ISL 2018-2019: What Went Down So Far & What More You Can Expect

And they’re back. After a 40-day long international break, during which the Indian football team made history by winning their first ever game at the AFC Asia Cup (but eventually crashed out), the Indian Super League 2018-19 edition returns to our screens. It’s been a while. In fact, it was actually last year that the last ISL game was played before the break. And what a game it was – 7 goals, a whopping win by the in-form Mumbai City FC team, and the relegation of Kerala City into the bottom 3. With such an action-packed football match rounding up the last phase, it’s hard not to look forward to the final stretch of league stage games.

Let’s do a refresher by taking a look at where things stand, and the potentially exciting contests in store over the next month:

LEADING LIGHTS

Not much has changed since the ISL 2017-18 league table at this stage last year in terms of the leader. After MatchDay 12 last month, Sunil Chhetri’s Bengaluru FC, who are again outright favourites to win the ISL after falling in last year’s final, lead the table by 3 points over the resurgent Mumbai City team with a game in hand. MatchDay 11 saw the top two lock horns in a pulsating game that ended in a 1-1 draw – only Bengaluru’s third non-victory (and draw) in their 11 games. Chhetri and co. will want to come out all guns blazing again after enduring a disappointing league stage campaign at the Asia Cup despite the bright start (and the ultimate resigning of coach Stephen Constantine). Bengaluru and FC Goa are the only teams that have 7 games to go (as opposed to 6 for the others). They may not win them all, but they just don’t know how to lose.

STORY OF ISL-5

It was supposed to be the aggressive FC Goa at one point. Then the underdogs NorthEast United at another point, before they dropped points. But when nobody was looking, Mumbai City has steamed through opposition in their last 6 games (a hat-trick by Modou Sogou and his partnership with Arnold Issoko set the league alight), dropping just 2 points and scoring a flood of goals. They have won 7 of their 12 games, drawing 3 and losing 2 (both of which came in their first 6 games). Their spirited performance against the leaders in Bengaluru ensured that the team is here to fight it out in the final third of the group stage. With 13 goals in their last 4 games, few would bet against them.

BEST OF THE REST

FC Goa, a team that is again topping the goal-scoring charts (27 goals in 11 games), NorthEast United, Jamshedpur FC and two-time champs ATK are within 4 points of each other between 3rd and 6th place. Every win and loss can make a big difference from here on, with just 6 games to play for most of them. They are well clear of Pune City (16 points) and the bottom 3 (less than 10). Perhaps the most shocking continues to be defending champions Chennaiyin, who are on a measly 5 points (with just 1 win) after 12 games. No league in the world this season has seen a fall so steep from a champion side.

BEST UPCOMING GAMES

Sunday 27/1: Mumbai City v/s Bengaluru FC

The table toppers battle for top position – will Mumbai be able to maintain their momentum that might have maybe disappeared over the break?

Wednesday 30/1: Bengaluru FC v/s NorthEast United

Won’t be an easy first couple of games for the leaders. After Mumbai, they will face a team that finished in the bottom 2 last season but have shown remarkable resilience and attacking strength this season.

Friday 01/2: Mumbai City v/s FC Goa

This is the real Western derby of the season. Both teams, attacking, in prime form, and battling for a place in the playoffs. Goa has been there and done that, but Mumbai is hungry, and this might make for the most open-ended match of the season.

14/2: Goa v/s ATK

Things might be different in three weeks, but one suspects this game will be a defining one in terms of shaping the final stages of the group. ATK will do themselves a big favour if they manage to peak at the right time, while Goa will be fighting their own inconsistency.

Here’s Our Prediction of the India vs New Zealand ODI Series

For the first time in the history of cricket, an Indian cricket team came away from Australia without losing a single series across all formats. A 1-1 draw in T20s, followed by 2-1 wins in the Test and ODI legs ensure that India, led by Kohli, continue their long tour in the region on a high. Next up are opponents not as weakened as Australia.

Kane Williamson’s New Zealand team is the perfect Test for India months before the crucial World Cup in England. The Kiwis have been one of the most improved teams in the last one year – and they somehow always managed to peak in time for an ICC tournament. They have adapted well after the retirement of Brendon McCullum, and have beaten teams like Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka convincingly over formats. Add to this India’s indifferent form in New Zealand over the years (it has always been tough, except in 2009), especially in the run-up to World Cups (remember 2002-03 and Sourav Ganguly’s doomed tour?) and this might just turn out to be the most important limited-overs leg in cricket right now.

Here are a few talking points, then, on the eve of the India v/s New Zealand ODI series – which consists of 5 matches to be played at Napier, Mount Maunganui, Hamilton and Wellington.

Head to Head:
Played: 101
India Won: 51
NZ Won: 44

INDIA SQUAD

India came away with a hard-fought 2-1 victory in the ODI series in Australia, and seem to think that their middle order is sorted. It is not. They started out with Ambati Rayadu at no. 4 and ended with MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav in the same position. They did well to chase down the total in the final two games, but there seems to be a “firepower” missing from the middle order. A Rishabh Pant, or a younger Yuvraj Singh. Right now it’s Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik playing unorthodox strokes, which might not always work on seaming pitches. Which is why the biggest news of this squad in New Zealand is the inclusion of young Shubman Gill. The right-handed phenom took the U-19 World Cup by storm last year, and has been playing Ranji attacks for fun. The management will hope to play Gill in an attacking position in New Zealand, if nothing to see if he is ready for the big stage. India need young blood in the batting line-up – something they don’t have right now. The jury is still out on MS Dhoni’s finishing skills despite his Man of the Series performance, and a backup in Gill and Pant will help India get their balance right after the suspension of Hardik Pandya.

Problem Areas

Shikhar Dhawan is getting starts, and he will surely be on the flight to England, but India will hope he gets a big one this week. He didn’t have a great ODI series in Australia, but the smaller grounds in New Zealand might suit his attitude. In addition, Ambati Rayadu now has a hill to climb to secure his no. 4 spot, a position he was assured of only two weeks ago. Also, the spot of Ravindra Jadeja is up for grabs; he has done a good job in place of Pandya, but given the performance of Yuzvendra Chahal in Melbourne as well as Kuldeep Yadav before him, India will want to play the spin twins together. They should not be separated, even if it means dropping a Shami to accommodate both of them on pitches that support wrist-spinners. New Zealand wickets have lately been batting paradises, but the Indian batsmen have traditionally faced issues against the wily Kiwi bowlers in these conditions. Trent Boult is in the form of his life, as are the batsmen, led by none other than Ross Taylor and Williamson.

Strengths

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are the two best ODI batsmen in cricket today. Rohit in the first innings, Kohli while chasing. Add to this the slow coming-into-form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the skills of Chahal, and India have probably the second best ODI team in cricket today after England. They will start as favourites in New Zealand, but they will know exactly how fast things can go wrong there. India’s main strength is chasing and timing it, especially when Kohli is at the crease. This will also be an important series for the middle order, and everyone is backing Dhoni to pull through.

Prediction

This might just be the tonic India needs before they head home to face Australia again. For 5 matches, there might be no escape from the few weaknesses. Expect New Zealand to win 4-1 or 3-2, which is a good thing, because it will help India structure their team better for June. If India win, it means they have a solid team that can adapt better than previous Indian teams.

The Rise of Shubman Gill

It seems like just yesterday a classy 18-year-old right-handed batsman (batsboy) upstaged captain and star Prithvi Shaw at the 2018 ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand. The young Indian team dominated the tournament the way Australia dominated cricket for a decade – they were far and away the best side, bullying their way to the World Cup title. While Shaw, on whom everyone’s eyes have been since his prodigious school-cricket days, made his international Test debut as an opener within 8 months of the title, fellow cricket player Gill continued to set senior Ranji cricket ablaze in his debut season for Punjab. In no way has he been “fast-tracked” without first-class cricket; Gill has earned a call-up early because he has made it impossible for the selectors to ignore his obvious talent in just 9 games.

Shubman Gill - BookMyShow Blog

Today, Shubman Gill, all of 19, is part of the senior Indian limited-overs squad traveling to New Zealand in less than a week. If all goes well, he will make his international ODI debut before an injured Shaw, less than a year after both the batsmen arrested imaginations in IPL 2018. Gill didn’t get as many opportunities, batting as low as 6 in an all-around team, but he smartly finished a few innings against teams like CSK, which prompted veterans such as Dinesh Karthik to mark him out as a future superstar.

Here are a few tidbits about India’s latest batting star, a boy who could well seal his place for the World Cup in England if he impresses in New Zealand. After Shaw and Pant, it’s now Gill’s turn:

– Gill has scored 1089 runs in first-class cricket for Punjab in his debut season. This includes 728 Ranji Trophy runs in 5 matches.

– His highest score is 268 against Tamil Nadu last month. But his most impressive innings came a week later against Hyderabad when he scored 148 off 154 balls to almost help Punjab chase down 338 off 57 overs on the final day. It ended in a draw.

– Gill was the Man of the Series at the U-19 World Cup, scoring 418 runs at a stunning average of 104. His century in the semi-final against Pakistan was widely considered the finest innings of the tournament.

– Gill was bought for INR 1.8 crore by KKR for IPL 2018, where he batted in the middle order in a star-studded lineup. His 57* against eventual champions CSK, his first IPL fifty, established him as a rising star.

Shubman Gill - BookMyShow Blog

– Gill was born in September 1999, only a few months after India crashed out of the ICC World Cup the last time it was held in England. Rahul Dravid was the top scorer of that World Cup, a man who would incidentally coach Gill during his stint with the U-19 and “A” side almost two decades later.

– Shubman Gill’s favorite position is in the top 3, but he might be required to bat at 4 (in place of Ambati Rayadu) if chosen in the Indian ODI team in New Zealand. Unless, of course, one of Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan gets injured.

Shubman Gill - BookMyShow Blog

– Gill’s idol is Virat Kohli, a man who will now be his captain over the next month.

– Gill’s favorite international performance in recent times was Cheteshwar Pujara’s mammoth 1258-ball stay at the crease over the 4 Test matches of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Not the 521 runs he scored, the “time” he played, which Gill, who is an otherwise attacking batsman, wants to emulate in the longest form of the game.

The Australian Open 2019: Predictions

And just like that, the first Grand Slam of 2019 is here. The first round of the Australian Open is underway in Melbourne as we speak – with tennis’ finest players already battling for honours in the new year less than two months after Alexander Zverev won the season-ending 2018 World Tour Finals in London. Novak Djokovic ended the 2018 season as the World no. 1, while Rafael Nadal is back from injury once again. After hip surgery last year, and after missing much of 2017 and 2018, Andy Murray has declared that this tournament could well be his last – and if it isn’t, it could be Wimbledon 2019.

Defending Champion: Roger Federer
Maximum titles: Federer (6), Djokovic (6)
Favourite: Djokovic

Let’s take a look at the draw across four quarters, and predict the men’s quarter-finalists for the 2019 Australian Open:

Quarter 1:

Djokovic doesn’t have an easy draw. He lost in Qatar to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut, and cited fatigue as a factor. He could face Tsonga in the second and rising star Shapovalov in the third as well as either David Goffin or Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round. On the other side of the quarter, Kei Nishikori, fresh off his Brisbane title (his first in two years), has a relatively easy path to the quarterfinal, where he is expected to really test Djokovic after a lung-busting 2018.

Prediction, Quarterfinal 1: Djokovic v/s Nishikori

Australian Open 2019 Predictions - BookMyShow Blog

Quarter 2:

Due to the 16-seed system, there are some cracking first-round matches. Nick Kyrgios plays Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka plays Ernest Gulbis, and Benoit Paire plays Dominic Thiem. The two favourites from this quarter on current form and ranking are Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, but there is also 2018 breakout semifinalist Hyeon Chung in the mix. Zverev’s biggest test might be the fourth round, where he could face either Raonic, Kyrgios or Wawrinka. Similarly, Thiem’s test will be the fourth round, where he is slated to face 11th seed Borna Coric (the only player to defeat Federer twice in 2018). He might also have to face Alexander’s older brother Mischa Zverev in the second round. Sascha Zverev hasn’t really broken through in a Slam yet, but he is closer than ever. 2019 has to be the year.

Prediction, Quarterfinal 2: Zverev v/s Coric

Australian Open 2019 Predictions - BookMyShow Blog

Quarter 3:

This is some quarter. Federer won’t have it easy. He faces Denis Istomin (who defeated Djokovic in Melbourne last year) in the first round. He might face Gael Monfils in the third, and next gen superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas (who he recently beat in Perth) in the fourth round. Murray is slated to face Bautista Agut in the first round, which he might not get through, given his sore body. Marin Cilic, last year’s finalist, faces Tomic in the first, Verdasco in the third and Khachanov in the fourth. Those are the biggest names in this quarter. There could be an upset.

Prediction, Quarterfinal 3: Khachanov v/s Federer

Australian Open 2019 Predictions - BookMyShow Blog

Quarter 4:

Off the bat, big names in this one include Nadal, Anderson, Dimitrov, Berdych and rising star Alex de Minaur. John Isner has already lost his first round clash as we speak. Dimitrov will want to make amends after a terrible 2018, and after a first-round win, could face Anderson as early as the fourth round. Nadal’s only test might be young Aussie de Minaur in the third, who impressed in the US hard-court season last year, and maybe Tomas Berdych in the fourth. His path looks easier than most – the luck of the draw is with him.

Prediction, Quarterfinal 4: Anderson v/s Nadal

ODI Series Preview: India’s Tour of Australia

For once, the Indian cricket team is starting the limited-overs tour of a SENA country as a Test series winner. But they can’t afford to be euphoric for too long, so packed is the cricket calendar. On the back of the historic 2-1 Test series victory in Australia, which culminated in a rain-soaked draw in Sydney, Virat Kohli’s India will now switch modes and remain in this mode till the middle of the year. The Indians will now tend to business in a crucial phase of 13 one-day cricket matches that will lead to the 2019 ICC World Cup in England.

It all begins, of course, with a battle against familiar foes and hosts Australia down under. Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne will be the venues for the three-match ODI series to be played between the two nations. India is ranked no. 2 in the ODI rankings behind England, while Australia is ranked a lowly sixth, thanks to their awful run of 9 consecutive defeats in a troubled 2018.

ODI Series Preview: India's Tour of Australia - BookMyShow

Favorites: India
India vs Australia head-to-head record: Played 148, India 45, Australia 73

Indian Team News

India has flown in a bunch of ODI specialists that are expected to form the core of the team that will fly to England. While fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been given a rest, Khaleel Ahmed, keeper MS Dhoni, spin twins Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya will join the group of Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul. The management will look to get its combination right in these matches, irrespective of whether they win or lose.

Weaknesses

The Indian middle order, contrary to what the management believes, is far from settled. The choice of a fading MS Dhoni over upcoming star Rishabh Pant is questionable, while Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayadu have been preferred for their age and experience over young guns like Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw (who will soon replace them). The older players might be hungry, but with a long time having passed between every ODI series in the last year, they will have to hit their stride immediately and convince the selectors of their pedigree. Manish Pandey seems to have been dropped after multiple chances, while Umesh Yadav too has dropped out of contention. This, you suspect, will be a make-or-break series for an already beleaguered KL Rahul, who is expected to be a different animal in this format (refer IPL 2018 for proof). Still, however, he will be the backup opener behind Dhawan and Rohit.

Strengths

The openers and Virat Kohli do the bulk of the scoring in every country. Which is why the perception exists that the middle order lacks confidence. Also, the bowling line-up of the two wrist spinners, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami and Bumrah (when included) is perfectly suited for foreign conditions where not many batsmen are used to facing such a versatile line-up. They are world-class, much like their Test counterparts, and fitness is all that matters for them ahead of England. The Australian batsmen will be wary.

ODI Series Preview: India's Tour of Australia - BookMyShow

Expected XI: Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, Rayadu, Karthik/Jadhav, Dhoni, Hardik, Bhuvi, Chahal, Yadav, Ahmed/Shami
Bench: Jadeja, Rahul

Prediction

With a lot of feeling for form and rustiness to be expected after a long Test season, don’t expect India to sweep the series or dominate it fully. A 2-1 to India is the best possible result before they head to New Zealand, a team that is currently in the best form in world cricket.

IPL 2019: Auction and Squad Review

Surprise, surprise! The 12th season of the Indian Premier League will happen in India. Irrespective of the General Elections, T20 cricket’s biggest global tournament will unravel at its home with its earliest start date yet: March 23. It will conclude a few weeks before the ICC Cricket World Cup, giving the international players enough time to wind down and prepare for the biggest 50-over tournament of their lives.

The IPL 2019 players’ auction took place in the first week of December in Jaipur. A mammoth INR 106 crore was spent by the eight franchises to shape and reshape their teams, while over 350 players – capped and uncapped – went under the hammer on a hectic day of “trade”.

MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings are the defending champions, while the Delhi Daredevils are now known as the Delhi Capitals. A change of name might just bring the underperforming franchise a change of luck.

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Let’s take a look at each of the squads, the good and bad buys, and the big misses this season:

DELHI CAPITALS

The Capitals will be desperate to at least make the playoffs, given that they started strongly and faded away last season, again. They have some of the most exciting T20 names on their roster, but somehow the team fails to gel despite being led by young aggressive blood.

MAIN BUYS: Colin Ingram, Axar Patel, Hanuma Vihari, Ishant Sharma, Sherfane Rutherford

GOOD: Shikhar Dhawan, who was let go of by Sunrisers Hyderabad, will now open for the Capitals. The batting is built on young Indian talent: Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw. Add to this other retained overseas players like Colin Munro, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Trent Boult. Strong on paper. Amit Mishra, too, is a wily T20 spinner. Axar Patel and Hanuma Vihari will add the much-needed local all-round flavor to the squad. Retaining Iyer as captain despite the presence of senior Dhawan is a good move.

BAD: Colin Ingram is a good buy, but it will be hard to slot him into a settled batting line-up with 4 Indians at the top. Playing him in the middle order might be self-defeating. Ishant will need to find the T20 form he once showed for Hyderabad; his height and opening spells will be crucial, but his fitness is a worry in the summer.

X-FACTOR: Rishabh Pant set the IPL stage on fire last season. Now he is an established Test player. It will be interesting to see him break loose, even as fellow young one Shaw opens the batting.

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KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS

The Knight Riders have a settled core and didn’t have to make too many desperate buys. They in fact spent only 9 of their 15 crores, and have shown their faith in last year’s selections.

MAIN BUYS: Carlos Brathwaite, Lockie Ferguson, Joe Denly

GOOD: Brathwaite didn’t really break free at Delhi, which is why a reunion with West Indian teammates Andre Russell (currently the most dangerous T20 player in cricket) and Sunil Narine could just be the clincher. Dinesh Karthik’s captaincy is positive, while the young Indian trio of Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi, and Kamlesh Nagakoti will look to build upon their reputation from last season. The all-round strength of this side is the best in IPL.

BAD: Chris Lynn is yet to replicate the explosive form he showed two seasons ago. He is now more of an anchor, especially when he opens with Sunil Narine. He needs to express himself after his shoulder injury, while Robin Uthappa needs to build upon those cameos he is famous for. A 30 isn’t enough for someone of his caliber.

X-FACTOR: Kuldeep Yadav

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MUMBAI INDIANS

The 3-time IPL champions haven’t gone wild this season at the auction, and have mostly concentrated on plugging the holes that were so gaping last season. Rohit Sharma’s leadership will play a big role again.

MAIN BUYS: Barinder Singh Sran, Lasith Malinga, Yuvraj Singh

GOOD: Bringing in Quinton de Kock could just be a game changer for the side that has never managed a stable opening combo, and have consistently scored slower than other teams in the first 6 overs. Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Rohit can rally around de Kock, while Jasprit Bumrah will be fresh after being rested for the Australia and New Zealand ODI legs. Adam Milne could be a useful fast bowler at the death.

BAD: Emotional purchases like Yuvraj Singh and Malinga might sound heartwarming on paper, but they are way past their peak. Add to this the fading star of Kieron Pollard, who cannot bowl at all anymore, and the Mumbai Indians will have to battle hard to emulate Chennai’s trust in ‘ageing’ stars.

X-FACTOR: Ishan Kishan

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ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE

RCB, again, spent a bit at the auction, almost exhausting their purse in pursuit of the perfect team balance. Virat Kohli is an amazing batsman, but he has never quite been able to lead RCB to an IPL title despite all the riches available. Can this be their season?

MAIN BUYS: Shivam Dube, Shimron Hetmyer, Akashdeep Nath, Prayas Barman

GOOD: Punting on big-hitting Mumbai all-rounder Shivam Dube is a good sign; he can plug up a notoriously weak middle order and use the lack of knowledge about his bowling to his advantage. A West Indian always helps, so Hetmyer will add to a batting lineup that depends way too heavily on Kohli and AB de Villiers. The retired South African will be fresher, too, while Moeen Ali can be useful depending on the nature of the pitches.

BAD: Kohli, AB, then who? There will be pressure on overseas players like Ali, Hetmyer and Marcus Stoinis to prove that the team isn’t a two-man machine. The bowlers, led by Yuzvendra Chahal, too, needs more in-form players; Washington Sundar, Umesh Yadav and Nathan Coulter-Nile will have to pull their weight every game.

X-FACTOR: Marcus Stoinis

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SUNRISERS HYDERABAD

David Warner will be back to lead one of IPL’s most skilled teams. Last year they enjoyed a fairytale season under makeshift captain Kane Williamson, who led them to the final in style. Their buys, too, have been economical and logical this year.

MAIN BUYS: Jonny Bairstow, Wriddhiman Saha, Martin Guptill

GOOD: Guptill finally finds a decent IPL contract, and it’s about time. The Kiwi opener is in the best form of his career, and partnering with Warner at the top could be quite something. England keeper-batsman Bairstow could be what Jos Buttler was to Rajasthan Royals last season, while Saha will be keen to make an impression after his year-long injury. The squad looks strong: Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Shahbaz Nadeem, Shakib Al Hasan. Beat that bowling line-up.

BAD: An inconsistent Manish Pandey needs to prove his batting worth at 3 or 4, especially because SRH rely a lot on Warner and Williamson these days.

X-FACTOR: Rashid Khan

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CHENNAI SUPER KINGS

The champions have refused to tinker with their aging line-up, given that they defied norms and won a young man’s tournament last year in blazing style. The squad is largely unchanged, with there being more 30+ players than any other side. In fact, they bought back a fast bowler who was crucial to their first two titles.

MAIN BUY: Mohit Sharma

GOOD: Experience. T20 is more of a hobby for the team now. Same team, good chemistry, rhythm, understanding. Dhoni and co. stick to the basics, no matter how many years it has been since Shane Watson and Harbhajan Singh retired. Ambati Rayadu, too, has found a lease of fresh life as an opener with this team.

BAD: Murali Vijay is in bad form. Fielding could be an issue, but it didn’t really affect them last season. At some point, though, the age has to show. Yet, there are young guns like Lungi Ngidi, Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Mitchell Santner to paper over the cracks.

X-FACTOR: Lungi Ngidi

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KINGS XI PUNJAB

News: KXIP spent a whopping 32 crores to totally overhaul their team and start from the drawing board. The retained players, though, like KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, R. Ashwin, Karun Nair, David Miller, Andrew Tye, and Mayank Agarwal will be keen to make an impression.

MAIN BUYS: Varun Chakaravarthy, Sam Curran, Mohammad Shami, Prabhsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Moises Henriques

GOOD: KL Rahul and co. will be hungry because their international careers haven’t exactly taken off in the last one year. He was in terrific form last season, but his performance for the Indian team immediately nosedived after that. Sam Curran is a great buy, as is the tireless Shami.

BAD: The bowling is a bit short, but it was Tye who disguised their flaws last season. Gayle is not the force he once was, while it will be hard to expect a team with so many new imports to immediately gel together. There is a lot of pressure on “mystery spinner” Varun Chakaravarthy, because no unknown entity who has been bought with a fortune has ever performed for more than half a season. One hopes he doesn’t fall into those cracks.

X-FACTOR: Nicolas Pooran

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RAJASTHAN ROYALS

The Royals have trusted their batting and have splurged on only bowlers in the auction. They have always been a bits-and-pieces team, but troubles internationals like Ben Stokes and Steve Smith will return with a point to prove.

MAIN BUYS: Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas

GOOD: The form of Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson, the key batters. Rahane, too, has been a proactive captain, despite his iffy form. They will not want to become a one-man team after Buttler almost dragged them to the playoffs last season.

BAD: It isn’t clear where Steve Smith will stand in this team now, after his return from the ban. Could be tricky. Ben Stokes had a mediocre IPL last year, while the Royals have always lacked in bowling strength – depending way too much on Indian domestic bowlers.

X-FACTOR: Sanju Samson

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India’s Tour of Australia 2018-19: History in Numbers

On Monday morning, January 7, 2019, the Indian Test cricket team led by Virat Kohli made history their own. After the first session of the fifth day of the Sydney Test match in the 2018-19 Border-Gavaskar series was rained out, it was official – India wins a Test series (2-1) in Australia.

An Asian cricket team triumphing Down Under, for the first time in the history of cricket. If there was ever a “first,” this was it. If not for the weather, India might have even won the fourth Test for a deserving 3-1 scoreline. The Australians were outplayed in 3 out of 4 matches, and if not for Pat Cummins’ exceptional all-round performance, things could have been worse for the hosts. Except for Perth, there were no hiccups by an Indian team that worked very hard to make sure that they wouldn’t miss the opportunities they missed in England and South Africa in 2018. And so, after losing 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England, having some bad luck with tosses, making iffy selection calls and misreading pitches and conditions, the team finally achieved what it was capable of. South Africa remains the only Test-playing nation left for India to conquer. For most bleary-eyed Indian cricket fans who have spent decades waking up at 5 AM every four years to catch Aussie domination and Boxing Day agony, this is redemption.

India’s Tour of Australia: A History of Test Cricket - BookMyShow

With no more Test matches for another 7 months, let’s take a look at the statistics, good and bad, of India’s most historical Test achievement in the modern era:

72: Number of years it has taken for an Indian, and Asian, test team to win a series in Australia. This included 31 series and 98 Test matches (only 11 won and 66 lost).

71: Number of seconds during the Sandpaper Gate scandal last year it took hardcore Indian fans to conclude that this would be India’s best chance to win a series in Australia

74: Pujara’s average in the series

57: Number of total runs scored by opener KL Rahul in the three Tests he played

1: Only one player was part of the squad in the famous 2003-04 series that India drew 1-1 with a mighty Australian side – Parthiv Patel

1: This was Cheteshwar Pujara’s first ever Man of the Series award in Test cricket, despite having 18 Test centuries to his name now. After being dropped in South Africa and for the first test in England, Pujara has established himself as the team’s most reliable batsman.

6: This is India’s sixth series win in a SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) country. 0 in SA, 3 in ENG, 2 in NZ and 1 in AUS.

India’s Tour of Australia: A History of Test Cricket - BookMyShow

4: Number of overseas series victories by captain Virat Kohli, now equal with Sourav Ganguly.

5: India became only the fifth team to win a Test series in Australia, after West Indies, England, New Zealand, and South Africa.

5: This was Australia’s fifth Test series defeat as a host since 2007 (3 to SA, 1 to ENG, 1 to IND), the maximum series defeats suffered by a home team among all the first-tier Test-playing nations in this millennium. Only a weak West Indies side has lost more series at home.

1258: Number of balls faced by batsman Pujara in the 4-match Test series, a record for the maximum balls ever faced by a visiting batsman in Australia. He scored 521 runs, including 3 centuries and 1 fifty.

31: Sydney was the first time in 31 years Australia was forced to follow on in a Test match in their own backyard. The last time they followed on overseas was in England during the famous 2005 Ashes series.

21: Number of wickets picked up by pacer Jasprit Bumrah, the joint-highest with spinner Nathan Lyon, in his first Test series in Australia.

350: Number of runs scored by wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant in the series, second in the list behind Pujara. Pant became the first Indian keeper ever to score a Test century in England and Australia. He is only 21. And this was only his second full Test series.

195: Number of runs scored by opener Mayank Agarwal in his first two career Test matches.

Indian Sports Stars to Watch Out for in 2019

The most remarkable part about Indian sport in the current era is that every January, this particular list will look different. As it should. Every year, the spotlight shines on new cricket players, tennis players, badminton players and boxers – setting the stage for expectations and promises in the next season. In 2018, we saw some rising stars in the most unexpected arenas, as well as the usual suspects, thanks to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and several World Championships. 2019 could well be their oyster.

Here, then, are five potential Indian superstars who might just make the world take notice in 2019:

Dipa Karmakar (Gymnastics)

India’s premier gymnast took the world by storm in the Rio Olympics in 2016, missing out on a medal by a whisker after a daring Produnova vault in the finals. But it has been a strange two years for the record-breaking Dipa Karmakar, who has single-handedly managed to bring a mania for gymnastics into Indian living rooms. 2018 was a sobering year and a career in itself – one with injuries, self-doubt, and redemption. A knee injury meant that she couldn’t participate in the Commonwealth Games. When she competed at the Asian Games, she failed to make the Final at the vault event and finished behind two Indians. A stint with her long-time coach and a psychologist later, Karmakar ended the season strongly in Germany. She picked up a bronze at the FIG Individual apparatus World Cup in November after months of struggling and climbing back up to the top of her form. Which means 2019, the year preceding Tokyo 2020, is the year Dipa Karmakar is primed to establish herself on the world stage. So that no doubt remains. An Olympic medal is the endgame for the young, sprightly Tripura native.

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P.V. Sindhu (Badminton)

India’s top badminton player is no more in the shadow of the path-breaking Saina Nehwal. While Nehwal has blown hot and cold and been unfortunate with injuries in the last two seasons, Sindhu has grown from strength to strength since her historic silver medal in Rio 2016. She ended her draught of final losses in style at the BMW World Tour Finals last month by finally winning the gold in arguably the most hard-fought and prestigious (only the top-ranked players are invited) badminton tournament of the year. She was the first Indian to do so. She finished with a silver at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games and reached the semifinals of the All-England Open. Currently ranked at 3, at age 23, Sindhu is now primed to take over the sport in 2019. Her aim will be to finish the season as the top-ranked women’s singles player and establish herself as the favorite for the 2020 Olympics. Despite a losing record against the older Nehwal (1-3), Sindhu’s time has come. The finals voodoo is no more. Silver is now transforming into gold.

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Prithvi Shaw (Cricket)

The 18-year-old batting prodigy made a blazing Test debut against the West Indies in October. But Shaw, India’s next big batting superstar, suffered an ankle sprain during a practice match before the Australia Test Series. He was ruled out of the entire series, because of which India has suffered with their opening combinations. Shaw has been missed, and the boy must be most disappointed to make a mark in tough foreign conditions as a teenager. We know who did that last. With no Test cricket coming up for six months, expect Shaw to be hungry when India plays after the World Cup. Though there is a nagging suspicion – Shaw could well be considered for a spot in England for the World Cup, if luck works in his favor. His best chance is proving himself in the limited-overs format when Australia visits for 5 ODI matches next month, as well as the IPL, the tournament that saw him explode onto our screens last year.

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Shubhankar Sharma (Golf)

The Shaw of the Golfing world, already an Arjuna Award winner at 22, has been freshly declared as the Rookie of the year on the European Tour in 2018. Which means all eyes will be on him in 2019 – to not just replicate his success (two titles), but build on it, by making a few heads turn at the four Majors. Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri paved the way in 2015, and now Shubhankar Sharma is proving that Golf is no rich man’s hobby in India anymore. He is inspiring a generation of kids to dream beyond a bat, football or racket. All he does is swing his club. Better than most others.

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Smriti Mandhana (Cricket)

The explosive 22-year-old opener for the Indian women’s cricket team became only the second Indian woman to win the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year after fast bowler Jhulan Goswami in 2007. Mandhana also won the ODI Cricketer of the Year award, capping off a successful season – an average of 67 in 12 ODIs and a strike-rate of 130 in 25 T20 cricket matches. India reached the semifinals of the ICC Women’s World T20, too, riding on her aggressive starts (178 runs at a strike rate of 125), before crashing out to England. Mandhana has stolen the headlines in a year dominated by controversies surrounding Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj that swept the T20 campaign. A positive end to a volatile year for Indian women’s cricket.

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Special Mentions: Shubman Gill (cricket), Neeraj Chopra (Javelin), Mary Kom (boxing), Sunil Chhetri (football)

Match Preview: Sydney Test, Australia v/s India

I never thought I’d write this in my lifetime, but here goes: the Indian cricket team is 2-1 up heading into the final Test match of the 2018-19 Border-Gavaskar series in Australia. They have already retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy, a rarity in this decade when most cricket teams depend solely on their home strengths to win cricket matches and gain the upper hand in bilateral rivalries. India last won a close-fought home series 2-1 against Steve Smith’s men in 2016-17, a come-from-behind series victory after losing miserably in the first Pune Test.

The Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) will play host to potentially a historical Test match – one that India will not want to lose at any cost. Tim Paine’s Australia, hampered by the exclusion of two of their biggest batting stars, has fought hard and well, but their bowlers have been out-bowled and batters have been out-batted in the series over the first three Test matches. Except for the superb Pat Cummins, no other Aussie player has been able to stamp his authority on the series so far. Aaron Finch is a problem in the opening slot, while Mitchell Marsh isn’t the all-rounder the team is looking for.

India has never won a Test series in Australia. This is their best chance since 2003-04, when they set a near-invincible Australian cricket team an unlikely target of 458 to win the Sydney Test after a Tendulkar double century – which Steve Waugh and his men managed to draw in his final Test match. That 1-1 has stayed with Indian fans as perhaps their team’s most outstanding overseas achievement in the new millennium – until now.

Let’s take a look at what India might need to do to win the Sydney Test match, in terms of team combinations and changes:

SQUAD NEWS

Rohit Sharma is back in India for the birth of his first child. Ishant Sharma has been excluded from the squad for the final Test for rib-cage reasons, and KL Rahul is back because of Rohit’s absence. Despite not being 100 percent fit, Ravichandran Ashwin finds himself in the reckoning too. India announced its 13-man squad on the eve of the Sydney Test match: Agarwal, Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Vihari, Pant, Jadeja, Ashwin, Kuldeep, Umesh, Shami, Bumrah

SYDNEY PITCH

It’s a drop-in this time, but traditionally Sydney is one of the rare Aussie Test venues to favour turn and spin from the very first session. Shane Warne would run wild through the Englishmen in the Ashes here, and there is no evidence so far to suggest that this pitch will be too different. The Australian cricketers have been disappointed with the pitches in the series laid out so far, given that it has evened out the contest and given the Indians a whiff of their own home conditions. Paine will be hoping for some advantage at Sydney, given that Nathan Lyon is currently the best off-spinner in world cricket.

LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT COMBINATION

Kohli has not done too well when faced with too many choices or an embarrassment of riches. The combination and balance is crucial to the Indian cricket team’s chances again – and knowing Kohli, he will not be gunning for a draw to win the series. He wants a win, a 3-1 India v/s Australia reverse, which is why half the result might be decided at the toss itself, given the playing XI that India go in with.

2 FRONTLINE SPINNERS?

If Ashwin is fit, it might be interesting to see if Jadeja and Ashwin will both be selected for the Sydney Test match. Ashwin is usually preferred over Jadeja if 1 spinner is played, but there is also Kuldeep in the squad – which denotes that Kohli is actually looking to play 2 frontline spinners out of the 3 (unless it’s a bluff to throw the Aussies off). Either way, except Smith, the Aussies have struggled against sub-continental spinners, including Kuldeep’s googlies. With Vihari in the lineup, though, Kohli might also just select one out of the three frontline spinners because he trusts Vihari’s part-time off-spin – which also means he will have to depend on pacer Umesh Yadav to come good after failing at Perth. Including Umesh might also lengthen the batting tail, a problem area for the Indians. Having Jadeja and Ashwin means India bat till 9. There is no Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – both ODI specialists who have been overlooked for this Test series.

Brave Sports Predictions for 2019

The crystal ball is out. 2018 is history. 2019 is where it’s at. Not many global sports events this year, but there is more than enough to get excited – and foolish – about. In that vein, let’s take a look at some of the biggest sporting events across the calendar this year, so that we can predict the outcome and look silly when none of them come true. Some of these predictions, though, are driven by a little logic and form.

Here we go.

CRICKET

We are two days away from a potentially historical Test match in Sydney, which everyone assumes to be India’s week with destiny after failing to win a series in Australia. Then there will be no Test cricket for India for six months. Three ODI series – 13 matches – will be played in the run-up to the World Cup in England.

Test Series: India to win at Sydney, take the Test series 2-1, Pujara Man of the Series
3-match ODI series against Australia: India to win 2-1, Shikhar Dhawan Man of the Series
5-match ODI series against New Zealand: New Zealand to win 3-2 (India never has it easy on a New Zealand tour right before a World Cup)
5-match ODI series at home against Australia: India to win 4-1

IPL 2019:
Bold one here, but I predict the Rajasthan Royals to finally come good and win their second IPL title.

ICC World Cup 2019:
England to win their first ever World Cup title. They’re at home, favourites, and difficult to beat with a long batting order and superb all-rounders. Theirs to lose. Expect India to reach the semifinals.

Ashes 2019:
Australia travel to England, hopefully with Steve Smith and David Warner. World Champions England to win the Ashes 3-1.

FOOTBALL

ISL 2018-19: Expect Sunil Chhetri to lead Bengaluru FC to their first ISL title after he leads India at the AFC Asian Cup (where they will crash out in the group stages).

EPL 2018-19: Liverpool lead the table by 7 points, but expect champions Manchester City to give them a fight. But Jorgen Klopp’s men will win the English Premier League – Liverpool’s first since 1991, and their 19th league title overall. Expect Manchester United to fight back and finish in the top 4.

Champions League 2018-19: Expect Juventus to finally break their draught and win the Champions League, led by a record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo. Their biggest competition will be Barcelona and PSG.

TENNIS

ATP Men’s Tour:

Novak Djokovic will continue his dominance in 2019, getting closer to Nadal and Federer’s all-time records. Andy Murray will be back, but not at his best. Federer will probably compete in 2019 in his last professional season – expect him to retire by 2020. Nadal will push Djokovic the most, for the final time in his career. The World no. 1, however, will compete for the GOAT tag, finishing 2019 with 17 Grand Slams to his name.

Australian Open: Djokovic
French Open: Djokovic (beats Nadal in the final – believe it)
Wimbledon: Shock winner
US Open: Djokovic

Masters 1000 titles: Djokovic (2), Nadal (2), Federer (1-2), Zverev (3)

F1

The 2019 Formula One Drivers Championship will not be one-way traffic again. Expect Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen to really challenge the dominance of Lewis Hamilton – who, on 5 titles, is only 2 behind Michael Schumacher. Who better than a German on 4 titles to stop him?

Prediction: Sebastian Vettel to win Ferrari’s first Drivers’ title since 2007, Verstappen second, Hamilton third. Vettel might win up to 8 races this season, while Hamilton will win 4-5.

BADMINTON

Indian Badminton is now a world power. Expect PV Sindhu to embrace the winning habit after falling in multiple finals over the last few years. 2019 will be her biggest year yet.

Title prediction: All England Open 2019, Singapore Open 2019, China Open.
Also expect Saina Nehwal to come back strong in 2019 and win at least one major title on the circuit. Ditto for Kidambi Srikanth, who will reach a couple of big-tournament Finals.

OTHERS

Expect Tiger Woods to win that elusive 15th GOLF major after more than ten years of failing.

Expect ex F1 champion Fernando Alonso to win motor racing’s covered Triple Crown by winning at Le Mans.

Expect Serena Williams to win at least one Grand Slam title in 2019, to make her the most successful singles tennis player in the history of the sport.

Expect Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens to be a bit more consistent and add to their Grand Slam tally.