Firstpost Spodcast 204: Indian cricket team head coach Ravi Shastri shares his thoughts ahead of World Cup, Serena Williams withdraws from Italian Open and more

Welcome to Spodcast, the sports update on Firstpost.

With the IPL done with and the 2019 cricket World Cup just 15 days away, it is time for the Indian team, and head coach Ravi Shastri, to prepare for the biggest cricket event this year.

Over the course of the IPL, there were a number of talking points, including an injury to batting all-rounder Kedar Jadhav and the dip in form of bowler Kuldeep Yadav. However, Shastri isn't perturbed about permutations and combinations, or injuries and loss of form.

He told CricketNext, “It doesn't worry me at all. In fact, I am totally blanked out from that. When the flight takes off on the 22nd, we will see who are the 15 on that. Yeah? And just take it from there...I don't think there's anything to resolve. It's just soaking in the atmosphere, believing in the combinations that we will plan and decide going into those practice games as a lead up to the World Cup and believe in that.”

Despite the head coach’s nonchalance, the fact is there has been plenty of debate over the last few months regarding the No 4 spot in the Indian batting line up. Many batsmen have been tried in that spot, and Ambati Rayudu was one backed by the team management to seal that spot for himself. But a steady decline of form saw him fall out of favour with the MSK Prasad-led selection panel, which picked batting all-rounder Vijay Shankar instead.

Shastri has a different take. He said, “...for me we are a flexible team. It’s horses for courses, we have got enough ammunition there, enough players who can bat at 4. So, I am not really worried about that...I think we have got all bases covered, really. The last thing you want is passengers on the tour. You want to have in those 15 players a player who can play anytime, at any given time. He shouldn't be in the 15 and could be called upon only if there is an injury,”

The World Cup begins on 30 May in England. Two-time champions India and top-ranked England are the two favourites to lift the trophy this time around. Defending champions Australia have been bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, and the team seems to have struck a rich vein of form in the last three months. Meanwhile, the mercurial West Indies team have been marked by experts as dark horses.

Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman made lengthy depositions before BCCI Ethics Officer Justice (Retd) DK Jain on their alleged conflict of interest case on Tuesday.
As reported earlier, both Tendulkar and Laxman are members of Cricket Advisory Committee, and are also associated with IPL franchises Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad as an Icon and a Mentor respectively.

Complainant Sanjeev Gupta, who is a member of the Madhya Pradesh cricket association, alleged that those roles cause conflicts of interest. In response, Tendulkar and Laxman made lengthy depositions, lasting more than three hours, before Justice DK Jain on the alleged conflict of interest. Gupta deposed separately, and it is learnt that Jain, who is also the BCCI ombudsman, has asked them to give written submission of their depositions.

Tendulkar categorically rejected any case of conflict, stating he does voluntary work with the Mumbai Indians. Laxman denied having any Conflict but offered to step down from CAC if proved otherwise. The BCCI in its written submission had pointed out that both cases fall under "tractable category" and could be resolved with full disclosure, and that they can perform their dual roles without any hassles.

The International Cricket Council has welcomed India’s GS Lakshmi as the first woman to be appointed to the ICC International Panel of Match Referees.

This comes soon after Claire Polosak became the first ever woman umpire to stand in a men’s ODI. Lakshmi will be eligible to referee international games with immediate effect.

Australia’s Eloise Sheridan joined compatriot Polosak on the ICC Development Panel of Umpires, taking the number of women on that panel to an unprecedented eight. Lauren Agenbag, Kim Cotton, Shivani Mishra, Sue Redfern, Mary Waldron, and Jacqueline Williams are the other women officials on the panel. The first woman on the ICC Development Panel of Umpires was Kathy Cross, who retired last year.

Adrian Griffith, ICC Senior Manager for Umpires and Referees, said, “We welcome Lakshmi and Eloise to our panels, which is an important step forward in our commitment to encouraging women officials. It is heartening to see their progress and I am sure many more women will be inspired to follow their example. I wish them all the best for a long and enjoyable career...We are committed to ensuring greater gender parity among our officials, but all appointments are made purely on merit. The elevation is a result of a thorough evaluation process that identifies the most talented match officials breaking through to an international level. It is pleasing that through consistently high performance we are able to add more women to our panels."

51-year-old Lakshmi, who first officiated as a match referee in domestic women’s cricket in 2008-09, has overseen three women’s ODI matches and three women’s T20I matches. She said, “To be selected in the international panel by the ICC is a huge honour for me as it opens up new avenues. I have had a long career as a cricketer in India and also as a Match Referee. I hope to put my experience both as a player and as a match official to good use on the international circuit. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ICC, officials at the BCCI, my seniors in the cricketing circuit, my family and colleagues who have supported me over the years.”

In tennis news, Serena Williams withdrew from the Italian Open on Tuesday due to a recurring left knee injury.

The official statement from the organizers said, “Serena Williams has withdrawn with a new knee pain.” The 23-time Grand Slam champion's withdrawal comes just a day after she beat Sweden's Rebecca Peterson in straight sets to set up a second round meeting with her older sister Venus. She had spoken about overcoming fitness issues after the first round win. Serena returned after more than two months out with a knee problem, in the final warm-up clay-court tournament before the French Open.

She had also played Petersen in the second round at the Miami Open in March before withdrawing with a knee injury. Her withdrawal sends her sister Venus Williams, the 1999 winner, through to a third round meeting with either Johanna Konta of Britain or American seventh seed Sloane Stephens.

In the men’s draw, Germany's Alexander Zverev crashed out of the Italian Open with a 7-5, 7-5 loss to Italian wild card Matteo Berrettini in the second round. He lamented after the loss, “The match that I played was horrendous.” Zverev, the 2017 winner and runner-up in Rome last year to Novak Djokovic, had a terrible start to the clay-court season even as the French Open looms over the horizon. The 22-year-old lost his Madrid Open title last week, falling in the quarterfinals of both Madrid and Munich to Stefanos Tsitsipas and Cristian Garin respectively. He has yet to win a trophy this season and stands 4-6 on clay this spring.

Meanwhile, Belgian player David Goffin rallied from a set down to beat former French Open champion Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 in 1hr 55min, and advance to the second round. He will meet Argentine seventh seed Juan Martin Del Potro in the next round. Ninth seed Marin Cilic defeated Italian wildcard Andrea Basso 6-1, 7-5 as Australian Nick Kyrgios needed three sets to get past Russian 12th seed Daniil Medvedev.

Eight-time Italian Open winner Rafael Nadal will start his tournament against Jeremy Chardy in the second round after the Frenchman beat compatriot Richard Gasquet 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in a match suspended overnight on Monday.

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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 11:22:03 IST