The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

The first week of May, a world-famous hot month in India, has manifested its spirit into the smorgasbord of sports and entertainment action around the country. While Baahubali 2: The Conclusion continues to make a mockery of mathematics and Bollywood across the globe, plenty has been happening on pitches, tracks and grounds to keep us going. The Indian T20 League, the UEFA Champions League as well as all the domestic football leagues have reached the business end, while the Formula One season is only getting started with some much-needed winds of change.

THE THIRD WHEEL

In the fourth F1 race of the 2017 season, and the fourth race at Sochi (Russia) since its return in 2014, against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, Finn “number 2” at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas won his first Grand Prix in 81 starts. He zoomed past both Ferraris from third at the starting line before the first corner, and maintained his supreme control throughout right till the finish. Lewis Hamilton, the number 1 of the team and three-time World Champion, struggled to fourth after an underwhelming weekend that left him adrift in the early championship standings – 13 points behind rejuvenated four-time champ Sebastian Vettel, who finished second behind Bottas at Russia. Bottas, however, was received warmly by his teammate Hamilton in the garage later, with everyone recognizing how thorough and professional the Finn driver has been in his years at the top level. He is a much-admired man in the garage, and may have laid down the gauntlet as far as his status goes – write him off as Hamilton’s “understudy” only at your own peril. A three-way would be nice in 2017 for a change.

PUNTING THE BALL

Young Rishabh Pant, long known as M. S. Dhoni’s successor as wicketkeeper and Virender Sehwag’s as see-ball-hit-ball batsman in the Indian team, played perhaps one of the finest innings in the Indian T20 League’s history on Thursday night against a bewildered Gujarat Lions team. The Lions became the second team to be officially knocked out of the tournament, as Pant, who finally came in at three, made a mockery of a stiff target of 209 for the Delhi Daredevils. He scored 97 off 43 balls, while Sanju Samson made 61 off 31, as the Daredevils chased it down with plenty to spare. The match had 31 sixes in total – a record. Pant slammed nine sixes in his assault, and Samson another seven (zero fours), as the two youngsters combined to put on a staggering 143 off just 63 balls. As a result, the Daredevils stayed alive – just about – despite a shabby fielding and bowling performance that has allowed many a star batsman (Suresh Raina, this time, after being dropped on 2, went on to score 78) to blaze away and punish them.

STOKING THE FIRE

Ben Stokes, the most expensive player in T20 history, made a huge return on investment after sitting out the last few games for the Rising Pune Supergiant team. He flayed the Lions attack earlier in the week, scoring a phenomenal century while chasing down a tricky 161 for his team almost single-handedly. Dhoni has not been looking good in the middle, and despite his laborious 27 (off 30 balls), Stokes played perhaps the innings of the tournament so far, proving his worth as the world’s premier limited-overs all rounder.

Matches to look forward to this weekend

Sunrisers Hyderabad v/s Rising Pune Supergiant (Saturday 4 PM)

Delhi Daredevils v/s Mumbai Indians (Saturday 8 PM)

THE RIGHT RONALDO

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his eighth goal of the Champions League knockout stage, with a memorable hat-trick (his second in a row after his controversial one against Bayern Munich) against city rivals Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the semifinals at the Bernabau. This was his eighth goal in his last three games in the European tournament, after he had scored just two in the group stages. Ronaldo led his team to a 3-0 victory against Atletico – the team they had beaten twice in the final over the last three years – making it a commanding lead as they head to the Vicente Calderon stadium next week for the second leg. This was Ronaldo’s 103rd goal in the Champions League – a record, ahead of Lionel Messi’s 94. 

Elsewhere, Italian giants Juventus – perhaps the best defensive team to have ever played the game – not only held young guns Monaco, but slotted three away goals past them in their first semifinal leg. Gonzalo Higuain scored a brace, as they taught the new kids a lesson in a performance that could well send shivers down the Spanish Camp – irrespective of which one reaches the final.

Prediction: Real Madrid will face Juventus in the final at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff on June 3. 

LA DECIMA 

Almost three years after Real Madrid won their tenth Champions League title in 2014, another Spanish Champion, Rafael Nadal, is going for his third consecutive ‘La Decima’ on his beloved clay courts. He won his 10th Monte Carlo title two weeks ago, his 10th Barcelona title last week, and will soon go for his 10th French Open title at Roland Garros in Paris in the final week of May. Nobody has dominated a surface like Nadal has clay. Nadal has returned to top form after a slump over the last two years, finding virtually no challengers on his favorite surface. He has reached five finals in the year already, winning two of them, climbing to fifth in the rankings, and is second behind Roger Federer in the ATP race to London already. Between them, they have won the first four big titles of 2017.

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