As one would imagine, sports didn’t quite dominate this week’s headlines despite being well into the business part of the season. With F1 and tennis wrapping up for 2016, cricket has only begun its busiest phase, with as many as four tours happening simultaneously.
England is India’s bogey team, to put it mildly. And thus began England’s first tour of India since 2012, which was coincidentally the last time (Kolkata) any overseas team scored more than 500 runs in an innings against India. At Rajkot on Thursday, they did that once again, with three individual centuries (Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes) to their credit, ending on 537 – grinding the much-famed Indian spinners to dust. R. Ashwin conceded 167 runs for his two wickets, the most since that 2012 test in Kolkata, while Mishra took the final wicket after conceding 98 runs at more than 4 an over. This same English team lost to Bangladesh last week in Dhaka, but have regrouped and rediscovered their mojo against probably their favourite opponent since 2008. Finally, India has a challenge at home, and a huge one at that. Their fielding and catching has been atrocious, as has Wriddiman Saha’s keeping, which is a shock in itself. He dropped two catches and made a bunch of fumbles. There is nothing spectacular about the English batting unit, which is perhaps its greatest strength. India’s openers – Murali Vijay and Gautam Gambhir – will be expected to carry on through the weekend from their 23 solid overs, and with one less specialist batsman (injured Rohit Sharma was replaced by Amit Mishra), much will be up to Cheteshwar Pujara (at his home ground), Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Can Moeen Ali further be a thorn for India after demolishing them two years ago?
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, continued their merry run in Zimbabwe, with that man Rangana Herath again having a 13-wicket match – his third such match of his illustrious and tireless career. He took 8 wickets in the second innings, almost single-handedly bowling Zimbabwe out 257 runs short of their target, winning the two-match series with a perfect score. 38-year-old Herath now has 28 five-wicket hauls and 351 wickets at less than 28, and shows no signs of retiring or slowing down at all.
Australia, after being humiliated in Perth in the first test by a South African side without Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, will head to Hobart for the second test starting this weekend. Steve Smith will want to arrest a run of four consecutive losses (a 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka was perhaps their worst tour in years), and they need a spark from somewhere now that Mitchell Starc has been established to have up and down days like mere mortals.
The World Tour Finals begins this weekend at the O2 in London, with the battle on between new World no. 1 Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to end the season on top. We’ve waxed lyrical about Murray for long, but Djokovic sure has had a strange season for a year in which he achieved his life-long dream of the Calendar Grand Slam by winning the French Open. He has won the season-ending Masters four times in a row, and is gunning for an unprecedented fifth next week, and a sixth overall to rival Roger Federer’s record. Murray has never won the season ender – but what better year to do it in, as well as end the year on top for the first time ever? Nobody will bet against the Serb to arrest his own slide though. If he wins here, it will not be easy to stop him next year.
We head to the penultimate race of the season, with Nico Rosberg still leading Mercedes teammate and triple World Champion Lewis Hamilton by 19 points. Hamilton has narrowed it down from 31 after winning the last two races in a row. But come Brazil this weekend, he will have to once again win it and hope that Rosberg stops coming second so that he has a chance to take it down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, the final race. Rosberg, meanwhile, can seal his first-ever championship if he wins here this weekend, no matter what Hamilton does. That’s all he needs now: one win, to add to his nine this season.