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IPL 2022: Ashish Nehra, the mind behind Gujarat Titans’ success, scripts history and breaks stereotypes

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The ‘millennials’ might have not faith in his coaching, but the veterans of cricketing community always had the belief in Ashish Nehra’s game reading ability and tactical acumen and the former India fast bowler just proved it by playing a crucial role in Gujarat Titans’ IPL 2022 title win.

The Hardik-Pandya led Gujarat Titans (GT) got their hands on the coveted Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy in their very first season after they beat Rajasthan Royals (RR) by seven wickets in the final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

If Hardik was Gujarat’s hero on the field, off the field it was the support staff led by Nehra that played a vital role in GT winning the IPL title.

With the victory, Nehra etched his name on the history books of the cash-rich league. The former left-arm pacer became the first Indian head coach to win the IPL. Notably, in all the previous 14 editions of the IPL, the title-winning side had a foreign head coach but Nehra broke the pattern with GT this year.

The 43-year-old Nehra also became only the third cricketer to have won the IPL both as a head coach and as a player after Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne. Nehra played for Sunrisers Hyderabad when they won IPL in 2016 under David Warner’s captaincy. Ponting was a part of the Mumbai Indians squad when they won their maiden IPL title in 2013 and he was MI’s head coach when they won their second title in 2015. The legendary Shane Warne was both the coach and captain of the Rajasthan Royals when they won the inaugural edition in 2008.

Entering a highly-competitive league like the IPL as a new team and clinching the title in the very first season is a dream stuffy but it wasn’t easy. Watching the final Gujarat squad after the mega auction, most cricket pundits, analysts and even the fans didn’t give Gujarat much of a chance to finish in the top-four. Most experts felt that Gujarat, while assembling a good group, were a bit thin in their batting.

There were also apprehensions about Pandya’s bowling fitness as well as his captaincy skills, given that he had led only once in senior cricket previously. And remember, Nehra worked as the bowling coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore along with Gary Kirsten, who served as their head coach but both were sacked after the 2019 season.

Nehra even had become a ‘meme’ content for many social media users, who perhaps didn’t see him play and deliver for India at crucial junctures’ and just saw him as a cricket analyst.

But, the deadly captain and head coach duo of Hardik and Nehra along with Vikram Solan (Director of Cricket), Gary Kirsten (Batting coach and mentor) and other support staff of GT cracked the winning formula, put an end to all the doubts and won the trophy with sheer domination. In the whole tournament, Gujarat lost just four matches, out of the 16 games which they played, which shows their domination and class.

“It’s a great feeling. More than winning the trophy, the most important thing was the way we played and it was very heartening to see. Under your leadership, the boys gelled very well,” Nehra told skipper Pandya in a fun interview after winning the trophy.

Meanwhile, mentor Gary Kirsten said he enjoyed working with Nehra, rating him as one of the finest tacticians going around.

“I’ve loved working with Ashish, he’s really strong tactically – trying to put a game plan together on the fly is not easy. There are so many variables in each game, but what I’ve enjoyed has been the responsibility players have taken to win games for us,” Kirsten said.

Nehra’s success as the coach also broke many stereotypes, which were there in the IPL for a long long time.

In the history of IPL, it has been observed that franchises are obsessed with having a foreign head coach and they don’t trust the ability of an Indian guy in the main. There were only three Indians — Sanjay Bangar (RCB), Anil Kumble (PBKS) and Ashish Nehra (GT) — who served as the head coach of their respective franchises in IPL 2022. However, with the former Indian fast bowler getting success as a head coach with GT, the number could go up in the upcoming seasons.

Also, throughout the tournament, Nehra looked relaxed and was often spotted without a laptop or technology, reminding everyone that keeping things simple could also win team matches without “over-analysing” things.

In the modern cricketing era, coaches and captains have often been seen relying too much on data analytics, match-ups, especially in T20 cricket. There is no denying that technology helps in enhancing a few facets of the game, but too much reliance on the data can also complicate things. The basic cricketing instincts and reading the game situation well at the crucial junctures of the game still rule the cricket.

Overall, Nehra can become a role model for many coaches in terms of keeping things simple, believing in their abilities, taking tactical decisions and building a good environment in the dressing room.

International

England beat Germany after extra time to win UEFA women’s Euro

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England beat Germany 2-1 after extra time in a packed Wembley Stadium in London, bringing home the trophy of the UEFA women’s Euro for the first time.

Germany suffered a heavy blow minutes ahead of the final on Sunday evening as their captain Alex Popp had to pull out after picking up an injury during the warm-up.

The 31-year-old forward had scored in all five previous matches in this tournament and scored twice in Germany’s 2-1 win against France in Wednesday’s semifinal, reports Xinhua. England, reaching the Euro’s final for the third time, couldn’t break the deadlock until Ella Toone came off the bench to score the opener in the 62nd minute.

But midfielder Lina Magull helped Germany equalise in the 79th minute.

The 1-1 scoreline was held until the 110th minute while substitute Chloe Kelly prodded in her first goal for the England team.

“What we’ve done is incredible. I knew we had England behind us- we saw that coming to the stadium,” said England head coach Sarina Wiegman in front of 87,192 fans in Wembley.

“But the whole tournament we’ve had so much support from our fans. I’m so proud of the team.”

The 52-year-old Dutchwoman, who also guided the Netherlands to win the women’s Euro trophy in 2017, is the first coach to lead two different teams to the title.

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National

Ravi Shastri calls for reduction in number of T20Is played to counter scheduling issues

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Former India head coach Ravi Shastri has called for a reduction in the number of T20Is played to counter the raging issue of scheduling in international cricket. The month of July 2022 has seen the issue of hectic scheduling in cricket and prioritisation of franchise T20 leagues being reignited.

South Africa chose to pull out of a three-match ODI series against Australia in January 2023 to ensure their players would be available for the upcoming new domestic T20 competition in the country.

Earlier this week, England’s Test skipper and all-rounder Ben Stokes announced his retirement from ODI cricket after the first match against South Africa at the age of 31, citing the “unsustainable” workload by playing in all three formats.

With speculations coming that the upcoming Future Tours Programme (FTP) for the 2023-27 cycle will have more of T20I action, Shastri, currently in United Kingdom as a member of the Sky Sports commentary team, feels that bilateral T20Is should be reduced by a huge amount to free up the hectic international calendar.

“I would be a little careful of the number of bilateral splits, especially in T20 cricket. There’s a lot of franchise cricket which can be encouraged, whichever country it’s in – India, West Indies, or Pakistan. You play less bilaterals and then you get together for the World Cups. So, the emphasis on ICC World Cup events becomes paramount. Then people look forward to them,” said Shastri in an episode of the Vaughany and Tuffers podcast.

Shastri, a former India all-rounder and member of the 1983 Cricket World Cup winning team, further asked for creation of two divisions in Test cricket in a bid to safeguard the future of the longest format of the game.

“I think two tiers are needed, otherwise Test cricket will die in 10 years time. You need six teams at the top, and then six teams in the second and then you qualify. And those top six play against each other more often because of the corridor you open up by having less bilateral T20 cricket and just franchise cricket. That’s the way all formats of the game can survive.”

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International

Pakistan Cricket Board wants ICC to form strategy on growth of franchise T20 leagues

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Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said on Saturday that it has asked the International Cricket Council (ICC) to form a strategy on controlling the growth of lucrative franchise T20 leagues with rising concerns about its impact on the international cricket calendar.

Earlier this week, South Africa pulled out of a three-match bilateral ODI against Australia in January as it clashes with their new domestic T20 competition, the third time they will be attempting to have a successful franchise T20 League.

The next cycle of the Future Tours Programme (FTP), for 2024-31, which shows the schedule of teams playing bilateral series against each other and at what venues, is set to be confirmed in the upcoming week during the annual conference of the ICC at Birmingham.

“Growth of franchise cricket is impacting the already crammed international cricket calendar. The PCB is concerned about this development and wants the ICC to formulate a strategy on this issue,” said PCB Chief Executive Faisal Hasnain in a statement.

“We have sent a proposal to the ICC, which they have added to their meeting agenda. Two other boards have also conveyed their apprehensions to the ICC on this matter and urged the ICC to create a working group to debate on the expansion of franchise-based T20 leagues,” added Hasnain.

Talking about the confirmation of the FTP, in the context of Pakistan recently starting to host international cricket at home, Hasnain remarked, “Finalising the Future Tours Programme (FTP) is very important for us.

“This will give us certainty about which teams will be visiting us and which countries we will be touring. 80 per cent of the FTP has already been agreed upon and the remaining 20 per cent will be completed in the upcoming meeting.”

The upcoming ICC Annual Conference in Birmingham also marks the first time the meeting will happen after a Covid-19 pandemic caused a stoppage. “The annual conference presents a unique opportunity for networking with representatives of the world cricket.

“We are planning several initiatives that involve fellow members and meetings have already been set up on the sidelines with other boards to collectively enhance our common interest,” concluded Hasnain.

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