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TIME TO LOOK PAST VIRAT KOHLI

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Last week, in this column, I had exwpressed the fear over the fearless batting approach of England, especially when chasing targets in Test cricket lately. That fear has once again translated into reality. New Zealand faced it for three Tests in a row and India, under the new captain, Jasprit Bumrah bore the brunt of the English run machine at Edgbaston.

India came into the final test with a 2-1 lead and when Bumrah’s men scored 416 in the first innings, there was a quiet (yet nervous) sense of assurance that at least a draw would come out and India would seal their maiden series triumph on English soil in 15 years. This feeling got emboldened when England were reduced to 83 for 5 in their first essay. That’s when Jonny Bairstow crunched India’s leadto 132 instead of what looked a certain 200 plus. India had a chance to widen that lead well past England but again, a top-order batting failure meant the lead was 377. This lead is usually a commanding one, but definitely not for the new England under Brendon McCullum.

The end result, India’s last bastion remains a lost bastion. India has never won a Test in Edgbaston, and this was the closest the team got to winning.

So, what went wrong for India?

To put it in simple terms, not much actually went wrong. Just like New Zealand, India dominated the Test for major parts, but England dictated the important stages and that was the difference at the end of the day. A target of 378 in the final innings shows it was a fantastic overall display by India, but that fantastic was simply not enough. While it is easy to be critical of the Indian team for failing to defend the massive target, it will be extremely unfair to say this was a bad loss. We need to remember we have suffered worse defeats in the past. Under new captain, Jasprit Bumrah, India looked sharp but not incisive.

New problem for India

Defending fourth innings targets on tricky foreign pitches has ironically been a huge grey area for India in recent times. In South Africa earlier this year, we struggled to defend 240 and 212 in the second and third Test respectively on uneven tracks and in a series where either team crossed 300 only once in 12 innings. And now this one at Edgbaston. In all, over the last three Tests on foreign soil, India have lost all three defending. And what do the numbers look like? We have conceded 833 runs and picked only 9 wickets in the fourth innings of these three Tests. Now, that is the alarming scenario.

Why is this happening?

Traditionally, India has banked on spin to finish the opposition on the final day of Tests, irrespective of the pitch conditions. While we have dramatically built our pace battery in recent years, a traditional stronghold has gone into oblivion – Presence of quality spinners on the final two days of a Test match. While Ashwin and Jadeja have been very good at home, supported by Axar Patel, the duo has an ordinary record in the fourth innings of Tests played in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia). Ashwin has taken only 10 wickets at a bowling average of 35 in the fourth innings there against his overall career average of 24. Jadeja has an even worse record. The left-arm spinner has just 6 wickets at an average of 53. Now, compare this with the famous spin trio of BS Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi. Chandra enjoyed a fourth innings bowling average of 18, Prasanna 19.5 and Bedi 14 in the same four countries. Now, these are stunning averages and so beautifully set up defending fourth innings’ totals.

For the Indian thinktank, this should become a major area to fix if they are to start competing in the final innings of a Test match overseas, especially while defending in SENA countries.

Top-order woes relentless

While the final day bowling is an area that needs to get fixed, another area that deserves major thrust is our top-order batting. The performance at Edgbaston once again exposed the frail nature of India’s top-order batting, led by Virat Kohli.

Over the last 10 Tests in SENA countries, India’s famed top three of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have identical averages of 28. And between them, they have only one century, which was scored by Rahane in the Boxing Day Test in 2020. Kohli, on the other hand, has now gone over 30 months and 64 international matches across formats without a century. He last scored a hundred against Bangladesh in the day-night Test at the Eden Gardens in November 2019.

India’s top order woes last 2 years

Time to drop Kohli and Pujara?

These numbers bring us back to the question Indian cricket has been trying to address for a couple of years now. Has time come to drop Kohli and Pujara from the Test squad? Is legacy disallowing fresh talent their due?

Rahane, who was the vice-captain of the Test squad until recently, was recently shown the door and his contract too slipped to Grade B in BCCI’s centralised contract scheme. However, Sourav Ganguly & Co. haveso far resisted showing the same intent towards Kohli. Historically, top players bringing in the age-old theory of ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ naturally get an extended run. We have seen in the past that the very best of batters go through their lean patches, but the big question would always be about the length of their ropes in such periods. I am personally a huge fan of Kohli but after the Edgbaston Test, I feel he has overrun his chances and time has come to drop him. His slump is not just about SENA but even at home.

If anything, a measure like this will help the fierce competitorthan being detrimental. Kohli shouldplay English County next year to get his rhythm and form back. He can always get an entry back into the Indian line-up after getting rid of some excess baggage of pressure. Right now, it is evident he is mentally just not there to handle the pressure of a big score. Probably why he has also resorted to a bit of extended gamesmanship. Those moments against Bairstow when he was sledging him big time backfired for India. Well, if Bairstow got out, the argument would have been different, but I do feel Kohli looks frustrated as an individual out there and therefore, would serve him and Indian cricket right if he decides to take a sabbatical from Test cricket.

It must be noted that India will not be playing Test cricket at least till the end of the T20 World Cup in October-November this year. India’s serious Test competition resumes in February 2023 when the powerful Aussies get set for the India test.

Who can potentially replace the ‘Big Three’?

Given the time available ahead for reshaping the future Test ambitions, BCCI should focus on building the replacements for the ‘Big Three’. First and foremost, time has arrived when Rishabh Pant needs to be given more security. He has earned his spot as a pure frontline batter with some magnificent performances. Pant can be groomed for future captaincy given the flamboyant nature of his character. Like he did in Edgbaston, he should bat no lower than No. 5 in the batting order. India has plenty of new talent emerging in the wicketkeeping space and one such name that catches my attention in KS Bharat. Late last year, former India player, VVS Laxman had revealed in an interview that Rahul Dravid had very high regard for the wicketkeeping skills of Bharat. With Wriddhiman Saha out of the radar lately, time is ripe for India to invest in the future of Bharat. The 28-year-old Andhra lad also comes with a handy batting record at the first-class level. He has an average of 37 with nine FC hundreds.

In terms of the openers, KL Rahul and Shubman Gill are clearly investments for the long-term. Ishan Kishan can be groomed forsome business at the Test level. Sarfaraz Khan had an outstanding Ranji season where he finished with 982 runs at an unbelievable average of 123. His overall first-class record with 2530 runs at 82 is more than impressive. For sceptics who don’t necessarily benchmark Ranji numbers with that of national team’s needs, it must be emphasised that Sarfraz looked very sharp in the India A versus South Africa AUnofficial Test in December last year where he handled the dangerous Marco Jansen with ease. One more name that comes to my mind is the 19-year-old Yash Dhull, who scored a century in his Ranji debut this year for Delhi. The U-19 World Cup winning captain has shown he has all the ingredients to be a top Test player for India in the future.

Like ‘Reel’ Dhoni said…

While the Test defeat at Edgbaston must be painful for the fans, one must remember there are plenty of positives around this Indian team. The road ahead certainly looks promising for Indian Test cricket. Time has arrived for some tough calls to be taken in the long-term interest of the team. Like the ‘actor’ Dhoni said in ‘Dhoni: The untold story’, “We need to take tough calls for the betterment of Indian cricket.” Dhoni may or may not have said that in real life, but we are once again at that juncture where that statement holds value.

The author is a sports commentator.

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Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen gifts PM Modi boxing gloves

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Indian Commonwealth Games contingent expressed their delight at being honored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their excellent performance at Birmingham 2022.

PM Modi felicitated the Indian contingent for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022 in New Delhi on Saturday. The felicitation was attended by both athletes and their coaches. Union Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports Anurag Singh Thakur and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Nisith Pramanik were among those present. Prime Minister congratulated the players and coaches for their stupendous performance at the Commonwealth Games 2022 held in Birmingham, where India bagged 22 Gold, 16 Silver, and 23 Bronze medals in various disciplines.

During the event, sprinter Hima Das gave the traditional Assamese gamocha, and Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen gifted PM Modi her boxing gloves.

“Honoured to gift the boxing gloves signed by all the pugilists to our honorable Prime Minister @narendramodi sir. Thank you for this amazing opportunity. A great day spent with my fellow athletes who have made the country proud,” Nikhat tweeted.

Hima Das took to her Twitter handle and wrote, “Elated to receive blessings from our honorable Prime Minister – Shri @narendramodi Ji, by virtue of Commonwealth Games 2022. Fortunate to have presented him with our traditional gamcha, wrapped with immense gratitude from all of Assam.”

Commonwealth Games 2022 champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who won the gold medal in the Women’s 49kg final, thanked the PM for his words of motivation.

“Honoured to meet & interact with our Honourable Prime Minister @narendramodi Sir. Thank you so much sir for all your support & encouragement. Jai Hind,” Chanu said.

“Thank You Sir for sparing your valuable time and inviting us over to your residence. It was like always a delight to speak with you,” wrote shuttler Chirag Shetty.

CWG 2022 gold medallist Lakshya Sen also expressed his appreciation for being honored by the PM.

“What a great day for all the Athletes #gratitude. Thank you so much Sir for appreciating our hard work and for your words of encouragement. We are all very grateful for your support. Will continue to make our nation proud. Jai Hind!” Indian shuttler Sen tweeted.

“Meeting Hon. PM @narendramodi once again, interacting with him and seeking a blessing was motivating and inspiring as always. His keen interest in our performances and detailed conversations are very gratifying!” said Bhavina Patel, who won the gold medal in Para table tennis at the Birmingham 2022.

Addressing the Indian CWG contingent on Saturday, PM said that the golden period of Indian sports has just begun and hailed the fine show of the athletes.

India finished 4th in the medal tally winning a total of 61 medals at the CWG 2022, including 22 gold, 16 Silver, and 23 Bronze medals.

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Four games win hearts, disappointment in weightlifting and squash

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This time, a total of 16 medals, including seven gold were lost due to the non-availability of shooting events in the CWG. It was largely compensated by wrestling, badminton, table tennis, Para Powerlifting, lawn ball, cricket, hockey, athletics, and judo. India’s number of gold medals increased in the first four games compared to the last CWG held at Gold Coast. India won gold and a bar of silver in the lawn bowl in which not a single medal was won before. In hockey, both the teams returned empty-handed last time but this time the men’s team won a silver, and the women’s team won a medal after 16 years. In cricket, the Indian women’s team could not win gold after defeating Australia as they lost the last eight wickets for 34 runs but beating England in the SF was an achievement. Judo was not their last time, India won three medals including two gold in Judo. The personal best performance of many players in athletics proved that India’s preparations are on the right track because of the Paris Olympics.

Despite all this, weightlifters and squash players disappointed. The boxers equalled last time’s three gold medals but they got only one silver means two silvers less than last time. Mirabai Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga, and Achinta Sheuli, did win gold medals in weightlifting, and they broke snatch games record but the rest of the weightlifters could neither break the national record nor give personal best. Most of these weightlifters could not even repeat their performance in the National Championship. Poonam Yadav, who won gold last time in 69 kg, failed in all three clean and jerk attempts, it is a matter of mystery. In TT, Achanta Sharath Kamal proved that age is just a number. The player was once weak in the backhand, but he made it his strength, winning a total of seven golds in 16 years. His biggest quality is to play his strategy according to the opposition player.

In athletics, however, the situation was quite the opposite. In a ten km walk, Priyanka Goswami and Sandeep won medals in their respective categories with PB performances. In the 3000m steeplechase, Avinash Sawale clocked a PB performance to outdo a Kenyan in medals and very near to the other Kenyan who won the gold medal by a fraction of a second. Gold medalist Eldhose Paul and silver-winner Abdulla Aboobacker won the triple jump gold and silver & broke the 17-meter barrier. For all the athletes including Murali Sreeshankar in the long jump, the World Championships held recently formed the base of their medals. Murli, who was performing lighter than the qualifying competition in the final, corrected his mistake and got the silver, but Seema Poonia and Navjeet Dhillon, who won silver and bronze at Gold Coast were almost four to five meters lesser this time. Both have shown that their preparations are going in the opposite direction. Two silvers in squash narrowed us down to two bronzesthis time.

In wrestling, only Canadian and Nigerian wrestlers were challenged as usual and Indian wrestlers managed to bag all the medals like the last time, which includes six golds i.e., one more gold than last time. Vinesh Phogat continued to create history in women’s wrestling by winning her third gold while emerging Naveen proved to be a new sensation in 74kg. Some players gave a befitting reply to their federations with their excellent performance. Judoka Tulika Maan was not considered for selection in the judo team. Even the federation said that there is no hope of a medal in the highest weight category of women, but Tulika won the silver.

Similarly, Tejaswin Shankar had to take refuge in the court to participate in these games. His name was rejected saying that he had not participated in the National Championship, arguing that he was participating in a competition in the US at the same time. Eventually, this player made 2.22 m in the high jump. He won the bronze medal. In lawn ball, women from other sports showed that if there is scope, there is nothing wrong with changing the game. When Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the Olympic medal, he emphasized this the most because he too was once among the cricket potential players of Madhya Pradesh.

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What Sports Are The Most Frequently Bet On?

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Betting on sports is a vast industry making up over 30% of the entire gambling industry. If we take a look at what this might look like in numbers, around 500 billion dollars is used for gambling around the world each year. This means that approximately 150 billion dollars are spent on sports betting annually, which shows just how big a market it is.You are probably wondering what sports are most frequently bet on throughout the year. Here is a list of some of the most popular sports that people tend to bet on the most. We will take a look at whether it is because people just enjoy watching and betting on their favorite sport or whether a specific sport gives you an advantage while betting. 

American Football

In the USA, American Football is without a doubt the number one sport that people both love to play and watch. The NFL has some of the most diehard fans of any sport, and people follow the game like a religion. With huge tournaments such as the super bowl, which attract attention from all around the world, it is no surprise that American Football is one of the most popular sports when it comes to betting.Another reason that people love to bet on American Football is the variety of leagues that are available to bet on. People can bet on college football all the way up to the NFL, which means there isn’t a shortage of teams to rally behind and place bets on. They can also choose to bet on live games or make predictions before they start. More options mean more opportunities to place all kinds of bets on different teams, which adds to the popularity of this sport in the gambling scene.  

Soccer

Soccer is the biggest sport in the world with the largest number of people playing it globally. It is then no surprise that it is also a huge sport when it comes to placing bets. With the advancement of technology, the types of bets that people can place on soccer matches have progressed over the years. The most noticeable type of bet that has caused sports betting within soccer to skyrocket is the ability to cash out early. This type of betting has made watching soccer a lot more exciting as people have to be paying extra attention to the screen to decide whether they want to get out of the bet or stay in for the maximum gain.In the UK alone, it is estimated that a mind-blowing 1 billion pounds are spent on soccer bets each year. Soccer as a sport has also only gone up in popularity over the last few years with the American soccer league, MLS, gaining a lot of attention. Although it is a long way from being as popular as American football, soccer in the US appears to be gaining a lot more traction and fans from around the world. For this reason, it is easy to see that soccer is going nowhere anytime soon, and the interest in betting on the sport will likely only increase. 

Horse Racing

For those that are unaware, horse racing was the number one sport for betting for the longest time. This may not still be the case however, horse racing still plays a massive part in the sports gambling world, with an estimated 100 billion dollars being spent betting on the sport each year. In addition to this, horse racing is the only sport where you can actually bet on it at all times of the day.Horse racing is a huge day out for many people who save part of their earnings to spend betting on horses in the hopes of winning big. This may come as a big surprise, but Japan actually has the biggest horse racing market, with the United Kingdom following behind and then Australia behind them. 

Tennis

The number three spot when it comes to sports most frequently bet on is tennis. You might not have expected this but there are some reasons why this is the case. The first being that placing bets on tennis is considered relatively safe due to the odds being fairly low. For example, if one of the top players, such as Rafael Nadal, is scheduled to play against a player who is not considered very strong, it is a relatively safe bet to place on Nadal winning.   

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HUMPY, SACHDEV, KULKARNI GIVE INDIA LEAD IN WOMEN’S SECTION AT 44TH CHESS OLYMPIAD

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Koneru Humpy, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni scored victories as India A pulled off a 3.5-0.5 win against Kazakhstan to emerge as sole leader in the women’s section after ninth round of 44th Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu on Monday.

Top-seed India A were given a winning start in the penultimate round by Humpy when she outperformed Zhansaya Abdumalik. R Vaishali, on the other hand, had to share points against Bibisara Assaubayeva before Sachdev and Kulkarni tilted the result of the match in India’s favour after securing wins over Xeniya Balabayeva and Guliskhan Nakhbayeva in their respective games.

With just one more round remaining, India A have grabbed the leading spot with 17 points while Poland, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine are jointly holding the second position with 16 points each.

India B and India C also notched up identical 3-1 wins in their respective Round 9 matches. While India B defeated the Netherlands with Padmini Rout, Mary Ann Gomes and Divya Deshmukh scoring victories, India C thrashed Sweden. PV Nandhidhaa and Pratyusha Bodda scored victories for India C whereas Eesha Karavade and M Varshini Sahiti settled for draws.

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THE GREAT INDIA RUN ENTERS PUNJAB, RUNNERS REACH DINANAGAR

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The Kashmir leg of the Great India Run culminated today with 11 runners entering Punjab on Tuesday evening. The runners have started their run from Mansar Lake and reached Dinanagar covering a distance of 89kms. The runners reached Dinanagar via Samba, Keediyan Gandiyal Bridge and Aman Bhalla College.

After a night halt, they will start their journey tomorrow to DAV College, Hoshiarpur via Mukerian. The Kashmir leg saw the runners complete a total distance of 255kms running through iconic locations including Bahihal, Patnitop and Mansar Lake.

The relay-run will cover 829 kilometers across 4 states from Srinagar to New Delhi from August 5 to August 15. The run is being organize to celebrate the 75th Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav and the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign. An initiative of iTV & iTV Foundation, the run builds on the success of the first chapter of the Great India Run held in 2016.

The Flag-off in Srinagar was done by Shri Manoj Sinha, L-G J&K and Shri Kartik Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP from Lal Chowk, Srinagar. In support of the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign, the L-G handed the lead runner a national flag after unfurling it at the venue. The first leg of the run is being led by Arun Bhardwaj, an Ultra-marathon runner.

The run venue was decorated with 75 Indian tricolours to mark 75 years of Independence. The route covers Banihal, Patnitop, Mansar Lake, Dinanagar, Hoshiarpur, Rupnagar, Ambala Cantt. finally culminating in Delhi on August 15. Full details of the route are available at the twitter handle @TGIR2022. Daily coverage of the run will also be visible on national TV and the national press. The culmination ceremony will be held in New Delhi on August 15th with Union Minister Jitendra Singh as Chief Guest.

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India announce squad for Asia Cup 2022; Bumrah ruled out

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The All-India Senior Selection Committee on Monday announced the 14-members squad for the upcoming Asia Cup. The much-anticipated Asia Cup cricket tournament will take place from August 27 this year. The 15th edition of the tournament will be played in the UAE between six teams (main event). Defending champions India are also the most successful team, having won the trophy seven times. While the last edition of the tournament was held in an ODI format, this edition will feature the T20 format.

The six teams are divided into two groups with India, Pakistan and a qualifying team in Group A; and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan forming Group B. Each team plays the other once in the group stage with the top two teams from each group advancing to the Super 4 round. The top 2 teams from Super 4 will qualify for the final.

India’s squad for Asia Cup: Rohit Sharma (Captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan.

The star pacer of India Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel were not available for selection owing to injuries. They are currently undergoing rehab at the NCA in Bengaluru.

Three players – Shreyas Iyer, Axar Patel and Deepak Chahar have been named as standbys.

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