Clinical display at Mohali

When Alastair Cook called it right during the toss, there was a huge wave of joy which spread through the English camp, their supporters and the media. Cook had openly expressed the desire to bat first, put up a huge first innings total and then apply pressure on India who will have to cope with batting in the 4th innings. After all, the common notion is that this is how India always wins Test matches at home. Win the toss, put up a big score, have the opponents play catch up and unleash their spinners who wreak havoc during the last 2 days. Further, the England captain had gained significant confidence in this tactic after India’s uncertain batting display on the 5th day of the Rajkot test. Kohli’s boys though showed that they were a team which had enough skill to take the equation of ‘toss ‘out of the game and in the process registered what must be an extremely satisfying victory at the PCA stadium in Mohali.

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Whenever you win the toss and opt to bat, the skipper expects his team to put up a huge first innings total. This requirement is amplified in subcontinental conditions as run scoring becomes exponentially difficult in the 3rd & 4th innings. That is perhaps where England lost the plot and possibly the match as a collective bowling effort from the hosts saw them slump to 268/8 on Day 1 and eventually fold up for 283. In reply, India were cruising at 148/2 before a tinge of madness along with one perfect googly saw them slip to 156/5. Kohli romped to another half century but when hell fell for 62, India were precariously placed at 204/6. England were breathing again and would have even hoped for a first innings lead. This is when the hosts’ spin trio took over and showed their prowess with the bat. Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav struck impressive half centuries to give India a vital 134 run lead. Ashwin was all class during his 113-ball innings which fetched him 72 runs. Jadeja faced more than 100 balls in a test innings for the first time but fell short of a well-deserved maiden test century by 10 runs. Jayant Yadav showed tremendous determination as he notched up his first test fifty to continue his fairytale beginning to test cricket.

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England knew they had a mountain to climb. Their woes were exacerbated by a finger injury to Hameed which meant Root had to open along with his captain. Any hopes of an English fightback rested firmly on Cook’s shoulders. The captain’s majestic record clearly shows that he is one of the best foreign batsman to have laid foot in the subcontinent. Unfortunately, Cook was extremely tentative and was living dangerously. He survived 2 LBW reviews but almost immediately found his stumps shattered courtesy a beauty from India’s premier offie. Ashwin was again in business when he deceived Moeen Ali in the air and Yadav pouched the checked loft gleefully at mid-on. Yadav removed Bairstow and Ashwin came back to remove Stokes in the very last over of the day to leave England reeling at 78/4. It was almost too easy for the Indians on Day 4 as barring a fighting 59* from Hameed, none of the others held their own as the visitors set a meagre target of 103 for the hosts. Parthiv Patel hit a superlative 67* of just 54 deliveries as India romped home by 8 wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. The next match will be played in Mumbai from December 8th and the Indians will be looking to seal the series with one game to spare.

Toure is not yet done with Manchester City

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Absence of Yaya Toure from the Midfield of Manchester City this season showed the supporters of the club that how the engine room of the club would look without the Ivory Coast man mountain when he finally departs from Manchester City.

The day will arrive when the club won’t be able to call on his talent at all but presently he is still hanging in there. It is also believed that he might be playing a bigger part in City’s season than anyone would have predicted two months ago after his chatty agent Dimitri talked his client out of a place from the Champions League Squad. But new opportunities may open for Toure after Vincent Kompany’s latest injury.

He had his strongest moments during his career at City which began in the year 2010. Toure has been an absolute road block in the centre of midfield. The 74 goals scored by him out of his 271 appearances speak for themselves and his City Legacy still holds the balance for many.

In his presence, Toure bestrode the City like a gargantuan with his giant frame under which lies a graceful and twinkle-toed mastery of his art. Toure delivers a little bit of everything that is needed and all over the pitch. He seems active and always there with some action such as passing, moving, receiving and going again. His trademark tight turns that open up a forward crease to dash down with his trunk legs punching through the air are one of the special moves.

After the trivial return from last season from City side and slowly moving towards a regime change, there was the first sight of Toure as underpowered, less motivated and he also seemed occasionally ineffective.

Jamie Carragher talked about his contribution as a selfish move after they were defeated by Arsenal. The same Toure then turned on the power and dragged City back into the game at 2-1.

Toure has been a complete lynchpin at City throughout the first phase of the emergence of the club into trophy winning. He is one of the giants of the club’s modern history and his reputation might take a flight after his achievements in the name of Manchester City.

The club entered into an arena of contesting the big trophies of the game after Toure’s goal that defeated Manchester United in the epoque-defining FA cup semi final in 2011 and also the subsequent final v Stoke City at Wembley.

Some other goals in the League Cup and Premier League against West Ham and Aston Villa will remain in the memories of the fans of the club as permanently as anything the club has produced in the last 30 years.

He has emerged from the mothballs recently and played a winning role at the vital away wins at Crystal Palace and Burnley which might have established the hope that Pep Guardiola might consider to reinstate him to City’s Champions League squad.

Time waits for no one and it is not fair to expect that Toure would be able to carry on with his brilliant performance for the next six years at City but he definitely has a lot to offer in the short period for the club.

Pep Guardiola needs to shake-up Man City in Title race

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Manchester City have secured their place in the Champions League round 16 and it was not fluent for them. With a stumbling and tentative 1-1 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday they have been through the next round.

Currently the club has lost its easy days of passing, high intensity pressing and scintillating football. The match on Wednesday was all about hard work from first minute till the last one which did not give them a clear win but a draw.

The 3-1 victory over Barcelona in the beginning of the month had been intense along with a rewarding end to it. But the present situation of the team is thrusting their supporters back into a dark grey passage of doubt and apprehension.

They were expected to finish second behind Barcelona in a well-balanced group C and it would have been acceptable that a little damage has been done. But considering their performances away from home in this season’s tournament, the situation seems alarming.

Three goals were shipped at Celtic Park in a game that was completely topsy-turvy and out of City’s control. Then there was another four goals in a match that exploded in their faces at the Camp Nou. Gaurdiola have seen his own defence concede almost all the time and look so defenceless in doing so.

Lars Stindl for the hosts and Fernandinho for City along with the two red cards have been drawing a great competitiveness out of both the teams. Gaurdiola’s team finished the game by playing keep-ball across the backline for most of the unenthusiastic second half. Ambitions had dropped off to this level and both the teams kept their powder well and dry even though they were aware about the greater trials to come.

Gaurdiola must be preoccupied with the thought that City have lost their dynamism. At the beginning of the season City promised so much for this season. In Bucharest they had missed two penalties but even that did not stop them from a 5-0 win away from home against Steaua in a difficult environment.

Since then it has been a tough slog for this talented team with an exception of a magical night at home against Barcelona. Even the Barcelona game witnessed ambush from the visitors during the first half of the match and that might have finished City off by half time if it were not for the fortuitous equaliser before half time.

After the unbelievable arrival of Leicester City at the top of the table in the last season, 2016-17 is also turning into a strange affair. Tottenham seems incapable of shredding the less mortal teams and Chelsea had an uncertain start but they are now playing majestically under the guidance of Antonio Conte. Arsenal and Liverpool are on the same track and the fragility is purely perceptible.

None of the teams have succeeded in stamping their authority in this season yet. If City is planning on taking the lead then there’s a lot of work that is needed to be done. Guardiola needs to shake-up the spirit of the team in order to take this season by the scruff of the neck.

India Versus England – 3rd Test Preview

After a comprehensive series win against the Kiwis, the Men in Blue knew that Alastair Cook’s English side would provide a much sterner challenge. On a flat deck in Rajkot, Cook broke India’s pattern of batting first and his side amassed a mammoth 537. India were always playing catch up and eventually had to dig themselves out of a tricky position on the fifth day. Though our batting stuttered, that last day experience will do India a lot of good in the long run. Order was restored in Vizag as Kohli called it right and with the help of Pujara, guided India to a huge first innings total. Ravi Ashwin grabbed his first 5-fer against the Barmy Army which gave India a 200-run lead. England went for lunch on Day 4 knowing that they had to bat five sessions to eke out an improbable draw. Both the openers, the captain himself and young Hameed, showed tremendous skill and grit as England made it tough for the hosts. Cook will be banking on that fight and spirit as his side prepares for another grueling encounter at Mohali.

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India go into the clash without their regular keeper Saha who is injured. Parthiv Patel is set to play his first test in 8 years and will be looking to make the most of this opportunity. Though Bhuvi is in the squad at the expense of Gambhir, it is extremely unlikely that Kohli will tinker with the team that won in Vizag (getting in Mishra for Jayant Yadav is worth a thought considering England will shed 2 left handers for Butler and Woakes but the offie’s strong performance on debut with both bat and ball might help him retain his place). In the past, the pitch at Mohali usually had a good cover of green which meant that there was always something for the fast bowlers. As is the case with most tracks in India, spinners came into the fray from the second half of Day 3. But the recent clash against South Africa at this ground took everyone by surprise. 201 was the highest score across the 4 innings as the track was offering significant turn right from the first day. The pitch for tomorrow’s game is expected to be on similar lines and this makes the toss extremely crucial. India were not comfortable batting 4th on a decent Rajkot track and if things don’t go their way, they’ll face a more severe test on this lively pitch. The Indian spinners are expected to do well irrespective of how the toss plays out but Kohli will hope he gets to bat first in order to protect his batsmen and to give Ashwin and Co. a crack at the opposition in the fourth innings.

India's captain Virat Kohli, left, and Cheteshwar Pujara laugh as they leave the ground after a dog ran into the field during their first day of second cricket test match against England in Visakhapatnam, India, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Kohli’s counterpart will also be hoping that his side bats first and then gets the opportunity to test the Indian batting with their spinners. England have already made two confirmed changes with Jos Butler coming in for the struggling Ben Duckett and Chris Woakes replacing the injured Stuart Broad. There might be a third change with Gareth Batty coming in for Zafar Ansari. England will take confidence from their come from behind series victory the last time they toured India. Though this side is not as experienced as the previous one was, Cook has enough reasons to believe that his side can turn the tables in the third test. If the first 2 games are any indicator, this one also promises to be a cracker of a contest between two very good sides.

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