Boxing news from the India Open first. Six-time world champion Mary Kom overcame stiff resistance from compatriot Nikhat Zareen to win in a split decision and qualify for the women's 51kg category final.
In what was the most-anticipated bout of the day, 22-year-old former world junior champion Nikhat of Telangana was at her aggressive best against her 'idol' Mary Kom.
The veteran took some blows initially but made amends as Nikhat failed to connect her punches as the bout progressed. Mary was happy to play the waiting game before taking the upper hand in the third round to seal the win 4-1.
Mary Kom now will face Vanlal Duati of Mizoram in the gold-medal bout later today.
There was some drama after Mary Kom’s win. A visibly upset Mary asked her opponent Nikhat Zareen to prove herself in the ring instead of making irritating comments. She took offense to Nikhat's comments on Wednesday that she was excited about facing her 'idol' and how she would "put up a strong fight by using her brain" in the semi-final.
An unimpressed Mary said, “I was so surprised to read her comments in the newspaper. It's so irritating. How can they say all this? Yes, everyone has the right to say and anyone can challenge. But I'm also a human being. It causes a lot of disturbance.
"Never mind, it made me more determined to do well...Every bout is a new experience for me. Even I don't know who this girl is. I've been fighting since many years now.
"I clearly want to say I don't want all this. It has come out in the newspapers that she's challenging me...First you prove inside the ring and then speak out (against me). She has won just one medal at the international level and such is her ego and attitude! They feel proud and satisfied. This is a very bad habit."
When she was told that Nikhat considered her as her idol, Mary Kom said: "Why they challenge me then? Idol means you have to show respect, talk with respect."
Meanwhile, in the men’s competition, 17 Indians stormed into the final in 10 weight categories. Former world youth champion Sachin Siwach registered an upset win over reigning Commonwealth Games champion Gaurav Solanki in a unanimous decision to set up a 51kg gold medal clash against Asian Games gold medallist Amit Panghal.
After defeating World Championship bronze medallist Rogen Ladon in a well-calculated bout on Wednesday, the 20-year-old from Haryana had his task cut out against his sparring partner but he again emerged victorious.
Panghal, who won a gold in his new weight category in the Asian Championship, defeated national champion PL Prasad in the second 52kg semi-final. Panghal had won the Asian Games gold in Jakarta last year in the 49kg category.
Shiva Thapa also remained on course for a gold after defeating a strong challenge from Polish boxer D Krystian Sczepanski and winning 5-0. Shiva frustrated his opponent by staying out of his range.
He explained, “It made him tired at the end of every round. I was playing my style, did not give my 100 percent. I was just trying to be tactical with him and let his punches go in the air and miss it so that he loses his control and confidence.”
Former Asian champion Chatchai Decha Butdee of Thailand also caused an upset in the men's 56kg category by ousting former World Championship bronze medallist Gaurav Bidhuri in a unanimous decision. The Thai boxer will take on Kavinder Singh Bisht in the final.
Indian captain Virat Kohli joked about England’s aggressive batting approach, saying England could be the first team to score 500 runs in ODIs.
Kohli was referring to how the captains of various teams are disagreeing on scoring trends in what is expected to be a high-scoring World Cup.
England hold the record for the highest ODI total - they scored 481/6 against Australia last year. In their build to the World Cup, they also outplayed Pakistan 4-0 in a high-scoring series.
At the captains' media interaction ahead of the mega event, Kohli was asked if the 500-run mark could be breached in this edition. Pointing at England skipper Eoin Morgan, he replied, “I was just going to say it really depends on these guys. They seem to be obsessed with getting to 500 before anyone else.”
Kohli did say that the tournament will see a run-fest but claimed that the pressure of playing in a World Cup will make even scores of 260-270 hard to chase.
He said, "It is going to be a high scoring tournament but back home too I said 260-270 will be as tough to get in a World Cup as chasing 370-380. I don't see many high scoring games in the latter stages of the tournament...initially some teams might get on a roll but later on you will see 250 defended as well. That is the kind of pressure the World Cup brings."
Kohli observed that as the pressure mounts in knockout matches, teams will score less freely.
He said, “Not all the teams are going to be in a great position (in the latter half). The ones who have to make sure that they get the result are going to be under pressure to chase even a small total.
The fact that you are going to be close to a knock out berth will get you under pressure in the latter stages and all teams recognise that...Then you will not see many teams going gung ho from ball one. Generally, both teams would like to start in a balanced way and look to capitalise on the moments. So I see pressure being a massive factor in the World Cup."
Australian captain Aaron Finch, who was also part of the 2015 World Cup winning squad, said, “...(the) trajectory of scores has been going up and up in England...On small grounds with good pitches, if the top order gets going, the teams are so explosive these days...if they keep going till the end it (the total) could be anything."
While Kohli said England as the strongest side before the tournament, Finch picked India and England as the teams to watch out for.
3) According to batting great Sachin Tendulkar, India need to space out their experienced batsmen at the World Cup in England and veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni is best suited at number five.
Tendulkar said, “My personal opinion is Dhoni should be batting five.”
He believes having Dhoni, whose 341 ODI appearances makes him the most experienced player at the 2019 World Cup, at number five would ensure the former India captain could nudge along before exploding in the final overs.
Tendulkar said, “I still don’t know what the team combination would be, but if you are going (with) Rohit and Shikhar as openers, to Virat at No. 3 and whoever at No. 4, then Dhoni could be No. 5. Then Hardik Pandya, an explosive player, follows them.
"That way, the experienced batsmen are well spaced out and Dhoni can stretch the game towards the end where he himself can be explosive along with Hardik.
"From No 5 to 8, you are looking at finishers, who stay till the end and soak in that pressure. I feel we are well equipped to do that.”
An interesting observation Tendulkar made was that England’s home series against Pakistan has convinced him that the World Cup played on flat tracks would be a high-scoring tournament and the two new balls entirely negate reverse swing.
Hence, he claimed, “I believe if you have quality spinners to bowl in the middle overs they would end up picking wickets...It is all about bowling in partnerships - if quality bowlers could bowl in tandem and create pressure on the batting line-up, that is one way of countering all these factors (that) I feel are not in favour of the bowlers.”
4) Some happy news from Indian women’s basketball. Vaishnavi Yadav, a 5'7" tall guard, has signed up with USA's Pensacola State women's basketball team.
Vaishnavi, who is from Allahabad, first made the headlines in 2018 when she scored 71 points in the 69th Junior National Championship against Kerala - the most by a woman player at the national level. She was named MVP at the state nationals.
She has also represented the national team in the FIBA Asia U18 3x3 Championship, FIBA Asia U16 Championship and the FIBA U16 Asia Cup apart from being the MVP Award winner at the first ever NBA Academy India.
Pensacola State women's basketball team head coach Penny Belford said, "We are very excited to have Vaishnavi join the Lady Pirate family. She will bring a wealth of playing experience and excitement for the upcoming season."
Vaishnavi told the media, “I am very excited to have the tremendous opportunity to attend Pensacola State University.
"I would like to thank India Basketball, NBA Academy Women's Program, and Coach Blair Hardiek for making this possible. I hope to take India to the next level by learning all I can about the game and...sharing the knowledge with other basketball players from my country. I hope I can inspire others from India to work hard and go for their dreams.”
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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 15:48:58 IST