Dravid to shape next generation of Indian cricketers

The Indian cricket board (BCCI) last week named a three-member advisory committee comprised of former cricketers Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman but the absence of former captain and batting great Dravid had surprised many.

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BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur laid the concerns to rest by confirming that the modalities of Dravid’s contract will be finalised in the next few days.

“The good news is that Rahul Dravid has agreed to coach India A and India under-19 in the future,” Thakur told reporters in Kolkata after a meeting with the advisory committee on Saturday.

The 42-year-old Dravid, who has over 13,000 runs in tests and close to 11,000 in the 50-over format, will start by preparing the India A side for a home series against Australia A and South Africa A in July and August.

Dravid said the role suited his family life fine and he did not see it as a platform to groom himself for the national team’s head coaching job which remains vacant after the departure of Duncan Fletcher in March.

“I think it is really exciting because it has been an area I have always been interested in,” Dravid told ESPNcricinfo of his new role.

“I feel it is a very important stage of development of a lot of cricketers, having been through myself, and I am just hoping that … I will probably be able to help some of these young cricketers on their journey.

“I don’t see this as any stepping stone, I just see this as an opportunity to work with young players over the next few months, six weeks of an A tour and may be six or seven weeks, with the under-19 team.”

With India widely known as poor travellers, Dravid’s role will be crucial.

The new advisory panel has recommended increasing the overseas trips of junior teams and organising tours a year earlier in countries where the senior team would be scheduled to play a major tournament or series.

“One of the suggestions by the legends was to increase the number of India A tours overseas so that we can give more and more exposure to our A players and they can play competitive cricket,” Thakur said.

“In the past few years, the performance of the Indian team was not up to the mark overseas, so our focus would be on India A tour overseas.

“For example, if we have to play Champions Trophy in England, then India A must tour England or nearby countries one year in advance.”

The panel has also suggested identifying a pool of 30 bowlers, comprising of 15 pacemen and the same number of spinners, to be groomed for international cricket over a four-year cycle.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ian Ransom)

UK’s Cameron to vent dismay over EU-U.S. trade deal delay at G7

Cameron, in bullish mood after winning re-election with a surprise majority last month, is expected to raise the issue in one-to-one talks with U.

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S. President Barack Obama on Sunday at the G7 and to join host Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in pushing EU officials to speed negotiations.

His intervention would come after the EU’s chief negotiator said in April that talks to clinch the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would stretch into 2016.

“We launched this at a G8 that was ours in Lough Erne in 2013,” one British official told reporters. “That was over 700 days ago, and the prime minister feels we should be making swifter progress.”

Cameron wanted a political deal by the year-end, the official said, warning the global cost of not getting one was about 630 million pounds ($962.01 million) daily. 

Proponents say such a settlement could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic. The TTIP has faced opposition from protesters in Germany, however, and has also stumbled on U.S. demands for an investor protection clause. 

Cameron, who has said he wants the G7 to use the scandal engulfing FIFA to focus on cracking down on corruption, will also warn the world must be much better prepared for a disease epidemic.

“The reality is that we will face an outbreak like Ebola again and that virus could be more aggressive and more difficult to contain,” Cameron said on the eve of the summit. “It is time to wake-up to that threat.” 

He is expected to say Britain is ready to “lead the way” and work with the World Health Organisation to try to harness better global research, more drug development, and a faster and more comprehensive approach to fighting disease outbreaks. 

He will announce a British programme to focus on the most threatening diseases, a requirement for UK-funded vaccine research to be shared globally, and the creation of a rapid reaction unit of specialists backed by a reserve force of doctors who can be dispatched to global disease hot spots. 

(Additional Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

WADA cast a black cloud over Bombers: Hird

James Hird believes WADA’s appeal has cast a cloud over his players after the Bombers slumped to a listless defeat at the hands of Geelong.

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Hird was “astonished” at how well his side performed early in the season after the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s March verdict clearing 34 past and present players of any wrongdoing over their involvement in the club’s controversial 2012 supplements program.

But Essendon have lost three out of four games since the World Anti-Doping Agency announced its decision to appeal that finding, which Hird feels is a factor in the Bombers’ deteriorating form.

“After beating Hawthorn (in round two) I thought this group had come through probably one of the worst times for any group and performed exceptionally well,” Hird told Triple M on Sunday.

“But where we sit at the moment, after the WADA decision after the Fremantle game, the players have been through such a journey that I feel perhaps … to a certain extent that cloud has come back over them and is causing a bit of a fog around their brains and their decision-making in a game.

“They don’t specifically run out there thinking about WADA but when you go through a journey like these guys have for two or three years and then you know that this journey has got maybe another year to go it makes it harder rather than easier to play AFL football.”

The Bombers sit in 12th place on the ladder after 10 rounds, with their season precariously balanced at four wins and six losses.

Hird described his side’s second quarter in the 69-point loss to the Cats as the worst of the season and the first time his players had let themselves down in terms of effort this year.

He feels the players have taken a few steps backwards in terms of their mental state, but that winning games of football was the only way forward while the appeal process plays out.

“It’s no excuse for what’s going on and Essendon supporters don’t really want to hear about ASADA or WADA any more. I know the players don’t,” he said.

“To me, and this is what we spoke about after the game, the only way out of what we’re in is winning games of football.

“The players want to be remembered as a playing group that played competitive football, that wins games of football … we can talk about ASADA and WADA all we want but it’s not going to help us play football.

“All these players want to do is perform on the field. It’s not a sense of loyalty – they don’t owe me anything and I don’t owe them anything – but what they owe themselves is to play and train to the best of their ability.”

In Laos, women’s rugby flourishes on unsuitable ground

In the impoverished country, where many live without electricity and unexploded ordnance litter rural areas, rugby is a sport that is only just starting to take root.

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So if the small grass area next door to the United States Ambassadors residence in the Lao capital is unavailable, the switch moves and passing drills take place in a nearby car park with plastic cones to try and deter the motorbikes.

Understandably, finding a field of their own is the priority for Lao Rugby Federation (LRF) partnerships and development advisor Megan Knight, who previously worked with USA Rugby.

“Pitches are the most important thing as the kids in most of the places where we are playing, play on dirt school grounds, they can’t tackle, that’s the thing that prevents them from improving,” the American told Reuters.

“Because of the bombs, the mountains, the gravel there is just a lot of reasons why it is tough to find a space to play.”

The Colorado native, who speaks fluent Lao and regularly plays for the women’s international team, moved to Laos after using the internet to find rugby development opportunities in Asia.

During her time, Laos has seen a growing female interest in the game after the LRF partnered with two non-government organisations, ChildFund and Women Win, on the Sport for Development project.

In a country where many women marry in their mid-teens and often leave school early to help farm family lands, Knight said the rugby project was developing life skills, improving confidence and fostering role models.

One of those is 23-year-old Lao Khang, who had never heard of rugby three years ago before the LRF came to her small village in Nonghet district. She is now one of 2,000 that play the sport, also coaching and administrating at the body.

“She is such a celebrity when she goes back, everyone knows who she is, they see her on TV,” said Knight.

“Most people in Nonghet don’t get a chance to leave the country, let alone the district, so to see someone who hasn’t even finished school go on and do all this stuff it really inspires kids to be involved … there is huge benefit.”

By offering paid work, sceptical families were more willing to allow daughters to pursue the alien sport.

“Their parents wont let them just join rugby clubs as they have all this other work to do,” she said.

BIG HEARTS

Knight said poor internet and limited international rugby access meant none of the Laos women’s team would recognise All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams.

But while playing numbers are growing, standards remain low. The women were beaten 17-0 by Malaysia and Philippines on Saturday before hosts Singapore walloped them 54-0.

Physicality is an obvious issue. Khang is one of the taller players in the squad at 1.60 metres (5-ft-3in), with three of the 12 below five feet.

“They like to always say they are small people with big hearts,” Knight said.

While playing at the Olympics “would be great”, social development goals are the priority. The sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, has taken note.

“They are saying if a small country like Laos can get so many girls participating we need to learn from the model,” Knight said.

LRF receive only limited funding from World Rugby but were given a grant to aid their work in a country which has never won an Olympic medal and where children normally play either football or sepak takraw, the volleyball-like game popular in South East Asia.

The SEA Games experience, a rare foreign trip, concludes for the team on Sunday before they fly back on Monday. It will have cost the LRF $20,000, around a fifth of the annual budget, with no help from the Laos National Olympic Committee.

The team’s eye-catching, flowery kits were donated by Hong Kong sponsors.

Knight said the job, which only became paid in September after four years, was rewarding but challenging.

“Sometimes it’s really stressful, what Hong Kong do with 80 people we try to do with six. It takes us 14 hours driving to get to some of the places we are working. It’s really hard but really fun.”

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

Turks vote in election set to shape Erdogan’s legacy

Ruling AK Party expected to be largest party by farPro-Kurdish party success could result in coalitionErdogan hopes for strong AKP showing to boost his powers

ISTANBUL, June 7 (Reuters) – Turks go to the polls on Sunday in the closest parliamentary election in more than a decade, one that could pave the way for President Tayyip Erdogan to amass greater power or end 12 years of single-party rule for the AK Party he founded.

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A deadly bombing in the mainly Kurdish southeast on Friday has magnified attention on the pro-Kurdish opposition, which is trying to enter parliament as a party for the first time. 

Efforts to end a three-decade Kurdish insurgency as well as Erdogan’s political ambitions could hinge on that party’s fate. 

Turkey’s most popular yet most divisive politician, Erdogan seeks a large majority for the ruling AK Party to boost his powers. He says a U.S.-style executive presidency is necessary to bolster the regional influence and economic advances of NATO-member Turkey. 

“They say ‘If Erdogan gets what he wants on Sunday he will be unstoppable’,” he told a rally in the northeastern province of Ardahan on Saturday. 

“They actually mean Turkey will be unstoppable.” 

In power since 2002, the AKP is expected to again be the largest party by far. But achieving a majority may depend on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) falling below the 10 percent hurdle required to enter parliament. Opinion polls put it around that level.

While constitutionally required to stay above party politics, Erdogan has held frequent rallies during what has been a confrontational election campaign, joining Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in attacking opposition parties.

The two have portrayed the election as a choice between a “new Turkey” or a return to a history marked by short-lived coalition governments, economic instability and military coups. 

“Either the stability of the last 12 years will continue, or there will be the crisis scenario of those who want to take Turkey back to the chaos and crisis atmosphere of the 1990s,” Davutoglu told a rally in the southern city of Antalya. 

Ratcheting up tension ahead of the vote, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas called for Erdogan to apologise for his muted response to Friday’s bombing of an HDP rally in Diyarbakir, which killed two and wounded more than 200.

Security was tightened after the attack and some 9,000 police and gendarmerie officers were assigned for duty in Diyarbakir on Sunday. Nationwide, polling stations will open at 0500 GMT and close at 1400 GMT with an embargo for publishing results currently fixed at 1800 GMT.

Erdogan late on Friday expressed his condolences for victims of the attack, calling it a “provocation”. 

While he says he is equally distant from all parties, HDP leaders have accused Erdogan of whipping up sentiment against them and party deputy Idris Baluken said he and the AKP bore responsibility for Friday’s attack.

“The source of the violence is the AKP, the president. For two months, we have been warning that the rhetoric would result in just this, including in our talks with the government,” Baluken told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Diyarbakir; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans)