Centurion Test preview: 5 things we can expect from India, South Africa

India's Wriddhiman Saha, left, with teammates Shikhar Dhawan, center, and Hardik Pandya, during their training at Centurion Park in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Centurion Test preview: 5 things we can expect from India, South Africa

PRETORIA: India need to win the second Test against South Africa to avoid another chastening loss outside the subcontinent. Ahead of the Centurion game, which starts on Saturday, here are five things to watch for.
 
REMEMBER THE TITANS
Time was when the cynics joked that you got the Australian baggy green cap along with your New South Wales one. Similar things were said of Mumbai in India, and Barbados in the Caribbean, teams with a long and proud tradition of providing the spine of the national side. But the Centurion-based Titans are taking it to another level. Regardless of whether Chris Morris, who first played for Gauteng, or Lungi Ngidi, whose roots are in Natal, gets to play, the franchise will have seven players in the starting XI. Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram at the top, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock in the middle order, and Morne Morkel as the most experienced bowler. Impressive.
 
SAHA FOR THE DROP?
Since MS Dhoni played the last of his 90 Tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in December 2014, Wriddhiman Saha has kept wicket in 29 of the 33 Tests India have played, with hamstring injuries ruling him out of the other four. He took five catches in both innings at Newlands, but looked lost with bat in hand. In eight innings in South Africa and Australia, Saha has made just 119 runs. Could India be about to drop their best keeper?
 
LEFT IS RIGHT?
To what lengths will Virat Kohli and the team management go to open with a left-right combination? If Shikhar Dhawan is not the answer, and the net sessions suggested that was the case, then that would mean a complete rejig in order to accommodate Parthiv Patel at the top. In the last of his many comebacks, Patel scored 42, 67 not out and 71 while opening the batting against England. But that was on home turf. The last time he played in a Southern Hemisphere Test was January 2004, Steve Waugh’s farewell in Sydney. He was not even 19.
 
RAHANE REDUX
“Before the first Test, no one thought that he should be in the eleven and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team it’s all about finding the right balance. We certainly don’t go on opinions that are created outside, the talk of the town and all those sorts of things.” That was Kohli’s rather terse response to a question about Ajinkya Rahane, his deputy. But a lengthy net session and slip-catching practice suggested that Rahane, who scored 96 in Durban on India’s last tour, would indeed come into the equation at Centurion. Just do not expect the think tank to admit that they blundered by leaving him out.
 
ALL-PACE GAMBIT?
Even on the verdant green pitches that greeted them in New Zealand in 2002 — the highest total on either side in the two Tests was 247 — India never forgot their spin-bowling tradition. The idea of an Indian XI without a spinner is akin to contemplating scones without clotted cream. Kohli was non-committal when asked about an all-pace attack, but surely that would be a change too far. If Umesh Yadav or Ishant Sharma did come in, that would mean an even more tardy over-rate and a potential ban for the captain. Besides, pace and bounce should also mean some joy for Ashwin. After all, the king of off-spinners, Muttiah Muralitharan, took 12 in two Tests here.


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”