Category: _author:Devadyuti Das

ICC World Cup 2019 | Afghanistan – No Mere Pus…

One of the most endearing images of the 2015 World Cup was Afghanistan’s Shapoor Zadran running arms aloft after hitting the winning run against Scotland in Dunedin. It was a nerve-jangling first-ever World Cup win for the war-torn nation, whose passion for the game has now powered them to Test-match status.

Just last year they became the 10th Test-playing nation in the world and a couple of months back posted their first-ever win in the longest format with a win over Ireland in their adopted home ground in Dehradun.


Cricket’s tryst with Afghanistan began in refugee camps back home with four of their pillars — Mohammad Nabi, Dawlat Zadran, Asghar Stanikzai (Afghan) and Shapoor Zadran coming through that system. Progression began through the ranks of ICC World Cricket Leagues and then through the ICC Qualifying Tournament for World Cup.

The Scotland win in 2015 World Cup gave a big boost to sport back home. The emergence of T20 cricket and support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has helped them make rapid strides.

Former India batsman Lalchand Rajput took over as coach and Greater Noida ground in Delhi’s NCR region was given to aid the Afghans. After the last World Cup, the team had impressive series wins Zimbabwe, UAE and Ireland and drew an ODI series against West Indies 1-1 before being handed a Test status.

In the meantime, the T20 revolution introduced a one-in-a-lifetime talent in Rashid Khan. Still only 20 years of age, Rashid is a T20 veteran with appearances in Indian Premier League, Big Bash League and Caribbean Premier League.

“2017 was the start and everything changed from there. IPL is a format where if you perform, you will be renowned throughout the world. There are only top quality players and teams here and doing well here gives lot of confidence,” Rashid told CricketNext recently.


His ODI stats are startling: 57 games, 123 wickets and an average of 15. Making him one of the most dangerous ODI cricketers who will be making his World Cup debut at the 2019 edition.

“We’ll try to play good cricket in the World Cup — the kind of cricket we played in the Asia Cup. We want to replicate that, we pushed all the top teams in Asia Cup and we want to do the same. We’ll try to play good and positive cricket. We have to give our 100 per cent and try to perform under-pressure. If we can do these two things, we’ll be very happy,” Rashid said.

Shaky Build-up

The road to the World Cup has not been a smooth one. One of the favourites heading into the 2018 World Cup Qualifying event which also had the likes of West Indies and Ireland, Afghanistan lost almost all of their league games — even to the likes of Hong Kong.

The turn-around began from the Super Six stage as Afghanistan sensationally turned their form and fortunes around to emerge victorious from the tournament, even trouncing the Chris Gayle-powered West Indies in the final.

Mohammed Shahzad was one batsman who emerged from the tournament and carried on that form to the 2018 Asia Cup. The portly opener is a pocket-dynamite with strike-rate of 88 and five international ODI hundreds to his name.

(AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

He’ll have young Hazratullah Zazai for company. The powerfully built Zazai had built quite the reputation in the last one year, hitting six sixes in an over in the Afghanistan Premier League and blasting 162 in a T20 game against Ireland earlier this year.

Captaincy conundrum

Just months before the World Cup kicks off, Afghanistan selection committee decided that they needed a new leader in charge to replace Asghar Afghan. The selectors appointed three different captains for the different formats with all-rounder Gulabdin Naib given charge of the ODIs.

Senior players Nabi and Rashid tweeted in support of Afghan and criticized the move of the selectors.

“The fact is that Afghanistan is not going to win the World Cup with either (Naib or Aghan) of the captains. We are looking to make a transition and planning for the next World Cup which will be four years down the line. We don’t get as many games against quality opposition like we will get in the World Cup, so the new captain’s planning will begin here.

The matter has been handled very professionally. Gulbadin has been playing for the last 17 years and he is great friends with Nabi and Rashid. The seniors will be supporting the new captain,” Afghanistan chief selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai told CricketNext recently.

The likes of Rashid, Nabi, Shahzad, Afghan and Rahmat Shah form a powerful core for the Afghans but as their chief selector said they will be hard-pushed to make the final four. A few surprises though will not be beyond their reached especially against the likes of West Indies, who they defeated in the qualifying tournament, and Sri Lanka, who are struggling in the ODIs to recreate the golden days of the late ’90s and early 2000.

Coach Phil Simmons’ side will open their campaign against defending champions Australia on June 1 in Bristol and it would not be beyond the Afghans to give Australia a run for their money. Expect some fireworks from their fledgling Test nation.


June 1 v Australia (Bristol)

June 4 v Sri Lanka (Cardiff)

June 8 v New Zealand (Taunton)

June 15 v South Africa (Cardiff)

June 18 v England (Manchester)

June 22 v India (Southampton)

June 24 v Bangladesh (Southampton)

June 29 v Pakistan (Leeds)

July 4 v West Indies (Leeds)​

DRS for Televised Ranji Games, Eliminating Tos…

The possibility of introducing the Decision Review System (DRS) and doing away with the coin toss to let the visiting team make a decision to bat or bowl first were among the ideas discussed at the two-day annual conclave of domestic captains and coaches in Mumbai. The conclave was held to take stock of the season gone by, seek feedback and suggestions to make Indian domestic cricket make more competitive and inclusive.

“There were just discussions and exchange of ideas for now. We can’t take decisions to implement these ideas at the conclave. These ideas will be brought in front of the right forum which is the BCCI and the CoA. They’ll take a call if these ideas can be put into action,” BCCI GM (Cricket Operations) Saba Karim told CricketNext.

DRS has been so far restricted to international cricket but the call to introduce it in domestic structure following poor umpiring standards over the last Ranji Trophy season, which saw a significant rise in the number of matches with the addition of new teams. There were multiple umpiring howlers, including those in the Ranji Trophy semifinal between Saurashtra and Karnataka. Saurashtra benefitted with Cheteshwar Pujara surviving a huge appeal for caught-behind when replays showed big nick en route to his unbeaten century.

(Image: BCCI)

“The umpiring standards in domestic cricket were discussed. It is an on-going process and it can’t be rectified overnight. We didn’t discuss about restarting the Umpire’s Academy but we have been having seminars and lessons for umpires from time-to-time and we’ll continue to have those,” Karim said. “Ahead of the season, we had extensive discussions with the selectors and coaches particularly in women’s cricket and tournament formats were designed accordingly. We now have a busy schedule for women’s cricket as well and we are going to have more India A women’s tours in the upcoming season.”

However, surprisingly there was no discussion on the umpiring standards in the recently concluded IPL, essentially a domestic T20 league, which was marred by plenty of errors by officials including those by international umpire Sundaram Ravi.

“The umpiring in IPL was not discussed here. This conclave is limited to domestic cricket like Ranji and Duleep Trophy. Umpiring in IPL will be discussed at a separate platform,” the BCCI GM said.

Image: Twitter

Among other decisions discussed were the format of knockout games in Ranji Trophy which will continue to be on a ‘home-and-away’ basis or revert to neutral venues; introduction of evaluation reports by match referees about umpires; feedback on match referees’ performance by umpires for the first time; additional responsibility handed to match referees who now act as ‘talent identifiers’ and detailed discussion on over rates. It was also suggested that data be collated to understand causes for slow over rates and help find ways to address the issue.

With the domestic structure now involving 37 teams, a discussion was held on the relevance and significance of Duleep Trophy and the Irani Trophy and opinion on the same was also sought.

“This is an extremely important forum and I am very happy that we now have a separate conclave to review women’s cricket. It is an important stage as key stakeholders of Indian cricket converge under one roof and discuss the way forward,” BCCI CEO Rahul Johri said about the conclave in a BCCI statement. “One of my very first meetings after joining the BCCI was this conclave and I am glad that over the years we have seen some very engaging discussions. I am very confident that the upcoming season will be even bigger and better and we will continue to strengthen the standard of the sport across all age groups.”

ICC World Cup 2019 | Standby Saini Eager to Ma…

Life has been a roller-coaster for paceman Navdeep Saini who was considered to be an outsider from Karnal in the Delhi cricketing circles. Had it not been for then Delhi skipper Gautam Gambhir, who backed Saini against the entire might of Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), the speedster wouldn’t have been one of the five official standbys for the Indian squad for the ICC World Cup and flying to the UK next week as one of the four net bowlers.

Saini has been billed as one of the finest pace bowling prospects and some of the optimists felt that the speedsters should have been part of the final 15 for the World Cup. In a disappointing campaign for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Saini came through with flying colours – finishing the season as second highest wicket-taker for his franchise with 11 wickets in 13 games.

More than his wickets, it was Saini’s pace which caught everyone’s eyes – regularly clocking 150kmph with a fastest of those being 152.85 kmph on the speed gun just behind South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada’s 154.23 kmph.

The lanky seamer, a regular with the India ‘A’ team for the last couple of seasons, had the opportunity to travel as a net-bowler to South Africa a couple of years back before Ankit Rajpoot, eventually, made the trip. A call from Gambhir to Saini telling him that Delhi required his services for the Ranji Trophy semifinals and final in 2017-18 season convinced him to stay back in Indian back then.

Navdeep Saini bags a wicket. (Twitter/ IPL)

“This is a huge opportunity for me. Travelling with the Indian team and helping them prepare for such a big tournament is a really big deal for me,” Saini told CricketNext ahead of his departure with the Indian team for the United Kingdom.

“We have been instructed to travel to UK on May 23rd. There is no extra pressure on being the standby bowler. The good thing is that right now I am travelling as a net bowler, I am not thinking that someone is going to get injured and I am going to be called up. I have to concentrate on what I have got to do at the moment,” he added.

RCB bowling coach and former India seamer Ashish Nehra is one of Saini’s strongest backers and feels if luck goes his way the young paceman could be making his debut for India at the World Cup.

“He’s got pace and bounce and the most important thing is that he is confident right now because he’s really quick. He’s the first standby, so if any fast bowler gets injured he (Saini) will be the one playing in the World Cup,” Nehra said about Saini, who was bought for Rs 3 crore by RCB this season.

Saini credits inputs from Nehra as well as India ‘A’ bowling coach Paras Mhambrey for improvement in his bowling.

“Every opportunity that you get is very important – whether it’s with the ‘A’ team or the State side – you learn what areas you need to improve and how are you going to improve. Coach (Paras) Mhambrey’s inputs were very important with the ‘A’ team. This is a level that is above the Ranji Trophy and then in IPL, Ashish (Nehra) bhaiya helped me a lot.

“IPL is a very big event, at par with international cricket. Bowling to some of the top batsmen in the world and giving great performances was very important for me,” the 26-year-old from Karnal, Haryana, said.

Asked about the inputs from Nehra and Mhambrey, Saini said, “Both of them advised me to stick to my strengths. My strength is not pace, it’s hitting the back of the good length consistently, the pace helps in keeping the batsmen from going after this length. It was my first season of IPL, I didn’t experiment too much,” Saini, who one of Virat Kohli’s main strike bowlers through the season, said.

The Delhi paceman believes one of the keys to bowling fast is understanding one’s body. “Gym, diet and understanding your body is very important to bowl at pace. I have hired a trainer for a few years and he’s the one who makes my fitness schedule. The diet is also based on the needs of the body,” he said.

It also helped Saini that his RCB skipper Kohli is also from Delhi and knows the young man very well. “For me playing under Virat (Kohli) was a big plus point all season. He asked me to give 110 per cent effort – whether it’s in the nets or in the match. He said that the most important, no one can bowl for you in the middle. His advice was to back yourself no matter what.

“There was no extra pressure from Virat. His thought was just to learn from the mistakes and improve yourself. He just told me to enjoy myself,” Saini added about Kohli’s attitude after RCB had lost the first six games of the season.

Finally asked about his closest mate in the RCB franchise, Saini said, “Kulwant Khejroliya was my closest friend. It helped that both of us play for Delhi and were roommates as well. Even during matches, when he was not picked he would come to me near the boundary and supported me with advice if I was getting hit around.”

ICC World Cup 2019 | Rayudu & Axar Possible Re…

The national selectors and the Indian team management will wait till the very last minute — in this case May 22nd when Team India boards the flight to London — to decide whether the injured Kedar Jadhav will be replaced in the 2019 ICC World Cup squad. CricketNext has learnt that Jadhav’s left shoulder in currently a sling and he is being monitored on a day-to-day basis by Team India’s physio Patrick Farhart.

“The BCCI national selectors have been kept apprised of Jadhav’s recovery process on a day-to-day basis. They are keeping a very close eye on his fitness in conjunction with physio Farhart. It’s too early to say whether Jadhav will be fit enough to take part in the tournament but call on that will be taken next week, probably as late as the departure date of the Indian team which is May 22,” a BCCI source informed CricketNext on Wednesday.

The selectors had met to pick the India ‘A’ squads for Sri Lanka and West Indies series on Tuesday and they were once again informed about Jadhav’s fitness status. They refrained from taking a call on the replacement, since officially India can name a replacement till May 23 according to the International Cricket Council (ICC) rules.

It is believed that the selectors have a couple of options in mind when it comes to thinking about Jadhav’s replacement. “The selectors had nominated five standbys to cover all bases. Since Jadhav is a specialist batsman, the selectors are looking at replacing him with either Ambati Rayudu or Axar Patel, who like Jadhav can chip in with a few overs as well.

“The other three standbys are Rishabh Pant, Ishant Sharma and Navdeep Saini. By naming Pant in India ‘A’ team’s ODI games against West Indies ‘A’ on Tuesday, the selectors have given a clear indication that for now they want the Delhi wicketkeeper to focus on Indian senior team’s West Indies tour which will follow immediately after the World Cup,” the source added.

Jadhav, who was playing for Chennai Super Kings in IPL-12, injured his left shoulder while attempting to stop a boundary in a game against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali on May 5. He was subsequently sent for a scan and a x-ray which did not reveal any fracture.

Team India’s head coach Ravi Shastri also told CricketNext in an exclusive interview that he was not worried about Jadhav’s fitness.

“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,” Shastri had told CricketNext.

Jadhav is no stranger to injuries. In fact, the Maharashtra batsman had suffered a grade 2 hamstring team in the opening game of IPL-11 in 2018 which forced him to miss the entire last season as well as the subsequent ODI series in Ireland and England.

He had a very modest time in IPL-12, scoring only 162 runs in 14 games this season with a strike-rate of only 95.85.​

Tendulkar, Laxman Depose Before BCCI Ethics Of…

Former India cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman appeared in person for their deposition in front of BCCI Ethics Officer and former justice of Supreme Court DK Jain at a five-star hotel in New Delhi on Tuesday in relation to the duo’s ‘conflict of interest’ issue.

Both Tendulkar and Laxman had been summoned by Justice Jain to explain their stand on the question of ‘conflict’ in relation to their position in BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) and their position as mentors in IPL franchises Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively. The meeting which lasted over four hours proved inconclusive.

While both former cricketers were present for the meeting, Tendulkar was also accompanied by his lawyer Amit Sibal.

“I represented Sachin in this matter. The hearing lasted for over four hours and still remains inconclusive. It will continue on May 20 but Tendulkar will not need to reappear for the next meeting,” Sibal told CricketNext on Tuesday.

It is believed like Tendulkar, Laxman will also not be required to make another appearance in front of Justice Jain. Last month, former India captain Sourav Ganguly had also deposed in front of Jain and the BCCI Ethics Officer is yet to come out with a ruling over the matter.

The complaint against Tendulkar was filed by Sanjeev Gupta of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA) and Tendulkar had asked Committee of Administrators (CoA) chairman Vinod Rai and BCCI CEO Rahul Johri to ‘clarify their position’.

“Without prejudice to the aforesaid, the noticee submits that it is surprising that the BCCI, being the very authority responsible for the noticees empanelment to the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), is presently taking a position that the noticee is exposed to an alleged conflict of interest. It is reiterated that the noticee was declared as the Mumbai Indians ‘icon’ post his retirement in 2013, which was much prior to his appointment to the CAC in 2015,” Tendulkar had written in his 13-point letter to BCCI on May 5.

Tendulkar’s response also added that a mentor or an ‘icon’ is not covered in the definition of a team official and his role is limited to providing guidance, inputs and inspiration to the younger team members.

Laxman in his reply to the Ethics Officer had said the roles of the CAC as told to him in 2015 included focusing on improving performances of the national team overseas, creating a pathway to track a young cricketer’s career from U-19 to India A to the international team, managing workload for fast bowlers, means to improve the quality of Indian spinners and education and life-skills for young cricketers.

“The allegation of the complainant are baseless as we are in no manner selectors of either players or coaches and CAC is not a permanent body,” he wrote in his reply.​

Fitness Important to Maintain a Healthy Strike…

She is just 22 years of age but she is the No. 1 T20 women cricketer in the world. In a short span of time, Smriti Mandhana has created a niche for herself in all formats of the game.

Mandhana has become the rock around which the Indian batting in ODIs and T20s rotates. Four half-centuries in her last five international games was followed up with a brilliant 90 in the opening game of the Women’s T20 Challenge otherwise dubbed as the women’s IPL.

Although her team Trailblazers failed to reach the WIPL final, but Mandhana had something to cheer about when she was picked as the 2019 Women’s International Cricketer of the Year at the CEAT International Cricket Awards in Mumbai on Monday evening.

“Winning the Cricketer of the Year award means a lot to me. It means you work hard for a year and get validation for your performances,” Mandhana told exclusively to CricketNext on the sidelines of the CEAT International Cricket Awards.

One of the criticisms for the Indian women cricketers in the recent past has been their inability to maintain a healthy strike-rate with the bat. But Mandhana is one of the exceptions with strike-rates of 83 in ODIs and 119 in T20 games.

“We have spoken to (WV) Raman sir (coach) about it. We are having camps in a month’s time where we’ll be working on it. Strike-rate is also linked to fitness in women’s cricket, to hit long sixes, fitness comes into play. We are working towards improving our strike-rate. Jemimah (Rodigues) is now hitting 120-130, because of her mindset,” the Mumbai-born opener said.

Along with Harmanpreet Kaur, Mandhana has become a regularly feature in T20 leagues around the world including Women’s Big Bash League and Kia Super League. The young opener feels WIPL has helped the team identify it’s needs for the women’s T20 World Cup which will take place in Australia next year.

“WIPL was an amazing thing. The last couple of years we have been doing well in One-day format, in T20 format we have been lagging behind. I hope WIPL will help us get the team right before the next year’s World T20 event. We need to get the bench strength in place and find players who we feel can perform under pressure. It was a great initiative by the BCCI and hope it is start of the something new and big,” Mandhana said about the WIPL.

However, Mandhana doesn’t want to compare the WIPL to any of the other T20 competitions around the world yet.

“WIPL is just starting off right now. We have just played with three teams while in WBBL we have eight teams. I think when we have similar amount of teams, then we’ll be able to compare it. WIPL is at the starting stage right now. It is an amazing exposure for women’s cricket, that’s what we are thinking right now,” she said.

Last season, Mandhana was sensational in the Kia Super League in England with most runs in a season (421), most sixes (21), highest strike-rate (174). She missed finals day, which clashed with a BCCI training camp but was still named the Player of the Tournament.

While England was a roaring success, an injury at the WBBL in 2017 changed Mandhana’s career forever. “I spent a couple of months on crutches and away from the game. It gave me time to look back on my career and set my priorities right. I began to enjoy my cricket much more after returning and that has shown in my game,” Mandhana said.

She was also full of praise for the new women’s coach WV Raman for inculcating ‘patience’ into her game. “Raman sir is a great coach. He has helped everyone feel relaxed. As a batsman he helps me a lot, developing my patience or my power game. He keeps giving some inputs about long hitting,” she said about Raman.

Finally, asked about India and her own preparation in the lead up to the 2020 women’s T20 World Cup, Mandhana said, “We have 2-3 series before the World Cup. We’ll look at how we can improve individually and as a team. For me personally, I would have liked to play in KSL and WBBL to prepare. It will help me get ready but as a team we are going to regroup.”

Huge Crowds at Women’s IPL Games Were a Big Su…

She is the captain of the Indian women’s T20 national team and was the leader of one of three teams — Supernovas — in the recently concluded Women’s T20 Challenge or the first women’s mini-IPL. Harmanpreet Kaur lived up to the billing as India’s first T20 star and led the Supernovas to the title in Jaipur on Saturday with a 37-ball 51 on a track where everyone barring Kaur struggled to get going in the final.

A 46 not out in the opening game against the Smriti Mandhana-led Trailblazers just failed to guide her team to victory before a half-century in the final made for a fine return to form for the Punjab all-rounder.

Kaur, who has plied her T20 trade, all around the globe — for Sydney Thunder in Australia and Surrey Stars in England — was stunned by the amount of home support that the Women’s T20 Challenge witnesses.

“The tournament was organised very well, we didn’t expect that so much crowd is going to turn up to watch women’s IPL games. It was a pleasant surprise. Organisation of the tournament was really good. The great thing was that all three teams performed really well, it is great for future of women’s cricket in India,” Kaur told CricketNext on the sidelines of the Ceat International Cricket Awards in Mumbai on Monday.

The emergence of young guns Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues has taken some of the pressure of Kaur in T20 cricket but still feels Indian cricket has a long way to go in the shortest format.

“Strike-rate of the Indian batsmen has been a concern and to address this issue, BCCI have taken the good initiative to start more T20 tournament for women. It gives more opportunity to young players. In the past we had very few T20 domestic teams and there is different pressure to play with high strike-rate in international cricket. This way we can improve ourselves from domestic cricket,” Kaur, who has a top-score of 171 not out in ODIs, said.

Asked about her own match-winning performance in the T20 challenge, she said, “I was happy with my performance. It feels great to hit the winning score and I felt really good after the match. The team needed me and it was good to put on a good partnership, so I was happy that I came through.

“Last year has been pretty good for me, the team was performing well both in T20s and ODIs, and I was performing well with the bat as well,” Kaur said.

The last season also witnessed the arrival of a new coach WV Raman, amid controversial circumstances by replacing Ramesh Powar but Kaur is pleased by the inputs of the former Tamil Nadu opener.

“Raman sir is fairly cool, explains everything very simply. He was himself a top opener in his time and the batswomen get really good inputs from him. The tips he gives in the nets, we try to implement them on the ground. I think because of him, the batting has improved a lot,” the T20 skipper said about coach Raman.

Kaur, who is now a regular at the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) in Australia, sees a bright future for the women’s IPL in India.

“Tournament pressure was same here and in Australia but here it was great to get the support of Indian fans. It was very soothing and I am thankful to the Indian crowd. We have seen this in men’s IPL but to get this in women’s game was really special,” Kaur said.

Kaur will now shift focus to the preparation for the women’s World T20 Championships in Australia early next year.

“We will have a national fitness camp after this. Then we have a couple of series and some T20 games lined up, so it should give us good exposure to prepared the Indian team for World T20,” she said.

Finally, asked about being recognised by the Ceat International Cricket Awards, Kaur said, “All awards are very important. As a sportsperson when you put in the hardwork, you need motivation to keep performing. Winning an award is important.“

IPL 2019 | Eager Toddler to Gifted Teenager – …

Riyan Parag was simply destined to play cricket. His father Parag Das, a former first-class cricketer from Assam, remembers his 16-month old son shadow practicing strokes in front of the mirror. Not just his father, Riyan’s mother Mithu Baruah was an excellent athlete too, having represented India at the Asian Championships and SAF Games in swimming. However, young Riyan was smitten by cricket and the toddler who imitated his dad is now the teenager who made an eye-catching impression in the IPL this season.

“He started from a very young age, when I was still playing first-class cricket,” Das tells CricketNext. “I had this habit of batting in front of the mirror and when Riyan was 16 months old, he started to do the same and imitate me.”

Riyan is the latest in an assembly line of players who made their first major impression on the IPL stage. The likes of Kamran Khan, Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Iyer and more recently Prithvi Shaw have experienced their first taste of stardom through the world’s top T20 tournament. 17-year-old Riyan was one of the few bright spots for the Rajasthan Royals this season, becoming the youngest batsman to score a half-century in IPL history and ending with a creditable 160 runs in seven matches at an average of 32.75.

In fact, Riyan’s debut produced a heart-warming story of its own. He played against MS Dhoni, who isn’t just 20 years older than him but had in fact shared the field with Riyan’s father when he represented the East Zone in domestic cricket years ago. It was a modest initiation, with Riyan scoring just 16, but he did get the opportunity to spend some time with Dhoni after the match.

“I spoke and talked a little bit to Dhoni. I told him that it was fascinating that he had also played with my father. Most of the brief chat was about the mindset and how to remain cool under pressure situations,” Riyan said.

His father Das also recalled interactions with the former India captain over the years.

“Dhoni played for East Zone like me, so we used to meet up regularly those days. Also, Dhoni worked for the Railways for a while and that was where we met again. A couple of years back when Dhoni visited Guwahati for an international game, I told him my son was also playing and showed him Riyan’s pictures as well. He was pleased to know that he has played with the dad and now with his son as well as Riyan told me,” Das said.

Though the Royals had an underwhelming season, Riyan thoroughly enjoyed the experience in the company of international stars such as Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Ish Sodhi.

“I went to IPL to get as much experience as I can and learn as much as I can. The Rajasthan Royals showed faith in me and gave me 7 matches. I didn’t expect to play seven games,” Riyan said. “I am really glad that I could contribute for the team successfully. It feels really good and one of the high points will be my first fifty in IPL (against Delhi Capitals in the last match).

Parag Das (left) with wife Mithoo and a 11-year-old Riyan (right). [Image: Facebook/Parag Das]

“Everyone gave me lot of advice and a lot of knowledge was shared with me. I can’t pin-point any one advice. They taught me how to handle pressure, great learning cricketing experience. I can’t be more excited to go back next year.”

Though the IPL catapulted Riyan to nation-wide acclaim, those who have witnessed his journey from childhood were always convinced that he had special ability.

“At 8 years of age he went to a school cricket camp. Gautam Hazarika, who was selector-cum-coach, picked him into the school team,” Das recalls. “I told him Riyan was still too young for school cricket but Hazarika disagreed. It was difficult to stop his progress after that.

“In a U-14 tournament, he scored 156 not out and 128 in the semifinal and final. That time Sandeep Patil was here for BCCI academy. Patil picked Riyan for this academy (which would provide schooling too) but the program was discontinued.”

One of the members of the 2018 U-19 World Cup winning squad, Riyan also impressed coach Rahul Dravid, although he was injured for a majority of the tournament.

“He was picked for U-19 World Cup and was playing well in the practice games but injured his finger before the first match. Coach Dravid told him that he wanted him fit for the knockout games but unfortunately he failed to fire in those games because of lack of match practice,” Das said.

Now that the first steps have been taken, Riyan is eager to build on this early success. In the short run, he is keen to explore opportunities to play some club cricket in England before he starts to prepare for the rigours of Indian domestic cricket later in the year.

ICC World Cup 2019 | Afghanistan Ready to Win,…

Afghanistan mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman just got a reality check after a modest outing in this year’s Indian Premier League for Kings XI Punjab. A season which was marred by shoulder injury saw the 18-year-old turn out in just five games for Kings XI and pick three wickets for a rather forgettable experience.

That doesn’t change the fact that the 18-year-old is one of the premier Afghanistan spinners with 51 ODI scalps in 28 games at a sensational average of 18.80. The youngster is now prepared to lead Afghanistan’s charge in the upcoming 2019 World Cup in the company of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi.

“I have learnt a lot and improved my bowling by spending time and interacting with Ravichandran Ashwin, the Kings XI skipper. He has given me a lot of useful tips and I am sure that I will execute those plans in the World Cup. During this edition of IPL, my shoulder injury was an issue but I am fully fit for the World Cup,” Mujeeb said at a sponsor event in New Delhi

The youngster is confident that Afghanistan is not going to the World Cup just to make up the numbers. “Earlier when we were facing the big nations in ODIs, we were just participating in those matches. Now we are not only participating but also trying to win. We will be God willing be in the semifinal this year,” Mujeeb, who has appeared in Big Bash League and will turn out for Middlesex this year, said.

Kings XI stunned everyone by picking the then 16-year-old Mujeeb for IPL-11 at a price of Rs 4 crore. The youngster didn’t disappoint, claiming 14 wickets in 11 games at an average of 20.64, bamboozling the batsmen by turning the ball both ways.

“I feel very proud to play in the IPL. I got the opportunity to bowl against some of the world-class players, who I’ll also face in the World Cup soon,” a confident Mujeeb said.

Asked if he faced second season blues, as he had an economy rate of over 10 through the season.

“I played in my first season of IPL. You will have a few bad days and it’s just that you have to be consistent with your line and length. I go with full preparation and concentrate on my game,” he said.

Mujeeb struggles hard with the tag of ‘mystery’ spinner but prefers to stick to the basics. “I think they call me mystery spinner because I spin the ball both ways or sometimes it even goes straight. All of these things in my mind about which ball to bowl at what time,” Mujeeb, who has 66 wickets in 65 T20s so far, said.

The youngster is hopeful that along with senior spinners Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi, it will be a better World Cup for Afghanistan compared to the 2015 edition where they were making debut.

“All three of us have different strengths and the main thing that we discuss on-field is to stick to our respective plans. I have the task of bowling with the new ball. The basic plan is to consistently bowl good areas and hopefully we will be able to do that,” he added.

ICC World Cup 2019 | Afghanistan Chief Selecto…

Afghanistan’s chief selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai has defended the sudden and controversial recent decision to replace Asghar Afghan as captain with the lesser experienced Gulbadin Naib for the World Cup. Ahmadzai also insists that the opposition to the move by senior players, most notably Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, is now a thing of the past and they are now fully behind the new skipper.

All-rounder Naib, who has appeared in just 52 ODIs as compared to Afghan’s 99, will be leading the 50-over team for the first time when Afghanistan begin their second World Cup campaign with warm-up games in England. The selectors had in fact split the captaincy three ways – handing Rashid Khan the job as T20 skipper and appointing Rahmat Shah as the captain of the Test side.

“It was a decision that came from the top management of the Afghanistan Cricket Board,” Ahmadzai said at a sponsor event in New Delhi. “The fact is that Afghanistan is not going to win the World Cup with either (Naib or Aghan) of the captains. We are looking to make a transition and planning for the next World Cup which will be four years down the line. We don’t get as many games against quality opposition like we will get in the World Cup, so the new captain’s planning will begin here.

“The matter has been handled very professionally. Gulbadin has been playing for the last 17 years and he is great friends with Nabi and Rashid. The seniors will be supporting the new captain.”

At the time the decision was made, a little over a month ago, it met with strong disapproval from Rashid and Nabi. Prior to his removal, Afghan had led Afghanistan to ODI series wins over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as well as their first-ever Test win over Ireland earlier this year.

“Being a senior member of the side & having seen the rise of Afghanistan cricket @ashrafghani I don’t think it’s the right time to change the captain before the WC @afgexecutive. The team has gelled really well under #Asghar & personally feel he is the right man to lead us,” (sic) Nabi tweeted.

While Nabi’s Sunrisers Hyderabad teammate Rashid tweeted, “With just months to go for such a mega event like World Cup, changing the captain will cause uncertainty and also team morale will be affected.”

Ahmadzai believes Rashid, who is the T20 captain, will be integral part of the leadership group at the tournament. He also seemed unconcerned about Naib’s mediocre record, he averages 22.41 with the bat and 34 with the ball in his short career, saying that his experience of leading in First Class cricket will come in handy.

“Rashid was not ready to lead in all formats. But he is ready to lead in T20 because he has to juggle other assignments as well,” he said. “Gulbadin has been captain before, for his club side and his state side in first-class cricket. He was also U-19 captain. He has been with the team for the last six months and been playing in the practice games. So, it’s not that he has been out of touch of cricket.”

Meanwhile, asked about dearth of pace bowlers coming out of Afghanistan in the last few years, Ahmadzai said, “Rashid is a special talent and Mujeeb (ur Rahman) can bowl with the new ball really well. All youngsters in Afghanistan are inspired by Rashid and Mujeeb to take up spin bowling. We are hoping that the talent from age-group level will produce more pacemen.”