Sports en Sun Nov 24 14:54:47 IST 2019 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 back-at-the-helm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sourav Ganguly has a knack of emerging as the chosen one from crises situations. In 2000, he was made captain of an Indian team reeling from match-fixing allegations. In 2015, after the sudden demise of Jagmohan Dalmiya, Ganguly became president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). On October 13, 2019, he emerged as the “largely consensus” candidate to take over the reins of the Board of Control for Cricket in India—the first duly elected president after the Justice Lodha reforms were implemented three years ago. He will take charge with the blessings of the ousted old guard and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidential contest was a close race between Ganguly and former India batsman Brijesh Patel. The latter had the backing of former BCCI president N. Srinivasan and, with the tenure norm on his side, had seemed like an ideal candidate. However, the alleged closeness to Srinivasan ultimately became his downfall. Union Minister of State Anurag Thakur played the role of his mentor, the late Arun Jaitley, who commanded a huge chunk of votes in the BCCI. Thakur worked behind the scenes to tilt the contest in Ganguly’s favour. His line was that it would be better not to have a candidate backed by the controversial Srinivasan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is reliably learnt that Thakur and Rajeev Shukla—another senior administrator and member of the erstwhile Jaitley group—are disqualified from holding any posts in the BCCI over the tenure clause. Shukla, too, supported Ganguly. Srinivasan stuck to Patel, a former president of the Karnataka state association. BCCI members were fine with either of the two. What reportedly decided things was the intervention of the Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. It is learnt that Sarma convinced Union Home Minister Amit Shah to back Ganguly. The thinking being that Ganguly could be a “common link” between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. The move could also give the BJP a toehold in maidan (sports clubs) politics, including the CAB.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganguly’s name for president was confirmed late at night, after the meeting between Shah and Sarma. Srinivasan and Patel had no option but to agree. In a show of unity by those no longer eligible to play a part in the BCCI, Ganguly was escorted to file his nomination by Srinivasan, former BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah and Shukla. Pro-reforms observers expressed their dismay at the sight of the anti-reforms group holding sway. Justice R.M. Lodha had already expressed his unhappiness at the dilution of key reforms. But, for most members, the sheer fact that this would end the reign of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) was enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am happy that the democratic process is back and office bearers will be duly elected,” said Niranjan Shah. “The biggest challenge for the new office bearers is to restore our pride and importance in the ICC.” He added that both were equally good candidates, but finally everybody agreed on Ganguly. “Brijesh has an equally important role, taking care of the best run T20 league in the world (as chairman of the IPL governing council),” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganguly had not been committing to entering the president’s race, given that his tenure would be short as he was already CAB president, even as the clamour for him to take the plunge kept getting louder. He had the full backing of the east and northeast group, which had become stronger after the Supreme Court granted full member status to all northeastern states. Clearly he agreed to requests from those in power both at home and at the Centre. Meanwhile, Thakur, Srinivasan and Shukla had their men nominated for the remaining posts. As a result, Ganguly will lead a team of new faces—Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah will be secretary, Mahim Verma (Uttarakhand) vice president, Arun Singh Dhumal (Himachal Pradesh; brother of Thakur) treasurer, and Jayesh George (Kerala) joint secretary. They will assume office after the annual general body meeting of the BCCI scheduled to take place on October 23 in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They may be young and inexperienced in BCCI matters, but these office bearers have the experience of administering cricket in their states,” said Niranjan Shah. His son Jaydev, a retired first-class cricketer, now heads the Saurashtra Cricket Association. “In the last three years, domestic cricket was being run by one or two individuals without consultation with a committee of state officials,” he added. “To run first-class cricket, state associations must be consulted.” The former office bearer seemed to be laying down the expectations from Ganguly and company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganguly’s credentials are solid, having held the influential and high-profile post of CAB president. Jay is said to be “a quiet, low-profile person who has knowledge and understanding of the work that goes into running the sport”. While the two may indeed form a good team, both will have 10-month stints before they enter their mandatory cooling-off period. What will happen at the end of these 10 months is a slight concern. But, as of now, it is time to move forward with the pressing concerns. One of them is definitely finding a solution to the conflict of interest rule. The CoA in its final status report submitted to the Supreme Court has recommended modifications to this rule, which has kept the best of Indian cricket away in recent times. The modification has been recommended after wide talks with stakeholders and former players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These elections have made it clear that Srinivasan, who commanded huge support within the BCCI, is losing ground. There are also attempts being made to get the old guard and those who are disqualified by the Supreme Court back into the BCCI via the formation of an advisory body. However, Ganguly has been an astute leader and is hugely popular among the public. And he is not one to bow to pressure easily.</p> Mon Oct 28 15:47:34 IST 2019 credibility-of-bcci-is-important <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE WORLD’S RICHEST</b> cricket body was without elected officials for the last three years. During this time, both its influence and credibility took a beating. President-elect Sourav Ganguly will have less than 10 months to deliver. However, being a man who knows his own mind, Ganguly’s short tenure is likely to be eventful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a telephone interview with THE WEEK, Ganguly made it clear that he took on the responsibility only because the members wanted him to. He said that renegotiating India’s position within the ICC, finding a practical solution to the vexed conflict of interest clause and improving first-class cricket were on top of his agenda. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>For a long time, many people have wanted you to take charge once elections took place. What finally made you say yes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[Long pause...] the members. At the end of the day, it is decided by people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There was a contest between Brijesh Patel and yourself. How crazy was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijesh is a friend. I would have been happy even if he had been appointed, which I thought had happened. I am also happy that I have been appointed. I mean what I say; nothing more, nothing less.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think 10 months offers too little time to complete the tasks you want to do?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not in my hand. Whatever time I have, I will do my best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You termed the current situation in Indian cricket an emergency. But is it as serious as it was when you were named captain after the match-fixing scandal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is similar. It was a young, new team then. Same is the case with our office bearers. They are completely new, because the current system—the disqualification criteria— has forced this upon us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The conflict of interest clause has been a major hurdle for former cricketers to come into administration. But what is the way out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has to be more practical. You cannot throw people out of everything. I believe [there is] conflict only when you are in a position to influence and decide other roles. If they are selected as a commentator or coach, it is on their talent. There is no motive there. I think those have to be left out of the clause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you looking to involve your former teammates in matters related to the game?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. I have not thought about the role they will play. Credibility of the BCCI is important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The ICC in its meeting decided on a new rights cycle—have more ICC events, including two World Cups in four years. Is that overkill?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have not gone through the ICC meeting details because it happened yesterday (when BCCI nominations were taking place). I need to look at them properly. But India’s position in the ICC needs to change.We will find a way. Keeping India out of such key decisions is like keeping Brazil out of football!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What would be your approach towards ICC? A typical Sourav Ganguly approach—adversarial and aggressive—or understanding?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both. But, decisions need to be taken quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said that a priority area will be first-class cricket. What exactly needs looking into?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everything. Playing conditions, players’ future and players’ remuneration. Everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view the role of the Players’ Association, which will be involved in Indian cricket administration for the first time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We welcome it. We will respect it, and ensure that we work together.</p> Mon Oct 28 15:47:29 IST 2019 people-in-our-country-feel-motorcycles-are-not-for-women-racer-aishwarya-pissay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Aishwarya Pissay was 18 when she started riding the motorcycle. Three years later, in 2016, she made her racing debut at the TVS One-Make Race championship for women. This year, Pissay, 24, created history by becoming the first Indian to win an international motorcycle event—the Baja Aragon FIM series in Spain. The newly-crowned FIM world champion is preparing for the Dakar Rally—one of the world’s toughest off-road rallies—in Saudi Arabia next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What inspired you to take up motor-sports?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I never planned on becoming a racer. When my father kicked me out of the house because I did not do well in Class XII, I went to stay with my mother. It is during this time that I started riding the bike. Soon, I started taking weekend bike trips with friends. The year-off ignited a love for riding. I covered 8,000km from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya in 24 days for an MTV show. I also started taking up time-based challenges like Saddle Sore and Bun Burner. This was when a friend suggested I take racing seriously. And I did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did your family support your decision to take up racing professionally?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did not have to face parental pressure because my parents are separated. So, when I decided to be a racer, they did not really have a say in it. My mother did show some concern, but not enough to interfere with my plans. My father had said that I would not make anything of my life. Contrary to that, I have [made] a name now. Anyone can be anything at any time―the secret is to work hard and be consistent when it comes to pursuing your passion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think about motor-sports often being called a ‘man’s world’?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forget racing, people in our country feel that motorcycles are not for women. When I started riding at the age of 18, people would give me death glares. The engine would go off and I could see men frowning at me. When I started racing, the male racers in the factory asked me why I chose this sport. They said things like, ‘You [should] rather stay at home, lest you break a bone or two!’ I could not say anything at that point but I made sure that my performances spoke for me. Many women are now coming into the racing scene. Motor-sports is getting more serious. Before, it was more of a weekend road trip sort of idea, but now, with many riding clubs, it is gaining momentum.</p> Mon Oct 28 15:47:22 IST 2019 gift-of-the-jab <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SEPTEMBER 22,</b> as Amit Panghal was preparing for the final of the 52kg category at the world boxing championships in Russia, his brother Ajay, back in Rohtak, was setting up the YouTube channel livestreaming the fight. Family and neighbours had gathered in the open courtyard of the house to watch their boy win the big one. Funnily enough, they thought they were watching the regular telecast. They did not know of livestreaming, or that Ajay had launched YouTube on the television. Regardless, they cheered on. The last hurray, however, was out of reach. Panghal lost 5-0 to the reigning Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scoreline did not reflect what he had achieved. As he signed off from the ring with his signature Army salute—a la West Indies fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell—he had become the first Indian man to win a silver at the event. Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017) had all won bronze. Panghal also built on the base laid by the likes of Dingko Singh, Gurcharan Singh and Akhil Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Manish Kaushik’s bronze in the 63kg category, this was India’s best outing at the world championships. And fans are happy that the sport is back on track. It had been in disarray for the past few years because of administrative issues. The 10-member team at the championships had four quarter-finalists, two of whom lost fairly close bouts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Olympian and 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Akhil Kumar said this was the “golden period of Indian boxing”. “This is a talented bunch coming through,” he told THE WEEK. “There were fine boxers before them, too, but these boys have everything in terms of support, from the federation, government, Sports Authority of India and, most importantly, the International Boxing Association (AIBA). If you notice, earlier the close bouts involving Indians would never go their way. One can see some change there.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar also praised Asian Championships silver medal winner Kavinder Singh Bisht (57kg) and Makran Cup silver medal winner Sanjeet (91kg). In fact, Panghal, Bisht and Ashish Kumar (75kg) were seeded going into the world championships. And, both Panghal and Kaushik have now been assured of a berth in the Indian squad for the Olympic qualifiers to be held in China next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Santiago Nieva, Indian team’s high performance director: “We won medals and performed better than last time. The targets were achieved. Countries like China and Azerbaijan are going back without a medal while we have improved our tally. It has significance. We can be proud.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He can especially be proud of Panghal. The 23-year-old has had a good run of late. He won gold at the 2019 Asian Championships, a gold at the 2018 Asian Games and a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He beat Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov at the Asian Games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What sets him apart, aside from his talent, is his game sense—he can change tactics without the coaches prodding him to do so during the match. And he has also built up a reputation of being a giant killer by convincingly beating much bigger opponents, in terms of height as well as stature. “I was fully confident I would return with a medal from the world championships,” an elated, yet tired Panghal told THE WEEK. “My confidence level really went up with my Asian Games performance. I was working hard after the Asian Games on my strategy and training accordingly for the world championships.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His boxing style is eye-catching—his attacking game, his ferocious hook and his sudden bursts of power have offset many an opponent. His clean punches tilt the odds in his favour. “Earlier, I would be more defensive in my approach, have a careful start,” he said. “But at the world championships, my aggressive tactics worked from the start. Whenever I play with aggression, I win.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Akhil Kumar, also originally from Rohtak, first saw Panghal at the 2017 Asian Championships in Tashkent. “He won a bronze there,” said Kumar. “That was his first major tournament. His talent and confidence were eye catching. What I really like about him is his patience. He never gives up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A lot has been made about the southpaw’s diminutive size, with critics saying it could put him at a disadvantage if he squares up against a tall boxer with better reach. Panghal, however, dismissed those misgivings, saying, “I see it as an advantage. I only know that I have to give my 100 per cent in every bout I play.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar agreed. “All this (height) is not an issue,” he said. “We have had very good boxers who were not very tall. Suranjoy Singh was one of them, and he used to be called Chhota (Little) Tyson. Mike Tyson himself was not very tall. What matters in boxing, other than your punches, is luck.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other medallist, 25-year-old Manish Kaushik, hails from Haryana’s Bhiwani district, and is also an Army man. This was his first senior world championships. “The experience of winning four bouts here will help me. I gave my best, but there were a few shortcomings,” he said after his semi-final loss to world champion Andy Cruz Gomez of Cuba.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He needs more experience and perhaps needs to work on his strength training,” said Kumar, who follows Kaushik’s development closely. “His punches have power, but maybe a little bit of work in leg strength and endurance is required.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Nieva of the two medallists: “Amit is a busy boxer and he always gives the impression that he is up to something. He improvises quickly and can surprise opponents. Manish is dogged. He sticks to counter-offence and forces his rivals to adapt.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, the team’s performance has enthused the coaches. “I was expecting a determined show, but I am surprised at the intensity,” said national coach C.A. Kuttappa. “Our expectations have not just been met, they have been surpassed.”</p> Mon Oct 28 15:47:15 IST 2019 nat-finish <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THEY HAD BEEN</b> poked in their eyes; their faces and necks bore bruises; an ankle was heavily bandaged. Their bodies and minds bore the reminders of joy and pain, of wins and losses. Back from Nur Sultan, the city of their partly realised dreams, the felicitated freestyle wrestlers looked stoic from a distance. But a closer look and the happiness of having achieved important targets at the recently concluded world wrestling championships shone bright on the faces of the five medallists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lone silver medallist, Deepak Punia, could not have announced his entry at the senior level any louder. The 20-year-old came close to replicating what his ‘guru’ Sushil Kumar had done nine years ago—win a gold at the championships. But an ankle injury forced him to withdraw from the final on September 22. He had to settle for a silver medal in the 86kg category. No one is complaining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This latest wrestling sensation from Haryana won the world junior wrestling championships in August and was raring to make his mark in his first senior international event. “I was short on experience, but nevertheless, I just wanted to qualify for the Olympics with a medal,” a tired-sounding Deepak told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with Deepak, Vinesh Phogat (53kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Rahul Aware (61kg) created history by making the 2019 edition India’s most successful one ever—they won one silver and four bronze medals. Though gold proved elusive, the four 2020 Tokyo Olympics spots made Wrestling Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh declare to Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju that in Tokyo, wrestling alone would give India double the medals the nation won (two) at the 2016 Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was no false bravado. London 2012 bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt puts it simply. “The thinking has changed. Each wrestler went with the belief that he or she would win a medal. That is why you see we returned with our best-ever performance,” he told THE WEEK. Deepak, when asked what he learnt from his first senior event promptly replied, “I learnt that I can win in Tokyo 2020.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are myriad emotions attached to the medals, each of them viewing theirs differently. For an ecstatic Vinesh, it is part of a journey of redemption at the Olympics. For Bajrang, the bronze was not what he went for. The top seed in the 65kg category lost the semifinal against home wrestler Daulet Niyazbekov under controversial circumstances in the tie-breaker. For another debutant, 21-year-old Ravi Dahiya from Sonepat, it is a dream come true. This victory comes after he had to ward off stiff competition in his weight category at home to make it to the worlds. For Maharashtra grappler Rahul Aware, who has overcome a strong north Indian lobby that dominates the sport, the world championships is the pinnacle. His weight category does not feature in the Olympic roster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Deepak, he has not surprised anyone with his feat. After all, he trains under the watchful eyes of India’s most-accomplished wrestler, Sushil Kumar. Deepak and Ravi have both learnt the nuances of wrestling from Sushil and his battery of coaches at the akhada at the Chhatrasal Stadium in north Delhi. “Sushil pehelwanji keeps teaching us something new every time,” Deepak says of his mentor. “He was giving me tips before every bout. He had trained me very well and had sorted out my mistakes before the competition.” He came to Sushil’s akhada in 2014 from his village in Jhajjar district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagmandar Singh, coach of the senior men’s team, had this to say about Deepak’s performances: “He plays without fear. He has no baggage. Sometimes that works in your favour, as more experienced wrestlers always have something at the back of their mind—some past performance or even fear of losing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogeshwar, though, has a word of caution. “He is a very positive wrestler, we should not put him under any sort of pressure. He is new and still needs to learn a lot. He should get maximum exposure. He has age on his side and can easily play three to four Olympics till he is 32-33. There is no need for [demanding] immediate results.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as Deepak is getting used to being thrust into the limelight, alongside him are veterans. Vinesh Phogat, whose Rio Olympics dream ended in excruciating pain, has been on the comeback trail. It has been a long, painful road, one she will never forget. And that is why this medal and the Tokyo berth are special.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She says she had to start from scratch on her return from the career-threatening knee injury. “It will never get out of my mind—to return from the Olympics in this painful manner,” Phogat told THE WEEK. “God has given me a chance again. My hard work after it is now giving results. But getting injured repeatedly was frustrating so I decided to change my weight category.” She says that though it was tough on her mentally, the change has worked. The national coach of the women’s team, Kuldeep Malik, is pleased with the way her wrestling has evolved in the last three years. “Her wrestling is more stable now, there is maturity and understanding, which were not there earlier,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Bajrang, the most decorated among the five, the feeling of being robbed of a victory is still raw. The semifinal loss has been a lesson of sorts for him, and his strategy, too, has been a subject of debate. “If we win medals, it means the performance is good. But I wanted to better the previous performance. Some mistakes were made by me, some by the referee,” he said. “I never take pressure. I just aim to apply my training on the mat when I go in for the bout.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajrang trains with personal coach Shako Bentinidis and might have to take a hard look at his approach on the mat. As the understudy of Yogeshwar, Bajrang believes in his mentor’s mantra of outlasting the opponent with fitness and strength. “I can never forget what happened, but I will remember to factor it in when I go to the Olympics,” he said.</p> Mon Oct 28 15:48:26 IST 2019 pedals-and-medals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE VELODROME AT</b> the 110-acre Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium complex in Delhi seemed quiet from the outside. But, as we made our way through the winding hallways, past the gymnasium, the technical area and various dope control rooms, we heard the hum of the wheels. The only velodrome in India with a timber track was chirping with activity; trials for the Track Asia Cup (September 9 to 11) were on. (At the time of going to print, India had won 12 medals, including four golds, at the event.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boys and girls from various states went through the drills under the watchful eyes of trainers and coaches. Chief national coach R.K. Sharma kept a close watch. With the whistle and stopwatch in his hands, he diligently jotted down the timing of the cyclists. He had handpicked these boys when they were 13 or 14 and has been training them for the past five-odd years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 15, in Frankfurt, Germany, and at the stroke of midnight hour back in India, these young boys became the first Indian team to win a gold in the Junior Track World Championships. Rojit Singh Yanglem, Esow Alben and Ronaldo Singh Laitonjam won the team sprint event by beating powerhouses such as Australia, Great Britain and Germany. Esow, 18, went a step further to clinch a silver in individual sprint and a bronze in the keirin (six laps).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But while the country marvelled at the young cyclists’ achievements, Sharma had moved on. For him, the medals were a result of the hard work of the past three years. He had targeted these timings back then. “There is no surprise in the results,” he told THE WEEK. “If we have a good team and support, the results are bound to come. Our team sits and plans properly, we have a team sponsor. If I am not able to achieve targets, what is the use of me?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cycling as a sport is gaining momentum in India. However, nearly five years ago, the stadium was “covered in layers of dust and cobwebs; the velodrome was an archaic cement track,” said Cycling Federation of India chairman Onkar Singh. The sports ministry officials were mulling razing the velodrome and moving cycling to another venue in Delhi. The mere idea shook CFI officials into action. Singh and his team had to not only clean the velodrome, but they also had to bring it back from the dead. They visited various Sports Authority of India centres, spotting talent at the junior level and taking charge of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The result is evident: The Indian junior men’s team is ranked number two in the world team sprint, and Esow is number one in the world junior individual men’s sprint and keirin rankings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Esow’s face broke into a beaming smile when asked how it felt. He had mild chest congestion; as he comes from the pristine Nicobar islands, the pollution-laced Delhi air clogs up his lungs at times. An obedient ward, Esow first checked with Sharma before taking a 10-minute break to talk to THE WEEK. “It was very satisfying,” he said. “I do not miss anything at all. If you want to achieve something, you have to sacrifice [something], too. When I enter the velodrome, the first thing I see is the national flag and I think I must do something to make my country proud. Before the final round, we went to the washroom and told each other that gold was achievable. We had goosebumps thinking about the possibility. We lapsed into silence for a few minutes, and thought of our families and coaches who have done so much for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back home, a younger Esow started with both rowing and cycling. “I did not have much knowledge about sports,” he said. “[When] my friends went into cycling, even I wanted to do it. I struggled a lot, despite training hard. There was no diet to go with it and I would just go like that. Then I started cycling in Nicobar. I flunked a few times and did not get a medal in the nationals. I was 13 [then]. The coach said, ‘If you want a medal, come back to rowing.’ But I trained harder and got two medals in the nationals. It was the first time Andaman and Nicobar ever got a medal in cycling. Then coach Sharma saw me and said, ‘We will call you to the SAI academy.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The letter to come to Delhi, however, was a cause of worry. His father was a fireman and did not have enough money to send Esow to Delhi. However, his mother, who worked in the forest department, was determined to see her son realise his sporting ambition. “She sold her gold jewellery, got the money and sent me,” said Esow. “For that, I will always remain thankful to her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Delhi, Esow’s cycling dreams took shape gradually. “I learnt a lot here, the diet was better and I was very happy,” he said. “I got a better cycle, ten times better, and trained with seniors. Then I started achieving my targets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Esow trains at the World Cycling Centre’s satellite arm at the Delhi velodrome. In 2015, Onkar Singh had got the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international cycling federation, to set up its world-class academy in Delhi. And with the help of SAI, the academy got going. Honda, the CFI’s technical sponsor, provided the equipment, while UCI gave coaching and training. “When we started, we had five cycles,” said Singh. “[Then] SAI and UCI came together, and we got 40 cycles from 2012 to 2014. We started a structured programme, [and] we are currently focussing on improving bench strength. Esow will move to the senior category, but we need others to come and keep performing at the junior level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mobile phones are a no-no at the academy—calls can be made or received through coach Sharma’s phone. Time off training is spent on studies, which the academy takes care of. To relax, the cyclists listen to music or watch a movie or two. As there are not many competitions in India, the boys usually spend their summers (with SAI funding) in Europe, where they compete in tournaments. After that, they proceed to major international events like the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the 2018 Asian Games, Esow was fielded in the senior category, and while the results were not up to the mark, the experience helped. “Keirin will be his specialisation,” said Singh. “He is very good at it and mentally very strong. We need to give him time for transition, [give him] six to seven years to mature.” The CFI is now aiming at a better finish at the 2022 Asian Games and possibly the 2024 Olympics. “It feels nice to have achieved this, but there is a lot more left to do and achieve,” said Esow. He then went back to his cycle, as if incapable of being away from it for even a second more.</p> Thu Sep 12 15:33:21 IST 2019 acing-the-test <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HANUMA VIHARI</b> was baptised by fire upon joining the Indian Test team. He debuted last year against James Anderson and Stuart Broad in cold England and next faced the lethal Mitchell Starc and co in Australia. He played well under pressure, but a flashier Rishabh Pant—who was also debuting in the England series—hogged the limelight. Months later, under the warm Caribbean sun, Vihari, 25, came to the party. He scored 289 runs in two Tests, including his maiden Test century (111), and powered India to a series victory against the West Indies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Days after the feat, Vihari was back home in Kowkoor, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, where THE WEEK caught up with him. Though visibly tired, the batting all-rounder ensured that he did not miss the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in his colony. He was part of the procession, took selfies with the children and asked them what they thought of his century. He was a regular youngster in the crowd, unaffected by the sudden fame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back home, clad in a T-shirt and track pants, he said he was yet to unpack. He then glanced at a huge suitcase that was partially open and had clothes spilling out. He had some extra luggage this time—a gift from his captain, Virat Kohli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After my hundred, he was generous enough to give me a bat he had signed,” Vihari told THE WEEK. “That is a big compliment from a legend. It feels good to be recognised for my performance this way. I was disappointed after I got out for 93 in the first match. In the second match, the situation was tricky as there were a couple of good spells. The bounce was different as compared with the ones (pitches) I had played on in the past. I adapted to the situation and played certain shots that were in my area.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The century was huge for him, but he had hardly “ten minutes” to celebrate in the dressing room. “We had to get back on the field,” he said. “But I was happy with all the congratulations that came my way in that time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vihari was born in Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh and started playing cricket when he was nine. His mother Vijayalaxmi, a passionate cricket fan, named him Vihari after a character in the Telugu novel Aakhari Poratam, which was later made into a movie starring Nagarjuna. Vihari had lost his father in his teens and money had been in short supply. It was his mother’s support that helped him get to the Indian team. She even agreed to let him drop out of college to focus on cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he had a tough childhood, Vihari said he does not believe in low-points. “You have to keep improving,” he said. “There can only be high points in life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vihari represents Hyderabad in domestic cricket and had played six Tests for India. And though he has done well so far, his fledgling career might face a challenge or two from the rising crop of talent in India. “The only challenge is up to me, how I take it,” he said. “There will be occasions where the team combination might change. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to do your best for the team. I might [even] play up the order, [and] I have to be aware and accept those situations and keep moving forward.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vihari believes in giving his best in the moment and not worrying about the future. Whether it is Indian Premier League or ODIs, Vihari said it was all about the mindset. He said he had come a long way and it would not be tough for him to adjust to any format. There is a calmness and maturity in his batting, which seems to be mirrored in his life off the field. “I try to keep limited people in my life,” he said. “I like to have a small circle, but at the same time I have a lot of fun outside the field. It can be a good conversation with people around me. I feel that whether it is on field or off it, we react according to situations.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like most of his teammates, he, too, is a great fan of Sachin Tendulkar. “He is the reason I started playing cricket,” said Vihari. “I also like others who play well. I observe and take whatever positives I can from Indian and foreign players.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also holds Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri in high regard. “He (Kohli) is passionate about the game and treats everyone equally,” said Vihari. “That is the kind of character you need as a captain. We are happy playing under him [and have] made huge progress. He has got an amazing work ethic, especially when it comes to his fitness and diet. He is disciplined and that is why he has grown a lot as a cricketer in the past 10 to 12 years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of Shastri, he said, “He gives valuable inputs. He told me something that improved my game. There was a small adjustment that I [made] and instantly saw the results. It was related to flexing my knees and keeping my head straight while playing. These are the tips that enhance a player.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he said he had a good time in the Caribbean, he admits to not being a beach person. “I am scared of water and I cannot swim,” he said. His favourite destinations, he said, were New Zealand and Australia, for the picturesque locations and solitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Game of Thrones fan binge-watches shows during his free time and also reads. “I like to read autobiographies. I want to read the Mahabharat and the Gita in future,” he said. He also meditates when he is nervous or before a big game. “More than a good cricketer, I want to be known as a humble person,” he said. “I want to be the best version of myself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vihari, who got married to fashion designer Preeti Raj earlier this year, has plans to get into social service. For now, however, he is excited about the possibility of playing South Africa at his home ground in Visakhapatnam next month.</p> Sat Sep 14 17:18:36 IST 2019 rani-rampal-the-biggest-challenge-was-opposition-from-relatives <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SHE MADE HER</b> senior India debut in 2009 at the age of 14. Today, Rani Rampal is a veteran with over 200 international appearances. The star skipper from Haryana is still basking in her team’s 3-1 victory over Japan at the FIH Women’s Series Finals at Hiroshima in June. The team is heading to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics qualifiers in the second week of August.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How did you get interested in hockey?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I started playing at the age of six. Back then, all I knew was that if you play hockey, you will get a job. I wanted to uplift the condition of my family and I knew that hockey would help me do that. We used to live in a shanty and my father used to work as a cart-puller. My parents could not even afford to buy milk daily, forget about paying for my coaching. But I was determined to pursue it. After a lot of begging, they gave me the nod and the rest, as they say, is history.</p> <p><b>Q/What were some of the challenges that you faced?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The biggest challenge I faced was opposition from my neighbours and relatives. They kept telling my parents that I would spoil the name of the family. But now they are proud of me. They even send their daughters for hockey training. Another challenge was the money. My father struggled a lot to fund my training, but he never stopped me from playing hockey. In 2007, I had a major back injury which stopped me from playing for about a year. I was bedridden. Doctors and trainers told me that it might not be possible for me to get back on the field. I weighed only 36kg then and I was not fit to play. I thought this was the end of my career and that all the sacrifices of my parents had been in vain. But I refused to give up and endured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is your vision for the national team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I want my team to be number one in the world. I keep emphasising on hard work, training and discipline. Training is very important, not just for playing well on the field but also for recovering from injuries. I try to be an example to my teammates rather than flooding them with advice. I want us to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.&nbsp;</p> Fri Aug 09 15:17:52 IST 2019 mother-superior <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DETERMINATION AND FOCUS,</b> strength and willpower are writ large on Bhavna Tokekar’s face as she trains at the Defence Services Officers’ Institute (DSOI) gym in Bhopal. Forty-seven and a mother of two, Bhavna won four gold medals at the Open Asian Powerlifting Championships in July. But when she is home, her features soften dramatically as she speaks of her family; she says it is her support system and inspiration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Powerlifting comprises three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts—squat, bench press and deadlift. It is not yet an Olympic sport, and is different from the snatch and clean and jerk lifts in weightlifting. The Asian championship for amateurs is organised by the World Powerlifting Congress (WPC) and had around 500 competitors this time, including 14 from India. Bhavna, won two golds each on July 13 and 14 in the Under 67.5kg Masters 2 category (45-49 years), competing in her first-ever amateur powerlifting event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am extremely proud of what I did, but let me underline that I would not have done it at the cost of my family. For me it is always family first,” said Bhavna as her husband, Group Captain Shreepad Tokekar, and younger son Aarav, 15, proudly look on. “I brought honour to the nation, but I also feel that raising kids as good citizens is an equally important service to the nation,” said the champion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her two kids had their mother’s back at a crucial juncture this year. In May, Bhavna suddenly realised that the trials for her Asian Championships were to be held that month, and not in July as she expected. “We were planning a vacation as my older one, Ishaan, was home for the summer. I had never left the kids alone even for a night before that. So I almost decided that I would not go for the trials. But the kids and my husband insisted I go,” said Bhavna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Mother seemed to be a bit nervous, not about the trials, but about leaving us. I told her we could manage and that she should not miss the trials at any cost. Look at the results now,” said a proud Ishaan, 19, over telephone from his college in Vellore. The results are indeed stunning. And now, Bhavna is training hard for the World Championships to be held in December in Moscow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhavna’s story is interesting.She was born in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, and was brought up in Gujarat. Daughter of Ahmedabad-based ex-railway officer Anand Bhave and homemaker Anupriti Bhave, Bhavna married Shreepad, a Kargil war hero, 21 years ago. “I gave up my job and concentrated on home and kids. With the support of Shreepad, who took care of me completely, I think I did very well,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was a table tennis player during her school days in Godhra, playing at the district level. But the first chapter of the dramatic turn in her life began about seven years ago, when she started going to the gym to fight the side-effects of a medication she took for a skin inflammation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She would use the gym at the Central Air Command, Prayagraj, where her husband was posted, and it was here that Sergeant Brindaban Mohanty suggested she take up weight training. “I do not know what he saw in me, but he was insistent and I started. I slowly got the hang of it. Sergeant Mohanty and later LAC Gaurav Sharma and Sergeant Raj Naik, who was Mr World 2016—all of whom were part of the IAF bodybuilding team—took over as my trainers. Slowly, my confidence grew,” said Bhavna. The three of them are now retired.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 2014, Bhavna and her husband started to work out together, instead of at different times, and this helped her routine. It was, however, Corporal Aruvi A. who was instrumental in her decision to take up powerlifting in 2017. And, when the Tokekars moved to Bhopal last year, and Aruvi moved to Darjeeling, the strong association continued, though it had shifted online. Even as this correspondent was speaking to Bhavna, Aruvi texted her to check if she was in the gym for her workout.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision to participate in the Asian Championships was sudden. Bhavna did her research on weight training and powerlifting, on the internet, and in the process, got in touch with Mohammed Azmat, WPC head of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. “In February, I casually asked him whether I could compete. He looked at my videos and said I could, but I would have to appear for trials. The rest is history,” Bhavna said with a smile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was during the trials at Bengaluru in May that Azmat met her for the first time. He gave all the necessary inputs for technical perfection and discussed the championship rules. But Azmat could not always be present for her training and Shreepad filled in as a shadow-trainer. “Azmat explained to me all the ways of monitoring and filming Bhavna’s training, to share it with him, so that he could make the necessary corrections. It was indeed a meticulous process of about five days that helped her a lot,” said Shreepad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azmat says that Bhavna had a solid foundation. “I only helped in harvesting what was already built by making the necessary technique corrections,” said Azmat. “Powerlifting is not only about strength. It is about focus and vision, which Bhavna is very strong on.” He also lauded the dedication and support of Shreepad in the entire process. As a Under 100kg Masters 1 category champion himself, Azmat is now an online trainer for Bhavna, and is helping her prepare for the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, however, Bhavna’s family that is helping her the most on the ground. Shreepad and Aarav accompany her to the gym every day. Their constant encouragement makes Bhavna want to give her best. Like Ishaan said, “It is not [just] about winning golds at the championship. I know my mother is the best and she will excel in whatever she does. I am extremely confident of her.”</p> Sat Aug 10 15:48:59 IST 2019 a-manic-monday-at-wimbledon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An ardent tennis fan, I often dreamed of eating strawberries and cream while watching my favourite player, Rafael Nadal, live in action on Centre Court. But these were always fleeting thoughts; I never attempted to attend the tournament or check for tickets. I had heard stories about the famous queue, where people camped outside overnight to be the first in line for tickets sold in the morning for that day’s play, and about astronomical prices people paid for tickets to the semifinals and finals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 1, I received an email from a tennis-mad friend saying that Wimbledon’s public ballot for overseas applicants had opened that day, so to quickly send in my application. I wasted no time in registering with the Wimbledon website, and sent an online application for tickets for the 2019 tournament. It took all of two minutes to fill in the form and send it, and the same amount of time to forget about it. After all, I had never been lucky at lucky dips or draws; I had never even won a single line at Tombola, forget about a full house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Evidently, my luck was reserved for better things. On January 29, I received an email from Wimbledon, saying they were pleased to offer me two tickets to the championships, on Monday, July 8, for Centre Court at a cost of £260. Would I be interested? If I was, I had a month to decide and pay. Needless to say, I didn’t need a single minute. I whisked out my credit card, swiftly typed in the details and cemented the deal. About the small matter of getting myself to Wimbledon? Oh, I had more than five months to figure that out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any Wimbledon fan worth her salt knows that the second Monday of the tournament, called Manic Monday, is one of the best days to attend. The last 16 players, in both the men’s and ladies’ draws, play on that day; hence you are rest assured of seeing a few stars, and a couple of decent matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the morning of July 8, I found myself at the entry gates of Centre Court at the All England Club, the home of the championships. Heart beating wildly, I showed my confirmation email and ID to a security guard, and was let in. The grounds instantly took my breath away. The club aspires to “present tennis in an English garden”. Shades of purple, green and white—Wimbledon colours—were everywhere. The prettiest purple hydrangeas sat in the greenest hedges, ivy covered the sides of the great court, and boxes of purple and white petunias surrounded its walls. Purple, pink and violet orchids were artistically put together in elaborate arrangements or in small round vases on cafe tables.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wimbledon is the quintessentially British experience, if there ever was one. Right from the bag-checking security personnel, to ticketing staff, the ushers court-side, to guards who remind you not to walk about during points..., every person was unfailingly polite, always smiling and well-mannered. On the walk to Centre Court, tidy white stalls with purple lettering sold strawberries and cream, sweets and treats, champagne, pizza and sausages, and exceptionally decorated carts sold Pimm’s, the classic gin-based Wimbledon beverage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a darkened corridor under Centre Court, wooden boards lined the walls with the names of all the previous champions: the gentlemen’s and ladies’ singles, doubles, mixed doubles, the boys and girls. Smartly dressed ushers stood at the entrances to various gangways, directing people to their seats. I was directed down a tube-lit gangway with a low roof. I then turned into a small corridor and was suddenly hit by blinding sunlight and a sea of green. My jaw dropped. My seat was bang in centre of the court, right across the umpire and the players’ chairs. It was so close to the grass that I could almost pluck a little and eat it, just like Novak Djokovic did when he won the final. The royal box was to my left; that day it had the Duchess of Cambridge’s brother and sister, James and Pippa Middleton, with iconic editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, in attendance. Centre Court was smaller than I had imagined, far more intimate than it appears on TV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the stroke of 1pm, my dream came true. Rafael Nadal stepped onto court with his opponent of the day, Jaoa Sousa, whom he demolished swiftly in straight sets. Next up was Britain’s heart-throb Johanna Konta who, much to the crowd’s delight, beat two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova in three sets. The third, and last match of the day, featured Roger Federer, who made quick work of Mateo Berrettini in straight sets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The weather was anything but English; the scorching sun had spectators wear their hats, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion, and many were desperately fanning themselves with tickets, pamphlets or anything they could lay their hands on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, they also cooled off with Wimbledon staples—strawberries and cream and chilled glasses of Pimms. The first, to be honest, was a disappointment; sour strawberries with flat, unsweetened cream left, well, a sour taste in my mouth. But the second, Pimm’s, was a revelation; fruity, fizzy, and delicious, it was a perfectly heady cocktail to cap off a delirious day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TRADITIONS AT WIMBLEDON</b></p> <p>✦ The only Grand Slam event still played on grass</p> <p>✦ Still refers to men’s and women’s events as ‘gentlemen’s and ‘ladies’ events</p> <p>✦ Players must adhere to a strict all-white dress code</p> <p>✦ Stalls around the courts sell strawberries and cream, and Pimm’s (a ginbased beverage)</p> <p>✦ Patronised by the British royal family, who sit in the Royal Box</p> <p>✦ Unobtrusive advertisement on the premises and in courts</p> <p>✦ The middle Sunday of the two-week tournament is a rest day</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE ROYAL BOX</b></p> <p>The Royal Box has been used for entertainment of friends and guests of Wimbledon since 1922. It has 74 dark green, padded wicker seats. Invitees include British and overseas royal families, heads of government, tennis stars, sporting heroes, commercial partners, members of the British armed forces, prominent media organisations and supporters of British tennis. Invitations come from the chairman of the All England Club and guests are invited to the Clubhouse for lunch, tea and drinks. The dress code is ‘smart’, and women are asked not to wear hats as they might obstruct the view.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INDIA AT WIMBLEDON 2019</b></p> <p>Prajnesh Gunneswaran was India’s only singles entrant in the main draw.</p> <p>Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan, Leander Paes, Purav Raja and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan participated in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sagar Kashyap, a former under-18 tennis player from Mysuru, Karnataka, is the youngest Indian to officiate at Wimbledon. He was a line umpire at the Gentlemen’s Singles Final event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actor Deepika Padukone and sister Anisha, a professional golfer, were invited to the Royal Box for the Gentlemen’s Singles Final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HOW TO GET TICKETS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The public ballot for UK applicants</b></p> <p>✦ Applications usually open on September 1 and forms are available till December 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The public ballot for overseas applicants</b></p> <p>✦ The ballot is usually open from December 1 to December 15 every year. Applicants should register with the Wimbledon website to get notifications of the exact dates. Only one application per household is allowed. Successful applicants are notified between January and March the following year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Debentures</b></p> <p>These tickets are sold on the Wimbledon website. A debenture ticket holder can view matches either on Centre Court or Court No 1 on a particular day and has access to exclusive restaurants and bars on the premises. Prices start at £1,000 at the beginning of the tournament and can go up to £3,500 for the men’s final. These can be bought on the day of the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ticketmaster</b></p> <p>Several hundred returned and reserved tickets are sold online, 48 hours before the day of play and each morning for the following day’s play, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Queue</b></p> <p>✦ People often camp outside overnight, hoping to get to the front of the queue early in the morning to get tickets for the day’s play.</p> <p>✦ Ticket prices for those who win the ballots, or secure tickets through Ticketmaster or The Queue range from £33 to £225; prices vary based on the</p> <p>court, and the day.</p> Sat Jul 20 16:20:36 IST 2019 a-song-of-ice-and-fire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>They are two of the best in this generation, but that is where the similarities end. Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, is calm like his hometown of Tauranga. He speaks and bats softly, and looks like the boy next door. Virat Kohli, on the other hand, has a styled look, is aggressive on the field and has every bit of that ‘never-back-down attitude’ of a Delhiite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In terms of fan following, Kohli is a brand on his own. Williamson seems like he does not want to be one. Kohli has 30.4 million followers on Twitter and 37.2 million on Instagram. He is the lone Indian on the Forbes list of world’s highest-paid athletes. Williamson is not on Twitter or Facebook; his Instagram account has 4,39,000 followers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As India faced New Zealand in the rainy semi-final in Manchester, the contrast between the captains was clear as day. Kohli had led India into the semi-finals as the top ranked team. They had won seven, lost one, and had one washed-out game. Williamson, meanwhile, led a team that huffed and puffed its way into the semi-finals. They won five, lost three, and had one abandoned game. Barring the odd display from Jimmy Neesham and Ross Taylor, the onus of batting was on Williamson’s shoulders throughout the tournament. Including the semi-final, he has scored 548 runs in the tournament, including two hundreds and two fifties. Williamson has had to stand like a rock to alter his team’s fortunes. And he did so again to take his team to its second consecutive World Cup final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As skippers, Kohli and Williamson are chalk and cheese. The semi-final showed that. Before the match, Williamson shrugged off the underdogs tag. After it, he chose equanimity. “It was a brilliant fighting effort from our guys,” he said in the post-match press conference. “The sort of mentality required to stay in the game for long. There is so much more to winning and losing. You identify parts of matches not directly in your control. You need to move away to give you clarity. It is important not to be scarred by those games [we lost].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli’s face, as usual, gave away his feelings. “To go out after 45 minutes of bad cricket is saddening, heartbreaking,” he said after the match. “You are number one in the points table. This is part and parcel of the game. One is gutted but have to accept it and move on. It has happened to us before.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had previously failed to make the final of the 2015 World Cup and the T20 World Cup in 2016. In 2017, Kohli’s men made it to the Champions Trophy final, but lost to Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two captains, along with Joe Root of England and Steve Smith of Australia, form the golden quartet of batsmen of this generation. Little separates them in terms of Test averages, but in ODIs, Kohli has raced ahead. Compared with his 41 centuries, Williamson, Root and Smith have 13, 16 and eight respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it was in Kohli’s format that Williamson outshone him at Old Trafford. “I think he is one of the finest players right now; outstanding,” former Indian captain Kapil Dev told THE WEEK. “What stands out is his calmness. He put himself in that position of winning the toss and batting first in these overcast conditions, knowing that the whole team plays around him. You must give him credit for that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said on the Star Sports show Game Plan: “Kane Williamson is a very consistent character, his personality is about just doing the same thing over and over again. So I guess when you are so particular on how you prepare and play, you can get consistency in performance. The big difference is he soaked up pressure in this World Cup, and because of that he can now get 60s and 70s, and knows how to get the big scores.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil Dev, one of the best bowlers of his time, said he marvelled at how Williamson could handle the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar while his openers struggled to get bat on ball. “He stands on the off stump, but never gets out LBW,” he said. “You will never see him missing the ball and it does not matter how quick anybody is bowling. He changes the bowlers’ length by standing on off stump and walking to the middle stump. That is his strength.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli had a different role in this World Cup, especially as Rohit Sharma carried the innings many a time. He did have a crucial role to play in the semi-final, but got trapped LBW to Trent Boult on 1. It was a rare failure, and one that did not do justice to his batting in the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said former Indian opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth: “[Kohli] can play every role for his team, across every format. He can drop anchor and let his partner shine if that is what the team needs. He can also shift gears if the situation demands it and keep pushing up the run rate. This is his true mastery. He can manoeuvre and control a game and pace himself beautifully.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli and Williamson first met at the Under-19 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, 11 years ago. In that semi-final, the Indians led by a chubby-cheeked Kohli beat the young Kiwis led by a scrawny, smiling Williamson. Kohli even picked up Williamson’s wicket, and India went on to win the World Cup. The duo then led parallel journeys as they graduated into senior cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the press conference before the semi-final though, the duo could barely recollect that face-off. The impending game weighed on their minds, but they did laugh at the memory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ace batsmen have nothing but high praise and respect for each other’s game. “In 2007, we went to New Zealand and we were playing an Under-19 Test match,” Kohli had said at the pre-game press conference. “He played a shot off one of our fast bowlers, who was quick, off the back-foot. I remember standing in the slips and telling another guy, ‘I have never seen anyone play a shot like that’, and that he was special.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Williamson had reciprocated, saying, “He was a formidable player, growing up. That seems odd to say because we were the same age playing against each other on a number of occasions and then to go into international cricket at a youngish age, then IPL and these different sorts of things. So, it has obviously been a pleasure watching Virat play and evolve into the superstar that he is.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their individual form aside, both captains have led teams that had wildly contrasting fortunes with the bat. For Kohli, the top order had been key to the team’s success, with the top three scoring 69 per cent of the total runs, till the semi-final. However, it was in Manchester, in the game that mattered the most, that the top order failed. Sharma, K.L. Rahul and Kohli together got three runs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Williamson has had the opposite problem. His top order has consistently failed, especially with the experienced Martin Guptill in poor form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the chinks in the batting armours, both captains have had to rely on their bowlers to win them matches. While Kohli had the support of Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Williamson has had to rely on Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Boult knows the Indian batsmen extremely well,” said former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori. “They have to stay aggressive and let Trent work his magic at the start. In the middle [and late overs], his reverse swing, yorkers and now the knuckle ball mark him out as one of the world’s premier white-ball bowlers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Vettori had predicted, Boult and his new-ball partner Matt Henry blew away India’s top order, and with it their hopes of making another World Cup final. Boult would have to deliver again in the final on July 14. But, guided by that iceman with a gentle smile, both Boult and New Zealand can together dream of lifting their first-ever World Cup. And, as the saying in the cricketing world goes, it could not happen to nicer guys.</p> Sat Jul 13 11:15:25 IST 2019 beloved-bird <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Harold Dennis Bird, 86, watched the India-Sri Lanka match on July 6 from the VIP suite in the Carnegie Pavilion at the Headingley Cricket Ground. The stand to his left had the dressing rooms. Its viewing gallery—Sir Dickie Bird Players’ Balcony— was funded by him (£1,25,000). He did it to make the hot Headingley dressing rooms more comfortable for the players. Why? Because cricket, particularly cricket in Yorkshire county, is his whole world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bird was born in the county, in Barnsley, in 1933 into a working class family. His father, a miner, wanted his son to pursue a career in sports. Bird and his two sisters had a happy childhood in a two-up two-down terraced family home near the mining pits. He played cricket and football with his father in the evenings. Fellow Yorkshireman Sir Geoffrey Boycott was his teammate at the Barnsley Cricket Club. At 19, Bird signed a professional contract with the Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) on an annual retainer of up to £650. He also started work as a travelling salesman for a sports goods shop during winters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He played 93 matches for Yorkshire and Leicestershire as a right-hand batsman, but being in and out of the teams made him look towards coaching and, later, umpiring as a full-time career. He umpired 66 Tests and 69 ODIs and retired in 1996 as the most beloved and respected umpire in the world. His last Test was England versus India at the Lord’s. The recent chapter in Bird’s cricket journey is an administrative stint as president of the YCCC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As he speaks, there is a twinkle in his eyes. There is also a lot of emotion and pride. “I watch Yorkshire a lot because I was president of the club for two years and we won back-to-back championships,” he tells THE WEEK. “I come here every day and watch Yorkshire matches. I come here during Tests. I will come here every day when the Ashes match happens.” Never once while he spoke did he take his eyes off the game (Rohit Sharma was crafting his record-breaking fifth century in this World Cup). Does the umpire in him judge the action? “Oh no, I just watch it as a spectator,” he says. Bird has attended all the matches at Headingley, the home of the YCCC. “It has been a good World Cup so far,” he says. “I said England would win the World Cup before the tournament started and I do not think [the result] will be far from my prediction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His favourite cricketer of all time is Sachin Tendulkar, who played for Yorkshire aged 18. “I thought he was a genius,” he says. “The first time I saw him playing for India, I said so. He was so young, just out of school. I said he will put his name in the record books. He had so much time to play the ball.” He adds that Tendulkar took umpiring decisions in his stride. Bird is quite excited about England Test skipper Joe Root, also a Yorkshireman. “He picks the line and length quicker than anybody else,” says Bird. “I love watching him bat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the decision review system (DRS) overturns an umpiring call in the India-Sri Lanka match, the conversation turns to technology in cricket. His dislike for technological innovations in the game is well known, but he has come to grudgingly accept some of them. “Technology has taken over umpiring. So it is difficult to judge who the best umpire is,” he says. “It is a great shame. It has taken away all authority from the umpires. [But,] we have to live with it because it is here to stay.” Surely, DRS and ultra edge help when the stadium is so noisy? He smiles and responds, “Yes there is a lot of noise here, but I do not think it is as much as in Calcutta!” Bird has officiated in stadiums like Eden Gardens in the pre-DRS era and his decisions were rarely questioned. But, he believes that debates over umpiring are good for the game and that aspect has been taken away by technology. However, he does give credit to technology in deciding run-outs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bird is very proud of the fact that he never had to exchange a “cross word” with any player. “You have to earn your respect,” he says. He recounts an incident with the fiery Australian pacer Merv Hughes during an Ashes match. “Hughes was a great character,” says Bird. “He was bowling to Graeme Hick, who was playing and missing, and Hughes’s language was not very good. I told him, ‘I want you to be a good boy, stop swearing.’ He said to me, ‘Dickie Bird, you are a legend. I won’t swear again.’ The next ball, Hick played and missed, and I have never known language like that in my life!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An advocate of upholding the spirit of the game, Bird says, “Play hard, but do not go overboard.” About the Mankading debate, he says: “I think that (Mankading) is going too far. Yes, it is within the laws of the game, but I would ask the fielding captain whether he wants that dismissal. If he says yes, then I would give out.” As a former administrator, Bird is pragmatic about changes in the game and he is not willing to condemn 100-ball cricket, despite furious criticism of the impending format from purists in England. Watch it and then react, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bird suffered a stroke in 2009, but recovered fully. The bachelor was alone at home when it happened, and the experience left him shaken. Home is a 16th century cottage in Barnsley with four bedrooms, one with a garden, overlooking the Pennines mountain ranges. He has lived there for 50 years, but makes it a point not to become a recluse. The octogenarian is wealthy thanks to his massively successful book, Dickie Bird: My Autobiography, and plans to leave behind a fortune for child health care. He gets emotional while speaking about children with congenital diseases. Bird is also the proud owner of a Jaguar. Why? Because it is a British car!&nbsp;</p> Sat Jul 13 16:18:49 IST 2019 dhoni-inability-to-hit-big-shots-is-causing-concerns <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 50th over of India’s innings against Bangladesh on July 2 raised the Mahendra Singh Dhoni question yet again. Batting alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was drafted in to beef up both the bowling and the lower order after the loss to England, Dhoni declined singles off the first two balls bowled by Mustafizur Rahman. He was dismissed on the third ball. There was no final flourish like in the match against the West Indies. India finished on 314 and though the team thwarted a spirited Bangladesh chase (by 28 runs) to seal a semifinal spot, Dhoni was back under scrutiny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His insistence on keeping strike and his inability to hit the big shots caused concerns. Former India player and coach Anshuman Gaekwad, however, said that it all depends on the situation. “One must see the end result,” he told THE WEEK. “Yes, he is not the same MSD he was earlier. He takes time to start and is batting run-a-ball. But, as a coach, I want to see the end result. If it works even with a slightly slow start, it is fine.” He added that the other middle order batsmen should also deliver rather than getting out after making quick 20s and 40s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since his 52-ball 28 against Afghanistan, Dhoni has scored 56 not out off 61 balls against the West Indies, 42 not out (31 balls) against England and 35 off 33 balls against Bangladesh. (The last one batting at No 6 after Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya.) But it is no longer about the number of runs he scores in this World Cup. It is about how he gets them—assuredly, as in the past, or laboriously as at present. Against Bangladesh, every scoring shot by Dhoni was cheered by the Indian fans. Yet, during those two balls he faced in the last over, the buzz turned in to a worried murmur. “I will tell you the reason he did this,” said Gaekwad. “Bhuvneshwar will not strike the ball the way Dhoni does, even today. There must be some plan in his mind.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legions of die-hard Dhoni fans have been flummoxed and exasperated at his struggles with the bat. Consider this: After the match against Bangladesh, Dhoni’s name appeared on the list of the five slowest batsmen in the death overs (among those who had faced at least 50 balls) in this World Cup. South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada was the worst with a strike rate of 92, followed by India’s Kedar Jadhav and Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim at 102. New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham was fourth with 117.1, followed by Dhoni with 120.4.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian think tank and skipper Virat Kohli have one more match to figure out the team’s final batting order. A subdued and reluctant Dhoni has complicated matters. Pant appears to be settling down at No 4 and, combined with Pandya, is reinforcing the middle order. The team expects these two to bat deep and score big to ease pressure on Dhoni, but a failure from either of the two would put the onus back on Dhoni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohli, the world’s best batsman, is yet to get a century in the World Cup, though he continues to be super consistent, having scored four 50s so far. “If Kohli had faith in his middle and late order batsmen, he would play more freely,” said Gaekwad. “That confidence is not there.” Bangladesh’s chase against India highlights the latter’s problems. Bangladesh’s No 8, Mohammad Saifuddin, kept the team in the game with a feisty 51 not out off 38 balls. “In the modern game, you need guys coming in at No 8, 9, 10 and even 11, who can win games with the bat,” said Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes, talking about Saifuddin’s role in the batting order. “You start putting them too high, and you start having problems in your No 8, 9, 10 and 11 positions. I think he (Saifuddin) is a terrific No 8. He is Bangladesh’s No 8. If he goes in at No 8, we are in a good position. We also need No 9, 10, and 11 to score runs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the loss to England, the Indian team management defended Dhoni. Kohli described his approach as “calculated”, amid the barrage of criticism. His deputy, Rohit Sharma, though conceded that to chase target set by England the team “needed somebody like Ben Stokes”. That Dhoni cannot now do a Stokes is glaringly obvious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nobody gets younger,” said Gaekwad. “Naturally, reflexes slow down. It affects your batting.” He added that this was also the reason for Dhoni’s struggles against spinners. “It is not that he does not have the technique to play spin, but he is [not] judging the ball early like he used to,” said Gaekwad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India assistant coach Sanjay Bangar wondered why the ‘intent’ question kept coming up especially when “MS was striking the ball really well”. Bangar said that Dhoni had good intent against England. “It is just that the English bowlers stuck to their task really well—they used the angles and the large boundaries to their advantage,” said Bangar. “I did not really find anything wrong in MS’s innings. He was batting beautifully. He struck a few big blows. It is just that in the last four to five overs the difference between runs required and balls left just kept creeping up. Except for the odd innings, he [Dhoni] has performed the role.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Who would have liked to play the way they (Dhoni and Jadhav) played [against England]?” asked Gaekwad. “There was something more to it. Maybe, the net run rate was on their mind,” said Gaekwad. Jadhav was axed for the very next match, but though Dhoni was pushed down the order, he would never be left out. His experience, game sense and wicketkeeping are the obvious reasons. The sense of calm he brings in crunch situations is another one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaekwad does not consider Dhoni a liability. “Dhoni would not let the team down. This much I can say,” he said. “He stepped down from the Test team. If he feels he is not doing fine, he will step down himself. If he was a liability to the team at this stage, I am sure Ravi Shastri and Kohli would decide, but I do not think that is the case.” Gaekwad reiterated that everyone has to deliver. “K.L. Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant. They have to cash in on the starts they get,” he said. “Even Rahul got 70-plus against Bangladesh and got out. I am sorry, but you are a set batsman and you have to make it big for the team. They have to be more responsible. Two to three players will not win you the World Cup.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi said the team has to live with whatever Dhoni is worth now, at the fag end of his career. “He is no a spring chicken any more, others have to take the responsibility,” Bedi told THE WEEK. “They have to protect and honour his seniority. They must shield him. People before him must ensure that responsibility of finishing the match does not fall solely on him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 7, Dhoni will turn 38. On his birthday, he would be preparing for the impending semifinal. There will be no room for error for Team India. More so for Dhoni, in what seems likely to be his swan song.</p> Sat Jul 06 11:39:02 IST 2019 a-true-blue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CHARULATA PATEL</b> was happy but tired by the time she was through with watching the game between India and Bangladesh at Edgbaston. The 87-year-old London resident had arrived an ordinary fan but was returning a celebrity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patel was with her granddaughter Anjali in the stands when the official broadcaster caught her on camera blowing a trumpet after a Rohit Sharma boundary. And, a star was born. A team was dispatched from the broadcasters’ room to locate Patel and the ICC and BCCI digital teams made a beeline for her. “I am over the moon. I have never experienced such a thing before,” said the die-hard cricket fan from her London residence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I got the tickets after a lot of difficulty. I did not have a wheelchair ticket and I had to sit in the common stand. But I am thankful to the authorities who provided me with a wheelchair and was given a proper seat later on,” she said. Patel was born to Indian parents in Tanzania and used to follow the sport since her time in Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The octogenarian has seen some of Indian cricket’s finest moments in England. She proudly revealed that she had seen the ‘Kapil’s Devils’ in action in the 1983 World Cup. She even watched India’s match against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells, where Kapil Dev scored a historic 175.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patel says she tries her best to catch games at the grounds. If not, she is glued to her TV. “I took a Sky subscription just for cricket. I am so crazy for this sport that even if I do not get my food, I am fine with it. I just love cricket. People would often give me cricketers’ photographs and newspaper clippings. Some would give me India caps,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her trip to Birmingham has ended up giving her much more. At the end of the game, she was taken to meet the Indian team. She blessed both Virat Kohli and his deputy, Rohit Sharma. “I blessed him (Kohli) and told him to win the World Cup. They then took me to meet the entire team. Rohit touched my feet and took my blessings,” she said.</p> Fri Jul 05 13:01:00 IST 2019 happy-to-see-fast-bowlers-come-back-into-the-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SIR CURTLY ELCONN LYNWALL AMBROSE,</b> arguably the greatest bowler of his generation, was a man of few words during his playing days. The man who once told a journalist “Curtly talks to no one”, is now in England as a radio commentator for BBC. The 1992 Wisden Cricketer of the Year was bowling consultant to the West Indies for three years, until he was replaced just ahead of the World Cup. Though disappointed, Ambrose, typically, chose not to be vocal about it. He spoke to THE WEEK during the India-West Indies match. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Fast bowlers have been grabbing headlines in this World Cup—Mohammad Amir, Mitchell Starc, Jasprit Bumrah.... Your thoughts on the talent on display.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I like Bumrah. He is one of best bowlers in the world. He has a very straight action. He is totally different from any other bowler I have seen. He basically walks up to the crease and takes a couple of steps, but generates great pace. I am quite happy to see that all the teams have a couple of good fast bowlers. There was a point when spinners were dominating. I am quite happy to see fast bowlers come back into the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you surprised that the wickets have not been totally flat?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Before the World Cup started, I thought it was going to be high scoring. But it is not so. I am quite happy that it is a bit of an even contest between bat and ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is it because conditions changed midway through the tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The surfaces are a little helpful to the bowlers, which is important. In recent years, groundsmen have tended to prepare flatter surfaces and shorter boundaries. Now that surfaces are a little helpful to bowlers, it makes scoring tougher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the use of two new balls. It has affected swing and reverse swing is barely visible.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I like two new balls. Sometimes the ball gets worn out a lot and there is nothing for the bowlers. It is true that there has been less reverse swing, and only the occasional swing. But, look at the scores! It shows that bowlers doing quite well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the West Indies bowling unit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They showed great discipline against India. In the initial games, they bowled too short, too often. There is nothing wrong in bowling short, but I thought it did not really work. And they failed to change, especially against Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Jason Holder was the standout bowler against India. Comments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/He has the ability to contain batsmen. Early on he too, was caught up in this short ball stuff. That is not his style. He should bowl decent line and length that can contain batsmen. Against India, he showed that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the future of West Indies cricket promising?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes. They have a bunch of young guys. The future is looking bright as long as they do not chop and change, which they tend to do. If there is continuity, you will see a resurgence in West Indies cricket.</p> Fri Jul 05 12:58:01 IST 2019 world-cup-lack-of-depth-in-india-batting-is-worrisome <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has not gone Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s way. His underwhelming batting performance against Afghanistan on June 22 and the controversy about his wicketkeeping gloves have put the former India captain in the spotlight. In that match at the Hampshire Bowl, Southampton, Dhoni walked in to a round of applause. But the capacity crowd soon went quiet. It watched with growing unease as India’s one-time finisher par excellence struggled at the crease. Seventy five minutes later, he walked back amid boos, with 28 off 52 balls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leg spinner Rashid Khan was yet to rediscover his line and length after the drubbing he got in Afghanistan’s match against England. He bowled short to Dhoni, but the latter could only manage some shots straight to the cover fielder. The outcome was 11 dots in 13 deliveries. At the other end, the pressure on his partner Kedar Jadhav kept mounting. Dhoni eventually fell to Khan’s bowling, in a futile bid to up the ante. His dot ball percentage—63 per cent—was very high by ODI standards. Not much materialised after Dhoni’s dismissal and India ended their innings at 224 for 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few hours after the disappointing batting performance, Dhoni was back in his element, advising bowlers and, at one time, setting fields. He even told India captain Virat Kohli where to stand when death bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were working their magic. During training and off the field, Dhoni is still the boss. “Mahi Bhai” commands respect, gives inputs to the junior players, observes and goes about his routine. Though his experience and reading of the game leaves very little space for coaches to guide Dhoni, India bowling coach Bharat Arun said there was a constant dialogue between all batsmen and the coaches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite India’s impressive run at the World Cup, whispers about the decline in Dhoni’s batting prowess have become louder, as have concerns over the lack of fire power in India’s middle order. The biggest criticism of Dhoni’s Southampton innings came from none other than Sachin Tendulkar. In his post match analysis for a news channel, Tendulkar said that Dhoni, as a senior player, should show more intent. “M.S. Dhoni has the ability to hit, but his strike rotation was not good,” he said. “He faced too many dot balls and this hampered a strong finish for India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India may have won the low-scoring match against Afghanistan, but the issues with its middle order were exposed. On a slow, sluggish wicket, the only batsman who looked at ease was Kohli. At the start of the World Cup, Kohli had declared that K.L. Rahul would be India’s No 4. But, opener Shikhar Dhawan’s injury saw Rahul being asked to revert to his original role as opener. All-rounder Vijay Shankar, who came in at No 4 against Afghanistan, got a start but perished after scoring 29 from 41 balls. The explosive Hardik Pandya, who came in at No 7 in the 45th over, was dismissed soon while trying to accelerate the run rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tendulkar flagged these concerns, too: “There were not enough outings for the middle order batsmen till now and that put pressure on them.” Shankar is more of a floater in the India team, and he is well aware of that role. Not an easy task for the all-rounder, with conditions asking questions of batsmen in this World Cup. “I have to be flexible in my role,” said Shankar. “I feel it is very important as a cricketer to be able to adapt quickly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadhav said he was sent at No 6 to get some more ball time. To his chagrin, he found out that the pitch had already slowed and afforded turn to Afghanistan’s four-pronged spin attack. “I have said in the past that I tried to learn a lot from how Dhoni bats,” Jadhav said after the match. “When I went into bat, I felt like the wicket is not so flat that you can play your shots. The ball was not coming on to the bat that easily. We had to take our time. They had two to three quality spinners, so that does not help when the wicket is slow and you are trying to hit the ball.” Jadhav, who scored a gritty 52 off 68 balls, said they were planning to get around 250 or 260. “I think we can definitely improve, but I don’t see any other team having three to four quality spinners,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar is currently in Manchester touring with his Dilip Vensarkar Academy team. For him the main issue is not Dhoni, but the vexed No 4 spot. The former chairman of selectors told THE WEEK that “a pure batsman is needed in the position”. Teams like England, Australia and Bangladesh have comparatively better middle orders, courtesy of an assured No 4. England have captain Eoin Morgan (followed by Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler at No 5 and No 6). Australia’s No 4 is Steve Smith, Bangladesh have Mushfiqur Rahim and New Zealand have Ross Taylor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India player Dilip Doshi said that he did not have much confidence in the middle order. “In an ideal team, Dhoni should come at No 6 and Pandya at No 7,” he said. “Someone like Ravindra Jadeja needs to be utilised.” Doshi, too, is not worried about Dhoni’s batting. “He is a superb team player; he would never put self before team,” said Doshi. “I am sure he will produce a winner soon. He is aware that there is no big batsman to follow him. Pandya is still learning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Rahul’s promotion up the order, the India team management will have to consider whether it wants to push Dhoni further up the order. Shankar looks keen to grab every opportunity that comes his way. Though India’s campaign is entering a crucial phase, there is still some time to give the benchwarmers a chance. Three of those sitting out are middle order options: Dinesh Karthik, Jadeja and Rishabh Pant. It will be interesting to see what the management and the captain choose to do.</p> Sat Jun 29 14:38:26 IST 2019 shakib-al-hasan-master-of-all-trades <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During this year’s Indian Premier League season, Shakib Al Hasan found himself warming the benches more often than not. The all-rounder featured in only three matches for his team, Sunrisers Hyderabad. But he did not sit around moping. The Bangladesh Test and Twenty20 International captain got his mentor Mohammad Salahuddin to come and work with him. The agenda was to work on his all-round skills, ahead of the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two months later, lighter by almost 6kg, Shakib is in the limelight on cricket’s biggest stage. His displays for Bangladesh in England have lit up the World Cup, as he rewrites records. Established top batsmen are all among runs this time, but Shakib, 32, has grabbed eyeballs with his all-round heroics. He has become the first player ever to score 400 runs and take 10 wickets in a single edition of the World Cup. In six games so far, he has scored two centuries (against West Indies and England) and three half centuries (against Afghanistan, New Zealand and South Africa). Wielding his magic with both bat and ball once again against Afghanistan at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, he was outstanding—scoring 51 and then ending the Afghan resistance with bowling figures of 29 for 5. He has become the first Bangladesh player to cross 1,000 runs in the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Bangladesh left arm spinner Abdur Razzak wrote in his ICC column: “He is in very good touch with his bowling, and his batting has been brilliant at this ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. In fact, I have never seen him play like this—the consistency he is showing is incredible. I have played with him many times over the years, but this is the best form of his career.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A delighted Sunil Joshi, Bangladesh’s spin bowling coach, calls him a legend. “It is a source of great pride that we have a player like that in the Bangladesh side. He is Mr Consistent for us—be it with the bat, the ball or in the field,” said Joshi. “He has really focused on his fitness. You can see how that has paid off with his running between the wickets, you can see the hunger in his cricket. His presence is really helping us to take our whole game forward.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Simply put, he is the finest that Bangladesh cricket has produced in its two-decade-old international cricket history. He is the fulcrum around which the Tigers have rallied in their thrilling World Cup campaign so far, and has been a member of the Fab Five of the team along with Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shakib hails from an educated middle-class family from Magura, a district 160km from Dhaka. His father was a bank employee, and mother a homemaker. He was sent to Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan, a government-run sports institute-cum-boarding school, where his talent was honed and polished. From there on, it was a steady progression to the Bangladesh senior side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently ranked as the world’s best ODI all-rounder, Shakib’s journey with the Tigers started in 2006. He was part of the team that ousted India from the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. He was made the Bangladesh Test and ODI captain at the age of 22. His talent and form remained unaffected. He led Bangladesh to its first overseas Test victory, against West Indies in 2009.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi, who is based in England, told THE WEEK that Shakib’s bowling in this tournament is all about utilising his experience. “Whatever I have seen of him in the IPL and in England so far, Shakib is a very accurate bowler who changes his pace very well,” said Doshi. “His main strength is not turning the ball so much. His action does not allow that. But on a spin-friendly attack, he bowls cleverly, using change of pace effectively.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His successful outings in this World Cup have come at No 3. He had to wait a long time to be able to bat at the spot he wanted, having turned out at No 5 until recently. It was only in November 2017, at the end of previous coach Chandika Hathurusingha’s tenure, that the Bangladesh team management and selectors acceded to his wish. Hathurusingha’s contention reportedly was that he was not batting in that position for his then IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. In fact, his usual batting position in T20Is has been at No 3 since 2012.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During Hathurusingha’s term, Shakib was plagued by off-field issues. In June 2014, he was fined for making lewd gestures at the camera from the dressing room during an ODI match in Sri Lanka. Then came a six-month suspension by the Bangladesh Cricket Board for misbehaving with Hathurusingha. But these are isolated incidents, and Shakib does not carry a “bad boy” reputation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is his fourth World Cup, and one in which he is determined to make his mark. However, he shrugged off his individual performance after the Afghanistan match. “I do not rank my performance at all, but it is very satisfying when I am contributing with both ball and bat, rather than in just one sector,” he said. “It was needed and important from my perspective and the team’s. Luckily, I have been doing this, I am very happy with the way the tournament is going, but there are still two very important matches. India are the top side, [they are] looking at the title. It is not going to be easy, but we will give it our best shot.”</p> Sat Jun 29 14:39:11 IST 2019 lord-Cricket-ground-and-the-mystique-surrounding-it <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You can carry a picnic basket, a bottle of wine, or two cans of beer or two cans of premixed aperitifs. Welcome to Lord’s— the only international cricket ground in the world where spectators can bring their own alcohol. Also, it is the home of cricket. The keeper of rules, laws and the spirit of cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such is the aura of Lord’s that players—past and present—have failed to remain unaffected by its history and tradition. It is not the wicket or the conditions. It is simply the occasion. You have the Wimbledon, the Royal Ascot, British Open golf and a Lord’s Test match—a must on the social calendar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lord’s Honours Board in the pavilion, which celebrates players who have scored a century there, is where each cricketer wants his or her name to be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar Sangakarra, former Sri Lanka captain, is president designate of the Marylebone Cricket Club—the owner of Lord’s ground and guardians of the laws and spirit of cricket. On, Sangakarra explains why Lord’s is so special for every cricketer. “2002 was the year that I made my debut here. I remember being hosted for lunch and just the experience of the place, feeling the sense of history, was unbelievable. I think the importance of getting a hundred at Lord’s increased over time for me. I scored 10 and six not out during my first knocks here. I missed out on getting a hundred and the significance of Lord’s was always in the back of my mind. My last Test here was in 2014, and for me, it was always going to be my final series in England for Sri Lanka…. I remember walking down the stairs in the pavilion, just thinking, ‘Don’t get out first ball’. I was worried about that…. It was a huge sigh of relief when I was able to get my hundred. As soon as I hit the ball, I knew it was going for four. To celebrate that with my friend [Mahela Jayawardene] was special. He knew how much I wanted that century—he had done it twice at Lord’s. I wanted to be a part of it and now my dreams had come true.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar views are echoed by Ali Bacher, another illustrious MCC member. He is 77, but remembers most vividly why Lord’s is special to him. “I toured England in 1965,” he said. “My first Test match was at Lord’s. Normally I had a pretty calm temperament. That day we won the toss and chose to bat first. I was a bundle of nerves when I walked into bat. I batted at number six. I was so nervous I was in a daze. It’s the history, the occasion that can never be forgotten.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The location of Lord’s Cricket Ground has changed thrice. The first match was on May 31, 1787, when businessman Thomas Lord staged a game between Middlesex and Essex Dorset Fields. Later, Lord’s relocated to North Bank. In 1814, due to a Parliament decree, Lord had to establish a new ground on the Eyre Estate in St Johns Wood. Come July 14, it will host its fifth men’s cricket World Cup final. The previous ones were in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1999.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said MCC Chief Executive and Secretary Guy Lavender to THE WEEK, “With 2019 set to be one of the most remarkable years in the history of Lord’s, this summer the ground will become the backdrop for eagerly awaited matches from around the globe. Over 1.5 billion people are expected to tune in to watch the final. This tournament is a major highlight in the cricketing calendar, but there will be plenty more to come at Lord’s. We look forward to welcoming Ireland for a historic Test match at the end of July and, of course, there is the Australia Test match [Ashes series] to look forward to in August.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>St Johns Wood, in itself, has become more than just the location or tube station, courtesy Lord’s. Sachin Tendulkar, a member of the MCC, has a house near Lord’s; former BCCI president, the late Raj Singh Dungarpur, too, had one in the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Kumble, former India captain, is also a member of the MCC. “Attention to detail and keeping the tradition alive is what makes Lord’s so special,” Kumble said. “Just walking around the ground and inside the main building, displaying various events, performances and also displaying them in a way that appeals to cricket lovers across the globe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lord’s and MCC have perfected the art of hosting a match. Stewards in green jackets gently guide you to your seats. The picnic basket you carry can be taken to the garden at the back of the Warner Stand—just spread out the sheet and settle down if the sun is out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the home of cricket is often associated with Test Matches, ODIs and county matches, it also hosts a broad selection of other matches every year. The Eton vs Harrow is one of the longest-running sporting fixtures in the world and the oldest continually played match at Lord’s, dating back to 1805. Oxford vs Cambridge was first played at Lord’s in 1827, two years before the first boat race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lord’s is also home to the MCC Museum, one of the oldest sporting museums in the world. It has 3,000 pictures, glass and ceramic ware, paintings and portraits recording evolution of cricket from the 18th century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, perhaps, Lord’s and MCC’s biggest influence is spread beyond just the ground via The Blue Book or the MCC Laws of Cricket manual. The MCC, as the custodian of the laws that govern the sport, write out and interpret laws which are applicable to everything from a village or club game to international matches. Through its World Cricket Committee, it debates on issues related to the game and sends recommendations from time to time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lord’s is 205 years old and the pavilion, 129</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Until 1999, no woman other than the Queen was allowed inside the pavilion</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Novelist Sir Jeffrey Archer was the first to have his membership suspended for seven years by the MCC, after he was convicted in 2001</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The only cricketer to have hit a ball over the pavilion is Albert Trott in 1899</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The original Ashes urn (from 1882) is housed in the Lord’s museum</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lord’s operates on 100% renewable (wind) energy</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The south end of the ground is about 2.5m lower than the north end, and this causes deviation when bowling</b></p> Fri Jun 28 12:36:43 IST 2019 beating-the-rain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> This world cup has had the most number of abandoned matches. A look at how rain affects cricket and how it is managed Sat Jun 22 18:13:37 IST 2019