The Sports Week That Was and Will Be

All the global events are done for the season, and normal service has resumed. Domestic football seasons, long cricket seasons, the final act of the F1 season, the emphasis on inter-country Davis Cup tennis, the continual whining about India’s poor Olympic and stellar Paralympic performances…it’s that time of the year.

Let’s take a look at the specifics of this week, and what lies ahead:

CRICKET

We’ll start with cricket, because let’s be honest, we’ve missed Test cricket. India’s long home season started yesterday with the first of three Tests against a strong New Zealand side. And, surprise, surprise, India went in with seven specialist batsmen despite Virat Kohli’s aggressive five-bowler plan in recent history. And surprise, surprise, India ended the day almost all out, finishing finally on 317. They are clearly relying fully on their two spinners, R. Ashwin and R. Jadeja, to shore them home against a side they’ve mistakenly assumed to be England or Australia. The Kiwis play spin in the subcontinent slightly better than the others – and no cricket against them for so long has fooled Kohli into thinking he can take 20 wickets with four specialist bowlers. Even if they do, India’s first innings batting has failed, and Rohit Sharma coming in at six once again threw away his wicket – much to the chagrin of fans like yours truly. 

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Anyhow, this Test match is set up to be an actual competition, one that may even get away from India, given Kane Williamson’s skill at the crease, and his captaincy chops. By the end of the weekend, there will be a result. And it won’t be a draw, unless it rains a lot.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is getting ready to redeem themselves in white-ball cricket, by taking on a mercurial West Indies T20 side in Abu Dhabi. Darren Sammy is of course no more the captain; it’s Carlos Brathewaithe, the man who won them the World T20 earlier this year with four consecutive sixes in the final over against England. But this decision seems hasty, given that he has so far been a one-hit wonder. Anyhow, it doesn’t seem to matter who captains the team; they’re full of match winners and big hitters – a stark contrast to their Test fortunes. In contrast, Pakistan’s T20 side is ailing, completely opposite to its Test performances, where they became the first no. 1 crowned Pakistani test side ever.

FOOTBALL

While Real Madrid’s record run of 16 consecutive victories in La Liga was halted by Villareal with a 1-1 draw, Barcelona stuttured again too by drawing with Athletico Madrid, but more importantly, losing Lionel Messi to a groin injury. This will be a death blow if it’s a long-term thing, given Madrid’s scintillating form. 

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Up in the North, in the EPLPep Guardiola has turned Manchester City into winning machines. They have won nine games in a row, including six league matches and an impressive victory against his rival Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. After winning the first three of their league season, United has now lost three in a row across all competitions, only finally winning against a third-tier side in Cup competition this week. Suddenly, Mourinho’s influence seems to be on the wane again – and it all begins and ends with Wayne Rooney being picked weekend after weekend in the starting XI. And, conversely, Liverpool are finally picking up under Jurgen Klopp, defeating Arsenal and Chelsea, and drawing against Tottenham in a desperately difficult round of early fixtures.

TENNIS

Argentina will face Croatia in the Davis Cup Final next month, thanks to Juan Martin Del Potro’s heroics against Andy Murray in a five-setter last week. Del Potro is still not fully fit, but sparks of brilliance in his comeback this season has raised hopes for a challenge to the ‘Big 4’ just like the old days. Argentina are yet to win a Davis Cup title, and they will play in Croatia against hostile crowds – they will have to do it the hard way, especially with Marin Cilic in prime form towards the fag end of this season.

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There is only one Masters event left in the season – in Paris in October – before the season-ending Shanghai World Tour Finals. Right now there’s a lull, always the case after the US Open, which concluded Novak Djokovic’s Slam season, with two titles, one final and one disappointing third-round exit at Wimbledon, and a first-round exit at the Olympics. He will be disappointed, given that he was aiming for the next-to-impossible Golden Slam this year after winning the year’s first two Slams in Melbourne and Paris.

FORMULA ONE

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Nico Rosberg will head to Malaysia with a slender 8-point lead over rival Lewis Hamilton. He has won the last three in a row after the season break, and has stormed back to retake the lead after Hamilton won five of the previous six races before Belgium. With six races left, this could be the closest championship in recent history. The Malaysian Grand Prix is on October 2nd. 

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