For Drogba, it is a new championship

Published on: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 //

Chelsea will begin 2015 protecting a three-point lead in the Premier League title race but will heed the words of their grand old striker Didier Drogba who warns that it is simply not enough. “We start again a new championship,” boomed the Ivorian, as Chelsea prepared to visit their fierce London rivals Tottenham on New Year’s Day, with champions Manchester City, at home against Sunderland, still snapping at their heels.

Everything bodes well for Jose Mourinho’s soaring side, not least the fact that on the seven previous occasions his teams have been leading their respective leagues at Christmas, they have always gone on to take the title. Mourinho’s faithful old lieutenant Drogba, though, believes it will have to be a particularly special achievement for the ‘Special One’ to maintain that extraordinary sequence.

“I think it’s going to be tough,” Drogba said, reflecting on how Chelsea’s one-time eight-point lead has been whittled down.

Indeed, if City had not blown a 2-0 lead on Boxing Day to draw with Burnley, there would have now been only one point separating the leaders.

“We knew it was not over. A few years ago, I think we were 11 or 12 points in front of Man United and then they won the league,” Drogba said. “So eight points or nine points — I don’t know how many points we had on top of Man City — I think it is not enough. I think now we start again a new championship. I think the game is on.” Mourinho, happy to play up any conspiracy theory if it helps strengthen his players’ indignation, claimed after the draw at Southampton that a campaign to portray his team as divers was costing them crucial points.

Still, he could hardly be starting the year at a happier hunting ground, Chelsea’s domination over Spurs having been so pronounced in the Premier League era that their fans like to think of Tottenham’s White Hart Lane home as ‘Three Point Lane’.

Punjab win run marathon

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An angry young pacer from Punjab couldn’t stop himself from saying that they would have played much better on the nearby highway than at the pitch laid in Saurashtra Cricket Association’s Stadium in Khanderi.

You couldn’t blame him. The Group B Ranji Trophy league game between Saurashtra vs Punjab saw just two innings with the visitors taking first-innings lead. Five centuries were scored including one double hundred in this game. It was one great yawn-inducing affair that did no one any good. No bowler really enjoys the flight to Rajkot for they have always got a raw deal in this part of India. Out of the eight Ranji Trophy matches played here in past three years nearly 7,690 runs have been scored with two triple, four double and 11 hundreds piled up by batsmen.

And only three outright wins were possible. Interestingly, in those three games, there was just one hundred — Cheteshwar Pujara had hit 203 against Madhya Pradesh.

“There is no point in playing on these kind of pitches which don’t give results. We all are not playing for one point. At least something should be there in the pitch otherwise it’s of no use. You will keep seeing such kind of games which will lead nowhere,” Punjab captain Harbhajan Singh said after the game.

However, there was some drama at the fag end of the first-innings chase on Wednesday. Saurashtra, who were chasing a mammoth score of 659 runs needed 137 runs in the final session of fourth day’s play and had three wickets in hand.

They had the centurion Sheldon Jackson holding fort and giving him company was the tailender Vishal Joshi. Jackson took charge of the big chase, slamming a four and a six off Yuvraj Singh. The match was heading towards an interesting finish when Yuvraj the left-arm spinner decided to seize the moment. He trapped Vishal Joshi in front of the middle stump before he got Siddharth Trivedi and Sudeep Tyagi off successive deliveries, in his 11th over, to seal the deal for Punjab.

Action Jackon

It was Jackson who threatened to pull off a heist at one stage. He went for his shots despite getting couple of chances. Jackson was dropped on 31 by wicket-keeper Gitansh Khera off Amitoze Singh and at that stage Saurashtra needed 311 runs. He later slammed Harbhajan Singh for two back to back fours and played some peachy punched-drives off Punjab pacers Siddharth Kaul and Maninder Singh.

Brief scores: Punjab 659 for 7 dec (Mandeep 235, Yuvraj 182, Gurkeerat 101) and 15 for 0 drew with Saurashtra 559.

Ramandeep ready for big challenges

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indian hockey team, indian hockey, ramandeep singh Ramandeep (left) knows he has to work hard to make his place in the starting XI a permanent one.

India’s forward player Ramandeep Singh is leaving no stone unturned in his preparation for the Hero Hockey India League that starts later this month.

After finishing 4th position at the Men’s Champions Trophy 2014 recently and being an integral part of Asian Games Gold medal-winning team, Ramandeep has now shifted all his focus to HIL, where he will represent Uttar Pradesh Wizards where he is gearing up to rub shoulders with top international players including Eddie Ockenden of Australia, Jeroen Hertzberger of the Netherlands along with India’s VR Raghunath and PR Sreejesh.

Realising the way the game is evolving, Ramandeep knows that he still has to work hard to make his place in the playing eleven, where he has to compete with other forwards like Nikkin Thimmaiah, SK Uthappa and Nithin Thimmaiah. Understanding the competition within the team as well as in the League, Ramandeep is working on the physical and mental side of this game.

“This season will be tougher than the previous two editions as the best players of the world will feature in the HIL and all teams will fight for the top honour. My team-mates of UP Wizards are also working very hard and this time, all of us want the team to finish in the top two. Though we have a decent rotation system and our coaching staff try to give opportunity to each player, I still have to work and make my place in the forward line-up. I would say it is healthy competition among the players and it helps us to improve our capabilities.”

He also added that the presence of PR Sreejesh in his team will also be a big help. “I am delighted to see PR Sreejesh in our team. He is a very hard-working and motivational player, who creates a positive atmosphere in the dressing room. His presence in the team will surely solidify our defence line-up and enhance our chances to reach the final.”

The 3rd edition of HIL will start from the January 22 with Uttar Pradesh Wizards playing their first match on January 23 against defending champions Delhi Waveriders in Lucknow.

Rupinder on toes

In that opening game against Waveriders, if Ramandeep has to score he will have to deal with team mate Rupinder Pal Singh. It will be a keen contest that will decide the game. Rupinder is eagerly awaiting the chance to display his proficiency and abilities alongside an experienced bunch of defenders like India’s Surender Kumar, Diwakar Ram, New Zealand’s Steven Edwards, Andrew Hayward and Australia’s Tristan White.

The 23-year-old drag- flicker has been a significant contributor to the Delhi Waveriders in both the seasons and playing a big role in steering his team to win the second season of the tournament. His aim along with the rest of the team is to retain the Champion Title and for which he is confident that is entire team will live upto the expectation. Rupinder Pal Singh is keen to share the field with Steven Edwards of New Zealand and Australia’s Tristan White who have successfully boosted the Waverider’s defence-line by working enormously on their defence skills.

“Playing for a team who has been the champions in the last season, I am much more confident and geared up to play our first match against Uttar Pradesh Warriors. With an advantage of a good defence line up, I am looking forward to a successful tournament for my team and aiming to retain the title. Under the very efficient leadership of Sardar Singh, supported by the brilliant Danish Mujtaba along with much experienced Gurbaj Singh, young Akashdeep Singh and Yuvraj Walmiki to name a few, I am anticipating a good game of hockey from my team. I am even waiting to play alongside Andrew Hayward who will be new to the team this year and going by his record it will be an experience for me to play with him.”

Daniel Sturridge all set for January 2015 return: Brendan Rogers

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Sturridge, Liverpool The Kop has missed him dearly, but Sturridge is back. (Source:AP)

Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge is set for a January return, according to manager Brendan Rodgers, who hinted he was unlikely to dip into the transfer market to solve the club’s current striker issues.

Sturridge last played for Liverpool in August after suffering a thigh injury on international duty with England and his absence has been keenly felt as the Merseysiders have struggled for goals and consistency in a disappointing start to the season.

With close-season signing Mario Balotelli failing to score a Premier League goal and Rickie Lambert, another summer arrival, struggling to cement a place in the side, Sturridge’s return to action cannot come soon enough for last season’s runners-up.

“He’s coming back into the country in early January to finalise his rehab here,” Rodgers told reporters on Wednesday.

“Hopefully at some point in January — the middle to end — he’ll be available to play.”

Rodgers has drafted Raheem Sterling into a makeshift centre forward role in recent weeks in an effort to replicate last season’s scintillating attacking play, but he said he does not expect any new arrivals in January.

“My first look is always within,” he said. “We have seen how we have adapted the team and the structure of the team in order to make that work. I still think we’ve got players that can do that for us.

“So there won’t be much activity for us in January. We brought in a lot of players over the course of the summer that we feel can develop, and those players are now starting to adapt to the life here at Liverpool and our way of working.

“There won’t be a lot of transfer activity from us – if any – over the course of the January period. My job is to coach and manage the players that are currently here and work hard at maximising the talent that they have. That’s what we’ll look to do.”

Liverpool, chasing a third successive Premier League victory, host Leicester City on Thursday.

They will be without centre back Martin Skrtel, who is suspended, but could welcome back Dejan Lovren after a groin injury.

“Dejan has only been back training in the last couple of days. We’ll see how he is today and then we’ll take it from there,” Rodgers said.

South Africa recall Morne van Wyk for West Indies T20s, AB de Villiers rested

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AB De Villiers, Morne van Wyk, South Africa, Cricket Veteran AB de Villiers has been rested for three-match T20 series against West Indies starting January 9. (Source: File)

Wicketkeeper-batsman Morne van Wyk has been recalled to South Africa’s squad for the three-match Twenty20 international series against the West Indies in place of the injured Quinton de Kock.

Van Wyk has not played for the Proteas since the 2011 World Cup, and his return suggests that he is the front-runner to keep wicket at the 2015 edition should De Kock fail to recover from an ankle injury in time.

Meanwhile, JP Duminy and Aaron Phangiso will make their comebacks from injury during the three-match series, which gets underway in Cape Town on Jan. 9.

Senior players Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have been rested, but Faf du Plessis will resume the captaincy.

PREVIEW-Cricket-S Africa strong favourite at happy hunting ground

Published on: //
CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - That West Indies go into the final test against South Africa with an opportunity to draw the three-match series is probably more than they could have hoped for after a crushing defeat in the first game in Pretoria.

FACTBOX-Cricket-South Africa v West Indies, third test

Published on: //
CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Factbox on the third test between South Africa and West Indies, which begins at Newlands on Friday:

Cricket-Duminy named in T20 squad for West Indies series

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CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - JP Duminy has been named in the South African Twenty20 squad for the three-match home series against West Indies next month, but a number of other top players will again be rested.

The Express LOL tribute to Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Published on: //

The most successful Indian captain ever, the most unflappable Indian captain ever, the most heart-attack-causing Indian captain ever has retired from Test Cricket. MS Dhoni was a phenomenon of the kind we hardly ever see, and he deserves a special tribute.

So, in typical over the top helicopter style, here is our Express LOL tribute to the man. Thank you, MSD.

dhoni-1 dhoni-2 dhoni-3 dhoni-4 dhoni-5 dhoni-6 dhoni-7 dhoni-8 dhoni-9

10 Mahendra Singh Dhoni things we will miss

Published on: Tuesday, 30 December 2014 //
Army green and navy blue were the predominant colours in MS Dhoni's wicket-keeping gloves. Army green and navy blue were the predominant colours in MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping gloves.

Leg slip

A symbol of his famous obstinacy. A man would lurk perennially at leg slip in overseas Tests whether or not the attack or the match-situation required it. It led to furious head-scratching among commentators but Dhoni didn’t care a hoot.

Military gloves

Dhoni’s wicketkeeping gloves had a military touch towards them. Army green and navy blue were the predominant colours, with the camouflage texture conspicuously visible. Perhaps it was an ode to his love for army. After all, he is an honorary lieutenant colonel in the Parachute Regiment.

Stump-mike chatter

With wicket-keeper captains being such a rarity, we are going to miss the quiet mutterings of an exasperated captain. “Jaag ja jadeja,” or “Ek line pakad ke daal” (to Umesh Yadav), “five wickets chahiye toh thoda mehnat karna padega Ojha.” The quiet insight into the world of captaincy will be missed.

Quick-silver stumpings

It can still be done in ODIs of course but the magic of stumpings on spinbowls in India with batsman barely tumbling outside the crease trying to defend were something else. The hands never moved back an inch – there was no cushioning in the take, a trait almost unseen in cricket before. The hands just moved forward- collect, and swoop down on the bails.

8-1 field

A symbol of his need for control. In Indian conditions, where he could trust his bowlers to exert some level of control, he will push it to extremes. At times, even with a 8-1 field, playing with the mind of the batsmen. It seemed as if he really relished setting such fields, and reveled in inherent control that he so sorely missed when playing abroad.

Searching all-rounder

It’s been a constant lament of Dhoni that he hasn’t found a suitable candidate in Tests. At times, when he would survey the field as a captain, it seemed he was searching for one. And tired of the unsucessful wait, he once threw his gloves off and bowled medium pace at Lord’s.

Dhoni, the bowler

The sight of him yanking off his gloves and bowling at Lord’s test match, even before lunch, angered the likes of Kapil Dev then but eh, it was quite a neat sight. The chutzpah was amusing. Where can you see another wicketkeeper remove his pads and gloves and roll his arm over when the match was in competitive stage?

Deep point

A sign of his defensive captaincy overseas. He would drop a deep point so early in the piece that it baffled the critics. Once, against an injured Kallis who had just reverse swept Harbhajan in Cape Town, he placed a deep point immediately and that Test went downhill from that moment. “The era of playing aggressive cricket and to have the mid-on up is gone. You don’t want to give easy runs in a bunch. If they take four singles, it’s ok,” he has said.

Iffy push

Along with a sense of meandering seen in his captaincy in overseas Tests, that defensive push that led inevitably to a slip catch was also a constant feature. A lunge forward, bat way ahead of the body, and the edge … all seemed a matter of time until he successfully managed a turn-around in the last series in England.

And RP Singh

Dhoni’s go-to man was chillin’ on a Miami beach when he got a SOS call from the skipper to turn up at the Oval. RP’s ample frame ambled onto the field and the first new ball reached keeper Dhoni on first bounce. Indian fans will (hopefully) be spared such a deeply scarring sight in the future.

Cricket-Australia brace for emotional Sydney test

Published on: //
Dec 31 (Reuters) - Australia may have sealed the four-test series against India but the final match in Sydney could prove the most emotionally taxing for the hosts as they return to the venue where Phillip Hughes was fatally struck by a bouncer last month.

Five best innings by MS Dhoni in Tests

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Dhoni retires, Dhoni retirement, Dhoni Test, cricket MS Dhoni had his limitations as a Test batsman but he had a unique of batsmanship. (Source: File)

A career average of 38.09 suggests that Dhoni the Test batsman had his limitations. But he worked on his batting and developed his own brand of batsmanship, which on many an occasion turned out to be very effective.

148, FAISALABAD, 2006

Three wickets fell in quick succession and India were reduced to 281 for 5, replying to Pakistan’s first innings total of 588 all out. Dhoni came and took the attack to Shoaib Akhtar, who was hurling thunderbolts with the second new ball. The counter-aggression subdued the Pakistan quick. More importantly, a 210-run association with Irfan Pathan for the sixth wicket helped

India save the follow-on and also the Test.

76*, Lord’s, 2007

This is perhaps the best of them all. In seamer-friendly conditions, India were down to 145/5 in their second innings. Dhoni came, stood outside the crease to cover the swing and unleashed an array of strokes to unsettle the England seamers. The ploy worked superbly. India saved the Test and went on to win the series.

90, CENTURION, 2010

India lost the match by an innings and 25 runs. But the way Dhoni countered Dale Steyn’s reverse swing in the second innings was exceptional.

74*, BIRMINGHAM, 2011

India suffered another very heavy defeat. But Dhoni’s batting against Jimmy Anderson – he was making the ball talk – was extraordinary. He outwitted Anderson by taking an off stump guard and making the bowler alter his line.

71, OLD TRAFFORD, 2014

India had slumped to 8/4, batting first on a green-top. In fact, batting looked almost impossible against Anderson and Stuart Broad on that surface. Dhoni stood at least two feet outside the crease and converted good length deliveries into over-pitched stuff. It was top-class batting. Even the England players applauded when he eventually got out.

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid saw a leader in Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Published on: //

Dilip Vengsarkar, the then chief selector, is credited with having the vision to chose MS Dhoni as skipper, first for the inaugural edition of the World T20, as Dravid’s deputy for the England tour and finally as Kumble’s replacement as Test captain in late 2008.

But ask Vengsarkar and he will tell you that Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid played a role in Dhoni’s elevation. While standing in earshot distance of the slip cordon that included Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman, a young Dhoni showed early signs of being a good reader of the game.

Dhoni had never captained his state side but did not hesitate in giving suggestions on field placings, who to bowl and even on how to set up a particular batsman. Dravid was captain for the first two seasons of Dhoni’s Test career but he was open to suggestions that came from Dhoni which were often routed through the senior-most player in the side, Tendulkar.

Both Tendulkar and Dravid were impressed by the sharp insights of the wicketkeeper-batsman.

Vengsarkar didn’t know Dhoni personally but was impressed by his body language and the confidence with which he batted and had envisioned the boy from Jharkhand leading India one day.

However, he decided to consult the two senior batsmen, who were lavish in their praise of Dhoni’s sharp cricketing brain. The nod from two of the best convinced Vengsarkar that Dhoni was cut out to be a leader.

Untold stories: When MS Dhoni was bullied in the dressing room 

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Dhoni retires, Dhoni retirement, Dhoni Tests, Cricket Dhoni would turn into a master chaser for India but he would find the bar for him raised. (Source: File)

MS Dhoni never engages the media, they tell you. Actually, it’s a half-truth. He has this habit of walking across to the travelling reporters, talk about the weather, general budget, defence spending and, at times in jest, suggesting questions he would like to answer at press conferences.

That’s where he draws the line. Interviews, he rarely agrees to. Scratch him for dressing room details and he smiles. So it came as a surprise when at Yuvraj Singh’s book launch, Dhoni did a tell-all. Sitting on the podium with Yuvraj he spoke about his early days in the star-studded Indian dressing room.

He spoke about how he would often be referred to as ‘Bihari’ by the seniors. He hinted how Yuvraj, as is the tradition in all teams, would take the role of the bully.

He would taunt and needle the newcomer from cricket’s hinterland. Even when Dhoni would play those monumental One-day International knocks with monstrous hits, Yuvraj would chide him by saying that fours and sixes are fine but the most important thing was playing match-winning innings when it matters.

Dhoni would turn into a master chaser for India but he would find the bar for him raised. Yuvraj would make a stern face and stress how it was the Test matches where the true worth of a batsman could be gauged when his career comes to an end.

That’s when Dhoni couldn’t take it anymore. He told Yuvraj, “That’s fine but tell me one thing, why are you always so angry.” Yuvraj smiled, the ice was broken. Dhoni had arrived.

Cricket-Whatmore confirmed as new Zimbabwe coach

Published on: //
HARARE, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Dav Whatmore has been unveiled as the new Zimbabwe coach with the Australian agreeing to an initial contract that runs until the end of the World Cup early next year.

Cricket-Harmer selected for South Africa test squad

Published on: //
CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - South Africa have called up uncapped off-spinner Simon Harmer for the third and final test against the West Indies starting at Newlands on Friday.

Openers lead Bengal fight back after following on

Published on: //

About 20 minutes before lunch on Day Three of this Group A Ranji Trophy fixture at Eden Gardens, Mumbai captain Suryakumar Yadav had a decision to make. Bengal were all out for 210 in their first innings, falling short by 55 to save the follow-on. But by then, Mumbai bowlers had already bowled 74.4 overs on this very slow pitch and they looked tired.

Also, Abhishek Nayar’s knee injury meant they were one bowler short.

Then again, enforcing the follow-on was perhaps Mumbai’s only chance to secure an outright victory. Yadav decided to go for the later.

Missed chance

As Bengal started their second innings, 204 runs adrift of Mumbai’s total of 414, striking with the new ball became imperative. But Shreyas Iyer dropped Arindam Das at gully when the latter was batting on six. The Bengal opener finished the day on 80 not out as his team moved to 129 for no loss, 75 short of saving the innings defeat. Rohan Banerjee was batting on 44 at the other end.

As the afternoon wore on, Mumbai bowlers, especially Shardul Thakur, looked weary. Thakur, who had bagged a five-for in the first innings, bowled only 10 overs in the second.

Earlier, Bengal were all out for 210 in their first innings. Young Abhimanyu Easwaran was the top scorer with 85.

Brief Scores: Mumbai 414; Bengal 210 in 74.4 overs (A Easwaran 85; S Thakur 5/59) & 129/0 in 44 overs (A Das 80 n.o., R Banerjee 44 n.o.).

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