On the first “serious” movie week of the year, three films – two Indian, one major Hollywood franchise flick – release this Friday. Shaad Ali’s Ok Jaanu, a remake of his guru Mani Ratnam’s Tamil-language Ok Kanmani, Shlok Sharma’s stuck-in-CBFC-hell indie Haraamkhor and, of course, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, featuring Deepika Padukone’s first Hollywood role. Which is to say, this is only the calm before the storm, given that Oscar fever is only just beginning – with Indian moviegoers expecting a slate of all the favorites and nominees to release over the next 40 days.
Return of the Hash
Hashim Amla, playing his 100th test match as we speak, against Sri Lanka, became the 7th international player from South Africa to do so. He has been suffering from a prolonged dip in form over the last year, with his test average dropping to below 50 for the first time. But what better way to celebrate the landmark with a return to form AND a test century? He became the first since Ricky Ponting (who scored a century in both innings) to do so. His average, at least for the moment, went back above 50, while perpetual underachiever JP Duminy scored a brisk 150 to take South Africa to another commanding position against a terribly weak Lankan side. Wayne Parnell made his comeback to cricket after Kyle Abbott signed the Kolpac deal to play county cricket in England.
An India “A” Story
A tale of two India(s) took place over the last few days on the eve of England’s limited-overs series of 3 ODIs and 3 T20s. India A played 2warmup ODI matches against England – with two completely different teams fielded in both games. The first had MS Dhoni leading a team for the last time in his career, as he played alongside old war-horses Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra, as well as Shikhar Dhawan. The “seniors” lost the match against a strong English side though. In the next match, Suresh Raina, who has been selected only for the T20 series and not the ODI series, led a side that featured the future: young keeper-batsmen Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan, with Ajinkya Rahane scoring a crucial 90 while chasing England’s score. The ‘young’ side won, and Rahane couldn’t have come good at a better time, with this perhaps being Dhawan’s final opportunity. If either of them fails again, it’ll be KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma opening this year at the Champions Trophy. India plays their first ODI against England in Pune on Sunday.
A Qualification Battle
Believe it or not, just like West Indies failed to qualify for this year’s Champions Trophy, the Pakistan ODI team is in danger of not directly qualifying for the 2019 ODI World Cup in England. They are currently ranked 8th between Bangladesh and West Indies – and could fall further if they get smashed by Australia in the five-match ODI series down under. Only 5 points separate the three teams at 7,8 and 9, and one of them will have to qualify with the ‘minnows’ (and will be expected to go through either way) – just like Bangladesh had to for the last few World Cups. Pakistan, led by Azhar Ali, plays their first ODI at Brisbane on Friday.
After a disastrous limited-overs home series, where Bangladesh was wiped out 3-0 in both ODIs and T20s by New Zealand (resulting in them being pulled into the “relegation” battle in the rankings), the test leg (two tests) strangely has started immediately – but way down in New Zealand. The first test, at Wellington, began on a rain-affected day, with Bangladesh batting first and putting up more of a fight than they have done on home soil over the last few weeks. A funny team, and a funny game.
After Gujarat took a 100-run lead (328 to Mumbai’s 228) in the first innings, 10000-time (41, actually) champions Mumbai, led by Shreyas Iyer, fought back in the second innings to lead by 108 at the end of the third day, with 7 wickets still in hand. Mumbai has long been famed for fighting back in the second innings in the “big” games, and they did so once again, after Parthiv Patel and Manpreet Juneja played hard to hit fifties and get Gujarat a crucial lead in the first Ranji final in 66 years. Teenager Prithvi Shaw, though, looked good in both innings – scoring 73 and 43 in an aggressive fashion. Captain Suryakumar Yadav has played a mysteriously slow innings for his team, and was 45 (175) at the end of the third day. If this results in eventual victory with two days to go, it will be hailed as a patient and strategic knock. If not, it could cost him the leadership. An intriguing battle lies ahead, and by Saturday, we will know if Parthiv Patel and his team create history, or if Mumbai adds another glorious chapter to their domestic history.
The Australian Open draw will take place on Friday, with Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber as the top seeds. Novak Djokovic enjoyed a perfect start to the season, defeating rival Murray last week in Doha, but Murray will be hungry, given that he has never won this Grand Slam, and is now World no. 1 with a lot at stake. Djokovic is the defending champion, as is Kerber, who will face stiff competition from perennial favorite Serena Williams. I sense an upset in the men’s draw this time, with there being a possibility of a first-time champion. Maybe, just maybe, the stranglehold could be broken, a la Wawrinka.
Manchester United, who have been on a roll lately after a slow start, will face rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford this Sunday. Champions Leicester City take on title favorites Chelsea at home, while Everton hosts a bumbling Manchester City. Meanwhile, Real Madrid established themselves as runaway favorites after Barcelona dropped points at Villarreal last weekend. Madrid are 5 points ahead with an extra game in hand, because of the Club World Cup (which they won) commitments. Zinedine Zidane is fast establishing himself as the new-age Pep Guardiola, having transformed his team’s fortunes in 10 months he has been in charge. This could be their first league title in five years, given that they are virtually 8 points ahead – an impregnable lead in Spain.