Home NEWS Covid-19 Despite COVID-19, 5 Chicago VCs say region is poised for success

Covid-19 Despite COVID-19, 5 Chicago VCs say region is poised for success

Covid-19 Despite COVID-19, 5 Chicago VCs say region is poised for successCovid-19

Chicago has a protracted historical past of making industry-leading firms and it doesn’t appear COVID-19 is slowing down town. TechCrunch surveyed Chicago enterprise capitalists who stay optimistic regardless of the present disaster. COVID-19 might be good for Chicago, they instructed TechCrunch all through their survey responses.

It’s clear from the responses beneath buyers in Chicago are inquisitive about startups out and in of town. As defined within the responses, the companions and associates are glad to put money into worthwhile firms irrespective of the place the corporate is positioned. That stated, they see Chicago as a unbelievable place to expertise massive metropolis life with a a lot decrease value of residing than what’s accessible in NYC, San Francisco or Seattle.

Here’s who we surveyed:

  • Guy Turner, companion, Hyde Park Venture Partners
  • Constance Freedman, founder and managing companion, Moderne Ventures
  • Katie McClain, companion, Energize Ventures
  • Bess Goodfellow, principal, Hyde Park Angels
  • Lee Shapiro, co-founder and managing companion, 7WireVentures

Covid-19 VCs are optimistic that COVID-19 will lead to a win for Chicago

Guy Turner sees a doable final result the place Chicago and different cities within the region profit from the COVID-19 fallout. He stated, “In this sense, COVID could reaccelerate Chicago and other midcontinent cities’ startup communities with more availability of talent and cheaper operating costs. Might COVID result in tech flight to ex-urban or suburban communities around the midcontinent, or otherwise in third- and fourth-tier cities around the country?” He later notes this warning: “Related to the 2020 COVID recession, I would expect the availability of local capital for seed and post-seed stage financing to reduce somewhat.”

Constance Freedman of Moderne Ventures notes on COVID-19: “I think Chicago is poised to come out well. The city is affordable to begin with … like 50% more affordable than the West or East Coast hubs … Chicago has long been known for banking, real estate, health care and insurance. I think these sectors and others are poised to do well. The largest opportunity for us (and any major city) is how to close the education gap, which leads to closing the income gap and from there — the sky is the limit!”

Rachel Stillman of 7WireVentures is optimistic, too, partly saying, “We imagine that Chicago will stay a expertise hub and may very well stand to profit from the shift to extra distant work. As expertise recruitment turns into democratized by way of location-agnostic roles, most of the features which were characterised by scarce expertise swimming pools (e.g., engineering, knowledge science, product) will profit from nationwide recruitment capabilities. Additionally, sturdy candidates that choose to stay within the Midwest have been traditionally pushed to maneuver to the coasts for profession development.

Covid-19 Chicago VCs to proceed regional and nationwide focus

Nearly all of the buyers surveyed careworn their companies focus is not on simply Chicago, however startups nationwide. None anticipate COVID-19 to alter that mission.

Katie McClain of Energize Ventures stated, “We expect to maintain a balance of investing in companies across geographies that are not limited to Silicon Valley. With many more firms going remote and relocating to areas outside of the West Coast since the start of the pandemic, we see a big opportunity for non-Bay Area companies to emerge. We’re excited about what that could mean for cities like Chicago and the Midwest in general.”

Guy Turner sees the same final result, noting, “We expect to maintain the same geographic focus after COVID, however, we are likely to be more open to teams and companies with a remote or partially remote working structure. In the past, we mostly avoided ‘virtual’ teams, but the last six months have proven at scale that companies can be innovative and productive with a largely remote culture.”


Covid-19 Guy Turner, companion at Hyde Park Venture Partners

How a lot is native investing a spotlight for you now? If you might be investing remotely typically now, are you filtering for native founders?

We are geographically centered on the “midcontinent” — wherein we embrace the Midwest, Toronto and Atlanta. We are certainly investing remotely proper now, however are sustaining our geographic lens in order that we maintain a centered sourcing, expertise and co-investing community post-COVID. Early-stage investing is a really private and network-driven enterprise, so we need to be close to and accessible to seek out and work with the perfect founders. Focusing on particular geographies has allowed us to do that and can once more after COVID. Chicago represents about 40% of our exercise traditionally and can possible proceed to.

Long time period, do you anticipate to be kind of regionally centered?

We anticipate to take care of the identical geographic focus after COVID, nonetheless, we’re more likely to be extra open to groups and firms with a distant or partially distant working construction. In the previous, we principally prevented “virtual” groups, however the final six months have confirmed at scale that firms might be revolutionary and productive with a largely distant tradition. Most “virtual” firms nonetheless have an HQ with a number of key leaders, and we search firms that decision a metropolis in our geography HQ. The finest approach we’ve discovered to filter for the middle of mass of a distant or nearly run firm is to ask the query, “Where do you hold your holiday party or off-sites?” This normally coincides with town the place a number of founders stay.

What do you anticipate to occur to the startup local weather in Chicago long term, with the shift to extra distant work, presumably from extra distant areas. Will it keep a tech hub? (Will there be tech hubs? What is a tech hub now?)

We stay optimistic that the last decade of progress in Chicago’s march towards “tech hub” standing won’t be interrupted by COVID. Indeed, it was the upper unemployment and dropping rents of the monetary disaster that helped spark the expansion of the Chicago startup neighborhood, in what is in any other case a reasonably conventional and conservative enterprise neighborhood. One of the primary firms we invested in paid $12/sq. foot/month within the Chicago Merchandise Mart in 2012. Depending the way you depend, that area reached $40 to $60/sq. foot within the 2019 peak.

In this sense, COVID might reaccelerate Chicago and different midcontinent cities’ startup communities with extra availability of expertise and cheaper working prices. Might COVID lead to tech flight to ex-urban or suburban communities across the midcontinent, or in any other case in third- and fourth-tier cities across the nation? The new digital work pattern might allow extra of that on the margin, nevertheless it’s arduous to see it taking off at scale. In the long term, startups will nonetheless must fly to promote their merchandise or have workers fly in for HQ occasions post-COVID. That means most startups will need to have some middle close to a high 10 or high 20 airport. Young folks (founders, tech expertise, and many others.) nonetheless need to date, expertise nightlife and have enjoyable with a lot of different younger folks — i.e., metropolis life.

Are there explicit {industry} sectors that you simply anticipate to do uniquely properly or poorly, regionally?

Chicago has all the time been a logistics hub and is now changing into a logistics tech hub with firms like FourKites, Shipbob and Forager. COVID highlighted the fragility and significance of our meals provide chains, making the function and potential of those firms more and more seen. This shall be good for Chicago and the broader Midwest.

In the quick time period, what challenges are going through Chicago’s startup scene?

Related to the 2020 COVID recession, I might anticipate the supply of native capital for seed and post-seed stage financing to scale back considerably. While we have been lucky to boost our third fund late final yr, a few of our peer funds have been nonetheless elevating or planning to boost their subsequent fund. A number of are more likely to come out smaller or to be considerably delayed of their subsequent elevate given the results of COVID on most enterprise portfolios’ valuations and exit horizons. This means seed and post-seed rounds will in all probability be tougher for native startups to boost for a number of years. On the opposite hand, angel exercise stays very sturdy given the rebound of public markets, and coastal funds proceed to indicate sturdy curiosity and deployment in Series A and later in Chicago.

Likewise — as in each different geography — COVID has considerably slowed down the expansion of most startups whereas aiding a small few. Chicago is no exception, although there are some restaurant tech startups (Tock, Chowly, and many others.) and logistics startups (FourKites, Shipbob, Forager) which have come out on high. This is my mental model for what the startup opportunity set looks like during COVID versus regular occasions — however simply as true anyplace else as right here:

Image Credits: Guy Turner

Less associated to COVID, Chicago has all the time been sturdy in gross sales expertise however weaker on product and product-led progress expertise. This is bettering with every successive technology of profitable startup outcomes like Grubhub, Cleversafe, Braintree, GoHealth, and many others. But it’s a protracted journey.

Who are some founders (who you’ve invested in or in any other case) which can be leaders in the neighborhood?

  • Garry Cooper at Rheaply: Series A stage and has been very concerned in social justice efforts regionally.
  • Amanda Lannert at Jellyvision: late stage and really energetic angel.
  • Mike Evans at Fixer: co-founder of Grubhub and now runs a startup B-corp.

Plenty of Bay Area founders and builders wish to relocate. Why Chicago and even the Midwest?

The reply is fairly easy. The value of residing in Chicago — particularly housing — is about half or much less that of the Bay Area/SF and NYC. If you go to a Minneapolis, Indianapolis or Cincinnati, you’re speaking 1 / 4 or a 3rd. If you might be beginning a startup or a profession in tech, that is a massively completely different paradigm below which to construct a nest egg. You simply can’t in most main coastal cities. Chicago is additionally a phenomenal place with all the advantages of a high three U.S. metropolis — tradition, arts, profession alternatives, training, accepting tradition, and many others.

Covid-19 Constance Freedman, founder and managing companion at Moderne Ventures

I feel as a society we don’t fairly know the way COVID is going to influence us all long run however what is changing into clear is that we’re going to have to all determine the best way to stay with COVID for the foreseeable future, which might be many extra months or, extra possible, years.

What does that imply for the startup scene in Chicago? First, what does it imply for cities broadly? There shall be a repositioning of kinds as workplaces in all places consider what “work from home means” and the place, when and the way we return to the workplace.

We are social folks and we want social interplay so there shall be a return of some form — how and when is unclear.

Where do folks need to stay? Data is displaying us that migration to the suburbs and second house markets are up — all these millennials who would by no means purchase a house and transfer to the suburbs are shopping for houses and transferring to the suburbs (or transferring again in with their mother and father because the case could also be); strikes into the costly first-tier cities are down. People who say, “Why am I living in a 300 square foot apartment with four roommates in NYC [or SF or insert equally crazy expensive city here] when I can’t even enjoy the city I am in?” are asking the proper query. COVID has supplied a chance for those that are nonetheless employed to reassess their high quality of life and make adjustments.

I feel this has massive influence on the most costly cities on the planet and fewer influence on the secondary and tertiary markets. Short time period, there is not a lot change however long run, because the Silicon Valley startups increase work-from-home, headquarters may additionally transfer.

World-class startups nonetheless want world-class feeders, so I don’t anticipate growth to achieve all that far, however maybe density or proximity to work turns into much less necessary for those that work there. This might give extra cities a change to rise, together with Chicago.

So what does this imply for Chicago startup ecosystem? I feel Chicago is poised to return out properly. The metropolis is reasonably priced to start with … like 50% extra reasonably priced than the West or East Coast hubs. If I stay in Chicago I can afford area, I can get pleasure from my metropolis and I’ve good transportation if I need to bail out of town and transfer to the suburbs. Chicago has a powerful ecosystem of universities and capital that may maintain it and should turn out to be extra interesting to these (tech folks and buyers) who moved out to go to the coasts within the first place and now notice they don’t have to be there. As folks migrate to stay the place they actually need to stay, with the life-style they need to have, close to household they need to be with, they start to look for extra native alternatives and that will deliver some nice expertise again to Chicago and different markets outdoors of the coasts.

Chicago has lengthy been recognized for banking, actual property, well being care and insurance coverage. I feel these sectors and others are poised to do properly. The largest alternative for us (and any main metropolis) is the best way to shut the training hole, which ends up in closing the earnings hole and from there — the sky is the restrict!

Covid-19 Katie McClain, companion at Energize Ventures

How a lot is native investing a spotlight for you now? If you might be investing remotely typically now, are you filtering for native founders?

When we have a look at investments, we give attention to diversifying our portfolio — and that features variety throughout geographies. While we don’t essentially have a filter for native founders, we’re intentional about ensuring about half of our investments are in firms outdoors of the Bay Area. Our portfolio contains startups primarily based in Chicago, Austin, Boston, New Jersey and Switzerland, simply to call a number of. For us, it’s necessary to be nearer to the shopper – and we adore it once we can discover them near our hometown. We’ve really only in the near past invested in a Chicago-based firm that we’re very excited to announce quickly, so keep tuned!

Long time period, do you anticipate to be kind of regionally centered?

We anticipate to take care of a stability of investing in firms throughout geographies that aren’t restricted to Silicon Valley. With many extra companies going distant and relocating to areas outdoors of the West Coast because the begin of the pandemic, we see a giant alternative for non-Bay Area firms to emerge. We’re enthusiastic about what that would imply for cities like Chicago and the Midwest typically.

From that, what do you anticipate to occur to the startup local weather in Chicago long term, with the shift to extra distant work, presumably from extra distant areas. Will it keep a tech hub? (Will there be tech hubs? What is a tech hub now?)

We imagine the shift away from conventional tech hubs like New York, Boston and San Francisco presents an excellent alternative for Chicago as individuals are discovering they are often environment friendly, revolutionary and collaborative in different pockets of the world. This might play out positively for our metropolis in quite a few methods, from creating jobs to enabling new alternatives for buyers to again Chicago-based firms. It’s necessary to notice that we imagine sure sectors with facilities of gravity in Chicago — like vitality, industrials and manufacturing – are right here to remain. However, how far that attain would possibly prolong past the Loop and into the broader ecosystem is nonetheless a piece in progress.

Are there explicit {industry} sectors that you simply anticipate to do uniquely properly or poorly, regionally?

There are a number of industries which have a very sturdy presence in Chicago — particularly finance, renewable vitality, manufacturing and {industry} (it’s no coincidence that Energize performs in a bit of every of those arenas!). On the finance aspect, I feel it is simpler for that sector to transition to a extra distant, distributed surroundings. For extra asset-based industries like vitality, manufacturing and commodities, we see this as extra of a problem. However, the extremely distributed nature of our new world is accelerating adoption of digital applied sciences in these sectors, and this is what we’re most enthusiastic about!

For instance, an organization like Beekeeper, which offers a digital communication and collaboration software for frontline staff, presents a compelling worth proposition for vitality and industrial companies in Chicago which have needed to solely alter on-the-ground operations on account of COVID-19. Another instance of this is a drone software program supplier: DroneDeploy has seen (*5*) as many flights amongst its vitality prospects this yr given the spike in demand for distant providers. There is a powerful presence of “essential” industries in Chicago that we imagine are right here to remain, however how they function shall be completely different — and that is the place applied sciences like these can play an necessary function in shaping the way forward for work and driving innovation.

In the quick time period, what challenges are going through Chicago’s startup scene?

Not having as sturdy of a status for its startup scene as cities on the coasts, Chicago can typically be neglected by big-name buyers who have a tendency to remain native. In addition, now that many coastal VCs are retrenching, early-stage Chicago firms that will usually depend on them might want to discover different sources of capital to fill the hole. That stated, it’s extra necessary than ever to boost consciousness about wealthy and numerous startup ecosystem we’ve developed right here.

Who are some founders (who you’ve invested in or in any other case) which can be leaders in the neighborhood?

We haven’t invested of any of those founders, however if you need intros we might presumably organize: Jennifer Holmgren (LanzaTech), Matt Silver (Forager), Michael Polsky, the main native vitality entrepreneur who based Invenergy (our anchor investor) and chairs Energize’s funding committee.

Plenty of Bay Area founders and builders wish to relocate. Why Chicago?

Chicago provides entry to a high-quality, numerous pool of corporates and potential prospects, significantly in industries like vitality, vital infrastructure and manufacturing which can be starting to undertake rising applied sciences at an accelerated tempo. You can also’t beat these Midwestern values — stereotypes apart, we’re proud to be amongst neighbors who deliver a grounded, get-it-done mentality! We imagine Chicago is the proper nexus of expertise, grit and alternative upheld by a dedicated neighborhood of buyers and operators.

Any different ideas you need to share with TechCrunch readers?

Energize is very bullish concerning the digital transformation we see taking place proper now. Companies in established industries are adopting applied sciences sooner than ever earlier than, and that’s not constrained to the West Coast. The core of our thesis is “accelerating digital innovation in energy and heavy industry,” and we’re seeing that play out throughout the globe. Innovation at scale is taking place proper right here in Chicago, and we’re excited to be part of that ecosystem. Lastly: If you’re constructing an organization that gives software program or enterprise mannequin innovation to assist propel this thrilling transformation, we’d love to listen to from you!

Covid-19 Bess Goodfellow, precept at Hyde Park Angels

How a lot is native investing a spotlight for you now? If you might be investing remotely typically now, are you filtering for native founders?

HPA focuses on the Midwest, so the pandemic hasn’t altered that focus; nonetheless, we actually have engaged remotely with entrepreneurs greater than earlier than. We’ve accomplished 13 new offers this yr already. Three offers have been introduced the previous few weeks (Chowbus, Cohesion and Dispatch) and one other new deal shall be introduced subsequent week.

Long time period, do you anticipate to be kind of regionally centered?

The identical.

What do you anticipate to occur to the startup local weather in Chicago long term, with the shift to extra distant work, presumably from extra distant areas. Will it keep a tech hub?

Absolutely. The macro traits are favoring most of the tech firms serving to to speed up progress, which is important for the well being of the tech neighborhood. We are optimistic that the businesses which can be hitting headwinds shall be supported by these rising quickly. Thankfully, we’re seeing that already in our portfolio.

Are there explicit {industry} sectors that you simply anticipate to do uniquely properly or poorly, regionally?

Digital well being, direct-to-consumer and e-commerce are doing very well in Chicago.

Any different ideas you need to share with TechCrunch readers?

We’ve seen current success with Sprout Social and GoHealth going public. Other Chicago-affiliated firms like Tempus, Livongo and FourKites are rising as clear {industry} leaders of their respective classes. We anticipate to see extra of our portfolio and people all through Chicago proceed to do what hardworking Chicagoans do, and combat by way of this pandemic to emerge even stronger!

Covid-19 Lee Shapiro, co-founder and managing companion, 7WireVentures

How a lot is native investing a spotlight for you now? If you might be investing remotely typically now, are you filtering for native founders?

We have been and stay supporters of the Chicago neighborhood and constantly advise and meet with entrepreneurs on this ecosystem. With that stated, we proceed to have a nationwide geographic focus as we’re inquisitive about rising nice founders and groups at the start.

Long time period, do you anticipate to be kind of regionally centered?

Our focus long run with regard to native investments will stay the identical, and we’ll proceed to be actively engaged and supportive of the Chicago early-stage well being care and expertise ecosystem. We acknowledge that journey restrictions and adherence to social distancing pointers might inhibit our skill to conduct onsite visits with founders outdoors of our native market, however we’ll proceed to be inventive about conducting distant diligence of administration groups.

From that, what do you anticipate to occur to the startup local weather in Chicago long term, with the shift to extra distant work, presumably from extra distant areas. Will it keep a tech hub? (Will there be tech hubs? What is a tech hub now?)

We imagine that Chicago will stay a expertise hub and may very well stand to profit from the shift to extra distant work. As expertise recruitment turns into democratized by way of location-agnostic roles, most of the features which were characterised by scarce expertise swimming pools (e.g., engineering, knowledge science, product) will profit from nationwide recruitment capabilities. Additionally, sturdy candidates that choose to stay within the Midwest have been traditionally pushed to maneuver to the coasts for profession development. Decentralized (and distant) work will now enable for extra funding in Chicago expertise, each in recruitment efforts and capital investments. Chicago will proceed to have sturdy universities and innovation ecosystem drivers — 1871, Matter Health, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship — that can produce and entice thrilling expertise firms. Entrepreneurs will nonetheless search a way of neighborhood and a spot to ideate and have interaction with like-minded creators, and Chicago will proceed to meet that want throughout the expertise ecosystem.

Are there explicit {industry} sectors that you simply anticipate to do uniquely properly or poorly, regionally?

We have seen an increase within the amount and progress of firms throughout digital well being and well being care IT. Exits and liquidity occasions of profitable digital well being firms similar to Livongo will drive a brand new wave and technology of expertise founders outfitted with capital and area experience. Ecosystem aggregators and incubators similar to Matter Health will proceed to help early progress from ideation to creation of healthcare options. Therefore, we stay bullish on the native healthcare ecosystem and imagine it has but to achieve its full potential.

In the quick time period, what challenges are going through Chicago’s startup scene?

Historically, Chicago has acquired a decrease quantity of enterprise capital {dollars} relative to competing main metropolitan cities. With much less preliminary funding, founders in Chicago might focus extra on pragmatically rising firms with financially sound methods (versus the “growth at all cost” mentality of the coasts). Additionally, much less capital makes it tougher to recruit expertise in some circumstances, as firms positioned in coastal cities might have the monetary assets to supply very enticing packages, significantly to technologists, who then will go away the Chicago market. Given the workforce adjustments pushed by COVID-19, we now have began to see a shift in firms’ willingness to recruit from remotely positioned expertise swimming pools. Companies positioned in coastal markets with deeper capital swimming pools will be capable to afford to pay the next premium for high quality expertise in Chicago, enabling these high expertise recruits to stay within the metropolis. Over the previous two years, Chicago has attracted an elevated quantity of enterprise {dollars} and incited the event of recent enterprise companies and extra funds, with enterprise capital deployed to Chicago firms exceeding $2 billion in 2019. With Chicago reported to be one of many strongest cities for enterprise capital returns, we imagine that companies in search of alternatives to maximise ROI will proceed to put money into Chicago and additional gasoline the expansion we’ve noticed within the metropolis.

Who are some founders (who you’ve invested in or in any other case) which can be leaders in the neighborhood?

There are a number of distinguished founders throughout the Chicago startup neighborhood; we now have highlighted two throughout our portfolio however word that these alone actually don’t seize the complete market of founders throughout this extremely spectacular ecosystem.

Across 7wireVentures investments, Stephen Smith, founder and CEO of NOCD, is a frontrunner we’re extremely proud to have inside our portfolio. Faced with the challenges of receiving applicable obsessive compulsive dysfunction (“OCD”) therapy himself, Stephen was impressed to discovered NOCD, a specialty telehealth platform that identifies and manages folks with OCD by delivering personalised remedy. In addition to servicing folks with NOCD, the corporate has scaled to create high-profile native jobs within the Chicago market and the Midwest.

Additionally, we’re extremely pleased with two of our co-founders, Dave Jacobs and David Greenberg, who constructed and scaled Homethrive alongside our staff by way of the 7wireVentures hatch mannequin. Homethrive is a tech-enabled platform supporting aging-in place by offering seniors and their caregivers personalised perception, recommendation and validated assets for key nonclinical providers. The firm has created over 40 jobs in Chicago and supported a whole bunch of household caregivers throughout Chicago, the Midwest, and the nation. The “Dave’s” (as they’re referred to at 7wire) have been pivotal within the ideation, growth and profitable progress of the corporate.

I might even be remiss to not point out my long-time enterprise companion, Glen Tullman, govt chairman and founding father of Livongo. Despite the success we now have had through the years exiting a number of firms, Glen and I each have dedicated to stay in Chicago, a metropolis and expertise ecosystem we each imagine in. Glen has dedicated his profession to bettering the security, empathy and effectivity of the U.S. well being care system. His imaginative and prescient and efforts to deliver collectively well being and expertise have been pivotal in scaling Livongo to what is now a $13 billion firm and consequently, created a whole bunch of jobs throughout the Chicago well being care and expertise ecosystem.

Plenty of Bay Area founders and builders wish to relocate. Why Chicago?

While different main cities might supply a concentrated hub of expertise specialists, Chicago uniquely embodies the tradition of sturdy “Midwestern work ethics.” The metropolis attracts and grows expertise swimming pools influenced by Midwestern values and humility, with an unwavering willingness to work thoughtfully. As a outcome, the Chicago expertise neighborhood is tightknit however nonetheless welcoming to outsiders, and deeply values collaboration and shared ideation. For founders and builders seeking to relocate, Chicago provides a neighborhood of bright-minded people at a price of residing low cost relative to its giant metropolitan metropolis companions.

In addition to the sturdy tradition, Chicago provides a novel expertise pool characterised by a mix of corporate-bred people bringing institutional information, and a rising pipeline of workers raised in startups. Illinois is house to 66 of the Fortune 500 firms (the quantity 4 state within the U.S.), whereas a brand new wave of profitable Chicago-based expertise firms have complemented the candidate pool with expertise expertise from the likes of Salesforce, Groupon, Livongo, Grubhub and Braintree.

Finally, founders positioned in Chicago stand to profit from the proximity and native entry to their goal prospects, lots of which aren’t residing within the coastal cities however right here within the Midwest. In the early levels of constructing an organization, it is elementary to intimately perceive and know the issues of your buyer. There is no higher technique to be taught and share the values of your goal shoppers than to stay amongst them within the Midwest.

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