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Mithali Raj and R Ashwin to be recommended for Khel Ratna award

The BCCI has decided to recommend Mithali Raj and R Ashwin for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India's highest sporting honour. The board has also recommended the names of Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah for the Arjuna Award, a government honour to recognise outstanding achievements in national sport.

Raj, the 38-year-old India Test and ODI captain, completed 22 years in international cricket last week. She is also the leading rungetter in women's ODIs with 7170 runs. Under her captaincy, India have reached the final of the 50-over World Cup twice, in 2005 and 2017.

Off spinning allrounder Ashwin, who is already an Arjuna awardee like Raj, has been a consistent performer for the men's Test side. He has taken 413 wickets in 79 Tests, and 150 and 42 wickets in ODIs and T20Is respectively. More recently, he impressed during India's victorious tour of Australia where he took 12 wickets in three matches, and during the series against England at home where he took 32 wickets and scored a century. He also finished the World Test Championship cycle as the highest wicket-taker with 71 strikes.

Earlier in March, Ravichandran Ashwin was named the ICC men's Player of the Month (February) for his stellar show against England in a four-match Test series at home which his side won to qualify for the World Test Championship final. In the three Tests he played, Ashwin scored a 106 in the second innings of India's second Test victory over England at Chennai and took his 400th Test wicket in the third Test victory at Ahmedabad. Besides the century, Ashwin scalped a staggering 24 wickets against England in February to help India pocket the
four-match Test series 3-1 and help his team secure its spot in the WTC final against New Zealand. Scoring a total of 176 runs across these games and taking 24 wickets, Ashwin was
the unanimous choice to win in the men's category for February and garnered the most votes in the fan vote, the ICC said in a statement.

Former Indian wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya said, “Mithali Raj deserves it as she has been doing great for nearly two decades. Her achievement in women’s cricket is immense and second to none. BCCI has done a great job in recommending her name. R.Ashwin too is a top-notch matchwinner and has been instrumental in India’s success in Test cricket in the past decade. I think he deserves Khel Ratna. I congratulate both of them and my best wishes for them.”

Opening batter Dhawan has scored 5977 runs in 142 ODIs, and 2315 and 1673 runs in Tests and T20Is respectively. He will be captaining India in the upcoming limited-overs series in Sri Lanka too. Rahul, who has become one of the most important white-ball batters for the team in the last few years, has 2006 runs in Tests and 1509 and 1557 runs in ODIs and T20Is respectively. And Bumrah, who has rapidly risen up the ranks to become one of India's premier fast bowlers, has 83, 109 and 59 wickets in Tests, ODIs and T20Is respectively in his five-year-long international career so far. "No women cricketer has been nominated for Arjuna. Mithali's name has been recommended for Khel Ratna," a BCCI official said.

India's limited overs vicecaptain Rohit Sharma was among a record five Khel Ratna recipients last year. The Sports Ministry had first announced that it is inviting nominations for the National Sports Awards on May 20. While the initial deadline for the submission of nominations was June 21, it was extended to June 28 earlier this month. Till 2019, applicants needed recommendations to be able to apply but the condition was waived off last year as the COVID-19 lockdown prevented smooth movement of people. Last year, 74 recipients were bestowed with the awards. The prize money was also increased significantly with the Khel Ratna awardees receiving Rs 25 lakh, Arjuna awardees Rs 15 lakh, Dronacharya (Lifetime) awardees Rs 15 lakh, and Dhyanchand winners Rs 10 lakh.

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