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India outclassed 0-4 by Australia in Azlan Shah Cup final

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Ipoh (Malaysia), April 16 : India’s hockey team suffered a 0-4 drubbing in the final against reigning world champions Australia who captured their ninth Sultan Azlan Shah Cup title here on Saturday.

Thomas Craig (25th and 35th minutes) scored twice before Matt Gohdes, playing in his 150th match, scored in the 43rd and 57th minutes as Australia produced a stirring high-pressing game.

It was Australia’s fourth Azlan Shah Cup title in six years, while five-time champions India claimed their second runners-up finish in the annual tournament. India had finished runners-up in the 2008 edition, to Argentina.

“We went up against the best team in the world, playing their best game and came up short. It is a creditable finish for us, since we had a team that was a mix of young inexperienced players and veterans working together for the first time,” India head coach Roelant Oltmans said in a release.

“This is a good warm-up for us, leading to the Olympics,” the Dutchman added, highlighting his side’s four wins in the tournament.

Earlier in the bronze medal match, New Zealand defeated Malaysia 5-4 via penalty shoot-out. New Zealand scored twice in the final quarter to equalise 3-3 as the match headed to the shoot-out.

In the final between last year’s silver medallists Australia and 2015 bronze medallists India, the former started strongly, executing their high-pressing game to good effect. They even had their centre-back and captain Mark Knowles going all over the Indian goal to attack.

However, Indian defenders did well to close down the space and didn’t allow any genuine field goal chances in the first quarter.

Australia got their first chance in the ninth minute when Craig’s hit kissed the leg of S.K. Uthappa and they were awarded a penalty corner. Andy Hayward’s drag-flick went inches away, much to the relief of the Indian camp.

Australia continued to attack and Craig ended the deadlock in the 25th minute. After receiving a cross from the left, Craig resisted Jasjit Kular and Danish Mujtaba before moving away to create space and shoot the ball home. It was Craig’s third goal of the tournament.

Till this time, the Indians had hardly threatened the Australian goal and when they mobilised their troops ahead, Australia caught them off-guard, sneaking in in a flash to earn a penalty corner.

However, Blake Govers’ flick was dismissed by the Indian defence and in the counter, they got their first chance. But Mandeep Singh’s deflection off a long square pass was wayward.

Trailing by a goal, India pressed high for the equaliser and managed to earn a penalty corner, executed by Harmanpreet Singh which was blocked by Andrew Charter.

India’s positive mobilisation turned awry when Craig added his second goal in a counter-attack. Australia brilliantly used the wings to create space and Simon Orchard’s pass at the far post was met by a diving Craig, who managed to beat Indian goalkeeper Akash Chitke.

India, on the turn, launched a fierce counter-attack that saw the ball almost being cleared on the goal-line by Chris Ciriello. It earned India a penalty corner but Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag-flick was dismissed by Charter and his army of defence.

India conceded their third goal in the 43rd minute when midfielder Matthew Swann was involved with Chitke and as the Indian goalkeeper and the Australian both fell down, Eddie Ockenden snatched the ball and passed it to Gohdes, who employed a reverse-hand strike to make it 3-0.

Gohdes made it 4-0, thanks to an error from India’s changed goalkeeper Harjot Singh. Gohdes received a diagonal pass on the left to execute another left-hand strike that was half-heartedly defended by Harjot, leading to the fourth goal.

With this goal, Australia began to celebrate the title triumph in front of a nearly packed Azlan Shah stadium.

In the presentation ceremony, Australia’s Blake, who scored four goals, was declared the player of the tournament. Pakistan’s Arslan Muhammad Qadir scored six goals — maximum in the tournament and walked away with the young player of the event award.

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For Rishabh Pant, lessons on terrace of Roorkie home come handy

It was a pleasant coincidence that the day Pant helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia, Sinha’s sugar levels went down.

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Rishabh Pant

New Delhi, Jan 20: On the cemented terrace of his Roorkie home in Uttarakhand, father Rajinder Pant would tie a pillow to the chest of his tiny son Rishabh and bowl with a cork ball to him from close distance to take the fear of facing fast bowlers out of his mind. That, coupled with the Maltova-mixed milk, gave strength to Rishabh’s muscles — a testimony of which was delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday as he hammered an unbeaten 89 to guide India to a match and series triumph.

That novel practice method was a roaring success as Pant, who would take two tiffin boxes to school to save time for cricket practice after school hours, became fearless and that is reflected in his shots. Anyone who watched him accelerate during his 138-ball knock in the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Gabba on Tuesday would vouch that Pant had learnt his lessons well in the tiny Uttarakhand town.

Unfortunately for Pant, his father is no more to watch his talented 23-year-old son play the “most important” innings of his fledgling Test career. But Pant’s mind would surely have gone back to those early coaching classes on the terrace and when he would carry two tiffin boxes to school — from one he would eat during the school timings, and from the other he would eat after his daily extra cricket practice sessions soon after school hours.

“I used to make him practice with a cork ball on the cemented rooftop of our Roorkee home where the ball came off faster. There was no turf pitch in the city at the time. I used to tie a pillow to his chest so that my little boy didn’t get hurt while facing faster deliveries. But he did get hurt; sustained fracture. It was also meant to take the fear [of facing fast bowling] out of him. That was extra coaching, apart from the coaching he received in school,” Rajinder Pant had said in 2019.

Soon, looking at the talent their son possessed, Rajinder and his wife Saroj took the big decision of sending Rishabh to Dronacharya Awardee coach Tarak Sinha in Delhi. Commuting was a big challenge, but the mother took that responsibility. She would wake up in the middle of the night to catch the 3 am bus from Roorkee to Delhi for an arduous five-hour journey, along with Rishabh, so that he could attend the Sinha-run Sonnet Club’s net practice sessions on Saturdays and Sundays at Sri Venkateswara College in south Delhi. She and her son would often stay at a Gurudwara near the college on weekends to so that he could practice on Sundays, before a grown up Rishabh rented accommodation in Delhi.

When Pant started living in Delhi, Sinha took charge and doubled up as his local guardian following permission from his parents.

On Tuesday, after India’s win and having himself won the Man of the Match award, Pant called up Sinha on WhatsApp. Obviously, the coach was happy with his ward’s performance and congratulated him.

Pant ended up with the highest aggregate for India in the Test series with 274 runs in three matches, and the third overall, behind Aussies Marnus Labuschagne (426 runs in four matches) and Steve Smith (313 in four matches).

It was a pleasant coincidence that the day Pant helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia, Sinha’s sugar levels went down.

“But, on a serious note, I am happy that Rishabh played responsibly and sensibly. His off-side play has also improved, and it was visible today. He started slowly and gradually accelerated his innings, especially after Australia took the second new ball he hammered several boundaries. Also, he now has a good temperament. And, I have a feeling that the Australians fear him,” Sinha told IANS.

Significantly, Pant, who was promoted to No.5 (in the first innings he batted at No.6), remained unbeaten after three-hour vigil at the crease while facing 138 balls.

“This was in his mind for a long a time — to remain unbeaten and take the team to victory — after some people had criticised him for not finishing off matches. He wanted to be a finisher, and he showed it today that he was on his way,” disclosed Sinha. “I also pointed it out to him that he had missed a few centuries by getting out in the nineties.”

Pant has got out three times in the nineties – twice against West Indies in 2018 and in the third Test against Australia in Sydney this month. On Tuesday, however, he didn’t get the opportunity to reach his century as India won and he remained unbeaten on 89. However, the knock may have cemented his place in the Test XI – and opened a window of opportunity for inclusion in the Indian ODI and T20 teams.

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Pujara is the team’s warrior: Shastri

Shastri said that the team is not interested in any debates. “I think let the boys enjoy it. Debates can carry on. Not interested in any debates,” added Shastri.

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Cheteshwar Pujara

Brisbane, Jan 20: Coach Ravi Shastri called Cheteshwar Pujara a warrior after the India No. 3 took multiple blows on his body, head and arm during his 211-ball 56 that helped lay a solid platform for the Indian team’s three-wicket win in the fourth and final Test at The Gabba on Tuesday.

“Pujara is the team’s warrior. On seeing his performance in Sydney and Brisbane, I told him, ‘Pujju you have finished them’,” Shastri told reporters.

The right-handed batsman’s slow run rate had been a topic of debate yet again over the course of the series. However, the gritty half-centuries on the final day of the third and the fourth Tests seem to have shown his importance in the Indian Test setup.

Shastri said that the team is not interested in any debates. “I think let the boys enjoy it. Debates can carry on. Not interested in any debates,” added Shastri.

Captain Ajinkya Rahane too lavished praise on the 32-year-old batsman. “The way Pujara played today regardless of getting many injuries due to bouncers on the head. He didn’t bother. His goal was to save the wicket,” added Rahane.

Pujara himself tweeted and thanked his fans and supporters on what began as a tough tour him as he struggled to get runs.

“Overcome with emotion and filled with pride. The character and skill shown by the entire squad has been commendable. Moments like these make the countless hours of toil and practice truly worth it. Thank you for all the support and wishes” Pujara tweeted.

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Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona to win Spanish Super Cup, Messi sent off

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Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi was sent off for violent conduct as Athletic Bilbao stunned Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, a dramatic final finishing 3-2 after extra-time.

Moments before Bilbao’s momentous triumph was confirmed, Messi lashed out at Asier Villalibre, who had earlier scored a 90th-minute equaliser in normal time to deny Barca victory.

Antoine Griezmann’s double looked to have sealed the trophy for Barcelona but Villalibre intervened before Inaki Williams’ fabulous strike three minutes into extra time proved decisive.

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