Series victory creates questions for King Kohli

Having led his side to a series win over Sri Lanka, India skipper Virat Kohli now turns his attention to South Africa where the side has never won a Test series. (AFP)
Updated 08 December 2017
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Series victory creates questions for King Kohli

BANGALORE: After whitewashing Sri Lanka 3-0 on their own turf just months earlier, India found the home series a much tougher proposition. They battled back to dominate a weather-interrupted match in Kolkata, won by an innings in Nagpur, and were then thwarted by resolute batting in Delhi.
Here, we look at five things we learned as India prepare to face South Africa in the new year.
OPENING GAMBIT
If you’re an opening batsman, South Africa is the last place you want to go. At some venues, the ball can zip around, with the bounce enough to tattoo your helmet. At others, it wobbles around as it does in England. For an opener, Tests in Cape Town, Centurion and Johannesburg offer as thorough a test as is possible. India are fortunate to have three in-form batsmen to choose from, but which one will get the axe? KL Rahul was dropped for the final Test against Sri Lanka after falling victim to what we now call Joe Root Syndrome. In this past 12 innings, Rahul has crossed 50 nine times. His highest score is 90. In sharp contrast, Shikhar Dhawan has two centuries and a 94 in five Tests since his recall. Murali Vijay’s return from injury has seen him rack up 128 and 155 in consecutive Tests. At 25, Rahul represents the future, but the chances are that he’ll be on the bench at Newlands.
MIDDLE ORDER WOES
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli pick themselves, but who will bat at No. 5 in South Africa? Given that it’s almost certain that Hardik Pandya will play as a hard-hitting No. 6 who can provide a fourth seam-bowling option, it comes down to a straight choice between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Rahane had a horror series against Sri Lanka, scoring just 17 runs. Rohit made 217, including a century in Nagpur. But Rahane is one of those rare players who bats better away (average of 53.44) than he does at home (33.63). Rohit averages a whopping 85.44 at home, and a mere 26.33 away. As vice-captain of the side, Rahane will surely get at least the first Test to restore his reputation. But if his dreadful run continues, Rohit could get an extended run.
ASHWIN OR JADEJA?
As ever on home soil, there was almost nothing to separate India’s spin twins. Ravi Ashwin (pictured) took more wickets — 12 to Ravindra Jadeja’s 10 — but Jadeja had the better average and economy rate. The last time India went to South Africa, Ashwin’s failure to make breakthroughs on the final day of a Wanderers Test that India had dominated until then cost him his place in the side. Jadeja came in and took a six-wicket haul in Durban. But on pitches that don’t aid spin, Ashwin’s greater variations should see him get the nod. Jadeja is better at shutting down an end, Ashwin more accomplished at exposing chinks in batsmen’s technique. Ashwin, though currently out of form, is the better batsman, while Jadeja is probably India’s best all-round fielder. On a dry pitch, both might get to play. But on a green top, it’ll be fascinating to see who Kohli opts for.
PACE ACES
Both of India’s Test wins in South Africa, at The Wanderers in 2006 and Kingsmead in 2010, have come on green-tinged pitches that were expected to aid the Proteas’ quick bowlers. Back then, India could call on Zaheer Khan in his prime, and the mercurial S. Sreesanth. This time, they’re taking five pace bowlers, plus Pandya as a sixth seam option. Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma should get the nod on most pitches, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming into the mix if the ball is likely to hoop around corners. Umesh Yadav offers a pacy and skiddy option, while the uncapped Jasprit Bumrah is the wild card. A star of India’s limited-overs sides in the past two seasons, Bumrah has an excellent yorker and a mean bouncer, both delivered with the most ungainly of actions. But he last played a first-class match 11 months ago. Would they risk playing him with a series on the line?
SRI LANKA ON THE MEND
The home series against India, which they lost 3-0, was a nadir of sorts for Sri Lankan cricket. They acquitted themselves so much better in the return. Suranga Lakmal’s accurate seam bowling gave India a big scare in Kolkata, while Dhananjaya de Silva’s magnificent unbeaten 119 — he finally retired hurt with muscle spasms — helped them pull off a creditable draw in Delhi. Dinesh Chandimal batted beautifully for his century at the Kotla, and there was a welcome return to form for Angelo Mathews, who made 111 in the first innings. Lakshan Sandakan held his own against India’s rampaging batsmen, and Lahiru Gamage essayed the stock-bowler’s role to perfection. They beat Pakistan 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates before coming to India, and this 1-0 defeat, against a team that had thrashed them out of sight just months earlier, will feel like another corner turned.


Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

Updated 20 July 2018
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Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

  • Portuguese superstar has moved to Italian giants in deal worth nearly $120 million
  • Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid

LONDON: Love him or loathe him, you have to admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s character.
At a time of life when lesser mortals are lured by big paychecks to the likes of Qatar or China, the mercurial Madeiran has opted for what will be his biggest challenge yet at Juventus.
His career over the last decade has been played out under the cloud of the never-ending debate — “Ronaldo or Messi; who is better?”
Thankfully, that circus was quietened somewhat at the recent World Cup. Some flashes of pure brilliance aside, neither player made a big enough impact to lead their respective teams to glory and Messi’s wait for an international trophy goes on.
And, while both players are undeniably in a league of their own, the fact Ronaldo does have a European Championship title under his belt will always tip the argument toward the Portuguese — especially for those who measure greatness in statistics and trophies.
In fairness, Ronaldo’s statistics are mind-boggling. His stint at Manchester United, where he cut his teeth and started to show his potential as a great of the game, was instrumental in the club winning three Premier League titles and their third European crown. His staggering 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid saw him become the Spanish giant’s record goalscorer on his way to winning everything under the sun.
But the Premier League and La Liga are leagues in which attacking footballers flourish. With the dawning of wall-to-wall TV coverage, they have both been transformed to entertain the billions of people who tune in every week — and in this day and age, goalscoring superstars win you fans, not defenses.
The art of defending has all-but disappeared and the culture of building a spine through a team has slowly but surely been eroded away. Nobody wants to watch an engrossing, absorbing, end-to-end goalless draw anymore — it is all about 6-5 thrillers.
But not so in Italy.
Serie A, for all its scandals and fall from grace since its heady days of the 1990s, is still an extremely difficult league to win. It is a league in which fans and managers place great emphasis on defending, on building teams from back-to-front (not the other way around) and on the mentality of “you cannot lose if you don’t concede.”
Granted, Juventus have walked Serie A for the past seven seasons; it is to be expected from one of the richest clubs in the world. But rarely have they won it at a canter. Never once have they scored anywhere near 100 goals in a season to win it — unlike Manchester City in last season’s Premier League, or Barcelona and Real Madrid almost every season in the same period.
And not once has Serie A’s top-goalscorer reached the dizzying heights Ronaldo (and Messi) hit in La Liga season after season, nor has it always been a Juventus player claiming the golden boot.
This all points to a monumental challenge for Ronaldo. On paper, he should not find it as easy to score goals in Serie A and with the marked improvement of Napoli, Roma and Lazio recently, nor will it be an easy ride for Juventus to claim an eighth scudetto in a row this year.
So, while Messi prefers to stay in one country and within his comfort zone of the defense-shy Spanish league, if a 30-something Ronaldo succeeds in Italy — or, better yet, guides Juventus to the European glory the fans crave so much — it would be his most remarkable achievement yet.
And it would put the tiresome debate over who is the greatest ever to bed, once and for all.
No contest.