‘I’m most comfortable working with BI Fernandez’

Published on: Saturday, 31 January 2015 //
For most Indian boxing fans, images of Sandhu and Fernandez standing together outside the ring and egging on the boxers. For most Indian boxing fans, images of Sandhu and Fernandez standing together outside the ring and egging on the boxers.

It’s perhaps the longest association between two coaches in Indian boxing. National chief coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu’s partnership with BI Fernandez dates back to 1993 when the Cuban joined the national camp. A year earlier Sandhu was appointed the national coach. For most Indian boxing fans, images of Sandhu and Fernandez standing together outside the ring and egging on the boxers, whether it be 1998 Asian Games champion Dingko Singh or Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh, are moments to cherish. In the aftermath of AIBA’s ban on the Cuban and his uncertain future, Sandhu spoke about Fernandez the coach and their long-time association.

On his first meeting with Fernandez

I was made the chief coach in 1992 and I met him for the first time in 1993. At that time there were three foreign coaches. There were two Russians — Suprov and Valkov — apart from Fernandez. He went with us to the 1994 Asian Games and both of us got together well. I told the Sports Ministry that I wanted him as the foreign coach. He then came back in 1998 and since then the two of us have worked together. We have travelled abroad on many tours and he has been a constant support. He has seen boxers like Dingko Singh, Mohammed Ali Qamar, Akhil Kumar and Vijender Singh apart from youngsters like Shiva Thapa and Devendro Singh from close.

On their working partnership

We have always planned the coaching sessions together. We had some coaches in between his travels to Cuba, but I have been most comfortable with him. We made certain not to interfere in each other’s affairs once we were away from the ring. His strength lies in hard work and he understands the boxers. And the boxers too are comfortable with him. And with time he has also understood the Indian system. Sometimes we say that he has become more Indian than us.

On Cuban’s coaching methods

Most of the boxers he trains are comfortable with him. He would start slowly and then make them work at his own pace during training sessions. He comes from a top boxing nation and understands their work ethics too. Earlier, we used to visit Cuba every year and he would help us a lot. He is an emotional coach. Once, one of our campers lost in the nationals in Delhi and he got very angry. He started shouting, but later regretted his action. But all this came due to his love for the boxers.

I’ve not done anything wrong, says banned Chelsea striker Diego Costa

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Diego Costa, Diego Costa Chelsea, Liverpool, Chlelsea, Emre Can, Manchester City Chelseea, Diego Costa stomp, Sports, Football, Football News, Sports News Diego Costa denies intentionally stomping on Liverpool’s Ere Can. (Source: Reuters)

Chelsea striker Diego Costa has denied he deliberately stamped on Liverpool’s Emre Can but admitted to being no angel on the field.

The Brazilian-born Spain international missed Saturday’s top-of-the-table 1-1 draw with Manchester City after serving the first of a three-game ban for the incident during Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final, second leg victory at Stamford Bridge.

“As far as what happened on Tuesday, the main thing is when I get home I can go home and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve not done anything wrong, because I never meant to do that and it was not on purpose,” he told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

“And you can clearly see that on the video. But it is a suspension. Obviously I feel sad because I’m not going to be able to help the team, to play. But I have accept it and respect it.

“I’m not saying I’m an angel. I’m no angel. You can see that. But every time I play I will play the same way because that’s the way I am. That’s what I need to do in order to support my family.

“That’s my bread and butter, also that’s what I need to do for this club and for the fans of this club, for the supporters and for all the people involved in this club.”

The 26-year-old has proved an instant hit since joining from Spanish champions Atletico Madrid last year, scoring 17 league goals to help Chelsea open up a five-point lead after 23 matches in the English Premier League.

He has, though, received heavy criticism for Tuesday’s actions, which followed accusations of diving on more than one occasion.

Costa was also involved in a spat with American goalkeeper Tim Howard in August after Everton boss Roberto Martinez accused him of taunting Seamus Coleman

following a Chelsea goal.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has accused television pundits of tarnishing his striker’s reputation and has shunned talking to the media since the club failed to overturn the violent conduct suspension on Friday.

Costa, who will also miss fixtures at Aston Villa and home to Everton, defended his actions and said he would not change his competitive streak.

“On the pitch I transform myself, I really, really want to win,” said Costa, who is named after Argentine World Cup-winning great Diego Maradona.

“You have to see how many times have I injured someone. Never. I’ve never injured another colleague, another player on purpose. I’m not going to change the way I play because I got banned for a few games now.”

Chelsea vs Man City ends in a draw; Manchester United, Liverpool win

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Chelsea vs Man City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea vs Manchester City, ManCity vs Chelsea, ManC vs Chelsea, Premier leage, Football Sports, Premier League results, Premier League scores, Premier League News, Sports News, Football News Chelsea vs Man City: David Silva turned in Aguero’s shot to draw level after Loci Remy gave Chelsea the lead. (Source: AP)

There was stalemate at the summit meeting between Chelsea and Manchester City on Saturday as the Premier League front-runners drew 1-1 on Saturday.

Although Chelsea dropped points for the first time at home this season, the leaders’ defensive-minded approach in the second half suggested they were satisfied with the draw. It preserved the five-point lead over the defending champions.

Although Chelsea was without suspended striker Diego Costa, Lioc Remy initially filled the void by giving the hosts the lead in the 41st minute after latching onto Eden Hazard’s volley across the face of goal.

A City counterattack before halftime led to the leveler, with David Silva completing the move by turning in Sergio Aguero’s shot. Although City avoided defeat, it is now three games without a win in the league.

“It was a solid game and Chelsea probably accepted a point in the end,” said City midfielder Frank Lampard, playing at Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving Chelsea in May after 13 years. “Chelsea will be happy to be five points clear, we’re not stupid. We know what that lead is. But there are lots of points to play for.”

Neighbor Man United is only five points behind now in third place after Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao rediscovered their scoring touch in a 3-1 win over Leicester.

Van Persie put United ahead in the 27th minute with his first goal since Dec. 26 and Falcao netted only the fourth goal of his loan spell from Monaco five minutes later.

The victory was wrapped up before halftime through Wes Morgan’s own goal. Marcin Wasilewski scored a consolation goal in the second half for Leicester, which stayed bottom.

Unlike the more illustrious striking duo of Falcao and Van Persie, 21-year-old Tottenham forward Harry Kane has been a scoring revelation this season.

In a 3-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion, Kane took his season’s tally to 20 with a double — one from the penalty spot at the Hawthorns— after Christian Eriksen opened the scoring with a trademark free kick.

Liverpool was relieved to see its star striker, Daniel Sturridge, make an instant impact on his return from five months out with thigh and calf injuries.

Within 12 minutes of coming off the bench, Sturridge completed a 2-0 victory over West Ham that took Liverpool above the London club into seventh place.

Just like Raheem Sterling’s opener, Sturridge was also set up by Philippe Coutinho.

At Sunderland, there was a first goal for the northeast club from Jermain Defore, who joined from Toronto earlier this month. Connor Wickham had headed in the opener as Sunderland beat Burnley 2-0 for only its second home win of the campaign.

Queens Park Rangers has failed to collect a single point on the road this season, with Jonathan Walters scoring a hat trick as Stoke beat the relegation-threatened team 3-1.

Romelu Lukaku’s early goal gave Everton a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, handing Alan Pardew his first loss since taking over the London club. It was Everton’s first win in nine games in all competitions, and put the team three points clear of Palace in 12th place.

Cricket-Maxwell, Faulkner lift Australia to 278-8 against England

Published on: //
Feb 1 (Reuters) - Glenn Maxwell missed his maiden One Day International century but his career-best 95 helped Australia overcome a wobbly start and post 278 for eight against England in the final of the tri-series in Perth on Sunday.

Cricket-Triangular Series Australia v England scoreboard

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Feb 1 (Infostrada Sports) - Scoreboard in the seventh and final Triangular Series match between Australia and England on Sunday in Perth, Australia Australia Innings A. Finch c Root b Anderson 0 D. Warner c Taylor b Anderson 12 S. Smith st Buttler b Ali 40 G. Bailey c Taylor b Broad 2 G. Maxwell c Buttler b Broad 95 M. Marsh

Leander Paes-Martina Hingis claim Australian Open mixed doubles title

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Leander Paes, Australian Open, Australian Open 2015, Tennis The seventh seed Indo-Swiss pair had to hardly break any sweat against the third seed Russian-Canadain pair. (Source: AP)

Leander Paes and Martina Hingis claimed their first title together by winning the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open by defeating Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor 6-4, 6-4 in straight sets in Melbourne on Sunday.

The seventh seed Indo-Swiss pair had to hardly break any sweat against the third seed Russian-Canadain pair.

This is Paes’ 15th Grand Slam title and 7th in the mixed doubles.

Later in the day, the all important men’s singles final between Serbian Novak Djokovic and British Andy Murray is scheduled.

When BI Fernandez shaped kings of boxing

Published on: //
Boxing, AIBA, Boxing India, India Boxing, BI Fernandez, Fernandez, India boxing coach, Sarita Devi, Akhil Kumar, Vijender, Olympics, Boxing News, Sports News, Sports Fernandez received a two-year ban from AIBA for his role in Sarita Devi’s protest at last year’s Asian Games.

With no major international competition scheduled for the start of the year, the boxing hall at NIS, Patiala, is largely empty these days. So, apart from a few coaches and juniors, there weren’t many who wished BI Fernandez goodbye this Tuesday. He was scheduled to catch a flight to Cuba the day after. To those present, Fernandez bid the usual farewell with the promise of meeting again.

It’s unlikely the campers would have thought too much of it. After all the diminutive white haired 60-year-old from Santa Clara, Cuba, has been an ubiquitous fixture of Indian boxing for nearly a quarter of a century. However, as things stand, it’s uncertain whether he will ever hold up a punching pad at the practice hall or shout advice from the Indian corner during competition again.

Fernandez received a two-year ban from AIBA for his role in Sarita Devi’s protest at last year’s Asian Games. With his contract up for renewal, the fact that he can’t take part in national camps, or travel with a team to competitions — could be a deal breaker. India’s federation, Boxing India, says they will make a last ditch effort at the AIBA congress next week, but insiders say a reprieve for Fernandez is unlikely. His future in India hangs in the balance.

Back in 1990, when he first answered a call from the Cuban boxing federation looking for coaches to work in India, Fernandez, who eventually had three stints in India (1990-1994, 1997-2000 and his current spell from 2004) wasn’t sure how long he would stay.

Boxing, AIBA, Boxing India, India Boxing, BI Fernandez, Fernandez, India boxing coach, Sarita Devi, Akhil Kumar, Vijender, Olympics, Boxing News, Sports News, Sports Cuban-born national boxing coach BI Fernandez first came to India in the early 90s and has been instrumental in the country taking gaint strides in the sport. (Express photo by Ravi Kanojia)

“At that time I knew one other Cuban coach who had come to India and he had only lasted a few months before he came back with a mental breakdown,” jokes Fernandez before his departure for home.

Fernandez wasn’t the only foreign coach three decades ago. Two Russian coaches worked alongside him as well. But while neither of them lasted beyond their first assignment, the Cuban kept returning. “The Russians tried to coach Indians as if they were Russians. They tried to train the boys in a very physical style. But that style didn’t suit the Indians. My first impression was that Indians had good foot movements and could be taught to counter instead,” recalls Fernandez. But there were things Fernandez had to learn as well even if he tried to impart a more Cuban style. A boxer with strong technique doesn’t block punches with his gloves but rather leans forward and slips the blow.

“That way both your fists are free to counter punch. But while our boxers would do this in practice, they wouldn’t do it in a bout because it was scary to come forward when someone is trying to punch you. So I let them lean back and block the punch. It took a generation of Indian boxers to get the confidence of slipping shots,” he says.

While he accepted there were technical areas to work on, Fernandez says it was the wrangling outside the ring that took getting used to. “In Cuba, I had always been told to fight oppression and wrongdoing. So when I came to India, I didn’t know how to react when people started putting pressure on me to pick one player over the other,” Fernandez says.

The Cuban says the appointment of GS Sandhu as chief coach (in 1992) made his job easier. “If we had to name a boxer for the national team, we both have a very strong sense that the better boxer should not suffer,” he says.

Fernandez learned to pick his fights, especially when it was for a boxer he believed in. One instance was ahead of the 1998 Asian Games, when Dingko Singh was not named in the national squad despite being picked by the coaches in the 54kg category. “They felt he was undisciplined and didn’t think he would be able to win a medal. We had to fight for him,” recalls Fernandez.

The Cuban was among the coaches who wrote to then Sports Minister Uma Bharati, protesting the decision. “We were able to get him just a few hours before the flight. And there of course he won the gold,” says Fernandez.

Dingko’s performance, however, was a rare bright spark in what was otherwise a sorry state for Indian boxing in the 1990s. Fernandez recalls how, in the early part of that decade when the Indian team went for their first training stint in Cuba, he found it difficult in setting up sparring sessions. “Our boxers couldn’t even last an entire round. We would take three boxers who we would have to rotate over a single round,” he says.

As such, simply the fact that someone from one of the greatest boxing nations was coaching them had a big impact on the boxers. “The first time I saw him I was very impressed because he was a Cuban, so I felt this must be someone who knows what he is doing,” says Akhil Kumar, who was a junior in 1999 when he first met the coach.

Indeed, one of the main reasons Fernandez had been brought in to the fledgling Indian programme were his strong fundamentals. But the Cuban also knew when to let things be. Soon after the 2004 Olympics, Brigadier Raja, based on his observation as a judge at the competition, had recommended that boxers be discouraged from employing body shots, hooks and uppercuts. Fernandez had agreed to the theory and had even given suggestions for encouraging straight punching in the junior programme.

Backing Akhil

However, when it came to the case of Akhil Kumar, who with his open guard, close punching style was the very antithesis of the approach, Fernandez was surprisingly supportive. “If I had been forced to change my style, I doubt my career would have lasted very long. But the Cuban, to his credit, encouraged me to keep my style,” recalls Akhil.

Indeed, more than Fernandez’ role in the technical aspect of the sport, Akhil values the Cuban’s contribution to the mental side of the game. “At the senior level, you can’t do much with a boxer’s technique. But the Cuban (as the boxers also refer to Fernandez) knew how to get a boxer to give all his ability. He knew what to say at the right time,” says Akhil.

Fernandez himself says the key was to be emotionally connected with the boxer. “What European coaches do is simply tell the boxer what they want and they expect the boy will do it. But what I realized over time is that Indian boxers are emotional. If I feel an attachment to them, they will do what you know they should be doing,” says Fernandez.

The mental trainer

The mental fortitude provided by Fernandez had a role to play in Indian boxing’s most iconic achievement – the Olympic bronze medal won by Vijender Singh in 2008.

“I can’t forget how tense I was before the bronze medal match at Beijing. Abhinav (Bindra) had already won his (gold) medal and before my bout, Sushil (Kumar) too had won a medal. I was the last boxer in the fray. Even Sandhu sir was tense. In the changing room, I looked at Fernandez and he oozed calmness. He walked up to me, and said, ‘Remember, Singh is King. You’re winning this medal.’ Just by looking at him I felt calm and confident,” recalls Vijender.

While Indian boxing had been steadily improving since the 2000s, the Olympic bronze was undoubtedly a path breaking moment. The win gave him credibility not just to his compatriots but also to his boxers. “You have to make the boxer believe you. So when you say he is the best he must believe that he is the best. After Vijender’s medal, when I told other boxers you are the best, they had more reason to believe me.”

Beijing was also one of the crests of the period from 2004 to 2012 which were the most productive of Fernandez’ career. They yielded an Olympic medal, two World Championship medals and a number of Commonwealth and Asian Games medals as well. Indian boxing has stuttered since owing largely to the dissolution of the federation and the lack of international exposure that it resulted in. It was similar to the setbacks Fernandes has seen hobble the Indian programme before.

“Back in 1994 before I left for the first time, we had managed to qualify six Indians to the Olympics. It was a young squad but had a lot of promise. But when I returned, four of those boxers had left to become professionals. After 2000 we lost Gurcharan and had to start all over again,” he says.

But Fernandez is more optimistic this time around. “This time the only thing holding us back is lack of competition. We still have a strong base and plenty of talent. Indian boxing can quickly return to the top,” he says.

Fernandez, however, refuses to take credit for creating that firm foundation. “It wasn’t just my contribution. It was the whole team who delivered. And during the time we did well, there was complete coordination between the coaches, the federation and the sports ministry. I was just one foreign coach in the programme,” he says.

Unlike other foreign coaches, however, Fernandez appeared to have completely immersed himself to the sport as the fact that he is the only one to win a Dronacharya award will bear out. “It wasn’t a question of money. Most overseas coaches from Cuba only get to keep a small part of their salary. The rest goes to their federation. Coach Fernandez cared deeply about Indian boxing. He was very emotional when he felt his boxer was being treated unfairly. Often we would have to calm him down ourselves,” recalls Brigadier Raja.

In a way the passion for Indian boxing runs in Fernandez’s family. He recounts an episode back in the early nineties, when Indian boxers went on their first practice tour to Cuba.

A local radio jockey had mocked the visitors, saying they reminded him of a row of punching bags. Fernandez himself hadn’t heard the broadcast, but his wife Maria did. Fernandez laughs as he recalls how his wife stormed up to the radio station, demanded to see the jockey and gave him a piece of her mind.

When Fernandes returns to Cuba, he says he feels a bit lost. “My neighbours don’t recognize me because they haven’t seen me much. A while back when I was felicitated at my old school for the Dronacharya award, all the children were clapping, but no one knew who I was. I often feel that most of my friends are in India. After all these years I find that I keep longing to get back to India,” he shrugs.

(With inputs from Mihir Vasavda and Nitin Sharma)

Cricket-Triangular Series Australia v England line-ups

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Feb 1 (Infostrada Sports) - Line-ups for the seventh and final Triangular Series match between Australia and England on Sunday in Perth, Australia England won toss and decided to bowl Australia: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steven Smith, George Bailey (capt), Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood England: Ian Bell, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (capt), Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad,

Behind derby glitz, Mumbai race club fights doping menace

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Horses taking part in the Indian Derby have been kept under close watch. (Express photo by Pradip Das) Horses taking part in the Indian Derby have been kept under close watch. (Express photo by Pradip Das)

Trendy hats, suave punters and thoroughbreds will be on show during the prestigious Indian Derby at the Mahalaxmi Race Course on Sunday, but behind all that glitz, the organisers will be battling a silent menace — doping in horse racing. For the first time, the movement of horses at the course have been restricted, and CCTV cameras will focus more on activity inside the stables. And the Royal Western Indian Race Club (RWITC), the hosts, have called in experts from Australia and France to develop a “systematic approach” to collecting samples and testing.

The rules have been tightened after a filly owned by the current chairman of the club tested positive for an anabolic steroid in an out-of-competition test in December 2013, and six other horses came under the scanner for doping infringements last year.

“We follow the rules set by the international authorities, but our ways are still 25 years old. Technology has improved, so we’re going to collaborate with scientists and veterinarian surgeons from here and abroad to develop a suitable procedure and follow the best practices,” said Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, chairman, RWITC, which is one of the oldest horse-racing clubs in India.

Dhunjibhoy owns Bull Eye, the filly that tested positive for Boldenone two years ago. Bulls Eye left the Nanoli stud farm in Lonavala after clearing a dope test but tested positive before entering renowned trainer Pesi Shroff’s stables in Mumbai.

The tightened rules have ensured that the horses are constantly under watch this time. For instance, the movement of Mumbai-based thoroughbreds between the shelters at the race course and their stud farms have been restricted. Earlier, the horses could move freely between the race course’s shelters and the stud farms for recovery or even training, with permission from the RWITC stewards.

The RWITC is also trying to update its testing methods, and hopes to conclusively prove whether or not the six horses that came under the scanner last year actually flouted rules or were affected by contaminated ground water. Established safeguards, including random testing of horses, are already in place, but the club’s former chairman Vivek Jain said that “no stone should be left unturned in this fight” against doping. “The Indian Derby draws crowds and is a big event. Any untoward incident will tarnish the image of the sport in India,” he added.

Doping in horse racing isn’t an India-specific problem, though. Two years ago, famed Dubai-based horse racing stable Godolphin was at the heart of a major scandal when 11 of its horses tested positive for banned anabolic steroids. Presently, investigations are on in Australia regarding five horses failing drug tests.

Sehwag heroics in vain as Delhi lose by an innings to Vidarbha

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Hosts Vidarbha bowled with clinical precision to outclass table toppers Delhi by an innings and 93 runs in a group league encounter of the Ranji Trophy on Saturday. Having won the match in less than two and half days, Vidarbha with seven points, including a bonus from this match, climbed up to second spot in the league table with 24 points from seven games. Delhi, who have not done well in the last two matches, stay put at the top with 30 points and are already through to the quarterfinals.

On the third day, Vidarbha took exactly 41 overs to demolish Delhi, taking 12 wickets as their seamers and spinners shared the spoils in equal measure. After getting all out for 154 in the first innings, thereby conceding a huge first innings lead of 216, Gautam Gambhir and Co. were asked to bat again and they fared even worse in the second essay as they were skittled out for 123 in 34 overs.

It was Sehwag, running a high temperature, who top-scored with 41 with the help of two boundaries and two sixes. But it was more of a cameo than a match-saving effort.

Skipper Gambhir (16), Unmukt Chand (4) and veteran Mithun Manhas (1) all failed to contribute as left-arm seamer Shrikant Wagh (3/44), part-time seamer Faiz Fazal (2/21), off-spinner Akshay Wakhare (2/32) and left-arm arm spinner Rakesh Dhruv (3/17) shared the wickets amongst themselves.

Brief scores: Vidarbha 370 beat Delhi 154 & 123 in 34 overs (V Sehwag 41; S Wagh 3/44) by an innings and 93 runs. Points: Vidarbha 7; Delhi 0.

Hosts to favourites

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For the final against England, Australia will welcome back their one-man demolition army — Mitchell Johnson. For the final against England, Australia will welcome back their one-man demolition army — Mitchell Johnson.

If you want to see a real team, come back here on Sunday…” It was a holler from a semi-clothed man and screamed out from the passenger seat of a moving car right outside the WACA on Hay Street. It was still just 7pm here. But it was Friday night. And the Perth local looked to have already reached a stage of inebriation that could earn him the tag of cot-case, the term Strines’ use to call their drunks.

You couldn’t blame him though. Nor disagree with him. For, if anything, he was only echoing the sentiments of an entire nation.

The Australian team doesn’t indulge in singing Under the Southern Cross after winning ODIs. That ritual is reserved for Test victories. But the way they’ve played in the tri-series so far, they’ve made everyone who’ve watched them do so to go “Australiaaa you f*&*%ng beauty..”

They’ve steamrolled India and England en route to making Sunday’s final at the WACA, winning with bonus points on one occasion and making a mockery of a 300 plus run-chase another time. They’ve done so without always playing their best side, allowing a number of their World Cup squad members a valuable period of convalescence. And for the final they welcome back their one-man demolition army Mitchell Johnson. It will be a match where the four-time World Cup champions look to reinforce their tag as favourites for lifting the crown for a record fifth time.

India’s tour started with their Test captain being hit on the logo on his helmet, and it ended with their ODI captain wearing one on the same spot. The man responsible for the first strike was Johnson, and he had done so on a placid Adelaide Oval wicket. Ironically, once the WACA pitch began playing tricks, the one name that was discussed the most was Johnson, even if he was on the other side of the city at that point.

If Chris Woakes and Mohit Sharma can generate such bounce off this wicket, who will want to front up to Johnson? Well England will have no choice but to face menacing Mitch on Sunday, as will every other team which is slated to face the World Cup co-hosts in the mega-event.

Flexing muscle

In fact, Johnson will align himself with a pace attack that has already flexed its muscle and showed off its brawn in the tournament. Then there’s their batting line-up — poised to attack, fashioned to thrill. You can expect any one of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Steve Smith or George Bailey to take apart an opposition single-handedly. And then there’s James ‘Dr Death’ Faulkner waiting in the wings. On Saturday, even Michael Clarke scored a half-century in a grade game to announce his return to fitness.

But then favourites don’t always win World Cups. And then there’s the home team curse to be dealt with. Only India have ever managed to overcome it and last the distance in their own backyard. Australia know all too well about it. They had gone into the 1992 World Cup having beaten India comprehensively in a Test series and then lost only two out of 10 matches in a tri-series involving the West Indies. Then they finished up as the major flops in the first World Cup to be held Down Under despite possessing a squad that looked primed to be champions in these conditions.

The Socceroos might have set the happy precedent for them by overcoming a relentless South Korean outfit in the Asian Cup final in Sydney. For now anyway Bailey & Co look set to prove to the world that they are the ‘real deal’. And you don’t need a drunk screaming it out of a car to know about it.

Live on Star Sports 1 at 8:50 am

The Games begin, finally

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Deepika Kumari at a practice session at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. (PTI) Deepika Kumari at a practice session at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. (PTI)

After a hiatus of four years, the 35th edition of the National Games was finally flagged off in Kerala amidst huge fan fare on Saturday. But the build up to the Games has been dominated by unprecedented delays, alleged corruption scandals and no show by star players. Over the next fortnight, though, more than 10,000 athletes and officials will take part in 33 disciplines across seven districts of Kerala, making it the biggest sporting event in the country.

Delays… and more delays

Awarded in 2007, the Kerala National Games were originally slated for 2010 but owing to the backlog of previous editions and the unpreparedness of the state itself, it has been pushed back more than once. The organisers had several difficulties in completing the infrastructure and procuring equipment. However, they managed to get things in place just a week before the Games began.

Cost effective

Despite the delays, the organisers claim they did not exceed the budget. The state spent approximately Rs 611 crore on the Games, with around Rs 390 crore spent just on infrastructure. Among the new venues built are the two shooting ranges in Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur, a synthetic turf stadium for hockey in Kollam, a tennis complex and a squash centre in the capital, and an indoor stadium in Kannur. However, the showpiece arena will be the Greenfield stadium in Kariyavattom, built at a cost of Rs 161 crore.

Big guns, no show

Almost all top Indian athletes have skipped the event mainly since it clashes with some crucial international events or their off-season training. Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai have all skipped the event. All the top men and women hockey players too will not be participating whereas boxers have been asked to stay away from the Games owing to Boxing India’s internal wrangling with the IOA.

Record participation

Despite the stars pulling out, the organisers say Kerala 2015 will see record participation. An estimated 11,641 participants, including 7,744 athletes from 36 units, including the newly carved out state of Telangana, will look to fight it out in 31 disciplines across 29 venues, some brand new and others decently refurbished. A total of 1,369 medals (414 gold, 414 silver, and 541 bronze) are on offer, with aquatics, athletics and shooting being the biggest events.

Circa 2011

In the previous edition held in Jharkand, Services emerged the best with a tally of 70 gold, 50 silver and 42 bronze medals. Manipur, who won the best state award, came second with a total of 118 medals (48 gold, 37 silver and 33 bronze), followed by Haryana and Maharashtra with 115 (42 gold, 33 silver and 40 bronze) and 132 medals (41 gold, 44 silver and 47 bronze), respectively.

Services favourites again

Services and Manipur are likely to dominate once again but expect the host state to throw a decent challenge. Kerala have named a 744-member contingent (391 men and 353 women) that will be led by Asian Games medallist Preeja Sreedharan. Kerala have strong athletics and badminton teams and will fancy their chances to climb up the ladder from the poor seventh position they achieved in Ranchi.

Cricket-Returning Clarke denies Australia rifts

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SYDNEY, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Clarke shrugged off speculation of rifts with Cricket Australia and his international team mates after making a successful comeback from injury in a club game on Saturday.

Just a few warm-up games is not proper preparation for the World Cup: Wasim Akram

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Pakistan, Pakistan Wasim Akram, Wasim Akram Pakistan, Pakistan ICC Cricket World Cup, Pakistan ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, Cricket News, Cricket Pakistan was beaten by New Zealand by seven wickets on Saturday. (Source: Reuters)

Former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram has expressed concerns over the national cricket team not getting enough matches and time to get acclimatised to the conditions in New Zealand and Australia ahead of the World Cup, starting from February 14.

“When you look at India and how they are still struggling despite being in Australia for the past two months and having played a lot of matches, it does raises concerns whether Pakistan have enough time to go well prepared into the World Cup,” Akram said.

“It takes time to adjust to the pitches and conditions in both countries and I have toured those nations many times in the past. I just think a few warm up games and two ODIs against New Zealand is not the proper preparation for such a mega event.

“We should have played a full ODI series in New Zealand and had some more games in Australia before the World Cup,” insisted Akram, who was a part of the 1992 World Cup winning squad and also captained Pakistan to the 1999 edition final in England.

The fast bowling great told Geo News channel that he was surprised with the way New Zealand on Saturday defeated Pakistan by seven wickets with 63 balls to spare in the first ODI.

“New Zealand team has been in great form off-late and I was expecting them to win, but not expecting them to beat us so comfortably. It became a one-sided clash,” said Akram.

He said both the batsmen and bowlers are yet to adjust to the conditions in New Zealand.

“One could see today(on Saturday) the batsmen are still to adjust to the seam conditions in New Zealand and our bowling is not hitting top gear,” said Akram.

Stating that Pakistan selection committee should have selected those players in the World Cup squad who could handle the conditions in Down Under better, Akram said: “I think instead of putting stress on young players, we should have laid stress on having the right players for the conditions in the World Cup squad.”

Pakistani selectors have left out senior players like Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, Abdul Razzaq and Muhammad Sami from the World Cup squad, while champion off-spinner, Saeed Ajmal is also not available due to his bowling suspension.

Meanwhile, former Test opener and chief selector Mohsin Khan has also described Pakistan’s show on Saturday against New Zealand as disappointing.

“The team looks out of sync with the conditions in New Zealand. We are fortunate Misbah is scoring runs and Shahid Afridi on Saturday blasted a great innings.

But it is the bowling and fielding which is looking ragged to me,” he said.

Pakistan will play another ODI against New Zealand on Tuesday in Napier before moving to Australia.

Australia edge out South Korea 2-1 in extra time to lift maiden Asian Cup

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Asian Cup, Asian Cup Australia, Australia Asian Cup, Australia vs South Korea, South Korea vs Australia, Asian Cup, Asian Cup 2015, Football News, Football Australia won its maiden Asian Cup title in a closely-contested final in Sydney. (Source: Reuters)

Substitute James Troisi scored halfway through extra time to give tournament hosts Australia their maiden Asian Cup title with a 2-1 victory over South Korea in a pulsating final on Saturday.

South Korea’s Son Heung-min scored in stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes to send the match into the extra half an hour, cancelling out Massimo Luongo’s strike on the stroke of halftime.

It was just before another break with 105 minutes on the clock that Troisi put the ball into the net from close range to make Australia champions of Asia nine years after they switched from the Oceania confederation.

Former World Cup semi-finalists South Korea had ridden their mean defence to a first Asian Cup final since 1988 but despite being the better side for much of the match came up short in their bid for a first title in 55 years.

Luongo’s goal was the first they had conceded in the tournament and for most of the second half it looked the goal-shyness which characterised the start of their campaign had returned to haunt them.

With regulation time running out, though, substitute Han Kook Young dispossessed Trent Sainsbury on the edge of the box and Lee Jeong-hyeop fed the ball to Son who stroked it into the net under the challenge of two defenders.

Australia had come out to attack as coach Ange Postecoglou had promised but in frenetic start to the match, the South Koreans showed they had threats up front too.

Son had his sights set just too high in the second and 37th minutes and Luongo was on hand to block his shot after Cha Du-ri’s charge down the right wing in the 38th.

Seven minutes later and Luongo was down the other end to take Sainsbury’s through ball with a deft touch and lash it into the back of the net from 25 metres.

The lead was barely deserved but that did not stop the green-and-gold clad majority of the sellout crowd of 76,385 at Stadium Australia celebrating in a frenzy.

South Korea pressed forward in search of an equaliser but were grateful for goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon for a fine save from Mathew Leckie on the hour mark, as they had been in the first half when he stopped a Tim Cahill shot.

After Son’s goal had provided a dramatic conclusion to normal time and sent the match into the extra half hour, Kim was again on hand to intercept Luongo’s cross with Socceroos lining up to put it into the net.

Five minutes later, though, Tomi Juric nutmegged Kim Jin-su on the edge of the box and Kim was only able to push the striker’s cross into the path of Troisi, who smashed the ball into the open goal.

Serena Williams goes past Maria Sharapova 6-3 7-6 to lift Australian Open

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Australian Open, Australian Open Serena Williams, Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova, Maria Sharapova vs Serena Williams, Serena Williams Australian Open, Tennis News, Tennis Serena Williams was on the top her game as she defeated Sharapova in straight sets. (Source: AP)

Top seed Serena Williams clinched her 19th grand slam title with a 6-3 7-6(5) victory over Maria Sharapova in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday.

It was Williams’ sixth title at Melbourne Park and it moved her into a tie with fellow American Helen Wills Moody in third on the all-time list after she joined Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on 18 at last year’s U.S. Open.

Only Australia’s Margaret Court (24) and Germany’s Steffi Graf (22), who holds the record for the Open era, have more grand slam singles titles than the 33-year-old American.

Williams had not lost to Sharapova since the 2004 WTA Finals, a run of 15 successive victories and was not about to let the Russian end that streak on Saturday.

After Williams snatched a break in the first game, rain forced the players off court in the sixth for 12 minutes as officials closed the roof with the American serving at 3-2 and the score locked at 30-30.

Williams, who has been battling a cold and cough the entire tournament, chose to head inside during the break while Sharapova waited courtside.

She returned to Rod Laver Arena hacking like a seal and appeared to be gasping for breath, but then reeled off the next six points to establish a 5-2 lead.

While Sharapova managed to break in the next game she was unable to consolidate and Williams broke to love to seal the first set in 47 minutes.

Williams did not concede a point on serve until her third game of the second set while Sharapova struggled and was fighting to stay in the match.

Even when she had break opportunities in the fifth and seventh games the American simply reached back and smashed down a succession of massive serves.

Williams held a match point in the 10th game only for the Russian, who saved two match points in the second round against qualifier Alexandra Panova, to blast a forehand down the line.

The American held two further match points in the tiebreak and thought she had sealed the title when she belted an ace only for umpire Alison Lang to call a let.

Williams stood there looking bemused but composed herself to repeat the shot, smacking her 18th ace to win the match.

Grant Elliot’s all-round show guides New Zealand to easy win against Pakistan

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Grant Elliot, Grant Elliot New Zealand, New Zealand Grant Elliot, New Zealand vs Pakistan, Pakistan vs New Zealand, Cricket News, Cricket Elliot took three wickets for 26 runs to help the hosts bowl out Pakistan for 210 in 45.3 overs at the Westpac Stadium. (Source: AP)

Grant Elliot’s all-round performance eclipsed Shahid Afridi’s 29-ball blitz to secure New Zealand a comfortable seven-wicket victory over Pakistan in the first One Day International in Wellington on Saturday.

Elliot took three wickets for 26 runs to help the hosts bowl out Pakistan for 210 in 45.3 overs at the Westpac Stadium.

He then returned to hit an unbeaten 64, adding 112-runs with Ross Taylor (59 not out) as New Zealand romped home with 10.3 overs to spare.

Earlier, Afridi blasted a 29-ball 67 and captain Misbah-ul-Haq stroked a patient 58 to help Pakistan overcome a terrible start and post 210.

Put in to bat, Pakistan lost their opener Mohammad Hafeez for a duck to the fifth delivery of the day and kept losing wickets to slump to 127 for six in the 36th over.

Kiwi pacemen Kyle Mills (2-29) and Trent Boult (2-25) stifled the visiting batsmen and struck at regular intervals to put Pakistan on the mat before Afridi went on the attack.

Dropped on 14 by rival captain Brendon McCullum, the flamboyant Pakistan all-rounder added 71 runs with Misbah in 6.2 overs to lend some respectability to the total.

Afridi blasted nine boundaries in his blistering knock to go with three sixes, the third bringing up his fifty before Adam Milne dismissed him in the 44th over.

Misbah, who was content playing second fiddle to Afridi, perished in the 42nd over trying to accelerate.

The Kiwis were off to a flying start with the first three overs yielding 31 runs before McCullum fell.

Tom Latham (23) could not convert the start he got either but Martin Guptill contributed 39 runs before the unseparated Elliot-Taylor partnership took the game away from Pakistan.

Elliot hit eight boundaries in his 68-ball knock, the last sealing the team’s victory.

Napier hosts the second and final ODI on Tuesday.

Michael Clarke makes comeback, scores 50

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Australia captain Michael Clarke made his comeback from injury Saturday, scoring 51 and batting for almost three hours in a Sydney club match before slamming media reports of a rift with teammates and Cricket Australia.

Clarke made a rare appearance for his Western Suburbs club side on the first day of a two-day match against Gordon in an effort to prove his recovery from hamstring surgery ahead of the Cricket World Cup, two weeks away.

He came in at No. 3 and showed no signs of the back and hamstring injuries that have dogged his career.

Clarke said speculation his relationship with teammates had been strained during his rehabilitation was “water off a duck’s back. It’s another day, another newspaper sold.”

Media reports recently have suggested Cricket Australia will make permanent the appointment of Steve Smith as Australia captain after his temporary elevation during Clarke’s convalescence.

Reports say Clarke’s relationship with Cricket Australia and team management has been strained by the way in which he has managed his injury comeback and his decision to follow an isolated program of rehabilitation has weakened his relationship with teammates.

Cricket Australia has allowed Clarke until Australia’s second World Cup pool match against Bangladesh on Feb. 21 to prove his fitness or be replaced in its World Cup squad. Reports say Australian players are eager for more stability in team leadership and are willing to endorse the well-performed Smith as captain.

Clarke said he paid no attention to such speculation.

“I’m not going to get into it. It seems like some people in particular are going to write what they want to write,” he said. “I’m really happy and comfortable with my relationship with Cricket Australia firstly and certainly with my teammates.

“My goal is to get fit as soon as I can and there’s a time frame set by Cricket Australia and the selectors that I certainly understand and respect.”

Cricket-Afridi blitz lifts Pakistan to 210 v New Zealand

Published on: Friday, 30 January 2015 //
Jan 31 (Reuters) - Shahid Afridi blasted a 29-ball 67 and captain Misbah-ul-Haq stroked a patient 58 to help Pakistan overcome a terrible start and post 210 all out in the first one-dayer against New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday.

Cricket-One Day International New Zealand v Pakistan scoreboard

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Jan 31 (Infostrada Sports) - Scoreboard in the first One Day International between New Zealand and Pakistan on Saturday in Wellington, New Zealand Pakistan Innings M. Hafeez b Mills 0 A. Shehzad c Ronchi b Boult 15 Y. Khan lbw b Mills 9 Misbah-ul-Haq c Latham b Elliott 58 H. Sohail c Guptill b Anderson 23 U. Akmal

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