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Saturday,31-July-2021

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The biggest thing in my life, says Rishabh Pant after match-winning knock

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Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, whose dismissal for 97 through rush of blood on the fifth day of the last Test in Sydney denied India a possible victory, on Tuesday stayed till the end on the fifth day of the Gabba Test to ensure he saw India off to a historic win at the venue considered to be a fortress for Australia.

The highest target chased at The Gabba before India surpassed 328 with three wickets in hand on Tuesday was 236, way back in 1951 by hosts Australia against West Indies.

Over the next 70 years, although teams have made bigger fourth innings score at The Gabba — like 450 by Pakistan in 2016 — no one has chased a fourth-innings target to win a game. Importantly, no team had beaten Australia in Brisbane in last 32 years. The last time the Aussies lost a Test at The Gabba was against West Indies in 1988.

So when Cheteshwar Pujara (56) was the fourth wicket dismissed with the score at 228 on Tuesday and India needed exactly a 100 to win, the odds were stacked heavily against them.

However Pant, who initially batted in a circumspect manner while curbing his natural strokes and had buckled down in the company of Pujara, opened up after the departure of the India’s batting mainstay.

From 34 off 84 deliveries at the time of Pujara’s dismissal, he finished with unbeaten 89 off 138 balls, scoring his last 55 runs off 54 balls.

“I think this is the biggest thing in my life right now. I am happy (and thankful) to the support staff, and all the fans who supported me even though I was not playing the initial matches (the limited overs series games and the first pink-ball Test). But it has been a dream series I can say that. I had been practising hard and everything paid off because we won the series,” said Pant who was adjudged the Player of the Match.

The hosts had won the first Test of the series in Adelaide, while bowling out India with the pink ball for their lowest Test total of 36. The Rahane-led side, however, registered a stunning comeback in Melbourne, winning the Boxing Day Test by eight wickets. The third Test then ended in an epic draw in Sydney.

Pant said the team management, including coach Ravi Shastri and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, had backed him and encouraged him by calling him a match-winner.

“The team management always backs saying that you are a match-winner and you always have to go and win the match for the team. That is the only thing I keep thinking every day. I always think that I want to win matches for India and I am happy that I did it today,” added the 23-year-old.

Pant said he was more disciplined, although there were some loose shots too during the course of his Tuesday’s knock.

“Yes, this was a fifth day pitch. The ball was turning a bit and I thought I have to be disciplined with my shot selection and if you win the match everything pays off well. Everything went so well.”

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I want to go for the gold: Lovlina Borgohain

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Indian boxer Lovlina Borgohain has firmed her sights on going beyond a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The 23-year-old was assured of bagging a medal after defeating former world champion Chen Nien-Chin of Chinese Taipei 4-1 to enter the semifinals of the welterweight category. She is now in line to become the third Indian boxer after Vijender Singh and Mary Kom to win an Olympic medal.

Before this match, Lovlina had lost to Chen four times. “I knew I lost to this girl four times before. So, it was a challenge for me to prove to myself. I never thought about proving to others. I thought this was a golden opportunity for me to take my revenge of previous losses against her. There was no strategy while going to the ring. Whatever situation was there, I will handle it there itself. I am happy I bagged the chance to do well. I played whole-heartedly and enjoyed it,” said a smiling Lovlina in a press interaction organised by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI).

Before making a foray into boxing, Lovlina was into Muay Thai, a form of martial arts from Thailand. Asked whether training in it helped in grasping boxing, Lovlina said, “I had learnt Muay Thai for a year. There used to be one or two punches. I can’t say that Muay Thai helped me in getting the medal. But it did help me a little bit. When I got into boxing, I used the one or two punches from Muay Thai in winning the national sub-junior championships.”

She was firm on her next target: a gold medal. “I don’t want to stop at bronze. I want to go for the gold. Medal is only one. That is gold. For that I have to prepare and plan for the semifinal fight.”

When quizzed about her fearless attitude in the ring, Lovlina quipped that she was fearful at the start. But she started to gain confidence by trusting herself. “I wasn’t like this before. I used to fear a lot earlier while playing in competitions. Slowly, the fear started to go away after coming into boxing. Earlier, when I used to enter the ring, I had fear in me. But when I started to trust myself and stopped caring about what people said that’s how I began to play fearlessly.”

Before the Olympics, the youngster had missed a training trip to Italy last year after testing positive for COVID-19 a day before departure. She had come back from a two-day trip to her hometown of Bora Mukhia in Assam’s Golaghat district to visit her ailing mother. The virus robbed her of crucial training and exposure.

“Because of the virus, I missed my tour to Italy. There were very less international competitions too. I missed one competition due to it. The feel of competitiveness in the ring was very less. Even sparring was very less. But I thought how to do well if sparring is not there? I trained that way. My coaches and everyone around supported me to do well,” said Lovlina.

Lovlina, a big fan of legendary Mohammad Ali, quipped that she had taken some tricks out of his style of play. “I used to watch the long-distance movement of Muhammad Ali. Every boxer is different and has a different style of play. Two boxers can’t be the same. I follow and watch some things of Ali. Like his footwork and long punch. Before the Olympics, I saw one or two videos of him.”

She has also cited MC Mary Kom as her inspiration. “Mary Kom has been a big inspiration for me since I heard her name after entering boxing. She has struggled a lot and I take inspiration from her. It feels very nice and I get to learn a lot from her. Very happy that she is training with us.”

Lovlina will be up against the world champion in her category, Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey in the semifinal on August 4.

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Olympics: PV Sindhu storms into women’s badminton semi-finals

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PV Sindhu, the 2016 Olympics silver medallist and reigning world champion, quelled a superb fightback by Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi to win in straight games and reach the semi-finals in women’s singles badminton competition at the Olympic Games on Friday.

Sindhu seeded sixth here, beat fourth seed Akane 21-13, 22-20 in 56 minutes.

Sindhu, after winning the first game comfortably 21-13, was cruising towards victory, having opened up an 11-6 lead in the second game, when Akane started a superb fightback. The Japanese shuttler who had been outplayed by Sindhu in the first game with deceptive and disguised shots, switched tactics to engage the Indian, seeded sixth here, in long rallies, and tire her out.

And it looked like Akane would succeed as she fought back from 6-12 down to win 10 of the next 12 points, catching up with Sindhu at 15-15 and taking the lead.

Sindhu checked her progress by tapping into her energy reserves as she tightened her game, broke Akane’s rhythm with attacking play, and saved two match points to win the game and match at 22-20.

From 18-20, Sindhu won the next four points with superb attacking play, keeping Akane on her toes with half-smashes and pin-point drop shots to seal victory in 56 minutes.

Sindhu, looking to add a gold medal to the silver she won in Rio, dominated her Japanese rival at the net, created points with her disguised shots, and completed straight games win.

The Indian 26-year-old shuttler from Hyderabad was in total control of the first game and then quelled a strong fightback by Akane to reach the semi-finals for the second successive Olympics.

Sindhu was really happy with her performance against Akane but was focused on the next match.

“I’m happy but it’s not over yet. For me, it’s time to go back, relax and get ready for the next match. I’m happy but I need to prepare for the next match.”

Sindhu said the second game was the most important as Akane came back strongly.

“There were some very long rallies. The second game was very important, I was leading and Akane came back, so I couldn’t relax. On my side, there were a few errors. I wasn’t nervous even though she was at game point, my coach was saying: ‘It’s okay, keep the focus and you’ll get there. He was constantly supporting me and that got me by and I’m happy I got back in two games,” Sindhu told the BWF.

On her ability to rise to the occasion and doing well in the big events, Sindhu said: “I take that as a compliment but I think I have really worked hard for this and it’s not over yet and I have to be focused and prepare for the next match. The next one is important.”

Akane said she tried to be patient against Sindhu but it was difficult to attack. “It was difficult for me to attack her,” she said.

“I tried to be patient [at game point] but after that, she led by a game. I had a lot of support messages, so I tried to do my best but I lost that game [second game] so that’s frustrating. A lot of people supported me and I appreciate that. I worked hard and I’m disappointed. To stand on this stage, it’s not a normal tournament, it’s very special to me.”

Akane said the mood in the Japan camp was sombre as compatriot Nozomi Okuhara had lost to China’s He Bing Jiao in the first quarterfinal in the morning.

“We have had a lot of top-seeded players and everyone expected better of us, but we did our best and I want to go on to the next step in the future,” she told the BWF.

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Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka says he was grateful to Indian captain, coach

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Winning Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka was grateful to Indian skipper Shikhar Dhawan and coach Rahul Dravid for sharing their knowledge with the young Sri Lankan team.

“Just as we learn from our own senior players it is important that we also learn from the experience from Indian players as well. I was really grateful to Shikhar giving this opportunity,” said Shanaka while speaking to journalists after the T20 series victory against India.

“Shikhar is a player who has experience over ten years playing international cricket. I asked him how he prepares himself and what was his game planning and situation handling which are very important,” Dasun said when asked as to what the Indian captain told his team at the end of the final T20 which Sri Lankan won with seven wickets.

“They (Indian players) even have mastered the breathing patterns. I personally thought by talking to a player like Shikhar we would be able to get a good understanding about promoting the game,” the newly-appointed Sri Lankan skipper said.

“We asked Rahul Dravid how they approach the game because the Indian players are very positive when they are on the field,” said Shanaka who took his team to the Indian coach following their victory.

At the presentation, Shanaka also thanked the BCCI for agreeing to play under the circumstances and he specially thanked Dravid and Dhawan.

At the presentation, Dhawan too said what he told the young Sri Lankan team.

“Both the teams played in great spirit and it was beautiful we were both quite competitive on the field and the respect was there and Sri Lankan boys and the captain wanted to know what my process and how I take things in my game and I was sharing whatever I have gained during the past few years.

That’s the way I do it and that’s the process and I hoped they enjoyed it,” he added.

Right from the beginning the series faced various debacles as Sri Lanka’s batting coach Grant Flower and performance analysts who returned from a bio-bubble in England found positive for Covid-19.

The series was rescheduled on the request by Sri Lanka Cricket to BCCI. The second T20 scheduled for July 27 had to be shifted to July 28 after India’s Krunal Pandya tested positive for Covid-19 and eight other close associates were not able to play the final game.

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