NBA: Dwayne Wade, LeBron James embrace final chance to compete on court

Dwyane Wade passed a major milestone when he lined up against LeBron James for the final time Monday night in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 108-105 victory. (AP Photo)

Dwyane Wade will be spending a lot of time in Los Angeles while he settles into retirement next year. He already has a house here, and his wife’s acting career would undoubtedly benefit from more time in Hollywood. LeBron James is a newly minted Southern Californian himself, and he’s already hatching schemes to occupy his former teammate, longtime rival and permanent friend.

“I told him, ‘No one likes to work out by themselves,’” James said with a grin. “So he can come to Staples. He can come to the practice facility anytime he wants to get workouts in. He can come help me with the young guys as well. He’ll be around a lot more personally for me, so I’ll love that.”

Wade still has 56 regular-season games left in his self-declared final NBA season with the Miami Heat, but he passed a major milestone in that procession when he lined up against James for the final time Monday night in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 108-105 victory. The result wasn’t the most important part of the night to either man. They were wrapped up in the pure thrill in the chance to face off for the final time in two incredible basketball careers that have been chronologically parallel, frequently intersecting and always momentous.

“I knew that at some point in the game, it was going to hit me that this was the last time we were competing against each other,” Wade said. “It hit me right away, once that buzzer sounded and we got the opportunity on the court to just look at each other and be like, ‘Man, this has been fun. This has been one hell of a ride, and we’ve enjoyed it together.’”

James put up 28 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. Wade scored all 15 of his points in the second half to go with 10 assists and five boards. But the best moments arrived late when James and Wade finally guarded each other, playing one last one-on-one game for keeps.

Defense won out on both ends, probably because they know each other well enough to take away their strengths. They funneled each other to drive to their more uncomfortable sides, and James forced Wade to attempt a 27-foot turnaround, fadeaway 3-pointer that missed badly with 7.2 seconds left. Wade was more open when he missed a 3 that would have put the Heat ahead with 22.5 seconds left.

“I needed that one,” Wade said with a grimace. “I wanted it so bad. I think I wanted it too much. It would have definitely been memorable. But this is my last time playing against this guy, you know? This is the holy grail in the NBA. Unless we figure this thing out and we go to the Finals, this is the holy grail for me. The competition of playing against the game’s greatest player. Playing it in LA. I thanked him for bringing us to this stage for our last hurrah on this stage. It gets no better than this.”

Barring a change of Wade’s retirement plans or that incredibly unlikely NBA Finals matchup, they’ll never face each other in a real game and the Lakers’ victory put James ahead of Wade 16-15 in their head-to-head matchups over their career.

James marveled at the symmetry in this final showdown, but both players said their times together meant a whole lot more than their times in opposing uniforms. James and Wade won two NBA championships and four straight Eastern Conference titles together in Miami, along with their Olympic gold medals from Beijing.

“The game is going to take care of itself, but just the fact that we were on the floor doing what we love to do, that’s what’s more important,” James said. “Wins and losses are going to happen throughout the course of the season and throughout the course of your career, but those moments right there, you can’t ever get back.”

James and Wade swapped jerseys after the final buzzer, their bittersweet emotions overshadowed by the excitement of the moment and the possibilities of the future. “It’s the end of a storybook,” James said. “One of the best movies you could ever see. It’s too hard to put into words. Thank God they’re staying the night. We get to have dinner (later). I know he has more games, but that’s the last one for us.”

World Tour Finals: Tough road ahead for PV Sindhu; Sameer Verma too eyes knockout berth

PV Sindhu has been the most impressive among the Indian shuttlers as she claimed silver medals at all the major events. (PTI/File Photo) 

PV Sindhu’s bid to end the season with a gold will be a tough one while debutante Sameer Verma too will need to produce his absolute best to make the knockout stage when the BWF World Tour Finals begins here Wednesday. Sindhu has been the most impressive among the Indian shuttlers as she claimed silver medals at all the major events — Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championship — besides finishing runners-up at the India Open and Thailand Open.

On Wednesday, the 23-year-old from Hyderabad, who had finished runners-up in the last edition at Dubai, will begin her quest to put a golden touch to her silver-filled cabinet. But the road to the women’s singles title will be a stiff one, considering she has been clubbed in what can be called a ‘group of death’, which includes world no 1 and her nemesis Tai Tzu Ying, Japan’s world no 2 and defending champion Akane Yamaguchi and her India Open conqueror Beiwen Zhang of USA.

Only eight top players compete in the prestigious season-ending event and the top two from each group will qualify for the semifinals, after which a knockout draw will be conducted.

Sindhu, who will be making her third successive appearance at the tournament, have a 9-4 head-to-head record against Yamaguchi but she has lost four times to the Japanese in five meetings this season. The 23-year-old from Hyderabad also have found the going tough against Asian Games Champion Tai Tzu Ying, who has beaten her in all their last six encounters. The last time Sindhu defeated Tzu Ying was at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Against Zhang, Sindhu has a 3-3 head-to-head record but the Indian has lost twice in the last three meetings, which included a final defeat at the India Open World Tour Super 500 tournament in New Delhi. Sindhu has exuded confidence ahead of the tournament, saying she would be in top form after getting enough time to put in the hard yards.

Asked if she would be in better form this time, Sindhu had told PTI: “Ya, I have enough time to prepare this time. “I hope I do well in this tournament. I am confident of giving my best. It is one of the biggest tournaments with all the top players and it will be tough but I really want to win it,” added the Indian, who had skipped the Syed Modi International to prepare for the USD 1,500,000 event.

In men’s singles, Sameer, who defended his title at the Syed Modi International last month to qualify for the year-ending event at the last moment, has been put alongside Japanese world number 1 Kento Momota, Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto and Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen.

Sameer, who is the second Indian men’s player after K Srikanth to qualify for the tournament, has a 1-1 head-to-head record against both Sugiarto and Wangcharoen but the Indian still will have to put his best to avoid any hiccups.

The 24-year-old’s main worry will be Momota, whom he has defeated en route to his Swiss Open title but the Japanese has emerged as a indomitable force ever since. Saina Nehwal has represented India at the prestigious tournament — earlier known as Super Series Final — seven times, reaching the finals at the 2011 edition.

The Indian mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and V Diju also had finished runners-up at the 2009 edition.

WWE Raw Results: Ahead of WWE TLC, Seth Rollins, Baron Corbin clash

Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin on WWE Raw
WWE Raw main event saw Seth Rollins defend his title against Baron Corbin. (Source: WWE)

Dean Ambrose is scheduled to defend his Intercontinental title against Dean Ambrose at the WWE TLC on Sunday but before that, he got a good test of the apparatus on WWE Raw. Rollins called out WWE Raw’s stand-in general manager Baron Corbin to address the condition of the program which has recorded pitiful viewership in recent weeks. Refusing to hold back after Corbin entered the ring, The Architect gave multiple examples of where the “General Manager-Elect” had made Raw “suck,” including wasting teams like The Revival, handing the Universal Title back to Brock Lesnar and unjustly ending careers.

Corbin retorted he didn’t care what Rollins and the WWE Universe thought of his performance and threatened to make Rollins’ life hell once he became the permanent General Manager of Raw at WWE TLC, Rollins challenged him to a TLC match on the night. Backed into a corner with his adversary indirectly calling him a coward, The Lone Wolf finally accepted the challenge and informed the titleholder their match would be for the Intercontinental Championship.

The conditions for the match were clear: the match could only end when The Kingslayer or The Lone Wolf climbed a ladder to retrieve the Intercontinental Title hanging above the ring. During an attack, Rollins accidently took down referee Heath Slater with the steel chair. As the contest moved to outside the ring, Rollins placed Corbin onto the table and drove him through the hardwood with a Frog Splash. Just when it looked like Rollins was going to defend his title, Slater reappeared and dumped the ladder from under him.

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Slater helped Corbin back into the ring and assisted him in climbing the ladder, but Rollins hit the ring, grabbed the General Manager-Elect and sent him crashing through the table with a bucklebomb. Coming face-to-face with Slater, Rollins hit the official with a superkick before blasting Corbin with the stomp and climbing the rungs to claim his title.

WWE Raw Results:

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Bobby Roode & Chad Gable def. AOP & Drake Maverick in a 2-on-3 Handicap to become the new Raw Tag Team Champions

Drew McIntyre def. Dolph Ziggler

Bayley def. Alicia Fox

Lio Rush def. Elias

Ember Moon def. Tamina

Seth Rollins def. Baron Corbin in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship

Virat Kohli, Anushka Sharma give up business class seats to seamers

Ishant Sharma, India cricket, Australian batsman
Ishant Sharma celebrates uprooting Aaron Finch’s stumps. (Source: AP)

India cricket team captain Virat Kohli and wife Anushka Sharma are celebrating their first marriage anniversary in Australia but the couple are not jet setting across at the expense of other members of the team, it has emerged. Usually, BCCI reserves the best seats for the Indian team – home or abroad – but seeing the sparse nature of business class seats on an aircraft, the power couple gave away their seats to the team’s seamers.

The revelation was made by former England captain and now commentator Michael Vaughan on his Twitter account. Currently part of Fox Sports as the pundit for the India-Australia series, Vaughan tweeted, “Witnessed @imVkohli & his wife give up their Business class seats to allow the Quicks more comfort & space on the trip from Adelaide – Perth !! Danger Australia .. Not only are the quicks more relaxed .. The Skipper is managing his troops with great human touches #AUSvIND”. India travelled from Adelaide to Perth for the second Test after clinching the opener by 31 runs. When asked why all players weren’t booked on business class anyway, Vaughan clarified to a user that there were only 12 seats of the kind available on the aircraft.

Kohli lauded the seamers for a great job done in Adelaide where four specialist bowlers accounted for all 20 Australia wickets. “I think to pick 20 wickets with four bowlers, away from home, especially with a ball that does not offer you that much is something we can be proud of,” Kohli said. “We have to build on this. We can’t be happy with just one Test match. We will not be satisfied with just one Test.

Also Read: Speed, precision and skill mark pace attack’s coming-of-age performance

“Especially with the Kookaburra, we have not been able to sustain that pressure long enough in the past. But the fact that they are fitter and they have more pace on it for longer periods, and their job at certain times is just to contain.”

India took a 1-0 lead in the four-match series at the Adelaide Oval in a historic feat where the visiting side became just the second Asian side to win the opening Test in Australia and the first time in Indian cricket team’s history. The cavalry moved to Perth for the second Test – which gets underway on December 14 – with the third and fourth Tests to be played in Melbourne and Sydney starting December 26 and January 3, 2019, respectively.

Bangladesh vs West Indies 2nd ODI Live Cricket Score, BAN vs WI Live Cricket Streaming: West Indies win toss, opt to bowl

Bangladesh vs West Indies 2nd ODI Live Score
Bangladesh vs West Indies 2nd ODI Live: Bangladesh lead the three-match series 1-0. (Source: AP)

Bangladesh vs West Indies 2nd ODI Live Cricket Score, BAN vs WI Live Cricket Streaming: Bangladesh have given away little to the touring West Indies in the series – winning 2-0 in the Tests and taking that dominance into the first ODI also. To their disappointment, West Indies haven’t really helped their cause either with terrible batting and collapses which won’t benefit any international side. With series on the line in the second ODI in Dhaka, West Indies need a quick turnaround to get things under order to try and level the series.

Mushfiqur Rahim and Bangladeshi bowlers led by skipper Mashrafe Mortaza and Mustafizur Rahman were the stars for Bangladesh in the opening ODI. They look like a well-oiled unit and should ideally stick to the same playing XI as the first ODI.

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Bangladesh vs West Indies 2nd ODI Live Cricket Score and Updates:

Teams:

Bangladesh (From): Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Imrul Kayes, Mushfiqur Rahim(w), Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Mahmudullah, Mehidy Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza(c), Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Mohammad Mithun, Ariful Haque, Nazmul Islam, Mohammad Saifuddin, Abu Hider Rony

Windies (From): Kieran Powell, Shai Hope(w), Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shimron Hetmyer, Rovman Powell(c), Roston Chase, Keemo Paul, Kemar Roach, Devendra Bishoo, Oshane Thomas, Carlos Brathwaite, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Sunil Ambris, Fabian Allen

Spanish league scraps plan to play January match in US

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their fourth goal against Espanyol with team mates
Barcelona were due to play Girona in an ‘away’ fixture in La Liga in Miami. (Source: Reuters)

The Spanish League has given up on its plan to play a regular-season match in the United States next month because Barcelona backed down from its commitment. The Catalan club said on Monday it did not intend to play the game against Girona near Miami because there was no consensus among all stakeholders.

The club’s board of directors said Barcelona remained behind the idea of the game aboard, but the “project will not prosper until there is an agreement between all parties.”

“From the beginning we have said that participation in the game abroad is voluntary,” the league said in a statement. “If FC Barcelona wishes not to attend, the game scheduled in Miami can’t be staged on the agreed date.”

The Spanish league last month took legal action against the country’s football federation in an effort to get approval for the Jan. 26 match at Hard Rock Stadium. A court decision was expected as early as Thursday.

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“La Liga will continue the planned action so an official league game can be played outside of Spain,” the league said. “La Liga is convinced that (the federation) is not acting in accordance with the law.”

The league needs approval from the federation to be able to play abroad. The federation was yet to approve or deny the league’s request, having raised concerns that the overseas game would not comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts. It also said the overseas match could harm the other 18 league clubs.

Barcelona said in its statement it “accepted that income from the game would be shared” among all first-division and second-division clubs following the criteria for television rights money distribution.

The league offered several compensation plans for fans of Girona, which would be relinquishing a home match.

Other stakeholders, including UEFA and CONCACAF, also needed to approve the match. The FIFA council recently opposed the idea, although its permission for the match was not mandatory.

Staging the game in the United States is seen as an important step for the Spanish league to continue expanding internationally and to close the gap on the powerful English Premier League. The Spanish league has a 15-year deal with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote football and take games to the United States.

“We regret to disappoint our fans in the U.S. and will work to, in the shortest possible time, stage an official La Liga game in the U.S., just like the major American leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) stage games outside their borders.”

The league last month launched a campaign to showcase the public support from American fans, asking them to sign an online petition in favor of the game.

In Adelaide Test of nerves, India triumph

Rarely has an Indian pace bowling pack allied pace, craft, intelligence and discipline as this group. (Source: AP/PTI)

WITH TIME, Ravichandran Ashwin might not be able to recall the details — off-break, carrom ball, batsman, catcher. But he will surely remember the moment, the huddle and the high-fives, and the significance of it all in India’s cricket history.

Ashwin’s skipper Virat Kohli was so lost in that moment that he didn’t celebrate as wildly as he usually does. He waved at the dressing room, applauded the crowd and joined his teammates. It was just sinking in.

Before this 31-run victory, a contest of slow-burning drama, few Asian teams have emerged without mortal wounds from a series opener in Australia. They were habitually humbled, battered and demoralised. On Monday, though, Kohli became the first Indian, as well as Asian, Test captain to win a series opener in Australia — always a key marker for the matches that follow — and the first from the continent to have won Tests in South Africa, England and Australia.

But then, this wasn’t a victory claimed by an individual. Cheteshwar Pujara might have played the titular role in fashioning it. But also significant were Ajinkya Rahane’s 70, the 63-run opening alliance between K L Rahul and Murali Vijay, and most hearteningly, the concerted effort of India’s pacemen synchronising seamlessly with Ashwin.

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Rarely has an Indian pace bowling pack allied pace, craft, intelligence and discipline as this group. Historically, it has been a one-horse wagon, Kapil Dev or Javagal Srinath or Zaheer Khan leading a modest set of sidekicks. In Adelaide, the three pacers that Kohli had at his disposal were the envy of all former Indian skippers — a multi-skilled, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional group, capable of switching roles and winning games.

Jasprit Bumrah bowled the fastest ball of the Test at 150.6 kmph. Mohammed Shami consistently rattled 145 kmph and Ishant Sharma was not far behind, also touching 145 kmph. According to CricVIz, a data-crunching cricket website, they stacked up an average speed of 141.4 kmph, while managing to land 50.6 per cent of their deliveries in the good-length area. That they outpaced the Australian seamers, who had a combined average of 139.4 kmph, captures the story.

Unlike in England and South Africa, there was little assistance from the Adelaide surface — none of the characteristic bounce or lift, little moisture in the air or surface, no uneven bounce or vicious turn. In fact, the pitch became progressively slower and Australia, though defeated, fought till the last.

And yet, the biggest compliment for the Indians came from the Aussie veterans. “I have seen some great Indian batsmen and batting orders, but not a bowling group as capable as them. Apart from a left-handed seamer, they have everything, speed, accuracy, variety, discipline, the kind that can win you matches anywhere in the world,” said former Australian pacer Jason Gillespie.

As for the batting, Kohli is still the axis, but others have begun to revolve around him. Like Pujara, who for all his exploits at home couldn’t quite reprise the form abroad. With a hundred in England, and now the 123 and 71 in Adelaide, he has turned a corner, even beginning to resemble the man he replaced in the line-up. Rahul Dravid, incidentally, had shepherded India to a famous win at this ground 15 years ago.

You could even draw a parallel to that Adelaide victory in 2003, which they achieved without their figurehead Sachin Tendulkar making runs. In the subsequent years, India have won in South Africa, West Indies, England, New Zealand and Pakistan. But as Kohli said after the win, it’s just the start, there is a series to be won. Yet, there is no mistaking that more such moments beckon this team of history makers.

Speed, precision and skill mark pace attack’s coming-of-age performance

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Jasprit Bumrah got the key breakthrough after drinks break when he got Shaun Marsh to edge behind at 60.

HELMETS didn’t clatter. Toes weren’t crushed. Rib-cages didn’t protrude with a broken bone. In the end, India’s golden age of fast bowling came to a fruition in the most Indian way – with dollops of intelligence, discipline, and skill. The pitch in Adelaide wasn’t conducive for such adrenalin-pumping acts, but the soul of this bowling unit doesn’t ooze menace; it’s subtler. Unsurprising, when India’s pace history is considered, this is an organic evolution of sorts.

For decades now, Indian fans have celebrated all the small pickings that came their way: Sadiq Mohammad signalling for a helmet after Kapil Dev fired a bouncer in 1978 series in Pakistan. That was a champagne moment. When Zaheer Khan bounced out Matthew Hayden in an ODI, we looked around the room to our family and friends and felt two inches taller. All juvenile reactions of course, but you can’t blame a generation who woke up at 5 am to hear on radio (or later see on television) vaseline-streaked white faces terrorise the fans if not the players themselves.

Not every Indian is getting carried away, though. At his home in Bangalore, one of the India’s fastest bowler ever, Javagal Srinath, didn’t leap up from his couch when Travis Head was dismissed by a snorter from Ishant Sharma in Adelaide. What made him happier, he says, was the stat: the number of catches that Rishabh Pant took behind the stumps. It meant the Indian seamers weren’t just fast, but also showed nous on how to conjure up high-quality spells in Test cricket. Periodically, Srinath did glance at the speed-gun on his television, but he wasn’t surprised by it. It was how it all came together, how the bowlers attacked in a group, and the “maturity” warmed his heart.

Srinath sums up three things that caught his eye: The pace in their third spells being as good as the first, the skill and discipline that reflected in the strangling lines and lengths, and the fiery-and-yet-intelligent spells that the three seamers whipped up through the game. “Bowling a bouncer wasn’t the main thing. The timing of it, the surprise in it, its accuracy is what got the wicket – and more importantly, what he bowled before that, and how he worked up to that ball – that gives me great pleasure,” Srinath says.

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That, in essence is what makes this attack potent. If it wasn’t coming at 141 kmph (the Indian pace attack’s average speed in this Test), all the discipline in line and length would probably not have made the difference. The batsmen wouldn’t have been hurried, felt strangled. As Srinath says, the pace in the third spell matching up to all the initial enthusiasm with the new ball was quite something.

Srinath reckons the technology, and self-reflection it provides through various visual evidences, has played a huge part in Ishant’s evolution.

“You are watching everybody and yourself. You know where to put the ball. You know you just have to put your mind to it. With him, age and experience has helped. His county experience for example.”

He believes there is nothing quite like hunting in packs. He dips into his past to add weight to his argument. “In our days, we had one fast bowler in the team! I had to beg captains to get to bowl at times. They would look at three-spinners combination and have another in the team who could bowl spin. Those kind of pitches are now gone in India. Look at this attack: three bowlers attacking relentlessly. You can’t relax as a batsman. Even the best batsman can be made to look half-as-good if the pressure is relentless. You can’t just see someone off. All through the day, they keep coming hard at you. You would feel the pressure. Shami has been brilliant with his ability to win matches even in India. Bumrah has been great to watch: that isn’t a manufactured action; its natural and that helps. Then his attitude to bowling and his intelligence is a huge plus,” he offers.

It’s a pity that the highlights packages these days have been reduced to largely wickets and boundaries packages. Sometimes, a batsman being beaten is thrown in. Seen through that myopic prism, the Adelaide Test won’t reveal much apart from a great bouncer and batsmen chasing balls outside off-stump. It’s what happened that led to those moments that needs to be savoured. The relentless pinging of the ball in the trouble zone, the skill to dink the ball this way and that at pace is what led to the Australian implosion. For decades, be it Ajit Agarkar or a younger Ishant Sharma, the “boundary ball” seemed almost the main Indian contribution to fast-bowling lexicon. Adelaide shows (as did the England tour) that Indian pacers have not only come of age but are defining it.

India vs Australia: Historic first

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Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood kept the crowd entertained with a 32-run stand before falling short. (Source: AP)

No one commiserated with Nathan Lyon. As the Indian players celebrated their historic win — first time they had started an Australian tour with a win — Lyon was hunched on the ground, in as much as grief as regret. The day before, he’d exhorted his teammates: “It’s time to be heroes, to be remembered by our children and grandchildren.” There was no more an Australia superhero as Lyon in this Test — he bowled 60 overs, picked eight wickets, scored a feisty unconquered 38, and fluttered hopes of an unlikely Australian victory. Yet, he looked shattered.

The man at the other end, the man whose wicket the Indians celebrated, Josh Hazlewood, kept staring at the ground, numb and speechless, wondering how close they actually were to scripting what could have passed into Wisden all-time thrillers. A 31-run-defeat is not what one would actually consider a suspenseful contest, but unless one had watched the match, one wouldn’t realise how close it was.

When Hazlewood walked out to bat, Australia were still 64 runs adrift of surpassing India. In commentary, Shane Warne had already pulled his blazers on for the post-match engagements. In the slip cordon, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had begun to chuckle. Rishabh Pant was yelping at Ravichandran Ashwin: “Ashu bhai, jaldi, jadli…” Half the spectators were filing out of the turnstiles answering in the negative to stewards’ query of whether they would be returning.

But then they suddenly turned around to the crack of a stroke. Lyon had just dismissively flicked Jasprit Bumrah through midwicket. They had now begun to hope against hope. Australians, both the crowd and the players, don’t throw in the towel too soon. That’s why John Arlott coined the term Australianism.

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The Indian fielders, with each ball and each passing stroke of assurance, began to feel a trifle uneasy. The first sign was to depute fielders on the rope when Lyon, the No. 10, was batting. But India have been so chastened by lower-order batsmen in the past that they didn’t want to risk a victory. What followed in the next half an hour was not nail-biting stuff, but heart-pounding drama. No one spoke much to each other, even the ragged red ball wasn’t talking.

But then Ishant Sharma pinged Lyon in front, with a sharp, bending delivery, but even before he could turn around for the appeal, the echo of umpire Kumara Dharmasena’s “no ball” rung in his ears. Ishant stood gutted, searching the screens for replays. Nothing flashed. The replays later showed it would have clipped the outside of the leg-stump, hence an umpire’s call, and if Australia had conjured a miracle the no-ball would have come to haunt him. Ishant was so upset that he didn’t celebrate the win, Kohli revealed later. “He was feeling guilty after the match,” he said. That was the time when the Indian players began to feel a little edgy, as if they’re conspired to lose. And Kohli has been on the other end last time, when India lost by 48 runs despite a Kohli classic.

Shortly, even the left-handed Hazlewood, who began shakily against Ashwin started to look entrenched at the crease, striding forward with surety, jumping back with assurance, and occasionally punishing the loose deliveries. A shiver of fear might have slivered through some of the Indian spectators. Most had grown up hearing and seeing the famed Australian fightback. Were they seeing another epic unfold?

Suspense hung thick in the air, forgetting nearly that they were into the last over of the extended session, as the last pair was batting. Then came Ashwin, and off the fifth ball he induced an edge off Hazlewood, sparking celebrations. At the boundary, coach Ravi Shastri swished the air and clutched his assistants. But Lyon was still hunched on the ground. And there was no one to commiserate with him.

***

At the lunch break, in the broadcast corridor, legendary ABC commentator Jim Maxwell bumped into an old friend of his, who asked him whether they can have a drink in the afternoon. “No, I want to see them bat.” Puzzled, the friend asked him: “Why, you think they’ll win?” Maxwell replied: “I see a glimmer of hope.”

He later explained the reasons: “The pitch has flattened out, the bowlers will be tired and if Tim (Paine) can hang around, we might.” His friend just smirked, as if wondering the 75-year-old was out his mind. So must have felt most of the spectators and television pundits, for Australia were 186/6, stretching into their Oval graveyard.

Their last hope was Shaun Marsh, who was out for 60. He had batted with a rarely-seen will and judgement, but had an instinctive poke at an incisive Bumrah delivery, angled in and shaping away off the seam, just enough to sow doubt in Marsh’s mind. Australia were 169 runs away from the target. Surely, not this time.

Paine was the sole man who could steer them home. He was batting with a broken finger, battling the pain and pressure. But couldn’t resist the urge to pull a Bumrah delivery that was quicker and bouncier. It was an effort ball, another example of the firepower Indian bowlers possess.

By then, the Aussie fate was almost sealed. Or so they thought. Shane Warne and his colleague were drifting to Peter Russell-Clarke’s television cookery show — it began with Rishabh Pant’s proximity to the world-record of 11 dismissals jointly-held by AB de Villiers and Jack Russell. The English wicket-keeper led to the other Russell. It’s as if they didn’t want to brood on Australia’s failings.

But their two firebrand fast bowlers out there — Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins — were not drifting. Starc was edgy throughout, but Cummins was purposeful and patient. The clarity he showed in dealing was worthy of not only praise but also a lesson for his batting peers. There was no indecision about him. He would stretch forward and meet the fuller balls — of course it helps if you’re a six-feet-four —and the marginally short ones he would fend off the back-foot. At the same time, he played a couple of gorgeous drives straight and through the covers. Cummins and Starc kept India waiting for 16 overs.

India didn’t panic. Maybe, they hoped that eventually one of them, especially Starc, would do something silly. After a bouncer, Shami slipped in a full, wide ball, which Starc couldn’t resist having a fling at. A classical lower-order batsman’s dismissal — Pant’s record-equalling 11th pouch, and Warne reverted to Russell-Clarke.

But Cummins wasn’t giving up, Australia still fighting. With a spirited Lyon, he magnified Australia’s hopes, until Cummins departed, which excited Kohli so much that he banged the ball furiously onto the ground. By then, even the eternally romantic Maxwell had burned his hopes.

***

As Lyon was crossing the boundary rope, the Oval curator Damian Hough and a couple of the groundsmen ran to him and wore an arm around him. Later Hough said what the whole of Australia might have been feeling, “Lyon deserved to be a hero.”

He though is happy with the pitch: “A classic Test match, that lasted (technically) till the last session. Proud of it, though Australia lost it. You Indians have a great team this time,” said Hough, who now has to ready the pitch for the footy season.

It was a similar hurt-but-proud vibe that Paine conveyed at the press conference. He said: “Today was a nice snapshot of the way we want to go about it. We fought really hard and never gave in, you don’t have to talk rubbish and carry on like a pork chop to prove that.” Those same lines past Indian skippers used to rattle out. The roles have reversed. Paine speaking like Indian captains and Lyon leaving like a tragic hero, like Kohli was four years ago at the same ground.

***

One person who could relate to Lyon’s pain was Kohli. Four years ago, he had done everything humanly possible to put India on the brink of an improbable victory, but left the Oval in regret, if not tears. He recollected that at the post-match press conference. “I feel so relieved to be on the other side of it, last time we lost by some 48 runs in a tense match. But now we beat them by 31 runs. It’s just unbelievable,” he said.

That was Kohli’s first match leading the team, standing in for the injured MS Dhoni, who retired later in the same series. “ There is enough reason to regret things, but at the same time you have to look at the positives. It’s the kind of positive cricket we want to play.” The Adelaide script was to haunt him again — India losing close encounters, despite playing a bold brand of cricket. Maybe, Adelaide is a sign of the script changing. Kohli reminds it’s the beginning of the series. But one can’t argue with the self-belief of this team.

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Later in the day, Kohli was seen hugging and chatting with Lyon when they were packing off from the ground. At last, there was someone to commiserate with Lyon.

Structure over flair – the new mantra

Spain’s Enrique Gonzalez is a rarity in modern hockey — a player who prefers dribbling the ball over passing. FIH

Amidst the Hulks that are nurtured in world hockey these days, Enrique Gonzalez resembles an ant. He is short and skinny, and glides on the turf wearing a white band to tie his curly, brown hair. But that’s not the only reason he stands out.

The Indian dribble might be a passé, but this 22-year-old is bringing it back in fashion. He does it fearlessly and stylishly, no matter where he is on the pitch. “When I get the ball, the immediate thought is to dribble past the first man,” Gonzalez says. Then the next… and then the one after him. Dribbling isn’t the last resort for him. It’s his first instinct. One that often leaves his coach Frederic Soyez and video analyst Alejandro Iglesias frustrated. “After every match, we show him the moments where he could’ve passed instead of dribbling,” says Iglesias. He flails his both arms in the air helplessly and adds: “But he doesn’t get it.”

Dribbling may not be a dying art. In fact, it can be argued that some of the stuff players do these days is unlike anything we’ve ever seen on a hockey field – like the 3D skills, where they lift the ball in the air and run the length of the pitch without letting it touch the ground. But it is surely turning into a controlled one.

If you’re a coach of a hockey team, there’s just one message for players who like showboating: curb your enthusiasm. Speed and size seem to be more coveted than pure hockey instincts as the biggest challenge that has emerged for trainers across teams is to curb the natural urge of players like Gonzalez and get them to play within the defined structure.

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When faced with the choice of having individuals with overall athletic ability – such as height, weight, speed and explosion – over someone who has great instinct but is limited athletically, the former gain precedence. And the pattern that is emerging from the World Cup seems to justify the theory.

It’s not a coincidence that Gonzalez’s Spain, who often sacrificed structure for style, were the first team to be knocked out of the World Cup last week. In their place, France – the tournament’s lowest-ranked team – sneaked into the crossovers by playing smart, disciplined hockey in which the players stuck to their roles without being too flashy or creative.

That’s also a reason why Asian teams have not been able to beat their European counterparts in the eight meetings between the sides from the two continents in the World Cup so far. Glenn Turner, the Australian legend who led the team to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2010 and 2014, says it’s just ‘smarter’ for teams to play that way. “You’ve got to play within a structure because if you don’t, you’ll lose. You’ve seen with the Indian teams in the past – if you are just going to run, you are going to get flogged,” he tells The Indian Express.

One of the reasons for this is the amount of time spent on studying videos of opposition players. Simon Orchard, Turner’s teammate in the World Cup-winning squads, says meetings on matchdays can run into hours as the coaches decode every habit of the rival teams. “There’s too much reliance on video and not a lot on instincts,” he says.

Which is why a player like Germany’s Florian Fuchs chooses to show his creative side only when he is in the attacking third. Fuchs is one of the most expressive players the modern game has seen. His game is all about flair but it’s in a defined zone. The individual skills, he says, can be decisive in the forward line but on any other area of the pitch, there is a greater emphasis to stick to the pre-decided patterns. “Looking at our game, we have a lot of freedom and we have a lot of creativity but it is all within the framework we have developed – a strategic, tactical framework, which gives a broad idea of our game,” he says.

But there’s also a flipside. Orchard says the compulsion to play within a team structure has taken away a lot of individual freedom. It’s a curious case, where even though the overall level of global hockey has seen a rapid spike, there seems to be a serious shortage of individual stars. It can be felt at the World Cup, where apart from drag-flick expert Gonzalo Peillat, no one player has stood out.

Instead, multiple players have contributed to a team’s success, which is true even for India. “The reliance of a lot of coaches is on a team game plan with each player doing their job. You still have a lot of talented players but they are not given the license to be phenomenal,” he argues.

Gonzalez would agree with Orchard. His ability to weave his way past opponents earned him the best player award at the 2016 junior World Cup. In that set-up, Spain’s game-plan was designed around his style. “But now, I have to play as my team wants,” he says. “Even if it means controlling my instinct.”