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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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People make mistakes, let’s move on: Ganguly on Pandya-Rahul comments row

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Mumbai | Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly on Thursday said “we should move on” from the controversy surrounding Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul’s sexist comments because he is sure the two will learn from it and become better persons.

Speaking at an event here, Ganguly said he hasn’t seen the ‘Koffee with Karan’ episode in which Pandya and Rahul’s misogynistic comments on women led to a provisional suspension on them. But he offered a sympathetic view on the under-fire duo.

“People make mistakes, let’s not go too far here. I am sure, whoever has done it will realise and come out a better person. We are human beings not machines that we will always be perfect. We should move on and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Ganguly said on the raging controversy.

Pandya and Rahul were forced to return midway through the ongoing ODI series against Australia and India captain Virat Kohli condemned their statements on hookups with multiple women as “inappropriate”.

They have been show caused twice by the BCCI since then and are also being put through an inquiry.

Ganguly said most cricketers are “great guys”.

“…they (cricketers) are humble, every now and then one or two make mistakes but I know most of them personally and they are great guys,” Ganguly said during the trailer launch of ’22 Yards’ at a suburb here.

Pandya and Rahul, pending the outcome of the inquiry, will not be a part of the Indian team. After missing the ongoing ODI series, they are set to miss the upcoming New Zealand Tour as well.

Ganguly, who has been credited with shaping Indian cricket during his captaincy stint, said it’s not that modern-day cricketers are not obedient.

“Look at Virat Kohli, he is such a fantastic role model. India is a fortunate country, every generation produces players who all of us cherish, there was (Sunil) Gavaskar, then came (Sachin) Tendulkar, when Tendulkar finished people thought who’s next, now it’s Virat Kohli.

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Balance that Pandya creates is crucial for team: Shikhar Dhawan

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Shikhar Dhawan

Melbourne | Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan on Thursday said suspended fast-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya is “crucial” for the team’s balance but rejected suggestions that the side was struggling for a fifth bowler in the ongoing ODI series against Australia.

India takes on Australia in the series-deciding third and final one-dayer here on Friday. There are bound to be changes to the team composition in the light of Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Siraj failing to impress in the first two matches.

Dhawan came out in support of the two young pacers, but added that the presence of an all-rounder in the side is imperative for balance. India is missing Pandya owing to the provisional suspension imposed on him for sexist comments on a TV show, condemned as “inappropriate” by skipper Virat Kohli.

“The balance that Hardik (Pandya) creates when he’s in the team is very crucial for our team,” Dhawan acknowledged in the pre-match press conference here Thursday.

“Even when Kedar (Jadhav) plays, the overs of off-spin he bowls are very beneficial for us…I would say he is our golden arm, and he always takes wickets when he comes on. So often, he’s broken a big partnership. An all-rounder in Tests and limited-overs’ cricket is equally important,” he added.

Talking about Ahmed and Siraj, Dhawan said the youngsters will mature and get better with time.

“It’s not a worry (about the bowling). They just came in. They are young blokes. We will back them. That’s how they’re going to learn when they play against a good side,” he said.

“If they go for runs, that’s where they have to lift themselves up and think more about their game and strategies. That’s how they’ll become more mature players. It’s good that they are getting chances over here,” he added.

Dhawan said the team is looking to make history by winning the first ever bilateral ODI series on Australian soil, following up on the 2-1 Test series’ win here. He felt the batting line-up, including veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni, finding form only bodes well for their preparations ahead of the 2019 ODI World Cup.

“Winning the series will mean a lot to us. Winning both Tests and if we win tomorrow, it is going to be a big achievement for us. We are going to value it and cherish it,” he said.

“It was good to see a good team performance in the last game, especially how Dhoni performed well in both the games. We are very happy that Dhoni is getting his touchback. Because a player of his stature, gives so much of confidence to the batsmen at the other end,” he added.

He also lauded the role played by Dinesh Karthik during the successful chase in the second ODI in Adelaide.

“The good thing is we have got all fit players and very mature players, very experienced. That makes us a very strong batting unit. And of course, we have been performing very well and consistently over the past few years,” he said.

The left-hander is one of the three batsmen, along with Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu, to have not played active cricket while the Australia-India Test series was on.

Dhawan said he felt in a good rhythm on account of the T20I series and chose to take the break to work on fitness and his skills.

“I had 5-6 weeks off and I was training hard. It was good because, looking forward to the World Cup, it was a good break for me. Now I’m happy to be back in the side, playing matches and raring to go.

“I think my rhythm is there, the way I was hitting the ball. It is very important to take a break and feel fresh, which we Indian cricketers don’t get much of, so we’re not used to it,” he said.

India has a set and firing opening combination along with a perennially in-form Virat Kohli at number three. In comparison, Australian skipper Aaron Finch is struggling for runs, and his partnership with Alex Carey at the top hasn’t really clicked.

Dhawan said he bats in auto mode with Rohit Sharma since they understand each other so well.

“Batting with Rohit, it’s normal, comfortable and we both know what to do and what not to. Not much discussion is needed. We play in automatic mode and keep having fun with each other. There is a sense of calmness and peace,” he said.

The opener said the Indian team has done its homework on Finch to be able to get him out for cheap all summer.

“…we are hitting the right areas against him. We are not giving him singles or boundary options too easily. Once you create that pressure on a batsman, especially in limited-overs, he’s going to do something extra and take more risk to rotate the strike or score runs…,” he said.

Talking about Friday’s match, Dhawan said the Australian team is missing the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, while the experience of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami is giving the Indian team an advantage at the start of their innings.

“Australia have a good all-round side, they have a well balanced side. Of course, the presence of Smith and Warner is missing in this side. They are legends of their country and big players in the cricket world,” he said.

“At the same time, Bhuvi (Kumar) is very experienced as well as Shami. That’s why in the first 10 overs, we have been dominating the game. We would like to do it the same way. So we will be on our guard,” he signed off.

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Bowling attack makes India WC favourites along side England, says Gillespie

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India

Adelaide | Former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie feels the current Indian bowling attack led by Jasprit Bumrah makes the team one of the favourites for the upcoming ICC World Cup, along side hosts England.

“I think the Indian attack is well balanced. Bumrah has been rested for obvious reason but their attack is still quite good,” Gillespie told PTI in an interview.

“Everyone offers different things, and you add Bumrah to it, so they are well placed to mount a challenge for the World Cup. I think England are the obvious favourites, but India won’t be far behind,” he insisted.

Gillespie singled out Bumrah for special praise and said the young right-arm pacer’s unorthodox action makes him a different bowler from others.

“I enjoy watching Bumrah bowl. He just ambles in but when he gets to the crease, he almost has a slingshot action. He bowls at good pace, hurries the batsmen up, and he can also change his pace a lot. He is a very fine bowler,” the 43-year-old former pacer said.

“His action does stand out. It is a braced front leg, delayed bowling arm action. It gets you to the crease quickly, and delivers that sling shot. It is what generates his pace. But you need to be strong to be able to do that. Bumrah is robust and fit to bowl long spells in Test cricket. He keeps his pace up throughout a Test and this is what makes him an exciting bowler,” Gillespie said.

India and Australia are tied at 1-1 in the ongoing three-match ODI series with the decider scheduled to be played at Melbourne on Friday.

The Australian team, which is currently going through a rebuilding phase, are eyeing its first ODI series win since January 2017 and Gillespie said it is the best for opportunity for youngsters to stake a claim in the World Cup-bound team.

“Obviously they are missing a couple key personnel from both batting and bowling perspectives. But the team will look very different in the World Cup. So it is a wonderful opportunity for these players and selectors to look at different options in pressure situations,” said the Adelaide Strikers’ coach.

“It is a great opportunity for young players to show what they can do and enjoy the moment of representing their country. It gives selectors more information when they get together to pick the World Cup squad,” Gillespie added.

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