he] will be permitted to re-enter the bubble. After recovery, players will have to undergo cardiac screening before they resume team activities.”</p> <p>The BCCI has prepared a list of accredited hospitals that would manage Covid-19 cases in the IPL. Each team has its own Covid-19 task force, and a senior team official will be in charge of the bubble. Teams are also planning to rope in psychologists.</p> <p>Families were allowed to accompany players, but most players and officials chose to travel alone. “We don’t know how families will cope when the team goes for training,” said Malhotra. “The players have PlayStations, pools and virtual reality games to indulge in during off-time. But what will the families do?”</p> <p>The season will last more than 80 days. Though the players are happy to resume competitive cricket, it will be tough to remain upbeat in the isolated bubble. “It will take time to settle down,” said Menon. “But once training starts, it will be intense. It won’t be easy, but there will be lots of practice games.” &nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 16:27:53 IST 2020 key-to-a-bio-secure-ipl-will-be-testing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/</b>How hard has it been to ensure a secure, healthy environment for all those involved in IPL 2020?</p> <p><b>A/</b>We have taken the example of the NBA (National Basketball Association) and guidelines by the ICC and the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board). England has already played the West Indies and is currently playing Pakistan. We are following [those guidelines], have made some changes and have finalised the steps to be taken. This has been circulated among all players, teams and officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>How confident are you of creating a fully secure bio-bubble?</p> <p><b>A/</b>We have strict rules. I think teams understand that; as do players. It is [about] their health and safety as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>Will there be punitive action against those who breach the bio-bubble?</p> <p><b>A/</b>Yes. We have to be strict and follow the protocols.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>What did you learn from England’s recent series?</p> <p><b>A/</b>The key to ensuring [the league’s] success is [regular] testing of the players. They will be allowed to go and practise [only after testing]. If their families or team owners want to join them, they have to follow these rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>How mentally challenging will it be for those inside the bio-bubble?</p> <p><b>A/</b>It is going to be tough, but I think once matches start, the days will just fly [by]. This is the only way we can play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>Do you think players who will join the IPL after having played a series would be better prepared to handle the bubble than domestic Indian players?</p> <p><b>A/</b>I do not think so. Many of the players were already in a bubble. [For example,] Royal Challengers Bangalore players have spent about ten days in a camp in a bubble in Bengaluru. I think the players are getting used to it. They are also very keen to play. They have been at home for five months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>What made the BCCI opt for</p> <p>Restrata to manage the bio-bubble?</p> <p><b>A/</b>They have already done it. They have the experience, they have a setup in Dubai, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>Do you think the IPL without fans will be as fun?</p> <p><b>A/</b>I think in the initial few weeks, there will be no crowds. Once we are sure everything is under control, and depending on [whether] the government allows restricted entry, [we may have crowds]. Even so, the [spectators] will be allowed only in the upper tiers of the stands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>Do you think the league will have the same buzz?</p> <p><b>A/</b>I am sure the television viewership will be much more. [People are] fed up with Netflix and OTT shows, and schools and colleges [are also shut].</p> Thu Aug 27 15:39:54 IST 2020 we-will-do-a-daily-checklist <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DR Rob Young</b>, Rajasthan Royals team doctor, is the team’s latest recruit. A sports medicine specialist, Young was in the bio-bubble during the recent England home series against the West Indies and the Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>What are the medical protocols in place?</p> <p><b>A /</b>First, we need to make sure that everyone adheres to the [protocols]. We have several tools put in place to help with that and remind us daily to do a checklist. Second, there is a practical approach to looking after everyone in the hotel environment and in training. We will regularly remind them of the procedures and rules to follow and make sure that the training is according to IPL regulations and is done in a safe way. Finally, there will also be the management of injuries within the bubble and regulations have been set out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>How will the length of the tournament affect the players?</p> <p><b>A /</b>It is a long tournament. I have been working at both a rugby club and a county cricket team, and then with the England cricket team at Old Trafford. So, I have already worked in a bubble. My role as a doctor is to help them (players and officials) remember those regulations, answer any queries, and [along with physiotherapist] John [Gloster], with his sports medicine input, look after the players. We must not forget that we are here to play cricket and we need to make sure that everything is safe. As we move on and transition into training, the players would be more aware of the rules themselves. Then we will try to focus on cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b>What are the best practices for players during a match or in training?</p> <p><b>A /</b>During the training and in match situations, the players should try to keep themselves relatively distant, particularly in training. They should maintain their distance and not engage in celebrations with others after picking a wicket. Then [there is] looking after the ball. Traditionally, everyone uses saliva on the ball, but now they cannot. So, they will really need to change the way they do things.</p> <p>Another aspect would be looking after the kits and making sure they are kept clean. Once back in the dressing room, it is important that they keep their distance and drink only from their own bottles. Also, they should shower back at the hotels rather than in the changing room.</p> Thu Aug 27 19:04:15 IST 2020 dhoni-inspired-generations-to-pick-up-the-bat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I FIRST SAW</b> Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2004, in his ODI debut series in Bangladesh. Before that, people had spoken about him, but I had not seen him at all. There was a general buzz about him—that he can hit big in domestic cricket. But whether he could hit the same way in international cricket was yet to be seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember a couple of shots he played against Bangladesh. Sourav Ganguly was sitting next to me. I told Sourav: “Iss player ke bat swing mein kuch alag hai (there is something different about his bat swing), there is something special.” Dhoni had not scored many runs (12), but by one shot he hit, you could make out that he had the ability; one could judge from the sound of the bat hitting the ball. I had also seen him in the nets. To hit well in the nets and to do so in the match are quite different tasks. But, he did it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For me, his biggest impact on Indian cricket is that he has inspired children to pick up the bat, take up the game and be like him. If you see every generation, there have been players who have motivated youngsters to do what they did. His name will be on that list. That is his contribution to Indian cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My most special moment with him was, of course, the 2011 World Cup. If you ask 10 people which shot they remember from that World Cup, all 10 would say the final-winning six by Dhoni. At the time, Viru (Sehwag) and I were the only two in the team who were sitting inside the dressing room and praying. We saw that shot on the television. We heard an uproar, and that is when we rushed out and saw the crowd making noise. It was such an incredible atmosphere out there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But if you ask me, there is another Dhoni shot that I consider unforgettable. That shot I saw from close quarters; I was at the non-striker’s end. It was a shot he played off Shoaib Akhtar at Faisalabad in Pakistan. Shoaib bowled a bouncer and Dhoni pulled it for a six. I thought it was a special shot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another point that is brought up while talking about Dhoni is his captaincy. From 1989, when Krishnamachari Srikkanth was my first captain, to Dhoni, who was my last, each captain had been different. There were some captains who had strong body language, some were calm, some were hyper and some would speak a lot. Each one was different. For me, Dhoni was calm, he would think well and he had the ability to soak up pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had a number of conversations on the ground. I would stand in the slips, and we would discuss whether the ball was swinging and how the pitch was behaving. They were good conversations. From the time he first came into the Indian team in 2004, I could see how he had developed as a cricketer. Off the field, however, if I had to single out any one conversation we had, it would be in Australia during the triangular series, which we won for the first time in 2007-08. We had won the first final in Sydney and had travelled to Brisbane for the second final. I was really struggling; I had injuries that made it difficult for me to perform. That time, he came to me and said, “Paaji you rest in this match. You can play the third final, if needed.” I told him I will play this one, and we will see if we need to play a third one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for his wicket-keeping, he had his own style. When we talk of a number of players, we talk of batting or bowling technique. I do not understand much of wicket-keeping technique, but to me a good wicket-keeper is someone who does not drop many chances. And that is exactly what I would say about Dhoni. What matters eventually is how many you collect or miss; he rarely missed. When it came to runouts and stumpings, he was very aware and excellent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not believe in statements like he has underachieved in Test cricket. His contribution to Test cricket has been good. He has had such a magnificent career, we should celebrate it. The rear-view mirror of a car is always clearer than the windscreen. I am sure he loved every format and loved cricket, but I think his strength is his presence of mind, being in that moment and being able to take a call. That is what all good captains have to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>-As told to Neeru Bhatia</b></p> Thu Aug 20 18:22:17 IST 2020 punting-in-a-pandemic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fans in need of a fix might have chanced upon a rare live cricket match streaming on YouTube on June 29—a Uva T20 league game played in Badulla, Sri Lanka. Except it was not. It was a fake match played at the Strokers Cricket Association ground, in a village about 16km from Mohali, Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The privately owned ground, located in Sawara village in Landran, sits in the middle of farmland and has hosted many corporate matches, leagues and small-time tournaments outside the purview of the Punjab Cricket Association and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It is temporarily closed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A police crackdown revealed that the ground had hosted the “Uva T20 league” during lockdown. Uva is a province in Sri Lanka. The league was promoted on various apps and websites, and live-streamed on apps like Fancode, Diamond, Sky, Lotus, Tenbet and Spin. Some sites even claimed the presence of former Sri Lankan national players in the league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As news of these matches broke, the Uva province cricket association in Sri Lanka denied any association with the league. The BCCI anti-corruption unit and the Punjab Police intervened and the league was, in anti-corruption parlance, “successfully disrupted”. The promoter and six accomplices were arrested. The players had been wearing masks during play and were thus hard to identify.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man behind the league, Ravinder Dandiwal, is a known “corrupter” whom an Australian daily had accused, in June, of “fixing tennis matches in Brazil, Egypt and Thailand”. The Victoria Police is investigating him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep Singh Chahal, the Mohali senior superintendent of police, described Dandiwal, 35, as an expert in organising fake or fixed matches; he had earlier held matches advertised as being from Afghanistan and Nepal. Chahal told the media that Dandiwal had admitted to being in touch with some bookies in Delhi. Among his accomplices was cameraman Durgesh, also from Delhi, who provided equipment for the telecast of the matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dandiwal, now out on bail, had also formed his own Cricket Council of India, whose logo resembles the BCCI’s own. Originally from Rajasthan, the Mohali-based Dandiwal is also founder and chairman of the Cricket Premier League and owns a sport-cum-player management firm called Ultimate Sports Management.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit Singh, head of BCCI’s anti-corruption unit, told THE WEEK: “Dandiwal was on our watchlist. He is a free operator. He organised a league for the purpose of betting. You create odds and know the end result for the purpose of making money; it is as simple as that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “Uva T20 league” was not the only one held in India. Reportedly, a Universal T10 League took place in Kurukshetra, Haryana, between June 2 and 8. Live matches from this “tournament” were telecast on apps like Cricheroes and Cricclubs. Two months earlier, the International Cricket Council had slapped a two-year ban on Deepak Aggarwal, one of the owners of the Sindhis franchise in the 2018 T10 league played in the UAE. As per the ICC and the BCCI, Aggarwal is reportedly a known bookie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He started his own league during lockdown in Noida,” said Singh. “He gathered a number of players who wore face masks so that they could not be recognised and got [the matches] live-streamed. Bets were placed. We asked the Noida Police to take action. They were booked under the pandemic act for violation of prohibitory orders. More than 51 persons were arrested.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July, the Limassol Gladiators, one of the five teams in the European Cricket Series Cyprus, was suspended following its match against Amdocs. Reportedly, one major betting company refused to pay out on the match, which was streamed on various platforms worldwide. The ICC’s ACU had found suspicious betting patterns before the match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cricket aside, football and eSports, too, have had their run-ins with “match-fixing” during lockdown. Several “pop-up matches”, played with the sole intention of corruption and fixing, were reported during the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sportradar, one of the world’s leading sports integrity firms, recently red-flagged six matches of the Goa Professional League for “suspicious betting patterns indicative of match manipulations”. Sportradar brought it to the notice of the Asian Football Confederation, which in turn alerted the All India Football Federation. Javed Siraj, AIFF’s integrity officer, sought a report from the Goa Football Association, which confirmed that the matches “detailed in the report were fixed”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Covid-19 halting major sporting activity, desperate bookies and fixers have eyed live matches across sports that can fly “under the radar” of administrators and anti-corruption officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oscar Brodkin, Sportradar’s director of intelligence and investigation services, recently published a white paper called “Ghost Games—An Explanation”. “(A ghost match) is a match which does not take place as stated and is falsely advertised to bookmakers, punters and the public in order to achieve profits from betting markets,” he wrote. “Perpetrators have advanced knowledge of the final score, which they have decided.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are different from fixed matches, and anti-corruption investigators say ghost games are not prevalent in cricket yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a presentation at a sports policy symposium in June, Brodkin also said that fixing was “rife” in eSports and forecast it to rise further. During the lockdown, with no on-ground sports, gaming and eSports hit a new high. “Match fixing in eSports is incredibly widespread as performances can be easily manipulated,” he said in the presentation. “It has a young and vulnerable audience and the governing bodies are yet to organise themselves effectively enough to deal with this issue.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Brodkin’s report, the lockdown also saw corrupters targeting new, amateur or youth leagues with fewer entry barriers. Another point raised was that players were now more vulnerable as their salaries had been reduced or cut altogether. “There will be a heightened risk in the short term of approaches to players, managers or officials who have not been paid or clubs that are documented as not having paid their players,” the report said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brodkin’s presentation also warned administrators of approaches by organised crime groups or lone wolves, particularly if the leagues were from poorer countries. The inroads made by fixers now will pay dividends when more leagues return to normalcy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presentation also highlighted the possibility of fixers buying clubs, across sports, which are going under because of a cash crunch. Hence, suspicious player transfers, too, are being noted. “Match fixers will try to place their players,” said Brodkin, “or those wanting to fix will move themselves, in unusual directions.”</p> Thu Aug 06 19:38:56 IST 2020 ghost-matches-are-not-at-all-common <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What challenges have you faced during the pandemic? Most people would assume that no matches means no betting or fixing.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, a number of lower-level competitions have taken place during this period. Being the only cricket being played, it did attract betting markets and that will always attract unwelcome elements. The ACU also received reports from players during lockdown, because corruptors will still seek opportunities to contact players on social media. So, it has been a busy period for our investigators and intelligence team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How big a threat are ghost games, or made-up fixtures that bookmakers advertise to make money via betting? Has the ICC found any such cases?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has certainly happened in soccer and we are always alert to it in cricket. But I am not aware of a specific match that was a ghost game, where no cricket took place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Recently, a match in Mohali was being streamed as a Uva T20 league match happening in Sri Lanka. How big a threat do such cases pose?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are aware of the allegations around the Uva match. These are always a risk because they erode confidence in cricket. Such events are put on by fraudsters and there can be a crossover with people who would corrupt regular cricket. So, we are very much alive to the possibility and will work with our colleagues to stop them as we did in this case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are ghost matches and fake games increasingly prevalent? Are they more challenging to spot than a regular match which has been fixed or data fraud?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghost matches are not at all common, so there is not really a comparison to be made. Data fraud or pitch siding is a low priority for the ICC. It has to be remembered that while betting is illegal in some countries, it is not so in many others. Betting itself is not corruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Recently, a team in the European T10 league was suspended for match-fixing. The league says it is working closely with the ICC. How difficult is it to ensure the hygiene of such a league?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All leagues have a responsibility to (put in place) anti-corruption and safety measures to protect participants and the event. With the right resourcing, skills and expertise, it is possible to give them a reasonable level of protection. But no system will provide guaranteed security against corruptors, and sometimes players make bad choices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The ACU works with sports data and integrity firms. Is it true that their algorithms are less suitable for cricket than for other sports?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We work with a range of partners including betting companies and integrity units to protect the game. The lifeblood of our work is information from many sources and that gives us the intelligence that we need to protect players and keep corruptors away from the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it possible to indulge in data fraud in cricket and has that happened before?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not sure what you mean by this. You may be referring to what happens in tennis, where the score in some tournaments is entered by the umpire. We do not have that system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With no legislation in India to curb betting, and with a huge grey market, how will the ICC increase its scrutiny, considering that India will host two ICC events in the next three years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a well-tried framework and detailed plans for how we work at tournaments to protect them. We work with law enforcement and our colleagues in the BCCI to ensure that we have a robust system to prevent and disrupt corruptors. Key to this is the information we give players to educate them on how they can recognise a corrupt approach, reject it and report it to anti-corruption officials. The lack of legislation is more of an issue for those outside cricket and do not fall under our rules. It would be useful if the police could take action, but with no legislation to criminalise match fixing, they are in a difficult position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see betting markets reacting to the return of cricket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We would expect the markets to resume some normality in terms of where they are focused. For example, the CPL, the IPL and other more mainstream competitions as opposed to the lower levels. It is important to remember that betting is not corruption.</p> Fri Aug 07 10:48:35 IST 2020 negative-economic-conditions-have-played-into-fixers-hands <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How do you spot unusual activity in betting markets or fixing attempts and data fraud?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We work with more than 80 sporting federations and partners across more than 20 different sports, including FIFA, Cricket Australia and the Indian Super League. On behalf of our partners, we monitor sporting events using a sophisticated software called the Fraud Detection System (FDS).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the FDS flags abnormal betting activity, our team of integrity experts—specially trained to analyse betting patterns—start their investigations. In instances where we confirm match-fixing, we report to the sporting body and, from this point, we work closely with them, providing betting evidence and supporting information to assist investigations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our integrity work has led to over 5,000 matches being reported [and has led to] over 400 sporting sanctions and 33 criminal convictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What challenges do you face while tracking grey or illegal betting markets, like in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FDS monitors odds from over 600 betting operators worldwide (regulated and unregulated), including many prominent Asian operators. With a large proportion of the bets placed on fixed matches flowing through these operators, the ability to track betting activity there is vital. In our experience, betting activity in the underground Indian market invariably presents itself in the legal market, due to the interwoven, interacting nature of the global betting industry. The challenge, therefore, is not in detecting fixed matches, but more so for investigators who will be unable to cooperate with the unlicenced betting operators in the subsequent investigations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did betting activity stop under lockdown?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over 90 per cent of global sport halted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, [and] we estimate that global betting turnover decreased by over 75 per cent during some of the worst-hit weeks. [But] the main trend we observed was the dramatic increase in betting interest in events that continued during March and April. For example, the top tier of Belarusian soccer saw an increase in betting turnover of almost 4,000 per cent. Bettors [were] hungry for any “live sport” they could get during this crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was the betting scene during this time in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, we estimate that betting turnover between March and May decreased by over 60 per cent. However, it is noteworthy that an India-facing betting exchange was reportedly still generating turnover in excess of Euro 25 million on matches being played in this period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With economic slowdown, no matches and no salaries, how vulnerable are players right now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The negative economic conditions have certainly played into the hands of match-fixers. On the other side, match-fixers operating in certain regions have also been starved of their avenue of illegal revenue, and will be eager to orchestrate fixes as soon as competitions restart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you keep pace with smaller, emerging T20 and T10 leagues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although pop-up cricket leagues and new formats are difficult to keep on top of, especially regional T20 and T10 leagues in Asia in recent years, the FDS is built to monitor any suspicious or unusual betting patterns from these events. The formats may be different, but the key betting markets and ways of betting remain the same, and from a sports integrity standpoint, the methods of manipulation remain similar. For instance, one of the popular methods of fixing in limited-overs cricket is manipulating the sessions or brackets. In T20 cricket, this may result in only a set number of runs being scored in the opening six overs, while in T10 cricket this session or bracket is merely reduced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How different is tracking betting activity in cricket compared with tennis, golf or football, in terms of resources and technology?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We learned very early on that there is no “one size fits all” monitoring strategy. To think otherwise would be akin to sending a cricket umpire to referee a soccer match on the basis they are both a “sport”.</p> Fri Aug 07 10:47:56 IST 2020 going-for-the-rebound <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Satnam Singh Bhamara weighed 104kg and was nearly seven feet tall when he was sent to the IMG basketball training academy in Bradenton, Florida, in 2010. He was just 15. The dream to play in the land of opportunity was inching towards reality; the tie-up between the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance got him a scholarship.</p> <p>At 20, the dream came true for the heavyset Indian cager, who hails from a modest family of farmers in Balloke village in Barnala, Punjab. In July 2015, he became the first Indian-born player to be drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was picked by the Dallas Mavericks. Satnam was also the first player—since age restrictions were introduced in 2005—to enter the league without having played collegiate basketball or in an overseas professional league or in the NBA development league (D-League).</p> <p>But his stint with the Mavericks was short-lived. In October 2015, he was acquired by Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Mavericks. Deemed slow, he played only nine games that season. He was signed on for the next season, but he got very little game time and returned to Balloke a frustrated man. In 2017, he played in the United Basketball Alliance Pro Basketball League in India, and in 2018 he was signed by St. John’s Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada for one season.</p> <p>Now, five years after his NBA pick, the 25-year-old Satnam is back home without a professional contract and is also out of the Indian senior national team, facing a doping suspension. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) suspended him after he failed a dope test during a preparatory camp for the South Asian Games in November 2019. The Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) has not heard him yet.</p> <p>Satnam’s impact on Indian basketball has been immense. Following his example, the likes of Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi went on to feature in Japanese and Australian leagues. But Amritpal, who became the first Indian to play in Australia’s National Basketball League, too, has tested positive for using terbutaline, during an out-of-competition test by NADA, and has been provisionally<br> suspended.</p> <p>“Satnam’s ban came in November 2019. It is June now. It has been seven months, but there is no word on his hearing,” said lawyer Viduspat Singhania, who represents Satnam and Amritpal. “It is the same case with Amritpal, who was suspended in February. NADA is playing with athletes’ careers. Satnam has already stated that he [consumed] the banned substance inadvertently. As per the NADA code, he could get a sentence banning him for a few months, but what is the use if the hearing does not take place for a year?”</p> <p>The details of Satnam’s case have not been released by NADA, but it is learnt that he took a supplement that he ordered online, which could have been contaminated. Chander Mukhi Sharma, secretary general, BFI, supports Satnam’s claim of innocence. “He is not educated enough, and in all likelihood when he took the supplement, he was not aware it was contaminated,” said Sharma. “It takes years to build a good team and the loss of two key players while we await their ADDP hearing is a huge setback for the Indian team.”</p> <p>Satnam is learning to face the hard knocks of life. He may be a towering presence with a heavy voice, but the sense of befuddlement is unmistakeable when he speaks about his struggles so far.</p> <p>“I trained well in high school in the USA,” said Satnam. “I tried to do much more than what the coaches [expected of me]. In life, if you go up, you can also go down. I understand that. I have spent 16-18 years playing the game. [But] I have got nothing from the leagues or the government. I feel these things can really bring me down.”</p> <p>He said he exchanged all his earnings on additional training in the US or to meet the expenses of his family. His father’s income from farming supports the family now. “When I got drafted, I was happy,” he said. “I got India’s name up there, and paved the way for others. I thought maybe the government would give me a job or an award. [But] no one has asked about me since 2015. I am dependent on my family.”</p> <p>His main aim is to help his brother settle financially and to get his sister married. His elderly father is finding farming tough at his age. But it was he who encouraged Satnam to take up basketball and has been his major support system. “My father told me, ‘if there is something you are destined to get, you will get it, either today, tomorrow or years later’,” said Satnam. “I listen to him. I get up at 5am for physical training, and train in the evening also. My brother and I practise together. He is a body builder, so he helps me with weight training.”</p> <p>There is no basketball court near his village. He runs alongside a stream, and for physical training he uses a small basic gymnasium in a government school—a far cry from the facilities in the US and Canada. But he is not complaining.</p> <p>Satnam remains determined to go back abroad and get a professional contract. “I do not know when I will get it,” he admits. “If I think I can earn from basketball, I will. Even if it means that I may have to do the most difficult things. But I will earn money and ensure I can take care of my family.” Meanwhile, he awaits a date for his hearing as any future contract or his place in the Indian side depends entirely on it.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 02 15:59:56 IST 2020 the-man-and-the-plan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Former South Africa </b>captain Graeme Smith wants Sourav Ganguly to be chairman of the International Cricket Council. But what does the former India captain and current president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India want? Ganguly is maintaining a guarded silence and awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on a petition that would allow him and BCCI secretary Jay Shah to continue in their posts till 2025 by diluting their mandatory cooling-off periods. These periods are set to begin in July.</p> <p>Ganguly, who became president last October, represents the BCCI at the meeting of the ICC board, whose chairman is Shashank Manohar. As a candidate, he will face a stiff challenge from England’s Colin Graves. The other likely candidates are former Singapore Cricket Association president Imran Khawaja and Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani.</p> <p>Ganguly’s election as BCCI president was power packed. Backed by Home Minister Amit Shah, who himself has been president of Gujarat Cricket Association, Ganguly edged out another former India cricketer and veteran administrator Brijesh Patel. Shah’s son, Jay, was elected secretary and Ganguly has played a huge role in showing him the ropes in the BCCI.</p> <p>Earlier, Ganguly had received West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s support to become Cricket Association of Bengal president after the demise of Jagmohan Dalmiya. So he has been walking a tightrope, handling pressures from various political corners. A move to the ICC would relieve him of these political pressures as well as take care of the cooling-off period.</p> <p>THE WEEK has learnt that Manohar is backing Ganguly as his successor, but Ganguly’s candidature largely depends on who and what the BCCI wants. “We have not discussed this at all,” BCCI treasurer Arun Thakur Dhumal told THE WEEK. “First, let the ICC announce the election process and then we will discuss it in the board.” The ICC board, which met on May 28, deferred the announcement. When it met again on June 10, the focus was on debating the fate of the October’s ICC World T20 in Australia instead.</p> <p>The BCCI wants a candidate who will pursue and preserve its interests in the ICC board room, having seen them diminished during Manohar’s time. Said a senior board member: “We will only put up a candidate if we have the backing of enough ICC members. The BCCI cannot afford to lose—it will be a loss of face for both the candidate and the BCCI.”</p> <p>The ICC made changes to its constitution and structure in 2017. It stated that the chairperson, who must be a current or former director, shall be elected by the board of directors by a secret ballot, every two years. Notably, the board would also have one independent female director, a post currently held by former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. The numbers game is no longer as simple as it was in the days of Jagmohan Dalmiya and N. Srinivasan.</p> <p>“World cricket needs strong leadership in this time of crisis,” said Dhumal. The BCCI is avidly awaiting the details of the election process because as a senior member pointed out, “The board can make changes to the process if it wants.”</p> <p>The election process was deferred in the May 28 meeting as Manohar was reportedly upset over email leaks ahead of the meeting—a spate of nasty email exchanges between the BCCI and the ICC over pending tax issues. The dispute is over tax liabilities during the 2016 World T20 in India, amounting to $23.7 million, which is pending before the ICC disputes resolution committee. Ganguly has managed to get an extension from the ICC till December to discuss the matter with the Indian government and revert.</p> <p>In the leaked email, ICC officials have allegedly threatened to revoke India’s hosting rights of the 2021 ICC World T20 if the BCCI is unable to solve the tax issue. Many in the BCCI are suspicious of Manohar, accusing him of “deliberately delaying the election process as well as decision on postponement of the T20 World Cup”, but it is understood that the ICC will not take a decision in haste.</p> <p>Another issue is that if this year’s World T20 is moved to 2021, then the one scheduled for India next year could in turn be moved to 2022. But India, which will be hosting the 2023 ODI World Cup, does not find it feasible to host two World Cup events so close to each other. It remains to be seen how Ganguly manages to work out a solution acceptable to all board members over this dilemma, and it will be a litmus test of his ability to lead world cricket in times of unprecedented crisis.</p> <p>As for the election, it is learnt that the PCB was keen on backing Ganguly, despite relations between the boards hitting the nadir, until Ehsan Mani’s name came up. Mani is a strong candidate as he is a former ICC president and has been the PCB’s representative at the ICC in the past. Three or four ICC members have apparently asked him to fight the election. “He is keen, too, but it could also be that Mani’s name may be pushed to split votes especially in Asia and ensure Colin Graves gets an advantage,” said a source in Pakistan cricket.</p> <p>Everything hinges on Ganguly being announced as a candidate. If that happens, he will be a strong favourite.</p> Thu Jun 18 14:43:21 IST 2020 hope-we-dont-lose-a-lot-of-the-cricket-season <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Apart from overseeing </b>cricket activity at the National Cricket Academy, Rahul Dravid’s responsibilities include mentoring, coaching and motivating players, coaches and support staff. The former India captain has also been working closely with the coaches of the national men’s, women’s and developmental teams. Dravid, the go-to man for Indian cricket during his playing days, is now paving the way for emerging cricketers.</p> <p>The summer months for NCA coaches are usually spent preparing youngsters in training camps for the upcoming season. But with Covid-19 wiping out the entire off-season, Dravid and his team have had to constantly change plans for players across age groups. Even though the government has said that sports activity can resume, cricket has been a non-starter for various reasons. The NCA in Bengaluru is yet to open.</p> <p>The BCCI is working closely with Dravid’s team to bring out a set of guidelines and SOPs once cricket activity gradually resumes. Dravid, however, feels that resumption is still some time away. Speaking to THE WEEK, Dravid spoke about training schedules, bio-secure environments and flexible guidelines. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The NCA is working on a roadmap for return to cricket. What will it entail?</b></p> <p>A/To be honest, I think everything is uncertain right now. How much cricket will be played and what it will take to be able to play depends on the guidelines from the government and medical experts. For us at NCA, the busiest time is from April to June. We normally have our zonal, U-16, U-19, U-23 camps happening at this time. [But] we had to keep redrawing plans. I just hope we don’t lose a lot of our cricket season, and that we can get some cricket this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What are the alternate plans for missing out on crucial off-season training?</b></p> <p>A/We have been making plans for all scenarios… but all of it looks very uncertain right now. The monsoon will set in over the next two months, and cricket will be possible only in few parts of the country. We will have to consider all this.</p> <p>I was hoping we would resume training at NCA in May, but that did not happen. We cannot rush young boys and girls even [with] bio-secure bubbles.</p> <p>I don’t think we are in a position to resume…. It is better to be patient and wait. We have to take it month by month. One has to look at all options. If the domestic season, which usually starts by August/September, starts in October… one has to see whether the season should be shortened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The Sports Authority of India has implemented graded resumption with some outdoor training for elite athletes.</b></p> <p>A/SAI centres are different. They have athletes staying at the centre and access is limited to those inside the campuses. The NCA will possibly open initially for some local cricketers. Those arriving from other places will have to first quarantine themselves for 14 days. Whether that is possible, we have to see.</p> <p>For domestic cricket, fortunately, we were able to complete most of our competitions before the lockdown. We have to see whether players are comfortable with inter-state travel. Our training programmes will depend on which domestic tournament will be played first. If it is T20, then we will start the programme accordingly.</p> <p>In the past few months, our physios and trainers have been in touch with senior men’s and women’s players and some [India A and India B] players. They have been provided with programmes to follow during the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Is your team preparing guidelines for players to start individual outdoor training? And how much of a role will state associations play in that?</b></p> <p>A/State academies will probably be the first place for players to train. But these have been closed, too. They will have to follow guidelines given by the BCCI and the NCA. Our NCA physios can easily manage the fitness programmes of individual players. There will be certain SOPs for all state associations to follow. However, they also will have to react as per their prevailing local situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Your thoughts on creating a bio-secure environment for players. Is it possible in India?</b></p> <p>A/In international cricket, it is possible. I believe the England-West Indies series [played in a bio-secure environment] will be a lesson for all. It has its own challenges. It is not as easy at the domestic level.</p> <p>There were certain things we were not doing a month ago, but now those activities are allowed. Maybe by the time we start our cricket, a need for a bio-secure environment will not be there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Are sub-junior and junior cricketers going to be hit this season, given how parents and coaches would be concerned for their safety?</b></p> <p>A/The boys and girls have not had any cricket tournaments as they usually happen after the exams. But it is OK as safety comes first. We will have to try and ensure we can get some cricket for them. Club cricket has not resumed. That is the real grassroots-level cricket for us, as each state conducts their own tournaments for all age groups.</p> <p>The best-case scenario is that we will be able to hold some camps once cricket activity is allowed. The worst-case scenario is the season is totally washed out (for age-group cricket). Missing a few months of cricket is nothing compared with ensuring we are safe.</p> Thu Jun 18 14:40:17 IST 2020 beleaguered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Delhi Capitals office on the busy Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, barely 500 metres from the Feroz Shah Kotla ground, wears a deserted look these days. Usually, around this time of the year, it would be abuzz with IPL activity. On match days, the lane leading to the ground would be dotted with vendors selling shirts and caps, enterprising face-painters would paint fans’ faces in team colours for twenty bucks apiece, and a plethora of food carts would come up from nearby Old Delhi to do brisk business.</p> <p>This year, however, a virus brought the world to its knees and left these vendors high and dry. Though the Indian Super League finished its season just before the lockdown (the final was played without fans), other such leagues face uncertainty. The big question is: If sports do resume without spectators, how massive will be the impact on costs and revenues? “Globally, the sports industry will take a massive hit,” said Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of JSW Sports, which owns teams in three of the domestic leagues. “There will be cuts in terms of spending, marketing, sponsorship; plans will change. Everyone will have to pivot on the commercial side of things to really come out of it.”</p> <p>The Board of Control for Cricket in India is trying to get a window for the IPL in October-November; the T20I World Cup in October could be pushed to 2021 or 2022. “The IPL is 60 India games versus nine India games in a World Cup, given it reaches the finals,” said an insider. “While viewership of India games in an ICC event is higher, [for] non-India games [it] is really low. What would you choose?”</p> <p>Other sports federations, meanwhile, await clarity from their respective international federations. Said Hiren Modi, group vice president, Ultimate Table Tennis and Chennaiyin FC: “The primary concern is safety of the players; people associated with the leagues would not like to put anyone in harm’s way.”</p> <p>All the leagues are bracing for financial pain, including the cash-rich IPL. Among other issues, the absence of fans means there will not be any revenue from sales of tickets and official merchandise inside the stadiums. Team honchos have been using the lockdown to rework budgets and draw up plans B and C.</p> <p>It will be survival of the fittest, said Prasad Mangipudi, executive director of SportzLive, which organises the Premier Badminton League. “You look at every risk or challenge as an opportunity,” he said. “A couple of leagues that can innovate or have deep pockets will survive; the rest will just wind up.”</p> <p>Stakeholders say that continuity of the leagues is essential for their survival, even if it means less or no revenue this year. Said Mangipudi: “I will look to find more sponsors, cut costs down to the last rupee. I will be looking at every aspect, from printing of banners and food to hospitality and stadium rentals. Players’ salary will take a hit. The average cost of each team is Rs2.2 crore to Rs2.5 crore; there will be a 30 to 40 per cent hit in revenue.” He added that he was even willing to go ahead without foreign players. “At least there will be continuity,” he said.</p> <p>Another option, said Mangipudi, was the renegotiation of player contracts and licence fees with the Badminton Association of India. A change of format is also being looked at, depending on the availability of quality foreign players.</p> <p>Not everyone, however, is keen to push ahead just yet. Modi, for instance, is concerned about the ISL going ahead without fans even though the Bundesliga, the La Liga, and the English Premier League are doing so. “For players, performing in front of fans matters,” he said. “Chennaiyin FC had a late run of success and reached the [2019] final, but our fans could not be part of our story. People talk about increase in viewership. Mahabharat and Ramayan recorded high TV ratings during lockdown, but where were advertisers?”</p> <p>Other options being explored are the reduction of venues and the shifting of matches to smaller stadiums. Even the IPL is thinking of a city with multiple venues, like Mumbai, or playing the tournament in two or three cities, which reduces cost of television crews, and involves less travel and lower expenses.</p> <p>For telecast rights of the IPL, Star Sports had paid the BCCI a massive Rs16,347.5 crore for five years. If the 2020 edition does not happen, the BCCI could lose about Rs4,000 crore.</p> <p>Experts believe cricket, too, will have to start looking at non-regular sponsors and broadcasters may have to settle for cheaper ad rates. “I feel the economy will ride on domestic and retail brands,” said Mangipudi. “We will now get Rs40 lakh to Rs50 lakh from our associate partners who gave us Rs1.5 crore. Same will happen with the IPL, too.”</p> <p>The Olympic sports and their stakeholders have additional challenges. “It is a strange situation,” said JSW Sports CEO Ghouse. “We plan for four years at a time. [We have to decide] what competitions we want to prioritise, at the same time not compromising on our athletes’ preparation for Tokyo. Some doubling down is required on that front, which we are working on.”</p> <p>One league likely to be hurt less by the absence of foreign talent, or even fans, is the Pro Kabaddi League. The stars there are mostly Indian. Plus, it is a made-for-television sport; the TRPs and interest had made the official broadcaster start two seasons a year. “It has been an interesting growth for us in the past three seasons,” said Ghouse. “It (the league) took a massive leap last year. It will be disappointing if the league does not happen, but there is a lot more flexibility as we are not dependent on international boards or countries. [The] challenge is [that] it is a contact sport. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) has not come out with specific guidelines related to that. Gate receipts are not a big part of our revenue. Hopefully, we can pull it off in the latter half of the year.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 16:30:53 IST 2020 big-bout-is-feasible-in-the-current-economic-environment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the sponsorship scene of various Olympic sports being affected in India?</b></p> <p>A/ In unprecedented times like these, uncertainty is the only&nbsp;certainty. As one of the new entrants in Indian sports leagues, we have implemented some of the learnings (from others) and, as a result, Big Bout was a cost-effective model right from its inception. We have been playing in a single venue and the squad sizes have been designed considering the cost implications. So, the model is feasible in the current environment and we can still work and make it more meaningful, despite the challenges. We will be working for a more optimised format if need be, and will create more innovative avenues for sponsorship on digital and TV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the Big Bout&nbsp;Indian Boxing League getting affected financially in the coming season?</b></p> <p>A/ The boxers will continue to benefit from the league. The league has been a major source of financial stability for our boxers as well as the entire ecosystem of technical officials, coaches and referees. And the first-year numbers show how commercially attractive the league can be. We have huge untapped potential.</p> <p>The league matches delivered seven times higher ratings than live Pro Kabaddi matches in the Hindi-speaking markets. This gives the boxers a much stronger playing field, and in the second season, apart from TV, we would explore a more aggressive digital and OTT plan.</p> <p><b>Q/ How will the postponement of the Olympics affect the medal prospects of Indian boxers?</b></p> <p>A/ As a national sports federation, we were the first to initiate online training for all our elite boxers, right from [physical] training, nutrition and mental guidance. Under the supervision of our coaches and high-performance director, and led by Boxing Federation of India officials, we have successfully involved boxers of all age groups so that they have every possible means to train at home in the best and effective manner. We are working with Sports Authority of India very closely to create an SOP that will facilitate safe passage for our boxers to resume training once the lockdown is over. The health and safety of our players are of prime concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Post-lockdown, do you see financial viability for all stakeholders? Do you think there will be high demand for live sporting action on broadcast and OTT platforms?</b></p> <p>A/ A lot is still unexplored, and the changing dynamics of fan engagement can and surely will be explored. Close to three crore people had watched Big Bout live on Star Sports; about 1.6 crore saw kabaddi and 67 lakh saw the badminton league. These numbers confirm the passion for the sport and we will look for innovations in the digital platforms in a big way. Big Bout is the most viewed league after IPL (Indian Premier League), giving us the assurance that we are headed in the right direction.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 16:26:15 IST 2020 having-no-foreign-players-would-be-a-deal-breaker <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the current situation in terms of the sports and entertainment business?</b></p> <p>A/ There is no substitute to live entertainment. This year, we have to put things in perspective. Safety, health and managing the risk of Covid-19 are important. The good thing is, sport is restarting in some shape or form. Live cricket will be in great demand when it resumes; it will be a premium product.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How optimistic are you of the IPL happening?</b></p> <p>A/ Social distancing in cricket is doable. Certain developments give us reason to be optimistic [about IPL]. It is largely dependent on the desire of the government to see it take place. The BCCI is looking at an end-of-the-year window.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some franchises are fine with a curtailed IPL; what is KKR’s stand?</b></p> <p>A/ We believe a curtailed IPL will be the last resort. I do not see any reason it should be curtailed. As long as all the stakeholders feel that the virus is under control, all agree to follow the protocols in place, and [events] like the Asia Cup and T20I World Cup are taken care of, there is a high probability there will be a full window for the IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With travel restrictions, availability of foreign players can be an issue.</b></p> <p>A/ [Having] no foreign players would be a deal breaker. The USP of IPL is the quality of the product. If there are no foreign players, it will be just another domestic competition. The majority of franchises want foreign participation.We have to think about our squad. I am getting calls from all the players; they are looking forward to playing. My sense is, if we get the green signal, the window will allow all players to be available. Each team has eight foreign players, which makes 64 in total. If there is a way to get them here, there are solutions. They can be tested and quarantined before the tournament. The bigger challenge would be going into the competition having not played for long. They will be happy if they can come 15 days in advance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The economy is hit, businesses are hit. Will this reflect on the revenue and budgets of all stakeholders?</b></p> <p>A/ There is a feel-good factor about sports after months of lockdown. For teams, sponsors, broadcasters, there will be challenges. The business models will change. KKR will have, say seven home games, [and will have to] review food and beverages, and hospitality. [There will be] no merchandising stalls and no spectators. There will be a desire to hold the IPL and forgo revenue from merchandising and gate tickets. Broadcast and media rights are agreed upon by the BCCI and sealed. The broadcaster will also make money from OTT subscriptions; different screening platforms have emerged during lockdown. That is a significant amount of money. Financial challenges have to be solved creatively. The IPL should happen. If in 13 years there is one bad year, so be it.</p> Thu Jun 04 16:25:42 IST 2020 deal-or-no-deal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS IN</b> the summer of 1996 that Newcastle United Football Club signed striker Alan Shearer for a world record fee of £15 million. In the previous season, the club had squandered a 12-point lead and finished as runners-up in the Premier League. The champions, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, also had pursued Shearer, but the goal machine rejected them in favour of Newcastle—his boyhood club—managed by double Ballon d’Or winner Kevin Keegan. It was time for redemption, and Shearer would lead the charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite topping the table early on and giving Manchester United a 5-0 thrashing, the Magpies came second again. Keegan—King Kev to Newcastle fans—resigned halfway through the season. Since then, Newcastle has made it to the top four in the Premier League only twice. It has not won a major domestic trophy since 1955. The lack of success has rankled its fans, who are known as the Toon Army, and they showed visceral hatred for its owner because of his perceived lack of interest in running the club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Billionaire retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007, and there has been unrest ever since. Keegan, who was reappointed as manager in 2008, resigned the same year, openly criticising the board for not giving enough financial support. After massive fan protests, Ashley put the club up for sale three times, but a deal never materialised. The grim Ashley years dragged on. But the new deal has created as much interest as shock. For the majority investor in the consortium that made the offer of £300 million is someone who cannot be ignored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The consortium is composed of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, British financier Amanda Staveley and Mumbai-born British billionaires Reuben brothers. Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chairman of the PIF, which would reportedly own 80 per cent of the club. Salman was accused of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 and Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz has implored fans of the club to unite against the takeover. Amnesty International has written to the Premier League against allowing sportswashing (use of sports to launder reputations).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is the Saudi government’s alleged link to a piracy network that has put the deal in serious doubt. According to The Guardian newspaper, the World Trade Organisation has found that Saudi Arabia is behind a network that offers illegal access to sporting events, including the Premier League. Now the question is whether the Saudi-backed consortium can pass the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test. Prospective owners can fail the test if they are proven to be involved in a crime overseas that is also a crime in the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This could be another near-miss for Newcastle. Journalist Oscar Paul, who covers football for The Sun, said most Newcastle fans were excited about the takeover. In fact, 96.7 per cent of 3,400 respondents to the club’s supporters’ trust survey welcomed the takeover. Paul said the fans had been asking the despised Ashley all 13 years to sell the club. “Bit by bit, Ashley sucked the life out of the club, leaving the fan base weary and disillusioned,” he said. “Hope and ambition evaporated long ago, the departure of idolised [manager] Rafa Benitez [in 2019] was the final straw for many. Avoiding relegation and banking the millions that come from Premier League football was all that seemed to matter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said some fans had concerns over the Saudis, but if the deal were to happen, they would “get right behind it”. The consortium’s plans to oversee the regeneration of the city would also help in winning over the fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been huge Middle East investment in European football, as in the case of Manchester City, which was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group and of Paris Saint-Germain by Qatar Sports Investments. Aravind Reghunathan, assistant professor in the department of sport and event management at Bournemouth University, the UK, said if Newcastle’s takeover is completed, a stronger brand than other Gulf-funded clubs can be created. “Because Newcastle is a club with a longer and richer history,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He felt the new owners would invest heavily in the squad and coaching staff, immediately. “They will have an eye on the renewed interest towards football after [Covid-19],” he said. “So, playing exciting football to leverage that interest might be the first objective for new owners.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No matter what happens in Newcastle, surely the larger concerns of sportswashing and the fast emerging inter-Gulf rivalry in football cannot be ignored. Muddassir Quamar, an expert on Middle East studies at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi, said he would not take the term sportswashing seriously. “I don’t think the primary motive for rich capitalists anywhere in the world to invest their wealth in an enterprise is to simply buy some good press for a short term,” he said. “Although this might be an added advantage, it certainly is not the primary motivation. The capitalists go after profit and lucrative return. The rich Gulf businessmen, including members of the ruling families and their close associates, are no different.” He said there was an effort in Saudi Arabia to diversify the economy. In fact, the Saudi Vision 2030 is a framework to reduce the country’s dependence on oil. And an investment in the world’s richest football league thus makes sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quamar said the question of human rights violations, though valid, should be seen within the regional context where few states have a stellar record. “Within Saudi Arabia, the situation has certainly improved, but a lot needs to be done for legal reforms and judicial autonomy,” he said. He said Qatar-based beIN Sports opposed the takeover citing the piracy link more because of business concerns than geopolitical rivalry. “I have not come across any evidence that the Qatari government or ruling family is involved,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sports has always been a lucrative investment option. Apart from profits, it also has the potential to help the image of the investor, thanks to the community’s involvement as well as the raw emotions associated with the outcomes. It follows naturally that the rulers would also want their share of the pie. But, should there be rules prohibiting at least heads of states from making (directly or indirectly) such investments? As Quamar put it: “Politics, including global politics, is intertwined with business and business of sports and sporting events, and I don’t think it can be completely separated, even by enacting laws.”</p> Fri May 29 09:46:22 IST 2020 reliving-the-glory <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FIERY, EXPRESSIVE,</b> assertive; a winner all the way. Ben Stokes epitomises all these descriptions and more. England’s hero in the 2019 World Cup and the Ashes has been a controversial figure who has had a rocky relationship with the home media. And so, his second book, On Fire: My Story of England’s Summer to Remember, is his way of sharing his thoughts on all that preceded and happened during the World Cup and the drawn Ashes series that followed. The book is set to release in India in the coming months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Be it the unprecedented Super Over in the World Cup final or the dramatic win in the third Ashes Test at Headingley, it seems like the more Stokes tries to be an ordinary human being, the more he has extraordinary moments in his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his book, Stokes says he finds it surprising that he has a fan following and that his face is splashed across the front and back pages of newspapers, an honour usually reserved for the famous footballers of the country. Stokes is one of the reasons a new generation is following cricket in England, and the book will only add to his growing legend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The all-rounder is the X factor that spurred on England, led by Eoin Morgan and featuring a set of players with no baggage of past losses, to finally become a World Cup-winning team. Stokes says he found himself in match-winning positions so often because of the platform his teammates built. He also credits his time with the Rajasthan Royals for honing his big-match mentality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the book, Stokes relives every match that England played on the way to the final of the World Cup. Needless to say, the larger-than-life final finds maximum space in the book. He also has a few sympathetic and understanding words for the umpires in the final, who were later accused of messing up calculations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Stokes and his team, the favourites heading into the tournament, the World Cup journey was far from smooth. Stokes shared his moments of nervousness with his team before the crucial match against India, which England won, and the nerve-racking final against New Zealand, where he was asked to go out and bat again in the Super Over after scores were tied. He also takes the reader inside the England dressing room post the World Cup win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compared with his early days, he admits to putting in a lot more thought behind every ball he faces, which is one of the reasons his performances have been key to England’s recent success in all formats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A hard competitor on field, he expresses his respect for New Zealand captain Kane Williamson and the way he handled the World Cup loss due to an obscure boundary count-back rule. However, he says he was surprised by the choice of Williamson as player of the tournament ahead of Rohit Sharma, who scored five hundreds and was the fulcrum of India’s batting in the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stokes has now become a senior member of the team in all formats and is part of the leadership group. Not many would have had the gumption to “request” their vice captaincy back after having it taken away because of a controversy (the 2018 Bristol nightclub brawl). Stokes reveals in the book how, heart in his mouth, swallowing all his ego and pride, he did just that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As is clear from the book, Stokes is ready to be a leader, and is a prime candidate to replace Eoin Morgan in future. But whether that happens or not, the story of Ben Stokes will only get bigger and better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>On Fire: My Story of England’s Summer to Remember</b></p> <p>Publisher: Headline Books</p> <p>Pages: 320</p> <p>Price: Rs318 (Kindle version)</p> Fri May 22 19:52:11 IST 2020 it-was-weird-to-hear-kohli-whingeing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE WAY</b> that Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli played was mystifying. I know that we bowled brilliantly well during this period, but the way they went about their batting just seemed bizarre. They allowed their team to get so far behind the game. They showed no desire to put any pressure back onto our team, content instead to just drift along, a tactic that was clearly playing into our hands.</p> <p>In normal circumstances, when as a batting side you are chasing a big score like that, the opening 10 overs is where you really try to get on top of things, to cash in on the fact there are only two fielders allowed outside of the circle.</p> <p>The intention should be to exploit these gaps, to get ahead of the game, do the work early and not force yourself to be burdened throughout the middle overs when run rates tend to drop. Particularly given their quality, I felt the Indian top order should have tried to be more proactive. Instead they just left the rest of the team with too much to do.</p> <p>Compared to other leading nations, India were still using quite an outdated method of playing to build their totals, keeping wickets in hand in a bid to cash in at the back end of the innings. Yet that can be a dangerous game because the bigger the score, the less margin there is for any error, and the quicker the required run rate climbs once you hit the second half of an innings.</p> <p>India needed nine an over when Liam Plunkett continued his running theme of the tournament in the 29th over, adding Kohli to his illustrious list of victims. He not only has a habit of picking up wickets but regularly pouches the big ones. He doesn’t typically knock them over, rather wearing them down instead, but always seemed to be the one getting the crucial breakthroughs. Pudsey became our World Cup partnership breaker, with his wickets coming after the highest average stand of 63. So it was no longer a shock when he got out the vital players.</p> <p>On this occasion, when Virat was dismissed, from a miscued drive to point, there were a few shrugs of the shoulders and players muttering with smiles on faces: ‘Of course he’s got Virat. It’s Pudsey.’</p> <p>Arguably, the way that M.S. Dhoni played when he came in with 112 runs needed from 11 overs was even stranger. He appeared more intent on singles than sixes. Even with a dozen balls remaining, India could still have won. Yes, it was a daunting task but it was still possible. Yet there was little or no intent from him or his partner Kedar Jadhav. To me, while victory is still possible you always go for broke.</p> <p>There is a theory in our camp that Dhoni’s way of playing has always been the same. Even if India can’t win the game, he takes it right to the end to try to make sure that India’s run rate stays relatively healthy. His big thing has always been to give himself a chance of winning by being at the crease for the final over, but he generally likes to stick around to get as close to a target as possible even in a losing cause.</p> <p>I have witnessed at first hand how successful his tactics can be. During my first season at the Indian Premier League in 2017, I was batting with Dhoni in a match against Sunrisers Hyderabad that was running away from Pune, the team we were representing. When I was dismissed, the equation stood at 56 runs required for victory from 23 deliveries. We won from the last ball of the match; Dhoni was particularly savage on Bhuvneshwar Kumar.</p> <p>On this occasion it wasn’t until the last over that India, through Dhoni, finally cleared the ropes. In the modern game, when one team has struck 13 sixes in their batting effort, that’s just odd. Not that we were overly bothered because all we cared about was getting the result.</p> <p>Yet it was weird to hear India captain Kohli whingeing about the size of the boundaries at the post-match presentation ceremony. He said the toss was vital, adding ‘especially looking at the boundary that was quite short. It was 59 metres, which coincidentally is the minimum amount required in an inter-national match. Quite bizarre on a flat pitch. If batsmen are able to reverse sweep you for six on a 59-metre boundary there is not much you can do. And one side was 82 metres.’</p> <p>I have never heard such a bizarre complaint after a match. It’s actually the worst complaint you could ever make. Both teams have to bat out there, and get the same number of balls, so how can the playing area’s dimensions be an advantage to one team or the other?</p> <p><b>—Excerpted with permission from On Fire by Ben Stokes, published by Headline Books and distributed in the Indian subcontinent by Hachette India.</b></p> Tue May 26 12:55:16 IST 2020 comfortable-in-germany-longing-for-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I reached Germany in February to play the German league matches. I played on a Sunday and then left the country for a short camp. I got back to Germany on March 10 and was supposed to play a game on March 14 or 15 before returning home on March 17. However, my return was postponed first to March 21, and then to March 27. Eventually, it became clear that the world was shutting down completely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been staying in a small town called Bad Soden, near Frankfurt. I have my own place to stay as I did a lot of my world championship training here, so this stay, so far, has not been my longest in Bad Soden. In that sense, I know this place very well. However, while I used to train here, there was a specific purpose or a schedule. This time, it is just an extended stay. We thought flights would resume on March 31, then we thought the lockdown would be lifted in April, but now it continues into May. I was also lucky in a sense that I got here two weeks before the lockdown was announced here. I could have been stuck in a hotel somewhere for ages. Here, I have my friends next door.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is [my wife] Aruna has to cope with everything all by herself [in Chennai]. Akhil, our son, would have had his summer holidays at this time, and he was looking forward to it, but he cannot go anywhere. If I had been home, I would have been able to help her. It is harder for Aruna as my father and her parents are old and have illnesses. I am getting the news about Chennai through news reports and from Aruna, but I do not think one can understand a lockdown till one experiences it personally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Frankfurt, the lockdown has been mild. I am able to go out, walk around and do some shopping at the supermarket. I have adjusted to this. Reports here suggest that things are under control. People generally follow instructions given by the government. Germans as such are very law-abiding citizens. Besides, Chancellor Angela Merkel has communicated very well with the citizens here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bad Soden is a small town with a population of 20,000 or so. I do not know how people in bigger cities in Germany have managed, but here it was alright. People systematically form queues, maintain social distancing and move fast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have also spent time playing chess with Akhil online. I have given him some problems to solve. He is into coding also, so he shares some of his coding problems with me. But really, it is more about seeing each other and communicating daily. We are just happy to see each other through Skype.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nations Cup, which the cream of the chess world was playing online, is always a very strong tournament. The reason I agreed to be part of it was that it gave me something to do. There has been a lot of online participation in chess since the lockdowns came into force. People want to expend their energy [and time] by playing chess online and following it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had a very good tournament the week before. It was a good routine. [But] the results, as far as India was concerned, were disappointing. We were ranked fifth, but this time it went really badly. Koneru Humpy and D. Harika did well, but the other three players in the team struggled. For P. Harikrishna, in one or two games it was a matter of winning or losing by a close margin. There were games he could have won. It feels like whatever could go wrong for us did go wrong. We could have put up a better performance, no doubt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that the tournament is over, it is about looking to get back home. The repatriation flights to India are taking off, but there is nothing yet from Germany. I am keeping track of developments through the Indian embassy website and people at the embassy. It is all about how much more time I will be spending here now. If it is a week or so, I will concentrate on packing up and [following] the procedures involved. If it will take another three to four weeks, then I will try to learn something new in chess. Everything is dependent on when I get to return home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Neeru Bhatia.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Anand is a five-time world chess champion.</b></p> Thu May 14 16:19:14 IST 2020 stokes-deliberately-obstructed-the-field <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For me the real clincher that muddied the waters (had it been picked up at the time) was that Stokes had deliberately obstructed the field because he ‘did significantly change his direction without probable cause and thereby obstructed a fielder’s attempt to effect a run out’.</p> <p>I had recorded the game on my TV which provided several replay angles providing me with the opportunity to analyse what happened. As expected the line Stokes took with his first run was on the prepared part of the pitch within the return creases and the obvious shortest route to the other end. The first run presented him with the information he needed because the line of the shot was in front of him. It warned him of the impending danger well in advance and the line he needed to run to give himself the best chance of blocking the throw. On returning for the second run, his partner Adil Rashid continued to run the outside line meaning that Stokes had the inside running closer to the pitch, which would have also been the shortest route to making his ground. However, Stokes was prepared to change/widen his line of direction, manoeuvring Rashid even wider, in order to give himself the best chance of obstructing the throw. When making his dive the reason for so much dust rising was due to his landing in the footmarks of a previous game. And it wasn’t the bowlers’ footmarks, from that previous game, it was further away where the batsman would have been taking his guard, some 4 feet (1.22 metres) beyond the return crease of the pitch they were playing on.</p> <p>By not looking over his left shoulder towards the ball, he might have given the appearance of innocence. Stokes’ understandable preference so as not to slow him down was to look at the positioning of the wicketkeeper in front of him, automatically warning him of the line of the throw, its accuracy and the threat it presented. The wicket-keeper had remained directly behind the stumps, which indicated the throw was on target. Recognising the danger, Stokes will have sensed the need to dive to give himself the best chance of making his ground. Although he will not have deliberately deflected the ball with his bat, his actions would have already placed himself in the best position to intercept the path of the ball. To add to New Zealand’s woes, the replay also indicated that had the ball not been intercepted, Stokes would have likely been short of his ground....</p> <p>For as long as I can remember, it became standard practice for batsmen to run a line (when under pressure to make their ground) to block the throw by putting themselves between the thrower and the stumps.... Once normalised, the illegality of it tends to be portrayed as being accidental and is therefore overlooked. The reality is that when batsmen think the danger of being run out is very unlikely, they make every effort to move away from the line of the ball to prevent being hit.</p> <p>These incidents also tend to be unobserved because batsmen seldom if ever take advantage of any overthrows that might ensue. On the very odd occasion when (as in this case) the ball ends up over the boundary, the consequences are generally minor and treated as such. But when it decides a Cricket World Cup final, the stakes are too high for it to go unnoticed. Maybe it has taken the significance of this event to expose the need to take a closer look at this example in the future.</p> <p><b>—Published with permission from TurnerMcC Publishing</b></p> <p><b>Cricket’s Global Warming: The Crisis in Cricket (Kindle edition)</b></p> <p>Authors: Glenn Turner &amp; <br> Lynn McConnell</p> <p>Publisher: TurnerMcC Publishing</p> <p>Pages: 267 Price: Rs449</p> Fri May 08 23:34:34 IST 2020 games-plan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN AT HOME</b> in Jaipur, Apurvi Chandela is usually relaxed. The shooter begins the day with an early-morning run, followed by a swim and then two to three hours of training at the shooting range her hotelier father built for her. She spends the afternoon playing with her dog and reading books, followed by an evening session at the range and an hour of exercise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this was before Covid-19 struck. Before the Olympics was postponed by a year to July 23, 2021, Apurvi was part of the 15-member Indian squad that had qualified for Tokyo 2020. “Ever since the lockdown, I have been busy doing housework and helping my parents,” says the 27-year-old. “I wake up at 5am and ensure that all tasks are over before they wake up. Then I help them out with breakfast and dishes, and go for my training—two hours in the morning, one-and-a-half hours in the evening. I also make time for physical training; around an hour or so. But there is a lot of physical activity already happening, so I reduced the training load.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last May, Apurvi had become world number one in the 10m air rifle event. But now, because of the virus, her plans of four years have been undone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the Olympics, Apurvi was to compete at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in Delhi and Munich in March and June respectively. But the events were shelved; the ISSF is yet to announce the reworked schedule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The lockdown was necessary, but it is a bit of a disappointment because we had been preparing for so long,” she says. “As the Delhi World Cup got postponed and the Tokyo test event was cancelled, it is best not to go to the Olympics now without competition. In that sense, we will have enough time next year, and more competitions to prepare better for the Olympics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pre-lockdown, Apurvi had ticked almost all the boxes on her “to- do” list. “I had already covered everything in January in Europe—testing my equipment, rifle, ammunition,” she says. “All of that was ready, but now I will have to test it all over again before the Olympics. I will have to go back to Europe in January, probably, if everything settles down. I have a spare rifle. All other parts are ready; I just have to change the barrel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the moment, Apurvi wants to take each day as it comes. She has a strong support system, with her team—personal coach, physiotherapist and mental trainer—helping her. “I do not know how long [the uncertainty] will continue,” she says. “Only once coronavirus cases slow down and we can step out will coaches be able to work out a plan. Meanwhile, I can just stay in touch with the game. I had a whole plan sorted out [regarding] when I wanted to peak. Last year was good, and I am hoping to continue the momentum.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Dr Chaitanya Sridhar, a sports psychologist who consults with JSW Sports and the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru: “Some of them have taken it more positively as they feel they have got more time to prepare. But as the days progress, and they spend time in constrained spaces, things will not get easy. Athletes used to getting exercise could get angry and irritated. The key would be for them to take a break, use this time to recalibrate, look at it as window of opportunity and make use of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If there is one athlete who will see the current situation as a window of opportunity, it is shuttler Kidambi Srikanth. The former world number one has been beset by injuries and woeful form, and is currently ranked 14th in the Badminton World Federation rankings. As per the qualification criteria, the top 16 players, as on April 25, were to qualify directly for the Olympics. On March 13, BWF had suspended all tournaments from March 16 to to April 12. A number of these tournaments fell within the qualification period for the Olympics. The BWF froze the rankings, but is yet to announce fresh regulations related to qualification. With no clarity, Srikanth’s Olympics dream is hanging fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, he is at home in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad is shut. Srikanth, 27, trains at home, and has no access to a court or a local gymnasium. “It (the uncertainty) is tough for me,” he tells THE WEEK. “You plan 12 months in advance so that you peak at the Olympics. I have to start from scratch now. But I think the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has done a great job announcing the new dates quickly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked about his poor form, he says: “It is mainly the re-occurrence of my injury. Also, the continuous change of foreign coaches in the past year and a half. I also pushed myself too much in search of results, which led to injuries. I have taken stock of the situation and I am really taking things slowly. Sitting at home is really tough. I used to go back home only to take a break and never stayed for such a long time. Had I been in Hyderabad, I would have arranged something.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regardless, he believes he is mentally strong enough to weather the storm. “I do not take too much pressure,” he says. “I am only focused on playing well and I do not think of qualification while playing. I do not want to plan too much.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth might not be showing signs of mental strain, but some nervous queries did come up during online sessions the GoSports foundation conducted with its athletes recently. Says Dr Divya Jain, sports psychologist, Fortis Healthcare Delhi, who conducted one of these sessions: “There were queries related to how their training had gone to waste. There was uncertainty over when the next competitions would begin. Issues related to the process of qualification have cropped up, timelines have changed, athletes were feeling a sense of loss; they are not used to being cooped up for long.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her advice to the athletes was to not think about the uncontrollable. “We advised them to shift their focus to the process of training, look at the short term, maintain fitness and break down skills,” she says. “For example, if footwork needs more attention, try working on that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She adds that, as the days of lockdown progress, remaining connected with family and friends would be key for the athletes.</p> Fri May 08 22:21:33 IST 2020 coaches-have-become-lackeys-former-nz-captain-glenn-turner <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Be it as player, coach or selector, Glenn Turner has been a fierce, lifelong critic of cricket administrators in New Zealand. In his latest book, <i>Cricket's Global Warming</i>, coauthored by senior cricket journalist Lynn McConnell, the 72-year-old puts forth a no-holds-barred critique of many aspects of cricket and its players. Even though the book, written over 18 months, largely deals with New Zealand, it also holds up a mirror to every cricketing nation.</p> <p><br> Turner argues that having boards dominated by people from non-cricketing backgrounds, or putting too much power in the hands of the players, both lead to a variety of problems, including a lack of understanding, wrong decision-making and conflict of interest.</p> <p><br> The book is full of examples and anecdotes, and the authors do not shy away from naming names.</p> <p><br> The first chapter takes on England all-rounder Ben Stokes, asserting that, in the 2019 ODI World Cup final against New Zealand, he deliberately obstructed the field while taking a run, which led to the ball hitting his bat and reaching the boundary. This moment, in many eyes, cost New Zealand the cup.</p> <p><br> It is also clear from the book that Turner dislikes T20 cricket; he blames the International Cricket Council for messing up the ODI World Cup final by using a T20 method—Super Over—to decide the winner.</p> <p><br> He also seems to condemn the decision to make Brendon McCullum captain. The talismanic 'Baz' made the team's style of play more daring and thrilling, which led to some destructive wins, but also dramatic losses. The chapter titled 'The McCullum Myth' is a warning of what lies ahead. According to the book, McCullum's batting and captaincy were “reckless, ostentatious and self-absorbed”. The authors list several examples to support the argument. The McCullum era, says the book, led to the creation of “leadership groups”, perhaps a polite term for coterie, and also impacted the selection of players.</p> <p><br> Turner also criticises the shabby treatment of Ross Taylor, the country's highest run-scorer in Tests and ODIs, at the hands of McCullum and board officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the advent of Kane Williamson as captain seems to have given Turner hope. Williamson, he says, has made the team friendlier, happier and humbler, while also winning matches.</p> <p><br> The book also discusses in detail the diminishing role of coaches in an era of strong captains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether you agree with him or not, Turner does raise some issues that need to be debated, rather than being swept under the carpet as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK from his home in Dunedin, Turner held back no punches as he talked about the World Cup final, T20 cricket, and his new book and its aim—challenge the status quo. Excerpts:</p> <p><b><br> Most of New Zealand took the result of the 2019 World Cup final on the chin. How did you cope?</b></p> <p>I do not get too emotional when I watch my subject; I try to analyse things. I just found it interesting to observe and analyse what went on particularly towards the end of it. I have recorded it on TV, [which] means I could look at each ball bowled and assess it. It came to light very quickly that he (Ben Stokes) deliberately came in the path of the ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the umpires erred in not declaring the ball dead when it went off Stokes’s bat for overthrows?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. That is an obvious one. Normally, players do not take those runs, but if it goes to the boundary, the runs are awarded to them. If you ask any cricketer who has played for a reasonable amount of time, he would agree that it has become normal practice that, if you are under pressure, you would block the ball if it is in the line of the stumps, if you can.</p> <p>Also, they have changed the boundary count-back rule, but why have Super Overs anyway? What happens in T20s should have no bearing on other formats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But in other sports such as hockey, which you have played, there is the concept of extra time and golden goals. So, in marquee events, one would understand the need to have a single winner.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am fundamentally opposed to that concept. I believe in cricket, we would like to think there is a result after every ball just like in baseball there is one after every pitch. The way society has evolved, it seems that we must have a winner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Were you surprised by the New Zealand Cricket board’s decision to not make an issue out of the final?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. The reason being that most boards do not have cricketing people on them, and then it is pretty hard to argue the case. I call them ‘alien’ boards. These individuals come from other walks of life, ‘alien’ to cricket, and because they happen to be lawyers or accountants, it is anticipated that they can govern. There are generic skills that help run anything. What I found over time is that challenging the status quo or questioning authority is not seen as [being] helpful and they tend to quash it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have slammed McCullum's style of captaincy and called the treatment of Ross Taylor poor. Has Kane Williamson's captaincy hit the refresh button on the way the team plays its cricket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would blame the administration. Power was passed to the strongest personality (McCullum) and what that caused was a lot of bickering, which should not be there if things are done properly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was a player, professionalism in New Zealand cricket did not exist and the board wanted to retain the amateur ethos of the game. It has turned 180 degrees today. The board has pulled back and allowed senior players and the players association to run the game. And that means they decide the selection and who the support staff are. And if you are in a position as I was—a convener of the selection panel [without] the final say on selection—that is a major mistake. The conflict of interest and bickering came through strongly during the change of captaincy and when Ross Taylor was dumped out of nowhere. It should never have been allowed to happen.</p> <p><br> I am a little disappointed about the bodyline stuff that is going on. Someone is going to get seriously hurt. But I think the laws are strong enough; it is just that they do not have the courage to stop it. I think that area of the game needs tidying up and Williamson, to some extent, is being drawn into that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is this the era of strong captains, with coaches having a minimal role?
</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. I am hoping my book is recognised for [pointing out] that very reason. The power shift has occurred particularly in the last 10-odd years. It is important that the captains sit with the coach and strategise what happened in the last session and plan for the next session. Also, sports science people need to come in at a more junior level.</p> <p>It is almost as if those from the past have nothing to offer. If you give younger people too much power, you are asking for trouble. Cricket appears to have gone down that path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think of Williamson's captaincy and persona?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current lot seems like a decent bunch. And I think Williamson has got a bit about him. He is not only quite intelligent, but he also has some decent values. He has a cushy ride going right now, because he has decent players around him; there are no miscreant players I can see. He came in a scenario where the captain ran everything and the coach was a 'minion' and so you cannot blame him for what has been before. He is doing a pretty good job. He has got some humility and, when he talks, he is not spinning practised lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What were your observations about Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri as Indian captain and coach during the New Zealand tour in January?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know Ravi Shastri quite well. And he is a very likeable individual. I do not know Kohli; I can only go by what I see on TV. Such a strong personality indicates he would be in charge. I do not know what relationship they have, but I do know coaches now have become lackeys and that is because of the power shift and how boards have allowed things to evolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you [want] a coach, you want one with experience as a player, like Shastri. Otherwise, a net coach can come in and out. Players [are] generally [reluctant] to listen to coaches and until you change that and educate younger players, I do not see them (coaches) being of great value.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the time of a pandemic and financial stress, do you think players are more likely to choose club over country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One argument is that we need T20 leagues, particularly the IPL (Indian Premier League) to keep players happy and to give them what they deserve. I call it entitlement. Top players need to get less, reduce international programmes and particularly reduce T20 (participation) so that it does not dominate. I think the global warming in cricket will only get worse as we have seen with the pandemic. I think we need a serious look at the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the sandpaper scandal has changed way Australia play?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Australia were to change the approach, it would have changed by now. Australia have been guiltier of sledging and so called gamesmanship than other team. I do not see that changing greatly. Unless umpires have confidence and the backing of their bosses to rein them (players) in. Things have only deteriorated over time.</p> Thu May 07 18:42:22 IST 2020 ipl-without-foreign-players-should-not-happen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A haircut at home. Or indulging in a favourite pastime. Life in lockdown has altered most people’s routines and lifestyles dramatically—be it a common man or a cricket legend. After living his life out of a suitcase during his long career, Sachin Tendulkar had not slowed down post retirement owing to his myriad charity commitments, commercial deals, mentorship of Mumbai Indians IPL team and his till recent association with Kerala Blasters football team. The nationwide lockdown, however, has seen Tendulkar at home with his family, though still busy with multiple engagements including working from home.</p> <p>In an exclusive interaction with THE WEEK, the Master Blaster, who turned 47 on April 24, stresses that people must respect the lockdown guidelines, ensure physical and mental well-being, and respect medical and other frontline workers. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/ How is a day in your life during the lockdown?</b></p> <p>A/ I wake up, train whatever I can. I conduct my meetings with my team members on the phone. Many meetings take place on video calls; it is a new age thing I am trying to get used to. My son and daughter train in the evenings and sometimes I join them. This break has given me a lot of time to spend with the kids. It is a forced break for everyone. Especially when the kids are past their teens it is difficult to get them to sit at home; they have their own friends circle. I am also spending time with my mother. All of us spend time together watching films and series, and playing board games. It is good quality time together combined with work.</p> <p>Work includes organisations that I support, and work with, to help the disadvantaged. We plan and discuss things that we can do and add value to other peoples’ lives. We are discussing other business plans, too. The business partners also ask me to speak to their employees. Along with that, I have been able to work with the government on giving public messages on health and hygiene. I have had an opportunity to interact with medical fraternity via video conference, which was a new experience for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some of your family members are in the medical profession. We have seen attacks on the frontline workers during the lockdown. What are your thoughts on it?</b></p> <p>A/ It is important to respect the medical fraternity. Theirs is a selfless job. They are looking to do everything possible in their capabilities. People should realise that they are trying to safe lives; there is nothing bigger than that. Our medical workers, police and armed forces have one goal—save lives. Respect them. There have been some mishaps. This is unfortunate. Value what they are doing for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During this time of the year usually you would be busy with IPL and then Wimbledon.</b></p> <p>A/ Having no sport is something I have never experienced in my life. I do not think any of my elder family members have experienced it, either. Yes, there have been calamities and natural disasters in certain areas, but here the whole world is challenged at the same time. There is no IPL, no Wimbledon or no Olympics because we have to save lives. It is important for people to stay physically and mentally fit; so we have to find ways to do that. It is important to look after our elderly at home. That is why I said as family we have to spend time together watching television or playing board games. It is not easy but it is for everyone, and we are doing it for each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Lack of sports has an impact on livelihoods. For instance, IPL generates many part-time jobs and income.</b></p> <p>A/ It is not just IPL or sporting events. There are a number of people who are getting impacted outside sports. It’s not about people who follow sport alone. That is why I said we have to do this together and for each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the pandemic changing sports? People are talking about empty stadiums or bowlers no longer using saliva on the ball.</b></p> <p>A/ I think players will be cautious of [using saliva and also group hugs and high fives]. Social distancing will continue at least for some time even if everything is safe and sound. I have always endorsed—as UNICEF ambassador—maintaining good hygiene and washing hands regularly. Because this will be behind us does not mean that we should be going back to old habits. We will need to make some changes to our lifestyle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Cricket Australia is talking of holding an India series without spectators. How would that feel?</b></p> <p>A/ It will be tough to go out and play without a packed stadium, because that is what gives you a lot of energy. The way a crowd responds to when you play a good shot or when a bowler is in the middle of a fiery spell,</p> <p>beating the bat constantly, there is a lot of energy one gets. Cricket relies a lot on spectators—curiosity, anxiety, adrenaline levels. If you have done well, you celebrate. It will be hard to imagine cricket without spectators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think IPL in some form should happen even if foreign players are not able to come?</b></p> <p>A/ If all foreign players are not able to come, I do not think IPL should happen. Because a lot of teams had picked and balanced their sides with foreign and domestic players’ combination. That combination will get completely disrupted. Each team relies on their strength; if you do not have foreign players that balance changes.&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 23 16:19:16 IST 2020 the-T20-world-cup-gave-us-self-belief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Harmanpreet Kaur had led a team with newbies—with no experience of playing in an ICC tournament before—to the 2020 Women’s T20I World Cup final. Relaxing at her home in Moga, Punjab, Kaur has had time to think about what went right and wrong for her team. Speaking exclusively with THE WEEK, the Indian skipper says that the gains from the World Cup weigh more than the losses. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you sum up the Indian team's World Cup campaign?</b></p> <p>A/ It was a very good experience for our team overall. It was a young team, low on experience. Despite that everyone was so keen, giving their best. It was a total team performance, except [for] the final. In the final we had a few lapses, but had we created those opportunities, the result would surely have been different. Our self-confidence as a team has really gone up, given our performance through the tournament. Previously we did not have self-belief. This World Cup showed that we are no less than anyone.</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned the lapses. Was it just fielding lapses or was it that Australia came hard at India in the final?</b></p> <p>A/ I think that was not our day. Nothing went in our favour. No doubt, the Australian team is very good. But we gave them hard competition in the tri-series before the World Cup. I do not think we lost because of the catches dropped or the 90,000-strong crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Throughout the tournament we had got very good support. Our girls, too, wanted a full house for the finals. The first few lapses and not grabbing the chances early on cost us.</p> <p><b>Q/ How did you manage the young players in the team?</b></p> <p>A/ The whole team was so excited from day one of the World Cup. We did not get a semifinal match [because of rain], but in our practice—both indoors and outdoors—before the final, we were very focused. No one was feeling any pressure. Winning the first match of the tournament gave us a lot of confidence. The bowlers won us the match defending a low score. Before that we used to think that we needed to put big runs on the board for our bowlers to defend. But our bowlers won so many matches for us. There was a positive vibe in all departments—we had grown as a team.</p> <p><b>Q/ You were part of the team that played the 2017 ODI World Cup final, too. At the personal level, how disappointing was it to lose yet another final?</b></p> <p>A/ Disappointment is there, yes. But the manner in which the team has grown has been satisfying for me. I know results matter in sports. But for us we look more at our efforts than the results. I know the difference it would have made [to women's cricket in India].</p> <p>We have played so many World Cup matches before, but never before [have] we played like a unit like we did here. I enjoyed this tournament more than any previous one, even though my own batting was not great.</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a view that you may be feeling the pressure of captaincy and it reflects on your batting.</b></p> <p>A/ From outside it may look like that, but personally I have never felt so. I really enjoy this part. I feel more involved. The captaincy keeps me alert all the time. Earlier, I used to think about my performance alone. Captaincy has made me a better person. [ Now,] I cannot think only about myself, but [have to think] of other things, too.</p> <p><b>Q/ How challenging was it for you to handle youngsters like Shafali Verma and Taniya Bhatia?</b></p> <p>A/ I never felt I am leading young girls. I never had to go to them to make them understand their game plan. They had their own game plans ready. All I had to do was to keep them together.</p> <p><b>Q/ The manner in which the team lost the final must have been traumatic for the team, especially for youngsters.</b></p> <p>A/ It was heartbreaking for all, not just the youngsters. But they learnt a lot from their first World Cup. At the end of the tournament we had a team meeting discussing what each one needs to do more, so that in forthcoming tournaments we do not lose, because of our current shortcomings.</p> <p><b>Q/ Which are the areas we need to plug urgently?</b></p> <p>A/ Our spinners have been performing very well, our top order is performing, but the team’s fitness and fielding are two areas we need to focus a lot more on.</p> <p>Definitely we need someone coming in after me and batting. We are working on that. Sometimes you need to have patience. Shafali got a proper chance in this World Cup, [and she] performed, Richa Ghosh is promising and suitable in the middle order slot after me. We need to give them some time.</p> <p><b>Q/ The 2021 T20 World Cup is in New Zealand. Can we depend so much on spinners in those conditions?</b></p> <p>A/ Cricket-wise definitely not. But we need to look at our strengths and weaknesses. We do need two medium pacers, especially when there are two set batters in the middle. At present, spin is our strength. Had we focused on grooming medium pacers a year or two back, we would not have had to depend so much on spin.</p> <p>We definitely need three medium pacers in the side. But we also need to see if they are good enough. We need to look more on the existing talent in the medium pace department. Hopefully in the next one or two years we will have them ready.</p> <p><b>Q/ What is it that India needs to do to plug the gap with the top two teams—Australia and England?</b></p> <p>A/ Just the fitness. In these two countries fitness is part of their culture. Unfortunately, in India we start these things late. For the last three years the girls have been working hard on fitness. It does not improve overnight, we need to work on it for longer durations. Earlier, we would come close to these teams and lose, but now we are winning matches against&nbsp;them. Skill-wise we are better batters and bowlers than these&nbsp;two countries.&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 26 16:39:29 IST 2020 adapt-or-perish <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN NEW ZEALAND,</b> after having lost the World Cup by a whisker, was thrashed 3-0 by Australia in a Test series at the end of 2019, it felt like a story where the good guys came last. Therefore, their recent success against India, especially in the Test arena, was a breath of fresh air. There was no theatrical behaviour; no fist pumping or expressive facial and body contortion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kiwi captain Kane Williamson was a silent, well-behaved and skilful executor, who got the job done without making a fuss. India were completely outplayed, outthought and out-behaved. The Black Caps were a classy bunch, who showed humility, respect and immaculate manners as winners. A side that proudly reflects the true spirit of the gentleman’s game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team India, on the other hand, looked like a bunch of boisterous, overconfident and brash individuals for whom aggression was the way and key to success. This new argumentative Indian is seen not only in the cricketers, but also in their die-hard fans. But behaviour apart, the pertinent question is what caused this dip in the performance of the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The players are earning well and are well cared for by the BCCI. How could New Zealand, with more sheep than people and a frugal domestic cricket structure, bring India to its knees? The Indian team had started to resemble a well-oiled machine. New Zealand’s defeat of India in the semifinals of the World Cup was seen as a one-off; a bad day at the office for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The side set off to New Zealand with clear aims: taking revenge for the loss in the World Cup by beating the Kiwis convincingly in all three formats and winning the two-match Test series to extend their already comfortable lead at the top of the ICC World Test Championship Table 2019-2021. (India with 360 points still lead second-placed Australia by 64. New Zealand jumped to third place with 180.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tour started off with a bang—the 5-0 win in the T20 series. But then complacency seems to have crept into the Indian think tank. India chose to experiment in the three-match ODI series, and youngsters were given game time. India could not defend 347 in the first ODI. Chasing the huge target comfortably was the boost of confidence the Kiwis needed. They completed two whitewashes—3-0 in ODIs and 2-0 in Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Premier League could have benefited the New Zealand think tank. Their planning for each Indian batsman had information that must have been garnered from the domestic Indian grapevine. India did not seem to have done their homework.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The New Zealand batsmen were destroyed in Australia with a barrage of short rising balls by Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. India failed to learn from it. Instead, the New Zealand bowlers used the Aussie tactics on the Indians. Apart from the short deliveries aimed at the body, they kept a good line and length, with their bowlers releasing the ball rather than banging it in like the Indian pacers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India missed the services of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a genuine swing bowler, because of his injury. The regular injuries to Indian fast bowlers are a cause for concern. The two frontline pacers in New Zealand, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, were also returning from injuries. Something seems to have gone awry, considering how well bowlers are now monitored for wear and tear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lack of match practice for Sharma and Bumrah also cost big. They should have been made to play domestic cricket before returning to national duty. Sharma was injured again after a five-wicket haul in the first Test. Bumrah struggled to find his rhythm, and his yorker and out-swinger were missing. These deliveries require him to put much more stress on his body because of his bowling action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rohit Sharma was not available for the ODIs and Tests. The in-form K.L. Rahul was another absentee. This meant more onus on Kohli. The Indian captain had succeeded in dealing with his one major fault of playing the moving ball in England. His failure to do so in the first innings of the first Test caused a relapse. As Kohli rightly relayed later, he failed to take risks. This, he indicated, led to his and his team’s failure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lack of personal contribution had an effect on Kohli’s captaincy. He was like a man on a hot tin roof, hopping and hoping to get a wicket with every ball. He looked helpless when the new boy of New Zealand cricket, Kyle Jamieson, wreaked havoc with both ball and bat. It seemed as if Kohli had no plan to finish off the Kiwi lower order, and their wagging tail swept India under the carpet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s two most dependable Test batsmen, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, both with oodles of patience, were also sorted out by the New Zealanders. Pujara, with a batting average of nearly 50, did not look comfortable. His defence was shoddy and rusty. His angular backlift created a bat-and-pad gap which the New Zealand bowlers exploited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahane looked at sea when faced with the moving balls and the short deliveries. Mayank Agarwal, who was phenomenal in India, did not inspire much confidence as an opener. All three got a half century, but they failed to do so together and did it with the least amount of confidence in their play. Indian players played by their instincts and fell into the traps laid out for them. They were not able to adapt and change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The short ball and the legside attack, with fielders at forward and backward short-leg and in the long-leg and midwicket region, made scoring and surviving difficult for all the Indian batsmen. This was the strategy that New Zealand adopted in both Tests. Yet, the Indian batsmen failed to find a way to tackle it. Young Prithvi Shaw and the experienced Rahane fell to this ploy, among others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rishabh Pant, a player with immense talent, is still inadequate in terms of technique and temperament. He was a surprising choice as the wicketkeeper, ahead of the more established Wriddhiman Saha, especially after the latter’s performances in earlier Test matches. Teams can play around with a keeper in the shorter formats, but for Tests, a keeper is vital and keeping out the best man was another error in selection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian selectors with a plethora of choices, seem to be uncertain as to who to play in the final 11. This chopping and changing is making life a little uncertain for the players who are on the fringe. Although the camaraderie and friendship among the players is visible, there is pressure to perform or perish in the body language when they are out in the middle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next Test series against Australia is at the end of the year. The Indian calendar is filled with limited overs games till the T20 World Cup in October. The Indian think tank will need to find time to go back to the drawing board and restructure the next phase of planning for the Indian Test side. If that does not happen, India could be knocked off its perch pretty soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Singh is a former Test cricketer.</b></p> Mon Mar 09 14:40:47 IST 2020 agra-new-queens <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE THRIVE CRICKET</b> Academy stands at the edge of Agra Cantonment. On Shamshabad Road, where commercial outlets are interspersed with residences, and the Taj Mahal towers in the distance, the academy ground is overlooked by luxury apartments under construction—an old world city developing fast. The bright and sunny spring has arrived, as has the exam season. The gates of the academy open at exactly 4pm for evening practice. Boys and girls troop in on their cycles and two-wheelers; some come with parents. They are not segregated based on gender, but according to age group; the under-12 kids have one coach and another looks after the under-14 and under-16 squads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four girls were rolling the wicket with a heavy roller, while the rest started their warm-ups. Soon, head coach Manoj Kuswah, a former under-19 player from Uttar Pradesh and a National Cricket Academy-certified coach, arrives. The kids line up to touch the guru’s feet, and he doles out instructions to both groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ten-year-old Anshika Chowdhary, who is small built and sports a ‘boy cut’, marks her bowling run-up and then runs in and releases the ball with all the force and energy her little frame can muster. A class five student of Army Public School, Anshika’s exams are still on, but she turns up for practice nevertheless. She saw her father watching a match on TV and told him she wanted to play cricket, too. Apart from its proximity to the Chowdharys’ home, the academy happens to be one of Agra’s best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Little Anshika keeps steaming in under the watchful eyes of both Kuswah and the junior coach. She happens to be the favourite of Team India’s star bowler Poonam Yadav. Yadav, born and brought up in Agra, honed her skills under Kuswah. The ace leg-spinner, all of 4’11”, is a role model for the kids in the academy. “I closely watch Poonam didi play in the nets,” said Anshika. “She gives us valuable tips and even corrected a small flaw while I was bowling. She gave me two T-shirts, too, last time she was here.” Another girl got a pair of spikes from Yadav, who trains at the academy whenever she is home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The talk in the academy these days is about the Women in Blue playing Down Under, particularly Yadav’s performances. The 28-year-old has been in scintillating form in the ongoing ICC Women’s Twenty20 World Cup. Before the semifinal, she was the highest wicket-taker with nine scalps from four games. Her variations in pace and flight have repeatedly outfoxed opponents, drawing them out of the crease and allowing wicketkeeper Tanya Bhatia to dismiss them. She sat out the tri-series against Australia and England just before the T20WC—a precautionary measure after she sustained a finger injury. But once back on the pitch for her fifth World Cup (ODI and T20), she was brilliant from the word go. Her career-best 4 for 19 against Australia in the opener stunned the defending champions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to conventional leg spin, Yadav also uses her googly and top spin effectively. “I first saw her bowling in 2005-06,” said Hemlata Kala, chairperson of BCCI’s women’s selection committee, who is from Agra. “I never thought she would play for India, but as she played, her performance at every point was outstanding. She worked hard on her googly later on. Initially, all her focus was on the leg spin.” Said Kuswah: “She started as a medium pacer but our coach advised her to bowl spin, keeping in mind her small frame. She has worked a lot to develop variations.” There is an arm ball waiting to be unleashed somewhere, according to Kuswah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her evolution as a bowler at the international level has taken an upward trajectory ever since her national debut in 2013. Yadav was recently adjudged the best female cricketer of the year 2018-19 by the BCCI—she has been the world’s top wicket-taker in ODIs for two years in a row.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be close to her academy, Yadav has bought an apartment in one of the high rises coming up next to it. She now has a grade A (50 lakhs per year) annual contract with the BCCI, along with skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and vice-captain Smriti Mandhana. Her experience as a senior also helps her guide a bowling attack that is largely spin-oriented and young.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav is not the first from Agra to wear the Indian colours. Kala was the first to make it from the city. She was followed by Preeti Dimri, left-arm spinner who represented India from 2006 to 2010. Poonam’s India teammate, all-rounder Deepti Sharma, too, is an Agra resident. “As a former player, I feel good if any kid from Agra is doing well for India,” said Kala. “All this is a result of the performance of the senior Indian women in recent times. Like the 1983 World Cup, the change occurred after the 2017 World Cup. The key is parental support for women players. I never faced problems as my parents fully supported my choice.” Kala recalls the efforts of the late M.K. Afghani, coach at the multipurpose Eklavya Stadium. He had a role in shaping the careers of not just her, but all the girls—Dimri, Yadav and Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuswah’s academy boasts of about 30 girls from different age groups. The number of academies has grown in Agra. Sharma’s brother, Sumit, also runs one called Star Next Cricket Academy. Before the academies came up, the hub of all cricket activity in the city was the Eklavya Stadium. “Every one of us started our cricket at the stadium,” said Kala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More girls from the city are now playing for the state and India A. “A couple of our girls are busy with the board’s under-19 tournament, while two girls, Shama Singh and Rashi Kanojia, are on duty for India A,” said Kuswah. Yadav’s headline-grabbing performances have only added to soaring dreams in Agra.</p> Sat Mar 07 11:09:45 IST 2020 scoring-is-not-the-problem-it-is-about-staying-there <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR A WHILE</b> now, southpaw Smriti Mandhana has set the tone for India’s batting as the opener with flair. Though early 2019 was bouncy for her, chief coach W.V. Raman, himself a former lefty opener, asked her to be patient and ignore the scoreboard pressure. The advice worked, and the 23-year-old from Sangli, Maharashtra, regained her touch. In the recently concluded tri-series against England and Australia, she scored 216 runs in five matches. Ahead of the T20I World Cup, which starts on February 21 in Australia, THE WEEK spoke to Mandhana about her form, her new opening partner and the World Cup. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Having seen the team reach a semi-final in the T20I World Cup and a final in the ODI version, how will you approach this tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, I will not put any added pressure on myself. I will just enjoy my batting. That is what I have always done in a World Cup—just think of it as a regular match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the team, we will look to be calm and composed and not keep thinking that it is the World Cup, because then we end up putting pressure on ourselves and [that] hampers our performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does it not rankle the senior players that India has gotten close, but has not won a World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rather, it gives you a lot of confidence that you have been there, gone to the semis and finals. That means the team is good and it is about that one day. On that particular day, someone has to click. It motivates us to go one step further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Heading into the World Cup, how do you analyse your past season?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The one-day [season] was pretty good, but I felt I have not been at my best in T20Is; it has been on and off. It is also difficult to have that consistency [when] you have to go after every ball. But that is the challenge—to find a way to be more consistent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the team, 2019 was a good season overall. In ODIs, the team was already there; in T20Is, we are now getting there with youngsters like Shafali (Verma) and Jemimah (Rodrigues) coming in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What has coach Raman told you as a former southpaw opener himself?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raman sir has been very helpful with all batters. With me, he has always said, “You have all the shots, just have the goal of playing 30 overs in an ODI. Do not concentrate on scoring alone; you will end up getting 100 (if you stay put) or you will get 60 to 70 playing 13 overs in a T20I.” That is what I have been working on. Scoring is not the problem; it is about staying there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You think you would be able to do so?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is easier to do so in ODIs, with the field restrictions. Even if you do not score a boundary or two in an over, you know you have time to cover up. But to do the same thing in T20Is is difficult.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have opened with various partners and now you have Shafali Verma. How do you approach your role?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is scary to stand at the non-striker’s end because she is such a hard hitter. You have to be attentive otherwise you can end up being hit! (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jokes apart, yes, initially I did not understand what my role would be. I have always been the aggressor, scoring in the first six overs. But now I try and give her strike because she scores at a high rate. However, I also realised that we both have to play our natural game. Her experience is not much, but she is mature for her age. There have been times when she has come up to me and said, ‘Didi rehne do abhi, apan baad mein maarenge (Didi, let it be, we will hit and make up later)’. Of course, I have to keep talking to her, tell her which ball to hit or leave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a lot more responsibility on you—being vice captain, the main scorer and batting with a new opener.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may sound [like] there is a lot to do, but it is normal for us. It is not an extra effort. The kind of player [Shafali] is, the World Cup will be no added pressure for her. It is her first World Cup, [and] she will play with an open mindset.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the team over-reliant on the top four?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the case in every team. Harmanpreet [Kaur], Shafali, Jemimah and I—it is our responsibility to [put up] a total for the team. With Veda Krishnamurthy and Pooja Vastrakar scoring in the Challenger [Trophy], we have good depth now. If you are 2 down for 25, it is a bit harsh to expect the middle order to get us to 170-odd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The average scores are expected to be bigger than in previous T20I World Cups, given the wickets in Australia.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Australian wickets, anything is chase-able and defendable. In the Women’s Big Bash League season, anything above 160 was a good total. But, in World Cups, anything like 130 can also be good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You missed the WBBL last season. Will that affect your preparation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, playing with the Indian team was more important. If the tri-series (Australia-England-India) was not there, I would have thought about the WBBL. But playing alongside my Indian teammates has been good for team bonding.</p> Fri Feb 14 12:22:17 IST 2020 ms-hit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TALL, WELL-BUILT</b> girl waited her turn to face the pacers in the nets of the Ram Narain Cricket Academy in Rohtak, Haryana. The early morning rains had forced her indoors, but her spirit could not be dampened. Shafali Varma, not yet 16 at the time, unleashed an array of shots, most of them aerial. The latest sensation in Indian cricket was not messing around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her mantra is simple. “Mujhe upar ka ball bohot pasand hai (I like it when the ball is pitched up), it is in my hitting zone,” she told THE WEEK, when asked about her love for lofted shots. Net practice, however, is not international cricket. There would be fewer opportunities to go over the top there. “I simply have to create the opportunities to do so,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And create them she did. At 15 years and 285 days, last November, the tomboyish girl with chubby cheeks broke one of Sachin Tendulkar’s records. She became the youngest Indian to to score an international 50; Tendulkar was 16 years and 214 days old when he did so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shafali’s explosive 49-ball 73 against the West Indies in St Lucia overshadowed her opening partner Smriti Mandhana’s refined half century. Shafali followed this up with a match-winning 69 in the second T20I.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another Tendulkar connection. Seeing the maestro play his last domestic innings at the Lahli ground in Rohtak inspired Shafali to pursue cricket full-time. “I told myself I had to play for India, I had to score runs,” she said. “Coaches used to tell me to play my fearless game. I have worked hard to get into the Indian team. When I got my cap, I was happy but told myself that I had to seal my spot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though naturally serious and quiet, Shafali, who listens to sad songs to relax, has learnt to lighten up a bit after spending time with teammates such as Mandhana and the prankster Jemimah Rodrigues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 16-year-old is not an overnight discovery. She has been prolific in the domestic circuit for years, in categories much above her age group. However, it was her strike rate that forced people to take notice. In the senior women’s interstate T20 tournament in 2018, she scored 128 off 56 balls against Nagaland. In the same season, she amassed 463 runs from six innings, at a strike-rate of 197.86, in the Under-23 inter-state one-day competition. In the Women’s T20 Challenge match last year, which also featured foreign players, she hit five fours and a six in a 31-ball 34 against the Trailblazers. That innings impressed her teammate and England star Danielle Wyatt, who called her a “future superstar”. She was then called up to the Indian team for the T20Is against South Africa in September 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Ashwini Kumar, her coach in Haryana: “Shafali was around 12 when she came to me. A kid of her age, be it boy or girl, usually cannot hit the ball past the boundary, but she did so with ease. I started playing her with the boys. What does one see in exceptionally or potentially talented kids? Their hand-eye coordination is good and their confidence is exceptional. In Shafali’s case, she has that confidence to play anyone. She is fearless.” He also said that she had a better understanding of the game than some Under-23 boys.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her father Sanjeev, himself an avid cricket player, had got her long hair trimmed to disguise her as a boy when she was nine—she was filling in for her elder brother in a game. No one found out, and she helped the team win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shafali’s journey is as much about her father’s dream as it is about her passion, and has eerie similarities with those of the Phogat sisters. Like their father Mahavir Phogat, Sanjeev, too, brushed aside societal objections and encouraged his daughter to pursue the sport. When the few cricket academies in Rohtak refused to take a girl, he pleaded with and persuaded Kumar, a former first-class cricketer from Haryana and its Ranji Trophy coach, to take a look at her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are three brothers and all of us were avid cricket players, but we never got the right encouragement or guidance,” said Verma. “I would teach my children to play with a tennis ball. The reason she hits the ball hard is because we would throw the ball at her with full strength. She graduated to playing with the boys older than her at the academy quickly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Shafali: “I was used to playing with boys more than girls since childhood. Therefore, I did not have much of a problem in adjusting when I played senior tournaments.” And, it showed. Shafali was named the best debutant and the best junior domestic cricketer at the recent BCCI annual awards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time, however, the fees at the academy, Rohtak’s most modern, was financially taxing for the family. “I used to play with torn gloves,” said Shafali. “I did not want to tell my father and kept playing for a couple of months with them. One day, he checked my kit, saw the gloves and asked me why I had not told him. He got me new gloves the next day. I felt bad he got to know.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Verma: “I borrowed a bit from here and there and ensured she got the best training possible. I would show her videos of Tendulkar, Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur to analyse how they played top-level cricket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The financial pressure has since eased, and Shafali now has a kit contract with SS. She also got a BCCI contract this year; she is in category C and has an annual retainer of Rs10 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the recent India camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, chief coach W.V. Raman focused on improving the fitness of the team. It was an eyeopener for Shafali. “I started doing more gym work,” she said. “There was a lot of difference when I made it to the senior team. I had to work extra hard at fielding as I was a wicketkeeper in the state team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though she is just nine international matches old, rival captains and coaches are already talking about the threat she poses to new-ball bowlers. Ahead of the triangular series with England and Australia before the T20 World Cup, Australian vice captain Rachael Haynes told “I watched her on the Gold Coast during the A series. She is a player with a bit of an X factor, she is a clean striker of the ball.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shafali has lent much-needed muscle power at the top of the order, and is the perfect foil to the elegant Mandhana. She replaces Mithali Raj in the shortest format and has big shoes to fill. Fortunately, her unique style of play has kept comparisons at bay. “We have just told her to go play her natural game and not complicate things,” said Kumar. “We have worked on certain shots, especially her back-foot play, but have asked her to keep it simple.”</p> Fri Jan 31 11:49:35 IST 2020 shuttle-block <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When P.V. Sindhu became world champion on August 25, 2019, it was a red-letter day for both her and Indian badminton. The way she demolished Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara—21-7, 21-7—banished the demons of earlier losses at the tournament. Since that day, however, life as world champion has not been swell; a podium finish has eluded Sindhu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her best since then has been quarterfinal finishes at the French Open in October and the Malaysia Masters in January. It is not easy being an Olympic silver medallist and a world champion; fans expect her to win each time. However, as a known performer in top tournaments, most people feel it is only a matter of time before Sindhu returns to the podium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same cannot be said for the best male player in India right now; Kidambi Srikanth has had a forgettable year. The former world No 1 started the year ranked eighth in the BWF rankings. He ended the year at No 12. It was not a massive drop, but his early exits in Badminton World Federation events were alarming. His best appearance in 2019 was the final of the Yonex-Sunrise Indian Open, which he lost to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in March.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other top female singles player—former world No 1 Saina Nehwal—ended 2019 ranked 11. She had started 2019 by winning the Indonesian Masters in January, but had only a clutch of quarterfinal exits to show after that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sai Praneeth is currently India’s best-ranked male singles player, at 11. The World Championship bronze medallist, however, had only a slew of early exits to show in subsequent competitions. The next best-ranked male singles player is Parupalli Kashyap, at 23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world championships medals—for Sindhu and Praneeth—were the brightest spots in an otherwise dull year. There were a few others, too, like the men’s doubles team of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. The duo won its first major title, the Thailand Open, becoming the first Indian pair to win a Super 500 title. They also became the first Indian pair to break into the top 10 of the BWF rankings. The women’s doubles team and mixed doubles team, however, have floundered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past decade, India has emerged as a force in world badminton. However, with the Tokyo Olympics beckoning, the mediocre results by top Indian male stars could hamper their chances of qualification for the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another concern is the high attrition rate of foreign coaches whom the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and the Sports Authority of India had brought in to coach elite players. And going into the Olympics, the lack of personalised coaching has become a headache for the federation, the players and chief national coach Pullela Gopichand, who already has his hands full. “It (the dip in form) is a matter of concern for us, even we are looking for answers,” BAI general secretary Ajay Singhania told THE WEEK. He was also worried about the foreign coaches quitting after short stints. “We, too, want to know why this is happening,” he said. “BAI president Himanta Biswa Sarma and I are meeting Gopichand and top players to determine the reasons and problems, if any.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Gopichand had been allowed unfettered powers in planning, selection and coaching, the BAI has now started asking questions. The decision to have a fact-finding meeting was taken after Flandy Limpele, the foreign coach for the doubles teams, spoke about the “bad attitude” of doubles players on, an Indonesian website. He also said, about the Indian stars in general: “I could probably feel what the previous coaches felt, because this attitude thing is so unique to India. Plus, it looks like foreign coaches ending their contracts faster is a common tradition, so it will be nothing new to me. It could be that I will also experience things like coach Kim [Ji Hyun] and Mulyo [Handoyo]; there are already signs. It is tradition, so no one wants up to four or five years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three foreign coaches—Mulyo (men’s singles), Kim (women’s singles) and Tan Kim Her (doubles specialist)—left before their contracts ended. While Handoyo was credited with the success of Srikanth, Sai Praneeth and H.S. Prannoy, Kim was praised for her work with Sindhu ahead of the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P.V. Ramana, Sindhu’s father, was upset about people questioning the attitude of players. “Although this is a question you should ask Gopi (Gopichand), where is the issue about attitude? The players who have succeeded have put in a lot of hard work and have made sacrifices,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gopichand, for his part, said the unflattering run of top singles shuttlers was because of overexposure and burnout. “This year has been tough,” he told THE WEEK. “I think players have [participated in] too many tournaments although we have had some good results at the World Championships with Sai and Sindhu doing well. We have not had great results other than that. Having said that, Satwik and Chirag have done well. We went through this problem in 2015 also. We need to address this in the long term to ensure that players do not burn themselves out, especially going into qualifications for big events.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The qualification period for the Olympics, as per the BWF, is from April 29, 2019 to April 26, 2020. The world rankings as of April 28, 2020 will be used to allocate the quota places in the five events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gopichand is banking on Sindhu’s ability to perform in big competitions to get desired results, particularly an Olympic medal. “Luckily, in the past eight to 10 years, we have had great success with our preparations and [she has been] peaking for big events, and that is what we are hoping for,” said Gopichand. “Women’s singles is going to be one of the most interesting ones, [with] Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying, [Akane] Yamaguchi, Nozomi Okuhara and the Chinese in the mix. Interesting for both Saina and Sindhu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the paucity of time, it is unlikely that the administration would hire a top-class singles coach for personalised training. “We will have our eyes open; if we see a chance, we will try to get them in,” said Gopichand. “Park [Tae-Sang] has been super helpful and we, as a team, are working together. We will be able to get into good shape for the Olympics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the BAI and Gopichand have denied any truth in Limpele’s comments, the episode has struck a sensitive chord. There are questions on why coaches are struggling to adapt to the Indian system. For instance, though Handoyo officially left for “personal reasons”, he had reportedly asked for a freer hand. Kim’s exit was quite a shocker. She had left abruptly, saying she had to be with her ailing husband in New Zealand, but there have been recent reports of her taking on a coaching job in South Korea. The third coach, Tan, reportedly left because BAI could not meet his salary and contractual expectations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gopichand, however, said the matter has been blown out of proportion. “I think the only surprise was Kim,” he said. “In the long run, many coaches have stayed back. I do not think it is much of a problem. Park is very happy here. We have a good team with Flandy [Limpele] and Park.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With fewer foreign coaches, the existing ones have to do more. Jwala Gutta, former doubles player and Gopichand’s bete noire, blamed him. “He made the system. He has been the chief coach since 2006. Whose fault is it?” she asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gopichand admitted that more players playing in international events at both senior and junior levels has spread his coaching resources thin. “I have been saying we need more coaches,” he said. “To work on our own coach development programme is important. Our players have grown in number, our requirement for coaches has grown, but supply is not same as demand. There are a bunch of players in the top 50 who need personalised coaching and we are not able to provide it. There are players ranked very high in world junior rankings, [but] we do not have the coaches. Unless we look at this issue in the long term and seriously, we are not going to address it. In the long term, we might still need foreign coaches. That input from outside is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, Limpele is on the job. Though for how long is anyone’s guess.</p> Sat Jan 18 17:11:04 IST 2020 queen-and-her-goals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RANI RAMPAL</b> has no starry airs; humility has been the hallmark of India’s hockey captain. Around her neck is a reminder of her passion—a gold pendant with two hockey sticks and a ball. For a prodigy who debuted at 14 and came from a humble background—her father was a cart puller—she has grown into one of India’s finest forwards and has been a vital part of the team’s revival in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her latest achievement was the goal she scored in the 48th minute of the qualifier against the US, which helped her team beat the Americans 6-5 on aggregate and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “It is a team effort,” she told THE WEEK with a shy smile. “The ball came from the back to me, the girls ensured the ball remained in the circle and it was passed to me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though she has a lot of responsibilities—captain and striker of the team, and main breadwinner of the family—she does not let it show. She soldiers on with grit and patience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her team, too, has grown with her, especially under coach Sjoerd Marijne. There is a healthy mix of experience and youth; it is a fitter, faster and stronger unit. Marijne and scientific adviser Wayne Lombard, along with a trainer, physiotherapist and sports psychologist, have worked to create a team that has set a high benchmark in technical, physical and mental toughness. “A lot of girls are running at higher than 20 [in the yo-yo test],” Marijne told THE WEEK. “When we came, the team was not running higher than 18. We have the ability to play different tactical games. In the first [qualifier], we were able to intercept in our own 25 yards and counter at really high speeds. This was not possible [at the time] I arrived in India (in 2017).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lombard told THE WEEK: “We did a GPS analysis and compared it with other teams. (Our team’s) distance covered, high-speed running and intensity are up there with the best in the world. The important part is to repeat this process game after game. We have improved more and more.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Simply put, what helped Rani and company focus on the job at hand were stronger legs, fitter bodies, better equilibrium and full faith in their ability to beat any opponent. The element of luck has been minimal. It was all meticulously planned. “It has been a long process to get the girls to express themselves, get them stronger and fitter and to make them understand that to compete at the highest level, you need to keep up physically,” said Lombard. “They are recovering quicker from back-to-back games, and from high-intensity effort within a game.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rani has been at the forefront of this upward journey. She debuted in the national team in 2008, at 14, and played a key role in helping India qualify for the 2016 Olympics, the first time in 36 years, and again in 2019. “When I was 14, I did not know about the Olympics,” said Rani. “[It was my] first tournament, but last for many teammates. A lot of players were crying as it was the end of their careers. Suman Bala didi, who was in tears, told me ‘One day you have to be like them (the US)’. I realised what the Olympics was when we did not qualify for the London edition in 2012. There was a huge struggling period in between. I remember staying in this same hotel in Delhi; for 10 days I would cry sitting outside my room.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rani’s smile returns as she speaks about how she helped the team qualify for the 2016 Olympics. “Last time we qualified, I thought, ‘If we don’t, who will?’. But this was a very special qualifier for our team,” she said. “There is a huge difference between then and now. Many players now have Olympics experience. We had a lot of talented players earlier, but not the facilities. This team can do well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2018-19 season was hectic for the players. They made it to the quarterfinals of the FIH World Cup and lost a close Asian Games final to Japan. And despite ranking higher than the US (9 and 13, respectively), the qualifier was never going to be a cakewalk. The US had finished 5th in Rio; India had not won a single match. “Savita (Punia, goalkeeper) was stressed conceding four goals, but I told her do not be tense,” said Rani. “After the match, Savita and Rajni Bala said, ‘You have kept the dream of many players alive’, but for me it was a team effort.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marijne praises Rani for her leadership, which is an added responsibility for the lead striker. “If you see her goal [against the US], others created the chance,” he said. “Rani knows this and is humble. She is growing in her leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past few years, Rani has been playing with recurring injuries. And it was a challenge for Marijne and Lombard to make Rani injury-free, fit and strong for four important matches in 2019—FIH League Series semifinal and final, and the two Olympic qualifiers. “It was a difficult period for me, especially this year,” she said. “In the World Cup, too, I played with an injury. I had a shoulder injury. I played the Commonwealth Games final with it. There was not one night when I did not go to bed crying. Lombard really supported me. Sometimes I had to work more than others in the gym. I used to tell him I cannot do it, there is a limit to everything. Our coach was understanding. If Wayne said ‘no training’, he would agree.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Data Lombard collected on the workload capacity of each player was also key to Rani’s recovery. “As soon as we hit the threshold or red zone, we know we have to give her time between different sessions. It applies to all players,” he said. Key was also the trust Lombard built with each player. “After we qualified, we looked at each other—I was in tears,” said Rani. “He told me, ‘Today you scored the most important goal for the team’. That is when I learnt patience is important. I am thankful we have such a good coaching staff. Hockey India sends injured players quickly to rehab camps and SAI supports us so well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team now has close to seven months to fine-tune its game plan for the Tokyo Olympics. “At different stages in the next few months, we will focus on different things,” said Lombard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to dominate on the pitch with high speed, ball control and greater possession. “That is what we want to be—our strongest when we get the ball on the stick,” said Lombard. “We want them to be exposed to not just express fitness, but fitness of high intensity.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Jan 03 12:34:51 IST 2020 team-of-the-decade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Methodology</b></p> <p>THE WEEK listed six to 10 players for each position. Three were shortlisted based on trophies won, individual honours and nominations for the same, and inclusion in the UEFA team of the season and the FIFPro World XI. The final team was chosen in the 4-3-3 formation, keeping in mind the balance of the line-up and the potential for synergy between the players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Note: The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah are omitted in favour of players who have been first-team regulars at the highest level for relatively longer periods. Others such as Franck Ribery and Vincent Kompany are absent because of injury-hit second halves of the decade. Xavi and N'Golo Kante did not play enough of the decade in a top league. Antoine Griezmann was slotted as a centre-forward.</p> Mon Jan 06 15:55:41 IST 2020 of-the-people <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I first met the German football legend Lothar Matthäus last December. I had seen him before that. On television, in 1986, when Diego Maradona conjured up unforgettable goals and assists at the World Cup in Mexico. Matthäus was part of the West German team which had stalwarts such as Rudi Völler and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Yet, he was the one who scored against Morocco in the pre-quarters. And, in the final against Maradona’s Argentina at the Azteca, coach Franz Beckenbauer entrusted him with the task of reining in the man who stood between them and the cup. He stopped Maradona from scoring, but could not stop the winning pass from the great man as his team went down 2-3.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years later, Matthäus, veteran of two World Cups by then, led West Germany to the Euro Championship semi-finals. He became a World Cup-winning captain in Italy 1990. East and West Germanys became one the same year, and Matthäus played two more World Cups for unified Germany. He was the first recipient of the FIFA World Player of the Year award, in 1990, and remains the only German to have won it. Moreover, his participation in five World Cups is a record he shares with Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Márquez.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Matthäus was not my hero. Nor Germany my favourite team. I am sure many Indian fans of my generation shared my lack of admiration for the robotic Germans. I favoured Brazil and Argentina, who had players with dancing legs and the ability to glide into the penalty box with such ease. Players who made commentators stretch their vocal cords and yell, “Goooooooaaaaal!” Holland, Portugal, France, Croatia and even Italy to an extent became the teams I wanted to watch over and over again, but Germany remained an academic interest. I would put part of the blame for that on former German coach Berti Vogts, who, in a moment of exasperation in 1998, said that when compared with the Brazilians, his players “dance like refrigerators”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The epithet dancing refrigerators made way for dancing robots in 2014, as the Germans destroyed the Canaries on the way to their World Cup triumph in Brazil. The first round exit in Russia 2018 was attributed to the unimaginative style of play born out of the obsession for perfection. In the football incubators of Germany, every single detail of budding players are documented, analysed. The data gets piled up over the growing years, and by the time he is ready for the country, nearly all his flaws would have been eliminated, and he would be fully programmed thanks to hours of precision training. But are the Germans forgetting that the great game does not always follow the script?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is with these misgivings that I met Matthäus and sat down for a brief interaction, at the end of which he invited me over to Germany. The visit provided me with an insight into the German football world. Nearly all the coaches and organisers I met argued that they do not groom players to be robots, but better professionals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change in training, most experts said, was a result of the first round exit of defending champions Germany from the Euro Championships in 2000. Till then, they were led by the prophecy Beckenbauer had made in 1990. With the inclusion of the East German players, he had said, Germany would become unbeatable in the years to come. It held true exactly for a decade. Euro 2000 was a real shocker for Germany, and forced the establishment to have a relook at the coaching system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The average age of the Euro 2000 squad was 31.5—clearly an ageing side. Former German striker Oliver Bierhoff ripped into the football system in the country, saying the technique of players needed to improve and German football desperately needed a rebirth. The German Football Association (DFB) went into a huddle following Bierhoff’s comment, to discuss a new roadmap.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Professional coaches were sent to the villages and sleepy towns during weekends and holidays, and they met with amateur coaches who were still high on the glorious past of German football. For the children who were being trained by the amateurs, football was by no means a way of life or a prospective career, but an interlude to break the monotony of life. That began to change with the advent of the ‘mobile’ coaches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2002, a multimillion project was initiated to improve the standards of football, and every club and academy was brought under it. The project resulted in the addition of 1,300 German pro-licence coaches, 366 football centres and 54 high-performance hubs, many of them residential facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, the DFB has spent about €130million every year to run the high-performance hubs. Manuel Neuer and Mesut Özil are products of FC Schalke 04’s boarding school, while others like Marco Reus, Leroy Sané and Jérôme Boateng were at similar schools run by other clubs. Germany won four youth Euro titles in six years, starting with the 2009 Under-21 Euro, which had the first batch of players from the project. These players later formed the core of the team that won the 2014 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project was based on the concept of FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy, albeit on a much larger scale. The DFB had also invested €100 million in a DFB academy in Frankfurt, headed by Bierhoff. His dream is to make the academy a football city in itself. England started its St. George’s Park National Football Centre in 2012 on similar lines, which also helped the country win a string of international youth tournaments and reach the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics, music, the arts and football are integral parts of German culture. The 2000 meltdown suddenly put the focus on football. If you compare Germany with other European countries, you would find that the Germans prefer stability over change, even in politics. They are immensely proud of their legacy in football. This does not mean that they are not open to change. In fact, they do not mind tinkering with the system as long as the game is not commercialised. So when changes were introduced post 2000, they were worried that the basic nature of their football culture would be commercialised, and that that change will hit their favourite clubs. To understand this fear, we should first know the ownership structure of German clubs. It is based on the 50+1 formula—the fans hold a minimum of 50 per cent of the shares plus one share. (Read ‘Possession play’ on page 94.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fans finally came to peace with the fact that German football, as they knew it, was dead and buried. They had no choice but to nurture the saplings that grew from that grave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this juncture, it would be prudent to examine what happened to Beckenbauer’s big dream. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two teams became one, but not many from the erstwhile East Germany could make it to the national team. Many talented players from the east migrated to the celebrated clubs of the west, thanks to better pay and living standards. But the fact is that football in the east and the west is still at two different plateaus. The only player from the east to make it big is Toni Kroos. But then, he is a Bayern Munich product, thanks to the far-sightedness of his football-coach father Roland Kroos. Toni Kroos is currently with Real Madrid, and is an integral part of the national team. In a way, he is a product of capitalism, plucked out from an erstwhile socialist country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Germany’s football system is not entirely capitalist, when you compare it with the rest of Europe. Suffice to say that Germany developed an ‘Autobahn’ in football as well. German highways have strict rules. In football, too, Germans believe in strict adherence to the total plan. German football places emphasis on three points: finance, sports and society. Of these, society is of paramount importance, the leading characteristic of which is adherence to tradition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Football starts with the fans,” said Christian Seifert, CEO of Bundesliga, the German football league. “They are the ones who come to the stadia. They are the ones who watch the game on television. They are the ones who bring in the money. And it is that money that gets invested in the game. When people enjoy the game, the sponsors cannot stay away for long.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bundesliga has fans across the globe. But, even though other top leagues are looking to host matches outside their home country, the Bundesliga has stayed put in Germany. Why? Especially when it helps expand the fan base and the reach of the league? Seifert has the answer: “We are certainly grateful to our fans from other countries. But how can we disappoint our fans in Germany who have been supporting the league for decades? They may not be keen to attend matches played outside the country. At the moment, we are not even considering taking the Bundesliga out of Germany.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most people outside Germany, the Bundesliga represents only the first division which involves top teams like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Not many know about the equally popular second division, which, on an average, commands an attendance of 21,000 per game. Compared to this this, the Italian first division, Serie A, has an attendance of 23,000 per game. The German second division is the seventh biggest league in Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The common notion is that viewership is directly proportional to earnings. But Bundesliga officials insisted that they work hard for every euro. Commercialisation in excess, they said, will destroy the fragile football ecosystem. And youth development programmes initiated after the 2000 debacle are protecting that ecosystem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Money may not be everything, but money is important for the sustenance of the league. Last year, the Bundesliga’s earnings grew by 13 per cent to €31.81 billion. It paid €1.28 billion euros to the exchequer and provided direct employment to 55,000 people. Even the famed German automobile industry struggled in the economic slowdown of 2018, but not the football league. Bundesliga officials hoped that globalisation of the game and digitalisation of the telecast would further augment the earnings, even as the league stays immune to global franchises and commercialisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A study of 51 leagues in 42 countries from 2013 to 2018 revealed that on an average, the Bundesliga commanded 43,302 attendance every match. The corresponding number of the second-placed English Premier League is 36,675. Spanish La Liga came third with 27,281.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, the popularity is directly proportional to the number of goals scored. Statistics of the last three decades show that the goal average per Bundesliga match is 3.1. Come to Germany for a goal fest, seems to be the league’s clarion call. The match ticket for a chair in Bundesliga costs a minimum of €26. For a place on the terrace, where you can watch the match standing, you have to pay as little as €11. Food and beverages inside the stadium are moderately priced. An EPL ticket will set you back by a minimum of €36.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bundesliga is also known for giving more first-team chances to youngsters, both local and foreign. Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho and Weston McKennie are some foreigners who found their wings in the Bundesliga as teenagers. Between 2009 and 2017, the average age of players in the Bundesliga was 25.84. In France it was 25.91; Spain, 26.5; England, 26.79; and Italy, 27.13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Watching a Bundesliga match is not complete without taking part in the allied activities around the stadium. The authorities provide a total sporting experience, with opportunity to take part in handball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, hockey, ice hockey and even boxing. Most places offer a gym and swimming pool as well, for its members. Training facilities are also available on demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is football that wins the day; it is football that makes it possible.</p> Sat Dec 21 18:26:55 IST 2019 possession-play <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Bundesliga is run on the principle that a football league must be responsible to its fans, irrespective of cash and class. This is football as it is meant to be. At the core of this vision is the 50+1 rule—a clause in the regulations of the German Football League (DFL), which runs the Bundesliga. The clause states that in order to compete in the Bundesliga, a club must hold a majority of its voting rights—the club’s members must own at least 50 per cent of the shares plus one share.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since commercial investors do not have a majority stake, they have to respect the wishes of the fans. The 50+1 rule was introduced in 1998, when the German Football Association (DFB) allowed clubs to convert their teams into companies. Prior to that, football clubs in Germany were owned by members’ associations and were run as non-profit organisations. Today, the rule is responsible for the greater financial discipline of the German clubs in comparison with their European counterparts. Moreover, there are clear policies regarding the salaries and benefits of club employees, and ticket rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the Roman Abramovichs of the world continue to dominate football leagues, experts felt that the absence of investors like him is good for the league. This is because the team management or administration cannot be pressured as per the whims and fancies of a millionaire owner. Exceptions to the 50+1 rule are few. Entities which founded clubs or those that have substantially funded a club for 20 continuous years are allowed to own controlling stakes. The first scenario applies in the cases of Bayer 04 Leverkusen, founded by pharmaceuticals company Bayer in 1904, and VfL Wolfsburg, founded by Volkswagen in 1945. SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp acquired a majority stake in 1899 Hoffenheim in 2014, after nurturing the club for two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>RB Leipzig is another club not owned by fans. The club, owned by energy drink company Red Bull, is not listed, and therefore does not violate the 50+1 rule in letter. The company had purchased the playing rights for a club in the fifth tier, which is outside the DFL’s ambit, in 2009. However, after quickly moving up the German football ladder, the club had to make significant changes, including ensuring the club management’s independence from Red Bull, before playing in the top division. Leipzig continues to be disliked by many Germans for its commercial setup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though ownership is denied to big investors, there is focus on sponsorship deals. Twenty-eight time champions Bayern Munich are perhaps the best example. Their stadium is named Allianz Arena, thanks to the sponsorship by the European financial services company. The fact that German football legends are at the helm of many clubs helps bring in sponsorship deals. However, huge deals do not mean excessive spending. There are healthy regulations to ensure this. Thirty-eight per cent of the expenses incurred by Bundesliga clubs goes towards salaries and wages; it is 67 per cent for English Premier League clubs. Squad-building is aligned towards youth development and scouting for young players abroad rather than signing big names.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, hearing-aid magnate and president of Hannover 96 Martin Kind had sought to overturn the 50+1 rule; 32 of the other 35 clubs playing in the top two tiers voted against it, while three abstained. But the rule could be modified in a few years, causing a sea change in German football. Business-oriented investors are not likely to be so patient with the current youth-centric model, where there are little short-term benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bayern has proven the effectiveness of the current model by showing profit for 27 consecutive years. The club’s turnover increased 14.1 per cent in the last season to reach €750.4 million. This includes €196.5 million from sponsorship and marketing, €179.1 million from matches, €91.5 million from merchandising, €90.3 million from player sales and €124.5 million from their share of the league’s sale of broadcasting rights. This financial base has helped the club’s football dominance. However, what is remarkable is that the Bayern youth academy will become financially self-sufficient next year. The club’s financial success is good news for all shareholders as it has decided to give 50 per cent dividend per share.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another great German success story is Borussia Dortmund, the football club with the highest average attendance in the world—around 80,000. Carsten Cramer, Borussia Dortmund’s marketing director, told THE WEEK: “Everyone is talking about the Premier League; about Etihad and Emirates. What they have are theatres, not football stadiums. We think about the welfare of our fans. Not just about money.” He added that money is the only thing driving the Premier League. “We look at the Dortmund DNA, not just marketing strategies,” said Cramer. “What is worrying us is that of 1.5 lakh members, only 55,000 get tickets. The waiting list before us for each match is awe-inspiring.” He said that football was the glue holding society together. And that is why ticket sales have been fixed at less than 10 per cent of the total revenue. “That is why we provide all facilities at the stadium,” he said. “That is why there is free WiFi and also why WiFi is turned off before kick-off. Once the match starts, the hands of the audience should not go to their mobile phones. They should be free to applaud.”</p> Sat Dec 21 18:25:09 IST 2019 combat-ready <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Three minutes and 37 seconds. That is all it took for Ritu Phogat to ace her mixed martial arts (MMA) debut in Beijing on November 16. Her South Korean opponent, Nam Hee Kim, had no answer to the Indian’s powerful ground and pound offensive at the event conducted by One Championship, Asia’s largest sports media company. The promoters conduct fights in 11 martial arts, including MMA, kickboxing and muay Thai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ritu completed her first takedown in 22 seconds. After being pushed away by her bigger opponent, Ritu stayed calm and kept out of Kim’s reach, till she got the chance for a second takedown, around 40 seconds after the first. The South Korean defended desperately on the mat, well aware of her opponent’s wrestling credentials. But Ritu outsmarted her by stepping back and then charging in from the other side within four seconds, before Kim could even get off the mat. She then started landing punches and elbows on the pinned Kim’s face. After more than 30 seconds of unanswered offence, and with Kim locked in a crucifix position, the referee was forced to intervene and declare Ritu the winner via a technical knockout.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days before the bout, Ritu got a message from a fan on Instagram. It read, “Anyhow finish off Kim within the first 120 seconds itself. Else, she will kill you.” That was a big moment for her. “It was such powerful advice from a stranger,” said Ritu. “In the ring, all I could think was to punch her nose off. And that I did again and again.” The 25-year-old said her successful MMA debut was just what she “desperately needed” to prove to herself and those around her that her decision to give up wrestling in favour of MMA was not wrong. Until nine months ago, she was preparing for Tokyo 2020 with cousin Vinesh. Both of them are in the 48kg category.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Everyone, including my family and fans, wanted to see me continue wrestling, at least until the Olympics,” said the 2016 Commonwealth Games wrestling gold medallist. “But I wanted to bring in honour and laurels in MMA, just as I have done in wrestling. The federation was also quite upset with me. But I did not want to miss this opportunity.” Ritu is now based in Singapore and trains with the Evolve MMA academy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She took a 10-day leave for her sister Babita’s wedding to wrestler Vivek Suhag. When THE WEEK met her in the lobby of a Delhi hotel, Ritu was inquiring about the status of the room she had booked to rest for a few hours before flying back to Singapore. The room was not available for some reason. She was sleep-deprived and hassled, yet, remained calm and kept her voice low. After almost 30 minutes of inaction from the staff, Ritu called the CEO of the hotel, and within ten minutes she got a room. Beaming with relief, she said, “I absolutely loved MMA. So when Evolve asked whether I would like to join them, it was a dream come true.” That, and to avoid competing with Vinesh for the same prize, she said. She is planning to continue in MMA at least until she wins India’s first ever world championship in the sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>MMA, a full-contact combat sport, incorporates techniques from different disciplines, including boxing, muay Thai, jiujitsu, tae kwon do and wrestling, among others. It allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the mat. As a wrestler, Ritu has a strong foundation to build on. “Wrestling is one of the most important skills in MMA,” said Drian Francisco, WBA boxing world champion and Evolve’s boxing instructor. “Good wrestlers are very effective in MMA as their high-level takedowns and takedown defence often give them the ability to control the bout.” Ritu, he added, is a natural athlete and a quick learner. She is now training to master her kicks and leg movements through muay Thai and grappling, and ground fighting through Brazilian jiujitsu, in addition to boxing, which teaches her to follow takedowns with punches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Thankfully I have never had to take a punch till now,” she said, laughing. Ritu said she was “nervous, scared and cautious to not end up with her nose knocked off” at her first sparring session after joining Evolve. She said she used to watch others and shudder at the thought of her own turn. “But, I think I did well because I remember the coach appreciated me,” said Ritu, the third of Dronacharya awardee Mahavir Phogat’s four daughters. All of them—Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita, and their cousins Priyanka and Vinesh—have carved out their place in the world of wrestling, under Mahavir’s watchful eye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Mahavir, who was portrayed by Aamir Khan in the all-time blockbuster Dangal (2016), is more critical of Ritu’s combat skills. He agreed to her trading the wrestling mat for the MMA ring on condition that she will pursue it wholeheartedly. “She is exceptionally gifted in terms of strength, both mental and physical, but her aggression sometimes comes in the way of her game,” said Mahavir. “She just loses her cool and gets so rough that she ends up losing points, especially in wrestling in which rules do not allow all that.” He admitted he has not figured out exactly how MMA works, but appreciates that it is a combination of different fighting disciplines. Geeta and Babita, too, admit they do not quite understand MMA completely just yet, but have advice for their little sister. “I truly believe that she should work more on ground fighting and knockouts,” said Geeta, the eldest, who won India’s first ever Commonwealth gold in wrestling. “Her hands are stronger than all us sisters combined. When we used to train together at home she always ended up getting fouls because of her aggression, for things like slapping on the head, twisting fingers and punching. In MMA she can use her aggression well.” (See page 102 for box on fouls in MMA.) Geeta, married to wrestler Pawan Kumar and now pregnant, said she is considering following Ritu’s path and taking up MMA once she returns to competitive sports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During their childhood, Ritu, who gave up education after Class 10, was notorious for taking up fights with “shameless and unrepentant” boys. “She would break their bones and when the teacher would call papa to the school, he would beat her in front of everyone,” said Babita, who won a wrestling gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. “But all the children in the school were afraid of her. Nobody dared defy her.” Babita, who joined the BJP with Mahavir in August, said that the scene in Dangal showing two boys who were beaten up by the sisters was inspired by “Ritu’s antics” and not theirs. Dangal was dubbed into Chinese and released as Shuai Jiao Baba (Let’s wrestle, Dad) in 2017. The film made a little over 01,400 crore and sold 45 million tickets. Ritu basked in the resultant fame when she went to Beijing for her fight. “People really knew me there,” she said. When she went to a local salon to get her hair braided before her match, she was astounded by the welcome she got. “They recognised me,” she said. “They played a clip from Dangal to check if I was one of the sisters. I was so overwhelmed. For them, I was the third Dangal sister who was making it big. I saw my pictures on the front pages of Chinese newspapers and it was a great feeling.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ritu’s mother, Daya Kaur, said she is a fantastic cook who makes the best tinde ki sabzi (apple gourd dish) among all the sisters. Her opinion is echoed by Ritu’s sports manager, Jitesh Mehta of Birbal Sports and Entertainment. “She hates eating outside and insists on cooking herself,” he said. “She [once] made us a lip-smacking dinner in 20 minutes. Cooking is therapeutic to her and so is an online game of pool, which we play whenever she is free.” However, her training schedule does not leave too much free time. Her days are packed with sessions on different martial arts and workouts to hone her skills. At times, she stays back at the training centre—about 20-25 minutes from where she lives. She cooks and carries her food to the centre. After returning, she does the laundry and makes dinner before calling it a day. Sundays are rest days and Ritu prefers staying indoors, cooking, cleaning and sleeping. There are days when she yearns for home. Like the days just before her match with Kim when she was unwell. “I have never stayed so far from my family for so long,” she said. “I even spent Diwali by myself and you have no idea how badly I wanted to be back home. I do not have many friends here. Those I do have are from the academy and we socialise on some Sundays when I call them home and cook.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ritu has always been her father’s darling and her sisters’ “secret agent”. Said Geeta: “Whenever we wanted to bunk our 4am-training, we would ask Ritu to convey it to papa because we were so scared of him.” Sometimes, when Mahavir was not looking, Geeta and Babita would skip a few workouts and plead with Ritu not to give them away. “There was not as much pressure to train on her and Sangita as there was on us,” said Geeta. “We literally had to bribe her to keep our secrets safe,” added Babita. But when it came to conveying her own decision of pursuing MMA, Ritu could not gather the courage to face her dad. “I just could not do it,” she said. “We exchanged places and I asked my sisters to speak on my behalf.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost 90 minutes into the interview, Ritu ordered a cappuccino and asked for seven to eight sugar cubes. “I am not a diabetic. I like my tea sweet,” said Ritu. A daily intake of milk, dal, dahi (curd) and generous servings of ghee, made them strong and tough, said the Phogat sisters. “Our father made us mix and eat dal and dahi in one big bowl everyday,” said Ritu. “Milk was from our own cows and we would consume chicken, mutton and eggs in limited quantities.” Ritu tasted prawns for the first time in Singapore and loved it. “When I sent a picture to my family on WhatsApp, they were aghast,” she said. “‘What are you eating?’ ‘How can you eat this?’ they asked. But I loved it and continue to relish prawns every now and then.” In Singapore, she consumes protein shakes, vitamin tablets and supplements to make up for the nutrition that used to come from fresh homemade food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked to describe herself, Ritu promptly came up with “bindaas, bold and blunt”, and then quickly added, “except in front of my father”. She loves shoes and in the past few months has treated herself to over 15 new pairs. Her most expensive purchase till date has been an Apple Watch which she flaunts proudly, along with the two mehendi tattoos on her hands—one is the Olympic logo and the other is the word ‘Champion’. With the prize money from Beijing (the amount is undisclosed), she is looking at buying “incredible stuff” for her family, including international holidays, and spending the rest on any piece of clothing that catches her fancy, “whether it fits me or not”. Ritu said she had a compulsive urge to shop. “Even if something does not fit me, we are so many at home that someone will take it,” she said. “I have bought so many things I have never used.” In that aspect, she said she is just like her father—“Impulsive. Generous. Carefree.” Ritu loves Bollywood actor Tiger Shroff, rather his body, as she clarified, and hopes to meet him someday. “We will discuss martial arts,” she said.</p> Fri Dec 27 12:20:14 IST 2019 new-generation-is-very-undogmatic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>JUST HOW SIMPLE</b> or complicated can a chess player’s career be? With five world championships and having contested in countless top-level tournaments, India’s first and finest grandmaster Viswanathan Anand talks about all this and more in his autobiography, Mind Master. Written with journalist Susan Ninan, the book is of a similar, impeccable standard as that maintained by Anand throughout his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is what goes on behind the scenes that is enthralling—almost like preparing for war, each player has his own army of trainers, seconds, managers and advisers, all shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy. Anand takes you inside that world. It reads the way he speaks—clear, articulate and descriptive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He started playing top-level tournaments at a time when Soviet Union players ruled world chess. Anand’s achievements get magnified further because he broke through the Soviet wall without any peers or predecessors at home to rely on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He does not shy away from talking about the tough times. In fact, he confronts the low points and challenges in his life. Anand also writes about the time he now gets to spend with his wife and son, the beauty of taking on the younger generation and the advent of artificial intelligence in chess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interaction:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was writing this book cathartic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bits of it are. Invariably, in a book you have to be honest. You have to share things you would [otherwise] not share. But overall, I do not feel a need for catharsis (laughs). I did enjoy it a lot. Especially confronting all the stories I had forgotten, the details get mixed up. But when you are forced to write a book, you check the facts, check with others, exchange memories and my seconds tell some stories. You realise that other people remember things differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You talk about your initial years, where it was the Russians versus you. How did you cope?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a myth in our heads, and it still is. The first time I went to the Soviet Union, you had a feeling that every taxi driver knows chess more than you. This is a myth. It was a different country where chess had a different status. There were a lot of players who used to think the KGB was tracking them and things like that. I say all these things with irony and also try to recollect how naive we were.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over time, I developed a good relationship with a lot of [Russians]. It is a country I enjoyed visiting, but it was a more closed society. At the same time, ‘Russian’ can also mean very high standards of chess training and a knowledgeable audience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How did playing the likes of Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov impact you in your initial years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In those days they were the best players, so it affected you all the time. They had a training system where the same coach would be for two guys and [yet] they had completely different styles. I learnt that all you can do is maximise your own strengths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another thing is that it is very easy to fall in love with your own opinion and your perspective in chess. So for me the most revealing moments in chess are often when the assessment or strategy of somebody who is equally strong in his understanding of chess is so different from mine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you have a better relationship with Kramnik and Kasparov now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kasparov was already world champion for about six years before Kramnik and I started playing top tournaments. When he met us, there was already a barrier. We were never that close. We were rivals and we were friendly, but not friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kramnik, [Boris] Gelfand and I are the same age. I have gone for dinner with them more often than I have with Kasparov. The second thing is, with Kramnik, I have always been friendly, but I have tried to bring out in the book how when two good friends want the same thing, tension creeps in. Like any relationship, it has gone through its ups and downs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The relationship improved when he offered to help me with the match against Topalov (2010 world championship). It changed the way I saw him. To be honest, our rivalry had subsided a lot by this time. Both of us had to deal with younger rivals then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about Kasparov?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same thing happened with Kasparov. When he retired, he helped me. From 2010 to 2015, we were not on speaking terms because of the [FIDE] presidential elections. We just started talking again in a tournament in St. Louis. There was a lifetime of shared experience that nobody else could match. Also, what is the point of pretending we do not like each other? That is not to say we are bosom buddies or we visit each other’s homes. But there is an acknowledgement that we have this relationship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of my favourite stories is about Kasparov and Karpov, who had serious disagreements, way more than what Kasparov had with me. But once they were on a plane together, they would play cards. I was very influenced by this story. At that moment, you might exercise self-control. Also, if you keep bottling anger and hatred, it consumes you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>World championship matches in Bonn, Tehran, New Delhi, Chennai and Sofia have all been different. Which one of these matches has left the deepest mark on you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are the high and the low points in my chess career, not necessarily emotionally. Chennai really brought my world championship career to an end. Bonn had the best match I ever played. They are very significant emotionally. But in my book, we also try to cover other moments that I recall with great fondness or great pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Among the new generation of Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, who do you think is the most creative?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is impossible to answer. I would say you can easily answer who is the most successful—right now, it is Carlsen. I think many people are creative in different ways, but unless you understand why you are being creative and perform well at high levels of the game, success can elude you to the same degree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What I find interesting about this generation is that they are very undogmatic. Thirty years ago, we would have strong opinions of how chess should be played. Nowadays, thanks to computers, people will say any move is good as long as you can follow through. It shows your approach has changed. The younger generation will do a lot of stuff that older generations struggled to learn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life</b><br> <i>Author: Viswanathan Anand (with Susan Ninan)<br> Publisher: Hachette India</i></p> <p><i>Pages: 272 Price: Rs599</i></p> Fri Dec 20 14:29:01 IST 2019 enter-the-empire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SEPTEMBER 1,</b> 2008, the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) took over English Premier League club Manchester City FC. A few hours later, the club set a British transfer record by signing Robinho for £32.5 million from Spanish giants Real Madrid. It was a slap in the face for Chelsea FC, which had publicly pursued the Brazilian all summer. Chelsea had won the Premier League twice in the previous four seasons (2004/2005-2007/2008), whereas City had finished eighth, 15th, 14th and ninth in the 20-team league. Robinho’s signing by City created ripples around the football world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-forward 11 years, and City has added four league championships, two FA Cups and four League Cups to its trophy cabinet. It is the most successful English team of the decade. And this is the best spell in the 139-year history of the club which has its roots in the football team started by St. Mark’s Church, West Gorton, as part of a drive to tackle alcoholism and gang violence. In 2013, ADUG, owned by Abu Dhabi royal Shiekh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, established the City Football Group (CFG) to promote its business interests in football. Today, CFG, valued at $4.8 billion, is the most valuable football group in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 28, it announced the acquisition of a 65 per cent stake in the Indian Super League (ISL) team Mumbai City FC. Ferran Soriano, CEO, CFG, said that the group’s aim was to unleash the power of Indian football. Nita Ambani, chairperson of Football Sports Development Ltd (FSDL), which runs the ISL, said that the deal was an endorsement of the increasing appeal of Indian football. Indeed, there has been an increasing interest in Indian football from foreign clubs, including eight-time German champions Borussia Dortmund, thanks to the potential of the Indian market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rumours of CFG being interested in taking over an ISL club had been doing the rounds for a year. At first, it was said they were looking at Kerala Blasters FC because of its fan base. But, Kochi, or, any other Indian city, does not match up to the Maximum City. A team in India’s financial capital is a nice addition to CFG’s portfolio of owned and operated clubs—Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City FC. The group has also invested in Girona FC, Spain; Yokohama F. Marinos, Japan; Club Atletico Torque, Uruguay; and Sichuan Jiuniu, China. All these clubs have benefited from CFG’s inputs in training, medical care and sports science, not to mention funds. Atletico Torque won promotion to the Uruguayan top division for the first time, within 12 months of CFG’s investment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In England, CFG has not only made Manchester City serial winners, but has overseen the development of a sustainable model, including a youth system that has produced the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, and world-class infrastructure. This is what India needs most from the group. Former India captain I.M. Vijayan said that such a big group’s entry would definitely help Indian football. “Especially if we are able to make use of their youth programmes,” he said. Vijayan, it is often said, would have scaled greater heights had he been born in a country with a good football ecosystem. He said that it was vital that India took advantage of CFG’s know-how and scientific approach. “They know very well about factors like diet and fitness and this knowledge is needed in India. It will help our children become better players.” Mumbai City CEO Indranil Blah said: “The CFG youth programme is among the best in the world and we cannot wait to implement their ideas. In terms of infrastructure development, Mumbai has its own challenges when it comes to space and real-estate costs. We will plan our course of action post a detailed feasibility study of the existing football infrastructure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Money is going to be key. Manchester City has been criticised, mostly by disgruntled fans of traditionally bigger teams, for “buying success”. But, merely having money is not enough. Spending it smartly is vital. Mumbai City needs funds. But it also has to depart from the ISL’s transfer standards—signing big names past their prime. “It is in our interest that funds are used judiciously and for the right reasons,” Indranil told THE WEEK. “One need not have marquee players in the ISL to perform well both on and off the field. Getting a marquee player into the ISL needs to make RoI sense, which as of now, it does not.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another major positive for Mumbai is the option of bringing players in on loan from the other clubs in the group. While it would be unrealistic to expect the likes of Foden to come to India, deals for players from Atletico, Melbourne, Yokohama, New York and even Girona are plausible. But, most important will be an attacking style of play, which CFG advertises. That, above all, will help to win fans and build a lasting legacy. CFG has brought much-needed foreign funds to Indian football. It can also be an example of how to run a football club, something Indian owners, barring notable exceptions such as the management of Bengaluru FC, need to learn fast. But CFG’s biggest impact may be expediting investments from other investors.</p> Fri Dec 06 12:21:42 IST 2019 in-the-pink <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Day one of India’s first day-night Test, at the fabled Eden Gardens, saw a lot of action on and off the field. Several sporting icons, including former India captains, boxer M.C. Mary Kom, former shuttler Pullela Gopichand and tennis player Sania Mirza, along with BCCI officials past and present, turned up for the historic occasion. Ganguly, as the new BCCI president, left no stone unturned to make India’s first pink-ball Test memorable. Even political leaders, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, were in the stadium on day one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most guests were excited about the pink ball, the cricketers were more cautious. Former captain Mohammad Azharuddin, now president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, said: “It is too early. Need some more time to see whether it (pink ball) works or not.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the next two days, India crushed Bangladesh by an innings and 46 runs. However, there were mixed reactions about the visibility of the pink ball. While some players saw no problem with it, some like Cheteshwar Pujara said it was harder to spot under the lights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regardless, the first pink-ball Test had shown the way forward—the BCCI has to hype Test cricket to draw in crowds. Captain Virat Kohli and Ganguly echoed similar thoughts, with the former going a step further to accept, with caveats, his Australian counterpart Tim Paine’s request for a possible day-night Test when India tour Australia at the end of 2020 for a four-Test series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the cricket legends was former India captain Kapil Dev, who marked the occasion by wearing a light-pink jacket. “It is a wonderful experience,” he told THE WEEK. “If players are happy, the problem is over. The main problem for Tests was that crowds were not coming. Here, you saw 60,000 people. That is why I feel Test cricket must be played in the main Test centres only.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pace legend also felt strongly about giving spectators, who pay for all five days, some incentives. “Look at how it works in Dubai (golf),” he said. “You buy a ticket for 500 dirhams and you may end up winning a Rolls-Royce! Let there be a lottery on the last day for spectators who came on all days. After the match, the captains can present a big gift to the lucky spectator.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil dismissed concerns about India playing weaker teams, which meant the matches were ending early. “When we toured the West Indies or Australia in 1960s or 1970s, they dominated us,” he said. “So what? Every team must work for Test cricket as they work for ODIs and T20s, shouldn’t they?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil also gave a thumbs up to the extra-lacquered SG ball. “There will be teething problems when a new thing is introduced,” he said. “Everything cannot be 100 per cent correct. Everything looked fine to me (with the ball). I am very positive about this innovation.”</p> Sat Nov 30 16:10:40 IST 2019 want-one-pink-ball-test-every-series <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, the words of encouragement from his peers and seniors will be a huge boost. It was a step into the unknown when he announced that India would be playing a pink-ball Test. On day two, he sat in the president’s box in the Club House and watched the match. Even as he spoke to THE WEEK, he kept a keen eye on the field.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Satisfied that his team could pull off the inaugural day-night Test, Ganguly said he could convince his BCCI colleagues to have at least one day-night Test in a series from now on. The key, however, would be to market Test cricket, which board officials have shied away from in the past. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your overall observation about this day-night Test?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You all [saw] 60,000 people every day. I am pretty upbeat about it. I feel this is the way forward. Not every Test, but at least one Test in a series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Shouldn't the effort you put into marketing the Eden Gardens Test be a lesson for all state associations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, I will share my experiences with the board and we will try and implement it in other places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But do you see state associations accepting day-night Tests?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After this, everyone is ready. Nobody wants to play Test cricket in front of 5,000 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The gap between the top four teams and the rest is so wide. Is that a bigger challenge? How does a day-night Test getting over in three days help Test cricket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bigger teams will come. England [will come] next year, [and] matches will not get over in two days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But are you concerned by the gap you see between teams?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course. But they (weaker teams) have to keep improving. There is a simple way to close the gap—just improve your skills. Because, at the end of the day, you have to bat and you have to bowl.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you satisfied with the way the pink ball behaved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will only get better if you keep using it. It has done nothing different from the red ball. The new ball swung, the old ball was easier to play. The second new ball, too, did more, but it will settle down after 10 overs. That much you have to play, but once you get in, the return is a lot more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does the Virat Kohli-led team remind you of teams such as Steve Waugh’s Australia of the 2000s?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not really believe in comparing. They are a very good side, a super team, but we cannot compare generations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>India is at the top of the World Test Championship table with 360 points. Do you think there needs to be stronger competition?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At some point, we will play stronger teams such as England, New Zealand and Australia. We go to Australia next year [and it] will be a good series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Cricket Australia and captain Tim Paine want India to play a day-night Test during the 2020 tour there. Would the BCCI agree?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will see. We will talk to the board members. It is too early to take a call.</p> Fri Nov 29 12:50:40 IST 2019 Chitharesh-Natesan-mr-universe-2019-on-a-physical-high <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&quot;Give me five minutes. I am really sorry.&quot; It has been barely five minutes since we arrived and this was the third apology from Chitharesh Natesan. The reason? Mr Universe 2019 was just back from his bath, and had to do his morning puja and get dressed. He had flown into Kozhikode from Delhi the day before, gone straight to a felicitation, and then driven 200km to Kochi, arriving at around 3am. And here we were, at 8am, standing outside a house so humble that Chitharesh would have found it tough to do a split inside!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The house was as modest as the man himself. On November 10, Chitharesh became the first Indian to win the World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation's (WBPF) Mr Universe and Mr World titles, at the WBPF championship held in South Korea. The 33-year-old first won the Mr World 2019 title in the 90kg category and then competed with the winners of nine other weight categories (ranging between 55kg and 110kg) to emerge as the overall champion and Mr Universe 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the next five minutes, as promised, Chitharesh was ready to meet us. His childhood friend Jijo George, who is now his manager, and his trainer and companion Sagar M.P., too joined us—both of them weary from the late-night journey with Chitharesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tiny hall was swept clean, the stray clothes had been stuffed into already bursting shelves, and a couple of chairs had magically appeared. And all this while the family was busy attending to the neighbours. Some had dropped in to greet Chitharesh and the rest, more importantly, buy milk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the house was once the cowshed when the Natesans were part of a joint family. When Chitharesh's sisters Neethu and Soumya got married, the Natesans walled off a part of the shed, added a tin roof and moved in. The downsized cowshed and its five occupants are as good as members of the Natesan family. &quot;We had the cowshed since my childhood,&quot; said Natesan, Chitharesh's father. &quot;Though I was a peon with a private firm for 28 years, the cows were our bread and butter,&quot; he said, casting an adoring glance at the bovines. Natesan, in fact, opened a booth to sell regular milk packets hoping that his customers would turn to it and ease the burden on his cows. It did not work. He now tends to the booth and the cows!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;Cow rearing is more of a hobby than a business for my father,&quot; said Chitharesh. He admitted that the milk money helped him complete his schooling and graduation. He did his BA History from Maharaja's College in Ernakulam, where he captained the hockey team. &quot;Hockey was my favourite sport. I was a defender and was one of the few muscular players in the team. I was 65kg then.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from hockey, Chitharesh loved dancing, too. He was quite the twinkletoes, he said, and took part in dance programmes in college, especially at the Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education in Thiruvananthapuram, where he did another graduation course after BA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was here that Chitharesh started taking weight-training seriously. He was recruited as a fitness trainer by Rejuvenation Fitness Group soon after, and landed in Delhi in 2007. He has been with them as a fitness consultant ever since. “I have only six high-end clients now, because I need to find time and money for my training.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Delhi, he met two people who changed his life. The first one was Sagar. He was, in fact, Chitharesh's junior in college in Thiruvananthapuram. “We started training together but I soon realised that he is at another level,” Sagar said. “I moved into coaching and started training him. We had to find out an exercise regimen for Chitharesh. Once that was done, he stuck to it and the prescribed diet zealously. Before the competitions, he would work out thrice every day. It is not as easy as it sounds. He did it like a machine. I am extremely proud of him as a friend and as a coach.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Sagar's watchful eyes, Chitharesh swept the Mr Delhi and Mr India titles between 2015-18. He also won the Mr World title in 2018. In September this year, he won the International Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation Mr Asia 2019 overall champion title in Indonesia. He also won the Asia Pacific 2019 title in Thailand in August.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second person was Nasiba, his wife, an Uzbek. She has been his pillar of support. His family, expectedly, was shocked initially, but seem to have accepted it finally. “Nasiba has not come to Kerala yet. When she comes, we will see,” said Natesan. “Chitharesh comes home only once in a while. We want to see him happy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitharesh, who is quite the family man, is grateful. “As a professional bodybuilder, I need to be extremely focused on my work. My family members never bother me with their problems,” he said. The downside of him visiting, however, as Soumya remarked, is that the chickens go missing! The family is vegetarian, Chitharesh is not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chickens or not, Chitharesh is the toast of the nation now. “The Indians in South Korea were thrilled with my win. Several politicians and film stars, too, congratulated me,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Mr Universe 2019 is job-hunting now. “The Kerala government and the Union sports ministry have been extremely supportive. I hope it translates into a job. There are some openings in the Customs, Railways and Income Tax departments. I am yet to meet the officials, but I am sure they will help me out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Nov 24 15:50:17 IST 2019 the-record-buster <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The world’s largest cricket stadium is the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground. In a few months, another MCG will take the crown. The Motera cricket ground in Gujarat is expected to seat 1.10 lakh people; the Melbourne stadium can hold 1,00,024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new stadium is expected to grab eyeballs the way the Statue of Unity, the world’s tallest statue at 182m, did early last year. The stadium, costing Rs700 crore and set over 63 acres, is in its final stages of completion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea to rebuild the old Sardar Patel Stadium, which had a capacity of about 50,000, came up months before then chief minister Narendra Modi was to leave for Delhi in 2014, to start his new role. “When we discussed with him rebuilding the pavilion end, he asked us how old the structure was,” Parimal Nathwani, former senior vice president of the Gujarat Cricket Association, told THE WEEK. “When I said it was 25 years old, [Modi] said it would be better to come up with a new stadium.” When Modi was informed of the MCG’s seating capacity, he apparently told the GCA to build more seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sardar Patel Stadium has, over the years, seen many a record being broken. Be it Sunil Gavaskar becoming the first batsman to go past 10,000 Test runs or Kapil Dev overtaking Richard Hadlee with his 432nd scalp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I loved playing there,” Gavaskar told THE WEEK. “There are no fans more ardent than Gujaratis and Bengalis.” He also hoped the improved infrastructure would ensure quick emptying of the stadium, which would ease traffic jams. He also said he was looking forward to visiting the new stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Indian opener Anshuman Gaekwad, who played the first match in the stadium—India versus the West Indies in 1983—said the new stadium was a brilliant achievement. “I have fond memories of the place,” said Gaekwad, who stayed in the club house of the stadium for six years as a GCA consultant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stadium has also seen some lows, particularly in administration. In 1992-93, when former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin took over as GCA president, the association was in debt; it had to pay Rs11 crore to various parties involved in building the stadium. “The bank balance was only Rs356,” Amin told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a fund-raising exercise, the Aamir Khan-starrer Sarfarosh was shown at the nearby drive-in theatre that could accommodate 700 cars. The GCA had booked the theatre and the money made was used to ease the debt. The GCA also brought out a souvenir to make more money. About Rs60 lakh was raised. “The GCA was probably the first cricket association that raised money not through cricket, but in such a manner,” said Amin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast forward two decades, and money is not a problem for Indian cricket. Which is why Populous, the company that designed the MCG, was roped in for the new Motera stadium. The GCA brought on board Larsen &amp; Toubro to execute the design and STUP Consultants to monitor the project. There is also a team of 25 professionals supervising the work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A key highlight of the new stadium would be its connectivity to the metro station. “The stadium is less than 300m from the metro station,” said Nathwani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The earthquake-proof structure will also have a unique lighting system. “Unlike the floodlit light poles in the stadium complex, we will have LED lights all over the stadium,” said Nathwani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that Home Minister Amit Shah, who became GCA president once Modi moved to Delhi, insisted on transparency and quality of work, especially with the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Lodha committee keeping an eye on proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the tender was floated, a key criteria was that the company should have an annual turnover of Rs2,000 crore for three consecutive years and experience of building a stadium. Apart from L&amp;T, the Shapoorji Pallonji Group and the Nagarjuna Construction Company bid for the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GCA had Rs300 crore and took a bank loan of a similar amount. It plans to raise Rs150 crore from the corporate boxes and an equal amount from the club membership, which is likely to be around Rs7 lakh. Around Rs75 crore could come in from the Board of Control for Cricket in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nathwani said the association expected to settle the loan in about three and a half years after matches began; 92 per cent of the work is over and the stadium is expected to be ready in about six months. First match: a T20 between World XI and India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah told THE WEEK that the new stadium would be the pride of India. This project is the vision of Prime Minister Modi, he said, adding that it was his dream that India had the world’s largest cricket stadium. “Our endeavour at the GCA is to work in the best interest of cricket and to ensure that India continues to retain its leadership of the game,” said Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is nice to have the largest cricket stadium,” said Hitesh Patel, a fan in Ahmedabad. “The focus should remain on cricket and how budding cricketers can be nurtured.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given that Gujarat has recently produced a string of international players, including Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and brother Krunal, better infrastructure will only add to the state’s cricketing legacy.</p> Mon Oct 28 15:47:40 IST 2019