Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund’s knocks put focus back on India’s replacement policy

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India completed a clinical win at Galle.

Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund had a very good Galle Test. Dhawan celebrated his return to the Test side with a belligerent 190 that took just 168 balls and had traces of his debut knock against Australia in Mohali in 2013 where he hit 187.

Mukund improved his game as the match wore on, first affecting a run out and then taking a fine catch at short leg in the Sri Lankan first innings before putting his head down and grinding out 81 as India put up a 550-run target.

The opening combination, which was one of the few areas of concern for the Indians going into the first Test, worked out like a charm. But it wasn’t supposed to be like that.

The Indians looked set to field KL Rahul and Murali Vijay at the top of the order in Sri Lanka. But Vijay didn’t recover from the wrist injury that had kept him out of action since the series against Australia in March. So Dhawan (right) was named as his replacement after his stupendous showing in England during the Champions Trophy in June. Mukund was the back-up opener in the squad and once Rahul contracted flu and was declared unfit to play, both Dhawan and Mukund got their opportunity to put on the India jersey.

So India now face the same ‘problem’ that has cropped up a couple of times in that past – how to handle the replacements?

India have had a clear-cut plan as far as first-choice players are concerned. Whenever a player proves his fitness, he walks right back into the team irrespective of what his replacement has done.

It’s the reason why Karun Nair had to make way for Ajinkya Rahane for the Bangladesh Test in February despite scoring a triple ton against England in the previous match.

It’s also the reason why Wriddhiman Saha got the wicketkeeping gloves as soon as he regained fitness after being ruled out of the last three Tests against England due to tendinitis. He was replaced by Parthiv Patel, who scored two fifties and 42, and also kept well.

The Indian management, which included Anil Kumble as head coach at the time, had made it clear that first-choice players will get to play when fit.
“It’s a great plus for the players. Because after an injury hiatus, when someone makes a comeback, if he is clearly told “as and when you recover, you will be back in the team”, the individual gets more motivated and that reflects in his performance,” Saha had said after returning to the side for the Bangladesh Test.

That means Dhawan and Mukund will most likely be benched once Rahul and Vijay are fully fit. Or India will have to drop a bowler to accommodate one of the two, most probably Dhawan. Remember, a batsman like Rohit Sharma is still out of the team.

The existing policy was pushed by Kumble who wanted clear guidelines for players when it came to proving fitness and returning to the team.

And if Ravi Shastri too gives it his stamp of approval, India will sport a familiar look when all players are fit. It’s good for the team environment but no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for the player.

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From leadership to opening combination, it's about second chances for India in first Test

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Virat Kohli will have a point or two to prove.

India begin the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in Galle today with a spring in their step. Virat Kohli’s side sits at the top of the ICC Test rankings with wins in their last seven series. Two out of the last three Test series wins were especially sweet for the Indians as England were blanked 4-0 at home and the Aussies were overpowered 2-1 after a heavy defeat in the first match.

However, it all concluded by March. Indian players then got busy with the IPL, lost the final of the Champions Trophy, won the ODI series in the Caribbean and lost a one-off T20 against the Windies. Then there was the drama surrounding the exit of Anil Kumble as head coach and return of Ravi Shastri as ‘friend and an elder buddy’ – as the BCCI stated in its press release.

The focus now shifts to the field. For India, it will be about second chances.

It is an opportunity for the Kohli-Shastri combination to get back together following the now seemingly unnecessary Anil Kumble stint, and mould the team the way they want to.

Let’s not forget, India’s rise to the No1 spot in Tests started in their last tour of Sri Lanka in 2015 when they rallied to win the series 2-1. It was the first series win for Kohli as captain and Shastri was in charge as team director.

Also, this a golden chance for a couple of Test hopefuls to have a go at the top of the order.

India’s regular Test openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are unavailable for the first Test. Vijay has not recovered completely from his wrist injury that had kept him out of action since the series against Australia in March. And Rahul has not recovered from a bout of fever. He too was making a comeback after a four-month injury (shoulder) lay off.

In their absence, Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund will look to mark their territory in what has been a period a turmoil in Indian cricket, on and off the field.

When Rahul failed to regain fitness in time for the Champions Trophy, Dhawan stepped up and took the tournament by storm, scoring two fifties and one century in England.

Dhawan was named as replacement for Vijay after being initially overlooked for the Sri Lanka tour. With Rahul unavailable, Dhawan and Mukund can realistically look to make a long-lasting impact.

Both Rahul and Vijay have been away from the scene for a long time and all it takes is one brilliant series – like Dhawan had in the Champions Trophy – for the selectors and management to push the challengers up the pecking order.

Sri Lanka, on their part, are struggling to keep their head above water.

Angelo Mathews resigned as Test captain. His replacement Dinesh Chandimal has been ruled out of the first Test due to flu, which means the burden on spinner Rangana Herath will only increase as the stand-in captain is also the team’s main bowler.

Herath will turn 40 soon and one wonders what will happen to the struggling Sri Lankans once he leaves. But that’s a question for another day.

On paper, India are fitter and more balanced than Sri Lanka with a much better record in recent Tests; Sri Lanka lost to Bangladesh in March and had to fight tooth and nail to defeat Zimbabwe this month.

But nothing is easy in Test cricket and for India, the leadership and opening combinations will be eager to prove a point or two.

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Average cricket fans have played their part in making the Women's World Cup a success

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The women's World Cup has attracted a lot of interest.

As India and England fight it out for the Women’s Cricket World Cup final on Sunday, now is a good time to look at the impact the tournament has had on the women’s game. Even though it is a World Cup, the reach and viewership it achieves is critical for the health of the sport and this time, there is cause for celebration.

Over the years, the idea of improving the profile of women’s cricket has received enough lip service. Everyone involved, including the viewing public, has good intentions when it comes to women’s cricket but very rarely has there been any concrete evidence of support from those who follow the game.

This time, we have proof with the International Cricket Council releasing some impressive numbers regarding this year’s World Cup.

For starters, more than 26,000 tickets were sold for the final at Lord’s, which will make it the biggest crowd ever to attend a women’s World Cup match. All matches in the tournament were shown live for the first time ever; though it is incredible that it has taken until 2017 for this to happen.

And then we come to TV viewership. According to the ICC, at this year’s tournament “80 per cent higher global viewership is expected across the course of the event compared to the 2013 edition with a global TV audience reach of more than 50 million. (There has been a) 51 per cent increase in the UK TV audience (compared to 2013 edition), 47 per cent increase in Indian TV audience and 300 per cent increase in Australian TV audience”.

The rise in TV audience in India is impressive as the 2013 event was held in the country. The ICC also revealed that “in South Africa, the increase in viewership in comparison to the 2013 event after the first five broadcast matches was 259 per cent”.

The base for those stats is smaller than that for the men’s game, which is understandable. But the all-round growth in viewership and the coverage that the tournament has received across platforms is more the laudable because we now have sustained engagement from the most important component of the jigsaw – the end user.

This year’s women’s Big Bash League in Australia attracted an aggregate crowd of more than 100,000. Every match of the Big Bash was streamed live, and for free, for the first time. The numbers from Down Under point to a healthy appetite for the women’s game which is as important as support from national boards. No longer is women’s cricket forced to make do with a vague sentiment of support.

Does this mean all issues surrounding women’s cricket, be it pay parity or support from the boards, have been resolved? No. But now, the game has a tangible base from where it can demand a greater share of the pie for the efforts of its players.

Countries like Australia and England have taken the lead when it comes to providing financial security to its female players. India was the last major nation to announce central contracts for its women’s cricketers – they did so in 2015. The highest-paid England and Australian women’s cricketers get around $65,000 (Dh230,000) as a retainer, which is nearly three times what the Indians earn. Also, there is no clarity on the future contracts of Indian women’s cricketers. So issues remain, especially when it comes to a reduction in the yawning gap between the salaries of men’s and women’s players.

Even so, women’s cricket as a whole is moving at a decent pace and in the right direction. And credit must go to the average cricket fan who has invested a valuable commodity – time.

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