India, who are in the middle of strict quarantine and restricted to their hotels, will be tested both mentally and physically when they face Australia in the third Test in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy that begins Thursday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Despite winning the previous Test to bring the four-match series level at 1-1, India have been under the cosh over the past one week with five of their players being investigated for alleged breach of bio-security protocols during a dine-out in Melbourne. While the team management has restricted the movement of the players to the hotel-ground-hotel routine, it has also decided to field four of the five players in the playing XI for the Sydney Test in a sign of backing their players.
The Aussie line-up, on the other hand, will include dashing opener David Warner with the other batsmen given plenty freedom to go after the India bowlers who until now have kept a tight leash.
India are sticking to the five-bowler theory that has helped them restrict Australia, bringing in right-arm fast bowler Navdeep Saini — who will make his debut — in place of injured Umesh Yadav in the playing XI. They have also included Rohit Sharma as opener in place of Mayank Agarwal.
Rohit is one of the five players investigated for alleged breach of bio-security protocols. Among others out of those five in the playing XI are Navdeep, Rishabh Pant and Shubman Gill.
Apart from the dine-out controversy and an hour that saw them get all out for 36 at Adelaide, India have been on the money with their tight and disciplined bowling keeping the series alive so far.
They lost the first Test at the Adelaide Oval due to an hour of poor batting but came back in a resounding manner through their bowling and stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s ton to win the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The Australia batsmen, especially the openers, have struggled to get off to good start putting pressure on the later batsmen as Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah and others have kept lines that have been difficult to score runs of.
However, the Aussies are entering this Test with a changed strategy and the inclusion of Warner who provides a good start at the top.
Australia captain Tim Paine on Wednesday said that the team would benefit from Warner’s aggressive approach at the top as well as a change in strategy where the batsmen will look to hit over the top, play sweep and reverse sweep against an India attack that has allowed them to cross 200 just once.
Among the Australian wickets, Sydney is supposed to be the closest to an Indian wickets.
Rahane, though, says this match is a fresh start and the previous game is history.
“Unfortunate we will miss Umesh and Shami, but their absence gives opportunities to others. I am very happy for Siraj especially, the way he bowled, he stood for us,” said Rahane.
He said the team is well-prepared for a changed approach by the hosts.
“As a team you have 3-4 plans, you have to see what works for us. When you come here against Australia, you have to have plans, be well-prepared,” said Rahane.
“We had our plans. They really worked for us but what is important for us is to understand what happened in past now, history now. We just have to start well tomorrow’s Test. They have got some good batsmen. We are respecting that, focusing on playing good cricket. We want to play simple cricket,” he added.
India Playing XI: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
I think England will win the Ashes 2-1, says Monty Panesar
Former England spinner Monty Panesar believes that the Joe Root-led side is favourite to win the upcoming Ashes series against Australia.
England are due to open their Ashes campaign against Australia on Wednesday morning, with the first Test to be played at the Gabba in Brisbane.
The visiting side is bidding to win the Ashes Down Under for the first time since claiming the famous 3-1 victory in the 2010/11 edition.
“Everyone’s talking about Australia, but I really think England are favourites to win the Ashes,” Panesar told thecricketpaper.
“I think if we get some sort of play (in the first Test), which at the moment we just don’t know with the forecast, as it appears the first four days could be a washout, then a draw would be like a win for England.
“If they go to Adelaide for the pink (ball second) Test, I think that’s where England have the upper hand. England probably need to win that Test match to command their position on the tour and think that they are serious contenders to win this (series). I can see England winning the series, with the emergence of Ben Stokes being back in the team. Joe Root will want to taste that victory.”
“It’s going to be a lot closer than you think, I think England will win the Ashes 2-1,” Panesar added.
Panesar further believes that all-rounder Ben Stokes can have a major effect on the series.
“The Superman of cricket (Ben Stokes) is going to be absolutely crucial, all aspects of his persona. There’s going to be times when he’s not bowling and he’s helping others. It’s just his presence on the field, it makes a huge difference,” he added.
Four things we learned from Spain’s Matchday 16
Real Madrid opened up an eight-point gap at the top of La Liga this weekend as both Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona lost at home. Here are some things we learned in Spain over the past two days.
1. The title is Real Madrid’s to lose.
Real Madrid were lucky to beat Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao in their two previous games, but they were clear winners away to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian on December 4 night, with goals from Vinicius Jr and Luka Jovic seeing them home against a disappointing rival that seemed to suffer big night nerves.
The win lifts Real Madrid 10 points above a side that only three weeks ago was top of the table, and puts them eight ahead of Sevilla who are second with a game in hand.
You could argue that for much of the season Real Madrid have not been brilliant and the goals of Vinicius and Karim Benzema have sustained them, but even if that is true, they have still been better than everyone else and the title is clearly theirs for the taking.
2. Sevilla quietly stake their claim
Sevilla’s 1-0 win at home to Villarreal may have had a dose of fortune to it as Villarreal missed several chances to take a point, but it leaves Julen Lopetegui’s men in second place and quite possibly as Real Madrid’s main title challengers, Xinhua reports.
Lopetegui deserves credit as his side is without key players Youssef En-Nesyri and Jesus Navas, robbing him of his top goalscorer and right wing-back, but he has built a team based on a solid defense, with the ‘triangle’ of Fernando, Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde the foundation that allows others such as Lucas Ocampos, Joan Jordan and Ivan Rakitic to shine.
This is a decisive week for Sevilla with a Champions League visit to RB Salzburg followed by a league game in Bilbao, but for the moment they seem to be the most creditable of Real Madrid’s rivals.
3. A reality check for Xavi
Barca rode their luck to beat Espanyol and Villarreal in Xavi Hernandez’s first two league games in charge, but the 1-0 defeat to Real Betis on December 4 provided fans with a reality check.
Barca started brightly in the Camp Nou as they have done in Xavi’s other games in charge, but once their initial burst ran out of steam, Betis were comfortable and controlled the game except for a brief spell when Ousmane Dembele came on as a second-half substitute.
Xavi’s main problem is that without Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Antoine Griezmann and with Ansu Fati injured, he doesn’t have the players to score the goals when they are on top, while the number of young players in his side means it is hard to keep their performances going for 90 minutes.
4. All credit to Betis
It would be unfair to focus just on Barcelona after Saturday’s game. Betis produced an assured display in defense and even without key playmaker Nabil Fekir, they were able to dominate the ball for long periods of the game and create chances against Barca on the break.
Juanmi has gone from being a fringe player to the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga, and much of the credit has to go to coach Manuel Pellegrini. The man nicknamed ‘the engineer’ is not a coach for a quick fix, but slowly and surely he gets his teams to win games with a mix of organization and individual talent. That’s why Betis are currently third in La Liga.
Commit more time, money to develop spin bowling skills: NZ great to players
Former New Zealand skipper Jeremy Coney had demanded the Black Caps commit more time, energy and money to develop their spin bowling skills in the wake of the humiliating loss to India in the second and final Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Monday.
India thrashed the World Test champions by 372 runs to record their biggest victory by run margin. With this win, India also bagged 12 points in the World Test Championship 2021/23 standings.
The Indian spinners had reduced New Zealand to 140/5 in their second innings at stumps on the third day and they wrapped up victory in 43 minutes on the fourth morning, bundling out New Zealand for 167 runs in 56.3 overs to record a smashing win.
India’s spin magic was not lost on the 69-year-old Coney, who played 52 Tests scoring more than 2,600 runs for the Kiwis. He urged New Zealand Cricket (NZC) to spend some time and resources to improve the Black Caps’ skills at facing and bowling spin.
Though New Zealand spinner Ajaz Patel rattled India with his 10-wicket haul in the first innings, the visiting team batters were woeful against Indian spinners managing only 62 and 167.
“I think NZ Cricket need to be braver and believe in spin bowling and commit time and money to the development of that part of the game,” Coney said on SENZ’s post-Test coverage on Tuesday.
“We need a place to go where guys can practice facing spin and having a batting coach there, or we should try send guys to India. Another option is that we have a wicket in New Zealand that turns more than the others, so we get our keepers and fielders learning on these pitches. These are full-time players, and I think we can do more.”
New Zealand earned the dubious distinction of losing the match by 372 runs, which is their biggest margin of defeat after their previous loss by 358 runs against South Africa in 2007.
New Zealand will now play a two-Test home series against Bangladesh from January 1.
I think England will win the Ashes 2-1, says Monty Panesar
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