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India start favourites against weakened, unsettled Australia

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Brisbane |  An Australia in turmoil both on and off the field has made India the firm favourites in the compelling rivalry’s latest battle which begins with a T20 International series here on Wednesday.

In a bid to assert themselves as favourites for the Test series, which starts December 6 in Adelaide, India would be hoping to dominate the three T20Is. The touring side has won its previous seven T20I series dating back to November 2017, and its last defeat in the format was against West Indies in July last year.

Not to mention, on their last visit here, the Men in Blue won the T20I series 3-0. So, they will be riding high on a wave of confidence and eager to make an early mark on this trip. Australian cricket, in contrast, has been dogged by structural reform in the wake of the ball-tampering saga in South Africa in March and it has resulted in turbulence on the field as well.

Only on Tuesday, Cricket Australia ruled out reducing the bans of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in reply to a plea submission from the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA). In the absence of Smith and Warner, Australia’s results have fallen off a cliff. Since the ban, they are yet to win a T20I series against an opposition of note since March.

They lost to England in a one-off game in June, then lost to Pakistan in the T20I tri-series final in Zimbabwe, lost 3-0 to Pakistan again in the bilateral series in the UAE, and then lost to South Africa in a rain-curtailed one-off match on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether being on home turf would raise the spirits for the once invincible Aussies.

The one significant change for India ahead of this series is the return of skipper Virat Kohli, who was rested for the three-match contest against West Indies at home.

While it undoubtedly strengthens the visitors, all eyes will be on how the Aaron Finch-led Australian side deals with the best batsman in world cricket at the moment.

While there are calls from all quarters for Australian cricket to keep a check on aggression and play the game in right spirit, Kohli has always garnered attention whenever he has visited here.

On his early trips Down Under, he has never quite been the Australian fans’ favourite.  But starting 2014, his batting exploits have taken centre-stage. He scored 199 runs in three innings during that 2016 T20I series’ whitewash.

South African skipper Faf du Plessis has professed a “silent treatment” to Kohli and it remains to be seen if the Australian cricketers and the public can ignore him at all. Kohli’s return to the side means that one front-line batsman will have to make way.

In England, the skipper batted at number four, allowing KL Rahul to bat at number three in light of his stupendous form in the 2018 Indian Premier League. Rahul’s current form though is nothing to write home about. He managed only 16, 26 not out and 17 against the West Indies in the recent T20I series.

Rahul’s absence could allow the team management to retain both Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, both of whom have proven to be more consistent and explosive in recent times compared to Rahul. The other option is to leave out Manish Pandey, who has got limited opportunities of late.

Early indicators from India’s final pre-match practice suggest that Pant will don the keeping gloves. He practised glove-work under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri, while Karthik only did some out-fielding.

It also suggests that the team management might make the surprise call to leave Karthik out altogether, allowing Rahul an early taste of conditions keeping in mind the Test series.  The bigger concern for India is to find a balance in their bowling attack in Hardik Pandya’s absence. With ample bounce anticipated on the Gabba pitch, three pacers — Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed — are certain starters.

Washington Sundar, who played the last T20I against West Indies as Bumrah was rested, is expected to make way. Kuldeep Yadav too is expected to be a first-choice spinner, ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal as was the case against West Indies. Krunal Pandya was the all-rounder against West Indies, and should he continue to play, then it remains to be seen if the team management will pick two left-arm spinners.

Australia are also considering fielding a spinner, after taking the field against South Africa with a full-pace attack on Saturday. Glenn Maxwell was the lone spinner then, but it is understood that the hosts will alter their plans keeping in mind the conditions and bigger dimensions of the ground here.

Starting off with the aggressive shortest format is Australia’s best bet to upset India’s plans for this summer of cricket, wherein unlike their prior trips here, the visitors are already considered the better side in all departments.

Teams:

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Washington Sundar.

Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.

Match starts at: 1.20 pm IST.

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Workload management: Rohit, Zaheer tell players to ‘listen’ to their bodies

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Mumbai | Offering an advice to the World Cup-bound India players living out of their suitcase for months, opener Rohit Sharma and former pace spearhead Zaheer Khan on Tuesday said: “listen to your body”.

The suggestion came amid a debate around the workload management of players, now gearing up for a gruelling Indian Premier League, which will end barely days before the ICC showpiece begins in the United Kingdom on May 30.

“It’s going to be challenging as always. We have been on the road for last three or four years. We have played a lot of back to back cricket. It depends on individuals. You should always listen to your body,” Rohit said.

Rohit is leading the Mumbai Indians in the IPL with Zaheer being the team’s Director of cricket operations. “Yes, the World Cup is our priority. The IPL is also one of the biggest tournaments in the world. That is our priority as well. Keeping everything in mind we would take a decision collectively (on workload factor) on each individual,” the swashbuckling batsman said.

Zaheer felt that it was up to the individuals to listen to their bodies as far as workload was concerned. “I have always felt it’s an individual call. You have to listen to body and respond. I think we all recognise how important the World Cup is as a tournament and we also understand what the IPL brings to the table – match practice and intensity.

“You don’t want a lay-off for a long time for any cricketer. He needs to be in touch and dealing with pressure. That is also going to be a huge factor in the World Cup. We understand all that and steps will be taken,” the former India pacer said.

Zaheer said no player should play in the IPL thinking what could happen if he gets injured ahead of the World Cup. “There has been a lot of talk about workload. You have to trust each and every member of the World Cup squad. We don’t want them to play in the tournament thinking ‘if I give 100 per cent I may get injured and be blamed for it’. We need to take that pressure away from them.

“Playing more and more matches has always worked for me. We all need to make peace with the workload talk and the World Cup talk. We understand how important it is and, at the same, time need to create a scenario where everyone is trusting them,” Zaheer said.

Rohit added, “Some of the players that I have spoken to in the Indian team and here, like to keep in touch, they like to keep playing. They are smart, they know when they need to take a back seat and rest.

Rohit said he will open in all the games of Mumbai Indians this season, having batted at number four in a lot of games last season. “In the past, I have batted in the middle order and opened also in a few games. This year I will open the batting in all the games, that’s for sure,” said Rohit ahead of MI’s season opener here on March 24.

“Yes, the World Cup is one of the factors, but also while keeping in mind that this is where I bat for india and that’s where I have got a lot of my success of late,” he said. Rohit said he has the freedom to take the decision to bat at the top as he has an experienced match-winner like Yuvraj Singh to play the role he had played in the previous seasons.

According to the MI skipper, there is also Siddesh Lad, a consistent scorer for Mumbai in domestic cricket, to fill in the number four slot.

Zaheer felt that IPL form would count towards selection for a few slots in India’s World Cup squad. “Look at the past. Has IPL helped Indian selectors in identifying players. The answer is – yes. Has someone been picked on IPL performance – the answer is again yes. I am sure the form in IPL will matter for grabbing those available spots,” he said.

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Ponting backs Rishabh Pant to bat at No.4, Ganguly terms him ‘huge asset’

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New Delhi | Ricky Ponting on Tuesday unequivocally backed Rishabh Pant for the number four slot in India’s World Cup line-up and even saw him as one capable of winning the tournament.

Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly marked the young wicketkeeper-batsman as one for the future, calling him a “huge asset”. With little over two months to go for the World Cup and the number four batsman yet to be decided, it could now boil down to performance in the Indian Premier League, according to Ganguly.

But Ponting, a two-time World Cup winning Australian captain, left nothing to doubt when discussions turned to Pant. “The first thing I would do is pick him in that Indian squad for the World Cup, I would play him as a batter, I would play him at number four. He is the sort of guy, with that kind of talent, he can win you a World Cup, he has just got that x-factor,” Ponting said.

Ganguly added, “Anybody who wants to succeed in shorter formats of the game he has to go up, we have seen the best in world do that. If you send Rishabh at number four, he will score runs for you because he is so talented, he has got so much time to play. “In his short career he has been remarkable for India and once he starts getting opportunity consistently, he will be a top player.”

Pant had a terrific start to his Test career, becoming the first Indian wicketkeeper to score centuries in England and Australia, but there is a perception that he hasn’t showed the temperament or tasted as much success in the shorter formats.

During an interaction organised by the Delhi Capitals, Ganguly didn’t agree with the viewpoint. “Look at the way he played in the IPL last year, he got a full tournament, 14 games, and he was probably the second highest run-getter in the IPL last year.

“The problem with him in shorter formats is that he doesn’t get regular cricket because you have a champion in MS Dhoni who actually plays most of the shorter formats, so Rishabh is coming in and going out all the time and that’s never good for anybody, however quality a player you are,” Ganguly said.  Pant’s exploits with the willow has the taken the cricket world by storm in recent months.

Ganguly said, “The reason he succeeds in Test cricket is because he plays consistently. How many Indian wicketkeeper-batsmen have got Test hundreds in England and Australia, and he scored them at ease. It’s not that he struggled, it’s not that he looked out of place against fast bowling.  “For me, he is your future. For the next 10 years, you will see that boy a lot in all formats of the game and not because he plays for Delhi, he can play for anyone he wants to.”

Pant will be eyeing a successful IPL with the rechristened Delhi Capitals.  “Just the serious talent he is, he is a hard worker, I have been watching him at nets for the last four years, he is always the first one to come out and bat for longer periods. He will be huge asset to Indian cricket in the years to come,” said Ganguly.

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PCB paid USD 1.6 million compensation to BCCI: Ehsan Mani

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Karachi | The Pakistan Cricket Board has paid the BCCI approximately USD 1.6 million as compensation after losing the case it filed against the Indian Board for allegedly not honouring a bilateral agreement, PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani claimed on Monday.

The PCB had filed a compensation case against the BCCI last year before the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee, demanding around USD 70 million. The ICC dismissed it and asked the PCB to compensate the legal cost to the BCCI.  “We incurred cost of around USD 2.2 million on the compensation case which we lost,” Mani said.

“The ICC committee did accept that Pakistan had a case and that is why the damages/cost we had to pay to the Indian board was around USD 1.6 million,” Mani said.  Mani insisted that besides the amount paid to India to cover the legal cost, the other expenses were related to legal fees and travelling.

According to the PCB, the agreement with India, which it claimed was a binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), ensured Pakistan six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023. Pakistan said the BCCI reneged on the commitment, causing it losses running into millions of dollars.

The Indian Cricket Board, however, maintained that the discussion with PCB was a proposal and never a legally binding MoU.  Ultimately, the BCCI’s assertion was accepted by the ICC’s dispute resolution committee.

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