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For Dhoni, age has different connotations

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By Veturi Srivatsa

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, from time to time, sends across messages to national selectors, his own teammates and to fans through a prying media.

Ever since he quit Test cricket, the one question he is frequently confronted is when will he be quitting the other two formats. After the World Cup, he was asked again about his retirement plans. His answer was a crisp one liner:

“I am 33, I’m still running and I am still fit, next year (at the World T20) will be the right time to decide if I should play World Cup 2019.”

For good measure, like all sportspersons, he says he plays for the enjoyment of the game and the day he decides to go, “I will pack my bags and happily go away”.

After Mustafizur Rahman damaged Dhoni’s and India team’s reputation with back-to-back fifers, the question of his retirement cropped up again and this time he turned melodramatic, stating that by removing him the team was expected to do well and if he was the reason for the down slide of Indian cricket he would step down.

“I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. I have taken that responsibility. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away.”

Then came the ODI series in Australia and India lost 1-4 despite scoring 300-plus scores in four of the five matches and 295 in the other, but the T20 sweep gave him a new life and the team suddenly looked world-beaters. Their potential to win the T20 World Cup can be seen from the way Dhoni moulded a team with some outstanding fielders.

So, the upcoming World T20 is more important to him than, perhaps, the team. If India win, he might say he would like to take one match at a time, one series after another for the next three years!

Dhoni is not one to miss out on a trick. He quickly decided to quit Test cricket midway through a series in Australia, as he had hinted a year ago about giving up one of the three punishing formats. After seeing Virat Kohli’s imaginative and aggressive captaincy in Tests down under, people did not see beyond the World Cup.

The World Cup revived Dhoni’s fortunes. His team remained unbeaten till they lost to Australia in the semi-finals. They bowled out all their seven opponents till their exit game to set a record.

There was another hiccup when India lost the ODI series in Bangladesh for the first time last year and soon after South Africa got the better of Dhoni’s side here at home. There was another round of Dhoni bashing. The selectors, however, backed him and made sure there were no other media plants about him being replaced by announcing that he would remain captain till the T20 World Cup.

He has a knack of speaking his mind out and his messages are taken seriously, too, by one and all. He is accused of getting rid of seniors, barring Sachin Tendulkar, from the team — first as One-Day captain and then from the Test squad. Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman felt aggrieved at the way the message was sent across.

The much-maligned Greg Chappell noticed a spark in Dhoni and marked him down as a future captain one year before he actually took over as captain of the shorter formats and he went on to win the inaugural T20.

Five months after winning the T20 championship in South Africa, Dhoni’s next move was to weed out seniors from the ODI side, though a couple of them returned to the side briefly before bowing out.

After winning his first major title he said he would prefer daring players willing to stand in front of a moving truck. After winning the Commonwealth Bank ODI series, his tone was a little more assertive. He said he was pretty clear about the players he wanted in the squad, a statement even Ganguly did not make publicly. He was roundly criticised as selectoral deliberations were leaked, making him out a villain.

He told the youngsters he had fought for then that they must perform to vindicate his belief in them. After winning the series, he rubbed it in, asking the media why the team selection was no longer an issue, wondering what would have happened if they had not won!

If Dhoni thought Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly would be liabilities in the Twenty20 field, he now finds age is only a number when it came to Ashish Nehra, 36, Harbhajan Singh, 35, and Yuvraj Singh, who at 34 is as old as Dhoni himself, as key figures in his scheme of things for the World T20 in India next month.

For pundits, at one point of time Dhoni was a cool, thinking captain and after defeats in a couple of series overseas he was a mere mannequin in an unmarketable garment superstore.

Dhoni is not the first captain to be sacked by media or former players and will not be the last. The board and the selectors backed captains for strange reasons, but now on the selection committee will be the sole authority as the president may not have the power to overrule it. (IANS)

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The Team Didn’t Qualify, But Soccer Is Stronger : U.S.

Technology is also raising soccer’s profile in the United States.

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United States' Joe Cobra in action during an international friendly soccer match against Bolivia, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Chester, Pa.
United States' Joe Cobra in action during an international friendly soccer match against Bolivia, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Chester, Pa. VOA

The 2018 World Cup is around the corner, and billions of people around the world will be glued to the matches.

But what about Americans?  The men’s national team didn’t qualify for the global tournament for the first time since 1986.

What’s the state of soccer in the United States?

“Overall, soccer is stronger than it ever has been,” said Michael Kammarman a spokesman for the United States Soccer Federation.

According to a 2014 ESPN survey, the popularity of professional soccer in the United States equaled that of professional baseball among 12 to 17 year olds, a first.

Furthermore, a 2018 Gallup poll found that soccer had eclipsed hockey as the fourth most popular sport in the country, behind American football, basketball and baseball.  That survey found that 37 percent of Americans said American football was their favorite sport to watch.  That compared to 11 percent for basketball, nine percent for baseball and seven percent for soccer.

Kammarman said the 1994 World Cup, which was hosted by the United States, was the turning point for soccer here.

“It remains the most successful World Cup in history in terms of spectators and revenue,” said Kammarman.  “It demonstrated to the world that soccer was serious here.”In fact, two years after the 1994 World Cup, the professional Major League Soccer(MLS) had its first season.

A man calling himself Uncle Sam holds up a sign Saturday, June 19, 1993, welcoming the World Cup Soccer tournament to the Silver dome in Pontiac, The event was a prelude to the World Cup being played in 1994. The 1994 World Cup was a turning point for American soccer.
A man calling himself Uncle Sam holds up a sign Saturday, June 19, 1993, welcoming the World Cup Soccer tournament to the Silver dome in Pontiac, Mich. Uncle Sam, of Quincy, Mass., was on hand for the 1993 U.S. Cup soccer tournament which was played on natural grass inside the Silver dome for the first time. Germany defeated England 2-1 to capture the trophy. The event was a prelude to the World Cup being played in 1994. VOA

Since then, the number of MLS teams has grown from 12 to 23, according to Kammarman.  He added the league will soon grow to 28 teams.  Average attendance in 2014 was over 19,000.

Kammarman also points to the success of women’s soccer as a driver for the sport in the United States.  The national team is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won numerous Olympic gold medals and World Cups.

Kammarman added the U.S. women’s national team victory in the 1999 World Cup was another important milestone for American soccer.

Hispanic-Americans, too, are making soccer more popular.  According to a recent YouGov poll, 56 percent reported following soccer in non-World Cup years.

Fans celebrate during an event to announce the addition of FC Cincinnati as an expansion team to Major League Soccer, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati has set attendance records in its three seasons in the United Soccer League and plans to have a soccer-only stadium ready for the 2021 season. The announcement on Tuesday brings MLS a step closer to its goal of a 28-team league. The latest round of expansion will bring it to 26 teams.
Fans celebrate during an event to announce the addition of FC Cincinnati as an expansion team to Major League Soccer, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati has set attendance records in its three seasons in the United Soccer League and plans to have a soccer-only stadium ready for the 2021 season. The announcement on Tuesday brings MLS a step closer to its goal of a 28-team league. The latest round of expansion will bring it to 26 teams. VOA

Millennials are increasingly interested in soccer, Kammarman said.

“They are seeing a lot of different things to like about soccer.  They like the communal nature and the fan experience, as well as the global nature of the sport.”

Technology is also raising soccer’s profile in the United States.

Kammarman said the FIFA Soccer video games, which have been hugely popular among gamers and soccer fans, have made Americans increasingly aware of soccer’s superstars such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The United States Women’s National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015.
The United States Women’s National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. VOA

He added that soccer was also one of the first sports in the country for which fans went to the internet to follow because there was little coverage on television and in the news.

Kammarman doesn’t see the failure of the U.S. men’s team to make the World Cup as endangering the growth of soccer here.

“It was a disappointment, but not a setback,” he said.  “If this had happened in 2002, it could have really stunted the momentum the sport had.”

FOX Sports Soccer Analyst Alexi Lalas hosts the Nestle Nesquik youth soccer clinic on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Glendale, Calif. Local participants from the American Youth Soccer Organization and Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club learned soccer skills.
FOX Sports Soccer Analyst Alexi Lalas hosts the Nestle Nesquik youth soccer clinic on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Glendale, Calif. Local participants from the American Youth Soccer Organization and Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club learned soccer skills. While the kids participated in soccer drills, parents learned about postgame nutrition must-haves including suggested benefits of low fat chocolate milk because it contains the ideal 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to restore tired muscles after strenuous activity. VOA

The U.S. team made the quarterfinals in that World Cup, the first time in 72 years the team made it that far, Kammarman said.

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That success, he said, gave young American players inspiration to pursue soccer.  Between 1990 and 2014, the number of youth players in the country rose by 89 percent.  In 2015, there were nearly 25 million soccer players in the United States, second only to China. (VOA)