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Rishab Pant earns maiden call-up to Indian Test team, Rohit ignored again

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Leeds | Young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant was today named in the 18-member Indian squad for the first three Tests against England, but senior batsman Rohit Sharma was once again ignored for the five-day format.

The 20-year-old Pant has been named as the specialist wicketkeeper-batsman alongside Dinesh Karthik, who had played the team’s last Test against Afghanistan in the absence of an injured Wriddhiman Saha.

Saha continues to be out nursing a thumb injury sustained during the IPL earlier this year.

Pacer Mohammad Shami, who was dropped from the one-off game against Afghanistan after failing the YoYo test, has regained full fitness and has made his way back for the five-match series starting August 1.

However, there is uncertainly over the participation of key pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the five-match series after he aggravated a “lower back condition” during the third ODI against England yesterday.

“His condition is being assessed by the BCCI medical team and a call on his inclusion in the Test squad will be made soon,” said the BCCI in a statement.

Pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who was unfit for the ODI series, will be available for selection from the second Test onwards, the statement added.

The sole fresh face in the squad is Pant, who has finally been rewarded for his domestic performances, including the IPL.

The selectors, who picked the squad here today, had the option of bringing back an in-form Rohit into the side but they went for infusing young blood instead.

He averages 54.16 in 22 First-Class games with a triple century and India’s fastest hundred at that level to his name. He was only 19 when he amassed a stupendous 308 against Maharashtra in the 2016-17 season.

Adjusting to the English conditions won’t be an issue for Pant as he has already been there with the A team in England for a month.

He had made an unbeaten 67 off 71 in the second unofficial Test against West Indies A at Taunton last week, helping his team pull off a five-wicket victory and the series win.

The hard-hitting left-hander, who has played four T20 Internationals, is currently playing the one-off unofficial Test against England Lions at Worcester.

The other three members of the Test squad — opener Murali Vijay, vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair — are also part of the India A side playing in Worcester.

Nair has managed to retain his place in the team and so has Shardul Thakur, who both did not make the playing eleven in the Afghanistan Test.

Though skipper Virat Kohli had hinted a possible change in the spin department, the selectors have acted on expected lines by picking Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, who produced some outstanding spells in the preceding T20 and ODI series against England.

Given Kuldeep’s recent success, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod in the playing eleven.

Besides Shami, Bumrah and Shardul; Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav are the other pacers in the squad.

There is no major surprise in the batting department other than Rohit’s exclusion. The opener, who was dropped after playing the first two Tests against South Africa, was earlier not named in the squad for the one-off game against Afghanistan.

However, he has been in fine form on the UK tour so far and scored consecutive hundreds in the series-deciding T20 against England and the following ODI series opener.

The selection committee also named the Board President XI team that is scheduled to play a three-day warm-up game against South Africa ‘A’ in Belgaum from July 30. This team would be led by wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan.

The Squads:

India’s squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Mohd. Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur.

BP XI for warm-up fixture against South Africa A’: Ishan Kishan (C & WK), RR Sanjay, AR Eshwaran, Dhruv Shorey, Anmolpreet Singh, Ricky Bhui, Jalaj Saxena, Siddhesh Lad, Mihir Hirwani, DA Jadeja, Avesh Khan, Shivam Mavi, Ishaan Porel, Atith Seth.

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No IPL opening ceremony this year, CoA says allocated money will go to Pulwama martyrs’ families

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New Delhi | The IPL will not have an opening ceremony this year after the Committee of Administrators (CoA) running Indian cricket on Friday decided to allocate the money set aside for it to the families of the CRPF personnel killed in the Pulwama terror attack.

The opening ceremonies of the cash-rich T20 league are a heady mix glitz and glamour with performances by Bollywood stars being the highlight. However, as a mark of respect to the slain CRPF men, it has been decided to scrap the ceremony for the event’s 12th edition beginning March 23.

“We will not have any inaugural function for the IPL and the money budgeted for that goes to the martyrs’ families,” said Committee of Administrators chairman Vinod Rai.

The CoA took the call at a meeting here on Friday.

The Pulwama attack took place last week and its reverberations are being felt in the sporting arena as well. There has been a call to snap sporting ties with Pakistan.

The Rai-led CoA decided against taking any stand on the World Cup clash against Pakistan but said it would individually urge ICC members to “sever ties with any nation that is a terrorist hub”.

Defending champions Chennai Super Kings will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL opener on March 23.

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Low expectations is great place to start from: Hanuma Vihari

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New Delhi | Hanuma Vihari has been punching above his weight ever since he made his India debut and that’s why he is ready to deal with “low expectations” in a bid to change the popular perception of not being good enough for the T20 format in the upcoming IPL.

Vihari is back in the IPL, which starts March 23, with the Delhi Capitals after going unsold at the auction for three years primarily due to an unimpressive strike rate of sub 100. “I think because of the slow strike-rate of the past, people won’t have expectations from me, which can be a great thing. I take it positively, because now I have a chance to prove them all wrong,” Vihari told PTI in an exclusive interview.

The Delhi Capitals have a star-studded top order with Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, skipper Shreyas Iyer and the indomitable Rishabh Pant in the ranks. Vihari knows it will be a fight to get into the playing XI but he is ready to don the role of a finisher the same way he agreed to open for India in unfamiliar conditions in Melbourne.

“Honestly, given that I am playing the IPL after a three-year gap, I am ready to go out there and bat anywhere the management asks me to, whether it’s at the top of the order, or in the role of a finisher. “On my part, I am really in a great mental space and a great position as far as my game is concerned. I am really well-prepared for everything right now,” the 25-year-old Andhra batsman said.

He was a part of Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2013 but a lot has changed since then. He has scored loads of runs for India A and also struck a fifty against England on his Test debut.

“I am excited, and fully ready for the season ahead with Delhi Capitals. Mainly because in these three years, I have developed so much as a player. “I am much more confident of performing now. Also, we have a great mix of Indian and foreign players. I am really looking forward to playing under Shreyas and Ricky’s (Ricky Ponting) leadership,” Vihari said.

The soft-spoken Vihari feels his India stint will make a difference as it has upped his confidence so necessary in a slam-bang tournament. “It gives me a huge boost for sure. I think things have worked out quite timely for me. The IPL opportunity could not have come to me at a better time.”

Told to open a Test innings with another rookie, Mayank Agarwal, against Australia at the MCG, Vihari managed only 8 off 66 balls.

However, what the scoreboard did not reflect was the manner in which Vihari blunted the new ball attack and gave Cheteshwar Pujara the platform to set up the victory with a dogged hundred.

“It was quite tough. At the international level, the challenge of opening the innings is totally different from domestic. The deliveries come fast, and they come high. “The openers obviously are targeted more because the opposition wants early breakthroughs. But it’s exciting as well because walking out there to bat in front of 80,000 people at the MCG is quite an unbelievable feeling. I didn’t sleep the previous night,” he said.

He is most comfortable in the middle order but won’t mind facing the red cherry at the start of an innings if asked to do so once again.

“Yes, I will do whatever is needed for the team. These are situations you face as a sportsman, and you have got to learn to accept it. Whether it’s playing for India or Delhi Capitals, I don’t want to be tagged as the guy who is not a team man. I want to be out there for our team,” Vihari said with conviction.

The best part about that MCG innings was the vote of confidence from national coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli. “They said I did a great job. The number of runs didn’t matter. Because of the start, it made Pujara and Kohli’s job easier after that.”

The difference in confidence was evident as he toyed with the Vidarbha attack during his twin hundreds for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy. Asked if the Vidarbha attack bothered him considering he had played the likes of Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood in the preceding months?

“Well, the two challenges are different for sure. But against Vidarbha, the wicket was a challenging one. They are a quality side, and I needed to be on top of my game in terms of focus and concentration. I am happy I could score centuries in both innings.” For him, his mother is the biggest source of inspiration, who has helped him stay grounded despite all the adulation coming his way.

“My mother is still the same. She keeps telling me to remain humble and grounded. And she tells me not to settle, just because I have earned my Indian cap doesn’t mean I should stop chasing my dreams.”

He was recognised at the airports on arrival from England and Australia but the best part was coming out and finding his mother waiting to receive him. “She makes it a point to be at the airport each time I am back from a tour. And of course, prepares my favourite dishes when I am home. Anything she cooks is amazing, but her specialty is a dry fruit laddu it’s tasty and healthy.” PTI KHS

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IOC takes away 2 quotas, spares 14 at Delhi shooting World Cup; NRAI says thanks

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New Delhi | The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided against withdrawing all the Olympic quotas from the shooting World Cup here and revoked just two after visas were denied to Pakistani shooters in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.

Within hours of International Shooting Federation (ISSF) President Vladimir Lisin’s declaration that all the 16 quotas have been revoked due to the situation with Pakistan, the IOC said the Olympic qualification status has been withdrawn from only the men’s 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event. This event had two spots on offer.

“The IOC restricted the withdrawal of recognition as an Olympic qualification event to the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate,” the IOC said in a statement after its executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. “This happened in the interest of the other 500 athletes from 61 countries participating in the other events who are already in India for their competition,” it added.

The National Rifles Association of India (NRAI) heaved a sigh of relief a day before the start of the competition.

“The Organising Committee of the New Delhi World Cup wishes to unequivocally thank the ISSF President Vladimir Lisin, the ISSF Secretary General Alexander Ratner, the IOA President Dr. Narinder Batra, and the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Col (Retd.) RVS. Rathore for ensuring the best possible outcome to a vexed and complexed scenario,” NRAI President Raninder Singh told PTI.

“…the NRAI is Committed to working with the ISSF, IOA, and the Ministry of sports to ultimately addressing the future consequences of this most peculiar and unprecedented scenario brought on by reasons beyond the regular control of the NRAI and the ISSF. “Both the ISSF and the NRAI shall gracefully comply with the IOC’s findings and hope in a large measure to address the other points raised by the IOC,” he added.

Pakistan shooters’ participation in the tournament became the bone of contention since the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama killed more than 40 CRPF personnel last Thursday.

Pakistan had applied for visas for two shooters — G M Bashir and Khalil Ahmed — in the rapid fire category as the event in New Delhi also served as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic games.

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