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India’s Kohli keen on county stint ahead of England tour

Monitoring Desk

New Delhi: Virat Kohli says he is keen to play county cricket to get used to conditions on English soil ahead of India’s tour of the country later this year.

The Indian skipper — the second-ranked Test batsman in the world and the best in one-day internationals — had an uncharacteristically ordinary spell during the England tour in 2014.

The prolific run-getter managed just 134 runs in 10 innings, a far cry from the average 53.40 over 66 Tests, including 21 centuries, that earned him the moniker “King Kohli”.

He wants to avoid a repeat of his poor form on English soil, and plans to train there to prepare for India’s tour starting July.

“Playing county cricket will help me improve my game,” the 29-year-old batsman told Indian TV channel NDTV.

“I think it makes things more challenging and more competitive and there are no guarantees whether you are going to do well even if you go in advance.

“It’s just about giving yourself more opportunity to get used to the conditions that you are not used to.

The all-important series will see India play England in three Twenty20 matches, three ODIs and five Tests.

It has been widely reported in Indian press that Kohli would join English county side Surrey for a brief stint in June.

Surrey’s director Alec Stewart had expressed interest in signing Kohli after reports the Indian cricket board would allow their top batsman to skip a one-off Test against Afghanistan starting June 14.

Kohli had stressed the need for getting used to local conditions after India, the world’s top Test team, lost a series to South Africa 2-1 in January.

“If players get an opportunity then why not,” he said of Indians taking whatever chances they get to hit abroad. But speculation of Kohli’s debut in county cricket has rubbed some the wrong way.

Former England paceman Bob Willis said England risked losing Test matches at home if “we’re accommodating all these visiting players”. “I can’t stand overseas players in county cricket,” he told Sky Sports.

“The only way to improve our Test team is to have as many England-qualified players playing in the County Championship as possible. “Instead, they’re going to pay Kohli, presumably, five figures a match so he can hone his skills in English conditions before a Test series. It’s nonsense.”

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Djokovic battles past Coric to reach third round

Monitoring Desk

Monte Carlo: Novak Djokovic needed 10 match points to claim a hard fought straight-sets victory over the dangerous Borna Coric on Wednesday, setting up a Monte Carlo Masters third-round clash with Dominic Thiem.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion, playing only his fourth tournament since Wimbledon last July after struggling with a right elbow injury, overcame some late nerves to win 7-6 (7/2), 7-5. Djokovic is working with long-time former coach Marian Vajda for the first time in almost a year after splitting from Andre Agassi, and the 30-year-old has looked rejuvenated in Monaco after early exits in Indian Wells and Miami. The Serbian will next face Austrian fifth seed Thiem with a possible quarter-final against defending champion Rafael Nadal, who plays Aljaz Bedene later on Wednesday, up for grabs.

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Sethi to leave for India to attend ICC meeting

Monitoring Desk

KARACHI: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Najam Sethi and Chief Operating Officer Subhan Ahmad will be traveling to India on April 21 to attend an International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting.

A PCB official told the media that Sethi is also likely to meet his Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) counterpart to discuss the resumption of bilateral cricketing ties between the famous arch-rivals.

The source also confirmed that only two PCB officials were issued visas to attend the meetings, which will take place in Kolkata on April 22, and that the ICC played a vital role in the matter.

The visa issuance to Sethi and Subhan can be termed as a real breakthrough between the two neighboring countries, as in the past 15 months, the Indian High Commission has turned down visa applications from different Pakistani sporting contingents including hockey, squash, blind cricket and wrestling.

The source also confirmed that during the ICC meeting, security arrangements in Pakistan during the recently concluded series of West Indies and Pakistan Super League (PSL) playoffs will be discussed in detail.

“Sethi and Subhan will be flying to Kolkata on April 21 for the meetings during which Pakistan’s security arrangements and organisation of the PSL matches and T20I series against West Indies in Lahore and Karachi will be discussed,” told the official.

The head of the ICC’s special task force on Pakistan cricket — Giles Clarke — will also submit a report on the return of international matches to the country.

The ICC meetings will also allow board officials to discuss different possibilities, and it is also expected that Sethi will try and convince the ICC to hold some board meetings at the PCB headquarters in Lahore.

The upcoming annual ICC meeting is to be held in Dublin in June followed by another meeting in October in the West Indies.


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Pacquiao says hit fight against Lucas to be last


LONDON (BBC): Former world champion Manny Pacquiao says his fight with Lucas Matthysse will be his last, but wants to prove his career “is not yet over”.

Pacquiao, 39, faces the 35-year-old WBA world welterweight title holder in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 15 July.

And the Filipino fighter is already thinking about his boxing legacy.

“I want them to remember me after my career not only as a champion, but as being an inspiration to everyone, being a good person,” he told BBC Sport.

“This is my last fight. It’s one to prove that I am still there in boxing and that my career is not over yet.”

Argentina’s Matthysse took up the vacant WBA title in January and says Pacquiao has not been the same fighter since he was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012.

“Sure, Manny has won so many titles, I only won one title,” he said. “I am not going to give it up. I will die for it if I have to.

“I will defend this title to the death.”

Pacquiao has 59 victories with 38 knockouts in his career – winning world titles at eight weights from flyweight to light middleweight – but has not fought since he lost his WBO welterweight title to Australia’s Jeff Horn last July.

“I keep on fighting because boxing is my passion and I love raising the flag of the Philippines,” he said.

He did, however, rule out the idea of switching to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) once his boxing career is over.

“I am also a shareholder of one championship (in the MMA), so both sides I have interests in,” added Pacquiao. “I will not enter into it or fight in MMA.”

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Barcelona draw 2-2 at Celta Vigo

Monitoring Desk

MADRID: Lionel Messi was thrown on as a substitute but 10-man Barcelona were relieved to escape with a draw as Celta Vigo came within a whisker of inflicting the Catalans’ first league defeat of the season on Tuesday.

Messi was introduced after an hour at the Stade Balaidos and looked to have inspired another Barca victory when Paulinho gave the visitors a 2-1 lead four minutes later.

But Sergi Roberto was sent off for preventing Iago Aspas sprinting clear and in the 82nd minute the former Liverpool striker made it 2-2, albeit with a large slice of luck given the ball brushed his hand on its way into the net. Vigo pushed for a late winner and should have had it when substitute Lucas Boye went through one-on-one but he took too long and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made a crucial stop. “I think we deserved to win the game,” Celta Vigo coach Juan Carlos Unzue said.

Earlier, a superb strike from Ousmane Dembele had been cancelled out by Jonny Castro’s close-range finish as Barcelona stretched their record unbeaten run to 40 La Liga games. They also extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points, which could be cut to nine if Atletico Madrid beat Real Sociedad on Thursday.

“You always have to accept a point but our intention was to win,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said afterwards. “When we lost Sergi, we had difficulties but it is one more point.  We need only two more victories and we have to fight for them.”

With one eye on Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, Valverde made several changes to his Barca starting line-up as the likes of Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic were all rested.

“There were players who came from playing a lot of games and I thought it suited us,” Valverde said. “Let’s see if we can give our fans some joy on Saturday.” Ter Stegen, Philippe Coutinho and Dembele were the more established names selected and Dembele took his chance, capping an excellent attacking display with a brilliantly taken goal in the 39th minute. Coutinho played wide to Paco Alcacer whose return ball was bouncing as Dembele controlled and sent a dipping half-volley into the corner.

On the stroke of half-time, however, Vigo were level. Andre Gomes gave the ball away and then, after the break developed, allowed Maximiliano Gomez to fire in a cross, which Castro bundled in. Messi came on in the 60th minute for Coutinho and by the 64th, Barca were ahead.

Dembele did well to make space down the right and as goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez failed to collect, Paulinho was perfectly placed to divert towards the corner, with Alcacer perhaps even feathering a final touch. Roberto had also been introduced on the hour, replacing Gomes, but he lasted only 11 minutes, sent off for tugging back Aspas when the striker was in on goal.

Aspas bent the resulting free-kick just over the bar but eight minutes from the end he was celebrating as Ter Stegen could only parry Emre Mor’s cross and as the ball spun up, it brushed Aspas’ chest, hand and floated into the net. Barca were now holding on and Vigo should have won it when Aspas played Boye in behind but his team-mate was denied by Ter Stegen and the chance was lost.


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Pakistani wrestling team return home Commonwealth games

F.P. Report

LAHORE: The Pakistani wrestling team returned home on Wednesday from Australia after winning gold and bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games.

Wrestler, Inam Butt won the only gold medal for the Pakistan in the tournament while Tayyab Raza and Mohammad Bilal won bronze for Pakistan.

Inam Butt had defeated his Nigerian opponent Melvin Bibo in the final of 86kg weight category. Butt had previously won a gold medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.

While talking to media on his arrival, Inam Butt demanded from the government to pay attention to sports like weightlifting and it will pave way for Pakistan to win gold at the Olympics.

Pakistan won five medals at the Gold Coast Games, winning four bronze and one gold medal.







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Moody expects Rashid to make big impact

Monitoring Desk

MUMBAI: “Unique” Afghan leg spinner Rashid Khan will have a major impact on this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Sunrises Hyderabad franchise, coach Tom Moody has predicted.

Rashid has made rapid strides since making his international debut in October 2015 as a 17-year-old, in February becoming the youngest to top the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s rankings for bowlers in the T20 and 50-overs format. Hyderabad splurged INR40 million at last year’s auction to land the unheralded leg-spinner from Afghanistan, where cricket is highly popular but sporting facilities are pitifully inadequate after decades of war.

He saw an intense bidding war in this year’s auction before Hyderabad retained him with their right-to-match option for a whopping INR90 million, more than double what they paid for his services a year earlier.

“Rashid is a pretty unique cricketer and he’s had a lot of success with us last year,” Moody, 52, told Reuters. “He’s gone from strength to strength in the various tournaments that he has played around the world and also when he’s representing his country.” It was only in 2013 that Afghanistan, mostly made up of players who picked up the game in refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan, became an Associate Member.

They are currently a Full Member, scheduled to play their maiden Test match against India in June, and also won the qualifying tournament for the 50-over World Cup in England and Wales next year. Rashid has played a major role in Afghanistan’s ascent, and last month become the fastest to take 100 wickets in ODIs, bettering the mark of Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc by eight matches.

He is a proven strike bowler and has made a name for himself in T20 leagues around the world, proving his worth in the IPL and Australia’s Big Bash League.

“He’s an important piece to our puzzle given that there’s an element of mystery around him and he has that real potency as a wicket-taker. So he’s important,” said Moody, who played eight Tests and 76 ODIs for Australia, in a telephone interview.

Hyderabad, who lead the IPL standings with three wins from as many matches, lost captain David Warner after the Australia opening batsman was banned late last month due to the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, but New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson has eased into that role.

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Indian police crackdown on IPL gambling rackets

Monitoring Desk

NEW DELHI: Indian police have arrested three men suspected of placing illegal bets on Indian Premier League (IPL) matches as authorities crack down on gambling rackets that emerge around the billion-dollar franchise every year.

The trio were accused of running an online betting syndicate from a residence in New Delhi. Nearly all gambling is illegal in India but is still a huge underground industry.

“We arrested the three on Saturday while they were betting during the Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils match,” Youdhbir Singh, a senior police officer in Delhi, told AFP on Tuesday. “They were insisting that they are first-timers and it was just a one-off incident, but we know that they were doing it since the start of the league on April 7.”

Eleven mobile phones, a laptop, a television set and a digital channel receiver were seized, Singh added. Media reports say police have busted other syndicates, in the southern city of Hyderabad and the eastern state of West Bengal, in the first two weeks of the 11th season of the lucrative IPL franchise.

The money-spinning IPL, the world’s most popular domestic cricket league, has been plagued by controversy since its inception in 2008. Corruption and match-fixing have often taken centre-stage.

A spot-fixing scandal in 2013 led to the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals being suspended in 2015 for two seasons. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, a Rajasthan Royals bowler, was banned for life along with teammates Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila.

They were arrested along with scores of bookies as part of a probe into allegations that players had under performed in return for cash from bookmakers. Criminal charges were later dropped but the players were banned for breaching the code of conduct of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

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Novak Djokovic wins at Monte Carlo

Monitoring Desk

MONACO: After easing into the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Monday, a relieved Novak Djokovic said his troublesome right elbow no longer bothers him.

Djokovic beat Serbian countryman Dusan Lajovic 6-0, 6-1. He won on his first match point, whipped off his hat, tilted his head back, and raised his hands in triumph.

The joy was less because of the first-round victory — he is a two-time champion here, after all — but more because his injury didn’t resurface. “I thought it was good considering the amount of matches I’ve played. I mean, I (have) played probably six, seven matches since Wimbledon last year,” said Djokovic, who next faces Borna Coric of Croatia. “So after two years, finally I can play without pain.”

He came to the tournament with a 3-3 match record this year, losing his last three since the Australian Open. This month, he stopped working with Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, the latest in a series of coaching changes for the 12-time major champion. Djokovic stopped working with Boris Becker in December 2016, and fired longtime coach Marian Vajda shortly before bringing aboard Agassi.

Now, Djokovic has gone full circle and is working with Vajda again, albeit in an informal coaching capacity since they do not have a long-term agreement. Djokovic sees him as part coach, part confidante.

“He’s more like a brother, a father … someone I can share a lot of things with, whether it’s professional or private life,” Djokovic said. “He’s always there for me, knows me inside out. He knows what I need in order to get to the highest possible level of play.” Djokovic took the second half of last year off and then had a medical procedure in February. Then he lost his opening matches in March at Indian Wells — to a qualifier ranked outside the top 100 — and Miami.

“I might have rushed my decision to play a little bit,” Djokovic said. “Playing well below the desired level, it wasn’t easy for me to cope.” He touched upon his split with Agassi and Stepanek, insisting there was no acrimony. “I didn’t know in which direction I wanted to go after Indian Wells and Miami. I was questioning which way I want to move ahead,” he said. “Nothing personal, no bad feelings. We just split in a very normal way. … We’re going to be seeing each other and still keep on being friends.”


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FIFA probes Russia over racist chants

Monitoring Desk

MOSCOW: FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against World Cup hosts Russia over monkey chants heard during a friendly international against France, a spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele were allegedly targeted by racist chanting during the match in Saint Petersburg last month. “We have no further comment at this stage,” the FIFA spokesman told AFP. The Russian Football Union (RFU) said it was ready to cooperate with FIFA’s probe.

“We launched our own internal investigation the day after the match,” RFU anti-discrimination officer Alexander Baranov said. “All international matches are played under the jurisdiction of FIFA. We opened it to understand what happened for ourselves. We have sent inquiries to the interior department.” Baranov added that the RFU was “in dialogue with FIFA. We are ready to send them our findings — there is no problem there”.

Russian football chiefs are under pressure with just two months to go before the start of the World Cup on June 14 as the domestic game has been once again tarnished by incidents of racism and hooliganism. “These people should not be allowed into stadiums. They should not be giving the world reason to think there is racism in our country,” added Alexei Smertin, head of the RFU’s anti-discrimination department.

During last month’s friendly, an AFP photographer heard imitation monkey noises aimed at Dembele, while internet users reported similar abuse from sections of the 50,000 crowd targeting Pogba.


The RFU’s initial response was sceptical — claiming they had heard nothing — but the country’s governing body then did launch its own investigation. FIFA followed suit after French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, a two-time Olympic fencing champion, called for “European and international” action.

The Russian parliament’s deputy speaker, Igor Lebedev, blasted inaction in the country over racism and called on “fans to stop this”. “This is not just a problem with our fans’ perception of African American and black players,” he had said. “The problem is elsewhere: none of this bad behaviour will stop until we start punishing it.” Lebedev insisted that such incidents taking place during the World Cup would “embarrass the country”.

But Deputy Prime Mister Vitaly Mutko played down the incident, saying that monkey chants heard at the game “do not mean that this was some sort of organised act of racism”. “There might be elements of it,” said Mutko, who has temporarily stepped down from his role as RFU president. “Around 50,000 people turn up for games and there could be some provocations,” Mutko added.

Black players have complained in the past of being subjected to racial abuse in Russian football. Brazilian great Roberto Carlos, who played for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala for one season, walked off the pitch in 2011 after a banana was thrown his way during a match.

Another Brazilian, Hulk, who played for Zenit St Petersburg for four years, complained in 2015 that “nobody is paying attention to this problem”.