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‘I expect him to play like a leader because he is next in command’: Pragyan Ojha on Hardik Pandya

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New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) Former Indian cricketer Pragyan Ojha wants Hardik Pandya to step up and play the role of a “true leader”.

Hardik was named as the vice-captain of India’s 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup despite the clouds of criticism looming over him. Ojha showed his faith in Hardik’s leadership skills and his all-round abilities, emphasising the importance of being mentally prepared to take charge if fate demanded.

“I expect him to play like a leader because he is next in command. If something happens to Rohit, we don’t want that, if anything happens, he (Hardik) will be leading the side, so he has to be prepared, he has to take that responsibility when he is batting,” Ojha said to Jio Cinema.

The last time Hardik played for India was in the October 2023 ODI World Cup match against Bangladesh. Before the Indian Premier League 2024, he made a full recovery from an ankle ailment and was named captain of the five-time champions Mumbai Indians, replacing Rohit.

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This invited a lot of social media criticism, which somewhere damaged the confidence of the all-rounder. He has managed to score 197 runs at an average of 150.38 in 10 games in the 2024 season so far. Only six wickets have been claimed by the all-rounder at an economy rate of 11.0.

Ojha, acknowledging Hardik’s significance in the Indian setup, lauded his ability to provide balance to the team. Despite the IPL ordeal, Hardik’s place in the T20 World Cup squad was never in doubt. His versatility as an all-rounder offered India the flexibility they needed, a fact not lost on selectors or fans.

“For me, he is someone who will create that balance for the side. Every time we talk about Indian team selection, Hardik’s name always comes in. He creates that balance, he will give you that cushion. That you can have an extra batter or a bowler, wherever he is needed. That’s what we want him to do, to be mentally ready for the World Cup and just forget what is happening in the IPL and focus on the World Cup, that is more important,” Ojha added.

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With Mumbai Indians languishing at the bottom of the points table with just three wins in ten games, Hardik faced relentless scrutiny and his captaincy came under fire. He was not only booed by the crowds across venues but was also criticised by the experts for his captaincy.

–IANS

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Azim Kazi eyes IPL contract based on Maharashtra Premier League performance

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New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) Ratnagiri Jets captain Azim Kazi is gearing up for the second consecutive Maharashtra Premier League (MPL) final after a spectacular season. The left-handed batter is the leading run-getter for the franchise in the ongoing edition with 281 runs in 11 games including a half-century and a strike rate of 105.64.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, Rizvi shared his thoughts on his performance in the league, the impact of the league on Maharashtra cricket, and how Ruturaj Gaikwad has been a constant support to the youngsters.

Q: How would you sum up your team’s performance in the ongoing Maharashtra Premier League?

A: We want to finish the tournament on a high. We want to continue our momentum. We have no pressure of playing the successive finals. We followed our process throughout the season. Our focus from the start was to continue on last year’s momentum.

Q: How has your team fared in the tournament?

A: Everyone has performed well throughout the season including me. I think if one player is helping you in winning one or two matches out of 10 then it is best in franchise cricket. In the knockout match (Qualifier 1), it was a team performance as players clicked on the right time. All are experienced players and they know when to click at the right time.

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Q: Who do you think are the promising talents in the league and will have a great future ahead?

A: First of all, I would like to thank the Maharashtra Cricket Association for giving us such a huge platform to showcase our talent as players can express themselves with matches being live-streamed on JioCinema. There are many youngsters who are performing well overall. In our team too, Kiran Chormale, Abhishek Pawar, Sachin Dhas, Arshin Kulkarni, Om Bhosale, Mehul Patel, and Murtaza Trunkwala have performed well.

The MCA has created the best platform as players have been waiting for this opportunity for quite a long. Since the last year, Maharashtra cricket has suddenly changed under President Rohit Pawar. The invitation matches and age group matches have also increased. The MPL has given motivation to players, and they aim to play in the league.

Q: Ruturaj Gaikwad had aggressively celebrated your dismissal against Puneri Bappa. Did you have a chat with him after the match since you both are good friends?

A: It is good that he is showing his aggression as people always say he is very calm. It was an entertainment for everyone. Last time, when he got run out I showed my aggression. Now, he did it against me. Individually we talk to each other. He has a different mindset and we talk about batting with him. He gives us inputs on our batting. We try to get as much batting knowledge as we can from him.

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Q: Does Ruturaj Gaikwad share his learning with youngsters in the tournament?

A: Yes, he talks to youngsters and give them detailed input. He never tries to cut short the conversation with anyone. He always shares valuable learnings with young players on how they can approach and improve their game. After the MPL matches, youngsters go to him and have conversations.

Q: You missed the IPL contract last year, so do think it is a platform for you to get into IPL?

A: Yes, it is a big platform for everyone. 150 players are participating in the tournament but all of them do not play state and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. It is a very big platform as IPL scouts are also coming to see us. One impactful inning can bring you in highlight. Last year, Arshi hit a century and he bagged an IPL contract. So, definitely, 100% one big performance can hand you an IPL contract.

Q: Last year, your performance was not consistent but you have been in form this season. What did do behind the scenes in the off-season?

A: Before the start of the MPL season, we had a lot of time to prepare. We had a 40-day camp before the season where we touched on batting, bowling, and fielding. It has yielded results for us. This year, we have 10 matches to be consistent compared to five matches last season.

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Q: From your team, who do you think will have a great future ahead in the league?

A: Satyajeet Bachhav has been the leading wicket-taker for Maharashtra for three years across formats. But last year, he didn’t have a great season in the MPL and Ranji too. This year, he is the leading wicket-taker with 21 wickets. He is our best bowler in the tournament for us. Kiran Chormale is very talented and has potential.

He is doing well in fielding and batting. We had picked Abhishek Pawar as the second wicketkeeper last year but in practice games, he performed so well and created his spot in the team. He is performing in every match.

Q: How is the team’s morale after entering the final for the second consecutive time?

A: The team’s morale is very high. We don’t celebrate until we lift the trophy. So, we’ve kept the best for the final. We’ll follow our process and execute our plans. We’re not thinking about the opponents but we’ll plan according to our opponents.

–IANS

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'Never gave up on the field': Sachin, Gambhir, Sehwag condole David Johnson's demise

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New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) Veteran India cricketers including legendary Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, and Virender Sehwag have condoled the demise of former India pacer David Johnson, who passed away on Thursday in Bengaluru at the age of 52.

As per the police, Johnson fell from the fourth floor of his apartment in Bengaluru and was immediately taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. However, the police have not recovered any suicide note from the scene.

The preliminary investigation indicated that the deceased, Johnson, was suffering from depression. Kothanur police are investigating the case.

Taking to X, Tendulkar wrote, “Deeply saddened by the passing of my former teammate, David Johnson. He was full of life and never gave up on the field. My thoughts are with his friends and family.”

Former India openers Gambhir and Sehwag also expressed deep sorrow on the demise of the late pacer.

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“Saddened by the passing away of David Johnson. May god give strength to his family and loved ones,” Gambhir said.

“Very sad to hear about David Johnson’s passing. Condolences to his family. Om Shanti,” Sehwag added.

Former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad extended his condolences to the grieved family. “Shocked and sad to hear about the passing away of David Johnson. Heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. Om Shanti,” Prasad wrote on X.

Johnson played two Tests for India and bagged three scalps. He was part of Karnataka’s lethal pace attack comprising Javagal Srinath, Doidda Ganesh, and Prasad in the 1990s. He came into the highlight after his 10-wicket haul against Kerala in the 1995-96 Ranji Trophy season.

His 10-152 figures caught the eyes of national selectors and he made his debut in the 1996 against Australia in Delhi after an injury ruled out Srinath. He got hold of Michael Slater and also reportedly clocked a speed of 157.8 kmph in the match.

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His second India appearance came against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test later that year in Durban. he bagged wickets of Herschelle Gibbs and Brian McMillan in his last India match to his career with three scalps.

In 39 first-class matches, he bagged 125 wickets while in 33 List A games, he clinched 41 dismissals.

–IANS

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To get that close is obviously a massive confidence booster, says Kapp

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Bengaluru, June 20 (IANS) After South Africa women narrowly fell short of chasing India’s formidable 325 in the second match of the three-match series, Marizanne Kapp, one of the centurions in the second ODI in Bengaluru, hailed the performance as a massive confidence booster for her team. Despite the narrow four-run defeat, Kapp emphasized that this was the brand of cricket South Africa aimed to play as they prepare for next year’s 50-over World Cup in India.

South Africa’s chase began on a rocky note, with the team reduced to 67 for 3 inside 15 overs on Wednesday. This mirrored their struggle in the series opener, where they collapsed to 33 for 3 before being bowled out for 122.

However, unlike the first match, South Africa mounted a resilient fightback in the second game, led by Laura Wolvaardt, who scored an unbeaten 134. It was only a sensational final over by India’s Pooja Vastrakar that denied South Africa a series-leveling win.

“There were a lot of positives today,” Kapp said after the game. “To get that close is obviously a massive confidence booster, especially moving forward. We know we can reach that total. But after that first four in the last over, it was our game to lose.

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“It’s definitely something we would speak about, but in the future, if we could have maybe tried to get Wolfie [Wolvaardt] on strike a bit more, then maybe… there are a lot of things we could have done differently. But again, to come that close, after starting a little bit slower today, we have a lot of positives to take forward, given that we have a World Cup next year.”

Kapp’s remarks reflected the team’s evolving strategy and the aggressive intent they have been working on. She shared insights from a recent meeting with their batting coach following the first ODI.

“He said that if we had scored 100 in 20 overs in that ODI, he would have been happy even if we got bowled out. But to score 122 off the 37 overs, it’s not the brand of cricket we want to play. Definitely happy with the way we scored today and got close to the target.”

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During the chase, Wolvaardt not only anchored the innings but also crossed the 4000 ODI runs milestone, becoming South Africa’s highest run-getter in 50-over cricket. Kapp, too, reached a personal milestone, crossing 3000 ODI runs to be fourth on South Africa’s all-time list.

Playing as a specialist batter due to workload management, Kapp has visibly enhanced her batting prowess over the past year. Since 2023, she has scored two centuries and four half-centuries in 15 innings, averaging 68.20 in this format.

Coming in at 67 for 3, Kapp thrived under pressure, forming a crucial 184-run partnership off 170 balls with Wolvaardt to bring South Africa tantalizingly close to the target.

“If you look at myself and Wolfie, it’s been a few times now that we have been out in the middle,” Kapp noted. “The way my batting has gone in the last couple of years, I have been striking at close to 100, so it’s just a little bit more natural for me.

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“I have found that if I am being positive, I usually score runs more often than not. Whereas she likes to take her time, set herself on, and then go after the bowlers. We don’t even have to speak about it. It naturally worked out that way that I am going to be the aggressor, and she takes her time,” she said.

Reflecting on her ability to perform under pressure, Kapp said, “At the end of the day, this is why I play cricket for. I believe usually in those situations, I perform, and I pride myself on that. Wolfie and I, we enjoy that. Sometimes, you get a bit annoyed or upset if you are tired but look, no. It’s a team sport, and the two of us enjoy batting together. I feel like games like this, situations like this probably bring out the best in myself and Wolfie.”

–IANS

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PCB to make changes in selection committee after poor show in T20 World Cup: Report

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New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) In the aftermath of Pakistan’s disappointing T20 World Cup campaign, significant changes loom for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) selection committee. A comprehensive review is set to uncover what went wrong for the team, but streamlining the selection committee’s operations has emerged as a top priority, according to a news report on Thursday.

According to ESPNcricinfo the seven-member committee, currently without an official head, is likely to be downsized, and the PCB may abandon its recent experiment of a leaderless selection process.

Just three months ago, the current selection committee was formed, with Wahab Riaz being stripped of his role as chair but remaining a member. The committee functioned based on equal votes and majority decisions. However, this setup is now under scrutiny, with frustrations mounting within the PCB, including from Wahab himself, over the public perception that he unofficially leads the committee and bears the brunt of criticism.

As a result, Wahab’s complete departure from the committee is a strong possibility, as PCB chairman Mohsin Naqvi seeks to demonstrate that no one is immune to repercussions.

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The report also said that, despite the turmoil, a decision on Babar Azam’s captaincy is not immediately anticipated. Although emotions have run high following Pakistan’s World Cup exit, the urgency to address the captaincy issue is less pressing given Pakistan’s next white-ball match is not until November.

The review process will incorporate feedback from several management members who accompanied the team, with head coach Gary Kirsten’s input holding significant weight. Kirsten, appointed in April after an exhaustive search, has reportedly expressed concerns about the team’s lack of unity. While the exact nature of his remarks remains uncertain, it is clear that a frank and robust exchange of views took place, which will likely influence his report to the PCB.

Furthermore, the forthcoming revisions to players’ central contracts, set to expire on June 30, may signal additional changes to the national setup. Although a landmark three-year contract agreement was reached last year, individual players’ positions can be adjusted based on performance.

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Currently, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, and Shaheen Shah Afridi hold the highest category contracts, but their standings could be reevaluated in light of recent performances.

–IANS

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Pro-boxer, WBC Asia title-holder Neeraj Goyat to join Big Boss OTT

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New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) Neeraj Goyat, India’s most promising professional boxer and WBC Asia title-holder, has been invited to join Big Boss OTT. Neeraj is all set to enthrall his audience as he is a crowd favourite being a renowned figure in the global boxing scene. The boxing professional also has appeared in numerous music videos and instructed celebrities like Farhan Akhtar to display boxing skills in movies like Toofan. In the same movie, Neeraj too had a small role.

The boxer from Karnal, Neeraj fell in love with the sport in 2006. Having won the gold medal at the 2008 Youth National Tournament, he gained recognition very quickly due to his obvious talent. His career kept going strong as he became the first boxer from India to be ranked in the WBC World Rankings in 2015, 2016 and 2017 after winning three WBC Asia titles.

Neeraj in his anticipation towards visiting the doorstep of the Big Boss house, said, “I am truly honored and want to thank the Big Boss Family for opening their doors.”

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Expressing further gratitude, he added, “It will be an exciting time for a boxer like me to dwell in the surroundings and share a good time with all the invited members. I look forward to also earning the trust of my audience to win the title this season.”

–IANS

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