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Time to reset trajectory and take women’s cricket to newer highs: Star India Sports Head

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New Delhi [India], March 9 (ANI): The human mind registers moments more than it remembers days. While many might have forgotten that it was March 8 last year when the Indian and Australian women created euphoria in the final of the T20 World Cup, no cricket fan will ever forget that moment when women’s cricket stamped its authority on the game and made it a night to remember at a jam-packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
But from the highs of an immensely successful women’s T20 World Cup came the low of the sporting world coming to a complete standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Women’s cricket has indeed undertaken quite a journey in the last year.
While the cricketers have made a return to the pitch and the ongoing ODI series between India and South Africa has once again shown how women’s cricket can be just as competitive as the men’s game, the biggest question is whether the COVID-induced break came at the worst possible time?
Star India Sports Head Sanjog Gupta begs to differ. While he does agree that the halt was abrupt, he sees it as an opportunity to reach greater heights and break new barriers. And he makes no bones about the fact that the women’s game is headed only one way — up.
“What COVID-19 has done, is that it has presented a challenge and an opportunity. It depends on how you look at where we stand vis-a-vis women’s cricket to decipher whether it’s a challenge or an opportunity. And it’s important to understand Star India’s journey as far as women’s cricket is concerned. This journey for us started in 2013 when we broadcast the women’s World Cup that was held in India. That was the first time that a broadcaster was making a concerted effort to try and build the women’s World Cup the way that we did — with an extensive marketing campaign, with the feed being produced in Hindi, with extensive focus on the broadcast on building the stature of the World Cup. I think, it reached the inflection point with the World Cup final in 2017, which was watched by about 14 million viewers. So, I think that was the inflection point, after which women’s cricket started to be spoken off with a lot of reverence, and we had a genuine belief that it has the potential to grow significantly and quickly.
“Then, I think the real high came with the T20 World Cup final between India and Australia. Those three T20 World Cups, if you take them as three pillars in the growth of women’s cricket from T20 World Cup 2016 to T20 World Cup in 2020, we’ve seen an 11x consumption growth. So, I think there was a lot of momentum that was carrying forward the women’s game which came to an abrupt halt with COVID. And the re-start is the challenge — which is how much ground, how much momentum did you lose in the last year as women’s cricket came to halt, but it also presents an interesting opportunity. It’s almost an opportunity to reset the women’s calendar in a way that you can prime it for significant growth over the next three years,” he explained.
Sanjog believes that the idea should be to take the game to as many homes as possible because the tempo has been set and it is important to bring in the recall value which comes with fans watching their favourite stars in action.
“I think with the start of the home season, alongside the India men’s home season- has set the right tempo for this journey. With the women’s World Cup in 2022 in New Zealand, this sets out the ideal runaway for most of that momentum that was lost to be regained over the next nine to ten months as we run into the Women’s World Cup.
“Hopefully, we will take forward the momentum into the Women’s T20 Challenge which will happen in parallel with the playoffs of the IPL, and then more India cricket coming up as the home season comes along. The reason why we believe that there is an opportunity to reset women’s cricket and prime it for further growth is one of the things that had held women’s cricket back for the longest time was — just the sheer lack of supply.
“So, between 2019-2020 the pre-COVID year, the number of women’s cricket matches being broadcast in India was just slightly less than 1/3 the number of men’s games. If you don’t see it, if you don’t get to watch the women’s team play then how will you be able to build fans for it? This inorganic pause in the calendar has presented a challenge as far as regaining the momentum that had been built up to the T20 World Cup is concerned. It has also allowed the opportunity to reset the trajectory to make it an even steeper growth curve and set up a runway for women’s cricket to reach newer highs by World Cup 2022,” he smiled.
But then, the rise of women’s cricket has also seen a rise in the use of social media globally. So does television broadcast and social media visibility go hand-in-hand in helping women’s cricket reach every household and inspire youngsters to take up the game?
“I think there are three to four big factors that I would attribute to this growing popularity. One is of course — all boards, including BCCI and the ICC, have recognised the potential that women’s cricket has, that’s one and two, they have acknowledged and taken decisive steps towards growing women’s cricket as a cause, and believing that it’s the right thing to do. So, I think that has been the biggest factor because playing more and having more games on the broadcast is perhaps the single biggest contributor to the growth and popularity of any game.
“I think the second thing is — at least in the Indian context — Star, as a broadcaster has invested significantly behind women’s cricket over the last four or five years — actually starting, as I said, with 2013 — we’ve pushed all levers possible to grow the popularity of women’s cricket, ranging from broadcasting women’s games in multiple languages beyond English to make them available across the network and thereby making them more accessible to viewers around the country, to marketing it in a big way and to using opportunities such as the Women’s Day or big events that become apertures for more viewers to be aware of women’s cricket and be aware of the fact that it is just as important to support team India, and the India blue jersey when it’s worn by women as it is when men wear it.
“The third factor, I would say is — as a result of more exposure and more investment, the emergence of heroes. I think that’s where social media plays a huge role. The fact that Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Smriti Mandhana, and Harmanpreet Kaur, all of them are not only now an inspiration for girls to play, but also for fans to watch, is a huge reason for more and more people to tune-in because, at the end of the day, fans tune in to watch heroes play. That’s where social media has played a role in making the heroes seem closer to fans than they ever were before — both in terms of their relatability, and also in terms of allowing fans to have some level of engagement with their heroes all through the year, instead of engaging with them only on broadcast or only when they’re on TV.
“What social media has done is it has enabled the rise of heroes who are followed, who are loved and who are revered, and who inspire girls to play and fans to watch, and that in turn has contributed to the growth of the game.
“The fourth and final factor is also the growing recognition from all quarters that the women’s game in some sense, and in many ways is at par with men’s game in terms of competitiveness, in terms of rivalries, in terms of contexts, in terms of the sheer effort that the women’s team and the players put in to win,” he explained.
Talking of role models, while the likes of Mithali and Harmanpreet have already become household names, youngsters like Shafali Verma have also made quite an impression. In fact, her showing in the women’s T20 World Cup created quite a storm. But unfortunately, she didn’t find a place in the ODI team in the ongoing series between India and South Africa. Does that hamper following/viewership? The Star India Sports Head believes that selection matters are best left to those who have been given the role — selectors.
“Performance and potential should dictate the presence of a certain cricketer in the team, irrespective of whether it’s the men’s game or the women’s game, and this will apply equally to popular players as to the less recalled players. Selection matters at the end of the day are matters which have more to do with the competitiveness of the team and what the selectors believe is the best team to pick for a particular series or a particular opposition or a particular country that you’re playing in.
“The other part of it is, of course, you know, there is a certain degree of following that players have and that following does get affected when they’re not a part of the team. Having said that, it is contingent upon the player to perform and prove his or her potential and make it back to the team to justify the faith or the love that fans have shown in that player. It’s totally up to the players to recognise their shortcomings and know that everyone loves a great comeback story,” he pointed.
While the Indian women’s cricketers are back on the international arena with the series against South Africa, they were part of the Women’s T20 Challenge in the UAE and Sanjog believes that the BCCI should be lauded for organising the tournament despite the logistical hardships that came with the COVID-19 situation.
“I think the Women’s T20 Challenge was a huge success and credit must go to the BCCI for continuing to invest in the women’s T20 Challenge, even though there were constraints that COVID-19 presented and the fact that the entire tournament had to be staged outside India. So, I think credit to Jay Shah, Sourav Ganguly and Arun Dhumal, and the rest of the BCCI for ensuring that the Women’s T20 Challenge continues to happen despite the constraints.
“Just to give you a sense of the numbers, the tournament had 105 million viewers tune in for those four games which is more than 40% higher than the previous edition – which was significant. You don’t see that kind of growth in most sports. And to see that is heartening on two fronts — I think it gives all stakeholders the confidence that they need in the game itself, and the popularity of the game, and the growth potential of the game.
“The second thing that it does is, it creates a sense of aura around the women’s game, which allows it to create the ideal platform for it to leap from. And we’ve seen multiple partners, stakeholders, sponsors come forward to support the women’s game on the back of the potential that the game has shown, which is best seen in terms of growth and viewership,” he said.
So does that mean a bigger T20 tournament for women in the near future? The broadcasters are definitely game.
“I think that there are multiple considerations there, you can imagine, I think the BCCI would probably take into account those considerations before deciding when is the right time to expand. Currently, you know, I think the constraint around the COVID still exists. We’re not past them yet. But I think in the longer term, there is no reason to believe why the Women’s T20 Challenge should not expand.
“I think the BCCI needs to believe that the time is right. And the time has to be right in terms of the depth of the players’ pool and the ideal window for staging it. Once those considerations are taken into account, there is no reason to believe why the growth of the Women’s T20 Challenge is not a certainty over the next three to five years,” he signed off. (ANI)

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CRISTIANO RONALDO TOPPLES LIONEL MESSI AS FORBES’ HIGHEST-EARNING FOOTBALLER

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s big-money move to Manchester United saw him replacing Lionel Messi as the highest-paid footballer in the world, according to the latest rankings released by Forbes.

Ronaldo is set to earn $125 million before taxes in the 2021-22 season, with $70 million coming from salary and bonus for his return to United. The 36-year-old is set to earn an estimated $55m (£40.31m) from commercial deals, only three other active athletes make more commercially: Roger Federer ($90 million), LeBron James ($65 million) and Tiger Woods ($60 million). His longtime and arch-rival, Lionel Messi will earn $110m (£80.63m) this season, with $75m (£50m) of that figure coming from his salary and bonuses at the Parc des Princes, as per Forbes. The former Barcelona star will pad his PSG paycheck with an estimated $35 million in endorsements.

PSG now claims three of the world’s five highest-paid players, including the 29-year-old Neymar, who lands at No. 3 once again with $95 million, and the 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who is No. 4 with $43 million. In total, the 10 highest-paid footballers are set to collect pretax earnings of around $585m (£428m) this season, up from last year’s total of around $570m (£471m).

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Challenging and exciting times ahead for Indian hockey, says midfielder Hardik

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Young midfielder Hardik Singh had a sensational outing at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics 2020, where the Indian men’s hockey team clinched the historic bronze medal. The 22-year-old, who was one of the key figures in the Indian midfield, scored two crucial goals in his debut Olympic Games.

“After the 2018 World Cup, this (Tokyo Olympics) was my second major tournament with the senior team, and I wasn’t really satisfied with my performance in the World Cup. Hence, I wanted to prove myself that I can do better on bigger stages. So, for me, it was a great challenge, and I am glad that I could do well, and was able to contribute to the team’s success,” explained Hardik in an official release. Hardik scored a memorable field goal in the quarter-final match against England, which helped the side enter the medal rounds at the Olympics after more than four decades.

While recalling the iconic goal, the young gun said: “It was a team goal, our defence line stuck together to hold the 2-1 lead at a very crucial phase of the game as we were down to 10 men. Harmanpreet tackled the ball really well, he then passed it to me, and I had open space to penetrate into the striking circle, although my shot bounced off the goalkeeper’s pad, luckily I received the rebound, and found the back of the net.”

“Nilakanta also played a crucial role here as he blind spotted the goalkeeper, which helped me find the gap during that rebound,” he added. When asked about the reason behind India’s success at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Hardik said: “We are a tight-knit team, and I think that was our biggest strength at the Olympics.

After the disappointing result against Australia, we sat together and openly spoke to each other about what went wrong and what we needed to do in the upcoming matches to put up a much better performance. That really helped us a lot to bounce back and eventually win the medal for the country.”The 22-year-old midfielder further added that the team is eager to begin its quest for gold at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“We are eager to begin our Quest for Gold at the Paris Olympics. We will have to approach step-by-step, and our first step will be to qualify directly for the Olympic Games 2024 by winning Gold at the 2022 Asian Games. Then in 2023, we have another marquee event- Hockey World Cup, which will be played in Odisha, so there are challenging and exciting times ahead, and we are looking forward to it.” he concluded.

The 22-year-old midfielder further added that the team is eager to begin its quest for gold at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

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GOOD DECISION TO REST ROHIT FOR CSK GAME LOOKING AT CRICKET COMING UP, SAYS BOULT

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Mumbai Indians pacer Trent Boult on Wednesday said the aim of the franchise remains that skipper Rohit Sharma remains fit looking at the amount of cricket coming up.

Mumbai had suffered a defeat at the hands of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on Sunday and the Rohit Sharma-led outfit is at the fourth spot with eight points from eight games. The side will next lock horns against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Thursday. “Every game is such a big game, every match is important now. But history is history, it is nice to have good results in our bag against KKR. They are a quality side. We would not take them lightly. Varun Chakravarthy is a quality bowler, I hope I do not face him being a number eleven, yeah I think more importantly it is about batting unit of Mumbai putting a good performance and stack up scores,” said Boult.

When asked about fitness update on Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, Boult said: “They are both recovering well, in terms of their selection for the next game, I am not too sure. It was a bit of a precautionary move to rest them.”Replying to a query about whether Kieron Pollard could have brought in Boult or Jasprit Bumrah into the attack when Ravindra Jadeja had just walked in, Boult said: “I am not too sure. Pollard captains really well. It is just the nature of the game and the format. Partnerships are built and platforms are set. They played nicely to get into a position to counter-attack at the end.”

“It was disappointing to give CSK momentum at the halfway mark but it is something we will address and look to tidy up in that department,” he added.The Kiwi pacer also said that the IPL will give a perfect chance to everyone to get used to the conditions ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup. “Yeah, 100 per cent. You could probably not have any better build-up to a tournament like the T20 World Cup. The focus is on what’s on for the next couple of weeks, but in terms of preparation, it is very good. Conditions can change quickly but having to deal with the heat is a big challenge at this stage. It is going to be interesting to see conditions move over the course of the next few weeks,” said Boult.

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IPL 2021: Sunrisers Hyderabad player Natarajan tests Covid-19 positive

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Sunrisers Hyderabad player T Natarajan tested positive for Covid-19 at a scheduled RT-PCR test. The player has isolated himself from the rest of the squad. He is currently asymptomatic and there are six close contacts of the player who have been isolated. But the match between SRH and Delhi Capitals is on as the other players have tested negative.

As per the IPL release, the medical team has identified Vijay Shankar, Vijay Kumar (Team Manager), Shyam Sundar J (Physiotherapist), Anjana Vannan (Doctor), Tushar Khedkar (Logistics Manager) and Periyasamy Ganesan (Net Bowler) as the close contacts. “The rest of the contingent including the close contacts underwent RT-PCR tests at 5AM local time this morning and the test reports are negative. As a result, tonight’s game between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals will go ahead at the Dubai International Stadium, Dubai,” the IPL release said.

The 14th season of the IPL resumed on Sunday with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Mumbai Indians squaring off. The edition earlier had to be postponed after a string of positive Covid-19 cases within the bio-bubble in India.

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FORMER CAPTAIN VIJAYAN LAUDS INITIATIVE TO POPULARISE WOMEN’S FOOTBALL IN KERALA

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Talismanic former Indian national team captain I.M. Vijayan sounded excited, lavishing huge praise on the collaboration between the Government of Kerala and All India Football Federation in close coordination with the KFA.

National level football is all set for a return to God’s own country, with the Kerala Government and the All India Football Federation agreeing upon terms.

“This will act as a boon for football in the state,” Vijayan commented. “I am very happy to hear such tournaments are being planned to be hosted in Kerala. It has been a long time since we have had footballing action in the state, especially due to the pandemic. People are dying to watch live action.” Vijayan, nicknamed as the ‘Black Buck’ during his playing days, stated.

As an initiative to popularise women’s football, the Government of Kerala, along with the AIFF and the Kerala Football Association (KFA), will host an international football tournament in Kochi in December, ahead of the Indian women’s team’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 campaign. That comes in addition to hosting the final round of the Santosh Trophy and a series of other grassroots and coach educationinitiatives.

“Gokulam Kerala will already play in the AFC Women’s Club Championship, and now the Kerala Government has also opened academies for women. I think hosting an international women’s tournament will further help inspire more women to take up the sport,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. Well done,” Vijayan maintained.India international C.K. Vineeth also echoed the sentiments, saying that all the upcoming footballing activities like hosting the final round of the Santosh Trophy, and AIFF and KFA’s support in organising Youth League and Golden Baby Leagues in the state, football in Kerala will receive a boost.

“Football in Kerala is already so popular. We have seen so many people throng to the stadiums. Now, with so many activities set to happen, all these aspiring players will get an avenue to pursue their dreams,” said Vineeth.

“I think with all the facilities and help coming in, it will give a huge motivation especially for the local men and women’s footballers,” he said.

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Dominant Delhi move to top spot after emphatic win against Sunrisers

With this victory, Delhi Capitals have moved top of the IPL points table, toppling Chennai Super Kings to the second.

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Anrich Nortje brilliant display with the ball was followed by a masterful knock by Shreyas Iyer as Delhi Capitals crushed SunRisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets, chasing the target of 134 in 17.5 overs in an Indian Premier League (IPL) encounter here at the Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday.Shreyas Iyer and Shikhar Dhawan played innings of 47 and 42 respectively to take Delhi Capitals home with a victory.

DC captain Rishabh Pant also played a crucial quickfire inning of 35* in 21 balls. For SRH, Khaleel Ahmed and Rashid Khan scalped one wicket each. With this victory, Delhi have moved top of the IPL points table, toppling Chennai Super Kings to the second. And the defeat here means SRH hopes of the playoff are now almost dusted as they stay at bottom of the table with one win from eight games.

Chasing a modest target of 134, DC enjoyed a good start as they lost just one wicket in the powerplay and scored 39 runs. Khaleel Ahmed got the wicket of Prithvi Shaw 11(8) in the third over after Williamson took a brilliant catch of the Indian opener.

Shreyas Iyer and Shikhar Dhawan continued with their aggressive batting in the following overs. The duo completed a fine half-century partnership between them as Delhi moved to 70/1. Soon, Rashid Khan did the trick for SRH in the 11th over as the Afghan bowler removed dangerous-looking Shikhar Dhawan (42).

DC captain Rishabh Pant joined Iyer on the pitch and wasted no time in showing his aggressive intent as the duo continued chipping boundaries whenever they get the chance. DC former captain and the incumbent one combined to add 67, as Capitals easily chased the target in the 17.5 overs.Earlier, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada starred with the ball as Delhi Capitals (DC) restricted SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) to 134/9. Anrich Nortje (2-12), Kagiso Rabada (3-37), and Axar Patel (2-21) bamboozled the opposition with their pace, accuracy and length. For, SRH Abdul Samad and Rashid Khan played innings of 28 and 22 respectively.

Opting to bat first, SRH had a shaky start when their star overseas opener David Warner walked back to the pavilion in the very first over of the innings. The South African speedster ousted Warner on pace and the Australian got out for a three-ball duck.

SRH captain Kane Williamson, and Wriddhiman Saha managed to gain momentum in the match but opposition bowlers gave them no respite. With continuous pressure on one end, Saha took his chances against Kagiso Rabada and welcomed the South African bowler with a six in the fifth over. But SA bowler had the last laugh as Saha went back to the dressing room after got beaten for pace with the short ball.

After the first powerplay, SRH were 32/2. In the 9th over of the innings, Marcus Stoinis walked off the field after getting injured. In the very next over SRH captain Williamson got caught by Hetmyer off Axar Patel bowling after getting lucky two times in the match.

Manish Pandey soon followed his captain to the pavilion in the next over after Rabada got him caught and bowled. With runs in scarcity for the team in orange, the wickets continued falling as Nortje trapped Kedar Jadhav for LBW in the 13th over.

Axar Patel got Jason Holder (10) in the 16th over. Kagiso Rabada removed dangerous-looking Abdul Samad (28) in the 19th over but conceded 14 runs. Rashid Khan (22) played an important cameo for SRH before getting run out in the last over of the innings. Sandeep Sharma (0) got run out in the last ball of the innings.

Brief Scores: SunRisers Hyderabad (Abdul Samad 28, Rashid Khan 22; Kagiso Rabada 3-37, Anrich Nortje 2-12) vs Delhi Capitals (Shreyas Iyer 47*, Shikhar Dhawan 42; Rashid Khan 1-26, Khaleel Ahmed 1-33)

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