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When the national selectors meet in Mumbai on Friday to pick the Indian squad for the two-match Test series against New Zealand, the much will revolve around veteran VVS Laxman.The 37-year-old classical batsman, who has played 134 Tests and scored 8,781 runs at 45.97, is seen on the last legs of his Test career; he is already out of the shorter versions of the game.Some experts believe that the selectors should immediately replace Laxman with a younger batsman while others feel that he should be persisted with for some more time, especially after India’s eight successive Test defeats abroad. Four of them came in England and four in Australia, and all of them mainly due to batting failures.Rahul Dravid announced his retirement after the tour of Australia where he was regularly bowled, creating a huge void in the middle order.Laxman was the poorest performer among the mainline batsmen in Australia, scoring just 155 runs in eight innings. No wonder tongues started wagging. Now, it remains to be seen how long rope the selectors give to the batsman from Hyderabad, where the first Test will start on August 23.However, the five selectors, a majority of them will complete their tenure at September-end, might be tempted to pick Laxman, particularly looking at his record in India as well as the fear of losing a ninth Test on a trot. A defeat is highly unlikely against a team like New Zealand, which was beaten 2- 0 in the two-Test series and lost the ODI series 1-4. Also, their main spinner Daniel Vettori has been ruled out of India tour with a groin injury.advertisementLaxman’s contribution to India’s cause – particularly his epochal 281 in the win over Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001 – can never be underestimated, despite his shortcomings as a fielder and running between the wickets.Even without Laxman, the batting line-up looks solid with Sachin Tendulkar, who is set to play is first international match as a Member of Parliament, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni being the pillars. Solid Ajinkya Rahane is expected to be the reserve opener.This line-up could be boosted if Cheteshwar Pujara, widely seen in the Dravid mould, is also picked. Having played three Tests in 2010, Pujara performed well on the recent India A tour of the West Indies, where he also led the team.However, Rohit Sharma, who has also been touted as a future Test batsman, has so far failed to live up to his promise.In bowling, pacer Zaheer Khan, who like Sehwag returned from Sri Lanka a couple of days ago without playing fifth and final ODI and the Twenty20 due to injuries, and Umesh Yadav are expected to share the new ball. The selectors will go by the physiotherapists’ reports on Zaheer and Sehwag.Left-arm pacer Irfan Pathan, who was the most successful Indian bowler with eight wickets in five ODIs in Sri Lanka, could make a comeback after four years on the back of this fine performance. The 27-year-old Baroda pacer last played a Test in April 2008. In the spin department, off-spinner R Ashwin and left-armer Pragyan Ojha are expected to retain their places while Harbhajan Singh might have to wait for some more time to stage a comeback.
FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – A report on lessons learned from the Fort McMurray wildfire recommends improved prevention measures along with better disaster management and evacuation planning.The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo commissioned the KPMG review following the fire in May 2016 that forced about 88,000 people to flee the area in northeastern Alberta.Mayor Melissa Blake said other communities in Canada facing the threat of wildfires can learn from Fort McMurray’s experience by stepping up prevention work such as clearing trees and brush from around homes.Blake said there was pushback from residents about tree-clearing before the disaster that torched more than 2,500 homes and caused $3.6 billion in insured property damage. But since the fire, people have become more open to the idea.“Unfortunately what we have experienced in the community is that when you take trees off of the greenbelt people get quite concerned and agitated by it,” Blake said Thursday. “Fire-smarting is absolutely a critical component to helping to mitigate.”The report said in the years leading up to the fire very little was spent on wildfire prevention programs in the region. Since the disaster, Alberta and the Red Cross have pledged $14 million for FireSmart mitigation efforts.The report said the municipality did a good job protecting people’s safety and noted that nobody died as a direct result of the wildfire. Two people were killed in a traffic accident during the evacuation.It recommends that key emergency leaders take more training, pass on their knowledge to staff and use a command system to better co-ordinate how a disaster is managed.Fire Chief Jody Butz said it is possible that residents could have been given clearer information earlier about the need to evacuate on May 3 if there had been better command and control.Butz said the municipality has bolstered training and strengthened its emergency management plans since the fire.“This report has given us the perspective that we needed to be able to take a hard look at the areas we need to improve upon,” he said.“We are not going to shy away from addressing these issues as we have a duty to the residents to ensure that we are doing our part to make our region both safe and resilient.”The report recommends that other communities in the region, including First Nations, should be included in evacuation planning.KPMG also says the municipality should include a pet rescue program in its emergency management plan. During the wildfire, volunteers and others saved or looked after more than 1,600 dogs, cats and reptiles.The municipality said it accepts all the report’s recommendations and is already working to put them into effect.The Fort McMurray report comes as more than 150 wildfires burn in British Columbia that have forced thousands of people from their homes.— By John Cotter in Edmonton