Saina pleased with the way things are going

A philosophical Saina Nehwal believes in destiny! Well, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist says she has put in a lot of hard work to be match-fit for the prestigious All England championship slated for next week and hopes to see that everything falls in place.

“I look at it this way. There is no doubt you have to fight for every round and for five days successfully to win a title. Still, if it is in the destiny that you will win the All England title, it will happen,” she said smilingly after a gruelling training session under the watchful eyes of chief national coach P. Gopi Chand at his academy here on Monday.

The 27-year-old champion shuttler is happy with the improved on-court movements. “But again, you never know what is going to happen until you play a match. And, I am aware that when you are up against someone like Tai Tzu (World No. 1) in the very first round of All England, you have to be at your best and very, very fit to be in with a chance,” she explained.

“All I can is that I will give off my best after a very satisfying rehab programme to strengthen my legs. I have done those tough rallies with the boys and am pretty pleased with the way things are going,” she said.

Biggest change

Saina, who rejoined Gopi after last year’s World Championship bronze-medal performance, says the biggest change is she is much faster, physically stronger now, thanks to Gopi sir.

“To be honest, I am sure that once I am fit, I need not worry too much about the game as I can pick up those difficult strokes and be ready to face even Tai, who is known to play the shots at the last minute from the baseline too,” Saina said.

“What is important is how well you respond to the given situation,” she said. “This is largely because Gopi sir. He suggested to get the correct way of transfer of body weight. The fat percentage is down. He is happy with my overall progress, including diet and recovery. And all that a coach can do, he has done. We tried our best in the last five months,” the 2015 All England championship finalist said.

Saina also believes that the new service rule should not be a problem for her but felt that they could have experimented it earlier at the Indonesia Open itself than the prestigious All England championship.

IPL 2018: KKR appoints Dinesh Karthik as captain, Uthappa vice-captain

After playing 152 matches for five IPL teams in the last ten years, Dinesk Karthik will play for a sixth team — Kolkata Knight Riders and lead it as well!

He was named skipper by the franchise’s CEO and MD Venky Mysore in the TV programme Knight Club — KKR Ka Captain Kaun aired on Sunday morning. The 32-year-old India wicket-keeper batsman, who was bought for ₹7.4 crore, will have Robin Uthappa as his deputy.

When asked if his recall to the National side influenced KKR to name him captain, Karthik said: “Maybe. Let’s be fair to them. They did not pick the captain and then the team. They picked the team in the hope that they will find the right captain in that mix.

“The good thing was that they had a few (in the basket) to pick from. They had some players who have been with them for ten years, some internationals stars and me, who has been around for some time, but who has never been part of their squad.

“The important thing for them was to check if I would fit into their culture and mindset. They had their options, weighed the pros and cons and probably decided thinking “this guy is playing international cricket and he is at a stage of his career, where he will give a lot as a player and as a leader.”’

“Probably this feeling made them tilt towards me. I was looking forward to this opportunity as soon as the team was picked. I was preparing for it mentally. So when they offered it to me, I was more than happy to take.

“KKR is a big franchise, it’s done phenomenally well in the last ten years. I would be honoured if I put KKR’s legacy in the right direction.”

Deodhar Trophy: Plenty at stake for the aspirants

The players drove into this hilly town in batches. With no time for preparation, they go into the match on Sunday with hope that they can use this opportunity and make the most of the Deodhar Trophy tournament so poorly scheduled.

The India-A and India-B teams feature in the opening game, which is likely to be affected by rain. The wet outfield on Saturday did not auger well for the tournament where some players must be looking to make an impact in the presence of two National selectors.


As India-A coach Paras Mhambrey said, “some of the players are pretty excited. The selection for this tournament is a reward for their performances in the season and I see some of them have the potential to go ahead. For them it is like carrying on from the last game.”

The emphasis obviously would be on maintaining the consistency that has brought them thus far. India-B coach Abhay Sharma noted, “The players have a lot to gain if they can use this opportunity and push their cases. The IPL (Indian Premier League) is not far away and they can prepare for it with decent performances here. It will be the icing on the cake if they leave this place as champions.”

Most of the names are well known. For Unmukt Chand and Kulwant Khejroliya, both from Delhi, it is a stage they can drive strength from. Prithvi Shaw is expected to excel. Shubman Gill is another youngster, along with the dashing wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan, who can back himself to play in the next grade.

Hyderabad batsman Rohit Rayudu, Kerala fast bowler Basil Thampi, Maharashtra opener Ruturaj Gaikwad, Bengal star Abhimanyu Easwaran and Andhra strokeplayer Hanuma Vihari have been picked with an eye on the future, They have specific roles assigned and need to be at their best.

Fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami can test themselves ahead of the IPL. Delhi seamer Navdeep Saini continues his impressive march and a decent show here would boost his claims, Test off-spinner Jayant Yadav, recovering from an injury, will want to shed off his rustiness and look for a comeback to the national team.

The timing of the tournament may not be ideal but Abhay observed there is plenty at stake.

“Playing a match without practice may be a challenge for the players but they are professionals. Modern cricket is about adaptability and I expect them to adjust,” said Abhay. Mhambrey agreed, “We have a fair idea of the players. This tournament helps them understand each other better. It is about gaining and learning.”

Change in terms gives hope to older runners

The eleventh renewal, and 56th overall, of the championship event — the Indian Turf Invitation Cup — will be run in the ‘City of Joy’ on Sunday.

A significant change in the terms has given hope to the older runners, who will be trying their luck for the fifth time, which may well prove to be the platform for their first ever success as a group. That change has been a two-kilogramme reduction in weight conceded to the members of the Classic generation.

Previous winners in fray

Of the three veterans in the field, both Alaindair (now eight) and Temerity (now five) have previously annexed this prize and are in fine fettle.

Given that four-year-olds have an unblemished record hitherto, one has to closely examine their chances. About 40% of Invitation Cup winners have come from amongst the ranks of Indian Derby winners, so Rochester has a fairly good probability of repeating his Mahalakshmi feat.

The runner-up on that occasion was Lady In Lace, who flattened out in the last 100 metres of that race, probably because she lacked peak fitness following a setback. Connections feel that — with the benefit of that run — it can turn the tables here.

She is likely to start as the public choice.

Not out of consideration is the Indian Oaks winner Manifold, who followed up with a third in the Indian Derby behind Rochester and Lady In Lace after a rest of a mere fortnight. With four weeks having elapsed since she was last seen in public, she is poised to put that loss behind her.

Flying somewhat under the radar has been Kangra, winner of the Bangalore Winter Derby. If one ignores her lacklustre effort in the Pune Derby last October, she has been consistency personified and is a strong contender for an on-the-board finish.

Castlebridge tipped

The chief supporting event of the afternoon, the Maj. P.K. Mehra Super Mile (Gr.1, 1600 m.) appears to be at the mercy of Castlebridge. He bids fair to emulate the last two winners of this race by coming down in distance after essaying longer trips.

Also in his favour is the fact that some two-thirds of the winners of this race in the last couple of decades have been four-year-olds; he also has home track advantage. From his age group, only Mauritania has taken him on. Evesham and New England may prove best of the older set.

Phil Simmons looking for World Cup spot

Phil Simmons insisted that leading Afghanistan to the 2019 World Cup in England, and not exacting revenge over the West Indies, was his top priority when the 10-team qualifying tournament gets underway on Sunday.

The groups
  • Group A: West Indies, The Netherlands, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Ireland, UAE.
  • Group B: Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Nepal, Hong Kong.
  • Sunday’s matches: Ireland v Netherlands, PNG v UAE; Zimbabwe v Nepal, Afghanistan v Scotland.

Simmons, who played 26 Tests and 143 ODIs for the West Indies from 1987 to 1999, was sacked as coach of the Caribbean side in 2016, just five months after leading it to the World T20 title in India.

His sacking had been preceded by a suspension the previous year for publicly criticising the West Indies selection policy.

Simmons, 54, took over the reins of Afghanistan in December and his mission was to get the newly-minted Test team to a second successive World Cup in England and Wales next year.

Afghanistan takes on Scotland in its opening match at Bulawayo on Sunday, with Simmons playing down his team’s status as one of the favourites to reach the final.

“I am not putting the ‘favourites’ tag on me.

“We have just come here to play cricket, we need to play proper cricket and win this tournament,” said Simmons, who has plenty of “inside knowledge” of his opponents.

As well as West Indies, the former all-rounder has coached hosts Zimbabwe and enjoyed a successful eight-year spell in charge of Ireland with whom he reached two World Cups.

Martono takes pole

Indonesian driver Presley Martono got his second pole position of the MRF Challenge 2017 season at the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) on Friday. Martono came very close to beating the 1min 30 mark, but just felt short and will start alongside championship leader Felipe Drugovich for the first race of the weekend.

Drugovich was the first to set a competitive time before Pavan Ravishankar and Louis Gachot both went faster. Rinus van Kalmthout then set a 1:30.628 only for Martono to go even quicker seconds later. The Indonesian driver went even faster with a 1:30.017 to confirm his pole position. Drugovich could only manage a 1:30.377 to take second position.

Van Kalmthout and Julien Falchero will start on the second row with Ravishankar and Danial Frost locking out row three.

Felipe Drugovich, who took can take the championship if he wins the first race, said, “I am happy to be starting on the front row but disappointed not to be on pole. We tried to find the right balance but we are not there yet. Our race pace is good so looking to get a good start and will take it from there.”

Meanwhile, Bengaluru’s Ashish Ramaswamy of Arka Motor Sports team set the benchmark taking pole position among saloon cars as the first round of the MRF MMSC Fmsci Indian National Racing Championship commenced.

The results (qualifying – top 3): MRF Challenge: 1. Presley Martono (Indonesia) (01min, 30.017secs); 2. Felipe Drugovich (Brazil) (01:30.377); 3. Rinus van Kalmthout (Netherlands) (01:30.468).

Saloon cars: 1. Ashish Ramaswamy (Arka Motor Sports) (01:53.520); 2. V. Nikanth Ram (Arka Motor Sports) (01:55.816); 3. B. Vijay Kumar (Prime Racing) (01:56.741).

Arvind hangs up his boots

After 10 years of wearing karnatka colours, 56 First Class matches and 186 wickets, S. Arvind said adieu on Tuesday.

The left-arm seamer, just two months shy of his 34th birthday, announced his decision even as the rest of his Karnataka teammates had muted celebrations.

Having made his First Class debut against Saurashtra way back in December 2008, Arvind said it was great to end against the same opposition but on a better note — Karnataka had lost that Ranji Trophy quarterfinal.

“I decided last night and told the team about it. A lot of youngsters are coming in and I have been in and out. So I just want to give way to them to try and build their careers. They are marching into a good side now,” Arvind said.

Having played a single T20I for India, Arvind’s career has been marked by inconsistencies and injuries. He was part of the unbeaten Karnataka side that established itself as a powerhouse by completing a double-treble, winning the Ranji Trophy, the Irani Cup and the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2013-14 and in 2014-15, the second of which also saw him pick up a career-best 44 wickets in a season.

Deodhar Trophy: Ashwin and Shreyas to lead

R. Ashwin and Shreyas Iyer will lead the India-A and India-B squads that will compete along with Vijay Hazare champion Karnataka in the Deodhar Trophy to be held in Dharamshala between March 4 and 8.

Karun Nair will helm the Rest of India side that will clash with Ranji Trophy champion Vidarbha for the Irani Cup at Nagpur from March 14.

The teams:

India-A: R. Ashwin (capt.), Prithvi Shaw, Unmukt Chand, Akshdeep Nath, Shubman Gill, Ricky Bhui, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan (wk), Krunal Pandya, Mohd. Shami, Navdeep Saini, Basil Thampi, Kulwant Khejroliya, Amandeep Khare and Rohit Rayudu.

India-B: Shreyas Iyer (capt.), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Ankit Bawne, Manoj Tiwary, Siddhesh Lad, K.S. Bharat (wk), Jayant Yadav, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, Siddarth Kaul, Khaleel Ahmed, Harshal Patel, Umesh Yadav and Rajat Patidar.

Rest of India (Irani Cup): Karun Nair (capt.), Prithvi Shaw, Abhimanyu Easwaran, R. Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, K.S. Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Anmolpreet Singh, Siddarth Kaul, Ankit Rajpoot, Navdeep Saini and Atit Sheth.

Davinder fails dope test, suspended

Javelin thrower Davinder Singh Kang has been suspended provisionally by the world athletics governing body after he returned positive for a steroid in an out-of-competition test last week.

The 29-year-old Kang’s dope sample was taken by the officials of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s new anti-doping body which started operations last year, four days ago in Patiala.

It was found to contain a banned steroid and Kang now faces the prospect of being banned for four years. In that case, his career could well be over.

The AIU officials tested Kang at a time prescribed by him under the “whereabouts” clause of the WADA Code as he is one of the five Indian athletes placed in the IAAF Registered Testing Pool.

Kang’s dope failure was intimated to the Athletics Federation of India by the IAAF on Tuesday and his name was removed from the starting line-up of men’s javelin throw at the Indian GP.

Last year, the Punjab athlete had also tested positive for marijuana, traces of which were found in his urine sample collected by the National Anti-Doping Agency officials during an event here on May 15.

Kang, a medal prospect in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games this year, was not suspended by the NADA at that time, since marijuana falls under the “specified substance” category in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited list of the performance-enhancing drugs.

 World Cup of Tennis mooted

A massive shake-up of the Davis Cup competition will see the formation of an 18-nation World Cup of Tennis Finals, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said on Monday.

The one-week event played in one location in November could start next year, pending approval by the ITF’s Board in August.

In a statement outlining a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with investment group Kosmos, ITF president David Haggerty said it would be a game-changer for the competition.

“Our vision is to create a major season-ending finale that will be a festival of tennis and entertainment, featuring the world’s greatest players representing their nations to decide the Davis Cup champions,” Haggerty said.

A Griezmann treble

BCCI mulling women’s exhibition T20s during IPL

The Indian cricket board (BCCI) is mulling to conduct a few exhibition women T20 matches this year during the knock-out phase of the IPL if things work out logistically. This move is to test the waters before BCCI launches a women’s T20 league.

According to Committee of Administrators (CoA) chairman Vinod Rai, the BCCI is committed to conducting a women’s IPL and this year could see some concrete movement on this front. “If we find that we can host a few exhibition matches then BCCI would like to do it this year. The women cricketers deserve to play IPL,” Rai told TOI on Sunday.

Even the IPL Governing Council deliberated this proposal in October last year. According to the minutes of the meeting, “The members deliberated on the requirement for a women’s event besides an event for the juniors. The members suggested that a plan can be drawn and presented at the subsequent meeting.”

 Former star of India’s women’s team and CoA member Diana Edulji feels a lot of planning is needed before the idea becomes reality. “The IPL GC may discuss it for sure. If it’s feasible we will do it. I am all for women’s IPL. But it’s too late this year to come up with a full-fledged event because of time constraint. We need a different window and, therefore, we can’t rush into it. It needs a lot of planning,” Diana said.

As far as exhibition matches are concerned, a few top cricketers from England and Australia could be available for the mini-event. India will be playing a series against England next month. Following that, a tri-series has also been planned involving England, Australia and India. Thereafter, India are supposed to host another series against Australia. If things go as planned, England, Australia and South Africa players could be invited for this year’s event along with other Test playing nations.

Diana also praised the Indian women’s team which won the ODI and T20 series away in South Africa. “I am happy with the way they played. This series has shown a new Indian team. The body language was good. Their fielding picked up and they were keen to win the series.”