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Don’t think Virat wields disproportionate influence: COA chief Vinod Rai

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New Delhi: Virat Kohli’s aura in Indian cricket has grown exponentially over the past few years but contrary to popular perception, he has never wielded “disproportionate influence” when it comes to policy decisions, says Committee of Administrators (COA) chief Vinod Rai.

Rai has had first-hand experience of interacting with Kohli on policy matters and after 16 months, he has his own assessment of the maverick Indian skipper.

“Any captain will exercise a certain amount of influence on the team. I am in favour of allowing that flexibility and discretion to a certain degree. After all, the captain carries the cross,” Rai told PTI in an exclusive interaction during an event at Delhi Gymkhana here.

“But I will make it clear that nobody has come to me and said that Virat exercises influence, which is disproportionate to what a captain should be enjoying,” he added.

The former CAG stated that the skipper has never pressurised him on any policy matter.

“At a personal level, Virat’s behaviour with me has been absolutely proper. Virat has never pressurised me for anything. Neither the team management nor selectors have ever had any complaints about Virat,” Rai said.

The speculation over Kohli’s excessive influence in policy decisions was quite high during the resignation of Anil Kumble as chief coach. It was widely reported that it was Kohli’s pressure that forced Kumble to step down.

The three-member selection committee led by MSK Prasad with a collective playing experience of 13 Tests, at times have been put under pressure but the COA chief believes that the former wicket-keeper is not one who can be easily dominated.

“I have no first hand of knowledge that selectors have been under any pressure. I have a great amount of respect for MSK,” he replied.

Without getting into details, he spoke about how Prasad had handled a selection pressure once just after the COA had taken over.

“I know of a particular incident when there was a bit of pressure on MSK. It was during January, last year when we (COA) had just come. I was told that MSK switched off his phone and then did the selection which was purely based on merit,” he said.

“MSK can’t be cowed down and he is senior enough to tackle the star power. When he selected the team for Afghanistan Test, he was given a pool of players without Virat. Also, neither I nor Diana (Edulji) sits in selection meetings,” he added.

Rai also explained the rationale behind allowing Kohli to play county cricket for Surrey at the expense of Afghanistan Test.

“I was involved in the decision-making right from the start. There was a lot of criticism that the team didn’t have enough time to acclimatise during the South Africa tour where we lost the Test series 1-2.

“This time we discussed with team management, with India A coach Rahul Dravid and chalked an elaborate plan so that our boys reach their early and get to play matches in order to get ready. Also, the Afghanistan CEO (Shafiq Stanikzai) made a statesmanlike statement that they are playing India and not Virat Kohli,” he added.

Rai also made it clear that the decision of not playing ‘pink ball cricket’ was taken only after consulting the “primary stakeholders” — which is the players — and insisted that knowing their “mindset” is necessary.

“The whole world plays matches to win. Maybe 50 years back, Indian team used to play Test matches for a draw. We have a fantastic team and they want to focus on whatever is the immediate objective (win Test series in England and Australia, 2019 WC in England).”

Rai also said that Team Director Ravi Shastri had provided the COA with the players’ feedback having spoken to the skipper and some other senior players.

“On April 12, Ravi (Shastri) had met us for a debriefing and he told us, ‘Look the team is focussed on something else (with a year left for World Cup). The team is not ready to start practising with the pink ball yet’.

“When we asked Ravi, has he spoken to senior players, he replied that he has indeed taken feedback from Virat and Rohit (limited overs vice-captain).”

While Shastri’s e-mailed response when acting secretary Amitabh Chaudhary had first discussed the idea was that there is no harm in “experimenting”.

“When Ravi was asked about his response he said ‘let’s experiment’ and that doesn’t mean playing any match with international teams. We have been experimenting in Duleep Trophy and it will continue.”

Questioned whether India will play a ‘pink ball Test’ in the 2019-20 home series, Rai replied: “I am not making a commitment. It requires a long-term planning and I leave it to GM (Cricket Operations) Saba Karim.”

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Japan make history with World Cup win against 10-man Colombia

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Japan

Saransk | Yuya Osako exacted sweet revenge for Japan on Tuesday as the Blue Samurai beat Colombia 2-1, becoming the first Asian side ever to beat a South American team at the World Cup.

Osako’s 73rd-minute winner meant the Japanese avenged their 4-1 mauling in the group stages of Brazil 2014 as Colombia played with a man down for 86 minutes in Saransk. After leaving Brazil without a win four years ago, Japan made a dream start to their Russian campaign even though head coach Akira Nishino was only appointed in April.

In an explosive start to the Group H clash, Colombia defender Carlos Sanchez earned the first red card of Russia 2018 with a handball after just four minutes. Japan took a shock lead when Shinji Kagawa netted the resulting penalty before Juan Quintero equalised with a free-kick for Colombia to make it 1-1 at half-time.

Brazil 2014 top scorer James Rodriguez came on for the last half-hour after labouring in training with a calf strain but could not pull his side level after Osako’s goal. Travelling Colombia fans turned the Mordovia Arena into a sea of yellow, but were soon stunned into silence.

When Osako fired in a shot from Japan’s first attack, Sanchez blocked the effort with a raised arm. Referee Damir Skomina showed him a straight red card after pointing to the spot without referring to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

The Colombians bitterly protested but Kagawa drilled home the spot kick to put Japan ahead in the sixth minute. It was the second-fastest red card in World Cup finals history, bettered only by the 52 seconds it took Jose Batista of Uruguay to be sent off against Scotland at Mexico ’86.

After the dismissal, Colombia poured forward and their captain Radamel Falcao twice went close. Colombia coach Jose Pekerman made a tactical switch on 31 minutes, with Wilmar Barrios replacing Juventus midfielder Juan Cuadrado.

The pressure paid off as Quintero’s low free-kick flew under Japan’s wall and crept inside the post shortly before half-time. The goal was confirmed by goal-line technology. Japan pressed after the break, forcing Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina into a string of saves.

To a deafening roar from Colombia fans, Rodriguez came on for Quintero on 58 minutes, just before Barrios earned a yellow card for clattering Kagawa from behind.

Japanese pressure paid off when Osako, who was a constant menace to the Colombia defence, leapt highest from a corner and guided his header in off the post with 17 minutes to go.

The goal jolted Colombia into life as Rodriguez then Barrios went close at the other end. Bayern Munich star Rodriguez earned a late yellow card for sliding into Japan midfielder Genki Haraguchi.

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CT will be reality check for us ahead of hockey world cup, says captain PR Sreejesh

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PR Sreejesh

Bengaluru | Indian men’s hockey team captain PR Sreejesh says the upcoming FIH Champions Trophy, which will feature all the top teams of the world, could provide a reality check ahead of the season-ending World Cup.

Having finished second best in the last edition, Indian men’s hockey team would want to go one step ahead this time, but Sreejesh is looking at the event in a different way.

The 18-member Indian team will leave for Breda, Netherlands later tonight to take part in the last edition of the Champions Trophy, to be held from June 23 to July 1.

With hosts The Netherlands, Argentina, Pakistan, Belgium and defending champions Australia in the fray, the tournament will be a litmus test for India ahead of the World Cup, to be held in Bhubaneswar later this year.

“Though right now our immediate goal is to do well in this tournament, there is no doubt the Champions Trophy will be a reality check for us to see where we stand among other top teams especially ahead of the World Cup,” said Sreejesh ahead of the team’s departure.

“It is the final edition of Champions Trophy and I am sure every team would want to make it memorable. It will be a challenging tournament with back-to-back matches and winning those three points from each game will be the only thing on our minds.”

India, who had won a historic silver medal in the previous edition in London, will begin their campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan on June 23 but Sreejesh said it is just another game for them despite the hype around the high-profile encounter.

“For us, the match against Pakistan is just another game where we will be looking to win three points. In this tournament every single match is crucial if we want to see ourselves in the title round because the first two teams on top of the points table will play the final,” said the custodian Sreejesh.

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India failed to emerge as football power by not quitting Commonwealth: Book

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1950 Indian Football team

New Delhi | Parochialism has been affecting Indian football over the years but things might have been different had India left the Commonwealth in 1950 to join the soccer world full time, a new book claims.

India won the Asian Games football gold in 1951, again in 1962 and came fourth in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

“Had soccer grabbed its chance, and Jawaharlal Nehru followed popular sentiment and left the Commonwealth, who is to say that today football, not cricket, would be the main sport of India,” UK-based sports commentator Mihir Bose says.

“Had India left the Commonwealth in 1950, making Indian cricket a world outcast, and the Indian football gone to Brazil to play in the World Cup the same year, that by itself would have made India a football nation like Saudi Arabia which does not see playing in the World Cup an impossible dream,” he argues in his book “Game Changer”.

“Had India gone to the World Cup in 1950, it would have been playing the best of world football. In the 1950s, that was not possible for India in cricket. Matching wits against the best would have been a tremendous boost for the sport,” Bose also told PTI.

“Football then was more popular than cricket, had reached more parts of the country, had links with Indian nationalism in the way cricket did not and playing in the World Cup would have boosted the game,” he adds.

He also says that football in India did not really follow the game as it was played in the rest of the world and has been “wretchedly” led.

“Cricket administrators are bad but football have been worse,” he alleges.

“Game Changer”, published by Palimpsest, is a critical take on the English Premier League and has a special chapter on Indian football titled “First Words”. The foreword is written by veteran football commentator Novy Kapadia.

“The England team may not have been a success but the Premier League is the most successful leagues in the world. It shows how English domestic football has reinvented itself in the last quarter of a century from being a league that was going nowhere and outclassed by La Liga and Serie A,” Bose says about the EPL.

He says Indian clubs need to learn from the sides in the English Premier League on how to market themselves.

“English clubs are very good at reaching out to their fan base and making their club’s name well known and reaching out beyond the football public.”

But to really develop the sport, Indian clubs need to set up academies which can nurture young players, he suggests.

“Also they need to make sure their coaches go out into remote rural areas to seek out young players who could be turned into stars. They also need to develop links with clubs in England and other European countries so their young players can come to Europe to learn about the game. Their coaches should also do the same,” Bose says.

According to him, Indian sports followers do not seem to be interested in the grass roots of the game and their focus seems to be on celebrity sports, and cricket in India has all the celebrities.

“It is not easy for football to compete with cricket. This will have to be a long process,” he says.

“FIFA thinks Indian football is a great underdeveloped story of world football. Indian football has a long, rocky road ahead but it is not an impossible one. They can learn from how the English Premier League reinvented the game,” he hopes

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