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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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Is Paes coming to Asian Games? Indian captain Zeeshan Ali has no clue

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Leander Paes

Jakarta | Miffed at not getting a “specialist” men’s doubles partner, veteran tennis star Leander Paes today pulled out of the 18th Asian Games starting on Saturday.

The 45-year-old Indian, winner of 18 Grand Slams, was asked to team up with struggling singles player Sumit Nagal after All India Tennis Association (AITA) agreed to pair country’s top doubles players Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan in the men’s doubles, on their request.

Paes was already miffed at his exclusion from TOP Scheme but had made himself available for the Asian Games, where he has won eight medals, including five gold. “It is with a heavy heart that I have to say that I will not be playing the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia,” Paes said in a statement sent to PTI.

“Despite my repeated requests, from so many weeks in advance, it is sad that we have not been able to put a doubles specialist in the team for a credible second doubles pairing for the Asian Games.”

With Sharan and Bopanna deciding to play together, captain Zeeshan Ali had no choice but to pair Paes with Nagal or Ramkumar Ramanathan.

While Ramkumar is primarily a singles player and plays doubles occasionally, Nagal is in terrible form. He has lost nine straight first round matches on the Pro circuit, coming into the Asian Games. Paes has questioned why AITA didn’t field two specialist doubles teams.

“Ramkumar Ramanathan is a very good player, and I would love to play doubles with him. But considering that he has a golden chance to win the singles medal, it is not fair to distract him from his best event,” Paes said further in the statement. Paes was to return to the Games after missing the previous two editions.

“Our doubles specialists like Sriram Balaji, Vishnu Vardhan, Purav Raja and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan have been doing exceptionally well this season and one of them definitely deserved to strengthen the Asian Games squad,” Paes said. India as of now have five players in top-100 – Bopanna (32), Sharan (38), Paes (79), Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (88) and Purav Raja (90).

The next best two players — N Sriram Balaji (112) and Vishnu Vardhan (115) were also in top-100 some weeks back. Paes, however, asserted that his absence would not adversely affect India’s chances.

“Rather than affecting the team’s chances, I believe that my absence would only help the rest to play more events, be it doubles or mixed doubles,” he said. “I have been in constant touch with Captain Zeeshan Ali and have had long discussions with him with regard to Rohan Bopanna’s injury.

“I am happy to learn that Rohan has recovered and as such a doubles medal for India is almost assured. Without his availability it wouldn’t have been fair for me to withdraw as that may have impacted a possible gold from tennis.” Recently, Paes had asked AITA for an explanation as to why he was not chosen for TOP Scheme, but did not get a positive response.

“Till date I have submitted three applications for availing of the finances sanctioned by the government to athletes who represent the country. I have always put national duty before self and am confused as to why my application for the TOPS has not been processed so far,” Paes had written to AITA. “For me, it’s not about the money. Rather it’s about the apathy being shown to me despite the three decades I have spent proudly playing for the Tiranga.”

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Kumble, Azhar remember a ‘father figure’, ‘big influence’, says Tendulkar on Ajit Wadekar’s dimise

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Ajit Wadekar

New Delhi | A beleaguered captain and a struggling leg-spinner got a new lease of life under his managership and no wonder former India captains Mohammed Azharuddin and Anil Kumble found a “father figure” in Ajit Wadekar, during their glory days in international cricket.

For Sachin Tendulkar, he was a “big influence” as maestro’s career changed once he started opening the batting in ODIs. Wadekar, 77, passed away in Mumbai yesterday after prolonged illness.

“Deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Ajit Wadekar Sir. He was someone who was instrumental in bringing out the best in us during the 90s. We’ll always be grateful for his advice and guidance. Praying for strength for his family during this difficult time,” Tendulkar wrote on his official Twitter page.

It was under Wadekar that Azharuddin, who was till then struggling captain, having lost Test series in New Zealand, England and Australia, got a second wind under him from 1993 to 1996.

“such an iconic person..deeply saddened by his demise!! Sir was a father figure for me.. May his soul rest in peace! My Heartfelt Condolences to the family,” Azharuddin wrote on his Twitter page.

For Kumble, Wadekar was Godsend after getting dropped post 1990 tour of England. His comeback coincided with Wadekar’s entry as manager during the 1992-93 tour of South Africa. He was never dropped during the next 16 years till his retirement in 2008.

“Deeply saddened by the passing away of #AjitWadekar He was more than a coach to the entire team – a father figure and a shrewd tactician. My heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. He will be missed. Thank you Sir for the confidence shown in my ability!” wrote Kumble.

For Sanjay Manjrekar, Wadekar was a “tough character” as coach. In fact, Majrekar had tweeted a video of Wadekar in cricket gears one last time during a charity match at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana in Mumbai.

“Ajit Wadekar’s impact on Indian cricket is immense. His contemporaries worshipped him, such was his aura. Found him to be a tough character as coach. Exceptional Indian cricketer… RIP Sir.”

The legendary Bishan Singh Bedi was magnanimous in his praise even though he conceded that they had differences of opinion on cricketing issues.

“V sad news-Ajit Wadekar passing away-only Indian Capt to win 3 series in a row-2 away 1 at home-ALW was good contemporary-we had differences of (sic) opinion but always respected glory of (sic) Crkt-fine batsman & great close in catch-served Indn Crkt w/aplomb as player/Selector/Coach-RIP Jeetu!”

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Former India captain Ajit Wadekar no more

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Ajit Wadekar

Mumbai | Former India cricket captain Ajit Wadekar, who led the team to path-breaking Test wins in England and the West Indies, passed away today after prolonged illness. He was 77 and is survived by his wife Rekha, two sons and a daughter.

Wadekar was brought to a hospital in South Mumbai today where he was declared dead on arrival. His last rites will be performed on Friday, a member of the Wadekar family, who did not wish to be named, told PTI.

“He had been critically unwell for sometime and was seeking treatment for the same,” read the statement from the Jaslok Hospital.

The aggressive batsman was a trailblazer in Indian cricket despite a mere 37 Test appearances, leading India to triumphs in England and the West Indies in 1971. Wadekar scored 2,113 runs in his Test career, including one hundred, and was also the country’s first ODI captain. He appeared in just two matches, though.

India lost both those ODIs against England, which prompted Wadekar to retire from international cricket in 1974. The Mumbaikar went on to serve as India’s manager in the ’90s during Mohammed Azharuddin’s captaincy. In his tenure as manager, India had finished semifinalists at the 1996 World Cup.

He later went on to become the chairman of selectors as well. Wadekar is the only cricketer apart from Lala Amarnath and Chandu Borde to have served as captain, manager, and selector in Indian cricket. But the feat that made him an icon was the Test wins in the West Indies and England.

In a side that included the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, G Viswanath, and Bishan Singh Bedi, Wadekar took over the captaincy from M A K Pataudi in 1971. And he immediately etched his name in history books with India’s Test triumphs in England and the West Indies.

Wadekar’s first-class debut was in 1958 but he could make it to the Indian team only in 1966 and went on to earn the reputation of being an aggressive number three batsman. However, he had just one Test hundred in his record — a 143-run effort in Wellington — which came in the 1968 tour of New Zealand.

The left-hander ended his Test career with 14 half centuries, four of those being 90-plus scores. He was bestowed the Arjuna Award in 1967 and India’s fourth highest civilian honour, the Padmashri, in 1972.

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