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.


Mahomes on ‘cloud ten’ and Manning’s demise: Four things we learned from NFL Week 2

Updated 11 min 7 sec ago
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Mahomes on ‘cloud ten’ and Manning’s demise: Four things we learned from NFL Week 2

Arab News examines the talking points of the second week of NFL action and looks at what we learned.

Patrick Mahomes is in wonderland
The Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes has made a dream start to the season, following up a four-touchdown opening game last week with a six-touchdown performance at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field this weekend. It is the first time in the NFL’s 99-year history that 10 TDs have been thrown in the first two weeks by one QB, beating the previous record held by Peyton Manning (2013), Drew Brees (2009) and Charley Johnson (1965). Mahome’s spreading of the ball was sublime and his laser-like precision to his wide receivers was a joy to behold. We always knew this kid had talent after his first career appearance at the back end of last season, but this start has shown that he has the ability to shine in this league.

Eli Manning is past it
Once tipped to be even better than his older brother Peyton, Eli Manning’s stellar career seems to be declining with each week that passes. While not as technically gifted as Peyton, his prowess in the clutch and remarkable postseason performances in the past meant he dragged the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories, claiming two Most Valuable Player awards in both of the big games and has Giants franchise records coming out of his ears. But in recent seasons, he has failed to maintain those heights. And so far this year, Manning looks a shadow of his former self, struggling for a second week in a row against divisional rivals Dallas Cowboys.
Some of the blame can be laid at the door of the Giants’ offensive line, which allowed six sacks in this week’s defeat to Dallas. But Manning was overthrowing or making bad decisions on plays. For all the attacking talent the Giants have, it is useless if Manning cannot put the ball in the right areas. It will be sad to witness if this truly is the beginning of the end for such a talented player.

Oakland Raiders underachieving again
The team in the NFL with the most infamous fans, the Raiders faithful revel in their plucky underdog status; their “rogues of the West” image. But they now desperately want that first Super Bowl victory since 1983. Pre-season signs were good that they might have a shot, especially with Jon Gruden, Oakland’s $100 million man, at the helm. But they have gone 0-2 for the first two games and the omens do not look good. In both games — defeats to the LA Rams and this weekend to Denver Broncos — the Raiders managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With a lack of total team execution on show in six quarters of the eight so far this season, Gruden will need gutsier plays at the end of games if they are to turn the corner.

Matthew Stafford cannot win games on his own
For too many seasons now, Matthew Stafford has had to carry this Detroit Lions team’s hopes on his shoulders. Long gone are the horrific days of 2008, when the franchise went 0-16 for the entire season. And that is thanks to the arrival in 2009 of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Their form improved as they had a winning season in 2011 (10-6), and Stafford’s heroics have seen the Lions make intermittent Playoff appearances in recent years. But his poor start to the season cannot be blamed for the Lions’ subsequent bad opening. When he has a bad game, he needs his teammates to pick up the slack, something they have not done so far this year.