The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

Summer is here, and it’s going to be a hot one – in more ways than one.

TWO TRAGEDIES 

Captain Kane Williamson became New Zealand’s youngest batsman to score 5000 Test runs at Hamilton in the third and final Test against South Africa. He also equaled Martin Crowe’s record of 17 Test centuries (Williamson is only 26), but there was not much to celebrate on the final day of the series for him. After he scored a brilliant 176 to bat the visitors out of the third Test and take a huge lead in the first innings, making up for the play lost to bad light and rain, his team ran through the South African top order in the last session of the fourth day to leave them reeling at 83/5 and still trailing by more than 100 runs. It was to be a formality on Day 5, which would have helped the Kiwis win their first test against South Africa in 17 years, and square the series 1-1. But, all of Day 5 was rained out in Hamilton, breaking Kiwi hearts. The match was drawn, and they lost the series 1-0 to Faf du Plessis’s AB-less team. The visitors escaped with this stroke of luck, a series win that propelled them to No. 2 in the Test rankings behind India, ahead of Australia.

Similarly, the Sri Lankans hit back at Dambulla in the second ODI against Bangladesh after being demolished in the first match of the three-match series. They scored 311, powered by a Kusal Mendis century, finally looking like they were favorites to take the series into a decider. But rain at home again ruined their chances, washing out the game after the first innings, helping Bangladesh to enter the final ODI at Colombo on Saturday 1-0 up. Bangladesh drew the Test series, too, leveling it at 1-1 in Galle in their 100th ever Test match after losing the first Test. 

WIN NO MORE

West Indies, the reigning T20 champions of cricket, went down to an inexperienced Pakistan twice in a space of four days in Barbados and Port Of Spain – with 18-year-old leg spinner Shadab Khan turning out to be the talk of the town with seven wickets in the two matches. The home team couldn’t chase down 132 in the second game, playing out three dot balls in the last over when they needed eight to win. They lost by four runs, 2-0 down in the four-match T20 series. It’s like either they’ve forgotten how to win, or refuse to win anymore, given that half their real side is now playing T20 franchise cricket in India right now.

INJURY CENTRAL

India may have won the hard-fought Test series against Australia 2-1, but both teams were left licking their wounds after a long season. K.L. Rahul was added to the injury list, as he pulled out of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team to get a shoulder surgery done in London instead. Virat Kohli is injured already, and may not play the first few games, while their strike bowler and star Mitchell Starc isn’t playing this year either. RCB will find it tough, but this is AB de Villiers’ chance to pull off a miracle. Even Mitchell Marsh (Rising Pune Supergiants), Quinton de Kock (Delhi Daredevils) and JP Duminy (Delhi Daredevils) have pulled out of the tournament, while there is a high chance of more injuries to all the bowlers who have spent the long season bowling in tests. Umesh Yadav is a certainty to sit out a few games, and Mohammad Shami is not entirely at his fittest yet, and neither is Mumbai Indians’ captain Rohit Sharma. It’ll be interesting to see how every team deals with the growing list of retirements and injuries now.

CRYING FOR ARGENTINA

Lionel Messi was banned for four international games after he was booked for abusing a referee in their narrow win against World Cup qualifying contenders Chile last week. They then went on to lose to Bolivia 2-0, putting them back in grave danger of NOT qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They stand fifth in qualifying (not an automatic spot), and Messi will now miss four of the last five South American qualifiers – though only two points separate them for second-placed Columbia.

Brazil became the first to qualify for next year’s World Cup after they demolished Paraguay and Uruguay then lost to Peru. This, after managing just nine points in their first six games last year, falling to sixth in the table at one point. A stunning comeback for the original football boys – who will showcase their skills, led by Neymar, still aching to come back from their humiliating 7-1 loss to Champions Germany in 2014.

THE SUNSHINE STRETCH

Roger Federer went 17-1 for his stunning season, reaching the semi-finals at Miami after winning the Indian Wells Masters last week. But it wasn’t easy this time. He saved two match points against old foe Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinal, and has had a tough draw – having to eliminate Juan Martin Del Potro on the way too.

On the other side, Rafael Nadal has made his way to the semi-finals, and faces Italy’s Fabio Fognini (in his first ever Masters semi-final). But Federer faces Nick Kyrgios in a rematch of what was to be a quarterfinal in Indian Wells last week. Kyrgios retired with a stomach bug then, but is fit and raring to go here after he defeated upcoming star Alexander Zverev (who had defeated Stan Wawrinka). Federer has lost the only match he has ever played against the Aussie wildchild – last year in Madrid. The stage could be set for another Federer-Nadal final showdown though – their third match in the last two months, after they hadn’t faced each other for almost two years before the Australian Open final. Nadal will need this booster, with the European claycourt swing coming up right after Miami. 

BADMINTON

Saina Nehwal will face P.V. Sindhu in the quarter-final of the Indian Open Super Series on Friday night. The only other time they faced each other in an international competition was back in 2014 – when Sindhu was still an upcoming player, and Saina was almost on top of the world. Nehwal had won that one in straight sets. Sindhu is now ranked one higher than Nehwal. Both of them lost in the quarter-finals of the All England Championships last month.

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