Into the business end of the final month of the year, we’re seeing way more movie action (what with the dozens of nomination lists being dispatched every day for different guild awards) than sports. Also, there’s the small matter of Damien Chazelle’s brilliant musical, La La Land, one of this year’s frontrunners for everything, as well as the Star Wars spinoff ‘Rogue One’ releasing all over India this week. And then there’s Dangal and Passengers next week. It’s a film bonanza, while sports plays catch-up for once.
Here’s a brief look at the events over the last week, and what to look forward to in the coming days:
Pakistan Down Under
Not literally, of course. But they may well be, after losing the Test series in New Zealand, and now struggling against an angry Australian team in the first Test in Brisbane. They didn’t appeal when captain Steven Smith nicked the ball early in his innings (“nobody saw anything”), and he went on to score 130, taking Australia past 400 in the bargain. It hasn’t been the best start for a Pakistani team that was ranked No. 1 not too long ago. But it’s often a sobering experience for most visiting Asian teams in this continent. The bright spark has been the return of Mohammed Amir to form, with a 4-for, his best after serving his 5-year ban. It looks like a long road ahead for Misbah and Co., though one can never underestimate the underdogged-ness of this ageing team. Australia are playing to get things back on track, but they’re up against a bowling attack slowly finding its feet in alien conditions. This will be a fascinating three-Test series – with the traditional Boxing Day Test scheduled at Melbourne.
England DOWN and OUT
The fifth Test between India and England began at a battered Chennai today. A storm has hit the English camp, with injuries piling up by the dozen, and them being in danger of losing a first non-Ashes series by more than three Tests in three decades.
Joe Root is expected to captain the Test team very soon, though they need Alastair Cook, the opener, in prime India-whacking form again. He has more than 2000 runs against India in his career, and still has a few good years left despite not enjoying the best of times this winter in the sub-continent. Virat Kohli, meanwhile, has leapfrogged up the ICC Test batting rankings from 14 to 2 in these four Tests, behind only Steve Smith – who seems hell-bent on maintaining his numero uno position going by the bucketload of runs he is scoring across formats back at home. It’s a battle down to the finish, but it’s likely that Smith has sealed the season-ending ranking (not that they care) with his 16th Test century (with a stunning average of 59 in Tests), as compared to Virat’s fast-improving average of 50 with 15 centuries. Smith has only seven centuries in ODIs though (average 42), his latest being an imperious 160+ against the Kiwis two weeks ago, as compared to Virat’s shocking 26 centuries in the format at an average of 53. 2017 will be fantastic, given that Smith and his team is scheduled to tour India in a month for a four-Test series – a direct toss-up between the two best batsmen (add David Warner to it) in the world right now.
A RECORD BEYOND LOGIC
Meanwhile, back in South Africa in Girls’ U-19 cricket, a little-known batter has etched herself into cricket’s record books by pulling off perhaps the most improbable feat in the game at any level. Opening for Mpumalanga U-19, Shania-Lee Swart smashed 160 off 86 balls in a T20 game against Easterns. Sound normal? Perhaps. But the rest of her team scored a grand total of 0 runs between them, with the total score of 169 (9 extras) turning into a winning score eventually. She hit 144 in boundaries alone, and the maximum another batter faced was her fellow opener and captain who faced a princely sum of 10 deliveries. Mark this scorecard – you’ll likely never see it again. Ever.
Arsene Wenger’s on-fire Arsenal finally lost an EPL game, to Everton 2-1, falling six points off the pace with a week to go till Christmas break. Chelsea continued their winning ways, while Liverpool got back to it by winning 3-0 at Middlesbrough (after losing and drawing the previous two) and climbing back to second position six points off Chelsea after 15 games. Manchester City defeated Watford to remain fourth, while Manchester United had a good week, defeating Tottenham Hotspurs on the weekend before playing a brave 2-1 against Crystal Palace, lifting them into sixth just behind the Spurs.
In the Spanish La Liga, Real Madrid maintained their stunning unbeaten streak, staying six points ahead of rivals Barcelona. More importantly, Cristiano Ronaldo won his fourth FIFA Ballon d’Or – now only one behind Lionel Messi’s record five, who didn’t have a team year as good as Ronaldo’s Champions League and Euro titles. The two between them have won every prize since 2008. The last player not named Messi or Ronaldo to win it was almost a decade ago in 2007 – Kaka, while he was still at his AC Milan and Brazilian peak. Yes, we’re that old now.
The Kerala Blasters have a second shot against Atlético de Kolkata in the third edition of the Hero Indian Super League (they lost in 2014), after edging out Delhi Dynamos in a two-leg semifinal eventually on penalty shootouts. The score was 2-2 over both legs, but the Dynamos, the better team on the night, collapsed in the penalty shootout and lost it 3-0. Atletico defeated table-toppers Mumbai FC in their semifinal after winning the home leg 3-2 and holding the pumped Mumbai team to a tense stalemate away. Kolkata can now become the first team to win two titles, after winning the inaugural edition back in 2014, before Chennaiyin FC took the 2015 final against Goa. After more than 75 days of action, the final will be on Sunday at 7 PM at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi.