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.


Sebastian Vettel celebrates home pole in Hockenheim, woe for Lewis Hamilton

Updated 21 July 2018
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Sebastian Vettel celebrates home pole in Hockenheim, woe for Lewis Hamilton

  • German outpaces Bottas by two-tenths of a second
  • Hamilton set to start from 14th on the grid

HOCKENHEIM: Sebastian Vettel surged to pole for his home German Grand Prix on Saturday as Lewis Hamilton suffered a setback when his Mercedes broke down to leave him at the back of the grid.
Vettel topped qualifying with a devastating final lap in his Ferrari to pip Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.
A distraught Hamilton limped out in the first qualifying session when his car broke down with a hydraulics failure.
Vettel rubbed salt in the British defending world champion’s wounds by outpacing Bottas by two-tenths of a second.
In front of a huge crowd of flag-waving Germans at the track near his Heppenheim birthplace, Vettel delivered a lap record in one minute and 11.212 seconds to top the Finn’s 1:11.416.
“Thanks to those fans,” said Vettel. “It was amazing to see so many Ferrari and Germany flags.
“It just kept getting better and I knew for the last lap I had a little bit more — I am full of adrenaline, but feel so happy.”
It is his second pole for a German Grand Prix and the 55th of his career.
Vettel’s qualifying success makes him favorite to land his first Formula One victory at Hockenheim and only his second Grand Prix win in Germany as he seeks to extend his eight-point advantage over Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen was third in the second Ferrari ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull and the two Ferrari-powered Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Another home hope Nico Hulkenberg was seventh ahead of his Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz, rising Monegasque star Charles Leclerc of Sauber and Sergio Perez of Force India.
Hamilton, who had attempted to push his car to stay in contention, said: “It was definitely a tough one, but these things happen and all you can do is try and gather your thoughts and live to fight another day.
“I’ll give everything tomorrow to see how high I can get up, but its not going to be like Silverstone.”
Hamilton is expected to start 14th on the grid after his setback which saw him take a brief airborne excursion at Turn One and then go off again at Turn Eight.
He lost use of his gearbox and was told by the team to stop to avoid further damage, following a hydraulics failure.
After trying to push the car, he crouched over it as if praying before taking a motor-cycle ride back to the paddock.
It came two days after Mercedes confirmed he had signed a blockbuster two-year contract extension and followed other unexpected disappointments in Canada, Austria and Britain where Hamilton and his team had been unable to match expectations.
After heavy rain had washed out final practice in the morning, the session began in improved conditions and on a drying track, the two Saubers again setting the pace as they had in the rain.
The atmosphere was sultry with a track temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, air at 21 and humidity at 84 percent.
The two Ferraris were soon on top of the times ahead of the Mercedes before Verstappen entered the fray, Vettel having set an early lap record in 1:12.538 that was soon trimmed by his team-mate’s 1:12.505.
The Q1 segment ended with Ferrari on top and the elimination of Esteban Ocon of Force India, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso, Lance Stroll of Williams and Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren.
Hamilton clocked the fifth best time before his problems forced him to abandon.
Q2 began with Bottas on top before Ericsson went off in the stadium section, leaving gravel on the circuit as he recovered. The session was red-flagged for eight minutes.
Out from Q2 went Fernando Alonso of McLaren in 11th ahead of Sergey Sirotkin of Williams, Ericsson, Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, who will start from the back of the grid after taking penalties for engine parts changes and did not clock a lap.
Raikkonen set the pace for Ferrari in Q3, but was outdone by Vettel and then Bottas to set up a final showdown for the big crowd.