Joe Root showed his class. Virat Kohli broke another record. West Indies lost the series again. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rolled through the first week of Grand Slam. Wimbledon is full of retirements. And Australia is once again leading the cricket World Cup table – women, this time. This might sound like a default setting for most sporting weeks in the year, but the first third of July is anything but. It is a return to form, not an extension of it.
Another Day Of Kohli
In the fifth and final ODI between West Indies and India at Kingston, captain Virat Kohli produced another chasing master class to silence all his recent doubters. Albeit against a weak No. 9 ranked West Indian team, this was India’s fourth consecutive ODI series win in the Caribbean since 2002. It marked Kohli’s 18th century in ODI chases (102 innings) – already one more than Sachin Tendulkar’s 17. It was his 28th ODI century overall – one more than Sanath Jayasuriya. Only Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting have more. His average of 54+ is now the highest ever for any batsman to have played more than 40 matches in the format. This was his second ODI century of the year. The records go on and on. But most importantly, India won a pointless bilateral ODI series after ex-coach Anil Kumble’s resignation. Fourth-choice opener Ajinkya Rahane ended up as Man of the Series, and future star Rishabh Pant was not given a single game, despite being in the squad. All is right and roguish with Indian cricket again.
The Root Era
26-year-old Joe Root started his first ever match as Test Captain with a blazing unbeaten century at Lord’s against the No. 1 ranked team in the world. South Africa had England in trouble in the first session, with three top-order wickets (including ex-captain Alastair Cook) for 49 runs. Root then rescued his team clinically after they were 4 down for 76, putting on 114 with Ben Stokes and an undefeated 167 with all-weather man Moeen Ali. He finished the day on a phenomenal 184, at a strike-rate of more than 80. They finished the first day on a flat Lord’s pitch at 357-5, and will look to put in an AB de Villiers-less South Africa to bat after piling on a 500+ total. South Africa are incidentally the only team to have not lost a Test series in England this millennium. That could well change with Root’s takeover as captain and pace-setter.
Women’s World Cup
World champs Australia and fierce India remain the only two teams to be unbeaten at the halfway point of the group stages. They have won all of their four games so far. On Wednesday night, India came close to losing their first, but pulled through against a determined Sri Lankan side by 16 runs in the end. Leg spinner Poonam Yadav spun rings around the Lankan middle order with her doosras, restricting them as they struggled to chase down a modest target of 233. Earlier, Captain Mithali Raj scored her seventh half-century in her last eight innings. India has never won this tournament, while Australia are six-time champions. New Zealand is the only team other than Australia or England to have won this title (in 2000). Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies have lost all four games, and are virtually eliminated, with New Zealand and South Africa having to fight for fourth spot after winning half of their matches.
The highlight of the week unfortunately didn’t come in form of a victory or upset, but an injury on grass. Doubles No. 1 Bethanie Mattek-Sands collapsed to the ground while attempting a volley at the net in her second-round Singles match against Sorana Cirstae in the deciding set. Her kneecap had given way, and she screamed in agony for help. It took a while, but Mattek-Sands was taken to the hospital after laying courtside for fifteen minutes, while her doubles partner Lucie Safarova looked on in tears from the stands. This was the first dramatic incident of its kind, and overshadowed Novak Djokovic’s and Roger Federer’s easy second round victories.
Federer next faces Mischa Zverev, the older serve-and-volleyer left-handed brother of upcoming Alexander Zverev. This is the third time they will face this year, and Zverev has made no bones about the fact that he is probably Federer’s biggest fan in the locker room. Federer has a tough draw – given that he could face Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth, perpetual dark horse Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals, followed by Djokovic in the semis, and Murray in the finals. He has not one easy match left, which is pretty much the same as what he had to endure in Australia to win in January. Mischa was then his quarterfinal opponent, enveloped between Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, followed eventually by Rafael Nadal. Federer back then was free of expectations; this time, he is the firm favorite to win his 19th Slam. Nadal, incidentally, is through to the third round, too – the maximum he has reached in his last four years at Wimbledon. Do we dare to dream of another final?