Firstpost Spodcast Episode 221: CSA rejects AB de Villiers’ request for inclusion, India's 10-0 win over Russia in FIH Series Finals and more

Welcome to Spodcast.

Nathan Coulter-Nile's blistering batting laid the platform for Australia's 15-run victory over the West Indies on Thursday as the World Cup holders bounced back from a top-order collapse to make it two successive wins.

Batting first, Australia found themselves in dire straits after the West Indies fast bowlers proved too hot to handle early on at Trent Bridge. Oshane Thomas dismissed Australia captain Aaron Finch, then David Warner was caught off Sheldon Cottrell's bowling. At 26/2, Steve Smith made his way to the middle accompanied by a chorus of boos, a now familiar response by the crowds in England. Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis fell cheaply, leaving Australia in serious trouble at 79/5. Smith and Alex Carey put on 68 runs for the sixth wicket to help stabilize the innings. It was then the turn of Nathan Coulter-Nile, who blitzed 92 runs from 60 balls, including 4 sixes, to help take Australia to 288. Smith was the second highest scorer for Australia, making 73 from 103 balls before falling to a spectacular catch by Cottrell at the boundary line.

The other big cricket news doing the rounds is Cricket South Africa's rejection of an offer by AB DeVilliers to return from retirement for the World Cup. South Africa have lost all three of their games at the tournament so far, largely because of a soft middle-order that has missed the quality of one of the world's premier batsmen.

Zondi admitted that De Villiers' request for inclusion had come as a surprise, but explained that CSA owed it to other players in the squad who had worked towards being part of the World Cup to stick with them. He said, "The decision was based on principle; we had to be fair to the team, the selection panel, our franchise system and players."

Zondi also explained the board's reasons for rejecting AB's offer. He said, "At no point in the year that he had retired did he make himself available for selection. It was no option when I received the news on the day of the squad announcement, our squad was finalised and confirmed. AB is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, but above all else, we have to stay true to our morals and principles, there is no regret in the decision. I pleaded with AB de Villiers not to retire in 2018...Although there was a perception that he was picking and choosing when to play - which was not true - I did give him the option to plan and monitor his season to get him to the World Cup fresh and in a good space... he (said he) was at peace with his decision to retire...AB left a big vacuum when he retired, we had a year to find players at franchise level to fill the gap. We had players who put in the hard work, who put up their hands and deserved to be given the opportunity to go to the World Cup."

In tennis news, Novak Djokovic reached his ninth French Open semi-final on Thursday, sweeping past Alexander Zverev to keep his bid to become just the second man to hold all four Slams at the same time twice firmly on track.

World No 1 Djokovic won 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 and will face Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem on Friday in what will be his 35th Grand Slam semi-final. 22-year-old Zverev had break points in the third and fifth games of the opening set and finally broke through for a 5-4 lead. Djokovic levelled immediately before claiming the set on a Zverev double fault. He then dominated the second and third sets. Zverev, on the other hand, committed 40 unforced errors and eight double faults. Djokovic said after the match, "It was a big challenge for me today but I was hitting the ball more cleanly...It's a great joy to be in the semi-finals again."

Dominic Thiem was also in great form on Thursday, hammering 29 winners as he won 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory against Russian 10th seed Karen Khachanov. The Russian had a bad day at the office, with 37 unforced errors and only 17 winners. Thiem who is chasing a maiden Grand Slam title, said, "The key was to control the points. I'll be ready to maybe come back here tomorrow. This is one of my favourite courts in the world."

In the women's draw, defending champion Simona Halep was knocked out in the quarter-finals with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova on Thursday. Anisimova repeatedly aimed the ball into corners or went for difficult angles, and succeeded. She ended up with a 25-16 edge in winners. Most impressive, perhaps, was this: Halep had won 16 consecutive return games coming into Thursday, but Anisimova saved 6 of 7 breakpoints. Halep said, "The pressure was on...nerves, a little bit stressed. ... Maybe expectations from myself were big today and maybe I couldn't handle the tension in my body, so I couldn't move my best."

Ash Barty, who missed about two years on tour when she switched sports and played cricket, is progressing quickly in tennis now. Her first major quarterfinal came at home in January at the Australian Open, and now she's gone a step further. On Thursday, she defeated No. 14 Madison Keys of the United States 6-3, 7-5. Keys finished with a combined count of 52 unforced or forced errors, while Barty had 33.

Favourites India demolished hapless Russia 10-0 in their opening match of the FIH Series Finals hockey tournament to start their 2020 Olympics qualification campaign on a fantastic note on Thursday.

In a goal fest on Thursday, dragflicker Harmanpreet Singh and striker Akashdeep Singh scored a brace each for India, while Nilkanata Sharma, Simranjeet Singh, Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar, Gursahibjit Singh and Vivek Sagar Prasad also scored to help the home team in what turned out to be lop-sided Pool B encounter.

Even though their goal was never threatened once in the first two quarters, the Indians were slow to get off the blocks, especially against a side which is ranked 22nd in the world. But they controlled the proceedings from the word go. India will face Poland in their second pool match.

Indian boxing veteran MC Mary Kom indicated she might retire after the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The 36-year-old said, "Maybe after the 2020 Olympics, I will retire. My main dream or mission is to give the gold medal to the nation. I will try my best."

Mary shifted to the 51-kg weight category from 48-kg as the latter category is no longer a part of the Olympics. However, switching the category did not really bother her - she clinched the gold in the 51-kg category at the recently-concluded India Open in Guwahati. Mary also won the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in the same weight category.

And a bit of the unexpected to round off this podcast. The ICC has requested the Indian cricket board to have an Army insignia on MS Dhoni's wicketkeeping gloves removed. Dhoni, an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Parachute Regiment of the Territorial Army, sported the regimental insignia on his glove during the India-South Africa clash - a tribute that was appreciated by his fans. While there is a possibility that Dhoni may have worn the gloves with the dagger insignia earlier as well, it did get a lot of traction on social media with fans loving his unique way of paying tribute to the armed forces.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2019 15:13:42 IST