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Paralympic TT: Sensational Bhavina Patel continues historic run, reaches final




Indian paddler Bhavina Patel continued her sensational run at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, reaching the Women’s Singles Class 4 final with a brilliant win against China’s Zhang Miao on Saturday.

Bhavina came back strongly from a game deficit to stun World No 3 Miao 3-2 in the thrilling semifinal clash on Saturday, setting herself up for a historic attempt at winning a first gold medal at the Paralympic Games for herself, and the fifth overall for the country.

After losing the first game 7-11, the 34-year-old government employee from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, fought back brilliantly to beat Miao, the Rio Paralympic Games silver medallist, 7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8 in the 34 minutes contest.

First-time Paralympian Bhavina has now assured India at least a silver medal, the first in table tennis at the Paralympic Games. India’s 12 medals at the Paralympics so far have come from three sports — athletics (10 including 3 gold), powerlifting (1 bronze), and swimming (1 gold).

In the final to be played on Sunday, Bhavina will take on Chinese World No. 1 Zhou Ying, the player to whom she had lost in straight games in her first match in Tokyo Paralympics in the group stage.

It is a sensational comeback for the Indian paddler as she not only made it past the preliminary round after losing to Zhou but also beat three strong opponents including the Rio 2016 gold medallist Borislava Peric Rankovic of Serbia and silver medallist Miao to reach the final.

But the semifinal clash on Saturday did not get off to a good start for Bhavina, a para-Asian medallist.

Bhavina found Miao’s top-spin serve too hard to tackle and went down tamely in the first game, conceding five points in a row from 5-5 to eventually lose the game 7-11.

But just when it looked like the best-of-five games match was following scripts of their previous encounters in which Miao enjoyed an 11-0 head-to-head record, Bhavina stunned her Chinese nemesis with an unexpected fightback.

Bhavina had different ideas on Saturday and she played as a player possessed. She stitched together a brilliant combination of powerful Tomahawk serves, impeccable backhand defence, and a whiplash backhand smash that forced the 30-year-old Miao, ranked third in the world, into submission.

In the second game, Bhavina broke away from 5-5 to win the next five points and levelled the scores at 11-6.

With both players winning one game apiece, the third game held the key to the encounter as it was crucial for both of them to take lead and establish their ascendancy. Bhavina surged ahead with some impeccable returns and sensational shots to take a 5-0 lead and went on to win the game 10-4. Though the Chinese player committed some unforced errors, Bhavina won the game by superbly mixing her shots, creating angles with deft placements, and attacking Miao on the backhand.

Stunned by the reverse, Zhang Miao came up with a strong response as she fought for every point. Scores went neck and neck till 9-9 in the third game as neither player was ready to give an inch. But Miao won the next two points to take the match into the decider.

Bhavina came out all guns blazing in the fifth and final game as she surged to a 5-0 lead. But Miao had some more fight left in her as she controlled her nerves and reduced the margin to eventually bring it down to 9-7.

At 9-8 when it looked like things will get difficult for Bhavina, the Indian paddler pulled two superb shots from her repertoire to seal the game 11-8 and secured a historic medal for India.

If she wins the final against Zhou Ying on Sunday, Bhavina will become the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. She will be only the fourth person ever after swimmer Murlikant Petkar (1972), javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia (2004, 2016), and high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu (2016) to win a gold medal for India at the Paralympic Games.

If she loses, she joins Deepa Malik as the only woman to win a medal for India in the Paralympic Games.


Pak pacer Shaheen Afridi makes it to top-5 in ICC Test rankings for first time




Pakistan pace spearhead Shaheen Afridi has made it to the top-five of the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings for the first time in his career after a fine show in the first Test against Bangladesh, which Pakistan won by eight wickets.

The 21-year-old left-arm bowler, who grabbed seven wickets including a five for 32 in the second innings of the Chittagong Test, has moved up three places to fifth position after overtaking England’s James Anderson, South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada and New Zealand’s Neil Wagner.

Afridi’s new-ball partner Hasan Ali too is at a career-best position after finishing with a similar seven-wicket match haul that included a five-for in the first innings. Hasan has advanced five places to 11th place. His previous best in Tests was 14th, reached in May this year.

Pakistan’s opening batters too made quite an impact in the rankings. Abid Ali may have missed out on a century in the second innings but his scores of 133 and 91 helped him shoot up 27 slots to a career-best 20th position, while Abdullah Shafique entered the rankings at 83rd with scores of 52 and 73.

For Bangladesh, Mushfiqur Rahim is up four places to 19th with scores of 91 and 16 while Liton Das has moved up 26 places to a career-best 31st position after accruing 114 and 59. Left-arm spinner Taijul Islam has progressed two places to 23rd after an eight-wicket match haul that included seven scalps in the first innings.

The thrilling draw in Kanpur between India and New Zealand had quite a few performances from either side that reflect in the latest weekly update that also includes the first Test between Sri Lanka and the West Indies at Galle, which the host side won by 187 runs.

Debutant Shreyas Iyer’s Player of the Match effort of 105 and 65 helped him enter the rankings in 74th position while opener Shubman Gill (up six places to 66th) and Wriddhiman Saha (up nine places to 99th) also made notable progress after notching half-centuries.

Ravindra Jadeja is up two places to 19th among bowlers with five wickets in the match and is also up one place to second among all-rounders. Ravichandran Ashwin is the third-ranked all-rounder and 79th among batters.

For New Zealand, Tom Latham’s knocks of 95 and 52 place him back in the top 10 as he goes up from 14th to ninth. Fast bowler Kyle Jamieson is ninth among bowlers, his three wickets in each innings resulting in a gain of six places. Tim Southee has gained 15 rating points to reach within one point of second-placed Ashwin (840) after his eight-wicket match haul.

Sri Lanka, whose win in their first match of the ICC Men’s Test Championship put them on top of the table, also had some improvements after the Galle Test.

Captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s Player of the Match effort of 147 and 83 lifted him four places to seventh, just one below his career-best sixth position attained in August 2019. Former captains Angelo Mathews (up two places to 23rd) and Dinesh Chandimal (up four places to 46th) have also advanced.

Left-arm spinners Lasith Embuldeniya (up four places to 37th) and Praveen Jayawickrama (up six places to 44th) and off-spinner Ramesh Mendis (up 28 places to 57th) have improved in the rankings for bowlers.

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CSA assures cricketing world of bio-bubble arrangements ahead of India series




 In a bid to assure the world about bio-bubble arrangements ahead of a very important series against India, Cricket South Africa (CSA) reiterated its capability to institute a biologically safe environment (BSE) of the highest standard.

India is scheduled to play three Tests, three ODIs and four T20Is in the Rainbow nation, starting with the first Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on December 17 and ending with the fourth T20I on January 26 at Boland Park in Paarl. But the discovery of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, along with travel bans issued by various countries meant that the marquee tour happening as per plan is in doubt.

Amidst all the uncertainty, CSA has now released a statement on Wednesday about their capabilities of organising the India tour in high-quality bio-bubbles, giving example of how the men’s team has been in bio-bubbles at home and away ever since the pandemic began. “CSA has instituted world-class standards and measures to ensure all players, staff and officials are protected within this environment.

“Our main focus was to safeguard the cricket biosphere by managing strict entry standards and limited movement outside its cordon. What we have implemented at our BSE (bio-secure environment) is a cordon sanitaire which offers full and continuous protection to all individuals who respect and abide by our very demanding guidelines and rules,” said CSA’s chief medical officer Dr Shuaib Manjra.

On Tuesday, South Africa’s foreign ministry had lauded the BCCI for not pulling out the India ‘A’ team from its ongoing three four-day Test tour in Bloemfontein. It also gave assurances on full bio-bubble measures being provided for India as well as South Africa during the duration of the highly anticipated series.

South Africa Test skipper Dean Elgar has expressed his confidence in bio-bubble measures taken by the CSA, saying that the team has given results despite them taking a toll mentally.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve been working in these BSE conditions for a year now, but anyone who has been affected, either directly or indirectly by the Covid-19 virus, knows this is a necessity if we want to continue playing cricket. It takes a toll on a player mentally and yet this team continues to produce good results and make progress. That’s something I don’t think is being spoken about enough.

“The measures that have been put in place and the hotels chosen take into account the teams’ physical and mental health needs. We don’t know how much longer we’ll be operating like this, but it’s gratifying to know that when tours come around, the health and safety of all involved is top priority.”

His white-ball counterpart Temba Bavuma too has supported the bio-bubble measures by CSA. “CSA has to be commended for the way they have gone about the BSEs. It hasn’t been an easy year for us all. Being confined to a hotel room and being restricted from leaving the hotel and having the choice – in most places away from home – between your room and the team room and little access outside the hotel takes its toll, particularly for the all-format playing members of the team and management.

“I’m confident our BSEs are of the highest safety standards and the protocols are set with everyone’s physical well-being and mental health in mind.”

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IND v NZ: As a team, everyone is backing Rahane and Pujara, says Mhambrey




 India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said on Wednesday that the team is backing senior batters Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara to come good ahead of the second Test against New Zealand on Friday. He believes that the duo is just one innings away from bouncing back in form.

In Test matches in 2021, Rahane has amassed just 411 runs in 21 innings at an average of 19.57, including only two half-centuries.

In the drawn first Test at Kanpur, Rahane registered scores of 35 and 4, resulting in his Test career average going below 40.

Pujara, on the other hand, is yet to score a century since his knock of 193 against Australia in the 2019 Sydney Test.

Just like Rahane, Pujara was unable to leave an impact in the Kanpur Test, making 26 and 22 in both innings.

“I think with both Ajinkya and Pujara, we know that they have a lot of experience behind them. They played enough cricket and we also know as a team that they are one innings away from coming back into form. So, as a team, everyone is behind them and backing them.

“We know that the value they bring to the team, the experience that they have will come good. So, it is just one innings away from getting back to the form. They have played enough cricket to understand what is expected out of them and what is required to get that going,” said Mhambrey in the virtual press interaction.

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