From Ramkumar Ramanathan reaching ATP 250 event final to ICC taking giant strides towards making Cricket free of corruption, this week had positive things to offer. However, IOA’s controversy-filled decision to remove Pencak Silat players from Asiad ensured that the balance is restored.
In a rare good news pertaining to Indian tennis, World 161 ranked Ramkumar Ramanathan created history on Saturday by becoming the first Indian in seven years to book a place in the final of an ATP World Tour in the Hall of Fame Open in Newport. The last player to win it was Leaner Paes back in 1998 in the same tournament - which remains his only singles ATP title till date. In between, Somdev Devvarman did show some spark to reach the final clashes of two ATP 250 events, the 2009 Chennai Open and 2011 SA Tennis Open. However, his journey was halted both the times, first by current World No. 7 Marin Cilic in 2009 and then by current World No. 5 Kevin Anderson two years later.
Ramanathan has a glorious chance of scripting history on Sunday when he faces Steve Johnson in the final. After losing to Simone Bolelli in the Wimbledon qualifiers, the 23-year-old has bounced back well reaching the final of Italy’s Recanati Challenger and USA’s Winnetka Challenger, but losing both. However, Ramanathan has looked promising in Newport so far with his only real hurdle coming in the round of 32 against US eighth seed Denis Kudla, where the match was stretched to the deciding set. Barring that, Ramanathan has been winning on straight-sets and would hope for a similar outcome against Johnson.
With numerous T20 leagues mushrooming all across the world, the intensity of match and spot fixing is on an all-time high. Since the 2013 IPL scandal that eventually led to Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals getting suspended for two years, the ICC has become stringent about what happens in the shadows. The introduction of new ACU General Manager Alex Marshall last year has worked as a catalyst for the International Cricket Council, with the world body already conducting as many as 18 investigations from June 2017 and May 2018. And as per their annual report for 2017-18, the results have been encouraging, which makes our second good news of the week.
According to ICC, there was an increased number of players who came up to the Anti-Corruption unit reporting suspicious activities in the team during the investigation. As many as four international captains had approached the authorities during the investigation. From the 18 cases, five were concluded with charges being brought in four cases and with 13 remaining as of May 2018. The Ajmal All Stars event in Dubai had also brought the spotlight a few months back and ICC’s primary target remains to uproot such leagues that have been organized solely for corruption.
India’s barren run in badminton continued on Saturday as the Indian contingent returned empty-handed from yet another tournament. Following a terrific 2017 where Kidambi Srikanth ended up winning as four Superseries titles, the Indian ace has failed to make any impact whatsoever this time. In the six major tournaments played so far, he has managed to progress beyond the round 2 only twice unable to reach the final at all. India’s blue-eyed girl, PV Sindhu, although has reached two quarter-finals, two semis and two finals, hasn’t won a single title this year.
A 500 series event like Singapore Open didn’t have many top players with defending champion Sai Praneeth, Parupalli Kashyap and Sourabh Verma being India’s biggest hope - all three were eliminated by Round 2. Subhankar Dey started off in a promising manner but was unfortunate to lose out eventual champion Chou Tien Chen. In women’s singles, Rituparna Das and Ruthvika Gadde dragged till the second round before being ousted. India’s strongest contenders - their men’s doubles and women’s doubles duo of Chirag Shetty and Swastiksairaj Rankireddy, and Ashwini Ponappa and N. Sikki Reddy were humbled in the first and second round respectively. Apart from highlighting the large gap in quality, this also breeds apprehension ahead of the Asiad next month.
India’s failure to win the ODI series for yet another flop middle-order display would definitely be the most frustrating thing of the week. It has been years since India have found proper batsmen to feature at number 4 and 5, and the void continues to exist. The number 4 has basically been a merry-go-round for players like Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul, each floundering their chances one after the other. After KL Rahul’s underwhelming displays in two T20Is and ODIs, the management decided to go with a rejuvenated Dinesh Karthik for the deciding ODI.
However, it didn’t bring any sort of stability to it whatsoever. After Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Shikhar Dhawan were back to the pavilion adding 117 runs, Karthik and Raina faltered again. Despite their recent failures, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya remain India’s fixed options in the lower order who have more likely guaranteed their place in the 2019 World Cup, and the middle order is the one before them that concerns the management. While the suggestion to give Rahul an extended run in the middle order has come from pundits, Kohli and Ravi Shastri’s affinity to rotate squad if things don’t click for two games could be a huge concern for India.
KL Rahul’s exclusion wasn’t the only decision that brought the management under fire. The decision to play Bhuvneshwar Kumar despite him only being 70% fit was a huge risk that unfortunately backfired for India. He ended up giving 49 runs in seven overs with zero wickets to his name and in the process aggravated his back thereby missing India’s Test squad, where he could potentially have been India’s most lethal weapon in England. However, the bad situation was turned to an ugly when one BCCI official raised questions about the management following the ODI series defeat about Bhuvneshwar’s inclusion.
"The moment we are saying he has aggravated his injury, we are conceding that he wasn't fully fit. So if he is a vital cog in our Test match scheme of things, why was he risked for ODI? If you look at IPL, Bhuvi missed five out of 17 games for Sunrisers. The BCCI had asked the franchise to look after his workload management. Then he was rested for Afghanistan Test so that he gets time to recover for UK tour. But it seems something is amiss and that's quite baffling. There are some questions that the team management needs to answer. If despite being given rest during the third T20 and the first two ODIs, he wasn't
The ugliest of them all was the incident where the whole Handball team was included in India’s Asian Games contingent with the IOA removing most of the Pencat Silat players. Mohammad Iqbal was flooded with accolades following their inclusion in the Asian Games contingent as he could see his years of struggle finally getting the exposure he always desired. Most people in India are oblivious to the full-body fighting sport, which involves grappling, throwing and also weapons, and Iqbal from Srinagar did brilliantly to take the unknown Indian team to the regional Pencak Silat Championships in 2016 where they won two silver and five bronze medals and finished above Indonesia, where the sport is indigenous to.
The Sports Ministry had rightfully monitored the result and put it ahead of more popular sports like Handball and Football. However, following the Handball Federation of India’s petition in court, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court ordered the IOA to include the Handball team, who figure in the main draw of the Asiad handball event. Initially, 22 Pencak Silat athletes were sanctioned, which has now reduced to 2 slashing the 524 athletes to 515. IOA dropped five athletes from sambo and four from triathlon as well. As per selection criteria of IOA, a team had to finish in the top-eight in the previous Asiad or in the Asian Championships, and the Men’s handball had finished last in the group stage at the previous Asiad came 12th at the Asian Championship. However, the team enters Asiad as the
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