A week to go for India’s biggest film festival, Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star (in its 18th year), but the sporting arenas around the world continue to function irrespective. A lot has happened in the last seven days alone; while football is enjoying its international break with an equally intense bout of World Cup qualifying matches, cricket has gone full throttle, with tennis entering its last stretch for a long season. There’s also Kabaddi, ISL and plenty more.
India defeated New Zealand 3-0 in the Test series on pitches that weren’t as shocking as the South Africa series, and came away with a respectful performance as a result. Ravi Ashwin won his seventh Man-of-the-Series Award, and broke all kinds of records while taking 27 wickets in the three Tests. He is well on his way to becoming perhaps India’s most successful spinning all-rounder.
More importantly, Cheteshwar Pujara, who was dropped on the West Indies tour for a Test, finished as the top-scorer in the series with one century and three fifties. India’s batting has rarely looked so balanced, and their spinners (as is expected) are virtually unplayable for long periods in home conditions.
The five-match ODI series starts next week, where again the home team start as favorites – but the Kiwis have always been a better limited-over team than most. MS Dhoni, whose biopic released a few weeks ago, will lead the team, lest you forget he has not retired from all forms.
What will however be on the Indians’ minds is the 5-match Test series one month from now – against the only team that defeated them in home conditions over the last decade. England, under Alastair Cook, solved the Indian riddle and won 2-1 in 2012 with Kevin Pieterson, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar beating the Indians at their spin game. But England don’t have those spinners anymore – and they will rely on Moeen Ali a bit, who destroyed India on the 3-1 return leg in 2014. Back then, Ashwin and Jadeja failed to produce the magic that we’ve come to expect from them. It will be revenge season for a Kohli-led outfit who are now No. 1 in the world, and haven’t lost a Test series for a while.
CLEAN SWEEP 2
Pakistan destroyed a rudderless West Indies in every limited over match played in Abu Dhabi, even winning the T20 series 3-0 against the ‘world champions’. They are now in the process of dismantling the notion that the West Indians deserve to still play Test cricket, in only the second day-night test of all time (in Dubai), after losing only one wicket on the first day, with Azhar Ali becoming the first to score a century under lights in Test cricket. But even if Pakistan win 3-0 against the Windies, which they will, they won’t reclaim the top spot in the rankings. India are now in there for the long haul, given that they have 10 Tests to go in the home season against teams that are traditionally weak against spin in the sub-continent.
WHITE WASH CENTRAL
For the first time in their shiny cricket history, an Australian cricket team was whitewashed, blanked out and destroyed in an ODI series by the scoreline of 5-0. The South African team that managed it didn’t even have their captain and best batsman AB de Villiers. Steve Smith’s men, now world champions (hasn’t been a great week for world champs in limited overs cricket), were beaten fair and square – only going to show how toothless they can be without Mitchell Starc to bail them out. They tried everything in the last two games, when their batting clicked too, and David Warner, who is in the midst of his best year so far, failed to win them the game despite getting 173 in a chase of 327. Most notably, De Villiers’ stand-in Riley Rossouw ended up as the Man of the Series despite not being the top scorer. Five of the top six scorers in the series were South Africans, with Warner leading the list, but in vain. Warner became only the third Australian to score five ODI centuries in a single year, too.
Nick Kyrgios, that man again. Or that man-child again. The volatile Aussie star has once again been in the news – first for winning his biggest singles title (Tokyo; for a guy who is #nextgen, this is hardly an accomplishment), and then for tanking, losing his temper, lobbing a serve into court mildly and losing his second-round match at the Shanghai Masters, for which he has been fined and warned again. One understands you need characters like McEnroe in every generation, but this ‘talented’ kid seems to have misunderstood the definition of characters, in the process disrespecting the game and acting like a spoiled school kid who needs some serious therapy off court.
In other news, the casualty list at the Shanghai Masters has been huge, with Juan Martin Del Potro, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych all losing early – and Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic reaching the quarterfinal, well on course for a final showdown. Djokovic has suffered a dip after winning the French Open, and may not continue with Boris Becker as coach next season, while Murray hopes to be No. 1 by the end of this season for the first time in his career. It’s a two-horse battle, fortunately with young guys like David Goffin, Jack Sock and Bautista Agut standing in their way this week.
Our prediction: Andy Murray could defend his title successfully, defeating the Serb in the final.
Paraguay defeated a Messi-less Argentina, while England suffered a 0-0 stalemate away to Slovenia in a match where Wayne Rooney was benched. France won away in Amsterdam to Netherlands, while Cristiano Ronaldo hit four in Portugal’s 6-0 rout of Honduras. All this over the last two weeks, after which football will return to its domestic leagues, and Jose Mourinho will continue to try to find an answer to the Manchester United-riddle – in a season where Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City seem to be the main contenders for the title.
KABADDI WORLD CUP
The third Kabaddi World Cup being played in Ahmedabad right now has gone under the radar, as expected, despite the host nation being an overwhelming favorite to win its third in a row. But it seemed like other nations seem to have caught up in this gap of nine years since the last tournament, with India going down to Korea in their first match in the biggest upset of the tournament, until Korea then defeated Bangladesh later in the week to virtually seal their semifinal spot. India went on to defeat Australia and Bangladesh, getting back on track for a knockout spot, but will be cautious now, given that their aura of invincibility has been punctured.