The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

2017 is up and running. It may merely seem like an extension of 2016 right now, given that veteran actor, the 66-year-old legend Om Puri, passed away this morning. While the western media wrote about the “leading Indian actor,” the Indian media eulogized with “great character artiste” – a story on its own about how some of our greatest artists and talents have often been underused (and abused) in our own land. His career will of course be celebrated, as it rightly should be, with a lot of Hollywood (The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and British titles (East Is East, West Is West) mentioned in the same breath as Mirch Masala, Aakrosh, Ardh Satya, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Maqbool and Hera Pheri

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Elsewhere, there have been other happenings – and various metaphorical deaths – in sports around the world:

O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN

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MS Dhoni relinquished captaincy of the Indian ODI and T20 sides, making himself available only as a player in the short formats. Many agree he did this at the right time, given India’s sketchy limited-overs form since 2014, with Virat Kohli primed to take over the role in all formats – the way Dhoni did back in 2008, after Anil Kumble’s retirement. This was a huge announcement made in typical unfussy Dhoni style – no press conferences, no indication of it coming, no signs and certainly no attention afforded to himself. He remained and trained with the Jharkhand Ranji team in Nagpur, where they reached their first ever semifinal and crashed out to a Bumrah-inspired Gujarat on the final day. The upcoming ODI series against England will be a clincher – giving us an idea of whether he can extend his career till the 2019 World Cup or simply till after this year’s Champions Trophy.

PAKISTAN, ALL FALL DOWN

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From the dizzying heights of reaching No. 1 in Tests in October, the Misbah-led Pakistan have now reached the depths of oblivion in no time Down Under – where they’re now on the verge of losing the Test series 3-0, after losing 2-0 in New Zealand last month. Their bowling has been ripped apart to shreds by David Warner in Perth, as well as by newcomers Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb over the series, with Mohammed Amir injured and former No. 1 Yasir Shah going for 124 runs in his 14 overs today. Only this team could go from one extreme to the other in such a short period – with out-of-form legend Younis Khan scoring his 34th Test century in the match, becoming the only batsman ever to score Test centuries in all the 10 countries to have hosted Test cricket. 

SRI LANKA ALL FELL DOWN

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The other struggling Asian team is being humiliated by the Kagiso-Rabada-inspired South Africa across the world, losing the series in no time without even putting up a fight. Still, Hashim Amla seems to be in a prolonged slump, with everyone else scoring around him, especially Quinton de Kock, who is slowly establishing himself as the new-age Adam Gilchrist in the middle order. South Africa will be happy with their second half of 2016 and the beginning to this year but…

SOUTH AFRICAN BOMBSHELLS

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Bowler Kyle Abbott and batsman Riley Rossouw quit their national team as soon as the KOLPAC deal was signed, disappointing their coach Russell Domingo, countrymen and preferring deals with English county Hampshire. Their contracts have been terminated. The uncertainty over their “second-choice” places in the international side, as well as financial and long-term security (three year deals) has contributed to them “deflecting” to England and continue their cricketing career. Both of them were crucial contributors to South Africa’s limited-overs sides, but Abbott was always more of a “strong bench strength” drafted to fill in during injuries to Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel. He did have a chance to build upon his Test career after an impressive performance in Australia, but his decision seems to have ended what was turning out to be a very useful career. Rossouw had struck superb form in ODI cricket after starting his career with four ducks in six matches, but was yet to play a Test despite being in the squad for the Australian tour last month.

FEDERER STOPPED

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35-year-old Roger Federer returned to semi-competitive tennis after six months on the sidelines due to his knee surgery – to play the Hopman Cup in Perth. This wasn’t going to be as intense as his usual Australian Open warm-ups at Doha or Brisbane, and after sweeping away British player Dan Evans in his first singles match, he lost to upcoming tennis star Alexander Zverev in three sets – an indicator of how he might fare against the top-15 in 2017. It was a match full of good tennis, though Zverev, who even defeated Federer last year on clay, upped his game and proved that he is indeed, along with Dominic Thiem, the next big thing in the game. His older brother, Mischa Zverev, meanwhile got demolished by the other returning legend Rafael Nadal in Brisbane on the same day. Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray continued winning, on course for the first box-office final of the year in Doha. 

CHELSEA STOPPED

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In the English Premier League, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea were stopped just short of the league record, having to end on 13 straight wins (tied with Arsenal), after being defeated by Tottenham Hotspurs on Wednesday. This meant that Liverpool, who drew with Sunderland a day before them, is now five points behind in second place after 20 games, while Tottenham leapfrogged into third place above Manchester City and Arsenal. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United sit in sixth place despite winning their last five league games in a row. Next up for United is Liverpool – a game that could virtually decide both teams’ fates. If Liverpool lose, they will have to be happy with a top-4 spot instead of chasing Chelsea, and if United lose, they will have to fight right till the end for a top-4 spot – something they haven’t achieved in two years.

La Liga returns to action after the holiday break, with leaders Real Madrid set to start their year against Granada while Barcelona face a tricky away fixture to Villarreal

This weekend, of course, there will also be the Golden Globe Awards – which should set the tone for Oscar season, and give a fair indication of what “contenders” will release in India over the next month.

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