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.


Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

The gunners could not defeat 10-man Atletico Madrid. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

  • The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes
  • Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week

LONDON: Arsenal’s hopes of sending outgoing manager Arsene Wenger off with a trophy suffered a major blow as they could only draw 1-1 with 10-man Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card handing them the initiative.
However, they were made to rue a host of missed chances before and after Alexandre Lacazette headed them in front on the hour mark.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was also sent to the stands shortly after Vrsaljko’s dismissal, but the Spaniards resisted manfully and pounced when their chance came as Antoine Griezmann prodded home a vital away goal eight minutes from time.
Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week if Wenger’s last game in charge is to be the final in his homeland in Lyon on May 16.
Moreover, Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football next season also hang on becoming the first side other than Real Madrid to eliminate Atletico from Europe for five seasons.
There was a far more highly-charged atmosphere for Wenger’s penultimate home game in charge than there had been for last weekend’s game against West Ham United.
And the hosts were given plenty of encouragement early on, even when still up against Atletico’s full complement.
Lacazette volleyed off the outside of the post and forced Jan Oblak into the first of a series of fine saves with a header from close range.
Vrsaljko had been booked within two minutes for bringing down Jack Wilshere.

And the Croatian left his side a man light after just 10 minutes when French referee Clement Turpin showed no leniency for another late challenge on Lacazette.
Moments later, Simeone was also dismissed by the officious referee for taking his protests too far when an Arsenal player wasn’t booked for what he thought was a similar foul.
Atletico’s excellent defensive record is what has carried them to five European semifinals in seven seasons under Simeone.
The visitors battened down the hatches with 10 men, but were reliant on Oblak to keep them in the tie.
Wilshere headed straight at Oblak when unmarked at the back post at the end of a flowing Arsenal move.
And the Slovenian then spread himself well with an outstretched leg to deny Danny Welbeck.
Having weathered the Gunners’ early storm, Atletico only began to threaten themselves late in the first half and David Ospina had to be alert to parry a fiercely struck Griezmann shot following a fine run from Thomas Partey.
Atletico retreated ever deeper toward their own goal after the break and were finally punished on the hour mark when Wilshere’s deep cross found Lacazette rising above Lucas Hernandez to head in his seventh goal in seven games.
However, the French international and Arsenal could have had more.
Laczette’s dangerous ball across goal found no takers before he headed another good opportunity wide.
And Arsenal paid heavily for their profligacy, and some comical defending, when Atletico grabbed a vital away goal on 82 minutes.
Griezmann outmuscled French international team-mate Laurent Koscielny and then benefited from a slip by Shkodran Mustafi after his initial effort had been saved by Ospina to prod his 27th goal of the season into the roof of the net.
There was still time for Oblak to show why Griezmann isn’t the only Atletico player wanted by Europe’s elite with a spectacular one-handed save to turn Aaron Ramsey’s header behind and keep Los Rojiblancos on course for another European final.