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Kabul Express set for ‘Test’ run in and against India

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Afghanistan

Bengaluru | Statistically, it’s a classic David vs Goliath showdown but contextually, it’s the beginning of a historic new chapter in international cricket as world No.1 India take on a war-ravaged-but-resilient Afghanistan in their first ever Test match, here tomorrow.

While majority of the sports fans, in soul and spirit, will be in Russia enjoying the surreal skills of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the eternal cricket romantic will try to derive his little pleasures of life watching Rashid Khan trying to hurry Shikhar Dhawan with a flipper or bowl a googly to Ajinkya Rahane.

There is always a nervous anticipation associated with performance of a new team but the politico-social narrative associated with Afghanistan gives the game a different context.

On the surface, it is just another Test match but it is much beyond that.

The Rashids, Mujeeb Zadrans and Mohammed Shahzads would like to put their best foot forward in trying to at least provide their countrymen a refuge in sporting success. India have been Afghanistan’s close allies and the BCCI has shown magnanimity in opening their stadiums so that the national team can practice.

But come Thursday, Ajinkya Rahane’s India will not spare an inch as they are expected to put up a ruthless show. No wonder the iconic CLR James line is still so relevant “What do they know of Cricket who only Cricket Know.”

India, sans their regular skipper Virat Kohli along with two frontline bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, will look to record a comprehensive win before embarking on their long and grueling tour of England.

For Afghanistan, it will be a battle of attrition that they have never ever faced before. Test cricket is a different beast and Rashid’s real battle starts now.

That he is a brilliant four-over bowler, is a known and acknowledged fact. However, the acid Test will start when he bowls that fifth over. The intelligence will be tested during the 15th over, patience during the 23rd over and endurance during the 40th over.

More importantly, will Rashid be able to maintain his quick arm speed over after over. As Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons said, his men won’t understand what is Test cricket until they get onto the field.

With no pressure of asking rate, a Murali Vijay or a Chesteshwar Pujara, if set, will play at their own pace. The Indian batsmen in their own backyard are not known to pull back punches.

Can a 17-year-old Mujeeb, who hasn’t played a single four-day game in his career, trouble a KL Rahul with whom he shared the IPL dressing room at the Kings XI Punjab?

This time he won’t have Ravichandran Ashwin’s guidance. Instead Ashwin might pass on a few valuable inputs to his batsmen on how to tackle Mujeeb. Will Shahzad be able to curb his natural attacking instinct as the five-day format demands different attritional skills?

That Afghanistan have no idea how difficult it can get could be gauged from their skipper Asghar Stanikzai’s pompous claims that his spinners are better than the home team.

When Dinesh Karthik was asked, his singular statement made it clear what the team thought about it.

“Our Kuldeep Yadav (2 Tests) has played more first-class games than all their spinners put together. I know from where its coming but I wouldn’t to harp too much on that,” Karthik said. However, the Indians having watched and played against Rashid will be wary of what he can do.

That’s the reason the Indian team management might just prefer a hard bouncy track knowing full well that a rank turner could boomerang on them. The problem with Afghanistan will not be their spinners but their batsmen.

How well Shahzad, Mohammed Nabi negotiate Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have a direct impact on the kind of fight Afghanistan will be able to put on. And even before that they will have to counter the disconcerting bounce generated by Ishant Sharma and the pace worked up by Umesh Yadav.

As Kevin Pietersen said during his MAK Pataudi Lecture yesterday, a lot will depend on their “ability to take lessons from the nets into the heat of battle”. Ireland had put up a respectable fight against Pakistan on their Test debut but again it was Kevin O’Brien who was the silver lining in the batting department.

But whatever be the outcome, “a beautiful journey” has already begun for Afghanistan.

Squads:
India: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai, Mohammed Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb ur Rahman.

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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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Roger Federer wins 98th ATP title in Stuttgart ahead of return to No 1

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Roger Federer

Stuttgart (Germany) | Roger Federer claimed his 98th ATP title on Sunday and re-established his unrivalled superiority on the grass with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) victory over Milos Raonic in the Stuttgart Cup final.

Top-seeded Swiss beat his Canadian opponent for the 11th time in 14 meetings while winning a first Stuttgart title.

Federer, who will be chasing a ninth Wimbledon triumph next month, finally came good on the German grass on his third attempt after losing a semi-final in 2016 to Dominic Thiem and falling in the first round here a year ago to good friend Tommy Haas.

The 36-year-old will regain the world number one ranking on Monday and is playing next week as top seed in Halle.

“It’s a great comeback for me,” Federer said after completing his 78-minute win.

“I’m so happy to win this tournament in my third attempt. We’ll see if being number one again will probably give me a boost.” Federer made a return to the top ATP ranking for a sixth time through his semi-final victory on Saturday over Australian Nick Kyrgios.

He takes the honour back form Rafael Nadal for the second time this season and continues the duel on court between the two modern icons.

Federer kept tight control on the match as he claimed his third title of the season after the Australian Open and Rotterdam and now owns 28 grass trophies including eight from Wimbledon.

“I think I played very well not having played for a while,” Federer said as he competed this week for the first time since mid-March after skipping the clay season.

“Maybe I was a bit better on the big points.” The Swiss broke twice in the first set to earn it after 32 minutes when his opponent returned long over the baseline.

The second set stayed on serve into the tiebreaker.

A double-fault from the Canadian followed by a return winner from the Swiss set up three match points, with Federer needing only his first as Raonic netted a return.

Federer improved to 21-2 on the season after playing in the 24th grass final of his career.

The 35th-ranked Raonic, a victim of various injuries over recent seasons, was playing a final for the first time in his last 16 tournaments dating to Istanbul last year.

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