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The Lankans trust Chandimal and Thirimanne a lot

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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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Inter Milan Must Sweat To Show We Are Contenders, Says Conte

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Inter Milan head coach, Antonio Conte, warned against complacency and urged his players to show they are credible Serie A title contenders ahead of Sunday’s home clash with relegation battlers Crotone.

Conte’s team, who finished as runners-up last season, cut the gap to league leaders AC Milan to just one point before the 10-day winter break, thanks to a run of seven straight league wins.

That form has put Inter firmly in the mix to end their 11-year wait for a league title, with defending champions Juventus languishing nine points behind them in sixth.

“We must confirm our place among the contenders,” Conte told a news conference.

“We don’t have to send any message, just be credible. We have the duty to fight until the end. When you’re at Inter, this is an obligation.

“It’s a balanced championship. You need to sweat to win every match and there are no easy games.

“In the end important values like hard work and organisation will stand out, things that make you excel and win.”

Inter are favourites to come out on top against Crotone, who are in 19th place having won just twice since being promoted from Serie B.

However, one of those victories came in Crotone’s last match before the break and Conte insisted he will not be underestimating the threat of the visitors.

“We’re expecting a demanding match, as I think they all are in Serie A,” he said.

“We’re facing a team that has been galvanised by finishing last year with a win against Parma.

“This match will require a lot of focus. Starting again after the holidays is always a great unknown, but we know the importance of continuing our positive streak.”

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Pirlo Warns Juventus Players Never To Repeat Fiorentina Display

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Juventus coach, Andrea Pirlo, has warned his players not to repeat the poor performance they produced during their shock 3-0 defeat against struggling Fiorentina in their last match before Serie A headed into its Christmas break.

The Italian champions, who face Udinese on Sunday, slumped to their first league defeat of the season against Fiorentina.

The result left Pirlo’s side 10 points adrift of league leaders AC Milan, albeit with a game in hand, putting their nine-year stranglehold of the Italian title at risk.

“We talked about the game against Fiorentina, we got it completely wrong,” the 41-year-old, who is in his first season as a manager, said.

“It was a good meeting and we discussed our future objectives. It was productive.

“I don’t want to see any more matches like the one with Fiorentina.

“We’ve otherwise made some progress and improved in many aspects, but I’m convinced it can be even better.”

Udinese also headed into the winter break following a 2-0 defeat to Benevento but Luca Gotti’s side were unbeaten in six league matches before then.

Hence Pirlo is not taking the challenge lightly.

“I’m expecting a difficult match, Udinese are on a good run of form and are a very well organised and physical team with players who are very good on the counter attack,” he said.

“The team is eager to redeem itself after the last defeat. We’ve got almost all our players back, so we’re setting out to restart the league season strongly.”

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Kane, Son Doing ‘Special Things’ – Mourinho

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Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are doing “special things” for Tottenham Hotspur this season, manager Jose Mourinho said.

This was following the dynamic duo both scoring in a 3-0 win over Leeds United that lifted Spurs to third in the Premier League on Saturday.

Kane gave his side the lead from the penalty spot — his 10th league goal of the season — then combined with Son who doubled Tottenham’s tally just before halftime.

It was Son’s 100th goal for Tottenham and the 13th time this season that the pair had combined for a league goal, equalling the whole season record set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95.

“I think in the Premier League there are many good players everywhere even in clubs where you don’t believe they can have great players,” Mourinho said.

“But I have to say that Sonny and Harry are doing special things this season.

“They are very good players as you know for many years.

“I want more goals, especially from other players but today the second goal is great, is also great because it was something we spoke about against a team that defends the way Leeds does.”

While the scoreline rather flattered Tottenham against a Leeds side who enjoyed 64% possession, it snapped a four-game winless sequence in the Premier League and sent Mourinho’s side back into the top four of the table.

They are in third spot with 29 points from 16 games, four behind joint-leaders Liverpool and Manchester United.

“Of course the result is important.

”We didn’t play the last match and the run of results in the least few weeks was not good so we needed these three points so we go up a little bit in the table,” Mourinho said.

Tottenham’s game in midweek was postponed after Fulham players tested positive for COVID-19.

This is a decision that Mourinho still find puzzling on the day that three of his own players were condemned for breaking the rules to attend a party.

“I go back to the initial rules of if you have 14 players available you have to play,” Mourinho said.

“I don’t see another reason for not doing it. I think every club does the best for their players to keep them all safe but then there are moments in private lives which you cannot control.

“Not everyone can be blamed so we have to carry on. If somebody has some positives, we have to play.”

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