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Current team is probably best-ever Indian team, as good as 1983-1986 team: Sunil Gavaskar

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Sunil-Gavaskar

Fifty summers ago, when India under Ajit Wadekar’s stewardship landed in England and won their first Test series against the Old Enemy as it were, young guns Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Eknath Solkar, Ashok Mankad and Abid Ali were at the vanguard of Vijay Merchant’s change agent experiment.

England under Ray Illingworth had a finely-balanced team, which had vanquished Australia 2-0 to win the Ashes Down Under. India were certainly not expected to win against an all-conquering English side with a fast bowling attack led by John Snow, who had blitzed OZ with 31 wickets. Geoff Boycott and John Edrich scored heavily for England.

Yet, India, after drawing the first two Tests, went on to win using Bhagwat Chandrasekhar’s fast googlies at the Oval. Skipper Wadekar himself along with Gavaskar scored most of the runs in that series. To relive some of those memories, Sandeep Bamzai spoke to India’s greatest Test batsman SMG or Sunny Gavaskar, who now wears a commentator’s hat.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Memories of the 1971 tour with a majority of the players being young like yourself, and your first exposure to an English summer and the characters on that tour like ‘Kaka’ (Ashok Mankad) etc…

A: My first tour to England was 50 years back and we were just coming after beating the West Indies, so we were a pretty confident bunch. It was a great blend of youth and experience and it was a fun tour. Because there were plenty of matches against the County teams, we got to see pretty much the whole of England and some tourist places like the St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Zoo, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and much else. Being on a tight budget of one pound a day, we couldn’t enjoy the fine dining experience but had to be content with the fast-food outlets.

Q: You have often said that your best Test innings remains the fifty in adverse conditions against English seamers. Describe the conditions and the face-off with John Snow as well on that tour…

A: Yes, that half-century is my best effort in Test cricket. We played on a green wicket for the first time. We couldn’t distinguish the pitch from the rest of the outfield from our changing room on the upper floor. The overcast conditions meant that the grass didn’t dry out and in the slight drizzle, the umpires didn’t take players off the field. The light rain was freshening up the pitch and the ball was swinging and bouncing too. That’s why it’s my best innings in Test cricket.

Q: A hitherto unknown aspect of that tour, something that struck you about the dogged English team or the backdrop of the English system?

A: What struck me most was how biased the umpiring was. We had heard stories of the English umpires being the best, but what we saw in the three Test matches was umpiring calls that always went in favour of the home team. Having said that, when we played against the County sides, the English umpires, who were all former first class players, were very good and most encouraging if you went to them for any advice after the day’s play. You could learn so much from them.

Q: Why did it go so wrong on the following tour of 1974 when we got hammered?

A: In 1974, we played in the first half of the English summer when the pitches and the bowlers were fresh and so our batting couldn’t contribute much, while our spinners struggled to grip the ball in the cold conditions.

Q: What do you think of the current team and its chances in the ongoing five Test series against England?

A: This current team is probably the best ever in the history of Indian cricket. Only the teams from 1983 to 1986 had a similar kind of depth and balance. This team though is better because they have beaten Australia in their own conditions recently and have more game changers with both bat and ball.

If the sun is out, they should win the series easily and if there are some overcast days, then too they should win but may lose the odd Test.

Q: What did we do wrong in the WTC final — to play no seam bowler, to play two spinners and get the team composition wrong in overcast conditions?

A: The conditions during the WTC final were what New Zealand are used to playing in their country, so they adapted quicker than the Indians. At the end, there was very little to choose between the two teams.

Q: Why can’t Indian batsmen play the moving ball on English wickets? What are the issues that the batsmen face?

A: It’s not easy for anybody to play the seaming ball in England, even for the English batsmen. So one can’t fault the Indian batsmen. Playing closer to the body and playing the ball as late as possible will certainly make a difference to their scores.

Q: This team can pick up the pieces very quickly as it showed in Australia, but England is tricky. We haven’t won since 2007 and our record has generally been very poor barring 1986 when we won impressively with a seam/swing heavy bowling attack…

A: England are without three of their impact players in Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes and their batting, apart from skipper Joe Root, looks brittle. So India has a great chance to turn the tables and win this time around.

Q: What kind of team composition would you advise?

A: Team composition is invariably dependent on pitch and weather conditions, especially in England. So it’s hard to say what the playing XI should be. With Rishabh Pant batting with so much flair and confidence, the option to go with an extra seamer or a spinner is available to the team management.

Q: Does this team have the potential to beat England in England? Your prediction…

A: This team can definitely beat England. My prediction is 4-0 if the sun is out on most days or 3-1 if the conditions are overcast.

Q: Your advice to batters like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, who get bogged down and get lost in the woods playing the technical perfectitude game? For a batsman like Rahane to be outfoxed by Williamson with the bumper was criminal in the WTC final…

A: They have a batting coach, so if they need advice they should go to him.

International

Australian Open: Sania Mirza bids adieu to Grand Slam career as runner-up in Melbourne

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 India tennis star Sania Mirza on Friday wrapped up her legendary Grand slam career as Australian Open mixed doubles runner-up. The Indian ace and partner Rohan Bopanna lost to the all-Brazilian pair Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos in the mixed doubles final here at Melbourne Park.

Sania and Bopanna were beaten 7-6(2), 6-2 by Brazilians Stefani and Matos, who were playing in their first-ever Grand Slam final.

In her final major, the 36-year-old Sania admitted her emotions almost boiled over after the Indians stunned third seeds and reigning Wimbledon champions Desirae Krawczyk and Neal Skupski in the semifinals. There was no holding them back after her final match at Melbourne Park, 22 years after she first teamed with Bopanna.

Interestingly, Sania claimed her first major in 2009 at Melbourne Park, when she paired up with Mahesh Bhupathi. And she ended her illustrious Grand Slam career here.

Melbourne Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Indian star. After his maiden triumph in 2009. Seven years later, in 2016, she paired up with Swiss star Martina Hingis and claimed the women’s doubles title as the top seed.

Outside Australia, she earned four other Grand Slam titles: 2015 Wimbledon and 2015 US Open women’s doubles with Hingis, 2012 Roland Garros mixed doubles with Bhupathi and 2014 US Open mixed doubles with Bruno Soares.

“The journey of my professional career started in Melbourne� in 2005 when I played Serena Williams in the third round as an 18-year-old,” an emotional Sania said.

“That was scarily enough 18 years ago and I’ve had the privilege to come back here again and again and win some titles here. Rod Laver Arena has really been special in my life� To play the final, obviously, we couldn’t get over the line, but there’s no better place and no better person to finish my Grand Slam career with.”

“I never thought I’d be able to play in front of my child in a Grand Slam final, so it’s truly special for me to have my four-year-old here and my parents here, Rohan’s wife here,” she added.

Bopanna was looking to add a second Grand Slam mixed doubles title after his 2017 Roland Garros victory. Despite coming up short, he paid tribute to his compatriot and friend.

“It’s truly special for me to play with Sania,” he said. “Our first mixed doubles together was when she was 14 years old and we happened to win the title.

“Today we get to play the last match here on Rod Laver Arena. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the title, but thank you so much for your time, for Indian tennis, for inspiring each and everyone.”

Stefani and Matos are the first all-Brazilian team to win a major after ending Sania and Rohan Bopanna’s farewell appearance together in the Australian Open mixed doubles final.

“Rohan and Sania� I know how many people you’ve inspired,” Stefani said. “Like Brazil, like India, this means so much to our countries. It inspires the kids, it inspires the next generations.”

The six-time Grand Slam champion, Sania, earlier this month announced that she will retire from professional tennis after the Dubai Tennis Championships, a WTA 1000 event, which begins on February 19.

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National

AAP moves SC seeking time-bound mayoral polls in Delhi, barring aldermen from voting

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The Aam Aadmi Party has moved the Supreme Court over the repeated adjournments of mayoral polls in Delhi.

In its suit, the AAP has demanded time-bound urgent mayoral elections and has also sought the prohibition on voting by aldermen as per law.

“People of Delhi gave majority to the Aam Aadmi Party in the MCD but BJP is not allowing us to form a government in the MCD. Aam Aadmi Party has moved the Supreme Court through its Leader of the House and Mayor candidate (Shelly Oberoi). We have placed two major demands in the Supreme Court, the first is to elect the Mayor in a time-bound manner and form the government in the MCD. Second, as aldermen do not have the right to vote under Article 243R of the Constitution and Section 3 of the DMC Act, they should be prohibited from casting votes,” said AAP leader Saurabh Bhardwaj.

Noting that the BJP’s MCD tenure ended in March 2022 itself, he said that “they have no moral right to capture and illegally control the MCD for so long”.

The MCD was put under the Central government on the pretext of unification and delimitation works, he said.

“Now the people of Delhi have given a majority to the Aam Aadmi Party in the MCD and elected 134 councillors of the AAP. Despite that, the BJP is not allowing the Aam Aadmi Party government to be formed in the MCD due to its conspiracy and dirty politics. Despite many efforts, they are not allowing the election of the Mayor and the formation of the government to take place,” he said.

“The court should complete this process as soon as possible. Because the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Central Government will not allow to complete this process. The Aldermen, in principle and in law, are unelected nominees and do not have the right to vote under Article 243R of the Constitution and Section 3 of the DMC Act. But the BJP wants to get them to vote by committing hooliganism. The Supreme Court should also give strict orders in this matter to the Central Government and the administration of MCD in this regard.”

The Mayoral election was first scheduled for January 6, but the House was adjourned following scuffle between the councillors of the BJP and the AAP. Then a session was convened on January 24 to elect the Mayor and Deputy Mayor and members of the Standing Committee.

However, after all the 250 newly-elected MCD councillors and 10 nominated members (aldermen) took their oath, the House was again adjourned until the next date after a ruckus created by the councillors of AAP and BJP.

The results of the MCD elections were declared on December 7, wherein out of the 250 seats, the AAP got majority by winning 134 seats, followed by BJP (104), Congress (nine) and Independents (three).

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National

BCCI, PCB likely to clash over calendar at ACC board meeting

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 The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its counterpart Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are likely to have a fiery exchange during the Asian Cricket Council’s emergency board meeting on February 4, a report said on Monday.

According to the report, the point of contention for the two parties is BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s announcement on the ACC’s calendar for 2023, which the PCB alleges was made “unilaterally” without consulting them. Jay Shah is also president of ACC.

The PCB has sought an emergency ACC Board meeting, which PCB chairman Najam Sethi announced will take place next month, ESPNCricinfo said in a report on Monday.

“For some time there hasn’t been any ACC Board meeting and there were a lot of decisions being made and one of them we have challenged,” Sethi said in a press conference. “Now the good news is that we managed to convince them to have their Board meeting and I will be attending it.”

The point of contention between the two boards is the Asia Cup 2023 which is scheduled to be held in Pakistan in September. The event was thrown into uncertainty after Shah announced that the tournament should be moved to a neutral venue as India could not travel to Pakistan to participate.

Ramiz Raja, who was the PCB chief at that time, objected to it and said Pakistan will not travel to India for the ODI World Cup later this year.

With Sethi returning to the helm of PCB last month, he has taken up the issue and sought a meeting of the ACC Board to discuss the matter.

“We have to look at what we can do but we can’t [fight] another case, but I can say that that case wasn’t handled properly and I think we didn’t give a good fight. But eventually, even judges said that if you look through the microscope this case is in favour of Pakistan but if you see this case with a telescope this is going in India’s favour. So in nutshell, with all the nitty-gritty it’s Pakistan’s case, but then their stance was that it’s the [Indian] government which isn’t allowing us [to tour Pakistan],” Sethi was quoted as saying in the report.

The two sides are expected to discuss the matter in the February 4 meeting.

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