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IPL 2024: ‘They are just one knock away,’ PBKS' Sanjay Bangar backs top-order to fire soon

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Chandigarh, April 16 (IANS) In the matches that they have played so far in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, the top-order batters have failed to fire for Punjab Kings (PBKS). It is a matter of concern as they get ready to take on five-time title winners Mumbai Indians at the PCA Stadium in Mullanpur on Thursday.

In their last match against Rajasthan Royals, PBKS were also without their injured skipper and opener Shikhar Dhawan. PBKS were unable to get past RR on Saturday at the new PCA Stadium in Mullanpur, losing the low-scoring thriller by three wickets.

Their bowling attack showed tremendous fighting spirit taking the match to the last over. High-intensity spells from Kagiso Rabada, who recorded 2-18 in his four overs, and the stand-in captain Sam Curran, who picked 2-25, ensured that the home side stretched the match till the final ball.

At the post-match press conference, Punjab Kings’ Head of Cricket Development Sanjay Bangar praised the side for battling it out in the middle till the end. “We have been pretty consistent with the team that we have played. Most of our games have gone to the last over. We have been extremely competitive. Even tonight, at one point it felt that the game would be over soon. But the way the fielders hung on, and the bowlers kept pegging on, it just shows the character that the team possesses,” Bangar said

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“So yes, we are not getting the results, but it’s the kind of character and the kind of fight that is being shown by the team that is exemplary,” he added.

Punjab missed skipper Shikhar Dhawan on Saturday as the opener was ruled out due to an injury.

Bangar gave an update on Dhawan and said, “Well, unfortunately, we missed out on Shikhar because he has a shoulder injury. We will have to wait and see how he responds to the treatment. It seems that he could be out of action for at least 7-10 days.” Curran led the side in Dhawan’s absence and Bangar explained that the England allrounder was always Punjab Kings’ first choice to be the stand-in captain in case Dhawan is unavailable for any reason.

“Our thought was always that because Sam has led the team in the previous year as well, he would be the stand-in captain. He was late to arrive from the UK because of this, he wanted to have a few sessions in before the start of the season. Hence, we could not send him to Chennai for the inauguration of the season and Jitesh Sharma was sent in his place as Dhawan’s replacement for the photoshoot,” Bangar said on the subject.

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Punjab opener Jonny Bairstow has scored 96 runs in six games so far this season. On being asked about his form, the former Indian cricketer backed Bairstow and the top order to fire soon.

“Yeah, it is certainly a cause of concern that the top order is not making enough runs for us, but they are trying hard. They are applying themselves. All games in Mullanpur have been low-scoring games because of how the wicket behaves. In the first six overs with the new ball, the wicket tends to just lag a little bit and there is uneven bounce as well. That is another contributing factor because of which, not only for us but also for the visiting teams, the top order is facing issues here,” Bangar said.

“We are constantly having conversations about what are the scoring options on such tracks and that is where the boys are putting in a lot of effort. Currently, it’s not coming off, but I am pretty sure that they are just one knock away,” he added.

Bangar also praised Ashutosh Sharma, who scored an unbeaten 31 off 16 balls against Royals, helping Punjab post a challenging total, and also praised Jitesh Sharma, who had injured an eyebrow while training, but still batted and kept the wickets throughout the match on Saturday.

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“Credit to Ashutosh for the way he has again batted in the last four or five overs. Jitesh Sharma, who fought through the injury that he had. He had 15 stitches on his eyebrow, so he also contributed at a crucial juncture of the game. So, these are boys of immense character, and we certainly look at those positives, when we look at this game and wait for the next one to come,” he signed off.

Meanwhile, INR 35 lakh were raised during the match in Mullanpur on Saturday to the noble cause of girl child education. The M3M Foundation, in partnership with Shikhar Dhawan Foundation, has committed to support females for vocational education, and Rs 5 lakh will be donated for every 25 runs scored and 3 wickets taken by Punjab Kings during their home games.

Through the initiative, the organisation aims to provide vocational education support to 111 girls for up to Rs. 5 lakh, covering a total amount of Rs. 5.55 crore over the next five years.

–IANS

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Premier League: Manchester City deserve their title, but Arsenal can take hope as they build for future

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London, May 20 (IANS) Manchester City’s fourth consecutive Premier League title says it all about Pep Guardiola’s side, as they came good when they needed to and kept their nerve to hold off a strong challenge from Arsenal to lift the title. Once again, Guardiola, for all his talk of leaving at the end of next season, has shown himself to be the master of the game, tweaking a team that had a couple of low moments in the season, but had the football, the footballers and the experience to hold off their rivals in the finishing straight.

Erling Haaland, for all the criticism of his contribution outside of the penalty area, showed there is nobody in the world more reliable in front of goal, while Kevin de Bruyne is still a master of the creative football arts, even if he is starting to slow down.

And if De Bruyne slows down, the Premier League’s Player of the Season, Phil Foden, continues to develop as arguably the most exciting English player of his generation, with 19 goals this season, including the first two on Sunday, reports Xinhua.

City may have missed the silky midfield talents of Ilkay Gundogan after his move to Barcelona. Still, Guardiola’s constant evolution saw him adapt the shape of his side, give extra responsibility to players such as John Stones. At the same time, 22-year-old Josko Gvardiol has had an excellent first campaign at the club, looking calm on the ball and even scoring key goals at the end of the campaign.

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Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta must feel frustrated at seeing his side fall just short after they too produced a brilliant finishing run to the campaign. It’s hard to believe that both Arsenal and Manchester City won nine of their last 10 games, with the only points dropped coming in a 0-0 draw between the two sides in Manchester back in March.

The fact Arsenal held their nerve means they can wave goodbye to the tag of ‘bottle merchants’ — a team that loses its nerve at key moments — and that is partly due to the arrival of England midfielder Declan Rice. Rice cost over 100 million pounds, but it looks like money well-spent, as he added both control and creativity in midfield. Meanwhile, Kai Havertz is another huge success for Arteta, finally finding his place as a floating No. 9 giving even more mobility to a team packed with the attacking talents of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, and Gabriel Jesus.

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A reliable left-back and a specialist striker might make Arsenal’s title challenge for next season almost impossible to resist.

It was the end of an era at Liverpool where Jurgen Klopp stepped down with Arne Slot to step in as his replacement. Klopp always said it would be a transitional year, and Liverpool’s cause wasn’t helped by a long injury list, but the good news for Slot is that youngsters such as Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliot and Jarell Quansah should be the building blocks for his team next season.

Elsewhere, Mauricio Pochettino had a long, hard season at Chelsea with an expensive, but young and disparate squad of players that only started to play as a team in the last two months of the season. After spending part of the season in the bottom half, Chelsea rallied to finish sixth, and there should be more to come from them next season if the club keeps faith in the coach.

Ange Postecoglou was a breath of fresh air for a Tottenham side that faced life without Harry Kane, and although they just fell short of the line in their efforts to reach the Champions League, Tottenham have a base to push on and a style of play that will win over a lot of neutrals. The fact Spurs finished fifth and not fourth was due to Unai Emery’s excellent work at Aston Villa, where players such as Pau Torres kept them solid in defense, while Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey gave them a spark in attack.

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Villa’s challenge now will be to build a squad to compete at home and abroad as they began to look stretched in the final weeks of this campaign.

And then there was Manchester United, who took two steps back in Erik ten Hag’s second season in charge and who will miss out on Europe unless they beat Manchester City in the FA Cup next weekend — an outcome that doesn’t seem likely. United end the season with everything up in the air as Sir Jim Ratcliffe ponders his options with both coach and a squad that will probably look very different at the start of next season.

–IANS

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Indian 4x400m Mixed Relay team sets national record in Asian Relay Championships in Bangkok

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Bangkok, May 20 (IANS) after the men’s and women’s teams did the country proud in the World Relays, the Indian relay teams continued to excel as the mixed 4x400m team set a new national record to win the gold medal in the inaugural Asian Relay Championships 2024 here on Monday.

The Indian relay team of Muhammed Ajmal, Jyothika Sri Dandi, Amoj Jacob, and Subha Venkatesan stopped the clock at 3:14.12 to marginally better the previous national mark of 3:14.34. The previous mark was set by Muhammed Ajmal, Vithya Ramraj, Rajesh Ramesh, and Subha to win a bronze medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last year. Team Sri Lanka clocked 3:17.00 to win the silver medal while Vietnam clinched the bronze with a timing of 3:18.45.

Despite the record-breaking effort, the Indian team is still not in the mix for a Paris 2024 Olympics quota in the mixed 4x400m event. Having failed to secure a direct quota from the World Relays in the Bahamas earlier this month, the Indian mixed 4x400m relay team will need to now have to depend on the Road to Paris rankings to make the cut for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris.

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The result in Bangkok will help India move up two places to the 21st position in the Road to Paris rankings but only a spot inside the top 16 will guarantee them a berth in the event at Paris. Italy, with 3:13.56, currently occupies the 16th position in the mixed 4x400m relay Road to Paris rankings. The qualification window for the Paris 2024 Olympic relay events ends on June 30.

The Indian men’s and women’s relay teams have qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics after finishing second in their respective heats in the World Relays in the Bahamas.

–IANS

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World Para-Athletics: Bhagyashri Jadhav wins silver in Women's Shot Put F34; fifth medal for India

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Kobe (Japan), May 20 (IANS) Indian athletes continued to excel in the 2024 World Para-Athletics Championships with Bhagyashri Jadhav securing a silver medal in Women’s Shot Put F34, here on Monday. Bhagyashri, a TOP Scheme athlete, hurled the iron ball to 7.52 metres for the best throw in the final, thus taking the country’s tally to five — one gold, three silver, and one bronze medals with Deepthi Jeevanji smashing the world record in the women’s 400m T20 earlier in the day.

After hurdling the iron ball to 7.56 metres in the first turn, Bhagyashree threw three foul throws and then landed a throw of 6.82 metres and followed that up with an effort of 7.52. China’s Lijuan Zou won the gold medal with a best throw of 8.48 metres while Morocco’s Saida Amoudi took the bronze medal with a throw of 7.02 metres.

This is the third medal that India won on Monday. The 20-year-old Deepthi Jeevanji smashed the world record in the women’s 400m T20 and grabbed her first gold and also India’s first of the World Para-Athletics Championships. Deepthi clocked 55.07 seconds, breaking American Breanna Clark’s earlier world record of 55.12 seconds, which she had set during last year’s edition of the championships in Paris.

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Ace para discus thrower Yogesh Kathuniya secured a silver medal in the F56 category. Kathuniya achieved a remarkable throw of 41.80 metres, earning him second place behind Brazil’s Claudiney Batista Dos Santos, who took gold. The bronze medal went to Slovakia’s Dusan Lackzo.

On Sunday, Nishad Kumar set the ball rolling for India by clinching a silver medal in the Men’s High Jump T47 final with an impressive season-best mark of 1.99 metres.

Preethi Pal then added to the tally by winning a bronze medal in the Women’s 200m T35 category, bringing India’s tally to two medals after Day 3 of competitions.

–IANS

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Jofra Archer has got that extra pace and fear factor to bring to opposition, says Sam Curran

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Leeds, May 20 (IANS) Left-arm seam-bowling all-rounder Sam Curran said Jofra Archer’s return to the England squad ahead of the upcoming T20I series against Pakistan enables the side to use his extra pace and fear factor in outclassing the opposition teams. Archer has been out of international cricket since March 2023 after suffering the recurrence of a long-standing right elbow injury while playing for Mumbai Indians in the 2023 IPL. Before that, Archer dealt with elbow and back injuries for nearly two years.

After recently returning to action for Sussex, Archer is now poised to play England’s first of four T20Is against Pakistan at Headingley on Wednesday.

“It’s incredibly exciting. I’m sure any England fans or players will be buzzed to have him back. He’s such an addition that no side can turn down. He’s got that extra pace and that fear factor he can bring to the opposition as well.”

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“It’s hugely exciting, we all hope his injuries are behind him, and it will be hugely special going to play in Barbados (during the T20 World Cup) and stuff like that. I think he’s excited, and hopefully he’ll start well.”

“Jof’s had a really tough couple of years, so we’re all hoping he can bring his A-game back which we know he’s got, and everyone is just incredibly excited to have a player of his quality back,” said Curran to reporters.

Curran, the Player of the Tournament in England’s 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup triumph in Australia and took 3-12 in the final against Pakistan at MCG, is one of eight England squad members who returned early from IPL 2024 to play in the side’s last bilateral series before flying to the Caribbean for their title defence.

“It’s probably my proudest career highlight. Everyone asks about that day and it’s kind of like a blur. You find you’re in your bubble and you’re doing your best for the team, and that was an incredible day against Pakistan in Melbourne.”

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“The messaging from (captain) Jos (Buttler) and the coaching staff was they wanted to get the group back together and we probably didn’t have that last time. We’ve been apart for a while, so these games are going to be really crucial. We want to be playing as a team and get used to our roles.”

“There’s a lot of buzz around the group, it seems like we’re back to our energy and it seems like the boys are really fizzed about this trophy hopefully coming back. It felt like we played them a lot during the lead into that World Cup and we’re doing it again now. Hopefully, it’s a similar type of way it goes, but it makes for a hugely exciting period,” he concluded.

–IANS

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La Liga 2023-24: Four things we learned in Spain's Matchday 37

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Madrid, May 20 (IANS) There is nothing left to be decided in the last round of matches in La Liga, after Matchday 37 left every issue resolved. Real Madrid has already clinched the title for season 2023-24 and the fight was for the second and third-place finish, with the fourth spot and the final place in the Champions League already decided.

The rest of the issues were resolved this weekend. Here are some things we learned this weekend in Spain:

1. Sorloth helps Ancelotti

Villarreal forward Alexander Sorloth scored an incredible four goals as his side came back from 4-1 down at home to Real Madrid to draw 4-4, reports Xinhua.

The result isn’t enough to give Villarreal a chance of playing in Europe next season, although it does put Sorloth ahead in the competition for the season’s top scorer with 23 goals this season. The powerful Norwegian gave Real Madrid defender, Eder Militao a torrid time as the Brazilian looks to return to full fitness after his knee injury, and after watching Militao’s struggles, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will probably conclude that he still isn’t sharp enough to play in the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

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2. Montjuic further clouds questions over Xavi

Two goals from second-half substitute Pedri put some sheen on Barcelona’s 3-0 win at home to Rayo Vallecano after the visitors had created enough chances to equalize Robert Lewandowski’s third-minute opening for Barca.

The win assures Barcelona second place in La Liga and they will compete in the Supercup in Saudi Arabia next January, but doubts remain over the future of coach Xavi Hernandez after his midweek comments about the club’s economic reality. One section of the crowd in a far from full Montjuic chanted Xavi’s name, while others booed the chants.

The atmosphere around the club is dreadful at the moment and when that happens, it’s usually the weakest link (ie the coach) who pays the price.

3. Cadiz’s relegation deserved

Cadiz’s relegation to the second division along with Almeria and Granada was confirmed on Sunday with a 0-0 draw at home to Las Palmas, meaning all three of the teams to go down this season are from the southern region of Andalusia.

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Cadiz is a popular club, with a solid fanbase, but their relegation is fully deserved. The club struggled last season and failed to strengthen sufficiently either over the summer or in January (although Juanmi’s arrival did give them some hope).

They have won just six games this season, with two of those wins coming in the first month and two more in the last three games, and watching them this season, it was clear the squad simply wasn’t good enough to compete with the best.

4. Perfect end in San Mames

Although they have missed out on a place in next season’s Champions League, it has been a perfect few days for Athletic Club Bilbao, with this season’s Cup winners confirming on Friday that Ernesto Valverde will continue as coach next season.

Sunday saw a packed San Mames Stadium say ‘goodbye’ to club captain, Iker Muniain and legend, Raul Garcia, with Muniain leaving after 550 appearances and Raul retiring after over 800 professional appearances. Raul opened the scoring in the 17th minute of Athletic’s 2-0 win at home to Sevilla, with Muniain scoring the second two minutes later in what looked to be a Hollywood-scripted end to their careers.

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The day was completed after the final whistle when the club announced that 35-year-old Oscar de Marcos, who has played 532 times for the club, has signed a new contract, with Muniain passing him the captain’s armband in an emotional ceremony.

–IANS

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