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‘Wanted to play in our own conditions first’ – Virat Kohli on pink-ball change of heart

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India’s change of heart on pink-ball cricket had to do with the comfort of preparation and the familiarity of home conditions, Virat Kohli said on the eve of their maiden day-night Test in Kolkata, against Bangladesh. Kohli said that unfamiliarity with the format and the challenges of sighting the ball were behind India’s reluctance in the face of previous proposals to play day-night Test matches. Jumping into the format, especially in overseas Tests, can’t be a “sudden thing”, Kohli said.

In May last year, the BCCI had turned down Cricket Australia’s offer to play a pink-ball Test in Adelaide – a tradition since 2014 – and said they would only begin to play in the format in a year’s time. That refusal had come just shy of seven months before the Adelaide Test began on December 6.

ALSO READ: How India and Bangladesh came to play the pink-ball Test

A year-and-a-half on, new BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said that Kohli had been readily “agreeable” to the Kolkata Test being turned into a day-night fixture. Kohli said that playing the format was inevitable, but the details around the plan had made the difference on this occasion.

“Obviously we wanted to get a feel of pink-ball cricket. Eventually, it had to happen,” Kohli said. “But, you can’t bring up those things before a big tour that you’re going to and suddenly in the schedule, there’s a pink-ball Test, when we haven’t even practiced with the pink ball – we haven’t played any first-class games with pink ball.

“The thing was to experience the pink-ball Test in our own conditions first, so you get the hang of how the ball behaves, what is the way to sight the ball and so on. Then, eventually, going and playing with the pink ball anywhere in the world. So it can’t be a sudden thing. This one, we had been talking about it for a while. As you saw, a few of the guys had been practicing before the series started. So you can’t just, two days before you get on a plane, say ‘play a pink ball Test’ in a week’s time. We didn’t think it was logical from that point of view. It needed a bit of preparation. And once you get a hang of it, once you’re used to playing it, there’s no problem in playing at all.

“We just felt it was more of a spontaneous plan, rather than it being planned over a period of time. Which, I think, any change needs to have that much time for it to sink in, settle in. And then we are open to do anything.”

After BCCI’s refusal last year, James Sutherland, then chief of Cricket Australia, had suggested that India’s reluctance had been based around issues of competitive advantage – more precisely, India’s own disadvantage at having no previous experience in the format, as opposed to Australia, who were early movers.

At the moment, India have effectively had about three weeks to prepare, since the Test was confirmed to be a day-night fixture late last month. India have marched to the top of the World Test Championship table, winning all six of their matches and picking up 300 points. They start as strong favourites for the final Test of the series, which puts them in a position where they could potentially be on 360 points before they head to New Zealand for their next series. In many ways, including the fact that Bangladesh are without two star players, it seems like the ideal time to test the waters.

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Star Sports travelled to Meerut to find out how the pink ball is manufactured

They had their first full training session under lights on Wednesday evening. An optional training session in Indore after the first Test ended early had been attended by six players, while a lot of other players, including Kohli himself, had been alternating between red- and pink-ball sessions in the lead up to the series. Although there haven’t been any practice games before the series, Kohli said it would be vital on future tours, outlining what an ideal schedule for practice would look like.

“I think it depends when the Test happens,” he said. “If it’s the first Test, then obviously before the first game you play (a practice game). One of them can be a normal red-ball practice game, and one before the Test could be a pink-ball practice game. But if it’s the second or third Test, I would ideally like more break between the two Tests. And have a practice game before the pink-ball Test, whenever that is, obviously playing under lights. So it can’t be that before the tour you play a pink-ball practice game and then the Test is actually third. That wouldn’t make any sense. So I think whenever it is, there should be a practice game planned just before that Test and accordingly we should have enough days in between.”

It seems only a matter of time for pink-ball Tests to become regular fixtures in India’s schedule. But on a broader front, Kohli doesn’t reckon – and doesn’t want – the format will become the norm.

“I don’t think [it will become the norm] in five-six years,” he said. “In my opinion, this should not become the only way Test cricket is played because then you’re losing that nervousness in the first session in the morning. Yes, you can bring excitement into Test cricket but you can’t purely make Test cricket based on just entertaining people.”





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Dhoni beats Ganguly (by a whisker) in battle of the captains

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MS Dhoni has marginally edged out Sourav Ganguly as the more impactful captain in a Star Sports survey, in which two of India’s most successful captains were judged across a number parameters developed in collaboration with ESPNcricinfo.

While Dhoni was rated the best ODI and home-Test captain by significant margins, Ganguly was the clear winner in the away-Test captaincy category. Ganguly was also rated the better captain in terms of the team he developed from the players he inherited.

A jury comprising former players, journalists and broadcasters from across the globe scored each player out of ten in eight different categories: red-ball captaincy at home and away, white-ball captaincy, batting record as captain, how they transformed the teams they inherited and the quality of the teams they left behind, their major achievements, and each captain’s overall impact. After totalling up all the scores in each category, Dhoni was the winner by 0.4 points.

The most closely contested categories were batting record as captain, the teams the two left behind, and overall impact, with Dhoni nicking the first category and Ganguly edging him out in the other two.

Among the former players who voted in the poll were former South Africa captain Graeme Smith, former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara and former India openers Gautam Gambhir and Kris Srikkanth. Here’s what they have to say on why they voted how they voted.

Tests Home
Survey results Dhoni (8.2) beats Ganguly (7.4)
While both men had strong records, Dhoni had to work a little harder with the personnel he had, and the fact that he did that successfully is apparent in how his teams were rarely beaten.

Gambhir: Sourav had Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh bowling in tandem. MS Dhoni had only Harbhajan Singh, so he had to find a second spinner. So probably MS Dhoni because he did not have Anil Kumble in his armoury.

Tests Away
Survey results Ganguly (7.2) beats Dhoni (5.5)
Ganguly’s teams were harder to beat when they travelled. He lost only 10 of 28 matches away from home – that’s 36%. But Dhoni’s teams lost 15 out of 30 – they were twice as likely to lose (50%) as win (20%) outside of India

Srikkanth: In difficult conditions, he started winning Test matches. That’s when India believed we can beat England in England, Australia in Australia and Pakistan in Pakistan. That belief came from Ganguly

Sangakkara: Ganguly did not like losing. You saw his emotions coming out in various stages. But it was not just destructive. It came out because he really hurt when India lost.

Gambhir: The expectations after winning the World Cup… we just couldn’t deliver. If we had gone with an open mind, thinking that even if we lose, the world won’t come to an end, we probably would have given ourselves a better chance. If our first intent had been to go out and win, we just didn’t have that.

Smith: Ganguly brought a hardness and a toughness to Indian cricket. He certainly was a huge pillar in the strength of Indian cricket and where it’s gone to today. And I always felt, even though MS had some success and India had some success, they were always lacking that one element of aggression.

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Star Sports Cricket Connected: Ganguly v Dhoni – Who was the more impactful captain?

ODI captaincy
Survey results: Dhoni (8.1) beats Ganguly (6.8)
There was only one winner, but also a tantalising what if. What if Ganguly had the quality of limited-overs players that Dhoni did?

Sangakkara: It was about the ability of MS winning those important moments by taking very simple decisions. He had a lot of clarity and a lot of confidence not just in his decision but also in trusting the player to deliver and he left the over-thinking to the opposition. But I think Dada had to work much much harder, with the team that he had, to get into those big moments.

Smith: If Dada had had an MS type player, his team was slightly more developed, I think you would have seen his team win more trophies.

Transforming teams
Survey results: Ganguly (8.6) beats Dhoni (7.3)
Clear winner again.

Srikkanth: Ganguly transformed the mindset of the Indian team. Then the fantastic winning combination was given on a platter and said, here Dhoni, you have a fantastic team, just continue what we started.

Smith: People only see what they can see. A lot of work goes behind the scenes as leader and one is identifying players and bringing them through, taking a chance on talent and I think Dada did that really well.

Teams left behind
Survey results: Ganguly (7.8) beats Dhoni (7.6)
This was a tight race. Ganguly gave India more players. He took over the side at a time of transition so a major part of his mandate was to find and blood new talent. Dhoni, though, helped reduce the fear of being dropped, giving those he believed in the time needed to settle in the team and become their best selves. Virat Kohli is a fine example of that. Still, there had to be a winner and a loser.

Gambhir: When MS Dhoni finished (his captaincy stint), he hasn’t given enough quality players to Virat Kohli, apart from Virat Kohli himself and Rohit Sharma. Or Jasprit Bumrah now. There are not too many world beaters, or probably people who win you tournaments. But look at what Sourav Ganguly gave to Indian cricket. Yuvraj Singh, man of the series in two World Cups [Yuvraj was only man of the series in the 2011 World Cup. Shahid Afridi was man of the series in the 2007 World T20], Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag – these kinds of world beaters.

Batting record as captain
Survey results: Dhoni (7.8) beats Ganguly (7.4)
How do you choose between a breathtaking finisher in ODIs and a Test batsman who began by making Lord’s bow down to him?

Gambhir: In white-ball cricket, MS Dhoni hands down. But in Test cricket, Sourav Ganguly. Because MS Dhoni, away from home or away from the subcontinent, doesn’t even have a hundred. And Sourav Ganguly has got a hundred at Lord’s, in Australia.

Smith: It’s almost impossible to move away from the impact MS Dhoni had on the game, on world cricket. His ability to finish, to handle the pressures in the almost gladiatorial moments in his career will leave an everlasting memory. I agree that when it comes to Tests, you always felt you had an opportunity to work him over, especially away and out of India. When it comes to Test cricket, I’ll have to sit with Dada, but one-day cricket, MS is my man.

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Star Sports Cricket Connected: Ganguly v Dhoni – Who was the more impactful captain?

Achievements
Survey results: Dhoni (8.5) beats Ganguly (7.2)
There’s only one world champion between the two and he takes the round.

Srikkanth: Come on man, World Cup 2011, the Champions Trophy, wins in Australia, Sri Lanka, of course the T20 World Cup. So as a limited-overs captain, Dhoni had a huge, huge impact both as a captain as well as a player and as a wicketkeeper, don’t forget that.

Gambhir: Purely from the trophies point of view, it’s MS Dhoni. But if you see the impact during those tournaments, MS didn’t have such a big impact as a player. But in the 2003 World Cup, Sourav Ganguly had a fabulous World Cup. If you see the 2007 T20 World Cup, MS didn’t score too many runs and neither did he score too many runs in 2011 as well. But yes, as a leader when you talk about winning trophies, yes MS Dhoni. He’s won both the World Cups, T20 and 2011, and the Champions Trophy. Sourav hasn’t won anything apart from the Natwest Trophy. [India were also joint winners of the 2002 Champions Trophy under Ganguly after the final was washed out on two consecutive days].

Overall impact
Survey results Ganguly (8.1) beats Dhoni (7.9)
Another tight race, with one man claiming trophies and climbing to the top of the ICC rankings and the other gifting India players of immense quality and, most importantly, the belief that they can win, even against the best

Gambhir: Both these guys have taken Indian cricket forward. Yes, MS Dhoni got it a little easier than Sourav Ganguly, but purely from the impact point of view I can only talk about MS Dhoni because he was very very serious about taking Indian cricket forward. People actually always used to think that he was not too serious about Test cricket, but he was equally serious about Test cricket as well. That was one of the reasons why we reached No.1 as well.

Smith: Sourav made such a big impact in Indian cricket in terms of the talent he brought, the mentality he brought… I think that like Allan Border probably did in the early days of Australian cricket, setting them up for the success, I think you’ve got to look for Dada here and say what he did for Indian cricket was iconic. He did the hard yards and all these wonderful players and captains followed.



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Sourav Ganguly to Virat Kohli – ‘I expect you to win in Australia’

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BCCI president Sourav Ganguly expects Virat Kohli‘s side to register their second successive Test series win in Australia when they tour down under later this year. Ganguly stated the upcoming tour would be tougher than the previous outing of 2018-19 but said India also had the batting and bowling to do well there.

“I have said that to Virat also,” Ganguly told India Today in an interview. “I said, ‘because you’re Virat Kohli, your standards are high. When you walk to play, when you walk with your team, I, watching on TV, don’t expect you to just play well against Australia. I expect you to win. So for me, that is what it is. Because you have set the standards. It’s not anybody else. So you have to live up to the standards.'”

On their 2018-19 tour, India had recorded their first Test series win in Australia, winning the four-match series 2-1. Australia were then without two of their batting mainstays Steven Smith and David Warner, who were serving a one-year ban each due to their role in the ball-tampering incident in the Cape Town Test against South Africa in 2018. Ganguly acknowledged this “milestone series” would not be as easy this time.

“It’s going to be a tough series,” he said. “It’s not going to be what it was in 2018 when they went. It’s going to be a strong Australia but our team is as good. We have the batting, we have the bowling.

“Absolutely [hopeful of the team]. We just got to bat better. You know the best teams overseas, they bat well. When we were so successful away from home, in England, in Australia and in Pakistan, we were getting 400, 500 and 600 in Test matches.

India’s last international assignment was in March – a three-match ODI series against South Africa, which was called off in the wake of Covid-19 after a washout in the first game. While some of the players, including Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami, have resumed training, one of India’s major concerns will be to ensure an injury-free return of their players, especially the fast bowlers.

“I have been in touch with him (Kohli), telling him, ‘you have got to stay fit.’ You haven’t played cricket for six months, you don’t want your fast bowlers to come back and get injured. They have been training, [but] training and playing cricket is different. You have got to make sure your best bowlers are ready for the tour and fit. Whether it’s Shami, whether it’s [Jasprit] Bumrah, whether it’s Ishant [Sharma], whether it’s [Hardik] Pandya, they have to be at the top of their match fitness when they land in Australia.”

Ganguly further said the BCCI had thought about a roadmap to start training camps in India, but with the rising Covid-19 cases, especially in the big cities, it was “too risky” to do anything soon.

“We have thought about the roadmap. We have the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place. The BCCI and the NCA have worked extensively in getting the proper SOPs. That have been circulated to state associations. At the moment, there is no chance of camp because of what is happening, what the situation is in the country. It’s too risky. In Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, it’s just risky. So we will have to wait.

“If at all the IPL happens in October – the Asia Cup has been cancelled – so maybe August-September would be the time where we can pull the players out and get them together for 15 days. We have got things in place but at the same time, the safety of the players is very important because they are long-term assets for India. One series, one IPL is not more important than player safety. But we want it to happen provided everything is in order.”

India’s tour to Australia is scheduled to kick-off in October with three T20Is, followed by four Tests and three ODIs.

“We just hope the number of quarantine days get reduced a bit because you don’t want the players to go all the way that far and sit in hotel rooms for two weeks,” Ganguly said. “It’s very depressing and disappointing. So we are looking at that and December is still a long way.”



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Simmons ‘extremely pleased’ as West Indies quicks seize moment

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West Indies head coach Phil Simmons hailed his bowling attack’s persistence and patience after five late wickets put his team into the driving seat against England.

When Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes combined for a fluent partnership of 98, the bulk of which were made after the tea interval, it had looked as though the game was drifting away from West Indies, who had managed only three wickets in the day. But after Jason Holder removed Stokes for the second time in the match, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel took two wickets apiece in quick spells which seemed to vindicate Holder’s emphasis on discipline and patience throughout the match.

“It showed the persistence of the bowlers,” Simmons said. “We’d been fighting all day and Stokes and Zak started to take the bowling apart. But the persistence of Jason [was rewarded] and then Alzarri’s spell was a huge spell too.

ALSO READ: Late burst from WI seamers hits England hopes

“I’m extremely pleased with the way the bowlers bowled today – both when two batters [Rory Burns and Dom Sibley] batted before lunch and more so when Stokes and Crawley were trying to take it away from us.

“The patience we exhibited has been something that we’ve been asking for for a while, and today it showed up. We bore the fruit of that in the evening session. You can’t really say much more – they stuck to their tasks.”

In particular, the flurry of wickets before the close seemed to reward Holder’s sparing use of his two strike bowlers earlier in the day.

While it would have been tempting to throw Gabriel and Joseph the ball and ask them to target England’s top three with bouncers, Holder instead split the bulk of the workload between the relentless Kemar Roach, himself, and offspinner Roston Chase, choking England’s scoring on a slow pitch.

That meant that Joseph had bowled only 11 of the day’s 80 overs when he returned to bowl with the second new ball still offering movement, and the rewards were immediate: his was the fastest spell of the innings, and accounted for both Crawley – caught and bowled in his follow-through – and Buttler, who was bowled through the gate.

Gabriel, too, was fresh upon his return after only 12 overs in the day, and twice beat Dom Bess in the off-stump channel in the first over of his spell before knocking out his off pole in his second. Four balls later, he got one to lift from a length which Ollie Pope only managed to chop on, leaving England eight wickets down with a slender lead of 165.

Simmons said that there had not been a specific plan to leave some energy in the tank moving into the final hour, but hailed Holder’s management of his bowlers throughout the match so far.

“It’s just how the captain sees it when he’s out there,” Simmons said. “That’s just the way he rotated his bowlers today, and it worked well for us in the end.

“When [Alzarri] is bowling like he bowled this evening here, he’s always going to be a threat to any batting line-up we play against. That’s the thought we are trying to get in his head: that this is the type of spell we want from him and need from him.

“Part of Test cricket is about patience, especially when you have wickets like this to play on, and it’s something that we’ve been working on hard – not getting bored at doing the simple things and the basic things for a while to put people under pressure. I’m glad to see it’s working, and guys are thinking about what we’ve been working on.”

Simmons gave further praise to Gabriel, who has now taken seven wickets in his first first-class appearance since last September following a long ankle lay-off.

“It shows his desire to play for West Indies, coming back from ankle surgery and doing all the hard work he’s done. Even during lockdown in Trinidad, he was finding ways to train to get himself fit for this series. You can only compliment him.

“I’m sure that Jason is happy to have him, Roach is happy to have him as an opening partner, and Alzarri is coming up with them. It’s great to see the combination and how they’re working together. That’s the important thing, how they bowl together and it’s showing and it’s improving.”

As for the fourth innings, Simmons suggested that the benefit of late wickets was that it meant there would be little in the way of scoring pressure on his batsmen.

“We’ve got to get the two wickets, and whatever is put in front of us, we have a day to bat. The confidence from the way we batted and the attitude towards batting in the first innings is going to be a huge plus for us when we bat in the second innings.

“Whether we’re chasing 170 or 190, it’s going to be the same attitude that we need to chase it. I have confidence in that.”



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