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.


Kashima Antlers set up reunion tie with Real Madrid in FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 15 December 2018
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Kashima Antlers set up reunion tie with Real Madrid in FIFA Club World Cup

ABU DHABI: Real Madrid will face Kashima Antlers in Wednesday’s FIFA Club World Cup semifinals after the Asian champions came from behind to beat Mexico’s Guadalajara.
The AFC Champions League winners could not have made a worse start, as the Japanese club fell behind just three minutes into Saturday’s match in Abu Dhabi, with Angel Zaldivar’s header from an Isaac Brizuela cross putting the CONCACAF champions into an early lead.
Guadalajara looked the better side as the half went on, and were unlucky not to extend their lead before half-time, when Orbelin Pineda’s rocket of a shot from distance came crashing off the crossbar.
That proved to be kick-start the J-League side needed to get back into the match, who took full advantage of their good fortune after the interval when Shoma Doi raced into the box to deliver a low ball to midfielder Ryota Nagaki, who grabbed the leveller with a side-footed finish.
Kashima’s second came with twenty minutes remaining, and from the penalty spot after Nagaki drew a clumsy foul in the box from Guadalajar’s Michael Perez.
Serginho tucked away the resulting penalty and Kashima must have thought the game was done and dusted as they doubled their advantage with an exceptional curling shot from Hiroki Abe six minutes from time.
But there was late drama to come when VAR had to be used to award the Mexican side a late spot-kick.
Kwoun Sun-Tae made a fine save to deny Alan Pulido, but was unlucky to see the ball turned into his own net by Hugo Leonardo.
Kashima’s meeting with Real Madrid later this week will be a re-run of the 2016 final, which the Spanish giants won 4-2 after extra-time.
Real will traveled to the UAE after their La Liga match against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.