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Smith, Warner’s presence a challenge: Pujara

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India are capable of repeating their heroics from their successful 2018-19 test tour in Australia even though the hosts are stronger this time with the return of batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith, India’s Cheteshwar Pujara has said.

Both Warner and Smith were unavailable for Australia while serving 12-month ball-tampering bans as India won their first test series Down Under, beating the hosts 2-1 in four matches.

Warner and Smith have scored over 14,000 test runs between them but Pujara said India’s bowlers are capable of taking quick wickets to give them “every chance of winning” the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

“(Australia’s batting lineup) will be a little stronger than what it was in 2018-19, but then victories don’t come easy,” Pujara told PTI.

“No doubt Smith, Warner and Marnus Labuschagne are great players. But the good part about our current crop of bowlers is that most of them play in the same series and our bowling unit will also not be very different to what it was in 2018-19.

“They know how to be successful in Australia as they have enjoyed success there in the past. They have their gameplans in place and if we can execute them well, they are capable of getting Smith, Warner and Labuschagne out quickly.”

Pujara said they will however encounter a “different challenge” in the series opener in Adelaide when India play their second day-night test with the pink ball, having played with it just once against Bangladesh on home soil.

“We will be playing with the pink Kookaburra in Australia, it will be slightly different,” Pujara, the series’ leading run scorer on their last visit, added.

“One has to understand and accept and get used to it (pink ball and lights) as early as possible … The twilight period is more challenging than other periods.”

South Australia had on Sunday announced a new Covid-19 cluster, as the number of cases quickly grew to 17 on Monday. The numbers, however, fell to five on Tuesday.

Following this, the governments of Western Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory announced border closures, with Queensland to impose a two-week hotel quarantine on all visitors from Adelaide from 11.59pm on Monday. Thereafter, CA and BBL clubs moved rapidly to ensure that all players left the affected state.

These moves, according to an ESPNcricinfo report, included a charter flight specifically to transport all players and staff from the Adelaide Strikers to a training camp in Coffs Harbour.

“I have put in a mountain of work and I definitely think I’m ready,” says young batsman Will Pucovski who has been named in Australia’s Test squad for the upcoming four-match series against India.

Pucovski, who is among the five uncapped players named in the 17-man squad, has made a strong case for selection in the playing XI with back-to-back double centuries for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield.

“It’s been a long journey but I don’t think I could be in a much better place to take this challenge on,” Pucovski told SEN Radio.

He further said he is better prepared to make his Test debut compared to couple of seasons ago when he was selected for the Sri Lanka tour but had opted out citing mental health concerns.

“It’s something I’m really excited for, and people have their different journeys and mine’s taken a different path, but two years down the track from Sri Lanka when I was just about to turn 21, I feel like I’ve put in a mountain of work and that’s been to achieve my goal of hopefully succeeding and playing for Australia. So, if the opportunity comes, I definitely think I’m ready,” said the right-handed batsman.

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Ind vs Eng: Special feeling to play in front of my home crowd, says Axar

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Ahmedabad (Gujarat) [India], February 26 (ANI): India all-rounder Axar Patel relished the feeling of playing in front of the home crowd when he helped hosts register a comprehensive 10-wicket win over England in the pink-ball Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Thursday.
Axar, playing in just his second Test, scalped five wickets on the second day of the day-night Test. This was Axar’s third five-wicket haul in a row as he had scalped six in the first essay and had picked five wickets in the second innings of the second Test as well.
The all-rounder was happy with his performance on the home turf and has now set sights on the fourth and final Test against England.
“I feel very happy as it was my second Test match and first in Motera and to perform in front of a home crowd in both innings felt good. Felt very good after performing in front of the crowd. And when local crowd cheer for you, your joy just multiply as my family had also come to watch me,” Axar told Hardik in a video posted on the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) website.
“I have played in front of the same crowd and my coaches were also there and it’s a special feeling to perform in front of them. The goal will be to take another fifer, but I will not say anything until I scalp five wickets in the next match,” he added.
Axar wants the wicket to remain the same for the fourth and final Test of the series.
“When it happens, it feels so easy. I am not thinking much. I want to continue this form. I am happy that if I am not contributing with the bat, I am doing it with the ball. My strength is to bowl wicket-to-wicket and not give batsmen room. I would want this wicket to remain the same for the final Test as well as I am picking up wickets,” Axar said after the match on Thursday.
Meanwhile, England, who are now 2-1 down in the four-match series, are out of the race for a place in the final of the ICC World Test Championship.
England has dropped to 64.1 percentage points on the points table, which is now led by India with 71 percentage points. New Zealand is assured of a place in the final with 70 percentage points.
India needs to either win or draw the last Test to stay ahead of Australia, who are in third place with 69.2 percentage points. (ANI)

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Gulmarg will be an international destination for Winter Sports: Kiren Rijiju

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Gulmarg (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], February 26 (ANI): Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju on Friday said that Gulmarg will be an international destination for Winter Games in the future.
Ahead of the inaugural address by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the second Khelo India National Winter Games at around 11:50 AM, via video conferencing, Sports Minister Rijiju said the players have prepared well for the upcoming Winter Games and the showpiece event will be organised with great fervour.
“Today is the inauguration of Khelo India Winter Games 2021. We are ready to celebrate the Khelo India Winter Games. Sports ministry in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir sports council is going organise Winter Games with great fervour,” said Rijiju in a video posted on Twitter.
“The players have prepared well for the Winter Games. And we want that in Gulmarg and around the Himalayan area which has the potential to host games should have the facility of Winter Sports. And Gulmarg will be an international destination for Winter Sports and we are preparing well for that,” he added.
The event has been organised by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council and the Winter Games Association of Jammu and Kashmir.
The sports activities will include alpine skiing, nordic ski, snowboarding, ski mountaineering, ice hockey, ice skating, ice stock, etc Twenty-seven states, union territories and boards are sending their teams to participate in the games. (ANI)

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Ind vs Eng: Axar Patel credits close friends, family for helping him tackle ‘tough phase’

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Ahmedabad (Gujarat) [India], February 26 (ANI): India all-rounder Axar Patel, who picked 11 wickets in the pink-ball Test against England, has credited his family and friends including Hardik Pandya for supporting him during the tough times.
Riding on brilliant spells of spin bowling from Axar and Ravichandran Ashwin, India registered a comprehensive 10-wicket win over England in the third Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Thursday.
Axar had made his international debut in 2014 but played his first match in the longest format of the game when India locked horns with England in the second Test. The all-rounder last played a T20I in 2018 and have been out of the white ball set up since then.
“When I was out of Team India for three years, I used to think about how can I work on my game to improve my bowling and batting. Many friends continued to ask why I wasn’t in the team when I was performing consistently in the IPL and for India A, so these questions were in my mind,” Axar told Hardik in a video posted on Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) website.
“But I knew that I need to wait for the right time and give my 100 per cent whenever I get a chance. My friends and family have helped me a lot in the past 2-3 years, and you (Hardik) are also one of them. I learned a lot on how to tackle the tough phase, so I credit them for supporting them during my tough time,” he added.
All-rounder Hardik also praised Axar for the hard work and patience he has shown while he was out of the side.
“For Axar we have been waiting for his debut for a long time and the way he has made it we feel very proud of him. He has done a lot of hard work,” said Hardik.
Axar had a dream debut in the second Test where he picked a five-wicket haul. The all-rounder then scalped six and five wickets respectively in the first and second innings of the day-night Test
“Everyone has me that is Test cricket easy but when you even miss a full toss you get to that playing Test cricket isn’t that easy. I think it’s all about confidence,” said Axar.
Meanwhile, England, who are now 2-1 down in the four-match series, are out of the race for a place in the final of the ICC World Test Championship.
England has dropped to 64.1 percentage points on the points table, which is now led by India with 71 percentage points. New Zealand is assured of a place in the final with 70 percentage points.
India needs to either win or draw the last Test to stay ahead of Australia, who are in third place with 69.2 percentage points. (ANI)

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‘He’s arguably the best T20 batter’: Stoinis backs skipper Finch to find form

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Dunedin [New Zealand], February 26 (ANI): Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis has come out in support of skipper Aaron Finch following the opening batsman dearth of runs in recent games.
Finch scored a paltry 12 during Australia’s chase of a mammoth total on Wednesday in the second T20I against New Zealand. The visiting skipper has been going through a lean patch and had scored just one run in the first T20I on Monday.
Stoinis, who almost got Australia over the line with his sensational knock in the second T20I, voiced his support for the skipper citing the key role Finch can play in the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in India later this year.
“There’s just full confidence that he’s going to perform for us and, personally, all I can see is a long-term picture because come the World Cup, we need him firing,” cricket.com.au quoted Stoinis as saying.
“He’s arguably the best Twenty20 batter in the world over a long period of time. His record’s so good and he’s our captain, so maybe that’s what’s going on off-field but in our heads we just trust him,” he added.
Stoinis highlighted how Finch didn’t have a good Indian Premier League (IPL) season last year but wasn’t short of runs when it came to scoring in ODIs against India.
“The same thing happened when he came back from IPL. He didn’t have the IPL he wanted but then he came and made hundred after hundred in the one-dayers,” said Stoinis.
“I think that’s just the game of cricket, you’ve got to ride out these sorts of things and I think it’s important that, as a team, he feels backed,” he added.
After being one wicket down in the fourth over, going through a lean patch, Guptill slammed a whirlwind 97 off just 50 balls to steer New Zealand to 219 runs in the allotted 20 overs against Australia in the second T20I.
In reply to New Zealand 219, Australia got off to a good start as the visitors smashed 33 runs from the first three overs. But the visitors’ chase was derailed in the middle overs courtesy of some quality bowling by the Kiwis before Stoinis and Daniel almost got Australia over the line. (ANI)

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Shola Shoretire becomes Man Utd’s youngest ever player in European competition

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Manchester [UK], February 26 (ANI): Shola Shoretire has become Manchester United’s youngest ever player to play in European competition after making his Europa League debut on Thursday.
The teenage forward replaced Mason Greenwood in the 76th minute of United’s 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad at Old Trafford. As a result, he became the club’s youngest ever player in a European match, at the age of 17 years and 23 days.
The previous record-holder was former United forward Norman Whiteside, who was 108 days older than Shoretire when he played in a continental fixture for the first time in 1982.
Surprisingly, the tournament, venue, scoreline, and nationality of the opponents, Spanish, were all the same. The Reds drew 0-0 at home to Valencia in the UEFA Cup, the Europa League’s former guise, when Whiteside made his debut in Europe, on 15 September 1982.
Shoretire relished the remarkable achievement of being the youngest ever footballer to feature for Manchester United.
“What a feeling to make my European debut! To become United’s youngest ever player in Europe is an incredible honour and a proud moment for me and my family! On to the next round,” Shoretire tweeted.

Meanwhile, with a draw against Real Sociedad, the 13-time Premier League winners progressed to the last 16 of the Europa League 4-0 on aggregate
Manchester United will next lock horns with Chelsea on Sunday before they face Crystal Palace three days later in Premier League. (ANI)

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PSL 6: Mohammad Wasim aims to play for Pakistan as all-rounder

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Karachi [Pakistan], February 26 (ANI): Islamabad United’s Mohammad Wasim Jnr, who hogged the limelight with three wickets in their opening game of sixth season PSL, wants to represent Pakistan at the highest level as an all-rounder.
Wasim though went wicketless in Wednesday’s game against Karachi Kings but gave way just 30 runs compared to other bowlers who leaked runs at more than 10 per over.
He had an impressive beginning with the ball in hand but hasn’t had the opportunity to display his batting skills because of a deep batting line-up which United, the two-time champion side, boasts.
“I want to be an all-rounder for Pakistan and make my name at international level,” said Wasim in the PSL release.
To achieve his goal, Wasim has made rapid strides. The journey started with tape-ball cricket in North Waziristan in early 2011 and took a real flight once he shifted to Peshawar and trained with the hard ball.
“It was tough. There were very few opportunities in Waziristan. My father did not want me to play cricket, but my uncle supported me and then friends helped me in my progress,” said Wasim.
He caught the eyes of the junior national selection committee and was included in Pakistan’s squad for the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup in 2020. In Pakistan’s tournament opener against Scotland, Wasim made a five-wicket haul.
“I was lucky to get selected for the junior World Cup. It was a great experience for me,” said Wasim.
The all-rounder said sharing the dressing room with Pakistan cricketer Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan is helping him in a big way.
“Islamabad United are too good. We have top-players in Hasan Ali and skipper Shadab Khan. They are all too good and their presence is helping me a great deal,” said Wasim.
Having won the first two games, Islamabad United will next meet Peshawar Zalmi on Saturday.
Wasim’s ultimate goal is “to be the best emerging player in the HBL PSL 6 and then play for Pakistan”. (ANI)

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