Aussies all out for 300 in series decider

Steve Smith posted yet another captain’s century but Australia wasted a strong start to be all out for 300 late on day one of their Test series decider against India.

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India were 0-0 in response at stumps on Saturday, having survived the one over delivered by Josh Hazlewood.

Smith and David Warner blitzed the opening session of the fourth Test in Dharamsala, powering the visitors to 1-144 shortly after lunch.

Left-warm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, on debut in the absence of injured captain Virat Kohli, then turned the match on its head by kickstarting a collapse of 5-64.

“A little bit, yeah,” Matthew Wade said, when asked if his side squandered a chance to build a far more imposing total.

“At 1-140 after lunch, you’d hope to push on.

“They bowled really well through the middle session and we had to find a way to grind out 300. I thought to get there in the end was a good effort.”

Yadav, mentored by Kolkata teammate Brad Hogg during the Indian Premier League, shed a tear when he claimed his first Test wicket and finished with figures of 4-68.

“We have a look at everyone before the start of the series, so the boys were on top of what he was going to bowl,” Wade said.

“It’s different when you get out into a game scenario … he bowled quite well.”

Wade rallied with his first Test half-century since Australia’s 2013 tour of India but the top-ranked Test side turned the screws superbly.

Momentum shifted dramatically when Yadav, India’s first ever left-arm wrist spinner at Test level, snared the key scalp of Warner.

It broke a 134-run stand between Smith and Warner, the first century partnership between the captain and vice-captain. The leaders, who scored 111 and 56 respectively, had looked set to march Australia to a 400-plus total.

Instead, Warner prodded forward to a ball that reared off the pitch, took the edge and carried to stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane at first slip.

Yadav then clean bowled Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell – both for eight, bamboozling them with late drift and a wrong ‘un respectively. Pat Cummins became the 22-year-old’s fourth victim when he chipped a catch back to the bowler.

Rahane clasped a low slips catch to dismiss Smith for 111. The classy right-hander, who won the toss for the third time in the series, was undone by a straight delivery from ace offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

Wade was impressed with how Rahane rallied his side with minimal input from Kohli, who regularly ran drinks and passed on encouragement and pointers to teammates.

“They were very, very good. They were very calm and went about their work today. They weren’t over excited, they just went about their work,” the wicketkeeper said.

The high-stakes match, which comes with the series at 1-1, started with Karun Nair putting down a one-handed slips catch offered by Warner.

EU leaders mark bloc’s 60th anniversary

European Union leaders have marked the 60th anniversary of their founding treaty as a turning point in their history in the knowledge that Britain will officially trigger divorce proceedings from the bloc next week.

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Desperately trying to portray that sustained unity is the only way ahead in a globalised world, the no-show of British Prime Minister Theresa May was a symbol of the crisis the 27 other EU nations are going through.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Brexit “a tragedy”.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said that sustained unity was the only way for the EU to survive.

“Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all,” he told EU leaders at a solemn session in precisely the same ornate hall on the ancient Capitoline Hill where the Treaty of Rome founding the EU was signed on March 25, 1957.

“Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe in relation to the rest of the world,” Tusk said. “Only a sovereign Europe guarantees independence for its nations, guarantees freedom for its citizens.”

In a series of speeches, EU leaders also acknowledged how the bloc had strayed into a complicated structure that had slowly lost touch with its citizens, compounded by the severe financial crisis that struck several member nations over the past decade.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who was hosting the summit, said that over the past dozen years the EU’s development had stalled.

“Unfortunately, we stopped” he said, and “it triggered a crisis of rejection”.

At the same time though, the summit in sun-splashed Rome, where new civilisations were built on old ruins time and again, there also was a message of optimism.

“Yes, we have problems, yes there are difficulties, yes there will be crisis in the future, but we stand together and we move forward,” Gentiloni said. “We have the strength to start out again.”

At the end of the session, all 27 leaders signed a new Rome Declaration saying that “European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour”.

“We have united for the better. Europe is our common future,” the declaration said.

Trump, after stinging defeat, promises a ‘great’ health plan

“ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE.

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Do not worry!” the Republican said on Twitter.

But it was far from clear how soon Trump and the Republicans would be willing to wade again into the perilous political minefield of health care reform. 

Friday’s defeat was more than a small stumble: Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, the first big legislative test of his nascent administration. 

The bill’s failure marked a second major policy setback for Trump, after courts froze his efforts to block travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

The real estate mogul-turned-politician — who built his candidacy on his skills as a negotiator and deal closer — had very publicly twisted the arms of recalcitrant Republicans to rally votes, extending both carrots and sticks.

But far-right lawmakers of the so-called Freedom Caucus mostly stood their ground, and every Democrat shunned the Republicans’ legislation, forcing the last-minute cancellation of a vote.

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Not like campaigning

That raised questions about how Republican leaders will deal with the stubborn conservative bloc on major issues like tax reform and infrastructure spending, and on how well Trump will be able to work with a divided party and a deeply polarized Congress.

It was a sobering lesson for the president on the differences between the top-down operation of a big company and the murky legislative process often compared to sausage-making.

“For Mr. Trump,” said a New York Times editorial, “it is a rather brutal reminder that campaigning is the easy part.”

Trump declared himself “disappointed” and a “little surprised” by the defeat of the bill, placing the blame on Democrats and the “arcane” ways of Washington.

He said that “bad things are going to happen to Obamacare.”

“It’s imploding and soon will explode and it’s not going to be pretty.”

As a candidate, Trump had promised a “terrific deal” that would improve health care coverage while lowering costs. 

Instead, House Speaker Paul Ryan conceded that Obamacare would remain for the “foreseeable future,” and Trump himself seemed unusually subdued on Friday.

‘Pathetic’

Republicans had for years insisted Obamacare repeal was a paramount priority. While political analysts said the matter seemed dead for now, some conservatives urged Republicans not to throw in the towel. 

The National Review website exhorted Republicans not to quit. 

“They have spent seven years saying they were going to replace Obamacare. They didn’t say they were going to spend a few weeks on a half-baked plan and then give up. Back to work, ladies and gentlemen.”

Others were more scathing.

Philip Klein, managing editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, called the setback “the biggest broken promise in political history,” concluding that “failing and then walking away on seven years of promises is a pathetic abdication of duty. The Republican Party is a party without a purpose.”

Friday’s setback sparked a flurry of finger-pointing among Republicans — both publicly and behind the scenes — as they weighed the damage to their credibility and sought a path forward.

A who-is-blaming-whom graphic on the New York Times website looked a bit like an octopus, with Trump publicly blaming Democrats, and other factors, while privately fingering Ryan.

Trump’s comments about letting Obamacare collapse raised concerns among some Democrats, who feared the administration might find ways other than legislation to undercut Obamacare. 

“The danger is that a wounded president and his GOP allies will act on their sore feelings by irresponsibly attacking the existing health care system in other ways,” a Washington Post editorial said. 

“Mr. Trump should not imagine that angry Americans will blame Democrats, who are totally locked out of power, if he presides over an unraveling of the system.” 

 

Steve Smith posts Test ton in decider

Steve Smith has extended his recent streak of dominance against India, delivering yet another Test century when Australia needed it most.

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Smith posted the 20th ton of his Test career on day one of the series decider between Australia and India in Dharamsala.

It came as his teammates threatened to throw away the ascendancy he and David Warner had built in the high-stakes contest. Warner, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell departed amid a collapse of 4-34.

Smith, as was the case in Ranchi where he ran out of partners and finished 178 not out, looked like he was batting on a different pitch.

“It looks that easy for him. It’s obviously not that easy for him when he’s out there but from sitting off the ground it’s like he’s playing a different game,” Matthew Wade said.

“He’s the best player in the world at the moment but he’s on track to be one of the greatest players Australia has ever seen.”

The innings will continue to fuel debate about whether Smith is Australia’s greatest batsman since Don Bradman.

Smith doesn’t have a commanding grip on that title but will almost certainly grasp it if he continues to peel off hundreds with such remarkable consistency and composure.

Bradman and Indian icon Sunil Gavaskar are the only batsmen to have reached 20 Test centuries in fewer matches than Smith, who celebrated the milestone in Test No.54.

It is even more remarkable given Smith started his international career as a legspinning allrounder. He didn’t reach three figures until his 12th Test.

The 27-year-old now has seven centuries from eight consecutive Tests against India, having also ruled the 2014/15 series between the sides.

“He’s just got them totally rattled and they don’t know what to do,” former Australia captain Allan Border said.

“They’ve tried different lines to him, they tried some around the wicket with the new ball.

“Nothing has worked.”

Smith is the second visiting captain to score three centuries during a Test series in India, joining Alastair Cook who managed the feat in 2012, leading England to a shock series win.

If Australia record their second Test series win in India since 1969, Smith will almost certainly be named man of the series.

He won the toss on Saturday then brought up his half-century in 67 deliveries, picking gaps and stroking boundaries with ease as India’s rejigged attack and bumbling fielders struggled to keep the runs down.

He needed a further 83 balls to reach three figures as batting partners shuffled on and off the field during an eventful post-lunch session.

UN envoy urges Russia, Iran, Turkey to help uphold Syria ceasefire

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias from nearby countries, are seeking to staunch the biggest rebel assault in months, which began this week in the capital Damascus and the Hama countryside.

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“Growing violations in recent days are undermining the ceasefire regime addressed through the Astana meetings, with significant negative consequences for the safety of Syrian civilians, humanitarian access and the momentum of the political process,” de Mistura said in a statement on the third day of peace talks.

The U.N. envoy said he had written to the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey — the three guarantors of the ceasefire that came into effect on December 30, urging them to “undertake urgent efforts to uphold the ceasefire regime.”

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Nasr Hariri, lead negotiator of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said after meeting the U.N. envoy on Saturday that 15 civilians were killed and 70 wounded in the bombing of a market in Hamouriya in the Damascus countryside.

“I am talking about the killing machine and terror machine of the Assad regime,” Hariri said, reading the names of victims of the “massacre” to reporters in Geneva.

He also accused the government of the forced displacement of civilians and imposing “demographic change”.

“Any political solution would not be meaningful or credible if it was not accompanied with a real ceasefire on the ground,” Hariri said. “If we don’t have that real ceasefire then things will deteriorate very badly.”

Hariri said the opposition delegation and de Mistura had discussed political transition, one of four themes that the two sides have agreed to as the agenda for this fifth round.

The government delegation led by Syrian ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari presented the U.N. mediator on Saturday with a paper on fighting terrorism, another agenda item that Damascus views as the priority.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said in a report it had documented 948 civilians killed, including 192 children and 91 women, “largely at the hands of the Syrian regime and Russia” since the last round of Geneva peace talks ended on March 3.

Smith ton helps Australia to 300 after Kuldeep shines on debut

Smith, comfortably the leading scorer of the series, made 111 as he and David Warner, who scored 56, added 134 runs for the second wicket to help Australia dominate the morning session after opting to bat.

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Left-arm wrist-spinner Yadav, an inspirational selection in India’s bold move to go with five bowlers, led the hosts’ strong comeback in the post-lunch session when five wickets tumbled for 64 runs.

Matthew Wade made 57 down the order to help Australia reach 300 before the tourists folded leaving India to bat the final over of the day, a maiden one from Josh Hazlewood.

Wade conceded Australia lost an opportunity to post a bigger total.

“(Australia were) one for 140, so after lunch you hope to push but credit to the Indians who bowled really well through the middle session,” he told reporters.

“We had to find a way to grind out 300. To get there in the end was a good effort.”

Openers Lokesh Rahul, who faced all six deliveries from Hazlewood, and Murali Vijay will hope to give India a strong start when they resume on Sunday.

The hosts received a jolt even before a ball was bowled when regular skipper Virat Kohli was ruled out of the match with a shoulder injury he had sustained in the drawn third test in Ranchi.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, replacing fellow paceman Ishant Sharma, swung the first ball of the match to induce an edge from Warner but Karun Nair spilled it at third slip.

India did not have to wait long for the breakthrough though.

In the next over, Umesh Yadav pushed one through Matt Renshaw’s gate and pegged back his off-stump to dismiss the opener for one.

Smith and Warner laid the foundation for a big first innings total with a century partnership during which Smith’s characteristic fluency contrasted Warner’s scratchy knock.

Warner brought up his first fifty of the series after Smith had reached his own, before Kuldeep led India’s fightback after lunch with brilliant display of wrist-spin bowling.

The 22-year-old generated extra bounce and the ball flew off the shoulder of Warner’s bat en route to India’s stop-gap skipper Ajinkya Rahane at slip.

Umesh dismissed Shaun Marsh for four before Kuldeep (4-68) returned to further torment the tourists.

The Uttar Pradesh player disturbed Peter Handscomb’s stumps and then bamboozled Glenn Maxwell with a brilliant googly to peg back Australia.

Smith brought up his 20th test century in 150 balls to steer Australia past the 200-run mark before edging Ravichandran Ashwin to Rahane in the slip.

Smith faced 173 balls during his composed knock, hitting 14 boundaries.

Wade and Pat Cummins, who made 21, defied the Indian bowlers for nearly 13 overs before being separated.

“All four wickets are special but I guess the first wicket (of Warner) was important from the team’s point of view,” Kuldeep said.

“They did not take a chance against me and were largely content taking singles. I didn’t face any problem.”

The four-test series is level at 1-1.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Thousands in London protest leaving EU

Thousands of people have marched through London to protest against Britain leaving the European Union, just four days before Prime Minister Theresa May launches the start of the formal divorce process from the bloc it joined 44 years ago.

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The Unite for Europe march ended on Saturday with a rally in Parliament Square, scene of this week’s attack by British-born Islam convert Khalid Masood in which four people died.

Marchers observed a minute’s silence in memory of the victims at the start of the demonstration.

In bright sunshine, they waved EU flags and banners with slogans like “So what’s the Plan” and “Stop Brexit” as they made their way to parliament.

One banner from a marcher in Hastings on the south coast – scene of England’s epoch-defining defeat to William, Duke of Normandy – read: “Hastings, in Europe since 1066.”

Another simply said “Happy Birthday EU” in a reference to this weekend’s 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding, currently being commemorated in Rome.

Joss Dennis was one of three busloads of protesters who had travelled from Bristol in western England, which voted 62 per cent to stay in the EU in last June’s referendum compared with the national 52-48 per cent vote to leave.

“With such a close vote, I don’t see how anyone can call this the will of the people,” she told Reuters. “We have so much to lose: environmentally, politically and financially.

“A terrible mistake has been made but the situation is not beyond redemption.”

May has been adamant she intends to take Britain out of the EU following the referendum and will formally announce the start of the two-year leaving process on Wednesday.

NQ coach Green says Hess not Origin ready

Already pencilled in for State of Origin selection, Coen Hess will have no doubt had Maroons coach Kevin Walters reaching for the permanent marker after North Queensland’s 32-26 NRL win over Gold Coast.

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But Cowboys coach Paul Green could not give his Origin blessing to Hess – yet.

In just his fifth start, the 20-year-old backrower proved the difference with two barnstorming second-half tries in which he carried four defenders over the line each time.

Queensland coach and selector Walters witnessed the powerhouse display from one of the best seats in the house as a Fox Sports TV commentator on Saturday night.

And he liked what he saw.

“Kevvie is scribbling in his Maroons notebook,” fellow TV commentator and Maroons great Gary Belcher said.

Green believed it was a matter of time before Hess played Origin – just not yet.

“It’s probably a bit early. He’s still learning,” he said.

“He has only played a handful of first grade games.

“Definitely one day. I think he is tailor made for Origin but it might be a bit early just yet.”

Hess looked every inch a budding Origin star when he made seven tackle busts to spark a Cowboys pack without leaders Matt Scott (knee) and Jason Taumalolo (ban).

After just his 12th game, Hess wasn’t getting caught up in the hype.

“To be honest I don’t look too much into it,” Hess told AAP.

“It is satisfying to get compliments but that is later on down the track.

“My priority is the Cowboys.”

Walters had already claimed Hess was “on the radar” before the young gun’s Cbus Super Stadium heroics.

The Maroons coach – elevated to one of three selectors this year – is on the lookout for fresh faces in a reshuffled 2017 Maroons pack.

Lock Corey Parker’s retirement and prop Matt Scott’s season-ending knee injury have left glaring holes.

And Manly frontrower Nate Myles is also battling for form.

It seems Hess can count on an Origin recommendation from Cowboys co-captain and Maroons great Johnathan Thurston.

The North Queensland playmaker is a clear Hess fan.

“You can tell by his performances – he is pretty cool, calm and collected,” Thurston said.

“He is fairly mature for a young bloke, knows how to read the game.

“I think the more we give him the ball in certain situations the better he will get.

“We all know the potential that he has – he has a big future.”

Hess at least has an Origin build after bulking up his 190cm frame to 114kg in the off-season.

“I’d hate to be feeding him, he’d cost a fortune,” Green said.

Lions edge Suns in thrilling Q Clash

Brisbane have edged local rivals Gold Coast to make a winning start to their 2017 AFL season.

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Despite holding a seven-goal lead at halftime, the Lions were nearly overrun by the Suns in the dying minutes at Metricon Stadium but held on to claim a 15.8 (98) to 14.12 (96) win.

Ryan Bastinac finished with three goals for the Lions, who began life under new coach Chris Fagan with victory.

New skipper Dayne Beams shone for the visitors with 28 disposals and six tackles to pick up the Marcus Ashcroft Medal as the best on ground while the man who did hold the captaincy at the Lions, Tom Rockliff, was the top disposal gatherer in the match with 37.

For the Suns, Tom Lynch booted three majors while Aaron Hall and debutant Ben Ainsworth had two each as they played leading roles in the hosts’ comeback.

Former Suns’ skipper Gary Ablett picked up 28 disposals and laid eight tackles in his first match since relinquishing the club’s leadership in the off-season.

The Lions simply charged out the blocks with Mitch Robinson and Dayne Zorko kicking two goals each as the visitors booted seven unanswered goals before the Suns could get on the board.

Another double, this time to Bastinac, in the second quarter extended the Lions’ lead to an imposing 46 points by the main break.

Suns’ coach Rodney Eade’s words at halftime must have spurred his charges as they responded with an eight goal third term.

The Lions did enough to retain a three-goal margin at the final turn but momentum was with the home team heading into the final quarter.

And with 10 minutes to go that halftime margin was gone when Adam Saad charged through the midfield and scored a behind, which levelled the scores and set up a grandstand finish.

Lewis Taylor and Lynch shared goals to keep the scores close but the Lions did just enough to hold on and secure an upset win.

Trump turns to taxes after Obamacare blow

After failing to repeal Obamacare, Republicans in the US Congress quickly pivoted on Friday to President Donald Trump’s next priority: overhauling the federal tax code, but their plan has already split the business community.

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Division among Republicans was the chief cause of the embarrassing setback on Obamacare, and similar faultlines have been evident for months in the Republicans’ tax plan, mainly over an untested proposal to use the tax code to boost exports.

House of Representatives tax committee Chairman Kevin Brady conceded the demise of a Republican plan to roll back Obamacare could make the path to tax reform harder.

“This made a big challenge more challenging. But it’s not insurmountable,” he told Fox News after Ryan cancelled a vote on an Obamacare rollback bill.

But Brady said he and speaker Paul Ryan are all-in on tax reform.

Brady said House Republicans plan to begin moving on tax reform this spring and to pass legislation before Congress’s summer recess in late July.

“We’re going to work with the administration to get this done,” he said.

Trump has been unclear about his position on the most problematic feature of the House Republicans’ tax “blueprint,” a proposal known as the border adjustment tax that would cut taxes on exports and raise them on imports.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that tax reform in many ways is “a lot simpler” than healthcare reform.

“We’re able to take the tax code and redesign things and I think there is very, very strong support,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by news website Axios.

Comprehensive tax reform is a policy goal so complex that it has defied successive Congresses and presidents since 1986 when it was last accomplished under former President Ronald Reagan.