Careers on the line as India fly in Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur ahead of third Test

Navdeep Saini has flown in to South Africa so that he can bowl at Virat Kohli and the other Indian batsmen in the nets at The Wanderers. (Instagram)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Careers on the line as India fly in Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur ahead of third Test

JOHANNESBURG: As the crow flies, it is just over 8,000km from New Delhi to Johannesburg. That is the distance that Navdeep Saini has flown so that he can bowl at Virat Kohli and the other Indian batsmen in the nets at The Wanderers. Saini was one of the stars as Delhi reached this season’s Ranji Trophy final, and he and Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur were flown in after India’s defeat in the second Test at Centurion so that they could help with preparation for the final game.
Apart from giving the batsmen a workout ahead of what is likely to be the liveliest pitch of the series, the team management also want to look at both ahead of the challenges that lie ahead. This series loss was India’s first in 10, and just beyond the horizon lie Test tours of England, Australia and New Zealand.
A deeper fast-bowling pool can only be a good thing, but the temptation to look at Saini and Thakur also points to the fact that India still don’t know what their first-choice attack is. Bhuvneshwar Kumar took 6 for 120 in Cape Town, and was then benched for Centurion, where Ishant Sharma came in and took 5 for 86.
Mohammed Shami, despite his struggles with consistency, remains India’s most potent pace bowling threat. If there’s lateral movement as expected in Johannesburg, Bhuvneshwar – the most skillful of the lot – must play. And if comes down to a choice between Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant, the more experienced man wins every time.
Bumrah generates good pace, and can make the most of variable bounce because of his quirky action. But his stock ball is the inswinger to the right-hand batsman. “If your stock ball is the outswinger, you’ll get wickets,” said Michael Holding to this correspondent after the Centurion game. “The ball that comes in isn’t going to get too many quality batsmen out. He needs to develop more skills if he’s to succeed on flat pitches.”
South Africa have got their selection spot on. In Cape Town, they ignored the safe option of playing the extra batsman and went with four pace bowlers, supported by Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin. Despite Dale Steyn’s unfortunate heel injury, they still had enough firepower to blast out the Indians on the fourth afternoon.
At Centurion, they again had the option of bringing in an all-rounder — Chris Morris or Andile Phehlukwayo — to fill the Steyn void. Instead, they went for the attacking option and picked Lungi Ngidi, a 21-year-old with some pace to burn. Ngidi’s six for 39 in the second innings scuttled India’s run chase.
The fact that Umesh Yadav has not even come into the discussions is even more puzzling. His 25 wickets in Australia (seven Tests) have cost 44 apiece and come at an economy rate of 4.64. But you only need to look at Stuart Broad’s struggles in Australia this winter to recognize that using performances on increasingly lifeless pitches as a yardstick for selection is not necessarily fair.
Yadav is coming off the best year of his career — 31 wickets at 29.25 — and is a far more complete bowler than the one who toured Australia twice. Against the same opponent on home turf in 2017, he was the most successful pace bowler on either side with 17 wickets. The almost-Asian surface at Centurion would have suited his skiddy methods perfectly.
In bowler-friendly conditions, you simply cannot afford to give the batsmen any respite. This series was decided by two partnerships — the 114 between AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis at Newlands, and the 141 de Villiers added with Dean Elgar in Centurion. For their part, the home bowlers have been, to use a word Kolhi has employed frequently, “relentless.”
“But let’s be clear,” says Holding, even as he says the bowlers should do better. “It’s the batsmen who have cost India the series.” Take out Hardik Pandya’s chancy 93 in Cape Town, and Kohli’s sublime 153 in Centurion, and you are left with an almost-blank slate. Dead-rubber Tests can sometimes be listless affairs. But with some careers potentially on the line ahead of that trip to England in June, this should be every bit as spicy as the jalapeño-green pitch being prepared.


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 4 min ago
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.