The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

It’s been quite the week. And it’ll be quite a few weeks ahead. On one corner, we’ve had Virat Kohli and Kangana Ranaut airing their unfiltered views, determined to take on the high and mighty. And on the other, we’ve had Steve Smith and Karan Johar, otherwise-noble humans caught in the eye of the trash-talking storm. But the world doesn’t revolve around India right now. Let’s take a look at the miracles and events from around the globe over the last few days:

The Miracle at Nou Camp 

Barcelona produced the greatest comeback in the history of club football – not just Champions League football – at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night. Three weeks ago, they were humiliated by Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princess 4-0 in the first leg of their round-of-16 encounter. At that point, they were still effectively six points behind leaders Real Madrid in La Liga. Three weeks is a long time in football. On Wednesday night, they did the impossible. They went 3-0 up in the first half, conceded a priceless away goal, and remained 3-1 till the 88th minute, with them needing three more goals to go through on aggregate. All hell broke loose as Neymar scored a free kick, Luis Suarez helped Barcelona win a penalty in stoppage time, before Sergi Roberto slid in the winner in the 95th minute – giving them a 6-1 victory and a 6-5 aggregate, dumping heartbroken PSG out in the final seconds of a stunning tie. They are now also provisional leaders of the La Liga right now, a point ahead of Real Madrid, and have enjoyed a revival over the last few weeks, with this being coach Luis Enrique’s last season in charge. The match ended in tears on both sides, with disbelieving home fans unable to fathom the magic of what they witnessed in 90 seesawing minutes. Not for the first time, PSG find themselves dumped out by a top European team just as they were about to announce themselves on the world stage.

Wenger Out

Arsene Wenger, the current longest serving coach in league history (22 years), is under the pump again after his Arsenal team crashed out 10-1 to German champions Bayern Munich in the round-of-16 tie. For the seventh consecutive time, they have failed to make it to the quarterfinals after qualifying from their group. That Wenger then went on to defiantly say that his club is ‘in good shape’ could come back and bite him, given that this has been a season of ruthless goodbyes and exits for coaches. It doesn’t help that Arsenal is also struggling to finish in the top 4 in the Premier League, currently on 5th, with Liverpool and Manchester United enveloping them. Just last week, they lost 3-1 to Liverpool at Anfield, further denting their hopes of Champions League qualification next year. And if that happens, it could indeed be the end for the long-reigning Wenger. 

ICC plays mommy

The ICC declared that it wouldn’t penalize Virat Kohli and Steve Smith for the ‘brain-fadeDRS incident in Bengaluru. The quality of the Test match seems to have won over hardened official hearts, and perhaps their liberal decision has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t want two (of the three) cricketing board superpowers to lock horns in what is turning out to be an acrimonious Test series. Everything and nothing is political. CA and BCCI backed their own captains, with everyone forgetting that there are two matches to play with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy deadlocked at 1-1. The Ranchi Test starts after Holi on March 16th. 

The Series Not Telecast in India

With South Africa and New Zealand playing out a highly competitive first Test down under, and with captain Kane Williamson leading the Kiwi response to a Proteas score of 309, Indian fans continue to be befuddled about how nobody has secured telecast rights for any series played on the hallowed grounds of New Zealand. It is a pity, given that South Africa is enjoying a resurgence, while New Zealand is a strong home team looking to resurrect themselves after a listless 2016. The first match will end on the weekend.

Minnow Basher Series

Sri Lanka have resumed their minnow-bashing in Test cricket, by hosting Bangladesh – who aren’t half as good a Test team as they are a limited-overs outfit. Kusal Mendis scored his debut century, but missed out on a double, as Lanka piled on the runs in draw-stricken Galle. They scored 492, but Bangladesh avoided the follow-on by ending the second day on 312/9. It is inevitable that Bangladesh will lose despite a strong-ish reply, as they continue to be a “one-innings” team, often losing steam and stamina in the second innings of every Test match. 

Indian Wells, California

Meanwhile, the top tennis players in the world gather to play the first Masters 1000 series of the season at Indian Wells. Roger Federer has a tough first round against recent Djokovic-slayer (though the list keeps growing) Nick Kyrgios, and he is gunning for his fifth title here after falling to a shock loss to a qualifier in Dubai last week. Andy Murray is coming off his first title win of the year in Dubai, while Rafael Nadal is coming off two consecutive final losses

All England Championships

Badminton’s Wimbledon is underway, as Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and HS Prannoy reached their second rounds, while Srikanth Kidambi and Ajay Jayaram lost their first round ties. Nehwal defeated defending champion Nozomi Okuhara (who was unseeded because of her seven-month layoff last year) in straight sets. Olympic champion Carolina Marin is the favorite to regain the All England title she lost last year, while No. 1 seed Tai Tzu Ying will be her main rival over the fortnight. Ying could face India’s first Olympic silver medalist Sindhu in the quarterfinals.

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