The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

As we enter the first week of the last month of the year (believe it, December is here – sans cash-component salaries), it is almost time to look back on what has been a path-breaking year in modern sporting history. We’ll do that a little later in the month. For now, we must look back at the last week of November – which, in hindsight, turned out to be far more ‘result-oriented’ than most of the weeks in 2016. 

Many tournaments/games that “began” last week finished this week, there by giving us an entire gamut of winners and losers. 

CRICKET

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India walked all over England in the third Test at Mohali, only so that they could attend old mate Yuvraj Singh’s wedding on the extra rest day. Despite Alastair Cook winning the toss, getting a good batting pitch for the first two days and only one of India’s openers available, England fluffed their lines by losing four wickets in the first session on the first day – and never recovered. India did fight hard in the first innings, with them being 80 behind at one point with only four wickets in hand. Those last four wickets added more than 200 runs – with it being the first time ever that an Indian no. 6, 7 and 8 scored fifties in the same Test inning. R. Ashwin, R. Jadeja and Jayant Yadav took the lead to above 130, thereby ending any English chances of a fightback, becoming all-rounders in the process and adding more than the top order. They then did the job with the ball in the second innings, letting England score less than 250, while Parthiv Patel – who appeared in a Test after 8 years – knocked those runs off as if this were a T20 match. India leads 2-0 in the series with 2 matches to go. The next is after a short break, beginning on December 8 at the Wankhede in Mumbai (after three years).

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Pakistan, meanwhile, showed the world why form is temporary but Pakistan is permanent. After impressing everyone and their uncles with their unbeaten Test-series streak since 2014, and after drawing 2-2 with England in England, they shockingly lost the last ‘home’ match to West Indies in Abu Dhabi (winning the series 2-1), and then traveled to New Zealand – who had just been defeated by India and South Africa recently. Kane Williamson’s team was still hurting, but they were already 1-0 up in the series by the time Pakistan entered the final session of the second test. At 158-1, with nine wickets in hand, they decided to go for the target of 368 to draw the series – and in true Pakistan style, became the only team ever in the history of test cricket to lose nine wickets in the final session of a match. It was an incredible display of unity – with every batsman following each other to the pavilion in groups, letting the Kiwis pull off one of their greatest Test match victories in recent memory. New Zealand won the series 2-0, the first they’ve won against Pakistan this century, ending the no. 2 team’s dream run in 2016.

Up next, Pakistan will play an equally under-confident Australia down under in three Tests this month – the first beginning on December 15 at Brisbane, including a Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. 

Before that, New Zealand travel to their neighbours and fellow World Cup finalists to play three one-day matches – the first being on Sunday at Sydney. 

CHESS

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That’s right. Magnus Carlsen, the floppy-haired, dashing young Norwegian World Champion, who defeated previous champion Vishwanathan Anand at Chennai in 2013 and Sochi in 2015, won his third consecutive title in a row – this time in New York – by defeating Sergey Karjakin in a more noble manner: Over the four-game tiebreak after normal match-play ended with the players tied 6-6. There was a time when Carlsen found himself behind after the 8th match of the series, losing the match, having to win one of the next four to stay in the hunt. He won the 10th game against an opponent famed for his defense, and then chose to save his “mental energy” and draw the next two games so that he could blitz the Russian in the Blitz rounds. He did, winning 3-1 in the rapid format on his 26th birthday (two draws, two outright wins), establishing himself as one of the all-time greats with plenty of years to go. Many experts and students declared this two-week long final to be one of the best played in chess history – given its sharpness, quality and intent. The “Mozart of Chess” made quite a few uncharacteristic errors through the match, letting his opponent escape from dead positions. Still, he had enough to finish off a player who will return home with his head held high in defeat. The next title match is scheduled for 2018.

TENNIS

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Argentina rallied after being 2-1 down in the Davis Cup Final against Croatia and won their first-ever Davis Cup title in its fifth finals. It was the first time since 2001 a team had won after playing every match on the road. Federico Delbonis played the biggest match of his career to clinch the tie against Ivo Karlovic, after Juan Martin Del Potro capped his comeback year with his five-set victory against Marin Cilic in the reverse singles. He was two sets down and in pain, but Del Potro, as we’ve seen over the years, has more heart than most other players. This has been the giant Argentine’s best season since 2009. 

GOLF

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Tiger Woods – remember him? – has returned to competitive golf as the world no. 898 at the Bahamas, falling nine shots off the pace in his first round after having two surgeries in his 15 months away from the game. This is an event he has hosted for charity, and he was briefly tied for the lead after nine holes, before a slew of bogeys and double-bogeys in the back nine to end his day 1-over. It is still a decent comeback for the 40-year-old, who will look to recapture 10% of his glory days over the next few years after half a decade ravaged with personal missteps and injuries.

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