India face Sri Lanka in crucial match
Is Dhoni’s rotational policy an indication of dissension in the dressing room?
Ponting dropped from Australia’s one-day team
India face tough French test
Azarenka wins Qatar Open
Haas wins playoff to deny Mickelson
Chelsea have a lot to play for
Patiala girl in Indian shooting squad
Brett Lee to play on through pain barrier
Media golf tourney conducted at CGA
Sania fails to make main draw
India face Sri Lanka in crucial match
Brisbane, February 20
Dhoni has been handed a one-match ban for slow over-rate in India's last match against Australia, which they lost by a huge 110 runs at the Gabba on Sunday.
Sachin Tendulkar also appears to be a doubtful starter after he received a blow on his head from a bouncer by Brett Lee.
While fielding in the slips, Tendulkar also took a hit on his shin thanks to an edge from Peter Forrest, which kept him out for 25 of Australia's 50 overs.
Barely a couple of points ahead of Sri Lanka in the table but already having played an extra game, India's best chance is to maximise their winning options in the two
India have three remaining games, one of them against Australia in Sydney on February 26 besides the two matches against their sub-continent neighbours.
As far as the team combination is concerned, the early momentum of the series has given way to confusion because their most redoubtable batsman, Dhoni, is not available for the match.
As things stand, Virender Sehwag is set to lead and Parthiv Patel would get his first game as a wicketkeeper in the side, but Indians would still have to make a choice about the batsman to leave out.
They would surely recall Ravichandran Ashwin who has bagged all his five wickets in the triangular series against the Lankans for impressive figures of three for 32 and two for 30.
India would also have to choose between the four medium-pacers -- Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan -- to get the balance right.
Zaheer, because of his firepower, ought to be in the eleven even though the heat of Gabba appeared to get to him on Sunday.
Pathan, despite the runs he went for, had a useful outing with both bat and ball and Vinay Kumar, but for his final three overs, was spot on. It makes Umesh Yadav the fall guy even though he clocked 150kmph more than once in the last match.
India would be happy to continue with Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order but there is little to cheer by way of performance by the young middle-order batsmen.
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina -- the young batting trinity in the middle -- have been disappointing in the series even though the Delhi batsman began impressively with 77 against Sri Lanka in Perth.
Rohit has 79 runs from five matches while Raina has 102 from as many knocks.
Importantly, India would be missing the most important ingredient in Dhoni's absence.
Dhoni has averaged more than any Indian batsman in the current series - 191 runs at 63.66 with two half centuries. As a wicketkeeper, he has had a hand in three catches and two stumpings, besides a few run-outs.
Parthiv Patel, despite his experience, has huge shoes to fill.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have moved on nicely.
Mahela Jayawardene looked the batsman of old in his 60-odd runs against Australia in Sydney.
Tillakaratne Dilshan has always threatened to notch up a big score. Kumar Sangakkara has shown everything except big scores in the series so far. Young Dinesh Chandimal has looked the safest of them all and young all-rounders, Thisara Perera and Angelo Matthews, are extremely dangerous floaters, be in the middle order or as fourth or fifth bowling options.
Above all, the Sri Lankans have been exceptional in the field and led quite superbly by Jayawardene.
The Lankans, given the relative frailty of their batting, have looked to pull down the scoring of the rivals and succeeded to a large extent.
Their two scores in 230s still could stretch India to the limit on both occasions. Against Australia, they once got them down to 231 and on another occasion, in Sydney, to 151. — PTI
Brisbane, February 20
After yet another bad day on the field which resulted in a crushing 110-run defeat for his team at the hands of Australia on Sunday, Dhoni defended the policy of rotating senior players like Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.
Dhoni's argument was that senior players were not bad fielders but on big Australian grounds they were "slightly on the slower side". This would mean an extra 20 runs to the opposition.
Tendulkar may be 39 but is a good fielder in the slips and has an excellent throw from anywhere in the field while Gambhir, who at 30 is of the same age as his captain, fields close-in in Test matches and has a safe pair of hands anywhere. Only Sehwag's fielding is not sharp.
Inclusion of Gambhir in the rotational policy despite being a good fielder and scoring two 90-plus scores in the current ODI series and persistent inclusion of consistent failures Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma has given rise to speculation about dressing room dissensions.
Gambhir had gone public with his criticism of Dhoni stretching the game against Sri Lanka at Adelaide saying that the match should not have gone till the 50th over and should have been finished two or three overs earlier.
In response, Dhoni dismissed this as a difference in perspective, adding "there is nothing wrong between us".
After disastrous tours of England and Australia, Dhoni's hold on captaincy, certainly in Tests, appears to be tenuous and this has sown seeds of ambition among some other players to be Test captain. New coach Duncan Fletcher, under attack for the team's failures, is hardly in a position to sort things out.
Besides the controversy surrounding the rotational policy, other aspects of Dhoni's captaincy have been baffling. During the Test series he was criticised for being defensive besides earning a one-Test ban for slow over rate.
In the ODIs he has been brilliant with the bat but has the ignominy of being banned for tomorrow's match against Sri Lanka because of slow over rate in the tie with Australia. The team is thus deprived of its best batsman in a crucial tie.
Dhoni could easily have avoided this ban by using his lone spinner Ravindra Jadeja to speed up the over rate. But he did not get a single over while medium pacers who went for runs galore were persisted with.
Dhoni's obsession with the rotational policy has been a matter of debate with opinions divided on it. Some believe that the policy was necessary to groom youngsters but critics argue that India should play their best XI in every match.
Application of the rotation policy only to three players has baffled observers with critics regarding it as a ploy to ensure that two Dhoni favourites - Raina and Sharma - continue to play at the expense of others.—PTI
Sydney, February 20
Watson replaced Ponting in a 13-man squad after the ex-captain's lean run of form with just 18 runs in five knocks in the ODI series.
Selectors also recalled paceman Ryan Harris for Mitchell Starc and confirmed that Matthew Wade was their preferred wicket-keeper in the one-day form of the game to Test custodian Brad Haddin.
All-rounder Watson has not played for Australia this season since injuring a hamstring on the tour to South Africa late last year.
"Shane Watson is an all-rounder of proven class and the selection panel is keen to have him re-join the squad," chief selector John Inverarity said on Monday.
Inverarity said that Ponting had been axed due to his lack of form in the tri-series.
"The team will not seem the same without him, but moving on from the omission of players who have been outstanding over a long period of time is the nature of elite sport," he said.
Selectors also decided to stand down young left-arm paceman Starc to make way for the return of senior paceman Harris, who was rested from the team's last two ODIs.
"Mitchell will benefit greatly from the Tests and the ODIs he has played," Inverarity said. "His development as a player of the future is most encouraging."
Amid criticism over selectors' handling of Haddin, who has not played in the tri-series, Inverarity made clear that Wade was now the preferred wicketkeeper. —AFP
India face tough French test
New Delhi, February 20
But a reality check would reveal that they would have to firm up their act if they have to take the measure of the other teams as well-France, Canada and Poland. Like India, France too have won both their matches, though their narrow 2-1 win against Poland is indicative of the toughness of the East European team, who shocked the fancied Canada in their second match. Canada’s defeat is good news for India, and if the hosts can subdue France tomorrow, then they could be in contention for the lone Olympic spot available here.
India had played free-flowing, attacking games against Singapore and Italy, but the chances they missed and muffed were a matter of concern, particularly the number of penalty corners they failed to convert against Singapore, whose custodian Sang Ong baulked many of India’s drag-flicks. That Sandeep Singh could score just one goal out of the 15 slotted home by the hosts, and V.R. Raghunath none, was a matter of concern as drag-flickers are touted as our match-winners, though another encouraging aspect was that as many as ten players figured among the scorers, which indicated the quick inter-change of positions, fast release of the ball, and generally having the right man at the right spot, when the ball rolls into the ‘dee’. Sandeep and Raghunath made ample amends against Italy, getting their drag-flicks spot on, with Sandeep alone accounting for three of the eight goals scored by India. Raghunath got one in, and the conversion of four out of five penalty corners was a good augury. But a goal each scored by Singapore and Italy came off sudden counter-attacks, which indicates the pores in the defence when faced with unexpected assaults. In fact, the goal scored by Italy off their only penalty corner could have been avoided, had the defenders and the custodian been alert.
But these are minor irritants considering the hosts’ chase of a bigger goal, and chief coach Michael Nobbs must have certainly worked out the game-plan to counter the moves of France, Canada and Poland, to ensure that the hosts remain unbeaten, with a larger number of goals in their kitty. The first two matches have proved that India have many players who can score goals, as they have the uncanny knack of catching the opposition off-guard with their speed, quick swapping of positions and the ability to shoot from any angle. Sandeep Singh, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and S.V.Sunil have score four goals each to emerge as the leading scorers, but to India’s advantage, they have other sure shot strikers, who can fetch goals too.
Though the Indian women have somewhat spoiled their party when they drew with Ukraine 1-1 in their opening match, they came to their true self against Canada, belting in four goals against one. They played as a cohesive unit against Canada, forcing many penalty corners, and having a close shy at the rival goal many a time, though they could eventually earn only four goals. They too need to sustain the momentum, and as captain Asunta Lakra put in, should play as an attacking unit, seizing their chances with both the hands, instead of being erratic when it comes to scoring chances inside the dee. But the hosts face a difficult task, as South Africa, who are ranked ahead of India, have beaten Poland 2-1 and Ukraine 2-0 to keep ahead, and only some topsy-turvy results in the rest of the competition can change the course of the final result. India next face Poland, who had spanked Italy 4-1 in their second match, and face a tough run.
Tuesday’s fixtures: Women: Canada vs Ukraine (10 am), Italy vs South Africa (12 noon) and Poland vs India (6 pm). Men: Singapore vs Canada (2 pm), Poland vs Italy (4 pm) and India vs France (8 pm).
Doha, February 20
The Belarusian world number one showed no signs of discomfort from her overnight injury scare in the semifinals against Agnieszka Radwanska by beating a listless Stosur, the US Open champion, 6-1, 6-2 in a one-sided final.
The Qatar Open was Azarenka's 11th title, 10 of them coming on hard courts, as she maintained her perfect record against the Australian who she has beaten in five career clashes beginning in 2008, with none of the matches going to three sets.
Sunday's win also completed a remarkable 12 months for Azarenka who lost to Daniela Hantuchova in the first round in Doha in 2011, a defeat that led her to contemplate retirement before being talked out of it by her mother and grandmother.
"I am really proud of the way I played today," said Azarenka, fighting back tears.
"I was not 100 per cent after my fall yesterday and I knew I had to adjust my game and everything went according to plan."
Stosur, who was playing her first final of the year, was bidding for her fourth title, but Azarenka was too good for the world number five despite rarely hitting top gear.
The Australian Open champion broke Stosur in the third game of the first set from 40-all when the Aussie hit a ball long and then netted an easy volley.
Stosur again made crucial unforced errors in her next service game, putting a forehand into the net and then missing an easy smash before a powerful forehand return fetched Azarenka her second break.
The Belarusian then retained her serve to lead 5-1 and, following another error-ridden service game by Stosur, clinched the set with a fine volley.
The second set was also played along the same pattern as Stosur failed to reduce her errors and soon Azarenka had taken a stranglehold on the match by racing to a 3-0 lead.
And although the Australian managed to win two service games, Azarenka then broke her again in the eighth game to maintain a hundred per cent record in finals this year.
"Last year I lost in the first round and watched someone else lift this beautiful trophy," Azarenka said. "But now I have this for myself." — AFP
Los Angeles, February 20
Mickelson -- who was coming off a storming victory at Pebble Beach last Sunday and had led or shared the lead here after each round -- put his tee shot in the right rough short of the green. Bradley was in the right greenside bunker while Haas was in the back left rough.
Haas pitched safely to the middle of the green. Mickelson's shot out of the rough rolled through the green and into the back bunker while Bradley fired out of the sand to the back fringe.
Haas sank his long birdie putt, then waited tensely as Mickelson and Bradley tried in vain to extend the playoff.
"I didn't think he was going to make that one," admitted Bradley, whose own attempt to extend the playoff just missed.
"I should have known, though, because he's a great putter and a great player. But I still had a really good look at mine. I'm happy with it because it went right down my line, and it just didn't go in."
Haas had been the first in the clubhouse on seven-under 277 after a two-under par 69 at Riviera Country Club.
Haas had seized a one-shot lead with a birdie at the par-five 17th. His lead looked safer after neither Mickelson nor Bradley could take advantage of the 17th, Mickelson's long birdie putt stopping an inch short.
But the overnight co-leaders responded at the last hole of regulation.
Mickelson, who had struggled all day on Riviera's testing greens, rolled in a 26-footer from the back fringe to complete his even-par 71 and join Haas on seven-under 277.
Moments later Bradley made his own 13-foot birdie putt for his 71 and headed with Mickelson and Haas back to the 18th -- which they all parred to open the playoff.
"I knew Phil was going to make that putt," said Bradley, who was named the US tour's Rookie of the Year after a 2011 campaign that included a major title at the PGA Championship.
"Phil is too much of a gamer to not make that putt," Bradley added.
Haas claimed his fourth US PGA Tour title, and his first since he won last year's Tour Championship -- he also captured the FedEx Cup playoff title and it's $10 million bonus.
Spain's Sergio Garcia was the unlikely leader of a group of four players sharing fourth place on five-under par 279.
Garcia, who started the day nine adrift, carded a seven-under 64 -- the best round of the tournament -- that included two eagles and five birdies.
He was joined on 279 by Jimmy Walker (69), Australian Jarrod Lyle (70) and Dustin Johnson (71). — AFP
Naples, February 20
Villas-Boas, for many people's money, is living on borrowed time in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat.
Rumours of dressing room dissent and some unsatisfactory results have made his position appear precarious. Chelsea face a fight to finish in the top four in the Premier League, battling alongside Arsenal and Newcastle for that crucial fourth spot, and hence qualification for next season's premier European club competition.
They came close to bowing out of the FA Cup at home to Championship Birmingham City at the weekend too, before snatching a draw.
Villas-Boas admits he doesn't know if he will still be in a job if they fail to beat the Italians.
"It's not up to me to decide that, you have to ask that question to the right person," he said, referring to owner Roman Abramovich.
But the Portuguese manager says his side is lacking in belief due to their recent poor results.— AFP
Patiala girl in Indian shooting squad
Patiala, February 20 City girl, Sidhu hogged the limelight with her solid performances in the past and has been an ace shooter at the national circuit from the past many years. The national selectors from the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) picked her name in their meeting. The NRAI after a meeting held in Rudrapur on Sunday, unanimously picked Sidhu over other contenders that included Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Anisa Sayyed. Now, the NRAI will write to the ISSF to get the 3P quota exchanged for Sidhu’s event--10m air pistol. “I am ecstatic with the announcement as my daughter has been working hard for years to get this quota, as every Indian sportsmen dreams of an Olympic entry and we are hopeful that she bags a medal for the country”, says Rajbir Singh Sidhu, father of Heena Sidhu. Heena Sidhu's name has been proposed as a replacement for the Olympic quota place won by Imran Hasan Khan in men's 50-metre rifle 3-position event, by the national selectors, who met on Sunday to decide the eleven shooting entries for the London Games. The NRAI has put their faith in Heena Sidhu for the London Olympics. Since Gagan Narang and Sanjeev Rajput had already secured the two spots available for India in the men's rifle 3-position event, it was decided to exchange the superfluous quota place won in the Asian championship in Doha, for an entry for the 22-year-old Heena who had missed the Olympic quota on the last shot by 0.9 point in the same championship last month. From working alone without the help of any coach for over a year, Heena practiced everyday at her private range in her house and securing a berth in the Olympics was a dream. “I am determined to win a medal as after all these years of hard work, a medal would the ultimate reward”, says Heena.
City girl, Sidhu hogged the limelight with her solid performances in the past and has been an ace shooter at the national circuit from the past many years.
The national selectors from the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) picked her name in their meeting.
The NRAI after a meeting held in Rudrapur on Sunday, unanimously picked Sidhu over other contenders that included Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Anisa Sayyed.
Now, the NRAI will write to the ISSF to get the 3P quota exchanged for Sidhu’s event--10m air pistol.
“I am ecstatic with the announcement as my daughter has been working hard for years to get this quota, as every Indian sportsmen dreams of an Olympic entry and we are hopeful that she bags a medal for the country”, says Rajbir Singh Sidhu, father of Heena Sidhu.
Heena Sidhu's name has been proposed as a replacement for the Olympic quota place won by Imran Hasan Khan in men's 50-metre rifle 3-position event, by the national selectors, who met on Sunday to decide the eleven shooting entries for the London Games.
The NRAI has put their faith in Heena Sidhu for the London Olympics.
Since Gagan Narang and Sanjeev Rajput had already secured the two spots available for India in the men's rifle 3-position event, it was decided to exchange the superfluous quota place won in the Asian championship in Doha, for an entry for the 22-year-old Heena who had missed the Olympic quota on the last shot by 0.9 point in the same championship last month.
From working alone without the help of any coach for over a year, Heena practiced everyday at her private range in her house and securing a berth in the Olympics was a dream.
“I am determined to win a medal as after all these years of hard work, a medal would the ultimate reward”, says Heena.
Sydney, February 20
But the 35-year-old express bowler does not want to ease up after ignoring foot pain as he combined with Ben Hilfenhaus to rip through India's top order in Sunday's big tri-series 110-run win at Brisbane's Gabba ground.
Lee reached speeds approaching 150kph (93 mph) and gained good swing and bounce to finish with three for 49 from 10 overs as he took his career ODI tally to 361 wickets.
That places him just 20 wickets behind his former new-ball partner McGrath.
Stand-in skipper Ricky Ponting described Australia's bowling effort as among the best he has seen since McGrath retired after the 2007 World Cup.
Although Clint McKay (ill) and Ryan Harris (rested) are due to return the Australian pace attack, Lee insisted he was not interested in a tri-series break to nurse his snapped little toe.
"I'm not keen to rest, period," Lee told Australian Associated Press on Monday.
"I've had enough rest in my life (due to injuries) and I'll rest when I finally hang the boots up.
"I think that with my toe, it's very painful but you find a way to play through it and I think I'm past the worst of it. It's going to get better as each game goes on."
Despite an initial six-eight week prognosis after being struck on the right foot from a full-blooded straight drive in the Twenty20 international in Perth, Lee pushed for an immediate playing return.
"It's amazing what you can do when you have a chance to play for your country," he said. "As long as I can't do any further damage, it's a matter of playing through that pain barrier."
With three more matches before the tri-series finals, McGrath's record is unlikely to fall this season at home but Lee could eclipse the mark on the tour of the West Indies in March-April. Lee's one-day stats lose nothing in comparison to McGrath, who took his 381 wickets in 250 matches at 22.02.— AFP
Media golf tourney conducted at CGA
Chandigarh, February 20
Results: Nearest to Pin Winner- Braj Mohan Singh (Dainik Bhaskar), 1st Runner Up- Joyti Kamal (CNN IBN), 2nd Runner up- Sanjeev Kumar (Amar Ujala)
Putting Competition: Winners- Sunil Narula (The Tribune) and Rahul Kumar (The Economics Times), 1st Runner Up- Naveen Garewal (The Tribune) Longest Drive: Winner- Dhanjay Sharma- (PTC News), 1st Runner Up- Sourab (7 Sea), 2nd Runner up- Mukesh Kumar.
Dubai, February 20
Sania won the first set comfortably but lost steam as the match progressed to lose 6-2 3-6 2-6 in the opening round of the USD 2,000,000 hard court event. She will now hope to do well in the doubles event, where she and partner Elena Vesnina are seeded second. —PTI