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.


Titles, yes. But Madrid the Real deal?

Updated 25 May 2018
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Titles, yes. But Madrid the Real deal?

  • In Spain, Zinedine Zidane has been dismissed by some as a “clap clap” coach, somebody who does little more than stand in the technical area banging his hands together in encouragement, while letting the players get on with it.
  • Real Madrid win not because they stymie the opposition, but because they have so many good players that eventually one does something to win the game.

KIEV: Tonight Zinedine Zidane could become the first manager to win the Champions League three times in a row. Only Bob Paisley has ever won three before. That suggests the Real Madrid manager is one of the greatest ever — yet nobody truly believes that. The general view, in fact, seems to be one of confusion. What is it, exactly, that Zidane does?
In Spain, he has been dismissed by some as a “clap clap” coach, somebody who does little more than stand in the technical area banging his hands together in encouragement, while letting the players get on with it. That is not entirely fair, given that at various stages Zidane has left out Gareth Bale, Isco and Karim Benzema; persuaded Cristiano Ronaldo to spare his body by playing less often; and changed the course of games with astute substitutions.

But at the same time, Zidane lacks an obvious style in the manner of most modern coaches and, more troublingly, his teams often struggle to control games. They win not because they stymie the opposition, but because they have so many good players that eventually one does something to win the game. That has proved enough to bring success in the Champions League, but Real Madrid’s recent league record is dismal: For the richest club in the world to have won only two league titles in the past decade suggests something badly awry. Last season they won the league on the back of a string of unlikely comebacks; this season, the concession of 44 goals, more than Getafe and Espanyol, could not be overcome.
But that also says something about the modern Champions League. Over the past nine seasons, more than half the available slots in the competition’s semifinals have been occupied by three clubs: Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern. Wealth takes teams a long way. Certain clubs are all but certain to qualify and, having done so, are then all but certain to make it through the group stage. Jeopardy then comes with the last 16 draw, but frequently a super-club can breeze through to the quarterfinals without being tested at all.

 

And once a team is in the last eight, unless there is an outstanding side, the Champions League can feel like a game of pass the parcel. As Chelsea discovered in 2012, this competition is less about prolonged brilliance and more about simply being a good cup side and having a bit of luck.
Madrid’s success is probably down to a little more than that, fortunate as they were with the draw two years ago, but it does suggest a devaluing of what is supposed to be Europe’s premier competition. Or perhaps, more accurately, a repackaging: The Champions League has become what the FA Cup used to be, glamorous and exciting, a gripping drama and a creator of heroes — but not necessarily a way to determine who is best.
What Madrid have achieved — and it is something the club also did in the late 1950s when they won five European Cups in a row while winning la Liga only twice — is to find a way of peaking in the latter stages of the Champions League, so their players produce their best form when it matters.
In that sense, Zidane’s greatest gift is less the application of any sort of intensity or tactical rigor than simply his ability to coax superb performances out of fine set of players. His closest recent forebear, perhaps, is Carlo Ancelotti.
Such haphazardness and lack of planning, though, seem to run counter to the modern age. How long can you keep on winning just because your players are better than the opposition?
Tonight, we will find out.

 

Decoder

PREDICTION

Few major games have been so hard to predict. It is not just that either side could win, but that either could win by a large margin. All that can be said with any confidence is that there are likely to be goals.

FACTOID

Marcelo vs Mohamed Salah

Marcelo might be one of the world’s great attacking full-backs, but he is not particularly disciplined when it comes to the defensive side of his job. That should offer opportunities for Salah, the Premier League’s top scorer, to get behind him. But the situation on the flank is more complicated than that. Against Roma in the semifinal second leg, Jurgen Klopp left Salah high up the pitch as Aleksandr Kolarov pushed forward from left-back. That meant Salah repeatedly found space, but also that Trent Alexander-Arnold was at times left exposed against the twin assault of Kolarov and Stephan El-Shaarawy, with Georgino Wijnaldum struggling to get across to cover from the right side of midfield. Klopp, presumably, will not risk something so cavalier here and Salah will track Marcelo at least to an extent — though if Madrid operate a 4-3-1-2, as seems likely, the direct pressure on Alexander-Arnold will be less intense.