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IPL 2020, unlucky number 13: What’s at stake

Arjun Hemmady

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Kolkata Knight Riders franchise owner Shah Rukh Khan arrives for a meeting with BCCI officials on March 14

IPL…the potent concoction of cricket and glamour that keeps 1.3 billion of us enthralled and enamoured. With the IPL on, the summer heat gets relegated to the background as we tune in at 8 pm every night to watch our favourite cricketers slug it out. Where else can we see Jasprit Bumrah bowling to Virat Kohli or Mohammed Shami trying to knock over Rohit Sharma? While every IPL season has its own significance, this one was extremely relevant. There are some pertinent questions that need answering and we hoped this season of the IPL would answer them for us. However, the coronavirus pandemic put a spanner into things, and we have been left to imagine the outcome for ourselves.

There is one question on everyone’s mind. No, the question is not as to when the lockdown will be finally lifted, it is whether M.S.Dhoni has retired or not. There has been no official statement from the BCCI or from Dhoni himself and as a result, social media is abuzz with speculation.

Dhoni had begun practicing in the nets and everyone, especially supporters of CSK were eager to see Thala Dhoni in action for the first time since the semi-final loss against New Zealand in July 2019. There are some who having been saying that Dhoni should retire and many of them site his age as a factor. However, even at almost 39, Dhoni is still among the fittest cricketers in the world, but it has been observed that he is not as explosive a batsman as before. My take on this is that whether he decides to continue playing or not, there should be clarity.

In continuation to the above point, there is another issue which the Indian team is grappling with. Who will be the wicketkeeper? As Dhoni has not played for India since July 2019, we have tried out Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and K.L. Rahul, with varying degrees of success. While Rishabh Pant is destructive with the bat on his day, thereis scope for improvement behind the stumps and in his shot selection. K.L. Rahul, though in the batting form of his life, has on occasion struggled while keeping. I wished we could see more of Sanju Samson also for us to make an even more informed decision. So, who will turn up behind the stumps for India in October 2020, when the T20 World Cup will (hopefully) be played in Australia? Your guess is as good as mine.


Virat Kohli is possibly the most passionate cricketer in the world. Unfortunately, India has not won an ICC tournament and neither has RCB won the IPL under him. The RCB fans, the most optimistic supporters ever, hope that this would be the year when Virat would finally lift the IPL trophy and end their agonising title drought. RCB has made some impressive buys in the auction this year and have improved the balance of their side, only to watch the tournament suspended indefinitely. Some are of the view that Rohit Sharma should take over the captaincy of the limited overs side citing his success guiding the Mumbai Indians to four titles (albeit all of them have been in odd years) and the fact that he has led the Indian team with distinction every time Virat decides to opt for rest like in the Nidahas Trophy or the Asia Cup in 2018. Would he or should he be asked to take over the mantle of the limited overs side, is something to ponder over.


There are various other unanswered questions regarding team composition like whether Washington Sundar warrants a place in the side, whether Shivam Dube can pull his weight with bat and ball and whether Hardik Pandya can return to his swashbuckling best after his recent back surgery. These were the questions which we hoped IPL 2020 would answer. There are very few things scarier than uncertainty. We can deal with an answer in the negative, but when there is no answer, we speculate incessantly. This season of the IPL could have answered the above questions, but unfortunately, we have been left to imagine the answers and outcomes for ourselves and ruminate as to what could have been

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Despite his father’s demise bowler Mohammad Siraj stays in Australia

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Going into the series against Australia, India pacer Mohammad Siraj has said that he aims to fulfill his father’s dream of playing for the country. Siraj’s father passed away on Friday, but the pacer who has earned his first Test call-up decided to stay back in Australia and not return home.

“It is a very big loss for me, my father always supported me. It was his dream that I keep on playing for India and make the country proud. I just want to fulfill my father’s dream and that is why I keep on thinking that my father will always be there with me,” Siraj told BCCI.TV. “In this situation, every team member has supported me and it really felt nice. Virat Bhai also told me not to worry and he asked me to stay strong. I talked to my mother and she told me to stay back in Australia and fulfill my father’s dream,” he added.

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Gunneswaran finishes runner-up at Orlando open

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India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran finished runner-up at the Orlando Open after losing the final of the ATP Challenger event to American Brandon Nakashima. Gunneswaran lost 3-6, 4-6 in the $52,080 hard court tournament.

Gunneswaran, 31, had eight changes to break Nakashima but he could convert none of them. This is the second consecutive time that Gunneswaran has finished runner-up, having reached final of the Cary Challenger last week.

The result helped Prajnesh to move to 128 from 137 on the ATP Tour rankings. He had earlier risen to the number one spot among Indian male singles players after reaching the final, displacing Sumit Nagal.

Nakashima, meanwhile, at the age of 19 is the youngest American to win a Challenger title since Francis Tiafoe in 2017.

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Ashwin, other spinners will adjust in Aus swiftly

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The current Indian Test team is a bit fortunate to tour Australia within two years of their previous tour. Earlier, the tours were separated by a few years and that would make things difficult for players, especially spinners. By the time, they would adjust to the conditions and pitches, the tour would be over.

Past generations of spinners suffered from this. But when either Kuldeep Yadav or R Ashwin, or both, take the field on December 17 for the first Test in Adelaide, they will have an advantage and confidence to draw from their recent successes.

Both had performed well in the last Tests they played in Australia during India’s tour of 2018-19. While Yadav picked five wickets in the first innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in January 2019, Ashwin got six across two innings in Adelaide a month before that. Ashwin didn’t play the next three Tests due to injury.

But this time with him being fit, Ashwin will be in competition for a spot with Yadav who, being a wrist spinner, could be the preferred choice on Australian wickets that have been harsh for spinners from the sub-continent.

Harbhajan Singh, the former India off-spinner who toured Australia in 2003-04 and 2007-08 and played 103 Tests, and had great success against Ricky Ponting, explains why Australia was a tough place to bowl.

“It was difficult to bowl in Australia because by the time you would adjust to the wickets, the tour would be coming to an end. You would tour every four-five years. Their spinners would get more success because they knew the conditions better and well since it was their home,” Harbhajan told IANS, adding that adjusting to the lengths is the key.

Both finger spinner Ashwin and wrist spinner Yadav had reaped rich hauls last time also because the Aussies, missing David Warner and Steve Smith in that series as they were serving a ban, had packed their side with left-handers. Four of Ashwin’s six victims and three of Yadav’s five were left-handers. They found it hard to adjust to deliveries going away.

However, neither Marcus Harris nor Usman Khawaja and nor Shaun Marsh find a place in the squad for current series. There are just Travis Head and Mathew Wade apart from the returning David Warner and only one of Head and Wade will get a look-in since the top-order, dominated by right-handers, is largely settled.

It could make things difficult. Prior to that Adelaide Test, Ashwin had taken 21 wickets in six Tests at an average of 54.71 in Australia. The six wickets in Adelaide helped him improve an average to over 48.

But against a settled Australian line-up, there is however still a way out — rely on bounce and not on side-spin.

Harbhajan has an advice: “The spinners need to adjust to the lengths very quickly. Also, they shouldn’t rely on sidespin, because you won’t get it. If it is happening, it is an advantage, but don’t rely too much on it. Indian spinners need to bowl a little slower to get the bounce.”

Having toured Australia so recently, it should not be an issue for Ashwin and Yadav.

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Will be hard to leave family if quarantine continues

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Australia batsman David Warner has made it clear that it will be very difficult to tour abroad regularly if the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

Speaking to the media on Monday, four days before the India-Australia One-day International series starts, Warner said that the past six months have been challenging with the family not by his side and the Australian players will have to be brave enough to voice this concern to selectors and coach.

“It will be very difficult. I won’t put them in a situation where I have to do 14-day quarantine at home. The next 12 months are going to be very difficult. There are definitely going to be times when you come home and want to spend time with your family. But you have 14-day quarantine that you have to do beforehand, so you are almost out of conversation. So, we will have to speak to coach and selectors. Each individual is going to be brave and put their hand up and say it will be difficult to do that,” the dashing opener said.

Australia pace bowler Mitchell Starc recently shifted to Big Bash Village in Sydney Olympic Park to be with wife Alyssa Healy who is playing in the Big Bash. Starc decided to spend a week with her and train.

Warner, like other players, is locked up in quarantine in a hotel and hasn’t had time to see his wife and three kids. He said that they will be format-specific in the coming few months. Warner also made it clear that it will be difficult for him to play in the Big Bash League which starts in the first half of December.

“It is hard to play everything when it comes to scheduling. It is difficult to play all these games, playing white ball cricket, Tests, and BBL. IPL and World T20 have been moved. It is for the guys above us to work that out. The IPL was moved and the T20 World Cup was moved. In the next year, at the back-end we have the Test Championship final. Yeah, there are only two teams in the final playing but still after that series in Australia we go to Caribbean,” Warner concluded.

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Gone too soon: South Africa defender Ngcongca killed in car accident

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South Africa international defender Anele Ngcongca was killed in a car accident on Monday, his Premier Soccer League club AmaZulu have confirmed.

Ngcongca, 33, was a member of South Africa squad at the 2010 World Cup and started the 2-1 victory over France, winning 53 caps over seven years in the national team. His last appearance was in 2016.

He also spent nine seasons at Belgian side Genk, competing in the Champions League in five of those and making 279 appearances.

The right back was named in the club’s Team of the Century in 2015 alongside Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

Ngcongca was a passenger in the vehicle as it lost control on a highway 50 kilometres north of Durban. The female driver is in a critical condition in hospital.

“On arrival of IPSS advanced life support paramedics, they found an adult male lying approximately 30m from the wrecked vehicle. The man showed no signs of life and was declared dead by paramedics,” Paul Herbst of IPSS Medical Rescue said in a statement.

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Kohli and Rahane are as different as chalk and cheese: David Warner

Australian team may change their strategy with respect to engaging with the Indian players on the field depending upon who is leading them, says ace Oz batsman

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Australia will be facing two different captains during their upcoming Test series against India at home and they may change their approach with respect to engaging with their opponents accordingly, according batsman David Warner.

With regular skipper Virat Kohli opting to play just the first Test of the four matches so as to return to India for the birth of his child, Ajinkya Rahane is most likely to lead the side in the remainder of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

“Obviously with Virat missing, and well done to him to go home and be by his partner’s side for the birth of his first child. He’s a great guy, Jinks (Rahane). He’s calm and very measured in his approach. He’s got a very good cricket brain,” Warner was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo on Monday.

The left-handed batsman indicated that Australia may change their strategy with respect to engaging with the Indian players on the field depending upon who is leading them.

“When you take Virat out of there, I don’t want to say this the wrong way, but he’s obviously passionate, aggressive, he plays with that fight when you’re out there. Jinks is calm, collected, measured. It’s like chalk and cheese with two of them two and as a player to try and engage him on the field, as we’re talking about engaging, and getting into that contest as players, we obviously got to think about how to do that especially with Ajinkya as captain,” said the 34-year-old.

“The great thing from India’s perspective is that you’ve got three if not four very good players who could captain the team at any time. With him, he’ll bring a calm and measured approach with his nature,” he added.

Before the Test series, Australia and India will compete in three ODIs and as many T20Is beginning this Friday.

India without captain Virat Kohli in Tests will be akin to Australia without Steve Smith and David Warner, according to former Australia fast bowler Geoff Lawson.

India will be missing Kohli in upcoming Test series in Australia as the 32-year-old right hander will return home for the birth of his child after the first Test.

“India without Virat Kohli will be like Australia without Smith and Warner. It’s not just the runs he makes, but the way he lifts the psyche of the whole group,” Lawson wrote in his column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

With 7,240 runs at an average of 53.62, Kohli is the highest run scorer in the Indian squad for the Tests and is ranked in the ICC rankings for the longest format of the game behind Smith.

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