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Pujara’s maiden hundred in Australia bails India out of trouble

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Adelaide | Cheteshwar Pujara rose to the occasion with a maiden century in Australia, pulling India out of a deep hole to a respectable 250 for nine on day one of the first Test here on Thursday.

Pujara showed the same grit and gumption that is typical of him en route a 246-ball 123 that kept India in the game after being reduced to 127 for six in the 50th over.  It took a brilliant direct from Pat Cummins to remove him on what happened to be the final ball of an absorbing day one of the four-Test series.

Skipper Virat Kohli opted to bat in ideal conditions but the top-order once again failed to apply themselves against the potent pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins.  Anything close to 250 looked a mountain to climb with India reeling at 56 for four at lunch. But Pujara stood tall amid the ruins to save India from embarrassment on way to his 16th Test ton. His fighting effort comprised seven fours and two sixes.

The 30-year-old put on two crucial partnerships with the lower-order batsmen to ensure India give their bowlers something to bowl at. Post tea, Pujara added 62 runs with R Ashwin (25) for the seventh wicket. The latter played watchfully, unlike the Indian top-order, and played a great role in this minor recovery. Cummins (2-49) finally got the breakthrough in the 74th over when Ashwin edged to second slip. Ishant Sharma (4) then put on 21 runs with Pujara, pushing the score past 200 in the 79th over. Ishant survived a loud lbw shout via DRS, but Mitchell Starc (2-63) bowled him with a fuller delivery thereafter. As he started to run out of partners, Pujara hit a few lusty blows to gather some quick runs.

Earlier, Pujara’s effort was the sole silver lining after India were reduced to 143-6 at tea. This was after a horrendous shot selection by Rohit Sharma (37) left India in the lurch at 86 for five in the 38th over. Post lunch, Rohit and Pujara started off well as they added 45 runs for the fifth wicket.

While Pujara was sedate at one end, the former took the lead in scoring as he hit sixes at will. Two came off Cummins; the first a pull shot that sailed for six and the other a proper cover drive that cleared the ropes as well. It seemed that Rohit was intent on digging India out of this hole as he hit Nathan Lyon (2-83) for a six on the second ball of the 38th over. Marcus Harris almost caught it, with the ball barely crossing over the ropes and the umpire took some time to call it a six. That should have been a note of caution for the batsman, but he didn’t heed it and skied the very next ball for Harris to take an easy catch in the deep.

Rishabh Pant (25) too arrived at the crease with intent of attacking the bowling. He scored two fours and a six in the space of a few deliveries, before Pujara asked him to calm down. The duo then added 41 runs for the sixth wicket as India crossed 100 in the 41st over, including five sixes surprisingly. Pant didn’t look comfortable though as he was forced to play against his natural game. And it showed when he edged Lyon behind to be dismissed shortly before tea.

In the morning session, Hazlewood (2-52) reduced India to 56 for four. The Australian pacers struck regularly with the new Kookaburra ball and made inroads into the Indian top-order that never got going. Hanuma Vihari was left out as the visitors drafted in Rohit for the number six spot. For Australia, Marcus Harris made his Test debut as announced a day prior. Starc and Hazelwood began proceedings for Australia, and were on the money straightaway with their lengths.

Of the two Indian openers, KL Rahul (2) looked out of sorts against their express pace, and was unsurprisingly dismissed cheaply. He went for an extravagant drive in only the second over and was caught at third slip off Hazlewood. Murali Vijay (11) looked intent on getting a better start and he was watchful. On a couple occasions, he drove the ball to get the score moving but ultimately this led to his dismissal. In the seventh over, Vijay went for a cover drive against Starc and only ended up edging behind.

Given the conditions, Kohli then walked out to bat a lot earlier than anticipated. He looked a lot more confident, but an awe-inducing diving catch ended his short stay at the crease. Usman Khawaja dove to his left and held a stunning one-handed catch at gully off Cummins as Kohli was sent back with India reeling at 19-3 in 11 overs.

Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane (13) then came together for the fourth wicket, trying to put on a semblance of a partnership. Together they faced 59 balls and put on 22 runs in a bid to keep the scoreboard ticking. Rahane had some difficulty against Lyon who came on to bowl immediately after the drinks’ break. The batsman then stepped out to even hit Lyon for a six over long on in his second over.

But this didn’t work against the pacers, who pushed Indian batsmen back with their perfect length and induced drives thereafter. In the 21st over then, Rahane fell to Hazelwood, the fourth batsman out driving in this morning session, and was caught at second slip.

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Saina beats Sindhu to retain Nationals crown, Sourabh claims third title

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Guwahati | Saina Nehwal beat PV Sindhu in straight games in the marquee clash of the tournament to retain her women’s singles crown at the 83rd Yonex Sunrise Senior Badminton Nationals here Saturday.

The three-time former champion Saina used her powerful smashes to telling effect, registering a 21-18 21-15 win the summit clash against Sindhu, who herself is a two-time winner.

Earlier, Sourabh Verma completed a hat-trick of titles, claiming the men’s singles crown by defeating young Lakshya Sen in straight games.

Saina and Sourabh went home richer by Rs 3.25 lakh while Sindhu and Sen received a cheque of Rs 1.70 lakh each.

“It was a good match and both of us played really well and it is a great feeling to win the nationals in such an atmosphere,” Saina, who has lost to Sindhu only once in international events at India Open 2017, told reporters.

“Sindhu is playing at the highest level for quite sometime and we both are playing well and she is a very tough opponent. It was not a simple match, there were tough rallies and simple errors from her helped me to win.”

In a repeat of last edition’s final in Nagpur, 2012 Olympics bronze medaliist Saina once again had the upper hand over Sindhu during the exciting clash which was witnessed by a capacity crowed at the TRP Indoor stadium here.

Saina had also defeated 2016 Rio Games silver medallist Sindhu at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games summit clash last year.

Sourabh, the 26-year-old from MP’s Dhar showed great composure and used his experience to outdo 17-year-old Lakshya for the second time at the senior national finals. He had beaten Lakshya, then 15, in February 2017.

“Winning the nationals for the first time (in 2011) is always special but this time also it was a great feeling. Lakshya is improving regularly and every time you have to be alert against him. It was my fourth final (lost in Patna Nationals) and third win,” Sourabh said.

“At 6-6 in first game, I had done unforced errors so I thought if I reduce my mistakes I can make a comeback.”

In men’s doubles, second seeded makeshift pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Chirag Shetty clinched the title after beating top seeds Arjun MR and Shlok Ramchandran 21-13 22-20 in 33 minutes.

Chirag and Pranaav came together after the former’s regular partner Satwik Rankireddy was sidelined ahead of the tournament due to an injury. Satwik and Chirag had finished runners-up at the last edition.

For Pranaav, it is his third national title, having won the men’s doubles crown along with Akshay Dewalkar in 2013 and 2015 and the mixed doubles title with Prajakta Sawant in 2010.

Manu Attri and Maneesha K later beat top seeds Rohan Kapoor and Kuhoo Garg 18-21 21-17 21-16 to claim the mixed doubles crown.

In the women’s final, egged on by a vociferous crowd, Saina used her trademark smashes to either finish points or create openings.

Sindhu, on the other hand, lacked precision in her strokes, hit too many mid court returns, and also misjudged the shuttle at the back court.

Saina’s unforced errors initially cost her three points but she smashed her way to make it 3-4. Sindhu opened up a 7-5 lead but Saina managed to keep her nose ahead with a 11-10 lead at the break when Sindhu went wide.

Saina continued to dictate the pace, while Sindhu hit wide or at the net to allow her opponent to lead 15-11. A superb cross court smash and a net dribble gave Sindhu two points before she again hit long.

With Saina leading 18-15, the match was stopped due to an issue pertaining to indoor lighting.

On resumption, Sindhu played a smash and drop to reduce the deficit but Saina earned three game points with power packed smashes and sealed it with another after Sindhu saved one.

At 3-3 in the second game, Saina found the net twice but she again clawed back at 5-5 with a smash.

The 28-year-old continued her great run and eventually grabbed a 11-9 advantage when Sindhu’s smash went wide.

Errors continued to creep in her game as Saina sealed the contest without much ado. Earlier, the men’s singles final contest started on an even keel as both the players were locked at 12-12.

However, few unforced errors by Sourabh allowed Lakshya to move to 11-6 lead. The experienced Sourabh narrowed down the lead to 11-12 and then went to the lead at 16-15 when Lakshya smashed out.

Sourabh slowly extended his lead and grabbed the game point when Lakshya misjudged the length and his weak return was punished. The youngster saved a couple of game points before Sourabh sealed it.

In the second game, Sourabh zoomed to a 3-0 lead early and though Lakhsya drew level at 4-4, the former champion managed to eke out a 11-7 lead at the interval.

The teenager couldn’t stop his errors from cropping in his game as Sourabh grabbed 20-11 match point with a body smash. Lakshya saved two match points before conceding the title on the third.

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We have shortlisted 18 players and will rotate them: Prasad on WC plans

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Mumbai | National selection committee chairman MSK Prasad on Friday said that 18 cricketers have been shortlisted for the upcoming ODI World Cup and the BCCI is in talks with their respective IPL franchises to manage their workload ahead of the mega-event in England.

There have been discussions that India’s World Cup hopefuls’ workload management should be monitored during the IPL, starting March 23, so that they remain fresh during the May 30-July 14 extravaganza.

“We have shortlisted 18 players and we will rotate them during the World Cup. As far as workload management is concerned, it is yet to be worked out. There are discussions happening on that front and we will let you know,” Prasad told reporters after selecting various squads for the home limited-overs series against Australia which starts February 24.

Whether the franchises will agree to rest top India players on their roster after paying millions to have them has been a subject of debate.

When acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary was asked this question, he admitted that the franchises have diverse views on the matter.

“If your question suggests that the franchises will be wary of resting players, it is an issue we will deal with considering it’s a World Cup year. There have been views from franchises and I am not going into specifics,” he said.

He also urged the franchises to keep the national interest in mind.

“And also considering the fact that all the franchises are Indian franchises, the interest of the country, of doing well at the highest international level, is paramount,” Choudhary said.

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Australia ODIs: Choice between Khaleel and Unadkat for ODIs

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Mumbai | Zeroing in on players for a couple of available World Cup spots, including a toss-up between left-arm pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Khaleel Ahmed, will be the selection committee’s primary focus on Friday when it picks the India squad for the limited-overs series against Australia.

India will play two T20 Internationals and five ODIs, starting February 24, in what will be their last international assignment before the World Cup, which begins in England on May 30.

The series against Australia will also be an indicator as to who among Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik will board the Heathrow-bound flight as a specialist-batsman-cum-second-wicketkeeper. KL Rahul is back in the mix as the third opener after a couple of good innings for India A against England Lions in the two unofficial Tests.

While the two T20 matches will be a pre-cursor to the ODI series, vice captain Rohit Sharma is likely to be given a short break to rejuvenate and come back fresh for the ODIs.

The selectors have already identified 13 certainties for the World Cup and they are Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.

Skipper Kohli and pace spearhead Bumrah will be back in action for the final dress rehearsal and the selectors are unlikely look beyond 16 to 17 players, who are now in the scheme of things for the World Cup. There are at least four contenders for the last two slots depending on the combination the team management would want.

While Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvneshwar are certainties in the pace department, the bone of contention is a left-arm seamer who will add variation to the line-up. Khaleel, the young Rajasthan speedster, played in Australia and New Zealand but he looked like a work in progress who could be all at sea in a mega-event like the World Cup.

Unadkat, who has only sporadically played for India since his debut in 2010, is suddenly back in contention after a good Ranji Trophy season where he led Saurashtra to the final. Unadkat is a matured bowler now with more variations and an increase in pace. He is also more experienced courtesy his IPL stints.

A shoot-out is expected between Pant and Karthik, who are both finishers in their own right. Pant could also double up as the third opener although Rahul is also in contention as he has the team management’s backing.

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