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India’s resurgence in test cricket has been nothing extraordinary

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Four test playing nations. A former World Number One lost its way to experience one of the lowest points in the annals of their sporting history. In recent times, a supremely insurmountable side at home became more prone to defeats. A team famously regarded as the most volatile side to have taken the field endured isolation and wilderness in the Arabian deserts. A team deemed misfit started making significant strides that the world took note of. These are tumultuous yet exciting times for the test playing nations from the subcontinent.

One day, the leaves wither as they turn old. India and Sri Lanka are primarily experiencing this phase. There are more greens on their tree today. Pakistan is almost in a situation where the leaves are about to fall. The cricketing expiry for Misbah and Younus is much closer than what it was yesterday. Take the story of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for example. The chances of comeback become slim for the veteran sportsmen moment the form slips away. As long as the fire in the lamp withstands the external pressure of the winds, these legendary players can continue writing more pages in their autobiographies.

 

India, now in the Sri Lankan shores, are all set to be challenged in conditions they are more familiar of. Ever since the dramatic 8-0 whitewashes in 2011-12, India showed mild signs of recovery. They have had to reshuffle the batting line up ever since the glorious trinity signed off along with the famous Delhi openers who seem to have lost their mojo. Fortunately, they have managed to construct another batting order which a lot of top ranked test countries can feel jealous about. But that’s about the best part of the segment that the team can feel proud of. As a unit, the losses at South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia meant that the slide wasn’t arrested. With the one-off Bangladesh test abandoned due to rain, this Lankan tour is the beginning of a two year journey around the rivers and mountains of the sub-continent.

With a new leader and with the Board all set to soon announce the new coach, who would be the man to plot the route map for the future, India’s test resurgence is in tricky waters. The followers of the sport in the mad nation have had a long break since the IPL. Since IPL they have had to endure an ignominious one-day tour of Bangladesh. It has been the longest break for the team for a long time. Kohli has promised that he will play five bowlers thus thrusting more responsibility both on the top and the lower order batsmen. So far, Kohli’s approach as a leader has been all about making the moves to create a positive result. The aggressive attitude now goes a step further to embolden and empower the players with more trust and responsibility. It is time for his players to contribute with a very conscious mindset craving for consistency. With more matches scheduled in the sub-continent, the onus would be on the spinners to take lead with the attack.

On the other side of the border, Pakistan’s resurgence in test cricket has been nothing less than extraordinary. It is no easy task to defend at the adopted home as well as to beat the Lankans in their territory. Significantly, the batsmen contributed crucial runs for their bowlers to pick twenty wickets. After a relentless search for steady batsmen who build their game on temperament, Pakistan seem to have solved the puzzle. Ahmed Shehzad’s ability to convert starts into hundreds has provided a reasonable stability at the top of the order. Shan Masood, is still very young. But he showed enough gumption to convince about his ability and temperament. Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali have been the biggest finds for Pakistan cricket in recent times. They have been the pillars around whom the game revolves. The best part about the two is that, they emerge from a different school of cricket where calmness and patience are considered as stepping stones for success. Shafiq and Ali have both tasted success and have good knowledge of what it takes to score hundreds in test matches. Between Shafiq and Ali, come the most experienced Pakistani pair of Younus Khan and Misbah Ul Haq. While they both don’t seem to come close to an end with their careers, Pakistan’s fresh approach in ODIs gives a good look into their batting resources when the legends call it a day. That Pakistan completed a rout in Sri Lanka, defeating the hosts in all formats of the game, shows that the team is experiencing a positive growth. After the final T20, there were great scenes of camaraderie and team bonding. Importantly, Pakistan have showed that they enough stomach for challenge and hunger for victory.

The inclusion of Sarfaraz Ahmed in the middle order is the single most powerful addition for their line-up. Teams are prone to produce inconsistent results if they carry a lot of flashy batsmen. Such batsmen will change the complexion of the game within a session or two. Since their approach can’t be tempered, it would be difficult to expect them play a fighting innings. Sarfaraz, amazingly, can play both roles. He has lent fire to the batting order that finally found solidity and method to their game.

While Pakistan need not worry about the fast bowler produce, Saeed Ajmal’s exit from the scene could have spelt dooms for any team. Yasir Shah’s emergence as an attacking leg spinner smoothened the transition. Yasir Shah provides Misbah with both control and strike force. When the batsmen succeed, Shah becomes a bigger prospect for Pakistan’s success. The way he bowled in Sri Lanka on not so friendly surfaces was a display of his stern character and his ability to play according to the conditions.

Pakistan’s biggest challenge, though, is yet to arrive. They have slowly begun to become a strong opponent in home conditions. But just like how the challenge was for India, or for that matter any other subcontinent team, Pakistan’s ability to survive and succeed will be tested on a bigger scale when they play in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand.

The latest victim of the Bangladesh assault were the South Africans. Not so long ago, Bangladesh gave both India and Pakistan a rude lesson that told the world that they have finally arrived. While Bangladesh’s resurgence has mostly been in the ODIs, they made some impression when they bowled out South Africa for under 250 and took an important lead in the first test at Dhaka. The promise that Bangladesh have shown in the past six months only makes us believe that the team has matured heads who are ready to act responsibly for team’s success now. At the helm of affairs is Hathurusinghe, who is carving a legacy of his own with this resurgence. The coach has gone the long yards to make his team believe that they definitely can. The likes of Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mashrafe Mortaza have absorbed enough quality of international cricket, that they can be the torch bearers for Bangladesh cricket now. These players have shown immense maturity in taking ownership on the field and guiding the younger ones in the best way possible.

Considering the following that Bangladesh have in their backyard, it was going to be impossible for them to never improve. All this while, the stars who are torch bearers today were seeking inspiration to grow bigger. Their heroes never made it big. They got back home defeated again and again.

With Australia touring Bangladesh next, there wouldn’t be a better measure of their progress than testing it against Australia’s Gold Standard.

Sri Lanka have a problem aplenty. It is a mixed scenario that each of India and Pakistan have experienced for a long time. Under Angelo Mathews, this Lankan team is taking baby steps with their resurgence. The best aspect of this resurgence has been the performance of their fast bowlers. The tank is full with quality that Mathews can afford to prepare fast and seaming tracks for their bowlers to achieve desired results. Dhammika Prasad has come of age. Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Dushmantha Chameera have had their moments. Twenty three year old Chameera, especially, has come for a lot of praise. Along with the captain himself, Sri Lanka’s pace attack are in good shape for the present and for the immediate future.

But their real concerns come with their batsmen. Jayawardane is gone. Dilshan is gone. So will Sangakkara by the end of this month. While the batting has shown odd sparks with Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews continues to be the lynch pin in this batting order. The replacements and the next-in-line are the players who have been there with the team earlier. Jehan Mubarak’s and Upul Tharanga’s selections gives away the fact that the older men who were discarded before, continue to be the best of the lot to play test cricket. Sangakkara’s fear in the loss of quality in the first class cricket, is well placed. If the structure can’t produce new talents then there is something wrong that needs to be fixed at the earliest.

The Lankans trust Chandimal and Thirimanne a lot. While they have been impressive in shorter formats, both players need to raise their hands up now to shoulder responsibility. The series against India, is hence going to be very crucial for these two players. If both of them fail to make any mark, the middle order will be in tatters.

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Messi Lamenting Over Suarez Departure

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Lionel Messi bid an emotional farewell on Friday to Luis Suarez, the day after the Uruguayan striker had said tearful goodbyes to Barcelona after the club sent him to Atletico Madrid.

“Today I went into the dressing room and the awful truth hit me,” Messi posted on Instagram, before renewing his criticism of club management.

“You deserved to be sent off as what you are: one of the most important players in the history of the club,” Messi wrote. “And not to be fired in the way they did it.”

“The truth is that at this point nothing surprises me anymore.”

Messi has a long-running feud with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu which intensified after Barcelona were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern in a Champions League quarter-final in August.

Messi tried to force his exit from Barcelona but finally accepted that he would have to see out the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, two of his closest friends on the team, Suarez and the Chilean Arturo Vidal have left.

The 33-year-old Suarez moves to Atletico on a two-year contract on a free transfer, although, if he does well, Barcelona could receive some money.

Suarez, who hit 198 goals for Barca, becoming the third highest goalscorer in the history of the club, cried as he bid an impromptu farewell to the club on Thursday.

“I’m going to keep playing, with fresh motivation, with the objective to show I can continue competing,” Suarez said.

“Everyone knows the relationship we have, Leo and me. I’ve already played against him in the Uruguay-Argentina matches, playing against each other is not going to change the feelings we have for each other,” Suarez said.

Messi and Suarez were neighbours in the beachside suburb of Castelldefels and would arrive at training together.

“How difficult it is going to be not to continue to share the days with you, both on the pitch and off it” wrote Messi in a post accompanied by seven pictures of the two men together, sometimes with their families. “We are going to miss you very much. It’s been many years, many cups of mate, lunches, dinners…Many things that I will never forget.”

“It’s going to be weird to see you with another shirt and much more to face you,” wrote Messi. “But I wish you all the best in this new challenge. I love you very much, I love you very much. See you soon, my friend.”

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Bayern Beat PSG To Win Sixth Champions League Title

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Bayern Munich won the European Cup for the sixth time on Sunday as Kingsley Coman’s goal gave them a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in an engrossing Champions League final in Lisbon, completing a fantastic season for the German giants and leaving their opponents still searching for the trophy they covet more than anything.

It was often a cagey final, with a bit of needle between the teams, but chances too, especially before Coman appeared at the back post to head in Joshua Kimmich’s inviting 59th-minute cross and wrap up a treble for a team who had already won the Bundesliga and German Cup.

Hansi Flick’s team will feel they deserved their victory, yet PSG will regret not taking any of the chances that were offered up to them on a surreal occasion at an empty Estadio da Luz.

Kylian Mbappe in particular should have done better than shoot straight at Manuel Neuer right on the stroke of half-time.

The France World Cup-winning forward had spoken of his determination to go down in his country’s history by helping PSG become just the second French winners of European football’s greatest prize.

But they will have to wait for the chance to match Marseille, who won the inaugural Champions League in 1993.

PSG’s Qatari owners spent a combined 402 million euros ($474m) on Neymar and Mbappe in 2017 to win this competition, not just reach the final. However, in the end, it was one who got away from Paris who denied them.

The 24-year-old Coman was born in Paris and started his career at PSG, only to leave in 2014 for Juventus, sensing he wouldn’t get the regular football he desired if he stayed put.

He had been on the bench in the semi-final against Lyon but was promoted to the starting line-up for the final, replacing Ivan Perisic on the left-wing.

Now he may not be welcome back in his home city again.

But at Bayern, he will always be remembered as the man who won them this trophy in 2020, in the club’s 11th final and seven years after they were last European champions.

– Mbappe’s big miss –

Flick’s team have ended this season with 21 straight victories and unbeaten in 30 matches. They deserved to be crowned in a full stadium.

However, only a few hundred lucky invitees were inside the cavernous home of Benfica to see the denouement of the ‘Final Eight’, at the end of a competition so long delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The strangest of finals pitted together two clubs who have taken very different routes to becoming part of Europe’s elite, with Bayern’s status as Germany’s most successful and powerful side long-established and PSG having left the rest of the French game behind following the Qatari takeover of 2011.

But if this was a mismatch in terms of history, on and off the pitch right now they are almost perfectly balanced.

That translated into the kind of proper match-up on the field that neither side often experiences these days.

Bayern came desperately close to opening the scoring midway through the first half when Lewandowski — looking for his 56th goal of the season — took down an Alphonso Davies cross, turned and struck a shot against the post.

The Pole also came close with a header that was saved by Keylor Navas, PSG’s goalkeeper who won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid and who was returning after injury ruled him out of the semi-final against RB Leipzig.

But Bayern take risks by playing with such a high line, and PSG should have punished them in the first half.

Neymar was denied by an excellent Neuer save after being set up by Mbappe, while Mbappe himself contrived to fire straight at the goalkeeper after David Alaba gited him the ball in the Bayern box.

Alaba had earlier seen his central defensive colleague, Jerome Boateng, limp out seemingly with a recurrence of the hamstring problem that forced him off against Lyon.

Niklas Suele replaced him and helped contain the Paris attack as Bayern held onto their lead.

Bayern had broken the deadlock just before the hour mark in a move that began with a sprayed Thiago Alcantara pass forward, and ended with Coman arriving to head in Kimmich’s perfect delivery.

Neymar ended the game with a yellow card for chopping down Lewandowski, and a runners-up medal, while Bayern celebrated.

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Premier League Release Fixtures List For 2020/2021 Season

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Leeds’ first Premier League game for 16 years will see Marcelo Bielsa’s men travel to defending champions Liverpool, while Manchester City and Manchester United will miss the opening weekend to give them extra time to recover from a late end to the 2019/20 season.

All sides were guaranteed by the football authorities to have at least 30 days off between the two seasons after the late finish to the campaign caused by a three-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

City and United were eliminated from the Champions League and Europa League respectively last weekend, three weeks after the end of the Premier League season.

Chelsea and Wolves will start their seasons on Monday September 14th after they too were involved in European competition into August.

Leeds are back in the top-flight for the first time since 2003/04, but could not have asked for a tougher start, on September 12 against the champions who have not lost a league game at Anfield in more than three years.

Tottenham host Everton, Arsenal travel to newly-promoted Fulham and Chelsea are away to Brighton on the opening weekend.

City and Liverpool are scheduled to meet on the weekends of November 7 at the Etihad and February 6 at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp’s men do not face traditional rivals Manchester United until 2021 with the Red Devils visiting Anfield on January 16 and Liverpool heading to Old Trafford on May 1.

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