A three-month long domestic sports tournament in India is around the corner, and it’s not cricket. The third edition of the Hero Indian Super League (football) begins this weekend, and though three months sounds like a lot, it is one of the shortest annual leagues in the world – one of the criticisms leveled against it over the last few years.
Anyhow, in addition to the Indian cricket team’s long Test season ahead, fans will have plenty of football – both Indian and European – to look forward to, as well as the culmination of perhaps one of the closest F1 seasons in recent history. Or so we hope.
8 teams, 61 games, 79 days, 1 winner. After Atletico de Kolkata in 2014 and Chennaiyin FC in 2015, will there be a new ISL champion this year? 7 of the 8 coaches have left (except Zico for Goa FC; 7 of their 9 overseas players are Brazilian, too) after an expiry of contract, so there will be a new-look management for majority of this year’s tournament. Each team will play 14 matches. Chennaiyin FC will again begin as favorites, with Marco Materazzi as coach and John Arne Riise as their marquee player. Mumbai City FC though will be looking to turn around a disappointing two seasons after the exit of Nicholas Anelka as player-coach, and a strong pre-season in UAE having raised hopes. Oh, and they have Uruguayan legend, Diego Forlan. FC Goa though, as always, will be the people’s favorite, especially after being the most consistent of the teams so far – reaching the semis and finals in the first two years. The Opening ceremony will take place at North East United’s home stadium, the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Assam.
Pakistan defeated World T20 Champions West Indies 3-0 in the UAE under new T20 captain Sarfraz Ahmed. Not many expected this result, especially given that West Indies had just defeated India in the USA. But an abject display, especially by the batsmen, has raised concerns that there is not a format left in which the Calypso boys can be competitive anymore.
The biggest news of the week came in the form of South African captain AB de Villiers pulling out of the Australia series to have elbow surgery. He will be out for up to 10 weeks – missing the upcoming ODI series of 5 matches and the three Tests in Australia in November. Childhood mate Faf du Plessis will lead the team in both forms.
India, under Virat Kohli, has another opportunity to grab the number 1 Test ranking again if they defeat New Zealand in the second Test at Eden Gardens. But the big news here is that 35-year-old Gautam Gambhir is back after more than two years on the sidelines – replacing an unfortunate K.L. Rahul, who pulled a hamstring in the first test. If India win this test, they will go back to the top of the rankings replacing Pakistan – no matter what Pakistan do against a weak West Indies side later. A delicate state of affairs, this – almost ironic, given the current situation at the border.
In the Champions League fixtures mid-week, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City finally failed to win a game – drawing 2-2 against Celtic after 9 consecutive wins to start the season. Leicester City continued their remarkable European debut with a 1-0 win over Porto, while Bayern Munich suffered their first loss, 1-0 against the mighty Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid once again failed to win in Germany, drawing 2-2 against Dortmund. As things stand, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico and Leicester are the only teams to have won both their opening games in the group.
The Malaysian Grand Prix takes place this weekend, with Nico Rosberg 8 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship. All will be on the line for both Mercedes teammates, who know that one mistake now in these next 6 races could cause them irreparable heartache – more so for Rosberg, who is yet to win the world title. Hamilton has won it thrice already – twice in the last two years, and will become only the second active driver to win 4 titles (with Vettel) if he wins this year.