Firstpost Spodcast Episode 238: Sri Lanka hold West Indies, Vijay Shankar's injury, Cori Gauff stuns Venus Williams and more

Welcome to Spodcast, the sports update on Firstpost.

Sri Lanka held off a West Indies charge at Chester-le-Street on Monday to win an exciting battle of two World Cup also-rans by 23 runs.

Both teams came into the match aware they could not reach the semi-finals but the Caribbean side came close to pulling off the highest successful chase in World Cup history.

Sri Lanka’s batting came good on Monday as they posted an imposing total of 338/6 in their 50 overs, thanks largely to Avishka Fernando's first ODI century. The 21-year-old reached his century in 100 balls with eight fours and two sixes. However, he was soon dismissed by Sheldon Cottrell for 104. Kusal Perera also chipped in with a quick 64 off 51 balls. Lahiru Thrirmanne and Kusal media also contributed with 45 and 39 respectively as Sri Lanka scored 85 runs off the last 10 overs.

Chasing a target of 339, West Indies found themselves in trouble early on at 22/2, with Sunil Ambris and Shai Hope back in the dressing room, both dismissed by Lasith Malinga. Chris Gayle flattered to deceive, caught for 35 off a top edge. The West Indies looked down and out at 199/6 in the 35th over but Nicholas Pooran held the innings together, scoring his first ODI century off just 92 balls. He put on 83 for the seventh wicket with Fabian Allen, who made 51, to keep them in the hunt. In the 48th over, with the Windies still needing 31 runs for victory, Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne summoned Angelo Mathews to bowl for the first time in an ODI since 2017. Matthews struck with his first ball, removing a distraught Pooran, who slashed at an innocuous wide delivery and was caught behind. West Indies scored only 7 runs in the remaining overs, finishing 315/9. Malinga was the best of Sri Lanka’s bowlers, taking 3/55.

West Indies have just one match remaining in the tournament. They started the World Cup with a thumping seven-wicket win over Pakistan but have not won a single game since, with their batsmen, in particular, letting them down.

Australia are the only side mathematically certain of their place in the last four, with India, New Zealand and England currently occupying the other top-four slots. Pakistan and Bangladesh could also qualify if there are more upsets in the coming days.

India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar on Monday joined the players in backing Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s role in the team, and expressed surprise that the veteran is frequently criticised for his strike rate.

Dhoni scored 42 off 31 balls during the loss to England on Sunday, an innings that many questioned. There was much talk of Dhoni’s lack of intent during the death overs of a game that India lost by 31 runs.

Bangar explained, “I'm surprised that this question continues to come up every now and then. He's doing the job for the team and overall we're very happy with the intent he's batting with...Except for one odd innings (28 off 52 balls against Afghanistan), he has always performed his role. Five out of seven games he has done the job for the team.”

He added, “If you see the earlier games, against South Africa he stitched together a partnership of 70 with Rohit. After that what was required of him against Australia he did that. In Manchester on a difficult track (against West Indies), he got a vital 58 for us. Here also he was striking the ball really well.”

Bangar denied that there was lack of intent from Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav during the last few overs. He said, “...if you look at the way they bowled towards the end, they used the dimensions really well and created difficult angles for our batters to hit. In those large boundaries and with the type of balls they were bowling — slower bouncers, a lot of into the wicket deliveries, slower balls. I just felt maybe in the last one or two overs, the difference between runs required and balls left were a bit too much.”

Bangar also said India will be persisting with Rishabh Pant at the number four slot. He said, “The team management has been feeling the absence of a left-hander after Shikhar was injured. It was a ploy to use right-left combination in the middle overs to upset the bowling plans a bit. Because of that Adil Rashid couldn't bowl the number of overs he'd have bowled.”

With Bhuvneshwar Kumar fit and ready, Bangar didn't rule out the possibility of playing three seamers, also informing that Ravindra Jadeja is back in the mix. He explained, “We're also looking at Jadeja coming in, all players are up and figure in the team combinations we're thinking of.”

Meanwhile, yet another Indian player has been ruled out of the World Cup due to injury. All-rounder Vijay Shankar was on Monday ruled out of the tournament due to a toe injury and is likely to be replaced by Mayank Agarwal.

A senior BCCI official said, “Vijay got hit on the toe by a Jasprit Bumrah delivery once again. His situation is not great and he won't be able to take part in the tournament. He is going back home...The Indian team management is likely to ask for Mayank Agarwal as replacement since he is an opener and also it might give KL Rahul a chance to get back to the No 4 position in case Rishabh Pant fails in the next two games."

Rohit Sharma had earlier mentioned Shankar's injury but it was presumed to be an old hit that he took at Southampton. It is expected that Agarwal's name will be approved by the ICC's tournament technical committee after which the player will land in Birmingham.

In Premier League news, Chelsea secured the signing of Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic on a permanent deal from Real Madrid on Monday after he spent last season on loan at Stamford Bridge.

Kovacic made 51 appearances as the Blues secured a return to the Champions League by finishing third in the Premier League and winning the Europa League. Even though Chelsea are currently banned from registering new players for the next two transfer windows by FIFA, they were able to make the deal permanent as they already held Kovacic's registration from last season. Reports indicate that Chelsea will pay Madrid around £40 million for the transfer.

Kovacic said in a club statement, “I really enjoyed my season on loan with Chelsea, I feel comfortable at the club and like London and the Premier League very much. I am very happy to be able to join permanently.”

Chelsea also confirmed that they will not be taking up their option to acquire striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Some news from snooker now. Led by 21-time world champion Pankaj Advani and Laxman Rawat, India fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Ireland 3-2 and give themselves a chance of defending the IBSF Snooker World Cup title.

Early in the tie, both Indian cueists lost their individual frames to the Irishmen. Staring at elimination, the Indians bounced back strongly in the doubles to shift the momentum. Pankaj went on to beat seasoned campaigner Brendan O'Donoghue in the fourth frame, setting up a tense decider for Laxman Rawat and Aaron Hill. Laxman started badly, and in no time, found himself with a 30-point deficit as Hill drew first blood. But with some excellent safety play, Laxman forced his opponent to create an opening and the Indian crafted a handy 41 break. There on, Laxman never looked back.

India will play against Pakistan in the final on Wednesday. Pakistan defeated Qatar 3-1 in the other semi-final.

In basketball, two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant announced on Sunday that he is leaving the Golden State Warriors, his team since 2016, to join the Brooklyn Nets.

The 30-year-old star forward made his announcement on social media moments after the start of the NBA's free agency period, saying he will sign a maximum-level deal with the Nets. Durant commands top dollar despite suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in game five of this year's finals, and is expected to miss all of the 2019-20 season. A max deal for Durant would be worth some $164 million over four years. The Warriors could have offered him $221 million over five years to stay.

Under NBA rules, teams cannot sign contracts with players until Saturday, but there was still plenty of action in the opening hours of the free agency period. US media outlets also reported that Boston Celtics playmaker Kyrie Irving would be joining Durant in Brooklyn on a four-year deal worth $141 million. That could give the Nets a formidable duo once Durant returns from an upcoming year of rehabilitation, provided he can regain the form that helped power the Warriors to the 2017 and 2018 NBA crowns.

Meanwhile, with Irving headed out of Boston, the Celtics were poised to welcome point guard Kemba Walker -- a three-time All-Star who is coming off one of the best seasons of his career for the Charlotte Hornets with averages of 25.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds. And while Durant heads to Brooklyn, three-point sharpshooter Klay Thompson signed a new five-year deal worth $190 million to stay with the Warriors. The club will also welcome point guard D'Angelo Russell, set to arrive from Brooklyn on a four-year, $117 million contract, according to ESPN.

Tennis now. It's July and it is raining in England, which means Wimbledon must be on. Wimbledon hailed a new queen on Monday when 15-year-old Cori Gauff stunned five-time champion Venus Williams as opening day at the All England Club witnessed shock defeats for title hopefuls Naomi Osaka, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Gauff, already in the record books as the youngest player ever to qualify for the tournament, showed nerves of steel after squandering three match points in a tense conclusion on Court One before securing a 6-4, 6-4 win. On a day of seismic shocks, Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka slumped to a 7-6, 6-2 defeat to 39th-ranked Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan who had defeated the world number two on grass in Birmingham two weeks ago. US Open and Australian Open winner Osaka is the first top-two seed to lose in the first round since Martina Hingis in 2001.

In the men’s draw, German sixth seed Alexander Zverev lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 to Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely who is ranked 124 in the world. Just 15 minutes after Zverev's defeat, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas lost 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 to world number 89 Thomas Fabbiano of Italy.

Updated Date: Jul 02, 2019 15:01:15 IST