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CLOSE-IN: India’s dual cricket captaincy policy could be a cultural Issue

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The appointment of Rohit Sharma as the limited-overs cricket captain and Virat Kohli for Test matches is an interesting concept being finally adopted by India. England and Australia have been able to do so quite successfully. However, their culture and way of living are quite different from the Indian way of thinking and behavior pattern.

India has historically been a country where one respects and follows a ruler or a leader. The joint-family tradition maybe dwindling gradually, but, the head of the family is still the autocratic and authoritative head as far as religious and other functions are concerned.

The famous words “we are like this only” is particularly apt for the Indians. India has thrived under great leaders in every sphere of its existence. The issues that have over centuries been created and been unsuccessful have only cropped up when a powerful leader was missing. India may be the largest democracy in the world, but one has seen progress only when it is led by a strong and vibrant leader.

Indian cricket has also gone in a similar vein as regards the captaincy. The pre-Independence and the decade after did not have an established captain. The 60s was when Nawab Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi was given the reins that India finally had a powerful leader at the helm.

He led India for over a decade and because of it, he could establish systems, strategies as well as identify skilled players to form a constructive Indian unit. He always said that getting an Indian team together and making them focused and mentally prepared was his biggest challenge.

The variables that India faces due to diversity of religions, customs, languages, social status and innumerable other cultural differences makes an Indian cricket side a difficult side to blend together. In the last two decades, Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, from two diverse cultural upbringings did manage to break this barrier to a certain extent.

The Zonal divide and cultural differences that had crept into Indian cricket were fortunately buried under these two powerful captains. Both of them were strong individuals who managed this transformation because they could get the support from their fellow cricketers and the management as well.

This reminds me of a famous discussion at a TCS event between the now head of the Tata Empire, N. Chandrasekaran and Rahul Dravid. Chandra, as he is popularly called, asked Dravid as to how he managed to effectively lead an Indian side with players from different parts of India and as to how he managed to communicate with them.

The astute Dravid had a ready reply and said, “Chandra, I just have to look after 11 cricketers on the field, but you have 350,000 people working at TCS and therefore, I should be asking you as how you do it.” Here were two individuals respected, proven and accomplished leaders in their field and they showed that they were still uncertain about tackling major diversity issues that still haunt India.

This brings one back to the present situation of the Indian side being led by two individuals in the two different formats of the game. In the recent past, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble did relinquish their captaincy but they did so entirely and played all the formats as players. They became the mentors and wisdom bearers of the side and ones whom colleagues could interact with freely and honestly.

Cricket played in any format is a team game. A leader or a captain has his likes and dislikes. This is inevitable in all walks of life. In India, to have two leaders will always have that element of doubt in the minds of the players. This may lead to two distinct camps of pros and cons regarding Rohit and Virat. Nearly 80 per cent of the side is players who play both the formats of the game and so the loyalty factor will come very strongly into force.

Both Rohit and Virat have different personalities and the way they perceive leading the team. This is where a strong leader normally establishes his thought process and approach towards the game. How this will turn out in the long run for Indian cricket is a million-dollar question.

Virat Kohli’s stepping down from captaining the T20 team was to enable him to concentrate better as a leader in the One-day internationals as well as in Test matches. Being eased out of captaining the ODIs, one felt, was not in his itinerary, especially, with the World Cup coming up in 2023.

Although Kohli relishes and is the biggest promoter of Test cricket, the long-drawn format is not one with the glamorous quotient attached to it. He may gradually fade away as a leader in the eyes of the millions of Indian cricket followers and lose the aggressive and assertive nature one identifies him with.

The bio-secure bubble that has been enforced due to the Covid Omicron virus threat for teams to be confined in, may not be the ideal solution for the captaincy changes of the Indian side.

Rahul Dravid, the Indian coach, has a very tricky and important task on hand. One hopes he did finally get the correct solution and reply as to how to marry the many diverse and cultural issues that may arise from the successful Tata leader, N.Chandrasekaran.
This, one feels, only time will tell.

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Focused on white-ball cricket; Test return not on mind: Jos Buttler

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England’s new limited-overs skipper Jos Buttler has said he is currently focused on white-ball cricket, adding that returning to the Test setup was not on his mind.

Buttler was recently made captain of the England white-ball side after long-serving skipper Eoin Morgan quit international cricket. Several former cricketers have been rally for Buttler to be included as Test opener in the Ben Stokes-led side even as he continues to lead in limited-overs cricket.

But Buttler, whose performance in the IPL 2022 season for Rajasthan Royals and the ODI series against the Netherlands has been simply outstanding, has told Daily Mail that “Stokes’ men don’t need him as they are playing fantastically well”.

“I’m very focused on the white-ball stuff and really excited for the challenge that lies ahead. I think it’s going to be a really big challenge and one that needs my full-time,” Buttler was quoted as saying in the report.

England’s two big limited-overs assignments will come in the form of the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia this year and the 50-over World Cup in India next year. England, under Eoin Morgan, had defeated New Zealand in 2019 to lift the 50-over trophy at home.

Buttler also spoke about his axing following the Ashes debacle where he was not considered for the three-Test away series in the Caribbean under then Test captain Joe Root.

“Rightfully so. I had a poor Ashes series, I’m not part of the team at the moment, and the team is playing fantastically well, so it doesn’t look like a team that needs people from outside,” said Buttler, adding he had made white-ball cricket his top priority right now.

“Certainly, being captain of the white-ball team is my number one priority. Talking about the Test stuff might be a question that never has to be answered unless someone wants to pick me for the team — which hasn’t been the case.”

Buttler also said it was a huge honour to be leading the side which had set new benchmarks under Morgan.

“They’re (Morgan) big shoes to fill, aren’t they? But the team is in a great place isn’t it, and I see the game in a very similar way to Eoin. I want us to play in exactly the same way. One big thing that we always talk about as a group is not setting boundaries, not having limitations, always being keen to improve, always pushing the bar higher and that’s the thing to try and work on. Where are those areas that we can improve? What can we keep doing? But I hope that the style of play remains exactly the same.”

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ENG v IND, 5th Test: Pant’s marvellous 146, Jadeja’s unbeaten 83 propel Ind’a to 338/7

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Rishabh-Pant

Rishabh Pant played one of the best knocks by an Indian Test batter in overseas conditions, a marvellous 146, as he and Ravindra Jadeja (83 not out) figured in a magnificent counterattack to propel India to 338/7 in 73 overs on day one of rescheduled fifth Test against England at Edgbaston on Friday.

At 98/5, India were in all sorts of trouble, staring at a total that would have been way less than what they expected. But Pant and Jadeja shared a counter-attacking stand of 222 runs off 239 balls, with Pant producing a knock that will be remembered for long while Jadeja played the second foil to perfection.

England were stunned, bereft of ideas as Pant was spot-on with his targets to attack and then dominate a tiring bowling unit. Just like how the New Zealand pair of Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell frustrated England in the recent series, Pant and Jadeja did the same in a brilliant rear-guard act. Such was the impact of Pant’s 146, his fifth ton in Test cricket, that head coach Rahul Dravid co’ldn’t stop himself from erupting in joy with hands aloft in the dressing room.

His knock had everything one would expect in a typical Pant knock: timing, calculated control, judicious shot selection, drives, pulls, flicks and one-handed heave, falling over but managing to clear the fence. He capitalised on the over-pitched deliveries, toyed with Leach’s line and length and didn’t play a shot in anger or in a sudden rush of blood.

Friday at Edgbaston was a mix of gloom and shine in terms of the weather. When it was gloomy, England made hay but when the sun came out, Pant and Jadeja basked in scintillating stroke play to put India on top. Electing to bowl first, England got very little movement as they found only 0.61 degrees of average swing in the first ten overs.

But that was of little value as Shubman Gill, who hit four attractive boundaries, looked a little tentative to balls outside the off-stump, edging a couple of them which didn’t carry to the slip cordon. James Anderson’s persistence bore fruit when he got rid of Gill with a ball the batter should have left on line and length, but poked at it and nicked to second slip.

Anderson struck again when his fuller ball swung late and had some extra bounce, which took the shoulder edge of Cheteshwar Pujara’s bat to second slip. After a rain delay of nearly one-and-a-half hours, Hanuma Vihari, who called this venue home when playing for Warwickshire last year in County Championship, was trapped lbw by a full nip-backer from Potts.

Virat Kohli tried to leave after playing forward defence against Potta. But he was late in withdrawing the bat, which resulted in him chopping onto his stumps off the bottom edge. Shreyas Iyer was aggressive in his start, taking three boundaries, but he gloved a short ball off Anderson to leg-side and wicketkeeper Sam Billings dived to his left, completing a stunning one-handed catch.

England were on top at that juncture. But there was very little idea that despite losing half of the side even before touching the 100-run mark, India would end day one on top, thanks to Pant and Jadeja. The duo began the revival job by keeping the scoreboard ticking through strike rotation and some exquisite shots. As Anderson and Broad went fuller in their lengths, boundaries came in. Jadeja slammed two glorious on-drives and an eye-catchy off-drive, presenting the full face of the bat while Pant brought out a punchy drive through cover.

With the Dukes’ ball going soft after 30 overs and with a ball change in between, the path to fightback opened for India when Jack Leach’s re-introduction in the 37th over got Pant to step out and drive through long-off for a boundary. Leach dropped it short on the very next ball and Pant rocked back to pull for another boundary.

Pant brought up the half-century of his association with Jadeja by dancing down the pitch to slam a six down the ground. Six overs and a boundary later, Pant reached his fifty in 51 balls off Leach with a sublime whip coming off the backfoot to beat deep square leg easily to seal the second session in India’s favour.

The duo began the final session by hitting four boundaries in the first three overs. The pick of those boundaries was Pant collecting a pair of back-foot punches through point off Potts. When Potts tried to trouble Pant with short-pitched stuff, he got in line of the ball and pulled comfortably through fine leg successive’y. Anderson and Leach’s thrashing continued as Pant got his century after diving for the second run off Broad. In the same over, Jadeja pushed to mid-on for a single, reaching to his fifty.

After getting his century, Pant smacked Leach for two fours, one of which was an overthrow, and as many sixes, one of them his trademark one-handed stroke. Even Joe Root’s part-time off-spin wasn’t spared by Pant, carved over extra cover and a fast bouncer swivelled over fine leg for boundaries.

After Jadeja pulled Stokes through sq’are leg to bring up India’s 300, Pant went for a big slog-sweep after smacking Root down the ground. But with Root firing a slower, wide delivery, the ball took the edge to the lone slip fielder. Stokes had another wicket when he bounced out Shardul Thakur. But Jadeja ensure’ that another wicket didn’t fall till stumps arrived, to make day one truly India’s day.

Brief scores: India 338/7 in 73 overs (Rishabh Pant 146, Ravindra Jadeja 83 not out; James Anderson 3/52, Matthew Potts 2/85) against England

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1st ODI: Deepti Sharma’s all-round heroics gives India 1-0 lead against Sri Lanka

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The all-round performance of Deepti Sharma and a valuable contribution with the bat by captain Harmanpreet Kaur (44 off 63 balls) helped India beat Sri Lanka by four wickets in the opening ODI of the three-match series here on Friday.

Deepti Sharma first produced a brilliant bowling display, taking three wickets by giving away only 25 runs in 8.2 overs before guiding India to a comprehensive victory with the bat (22 not out) in a low-scoring match.

Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to bat in the first ODI in Pallekele. It was the beginning of a new era for India — one without the great Mithali Raj in the team — with Harmanpreet Kaur beginning her innings as India’s full-time ODI captain.

Renuka Singh was welcomed into the attack by Hasini Perera but the Indian pacer came back strongly in the next over, removing the dangerous Chamari Athapaththu in the third over of the innings.

The introduction of spin early worked immediately as Hansima Karunaratne, trying to get off the mark with a big one, charged Deepti Sharma and was out caught at mid-off for an 11-ball duck.

Despite losing two wickets inside the Powerplay, Sri Lanka maintained a decent scoring rate, thanks to Perera. Her patient 34-run stand with Harshitha Madavi settled the early jitters before Deepti worked her magic again and trapped Perera in front of the stumps for 37.

Skipper Harmanpreet struck in the next over to send Kavisha Dilhari packing. Sri Lanka were soon in a whole lot of trouble when they lost their set batter Madavi and had half the side back in the hut for 84.

Sri Lanka were in danger of being bowled out before a fighting innings of 43 from Nilakshi de Silva bailed them out of trouble. Anushka Sanjeewani and Inoka Ranaweera made valuable double-digit contributions to take Sri Lanka’s total to 171.

Renuka Singh and Deepti Sharma were the pick of the bowlers with three wickets each and were well supported by the rest of the pack.

Chasing the below-par total, India too lost two wickets inside the Powerplay — Oshadi Ranasinghe scalped Smriti Mandhana and Yastika Bhatia in consecutive overs to put some early pressure on India.

Captain Harmanpreet Kaur walked out on the fall of the second wicket and together with Shafali Verma ensured Sri Lanka didn’t inflict any more damage in the first 10 overs.

The partnership was starting to look dangerous when Shafali was out stumped trying to charge Inoka Ranaweera.

Playing her first ODI since 2019, there would have been some butterflies when Harleen Deol walked out to bat in a precarious position. Deol, though, put the pressure right back on Sri Lanka by hammering two boundaries in quick succession.

Harmanpreet too got in on the act but Ranaweera struck again to send the skipper back six runs short of a fifty. The slow left-arm orthodox picked up two more wickets in the next two overs, including that of Deol.

Still, 34 runs away from a win, a wicket or two could have put massive pressure on India. But Deepti Sharma and Pooja Vastakar batted sensibly to take India close to victory before the former finished the game off with two sixes to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Brief scores: India Women 176 for 6 (Harmanpreet 44, Shafali 35, Deol 34, Ranaweera 4-39) beat Sri Lanka Women 171 (Nilakshi 43, Hasini 37, Deepti 3-25, Renuka 3-29) by four wickets.

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