Nelson pitch leaves New Zealand in a spin

Published on: Thursday, 31 December 2015 //
Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, SL vs NZ, NZ vs SL, Sri Lanka cricket, cricket sri lanka, new zealand cricket, cricket new zealand, cricket news, cricket Ish Sodhi took one wicket for 12 in New Zealand’s loss in the third ODI. (Source: AP)

New Zealand were paying close attention to the Saxton Oval wicket on New Year’s Day amid suggestions it could offer spin for Saturday’s crucial fourth one-dayer against Sri Lanka.

Another win to Sri Lanka would level the series at two wins apiece and turn the fifth and final game into the decider.

A key piece of intelligence New Zealand took from the third match at Nelson’s Saxton Oval on Thursday was a sign the pitch is starting to take turn.

They were thoroughly outplayed in that match with Sri Lanka bettering their 276-run total for the loss of only two wickets against New Zealand’s predominantly pace attack.

The New Zealand bowling line-up is already destined for a shake-up with Tim Southee ruled out with an injured left foot, earning a recall for Matt Henry who took four wickets in each of the first two matches.

But consideration is also being given to dropping one of the quick bowlers in favour of pairing the leg-break option of Ish Sodhi with the left-arm spin of Mitchell Santner.

Santner, who went for a wicketless 59 off his 10 overs in Nelson, said the pitch flattened out during the day with a suggestion of spin.

“It’s starting to turn a little bit so the spinners might get more of a crack,” he said, but added: “It’s still going to be a good batting surface so pushing that 300 mark could be a competitive score.”

Kane Williamson, standing in as captain while Brendon McCullum recovers from a sore back, confirmed the two-spinner option was under discussion.

“You assess the wicket and you look at the squad and pick the team that best suits the conditions. Naturally they (spinners) will come into a chance to play in the next one.”

Williamson was not impressed with the way Southee, Adam Milne and Doug Bracewell set about defending New Zealand’s 276 total.

“We didn’t bowl particularly well in that first 10 which didn’t help our cause. We would all admit we were off the mark there and they batted very well.”

Tillakaratne Dilshan and Danushka Gunathilaka cracked 83 off the first 10 overs with Dilshan going on to make 91 and Gunathilaka 65.

Lahiru Thirimanne was not out 87 when Sri Lanka reached their target with 22 balls to spare.

Thursday was not a good day for Williamson as he watched his side crumble in the face of a rejuvenated Sri Lankan unit he also lost his place at the head of the world Test batting rankings to Australian skipper Steve Smith.

Smith leaped from fourth to first following scores of 134 not out and 70 not out in the Boxing Day Test against the West Indies, which Australia won by 177 runs.

FACTBOX-Cricket-Australia v West Indies, third test

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SYDNEY, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Factbox on the third test between Australia and West Indies, which starts in Sydney on Sunday:

PREVIEW-Cricket-Australia set to test twin spin attack against Windies

Published on: //
SYDNEY, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Australia look set to field two specialist spinners at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the first time in a decade when they host West Indies in a dead rubber New Year's test starting this weekend.

With new coach, qualifier Somdev Devvarman eyes a fresh start

Published on: //
Somdev devvarman, devvarman, somdev india, india somdev, devvarman india, india devvarman, davis cup, davis cup 2015, davis cup 2016, tennis india, india tennis, tennis news, tennis The 2015 season was not a fruitful one for Somdev Devvarman. (Source: Express file)

The 2015 season wasn’t one Somdev Devvarman will remember fondly. The 30-year-old participated in 19 ATP Challenger events, falling in the first round in 10 of them. He did manage to win two titles, at New Delhi in February and Winnetka in July. He beat World No.40, Czech’s Jiri Vesely, at the Davis Cup — a high point in an otherwise poor year.

His inconsistency throughout the year saw his singles World ranking drop from 136 at the start of the year to 177 at the end of it. Consequently, India’s current No.3 will start the upcoming Chennai Open as a qualifier for the first time.

Since his last Challenger event of the season, back in October, Devvarman has sought the tutelage of a new coach Theodoros Angelinos. Coupled with a new diet plan and fitness regime, the only Indian to have reached the final of the Chennai Open singles, back in 2009, has brought a leaner look to his appearance on court.

Joining Devvarman in the qualifiers’ list is India No.2 Saketh Myneni who has had a strong end to his outing on the ATP Challenger Circuit this year. He followed up his runner-up finish at the Agri Cup in Turkey with a victorious campaign at the Vietnam Open in October. The World No.126 also finished in the semi-final stages of two other challenger events.

Meanwhile, the third Indian in the qualifiers for the tournament is 27-year-old Sanam Singh. The World No.210 found more success in the ITF Futures events than in the Challengers. Of the nine future tournaments he played — in the United States and Canada — he reached the final on three occasions, winning twice.

Myneni and Sanam, who won the silver medal for India in the men’s doubles of the 2014 Asian Games, also won the challenger event in Bangalore in October. However, with different partners Myneni won Folkart Izmir Cup in Turkey, with Divij Sharan, and after pairing up with Sanam won the USA F21 Futures with Darian King.

Rio Olympics and more in 2016: Mark your dates

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new year 2016, 2016 new year, cricket world cup, 2016 world cup, rio 2016, rio olympics, 2016 olympics, usain bolt, 2016 calendar, cricket calendar, sports calendar, 2016 sports calendar, cricket news, sports news, cricket, sports olympics news Rio 2016 will be the first time the summer Olympics will be held in South America.

Lodha report
January 4

The buzz around this report from the Shakepeare-quoting Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha is that it’s a potential game-changer in Indian cricket. The expectations are skyhigh — there is the talk of structural reforms ranging from restricting a state to one team to preventing politicans and industrialists from holding top administrative posts in BCCI, and a lot more. We shall have to wait to see what the 65-year old Lodha, the man known as “People’s judge” and who hails from a family of famous jurists and social workers, comes up with. Also, importantly, it remains to be seen how the Indian board reacts to the suggestions.

Under-19 World Cup
January 27 to February 14

Rahul Dravid has chosen to focus on developing talent, ignoring the invitations to become an administrator or a commentator. He is in charge of the India A and Under-19 teams and will be taking the colts to Bangladesh for the U-19 World Cup. The youngsters have won back-to-back tri-series in Kolkata and Sri Lanka and have remained unbeaten in the ten matches in the lead-up to the showpiece event. India surrendered the title two years ago, losing to England U-19 in the quarter-finals in UAE. Can they regain the crown under Ishan Kishan’s leadership? Watch out for Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Sarfaraz Khan, Mahipal Lomror and Avesh Khan.

Asian Olympic Shooting Qualifiers, Delhi
January 25 to February 3

Indian shooters’ quest to make the cut for Rio Games received a huge boost when the country was awarded the hosting rights of the final qualifying campaign after Kuwait was stripped off the right owing to an ongoing conflict of the country’s Olympic Committee with the IOC. India has so far earned eight quotas, three less than their tally at the previous Olympics. With 35 places up for grabs in Delhi, they will be looking to add to their tally.

Brendon McCullum
February 20

It says much about how well he has taken to leadership that Brendom McCullum, who will be known more as a captain than a batsman in his country, has chosen to retire in front of adoring crowds after a Test series against favourite sporting rivals Australia. His aggressive leadership during the World Cup had a nation in an adrenalin rush that left adults and kids giddy, excited and intoxicated on the team’s style of play. Never before had a team of eleven players walked around the park as if they owned it. No, not even Martin Crowe’s in 1992. They induced surprise, McCullum’s men had swagger hitherto unseen. Rugby yes, cricket no.

Asia Cup
February 24 to March 6

Bangladesh will host the Asia Cup for the third time in a row, but the tournament has been changed from the 50-overs format to a T20 affair. Four Asian Test nations, along with a qualifier from the Associates, will participate and will use the opportunity for final preparations ahead of the World T20. The successful team will carry the momentum to the marquee event. That the World T20 will be played in similar conditions — India hosting it — is a big advantage for the participants. India haven’t done well in the Asia Cup of late. They will try to make amends and be in top shape before the mega show.

FIFA president’s election
February 26

Seventeen years since he took over as FIFA president, Sepp Blatter won’t be around when an Extraordinary FIFA Congress elects its new chief. With FIFA’s image in tatters and its men either in prison or fighting extradition to the US, the election offers football’s world body to correct a few wrongs.

World T20
March 8 to April 3

Five years after that glorious night at the Wankhede Stadium, it’s befitting that it’s India, the evangelists of cricket’s shortest format, will play host to the World T20. Amidst all the sixes, switch-hits and super over finishes, the focus will converge on one man, MS Dhoni, as he looks to add yet another gem to his bejewelled crown. His rise in captaincy that started with the triumph in South Africa back in 2007, will come a full circle in March. Come April 3, will Dhoni finish yet another home ICC tournament, and maybe this time his illustrious career, with a six over wide long-on?

Augusta Masters
April 7 to 10

Augusta is to golf what Wimbledon is to tennis. It’s the sport’s holy grail, the green jacket as hallowed as the green grass of SW19. For Anirban Lahiri, it will be an opportunity to consolidate his reputation as being one of the world’s hottest young prospects after a highly-successful 2015 that saw him set several records for Indian golf. The Asian tour champion has already made the cut for the prestigious event, having finished 2015 inside the top 50 of international rankings. Come April, though, he will be keen to show once again that he isn’t afraid to rub shoulders against the world’s best, even as the likes of Jordan Speith, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott continue to raise the bar higher.

April 9 to May 29

The BCCI has managed to retain the eight-team format, replacing the banned franchises, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, with Pune and Rajkot, who will be only there for two years. And we already have some novelty in terms of squad compositions. MS Dhoni, the face of the ‘yellow army’, will now lead the Pune franchise. His friend and team-mate for eight years, Suresh Raina, will be a rival, being signed up by Rajkot. Top ten players from Super Kings and Royals have been equally distributed between the two new entrants. Do they have enough time to plan properly and build a team?

Centennial Copa America
June 3 to 26

As the name suggests, it is hundred years of Copa America and that’s reason enough to organize a big bash for a tournament held every four years, the last one in 2015. The tournament was in jeopardy following the FIFA scandal, in which several top executives were involved. Despite the presence of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and the USA, the event, coming just before the Olympics, the event could see some of its top stars giving it a miss.

Euro 2016
June 10 to July 10

With the country still reeling from the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, there were calls to postpone the event to ensure safety isn’t compromised. But the organising committee head Jacques Lambert made matters clear by stating, “to consider postponing is to capitulate.” But even the concern over security measures remain, national coaches have begun making rounds to find their best 23 players. Holders Spain continue to be favourites but their title defence will be challenged by World Cup winners Germany. The English in turn stormed into the finals by becoming only the sixth team to record a perfect qualifying campaign (winning each of their 10 qualifying games). Eyes will also be on Belgium this time around, who are currently ranked at the top of the FIFA charts.

Summer Olympics Rio de Janeiro, August 5-21

It’ll be clichéd to scrunch down the Rio Games, the first Olympics in South America, to a straight marquee battle between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt – gunning for a triple triple. Or to Michael Phelps looking to take his haul to 20.

For, 2016 is one to look ahead to rising stars while saluting the setting suns. Those on the horizon are Jamaica’s next in line — Jaheel Hyde at the 400m hurdles after he’s recorded a world mark at 12.96 over 110m.

There’s the Brit Giarnni Regini-Moran, sending the Queens country into a flutter like Tom Daley did last time around, owing to his all round artistic gymnastics prowess, and China’s 14-year-old prodigy Si Yajie on the 10m platform in diving.

Katie Ledecky, at 15, is the new Missy Franklin in the pool for the Americans aiming for an unprecedented 7 gold medals, even while the old Missy upgrades her medals. Yana Kudryavtseva, the Russian sensation in rhythmic gymnastics debuts at the Olympics even while Matheus Santana brings home cheer to Brazil looking for a strong splash in the 4×100 free.

For India, a country of maturing big stage Olympians – it’s worth looking for encores from the likes of Sushil Kumar, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt and MC Mary Kom. It’ll be even more exciting if those in the shadows – the likes of PV Sindhu, Narsingh Yadav or Sarita Devi — show up and get counted on the podiums. The whole country would be rooting for the pocket powerhouse of pistol – Jitu Rai, the affable little army man.

Never discount Abhinav Bindra, even if he waves off his thing of brilliance as a hobby. Women’s wrestling is heaving with prospects of a maiden medal, and women’s shooting too ought to be pushing for one, for it is due. Hockey would do well to be Top 6, though the one team tugging at the heartstrings could be the one where Rani Rampal leads out her girls on the field after a rare qualification.

Boxing’s stuck in an administrative mess — and though you’d want to bundle the bickering not-so-wise men into a punching bag to drill some sense into them — it might only be the last-gasp efforts of a Mary Kom or Vikas Krishan who could salvage that script with a medal.

June 27 to July 10

World number 1 Novak Djokovic may be the new crown prince of tennis, but Roger Federer isn’t quite done yet. Critics may claim that age is catching up with the 34-year-old, but time and again the Swiss maestro has elegantly woven his way past opponents to make it to the final of the Grand Slams. Championship-winning results though have reduced in the last few years. His last three appearances in the final of any of the four majors, coming at Wimbledon 2014 and 2015 and US Open 2015, resulted in defeats at the hands of Djokovic. The last win was back at Wimbledon 2012.

For the coming season though, Federer has parted ways with coach Stefan Edberg and armed himself with a new coach, friend and former practice partner Ivan Ljubicic. Yet among the four majors, it will still be the grass courts of Wimbledon that will serve as the best chance for the winner of seventeen Grand Slam titles to get the better of Djokovic.

At the same time a win at Wimbledon 2016 would give him his eight title at the championship, going one better than the record he is currently sharing with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw.

Mohammad Amir’s return to England
July 3 to September 7

The boy who made Michael Holding cry on television could return to the scene of crime in England where his shenanigans put him in jail, and throws up repurcussions even today. Holding broke down as he feared the loss of a bowling talent but Amir has re-surfaced after years of shame. By July, the pensive atmosphere that has seen a captain retire in protest at the inclusion of Amir, which hasn’t been accepted by the Pakistan cricket board, would have died down and we might see Amir running in to bowl. The television would hopefully gorge on close-ups on his bowling arm rather than his feet this time around.

Davis Cup
July 15 to 17

India will face the winner of the New Zealand and South Korea clash in a tie to reach what will be the country’s third consecutive World Group playoffs. The prospective squad includes usual suspects Yuki Bhambri, Somdev Devvarman, Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes, though the progress of Saketh Myneni cannot be ignored. Yet even among the big four of Indian tennis, there are shortcomings. Despite breaking into the top 100 in world singles rankings, 93-placed Bhambri has struggled with his fitness — he currently nurses a tennis elbow injury. Devvarman in turn had a relatively forgetful ATP 2015 season. However, his performance at the Davis Cup for India has been commendable. Meanwhile the strong doubles pairing of Bopanna and Paes may be starved for playing time together, as the Davis Cup is normally the only time they play together.

AFC U-16 Championships
September 15 to October 2

It may not be one of the most significant footballing events this year, especially with the European and American continental championships taking place, but in India’s context, this will mark an important beginning. Crucially, the tournament will help realise India’s preparedness for 2017 Under-17 World Cup, the biggest football competition that will be played in the country. The junior team, coached by Germany’s Nicolai Adam, has been turning a few heads in the exposure trips across Europe. But this will be the team’s first real test and will show where they stand ahead of the showpiece event next year.

World Chess Championship

Viswanathan Anand needs one more world chess title to equal Karpov and Kasparov’s six. He has tried and failed the past two editions, against Carlsen. And going by his present form, it could be difficult for him to even challenge the Norwegian. For that to happen, Anand needs to win the Candidates in March, not a mean feat, given the quality of the opposition. Watch out for Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri.

England’s 5-Test tour of India

India last hosted a 5-match Test series in 1987, when Sunil Gavaskar brought an end to his remarkable career against arch-rivals Pakistan. Eighteen years on, it’s the English who are coming for the full-monty to try and repeat their success from four years ago. But as the Proteas learnt this year, beating India in India has become a much more monumental task now with unabashedly turning tracks being rolled out for all comers. But in Moeen Ali, England have an unlikely weapon who could turn the Indians’ biggest weapon against them, especially after he made a mockery of them in seaming conditions last year.

Men’s junior hockey World Cup
December 1 to 11

A lot of hype surrounded the junior team the last time India hosted the World Cup, three years ago in 2013. It was a gifted lot and many expected them to finish on the podium, if not on top of it. But the team came crashing down, finishing in the lower half. Harendra Singh’s boys have an opportunity to make amends this year when India will host the junior championship for the second consecutive time. A settled squad and having recently won the junior Asia Cup, the team is once again among the favourites. Will they be able to live up to the billing?

Delhi Daredevils release Yuvraj Singh; KXIP dump Virender Sehwag

Published on: //
Yuvraj Singh, Yuvraj, IPL, IPL 2016, Delhi daredevils, virender sehwag, sehwag, ipl news, ipl auction, ipl 9, ipl 9 auction, ipl list, ipl cricket, ipl news Yuvraj Singh was bought by Delhi Daredevils for Rs 16 crores last season. (Source: IPL)

Delhi Daredevils on Thursday predictably released veteran left-hander Yuvraj Singh from their squad while India’s pace spearhead Ishant Sharma was off-loaded by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the first trading window for the upcoming 9th season of Indian Premier League (IPL).

Despite getting back to the Indian team for the T20 leg of the Australian tour, Yuvraj, who was bought for a whopping Rs 16 crore by the GMR-owned franchise, turned out to be the biggest flop with only 248 runs from 14 matches at an average of less than 20 (19.07).

“Yuvraj Singh is a great player and the reason of releasing him is to rationalise our budget. He is in good form now and has got back to the Indian team. But there were budgetary constraints which led to the decision. I have personally spoken to Yuvraj. There are no hard feelings,” Daredevils CEO Hemant Dua told PTI.

In fact among existing six teams in IPL, Delhi Daredevils will be going into the February auction with a purse of Rs 36.85 to spend on salary of players.

“We have also released Angelo Mathews. So we are saving around Rs 23 crores (as mathews was bought for Rs 7 crore),” said Dua.

Some of the other prominent players to be released are Kings XI Punjab’s last year’s captain and former Aussie skipper George Bailey. Another former captain to bite the dust was West Indies’ Darren Sammy, who was released by Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Former India spinner Pragyan Ojha, Australian paceman Josh Hazlewood were released by Mumbai Indians.

In all, Daredevils have released 10 players while KXIP and Sunrisers released eight including Virender Sehwag, who has already called it quits.

RCB have released the maximum of 14 players while Mumbai Indians and KKR released 10 players each.

With DD going into auction with Rs 36.85 crore, Sunrisers are second in the list with Rs 30.15 crores. Mumbai Indians, who have retained a maximum of 19 players, have the least purse of Rs 14.405 crore.

KKR with 15 retentions are second lowest in terms of purse at Rs 17.95 crore. KXIP and RCB are left with Rs 23 crore and Rs 21.625 crore purse, respectively.

The two new franchises — Intex Rajkot and Sanjeev Goenka’s Pune franchise — have Rs 27 crore to shop from the auctions having picked up five players each from banned Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) during the players draft held in Mumbai, earlier this month.

Veteran Zaheer Khan has been retained by DD as this will be his farewell season, where he would perhaps play a few games here and there but will don the bigger role of mentoring the pace bowlers of the Delhi team including one of India’s premier fast bowlers in Mohammed Shami.

Two of the Bengal boys Manoj Tiwary (DD) and Ashoke Dinda (RCB) have been released by their respective franchises but there are chances that both might be picked by Pune Franchise during the auction.

Kedar Jadhav is the only player, who has been traded during this window with Daredevils selling him to RCB.

Most of the teams have been able to retain their core set-up. KKR have Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa in their set-up, KXIP have retained David Miller, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson for the next season.

Similarly, Mumbai Indians will have Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Lasith Malinga, who have been with them for years now.

RCB also kept their core unit tight with skipper Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle in the team.

Cricket-Cook calls for better quality warm-up games

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CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Captain Alastair Cook called for better quality warm-up games before and during major test series as he credited England's first test victory over South Africa to the team's solid preparations.

India edge past Maldives 3-2 to enter 10th SAFF final

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saff, saff finals, india maldives match, saff final, india maldives football, india football, sports Indian player Jeje Lalpekhlua celebrates after scoring a goal against Maldives during their SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 match in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

India pipped a spirited Maldives 3-2 to enter the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championships for a record 10th time after in-form Jeje Lalpekhlua struck twice in a thrilling semi-final, here today.

Once again showing his scoring abilities after an impressive Indian Super League (ISL), Jeje found the net in the 34th and 66th minute after skipper Sunil Chhetri put the hosts ahead with a nod in the 25th minute at the Trivandrum International Stadium.

Ahmed Nashi (45’+2′) and Amdaan Ali (75) were on target for Maldives in a match that was marked by wonderful attacking play and poor defending.

Seeking a record 7th SAFF title, India were on the game from the word go as Chhetri played one to Arnab Mondal whose left-footed shot deflected off Jeje’s feet on its way into the back of the net. However, the 24-year-old Chennaiyin FC striker was ruled off-side.

In the 22nd minute, Holicharan Narzary’s flick off a Eugeneson Lyngdoh corner was cleared just in time by the Maldives’ defence.

India soon broke the deadlock when the country’s all-time leading scorer Chhetri cashed in on a Narzary cross from the right and headed in the ball past the Maldives goalkeeper mran. Before that Lyngdoh’s shot was kept out by the custodian.

There was another chance for India, but Imran kept out Jeje’s attempt before finally giving in when Narzary played one over the Maldives defence to Jeje, who slotted it in past the hapless goalkeeper to make it 2-0 for the home side coached by Stephen Constantine.

160th ranked Maldives looked desperate for a goal and Ahmed Nashid delivered the goods for the visiting side when he made use of a pass from Imaaz, who received the ball from Ali Ashfaq.

Almost certain to improve on their current FIFA ranking of 166 after this win, India were celebrating again as Jeje made it 3-1. Chhetri played one for Jeje inside the box and the Mizo lad dribbled past Amdaan Ali and then Shafiu Ahmed before placing the ball to the goalkeeper’s right.

With a cushion of two goals, Constantine decided to call back Chhetri and brought in the highly promising Chhangte Lallianzuala in the 74th minute. A minute later, Maldives gave themselves hope with a strike through Ali Amdaan, who headed in a corner after outjumping Arnab Mondal.

Even as Maldives desperately tried to look for an equaliser, India, who attacked with flair, held onto the lead to emerge triumphant after two brilliant assists from Narzary.

India meet the winner of the second semi-final between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Barcelona desperate to continue winning, says Lionel Messi

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Lionel Messi, Lionel Messi Barcelona, Barcelona Lionel Messi, Messi Barcelona, FC Barcelona, Football News, Football Lionel Messi hopes that Barcelona match, even improve, their outings in 2015. (Source: AP)

Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has warned Barcelona’s rivals that the European champions are determined to match their five-trophy haul from 2015 in the coming year.

Messi scored on his 500th appearance for the club as Barca rounded off the year in style with a 4-0 win over Real Betis to move back to the top of La Liga on Wednesday.

The Catalans lead Atletico Madrid on goal difference and Real Madrid by two points as well as having a game in hand on their rivals from the Spanish capital.

And having won the Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup in the past 12 months, Barca also set a new record of 180 goals in a calendar year.

“It has been a spectacular year and we wanted to finish it this way,” said Messi.

“It will be difficult to improve on what we have done, but we always try. We have a great squad that are desperate to continue winning.”

Barca were given a helping hand on their return to action after a shorter than normal 10-day winter break in Spain, though, as they were awarded a controversial penalty when Antonio Adan clashed with Messi after punching the ball to safety.

Neymar’s resulting spot-kick came off the bar, but Heiko Westermann turned the ball into his own net from the rebound and thereafter Barca were only denied an even greater rout by a series of fine saves by Adan and the woodwork.

A lovely one-two between Neymar and Messi allowed the later to slot home his 425th Barca goal before a Luis Suarez double rounded off the scoring in the second-half.

“We just came back from the holidays so it is normal that the rhythm dips a bit and the games at the Club World Cup always take their toll,” added Messi.

“Possibly it wasn’t a great game, but we managed to do the most important thing which was to win and start another important period well.”

And Barca boss Luis Enrique echoed the sentiments of his star player as he focused on starting the new year with victory away to Espanyol in the Barcelona derby on Saturday.

“Firstly, I have to congratulate the players and the fans that get to enjoy this unique team,” he said of Barca’s achievements in his first full year in charge.

“The objective is to win again, to win the first game in 2016 and again be challenging to win titles throughout the season for this team, the fans and the club.

“We prepare for the new year with plenty of desire and excitement for the big games to arrive as quickly as possible. We need to try to maintain the same level as 2015.”

Arsenal have the requested quality to fight and compete: Arsene Wenger

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Arsenal Arsene Wenger, Arsene Wenger Arsenal, Arsenal football, English Premier League, EPL, Football News, Football Arsenal have ended the year on top of the Premier League table. (Source: Reuters)

Manager Arsene Wenger has rejected doubts about Arsenal’s title credentials, saying statistics back him up about the Premier League leaders on New Year’s day.

Monday’s comfortable 2-0 win over Bournemouth ensured the Gunners end the year on top of the table, above Leicester City on goal difference.

Arsenal have ended the year on top of the Premier League table on three previous occasions in the last 14 years but they could not go on to win the title in any of those seasons.

“It shows you that we have a good chance as the statistics show you that eight of the past 11 years the team who was top on New Year’s Day won it,” Wenger told reporters.

“I believe that we are mature enough and that we have the requested quality to fight and compete.

“You question our mentality, I don’t. We have to rise above that and show that we can deal with all that and I believe we have to be guided by playing better football and being a real team in every game and show that we can be competitive.

“The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful.

“After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance.

“I will remind you that only one team won the league without losing a game. That is Arsenal Football Club. It is not the date (New Year’s Day) that is decided you win the league.

Arsenal last won the league in 2004 when the famous “Invincibles” side romped to the title without losing a single game that campaign.

Wenger’s men host third-from-bottom Newcastle United in the league on Saturday.

Louis van Gaal deserves more time at Manchester United: David Moyes

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Louis van Gaal, Van Gaal, Manchester United, Man United, Man u, English Premier League, David Moyes, Football News, Football Louis van Gaal should be given more time to build this team, feels David Moyes. (Source: Reuters)

Rejected former boss David Moyes says Manchester United must not become a club that are continuously sacking managers and should give his under-fire successor Louis van Gaal time to build a successful side.

Moyes, who replaced long-term manager Alex Ferguson in 2013, was sacked after 10 months in charge with the club languishing in seventh place, while Van Gaal’s charges sit just one place higher after a six-game winless run in the league.

“What Manchester United stand for is that they keep their managers, they’ve always supported their managers,” Moyes told BT Sport.

Ferguson managed United for 26 years, a spell when they replaced Liverpool as the most successful club in England, winning 38 trophies under his guidance, including 13 Premier League titles.

However, following United’s premature Champions League exit and a string of an uninspiring performances in the league, speculation has mounted concerning Van Gaal’s future.

The availability of high-profile managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, who will leave German champions Bayern Munich at the end of the season, is reportedly a factor in the thinking of the Old Trafford hierarchy over whether a change is necessary.

“I hope they stick with Louis van Gaal, he deserves more time. It’s still a work in progress for him,” Moyes said of the experienced Dutchman.

“He’s made some signings and from my experience in Spain, it will take time for players from abroad to settle in.”

Moyes, who was recently sacked by Real Sociedad after one year in La Liga, said if he were offered the United job again he would accept it.

“There are very few managers in the world who wouldn’t want to manage Manchester United,” Moyes said, adding that his approach would have been different had he known the club had no intention of letting him see out his six-year contract.

“My understanding was that I was going to a club which always looked after their managers, even when they were in trouble and it wasn’t going well, you got your time to sort things out,” the Scot added.

“I was under that illusion when I was there.”

Kedar Jadhav to play for RCB in IPL 2016

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Kedar Jadhav, Kedar Jadhav IPL, Kedar Jadhav IPL transfer, Kedar Jadhav DD, Kedar Jadhav RCB, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils, Cricket News, Cricket Kedar Jadhav will play for RCB in the upcoming IPL. (Source: File)

Kedar Jadhav has joined Royal Challengers Bangalore from Delhi Daredevils ahead of the 2016 Indian Premier League.

“Royal Challengers Bangalore has acquired the services of Delhi Daredevils’ batsman Kedar Jhadav for Indian Premier League 2016,” said the BCCI in a statement.

“The first Trading Window for the IPL 2016, which was open from Tuesday, 15 December 2015, to Thursday, 31 December 2015, saw the first trade of the season,” it added.

Jadhav, who made his India debut on the tour of Zimbabwe in July, has played four ODIs and couple of T20 Internationals.

IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla, said: “RCB, who boast of a star-studded batting line-up with the likes of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, have added more fire-power to their batting by acquiring Kedar Jhadav. All eyes will now be on the auction, where more outstanding cricketers will be up for grabs.”

Royal Challengers Bangalore team owner Vijay Mallya added: “RCB are very pleased to have acquired Kedar Jadhav who, we believe, has the potential to change the course of a T20 game with his finishing talent with the bat. Kedar will add tremendous value to our middle-order and will complement our existing line-up.”

The IPL will be played from April 9 to May 29.

Virat Kohli named BCCI cricketer of the year 2014-15

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Virat Kohli, Virat Kohli award, Virat Kohli BCCI award, Virat Kohli India, India Virat Kohli, Kohli India cricket, Indian cricket team, Team India, Cricket News, Cricket Virat Kohli has been chosen as BCCI cricketer of the year 2014-15. (Source: PTI)

India’s Test captain Virat Kohli would be presented with The Polly Umrigar Award, given to the cricketer of the year. Syed Kirmani, former India stumper, has been nominated for the Col. CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award.

Karnataka State Cricket Association has been chosen as the state association of the year for achieving the treble of winning the Ranji Trophy, Irani Cup and Vijay Hazare Trophy in the 2014-15 season.

Complete list of the awardeesAwards


R Ashwin, Steve Smith end 2015 as World No.1s

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R Ashwin, R Ashwin rankings, Steve Smith rankings, Ashwin Smith rankings, ICC rankings, rankings cricket, cricket news, cricket Smith and Ashwin lead their respective ICC Test rankings.

Australia captain Steve Smith and India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin have finished the year as the No. 1-ranked batsman and bowler, respectively, in the International Cricket Council Test player rankings.

Smith, who last week was named ICC cricketer and Test player of the year, entered the Melbourne Test against the West Indies in fourth position.

But after scoring 134 not out and an unbeaten 70 in Australia’s 177-run win over the West Indies, Smith moved ahead of Kane Williamson of New Zealand, England’s Joe Root and A.B. de Villiers of South Africa.

The ICC said Thursday that Ashwin, who started the year ranked 15th, claimed the No. 1 bowling spot for the first time in his career, taking a 2015-best 62 wickets in nine Tests, including seven five-wicket hauls.

Cricket-Henry in for injured Southee in NZ squad for fourth ODI

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Dec 31 (Reuters) - New Zealand fast bowler Tim Southee will miss the fourth one-day international against Sri Lanka on Saturday with a foot injury and will be replaced by Matt Henry, coach Mike Hesson said on Thursday.

Cricket-South Africa add uncapped Viljoen as cover for Abbott

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CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Uncapped fast bowler Hardus Viljoen was added to South Africa's test squad on Thursday after Kyle Abbott felt tightness in his left hamstring during the team's defeat in the first test against England on Wednesday.

FACTBOX-Cricket-South Africa v England, second test

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CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Factbox on the second test between South Africa and England staring in Cape Town on Saturday:

PREVIEW-Cricket-South Africa hoping for happier new year

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CAPE TOWN, Dec 31 (Reuters) - South Africa will hope the new year brings about a change in luck as they seek to put behind them a disappointing 2015 and get back to winning ways against England in the second test at Newlands starting on Saturday.
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