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


2nd T20I: Rain threat looms large over India v Australia clash in Nagpur




Friday’s second T20I match between India and Australia at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground in Jamtha is likely to be impacted with rains that lashed the city overnight and early morning.

With Nagpur under a wet spell for the last few days, the bosses at the Vidarbha Cricket Association are spending their days in trepidation as rain is predicted for the match day too. The match tickets at the 45,000-capacity stadium is already sold out and they will have to refund the buyers in case the match does not go ahead.

Both the teams landed in Orange City on Wednesday afternoon and were greeted by heavy rain in the evening and the intervening night. There were showers early on Thursday morning and though the rain has abated around 10 am, heavy cloud cover over the city means, there is always a threat of more rain.

In such conditions, the sun did not bother to even take a peek at the City, thus further reducing the chances of the ground getting dry on Thursday itself.

The morning spell of rain forced both Australia and India to cancel their scheduled practice session in the afternoon and evening. The players did not travel to the stadium, engaging in a light gym session at the team hotel.

The groundsmen removed the covers around noon to check but with the threat of a drizzle looming, put them back soon. According to VCA officials, they are running the super sopper and ensuring there no leakage, hoping that there is no further rain on Thursday and Friday.

Nagpur is hosting its first international match in three years and there is lot of enthusiasm among fans, who purchased the tickets online within a few minutes. Even then the telephone at the VCA’s oid stadium in the City is ringing off the hook with people still enquiring whether tickets were available offline.

The stadium is more than 20km far from the City and the VCA is facing some lots of issues regarding providing parking spaces for the spectators that take their own vehicles.

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Focusing on situational awareness for better ball control: Hockey forward Navneet




Indian women’s hockey team forward Navneet Kaur is looking to improve her “situational awareness” in order to control the ball better ahead of a busy season, which also includes the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China next year.

Navneet said the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games was a historical campaign for her side as they clinched bronze after a 16-year drought. The 26-year-old, who was instrumental in the attack during the memorable campaign, added she is keen to see herself playing a bigger role in the squad moving forward.

“I need to improve my situational awareness, so that I get better at controlling the ball and in turn get better at controlling the tempo of the game, because then I can play at my pace and choose moments in the game to either slow the tempo down or raise it according to the situation,” said Navneet on Monday.

Speaking about the CWG campaign, she said, “The medal brought us great joy, even though our team was feeling a little down after the loss in the semifinal. It was special to see everyone in the squad motivating each other to concentrate on the bronze-medal game and you could feel the togetherness of the squad as we got laser focused for the bronze-medal tie. That moment was really surreal, especially for me.”

Navneet also said the squad is looking at better team coordination as major events beckon.

“We are working on improving our team coordination. We are also working on our finishing as a squad so that we are extremely clinical when the chances come our way which was the only area, we lacked in at the World Cup and CWG 2022. As a squad we have identified these areas and have already started working on improving them so that we are ready before the next tournament comes around.”

Speaking about the upcoming tournaments and new faces in the side, she said, “The team’s performances have been great recently. Now we are fully focused on the upcoming competitions and I am sure we will perform in the same unrelenting manner. The young players have settled into the team really well and their integration in the squad is going smoothly, the best part of which is that young players are getting so many opportunities in international competitions which will help them improve drastically in very little time, which I feel we should continue doing because it it future proofs helps our young players in the team settle and gain much needed competitive experience at the highest level.

“As a senior player now, I look to help the youngsters with everything and anything on and off the field. We talk freely off the field and encourage open discussions and there is no such obligation of ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ players,” Navneet added.

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National Games will set the stage for hosting international sports in Gujarat: Dhanraj Pillay




 One of the best hockey players ever produced by the country, Dhanraj Pillay, who was picked for the national camp after excelling in the 1987 National Games in Kerala, says the 36th edition of the Games is a perfect platform for India’s promising sportspersons to graduate to the international level.

Pillay made his India debut two years later in 1989 and went on to dazzle the world with his dribbling skills and speed for 15 years, becoming the only player to play in four Olympics, four World Cups, four Champion Trophies editions and four Asian Games.

Pillay hopes that the 36th National Games in Gujarat, from September 29 to October 12, will similarly throw up fresh talents who will then go on to wear the tricolor with distinction.

“I was one of the many players picked up for the India camp after the Kerala National Games, which is the most important championship in Indian sport. I am happy the event is making its comeback after seven years and hope the national selectors will be present to pick new talents for the national camp,” the 54-year-old former India spearhead who has scored around 170 goals in his 339 appearances for the ‘men in light blue’, was quoted as saying by the organisers.

Pillay also highlighted the sporting benefits that would accrue to the people of Gujarat as a result of the infrastructure built to host the National Games, based on his own experience of what the 1994 edition did to his home city, Pune.

“Pune has become a sports city after the birth of the Balewadi Sports Complex, which was built to host the 1994 National Games,” said Pillay, who is coming up with a national sports academy in Bengaluru.

“It gave the city a different look and the same venue went on to host several international events over the years, providing a fillip to various sports in the region.”

Pillay hoped the infrastructure for the 2022 edition, which he felt was up to international standards, would inspire many youngsters to take to sports in Gujarat.

He also expressed optimism that the facilities would be productively ulitised thereafter, and Gujarat would promote the venues (the Games will be staged in six cities across the state) and host many international events in the future.

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