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With a feeler at IPL, KL Rahul ready to don triple responsibility




Shouldered with triple responsibility — of a wicketkeeper, premier batsman, and vice-captain of the Indian limited overs teams — KL Rahul on Wednesday said that the recent experience in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has given him a feeler for the multiple roles and he is willing to bat at No.5 where he enjoyed in the last series he played for India.

“I batted at No.5 the last time I played for India and I really enjoyed it. I am willing to bat wherever the team wants me to,” Rahul said at a media conference.

The batsman scored an unbeaten 88 and 112 in two of the three ODIs against New Zealand in an away series in February before Covid-19 batting at No. 5.

Rahul, who led the Kings XI Punjab and opened the batting in the IPL, also said that him taking on the role of wicket-keeper gives the India team the luxury of playing an additional batsman or bowler.

“I did get a little bit of a feeler with the IPL. I had to play similar roles there as well. It was challenging, it was new. I think, I got used to that role. Started enjoying it, so I think I will hopefully continue the same here,” said Rahul.

The Karnataka player, who made his ODI debut in 2016, has played just 32 ODIs so far. He also made his T20I debut in 2016 but has played just 42 matches in the shortest format over the last four years. This is something he felt did not allow him to settle into any specific role for a consistent period. But with MS Dhoni not playing after World Cup 2019, Rahul began to get chances. Between December, 2019 and February, 2020, he played nine one-dayers for India before Covid-19 intervened.

“I haven’t played 50-over cricket for a long, continued period of time. Though I had been part of the Indian team, I never got a long run like this. It feels good that I am contributing to the team’s win and playing my role pretty well and I am happy that I can go out and put up consistent performances,” said Rahul, who scored two centuries and three big half-centuries in his last nine ODIs.

He also said that he will be focusing on one task at a time, living in the moment, and not get distracted by other responsibilities.

“Something that I learnt from the IPL is to stay in the moment, in present, to think as a batter when I am batting and to assess the conditions as a batter and how I can win the game for my team. When I am wicketkeeping for those last three or four seconds the bowler is running, it is important that I switch on as a wicketkeeper and not think as a leader. This is what I learnt during this IPL. It is something that is key and important going ahead personally,” he added.

The right-hander could be a wicket-keeper-batsman option for India as the team gears up for three ICC events — two T20 World Cups in 2021 and 2022 and one 50-over one in 2023.

Although Rahul said nothing has been told to him, he willing to take up the challenge.

“Nothing has been told to me, and I am not thinking of that far. Obviously, the World Cups are very, very important. That is the long vision for every team and every country. When it comes to me, we are still taking it one game at a time, if I keep getting consistent performances with the bat and the gloves it obviously gives us the option of playing an extra bowler and an extra batter. Just helps the team combination most. Personally I would love to do. If the opportunity presents itself, I can keep for the three World Cups, I’d love to do for my country,” said Rahul, who will be stepping into the shoes of MS Dhoni, who retired this year.

Sanju Samson is the other wicketkeeper in the ODI squad while Rahul remains the sole wicketkeeper in the T20I squad.


Saina going through toughest phase of her career: U Vimal Kumar




Former world No.1 Saina Nehwal is going through the toughest phase of her career and needs to take care of herself so as to avoid any more defeats, says former national champion and coach U. Vimal Kumar.

Saina, currently ranked 20th in the world, was knocked out of the first round of the ongoing second Thailand Open. She had earlier fallen in the second round of the first Thailand Open, which was also her first tournament since the All England Championships in March 2020.

Kumar said that Saina looked “out of shape” in Thailand. “It is not going to be easy for her to bounce back. I have always said that if she has no pain, she will play well. More than the pain though she didn’t look very fit to me. Maybe after the Covid issue and all she is still recovering from it,” Kumar told IANS.

A two-time national champion, Kumar felt Saina is going through the toughest phase of her career.

“I think so. Things have not been going well for her for the past couple of years. She needs confidence to get going and the last she had a good result was in 2019 at the Indonesia Masters,” said the man who won the national title in 1988 and 1989.

“The workouts, physical training and other things have to be really specific. She has to plan all this a lot better and that is the only way she can come out of this. Losing more matches like this will affect her confidence. It is not only just physical, there is a lot of mental aspects [at play] as well. She is a strong girl but these results can affect her,” he said.

Saina had worked with Kumar in her formative years and later between 2014 and 2017 when she became the first Indian badminton player to achieve a No.1 ranking and won silver at the badminton World Championships.

The Hyderabad-based Saina’s best finishes in 2020 came when she reached the quarter-finals in the Malaysia Masters in January and the Barcelona Masters in February. The last time she won a title was the 2019 Indonesia Masters held in January.

Saina is currently 15th in the rankings for the Tokyo Olympics. With Sindhu already ranked seventh, Saina needs to break into the top eight to qualify for the Games. The tournaments in Thailand are not part of the Olympic qualifying period, which is scheduled to start with the Swiss Open on March 2.

“The next one or one-and-a-half months will determine her chances. The next five-six weeks will be key and give us an idea,” said Kumar.

Kumar, however, also said that the fact remains that while Saina and most of the Indian players are playing their first tournaments since March, when the national lockdown began, many of their opponents have had prior match practice with domestic championships being held in many countries.

“They are all awfully short of match practice. All of them are playing after more than 10 months which is not good. [PV] Sindhu also needs more matches; it’s the only way she can get back. We have to see how things go in March when things open up,” said Kumar.

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Teams undergo Covid-19 tests, ready for Mushtaq Ali T20 knockouts




The eight teams that will play the quarter-finals of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy here at the Motera from January 26 have undergone their Covid-19 tests and ended their brief quarantine period. They will begin practice from Sunday i.e. January 24.

The eight teams that have qualified for the knockouts are Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Baroda, Bihar and Rajasthan.

While Baroda and Himachal Pradesh, who played their league games in Vadodara were the first to arrive, the other teams arrived soon after.

The players underwent Covid-19 tests on arrival and have cleared them. “They will begin full practice sessions from Sunday as they have ended their brief quarantine period,” an official told IANS.

Karnataka will face Punjab in the first quarter-final while Tamil Nadu will play Himachal Pradesh in the second quarter-final, on January 26.

On January 27, Haryana will play Baroda in the third quarter-final. Their match will be followed by the fourth quarter-final between Bihar and Rajasthan.

The Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 knockouts will be the first competitive matches to be played at the revamped Motera Stadium which now has a seating capacity of 1,10,000.

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Team India’s win over Australia highly inspirational for youth: Narendra Modi




Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday again lauded the stellar performance of the Indian cricket team which registered a remarkable Test series win over Australia Down Under, saying the victory is highly inspirational for the youth of the country.

Addressing the 18th Convocation of Tezpur University, Assam via video conferencing, the Prime Minister said the team, despite facing a number of challenges, overpowered the Australia team with their talent and temperament.

“Indian team faced a lot of challenges in the recent tour of Australia. They suffered crushing defeat yet recovered equally fast and won the next match. The players showed determination despite injuries. They took the challenge head on and looked for fresh solutions instead of getting frustrated by difficult conditions,” Modi said.

“There were inexperienced players but their morale was high and they grabbed the opportunity given to them. They overpowered a better team with their talent and temperament,” he added.

The Indian team, after facing an embarrassing loss in the first Test in Adelaide where they were bowled out for their lowest Test score of 36, came back strongly in the next three matches to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy in an emphatic manner. The series saw Indian team register their first win at the Gabba in Brisbane – a venue where Australia last suffered a defeat in 1988.

The prime minister stressed that the stellar performance of our players is important not just from the point of view of the sports field.

First, we should have faith and confidence in our ability; second, a positive mindset begets positive results. Third and most important lesson, said Modi, is – if one is facing two options, one safe and the other is an option of a difficult victory, one must surely explore the option of victory.

“There is no harm in occasional failure and one should not refrain from taking the risks. We need to be proactive and fearless,” he said.

“If we overcome the fear of failure and unnecessary pressure, we will emerge fearless. This new India, confident and dedicated to goals, is evident not only in the cricket field, all of you are part of this picture,” Modi added.

Earlier, after the three-wicket win in the last Test on Tuesday, Modi had congratulated the Ajinkya Rahane-led side and tweeted: “We are all overjoyed at the success of the Indian cricket team in Australia. Their remarkable energy and passion was visible throughout. So was their stellar intent, remarkable grit and determination. Congratulations to the team! Best wishes for your future endeavours.”

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