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Monday,17-January-2022

International

Window to qualify for Olympics closing fast on Saina Nehwal and Srikanth

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Kidambi-Srikanth

For players like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, the opportunities for qualifying for this year’s Olympic Games are fast shrinking as they have about five tournaments to book their tickets for Tokyo.

The recently-concluded Swiss Open was the first tournament of the year to be part of the Olympic qualification cycle and reigning badminton world champion P.V. Sindhu was the only Indian who managed to reach the final.

London 2012 Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal was knocked out in the very first round of the Swiss Open. A nation can enter a maximum of two players for each event in singles if they are ranked in the top 16 of the ‘Race to Tokyo’ rankings and Sindhu is already seventh, while Saina is currently 19th. She many be able to rise three spots to 16th and thus stand a chance at qualifying but then she also has to maintain that position.

Former men’s singles world No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth seems to have left behind his wretched run of form that held him back for much of the last two years. Srikanth reached the semi-finals of the Swiss Open before losing to world No. 1 and eventual champion Viktor Axelsen.

Srikanth is currently 13th on the world rankings while Sai Praneeth, who won bronze at the 2019 World Championships, re-entered the top 16 after his quarter-final finish in Basel.

In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are are sitting comfortably in 10th spot. They are expected to be the only automatic qualifiers in the segment from India as the next highest pair from the country, Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy, are languishing in 35th place.

“I feel Srikanth, Sindhu, Chirag and Satwik will qualify. Srikanth and Sindhu’s rankings will improve because of their performances in Swiss Open. From my point of view those that do well in tournaments so close to qualification will benefit hugely,” said four-time national men’s doubles champion Uday Pawar.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) and its member associations are scrambling to hold tournaments with the plethora of complications created by quarantine periods and standard operating procedures amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It means that while for all means and purposes the Olympic qualification calendar has restarted, there is little to no certainty on whether tournaments will be held as per schedule or not. A case in point being the German Open Super 300 tournament, which was part of the qualification calendar, but was cancelled just under a month before it was scheduled to be held.

The qualification calendar itself was extended from April 25 to June 15. All this, accompanied by potential clashes in dates and the uncertainty around the Asian Championships with about five tournaments left to play in the qualification calendar.

While Pawar feels that Shetty and Rankireddy should try and maintain themselves within the top 8 so they get a relatively easy draw at the Olympics, it is not yet a lost cause for Saina.

“It won’t be possible for Saina to come into the top 10 but she can still break into the top 10. Those who have already cemented themselves for qualification, may not participate in many of the upcoming tournaments because they will just look to prepare for the Olympics. They will be big for those who are chasing qualification or want to improve their rankings. For example, my advice to Chirag and Satwik was to qualify for the Olympics within the top 8 so that you get a better draw,” said Pawar.

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The Ashes, 5th Test: Australia 37-3 at stumps on Day 2, lead England by 152 runs

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Australian-Team

Australia were 37-3 in their second innings at stumps, leading England by 152 runs on the second day of the fifth and final Ashes Test, here on Saturday.

Steven Smith (17 not out) and night watchman Scott Boland (3 not out) were at the crease when play ended on Day 2 of the day-night Test.

After bowling out England for 188 in their first innings, Australia lost the wickets of David Warner (0), Usman Khawaja (11), Marnus Labuschagne (5) in the third session.

Earlier, resuming the day at 241/6, Australia added 62 more in the morning session, getting bowled out for 303 in their first innings.

Brief scores: Australia 303 & 37-3 in 19 overs (Steven Smith 17 not out, Usman Khawaja 11; Mark Wood 1/9) vs England 188 (Chris Woakes 36, Joe Root 34; Pat Cummins 4/54, Mitchell Starc 3/53) lead by 152 runs.

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Virat Kohli steps down as Test captain of India, day after losing series against South Africa

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A day after India lost the series 1-2 to South Africa with a seven-wicket defeat at Cape Town, Virat Kohli has stepped down as the Test captain.

Kohli, who first captained India at the Adelaide Test in 2014 against Australia, was appointed to the full-time role after MS Dhoni announced his retirement from the format ahead of the fourth Test at Sydney in January 2015. It also means that the Cape Town Test was the last match of Kohli as India captain.

“It’s been 7 years of hard work, toil and relentless perseverance everyday to take the team in the right direction. I’ve done the job with absolute honesty and left nothing out there. Everything has to come to a halt at some stage and for me as Test Captain of India, it’s now. There have been many ups and also some downs along the journey, but never has there been a lack of effort or lack of belief,” said Kohli in his statement posted on his social media accounts on Saturday.

Kohli stepped down from Test captaincy as the most successful skipper in the longest format of the game for India and fourth overall. Under his time as the captain, India played 68 Tests, winning 40, losing 17 and drawing 11 matches, having a win percentage of 58.82 while registering memorable wins in overseas and home conditions.

“I have always believed in giving my 120 percent in everything I do, and if I can’t do that, I know it’s not the right thing to do. I have absolute clarity in my heart and I cannot be dishonest to my team. I want to thank the BCCI for giving me the opportunity to lead my country for such a long period of time and more importantly to all the teammates who bought into the vision I had for the team from day one and never gave up in any situation. You guys have made this journey so memorable and beautiful,” added Kohli.

The most notable victories from the time under Kohli will be the 2018/19 Border-Gavaskar Trophy win, where India won a Test series in Australia for the first time and leading 2-1 in England in the 2021 series apart from reaching the World Test Championship (WTC) final at Southampton in the same year. He also took the Indian team to the number one ranking in Tests apart from overseeing the development of the pace-attack reaching a world-class level and fitness being given prime importance.

“To Ravi Bhai and the support group who were the engine behind this vehicle that moved us upwards in Test Cricket consistently, you all have played a massive role in bringing this vision to life. Lastly, a big thank you to MS Dhoni who believed in me as a Captain and found me to be an able individual who could take Indian Cricket forward,” concluded the 33-year-old Kohli.

In September 2021, Kohli had announced that he would be leaving the T20I captaincy after the Men’s T20 World Cup in the UAE. He had also stepped down as the captain of IPL side Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) after the completion of the second half of the tournament in the UAE. Two months later, in December, Kohli was replaced by Rohit Sharma as the ODI captain.

It will be interesting to see who becomes the next Test captain of India. The team’s next Test assignment will be against Sri Lanka in a two-match series at home in February-March.

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SA batters taking responsibility meant they valued their wicket: Elgar

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South Africa batters taking responsibility ahead of the second match at the Wanderers meant valuing their wicket a lot more, reckons captain Dean Elgar.

After the first Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion, where South Africa couldn’t cross 200 in both innings and lost by 113 runs, the hosts came back strongly to chase 240 and 212 twice to win the three-match series against India 2-1. It was also the fifth time South Africa won a series after being 1-0 behind.

“It’s the guys taking the responsibility, that ties into the conversations I had with the team prior to the second game. Guys taking responsibility meant they valued their wicket a lot more. Soft dismissals and lapse of concentration are kinds of errors which hinder your series and ultimately got us loss in the first game. I am very, very happy that the guys responded well and responded to what’s being given to them and have to fulfil those roles, especially from a batting point of view,” said Elgar in the virtual press conference.

“It just shows the characters within out set-up and are willing to learn still. They don’t play with ego, which is a great thing for me. Being able to speak to them openly knowing that they will take on board and it will be constructive chats. Ultimately, it’s them taking a lot more responsibility, respecting their batting positions and valuing their wicket lot more,” added Elgar.

It was also the fifth time South Africa won a series after being 1-0 behind. Talking about the highs and lows in the series for the hosts, Elgar remarked, “I think there were so many lows with regards to the first game. Losing the first game of a home Test series is never ideal. I think it’s a South African trait that you always start slow and almost have to be 1-0 down to actually wake up and realise that our backs are against the wall.

“Lows will be the few little disciplined things on-field that we needed to rectify. Giving extras was something that was a massive concern for me. Luckily, that didn’t bite us on the back side. I think I will take a few days to actually sit down and break everything up to reflect and try to be better in those areas.”

But it was the bounce-back ability of South Africa which delighted Elgar.

“The guys responded beautifully to that. Highs are obviously the performances of Keegan (Petersen), Marco Jansen, KG (Kagiso Rabada), Lungi (Ngidi) at times brought his part as well. Guys like Temba showed a great lot of qualities with regards to batting, composure, calm and gave you a peace of mind knowing that he is at the crease and things are under control and will be okay.”

Amongst the gains for the Proteas was the emergence of Jansen, who picked 19 wickets in his debut Test series at an average of 16.47. Jansen, brought in for an injured Anrich Nortje, was impressive in taking the wickets of the Indian batters on a consistent rate after his figures of 1/69 in the first innings at Centurion.

Elgar was understandably happy with the all-rounder’s show in the series.

“He was always a bit of a doubtful selection with regards to if he will play in the final eleven. With the attributes he has, the strengths, his tall height and can bowl at 135 and a lot quicker than how old he is, which is huge strength for him. His bounce, presence and intimidation he has without saying a word, is a massive strength.”

The 34-year-old Elgar signed off by predicting Jansen to be a big asset for South Africa in future.

“I see him going in only one direction and that is up. Hopefully, he understands and respects what he has achieved throughout this Test series because his career has come along in a massive nature. He was brilliant for us, first Test series against India can be daunting for a guy. He tends to operate in a little bit more of mature manner.

“He’s only 21 years old but the way he conducts himself on the field, speaks and communicates with me is one of someone who’s played quite a few Tests and has been around for quite a few years, which is another great attribute to have as a young player. He is also a great team man and always ready to have a laugh with the guys. I don’t think he takes himself seriously, which is a tick in the right box and would like to think that he has a bright future for South Africa.”

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