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Batting in middle-order is not new for me, so no pressure: Ambati Rayudu

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Ambati Rayudu

Visakhapatnam | Anointed as India’s number four in the ODI format with the World Cup in mind, Ambati Rayudu on Tuesday said the responsibility does not pressurise him at all, as he preferred to stay in the present.

India and West Indies are locked in a five-match ODI series, with the home team leading 1-0 on the eve of the second match here. “Not really,” Rayudu said when asked if he is feeling any pressure three days after skipper Virat Kohli backed him for a position for which the team management has tried as many as seven batsmen since the tour of Sri Lanka in 2017.

The 33-year-old began his first-class career way back in 2001-02 but had to wait till 2013 to make his international debut, against Zimbabwe, aged 28. The Hyderabad batsman added, “To be very honest, I am just focused on this series at the moment and not really thinking too far ahead. “I don’t think it is new for me as I have been batting in the middle order for long. There is nothing new that they have asked me to do.

Rayudu was dropped from the Indian ODI squad headed for England earlier this year for failing the mandatory yo-yo test, but has since made it clear that he has nothing against strict fitness benchmark. “I have been working on my fitness right from my injury. I don’t think yo-yo test had any bearing on how I was preparing or how I was going about my fitness. Even now I am going to the NCA, there is a small pocket of free time for a week and I am happy that I cleared the test. “I think even before the IPL, it’s not that I was not in contention. It’s just that I had few injuries. IPL was good platform to come back strong, especially on my fitness.”

In the two Tests as well as the only ODI played so far, the West Indies bowling attack was not able to challenge the Indian batting enough, something that has so far deprived the home team of a chance to test its middle-order ahead of the 2019 showpiece event. Asked about it, Rayudu did not read much into it.

“Obviously it’s great that top three are doing so well for India. It’s a challenge for the middle order to always be ready to get in and bat. I am sure everybody is up for it, everybody knows the situation. “It’s just one game (the first ODI in Guwahati), I think they bowled really well and it’s just that Virat and Rohit batted brilliantly. They will pose a good challenge in the coming games.”

Kohli and Sharma slammed big hundreds as India, chasing 323, cantered to an eight-wicket win with almost eight overs to spare in the series-opener.

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Gopichand hopes India will get badminton gold at Tokyo Games

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Mumbai | Saying that “every year has been better than the previous one”,chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand is hopeful that India would clinch its first ever gold medal in the discipline at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Well, I think every year, in the last few years, has been better than the previous one.

“In 2008 (Beijing Olympics) — the quarterfinal results was the biggest result, in 2012 (London Olympics) we had the first-ever bronze (Saina Nehwal), in 2016 (Rio Olympics) we had the first-ever silver (P V Sindhu) and, hopefully, 2020 (Tokyo Olympics) we will have the first-ever gold,” Gopichand said here Monday.

The former All England champion was speaking after felicitating the seven winners of the IDBI Federal Quest for Excellence #Young Champ programme who will undergo training at the his academy in Hyderabad.

Gopichand said earlier badminton was remembered for men’s singles players like Nandu Natekar, Suresh Goel and Prakash Padukone, among others, but Saina Nehwal changed the perception.

“Well, yes. For a long time before these girls (referring to Saina Nehwal, P V Sindhu) came out, badminton was primarily remembered for men’s singles players, whether it is Nandu Natekar, Suresh Goel, Prakash (Padukone) Sir or Syed Modi.

“It is how that whole thing was. The change to that (perception) happened (and for that) Saina (Nehwal) was important.

“We needed somebody with that kind of push, hunger, will to win, because (being) the first person to come out and win is very difficult,” the veteran shuttler said.

He heaped praise on Sindhu, saying the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist has at least 2 more Olympics left.

“It is great to see what Sindhu has achieved — World Championship medal, Olympic medal and all other medals – and you can still look at her and say ‘she has two Olympics to go at least’, and that is something fantastic,” he noted.

Gopichand said he was able to pass on the formula for winning to his students at an early age.

“I won the All England (Championship) at 27 and all my life I wish I had won All England at 20, then I would have had so many more years of experience.

“When we were starting off (with coaching), it was my mom’s statement — `if you had won early, or if you kids (students) will win early, they will have enough chances to stumble, fall down, tie their laces and move’.

“Because when I realised that I knew the formula for winning, my career was finished.

“So I just wanted to pass it (formula) so that my kids (students) can win at a younger age. And I’m sure I have been successful in that because Sindhu won when she was very young.

A lot of my players have won at a young age,” he said.

According to Gopichand, the change in Indian badminton over the last 10 years has been “fantastic”.

“Fantastic, I would say. The sport has jumped in all parameters. Prakash (Padukone) Sir played leagues in Denmark, Vimal (Kumar) played in UK, I have played in Germany and today we host the biggest league in the world (Premier Badminton League).

“Things have changed. We have (Carolina) Marin coming here to play, Viktor (Axelson) coming here to play.

Tournaments in those countries are stopped because we have leagues more popular than theirs.

“The earnings of top players have gone up. They are encouraging a whole set of people to take the sport forward,” he signed off.

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Don’t mind being called arrogant: Vinesh Phogat

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New Delhi | Stubborn by her own admission, trailblazing Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat doesn’t mind being called arrogant for it since the attitude comes in handy to intimidate rivals on the mat.

Speaking to PTI in an exclusive interview, India’s first woman wrestler to claim an Asian Games gold medal dwelled on the perceptions about her, life after marriage to fellow grappler Somvir Rathee and her Olympic dreams.

“I am very stubborn, since childhood. If I feel something is right, even if that is wrong, I will be very stubborn about that and I make sure people agree with me even if I am wrong sometimes,” she laughed.

But would she call it a virtue, to be steadfast even if wrong?

“If someone explains it with love and proves that my thought process is wrong and I also start to realise that, then I concede and step back,” she said.

And what about the perception of being arrogant for being so headstrong?

“Yes people say that (arrogant) but I know what’s inside me. And if it helps me on the mat, I don’t bother,” she said.

“It helps me on the mat. People say it’s over-confidence but for me it’s belief. I don’t get intimidated and your opponent also notices the body language. Some people work on it but for me it’s God gift,” she added.

The 24-year-old Commonwealth Games champion recently got married and is now determined to end the stereotype of women’s career getting affected by their marital status.

“People say that after marriage, we lose spark and fire but I want to break this myth. I want to take this fear out of girls that marriage is a barrier. I want to be an example, so I decided to marry early,” Vinesh said.

“Of course you need support of your partner. There are a few in our society who do not believe in (love) relationships (without marriage) so they will ask why don’t you get married and some will say why marry so early? Now Olympics is a major competition and I have all the support of Somvir,” she said.

Vinesh, the first Indian athlete ever to be nominated for Laureus World Sports Award, also insisted that the mindset of Indian wrestlers have greater self-belief.

“I feel India have 4-5 strong contenders, who can beat any wrestler in the world. I won’t take names but we can win 2-3 Olympic medals. The mindset has changed,” she asserted.

“Earlier people used to just look for participation or win a round at the Worlds but now medals are a possibility for all. I know these girls. After Sakshi’s bronze, girls are now targetting gold at Olympics.

“We have started becoming technically smart while earlier we just played a power game, it’s giving results.”

The significance of getting a nomination for the prestigious Laureus awards has still not dawned on the Haryana grappler.

“Honestly I still don’t know what this nomination is about. I just know that my name has been put for voting. I had not even heard of Laureus. And if no Indian athlete has been nominated before, I can only be proud of it.

“…it’s definitely huge for wrestling in India because it is still struggling for recognition,” said Vinesh.

The winner of multiple international medals says her comeback from a career-threatening injury, sometimes has even her amazed.

“I have seen athletes struggling so badly after suffering injuries. Sometimes I get shocked to see what and how I have achieved this success. It’s nothing but God’s grace.”

Will she not give credit to her own hard work?

“It’s not just hard work because innumerable athletes do that. This is something which I don’t know. I beat even the formidable Japan wrestlers after injury, it’s God’s grace only.”

Vinesh said Somvir has played a huge role in her success.

“If Somvir was not there, Vinesh would not be what Vinesh is today. He is one person who has contributed to my success more than my family. The way he motivated me, no one did. I believe more in him than myself.

“He has videos of all my opponents in his phone. He knows them all, who attacks better, whose defense is solid. He devises strategies for me. He is more focussed on me than on himself. He has lot of belief in me,” she explained.

How did this bond develop? “I don’t know,” she laughed.

“I just know that there is trust.”

Vinesh happily noted that there is lot of improvement in system and credits WFI President for that.

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Virat Kohli is greatest ODI batsman to have played the game: Michael Clarke

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New Delhi | That Virat Kohli is destined to be among the pantheons of all-time greats is an oft-repeated assertion but for former Australia captain Michael Clarke, the India skipper is already the “greatest ODI batsman to have ever played the game”.

Kohli, the world’s no.1 Test and ODI batsman, led India through a historic tour of Australia, during which the team won the Test and ODI rubbers and drew the T20 International series.

Kohli’s India was the first team ever not to lose any series Down Under and along the way, he continued to add to his rapidly-rising count of international hundreds.

“To me, Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman to have ever played one-day cricket. I have no doubts after seeing what he has achieved for India,” Clarke, himself a former World Cup-winning captain, told PTI in an interview.

Kohli has already scored 10,385 runs in 219 ODIs with an astounding average of 59 plus, including 39 hundreds.

An unabashed Kohli fan, Clarke said that the 30-year-old Indian’s passion is unmatchable.

“You have to respect Virat’s passion to win games for his country. Yes, he has aggression but no one can question his commitment, how much he has achieved. He is the greatest in ODIs,” Clarke said.

While Kohli’s craft continues to evoke awe, his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s current form has the cricketing world divided.

Dhoni’s style of batsmanship in ODIs, no longer as aggressive as it used to be, has been a matter of concern but for Clarke, the 37-year-old former India captain should be left alone to play his game.

“MS knows how to react to any given situation. He has played 300 plus ODIs so he knows how to go about his job,” Clarke said.

But would Dhoni have been as effective as he was in the third ODI against Australia if the target would have been 330 instead of 230?

“I think he would have played differently. It was 230 and he had a particular strategy and it would have been different if the target would have been bigger,” he said.

“Look at his approach in the second game in Adelaide and the third game in Melbourne. It was different,” Clarke said.

Asked what should be Dhoni’s batting position in the World Cup, Clarke said, “Any position 4, 5 or 6. He is good enough to bat at any position and I believe Virat will use him accordingly.”

Clarke, however, made it clear that the currently suspended Hardik Pandya would play an important role for India going into the World Cup in England.

Pandya faces, as of now, an uncertain future owing to his much-condemned sexist remarks on a TV show.

“A talented player like Hardik is very necessary for the balance of the side. He can win games alone with his batting and I am confident he will be in that World Cup squad,” Clarke sounded confident.

While he didn’t speak about the Pandya-KL Rahul controversy but Clarke looked at the bigger picture about professional sportspersons being role models.

He stressed on the aspect of “respect”.

Asked if a lot of money is making youngsters go haywire in their conduct, Clarke gave his insight.

“How much money you have earned is irrelevant because most important thing is to earn and give respect. I think it all starts with how you have been brought up.

“Respecting every individual is very important. It starts with respecting elders regardless of profession,” Clarke, who has been a chip of the old bloc when it comes to traditions, said.

But former batting mainstay also spoke about the need to not make one “mistake” the focus of somebody’s career.

“Professional sportspersons are role models, recognized and they have a responsibility. Having said that, everyone makes mistakes and one needs to move on and learn from them,” said Clarke, who played 115 Tests and 245 ODIs for Australia.

Asked if India are favourites to win the World Cup, Clarke said, “Certainly one of the favourites with the kind of bowling talent India have at the moment. The batting was always strong and they also have wonderful young spinners.

What has impressed Clarke is the fact that India doesn’t have any “apparent weakness in the bowling department”.

“Jasprit Bumrah is a skillful bowler who is improving every day. He continues to get better with his seam, swing, and pace. He is the best death bowler in ODI cricket at the moment,” said Clarke.

However, the cricket analyst in him also feels that England will be a very difficult team to beat at home.

“England is a very good ODI side and will be hard to beat at home. Also, I would like Australia to be in the mix. Australia will get better when the frontline pacers including Nathan Coulter Nile come back,” explained Clarke.

Talking about Australian cricket, Clarke is hopeful that things will change for the better very soon if there is good leadership (not captaincy).

“There is plenty of talent in Australian cricket. We have good young players playing Sheffield Shield. They still believe Test cricket is the pinnacle,” he said.

But he offered a word of caution too.

“A lot of hard work is needed and good leadership, which can select the right guys, back them and give them time to perform,” he said.

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