From chump to champ, bonehead to figurehead. What a difference a year makes.

On this weekend in 2020, Novak Djokovic was partying like it was, well, 2019, after the first leg of the Adria Tour, limbo-dancing in a Belgrade cabaret club, mask-free, carefree, some might say cluelessly.

Within days, he had tested positive for COVID-19, as had Djokovic's wife Jelena, along with Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Goran Ivanisevic. The tournament that Djokovic had organised was in disarray and plans to take it to five Balkan cities were abandoned when the second event in Zadar was called off before its final.

Nick Kyrgios, incredulous at home in Australia, called it a "boneheaded" decision to play the events, and Djokovic made a grovelling apology, saying he was "so deeply sorry" for the harm that had been caused.

The main tennis tours had ground to a necessary halt, but Djokovic could not resist moving, cavorting.

He might feel like hitting up a Parisian nightclub after Sunday's breathtaking comeback against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final, the first time he has come from two sets down to win a grand slam final, but even if they were open, Djokovic has probably learnt his lesson. He taught Tsitsipas a thing or two in this Roland Garros epic, too, primarily this: however much a grand slam title match feels in your control, these major finals are not like any you have played before.

So now Djokovic has 19 major titles, one behind all-time leaders Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal heading into Wimbledon in two weeks' time. He is the first man in the Open Era to win two or more titles at each of the four grand slams.

When Tsitsipas followed a thrilling opening set here by breezing through the second against the world number one, establishing a two-set cushion, his maiden slam final was going as well as he could possibly have hoped. His serve was potent, his biggest shots were landing in, and he had the measure of Djokovic's delivery: the Serbian won just 35 per cent of points on his second serve over those opening two sets.

Nine winners to just two unforced errors from Tsitsipas in that second set showed who was in charge. Djokovic had taken an early fall in the match: was that a factor?

Yet in the fourth game of the third set, Djokovic landed a punch so loaded that it caused Tsitsipas to wobble for the next hour, saving three game points on the Greek's serve before snatching the break at his own fourth opportunity.

The 11-minute game evoked memories of how Djokovic took down Nadal in their magnificent semi-final, Tsitsipas flinging a despairing backhand just wide to slide 3-1 behind, his resistance broken, his momentum gone.

Djokovic has suffered in the past following marathon grand slam semi-finals, including in Paris last October when he battled past Tsitsipas in five and then won just seven games against Nadal.

Friday's four hours and 11 minutes of hard battle against Nadal was as draining as such matches come, so from where had Djokovic found this renewed energy? Tsitsipas, seeing the title slip away, needed a big sip from whatever well from which the Serbian was drinking.

An astonishing angled drop shot from Djokovic in the third game of the decider showed his scrambling, sprinting energy was only heightening in its intensity, and he backed up that effort with a break moments later.

Tsitsipas had largely rediscovered his game, but the prospect of a pair of first-time singles champions at Roland Garros, for the first time since the Gaston Gaudio-Anastasia Myskina double in 2004, was ebbing away. It was soon all over.

After the Adria Tour howler and his US Open disqualification clanger, Djokovic began his 2021 season on a positive note with a ninth Australian Open title. Now he has a second French Open, and we can seriously start to think about a calendar year sweep of the grand slams. He has won seven of his majors since turning 30, the most by anyone in the Open Era, and it feels safe to say there are more to come.

Twelve months ago, it was a case of 'how low can you go?' as Djokovic dipped under that limbo pole.

Suddenly we can start to ask: are there no limits to the heights this remarkable man might scale?

A look to the sky, a wide smile, and a kiss. I did it, Jana. We did it.

Barbora Krejcikova is a grand slam singles champion, barely eight months after she first cracked the world's top 100, and the first instinct is to suggest this will be a one-off.

Ladies and gentlemen, a pandemic champion, an asterisk champion.

Jana Novotna, her former coach and mentor, who died in November 2017, won just one singles slam too, but she was a long-time force in the women's game. Indeed, Krejcikova left no doubt about her influence on Saturday's success.

But for those doubting Krejcikova's credentials, a little pause for thought.

Novotna won 14 of her 16 grand slam doubles titles before landing that elusive singles crown in 1998 at Wimbledon, and Krejcikova landed five doubles majors ahead of her own remarkable singles breakthrough.

Martina Navratilova, who handed Krejcikova the trophy, also won doubles titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open before she ever landed a singles major.

This is, to some extent, a well-worn path by Czech players. So there is more nuance here. And stuff first instincts. Perhaps, like Novotna and Navratilova before her, this Czech player might he here to stay at the highest level.

The 25-year-old from Brno has joined the ranks of those few champions who have won grand slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, and she will be up to 15th in the WTA rankings on Monday.

Krejcikova might be back at number one in the doubles rankings too, as she and partner Katerina Siniakova have a Roland Garros final on Sunday against Iga Swiatek – last year's singles champion – and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Win that, and Krejcikova will be on top of the world once more in the discipline where she has honed the tools that brought her glory at Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's expense in what proved a thoroughly absorbing singles final.

The slices, the drop shots, the lobs and the net approaches, and the double-handed backhand that flits between being weapon and weakness: all those shots were honed in doubles, mostly alongside Siniakova.

Krejcikova spoke at the trophy presentation of her giddy amazement that Justine Henin, the four-time French Open winner, knew who she was when they bumped into each other behind the scenes in Paris.

Navratilova chipped in.

"In 2014, when you found out Jana moved back to Brno, you had the courage to go knock on her door and ask her for help. What gave you that courage?" asked the player who won 59 majors, including 18 singles slams.

Krejcikova's reply? "My mum."

Bravo Mrs Krejcikova.

Krejcikova has spoken often about Novotna but here she opened up to explain how she had spent so much time with the great champion before her death.

Novotna had kept news of her cancer out of the public consciousness, but Krejcikova not only knew, she felt she owed her driving force to stay by her side throughout the illness.

"I was going through a really hard time when Jana was passing away," Krejcikova told the crowd.

"I was most of the time with her and I really wanted to experience this, because I thought this was going to make me really strong.

"And pretty much her last words were just, 'Enjoy and just try to win a grand slam'.

"I know that from somewhere she's looking after me and all of this, this two weeks, is pretty much because she's looking after me from up there.

"I just want to thank her. It was amazing I had a chance to meet her and she was such an inspiration to me. I just really miss her. I hope she's happy right now. I'm extremely happy."

Three mixed doubles titles – one with Nikola Mektic and two with Rajeev Ram – plus two women's doubles with Siniakova, and now a singles triumph.

Except we know Krejcikova does not feel alone on the court. She senses Novotna's guiding hand. This is a doubles partnership dressed up as a singles player.

Novotna, weeks after winning Wimbledon, her destiny ever since she wept on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after losing to Steffi Graf in the 1993 final, shed some light on what it meant for her.

"I felt enormous relief and I felt that now it seems like this would be a new beginning for me," Novotna said.

This is a new beginning for Krejcikova too. Never a factor in singles previously, she has properly arrived now. Like you always had to with Novotna, watch out for her at Wimbledon.

There are aspects to the Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez of 2021 that make them wonderfully reflective of the Uruguay national team.

Impassioned? Yes. Belligerent? Certainly. A footballing pedigree to rival the best in the world? Absolutely.

What about quality? After all those years, are they still match-winners, entertainers, undimmed by the passing of time? Of course they are. Just ask Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

Last August, Suarez was informed by new Barca coach Ronald Koeman that he would not be in his plans at Camp Nou. Too old to be relied upon, too expensive to bench seemed to be the feeling. Regardless, the Catalans reportedly had a list of teams to whom they would not sell Suarez for fear of the deal coming back to haunt them, a list that, apparently, inexplicably, did not include Atletico Madrid. He duly went to the capital on a two-year deal.

Likewise, Cavani seemed to be offloaded all too readily by PSG, who had just lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich and appeared eager to freshen things up without their record goalscorer. Manchester United were, eventually, the team to gamble on the striker, who joined on a one-year deal with an option for another in October, by which time the Red Devils had failed to sign top target Jadon Sancho and been linked with several other alternatives.

Both players, then, had a point to prove. Boy, did they prove it.

 

Suarez scored twice and set up another on his LaLiga debut for Atleti in a 6-1 win over Granada in September. He then scored three times for Uruguay in the October international break, and again in the 3-0 win at Colombia in November.

From December 19 to February 8, Suarez scored 11 goals in nine league games, including three braces in a run of four matches. He would end the season with winners against Osasuna and Real Valladolid, his 21 goals overall securing 21 points for Atleti throughout the campaign, the most of any player in the competition. And, of course, he won the title, for the fifth time in seven seasons.

Not that such a contribution should really have been in doubt. While he may no longer be quite the all-round dynamo of his Liverpool and early Barca days, his ruthlessness in the opposition box has scarcely diminished; since 2011-12, only Lionel Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top five leagues than Suarez (325).

 

Unlike his international team-mate, Cavani ended the club season empty-handed, despite scoring United's goal in the Europa League final with Villarreal, which they lost on penalties. Still, few could argue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's decision to sign him was a mistake.

Cavani did not play a full league game until December 29, and he served a three-game domestic ban for a social media post deemed racist by the Football Association, a decision decried as culturally insensitive in Uruguay. He still ended 2020-21 with 17 goals and five assists at a rate of one goal every 128 minutes, the best return of any United player. He also became the third Red Devil to score 10 or more Premier League goals in a single season in which he was 33 or older at the start (also Teddy Sheringham in 2000-01 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016-17), and he equalled the record of five substitute goals over a whole campaign held by Javier Hernandez (2010-11) and Solskjaer (1998-99).

In the Europa League last-four tie against Roma, Cavani became the first player to score at least twice in each leg of a major European semi-final since 1986, when Klaus Allofs did so for Cologne against KSV Waregem. He was also the oldest player to score twice and assist twice in a Champions League or Europa League match, at 34 years and 74 days old. No wonder Solskjaer was so desperate to see him accept the one-year extension to his contract, and was presumably so relieved when he did.

Cavani and Suarez finished 2020-21 on 22 and 24 direct goal involvements, respectively. Among South America players, only Messi (50), Luis Muriel (36), Duvan Zapata  (31), Lautaro Martinez (26) and Neymar (25) had more.

 

So they come, then, to the Copa America, as two of the remaining members of that squad that lifted the trophy in 2011. They have the form, and undoubtedly the pedigree; they are Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorers, Suarez on 63 and Cavani 51.

And yet Uruguay are often consigned to the also-rans when it comes to tournament predictions. While they have waited a decade to lift the trophy, they are the most successful team in the competition's history, with the most appearances (45) and titles (15), yet few will look beyond emergency hosts Brazil and Argentina as favourites or Chile and Colombia as outside bets.

Perhaps the problem lies in a perception of bluntness around Uruguay's play, far removed from the ideals of jogo bonito. Despite holding the most Copa America titles, Uruguay boast a worse goal-per-game average (2.02) at the tournament than Argentina or Brazil; somewhat fittingly, their last triumph a decade ago came in the worst finals for goalscoring (54 in 26, or 2.08 per match) since 1922 (22 in 11, or 2.00 per match). Oscar Tabarez's men have also gone three games without a goal since a 3-0 win over Colombia last November.

If only they had a couple of star strikers who have spent the past year defying the doubters...

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

At long last, after a 12-month delay and then so much uncertainty over the past few weeks, Copa America will start this weekend.

While the fact it is going ahead remains a bone of contention, with even Brazil players suggesting they are reluctantly playing it, Copa America is a tournament that rarely disappoints in terms of entertainment.

A bevvy of world-renowned stars such as Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi will be hoping to make the difference.

There will also be some less-familiar faces hoping to either establish themselves or introduce their names to a wider audience.

Stats Perform has identified seven players worth keeping an eye on over the next month.

Rodrigo de Paul, 27, central midfielder - Argentina

Perhaps the odd one out here given his age, but De Paul is certainly one to keep tabs on. Having just enjoyed a wonderful individual campaign with Udinese, the creative midfielder is eager on a move and will surely be keen to impress.

He had a hand in 18 Serie A goals this term (nine goals, nine assists), while his xA value (expected assists) of 10.3 was the best in the division, the 1.3 differential suggesting De Paul was occasionally let down by poor finishing.

Further to that, he also attempted (191) and completed (122) more dribbles than anyone else, so Argentina will look to him to drive them forward from midfield.

Moises Caicedo, 19, central midfielder - Ecuador

Caicedo joined Brighton and Hove Albion in January to much fanfare from South American experts, who assured Seagulls fans they were getting a future superstar.

He's yet to make a senior appearance in England, with Graham Potter patient regarding his adaptation, but the Copa America could give fans a chance to see him in action.

A well-rounded, all-action midfielder, Caicedo was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Emerson Royal, 22, right-back - Brazil

An impressive two-year spell at Real Betis has persuaded Barcelona to bring Emerson back to Camp Nou after a complicated three-way transfer in 2019.

He has proven himself to be both a dependable defender and a capable attacking outlet, his 10 assists over the past two seasons bettered by only one LaLiga defender (Jesus Navas, 13), while his 853 duels over the past two years is nearly 200 more than any other defender.

This paints a picture of an all-action defender who will work tirelessly up and down the right flank, and on the evidence of the past couple of years, it shouldn't take him too long to usurp Danilo as Brazil's primary option.

Yangel Herrera, 23, central midfielder - Venezuela

A long-term future for Herrera and parent club Manchester City looks unlikely, but he enjoyed a promising season with Granada in LaLiga – that coupled with a breakout tournament in Brazil could lead to promising suitors making their feelings known.

Herrera's a hard-working midfielder who made more tackle attempts (59) than any other Granada player this term, while it was a similar story with regards to duels (509) and duels won (261). Don't expect him to create much, but he's not shy about getting stuck in.

Jaminton Campaz, 21, left-winger - Colombia

Arguably the next big hope of the Colombian national team, Campaz only received his first call-up this month for the recent World Cup qualifiers. Although he did not get on the pitch, his inclusion in the squad was well-received among fans.

Colombia great Carlos Valderrama was among them as he urged the 21-year-old to grasp the opportunity in a post on his official Twitter account.

A livewire on the left flank, Colombia may look to his explosiveness and trickery should games remain tight in the latter stages.

Julio Enciso, 17, attacking midfielder - Paraguay

The youngest player at the 2021 Copa America, Enciso has already played 24 top-flight matches back home for Libertad and was briefly the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century with his goal against Jorge Wilstermann last year when still 16.

A good dribbler and not shy to take a shot, Enciso has been used almost everywhere across the front for Libertad and could be an interesting wildcard option for Paraguay.

Carlos Palacios, 20, right-winger - Chile

Earlier this year, Palacios made the jump to Brazil when he joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola, where he had developed into one of Chile's most-promising young players as a lively winger.

While he's yet to score for his new club, he proved in Chile that he has a penchant for a spectacular goal one or two, while his regular appearances for Internacional have exposed him to a far greater standard of football.

Aston Villa have confirmed the signing of Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City in a club-record transfer.

The Midlands club saw off competition from Arsenal to sign the 24-year-old for a fee believed to be in the region of £35million with a further £5m of add-ons also included in the deal.

Reacting to the news, Villa manager Dean Smith told the club's official website: "Emiliano has just completed an outstanding season in a Championship-winning Norwich side with 31 combined goals and assists and was named Player of the Season across the league.

"He is equally capable as a wide attacker or as a number 10 and is a great addition to our attacking options. We are delighted to have made such an exciting signing so early in the summer and look forward to Emi joining up with us for a full pre-season."

As Smith alludes to, Buendia was named Championship Player of the Year for his part in Norwich's successful promotion a year after dropping down from the top flight.

And, while £35m may sound like a significant fee for a player whose most recent campaign was in the second tier, it is easy to see why Buendia has commanded such an outlay.

Impressive despite relegation

When Norwich were relegated last year, it was a widely held belief that they had several players who were likely to stay in the Premier League by joining other teams.

While Ben Godfrey was sold for approximately £25m to Everton and Jamal Lewis moved to Newcastle United, Norwich managed to keep hold of their other major assets: Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and, perhaps crucially, Buendia.

That they were able to resist the sale of Buendia was arguably the most surprising of all, considering he had enjoyed a promising debut campaign in the Premier League.

His ability to find and exploit pockets of space made him a real creative nuisance and something of an anomaly as well, given he – a player in a relegated team – was up there with the league's best in key creative metrics

 

Buendia created 55 shooting opportunities in open play in 2019-20, a figure that only Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Sadio Mane could better. He was level with Mohamed Salah and ahead of Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, among others.

His seven assists, only one of which came from a set-piece situation, was another notable feat, and his 6.2 expected assists (xA) figure suggests he was not benefiting from astonishing luck throughout the season either. He was simply a very effective creator.

Learning on the job

It would have been easy to write Buendia's Premier League season off as a fluke. There must have been those expecting him to endure a disappointing 2020-21 back in the Championship, perhaps a consequence of not getting a move away.

After all, he did have a spell out of the Norwich team in 2019-20, with Norwich boss Daniel Farke suggesting there were concerns over his work rate and lack of goals.

"Believe me there is probably no-one here in this room who knows [better] how good Emi is and how big his potential is," Farke said in February 2020. "If he is just there with 95 per cent [effort] then it was definitely possible to bring him back [into the team] at Championship level and he could still make the difference.

"But at this [Premier League] level, let's be honest when he is not 100 prepared — you could realise it at Newcastle when we brought him in. Not to accuse him but our game looked poorer when we brought him in.

 

"When I think about his ability to assist, he is already there with seven. It is perhaps not world class on this level for a winger, but for our level it is top class and it is the best of all our players in these terms. Let's be honest, we've had the 26th game day and he is there with no goals. There are several losses of the ball and also sometimes he lacks running in behind."

But Buendia stuck around, seemingly accepting he still had plenty to learn, and his improvement in front of goal has been notable.

In the Premier League he averaged just 1.46 shots per game, but he has more than doubled that frequency to three every 90 minutes in the Championship, likely a consequence of the fact he has spent more time in the central areas of the pitch and closer to the penalty area.

 

As a result, his goals haul shot up from one to 15 and his xG of 11.8 shows that, while he may have been lucky on occasions, he would still have expected to reach double figures. Even if you take into consideration the drop in quality from the Premier League to the Championship, that is still a commendable improvement and highlights his willingness to take on criticism and use it to better himself.

Creating his own luck?

Buendia's even greater tendency to work centrally seemed to benefit his creative talents as well. As shown in his xA map, many of his 16 assists came from the middle vertical of the attacking half.

 

Granted, he has outperformed his 9.3 xA (open play) by approximately seven, which is significant and suggests some of those assists have benefited from particularly good finishing or a slice of fortune, yet his overall xA of 12.4 is still at least four more than any other player in the Championship this term.

Similarly, his 93 key passes in open play was – remarkably – 31 more than anyone else in the division.

 

It will be intriguing to see what role Buendia is deployed in at Villa and whether both he and Grealish are compatible in the same side. Even if they line up on opposite flanks, they will want to do much of their work in similar areas as they drift inside.

But regardless of any potential teething issues, Buendia looks set to be another smart acquisition by Villa – and potentially the one who got away for Arsenal.

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gave Argentina vital time as they sought to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

Rather than an international tournament, Messi spent the last close-season negotiating his next move – which ultimately meant staying in Catalonia. His contract is up again in 2021, but the legendary forward must also negotiate the rearranged Copa this time.

Realistically, this tournament and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – the late Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds was a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core.

Goals in the early stages of World Cup qualifying this season have been slightly more sparse – six in four games – but Argentina have still taken 10 points to remain unbeaten, second to Brazil in the standings.

Lautaro Martinez has been involved in half of those qualifying goals (two goals, one assist) and has now firmly established himself as the number one option at centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing.

Going slightly further back, since Scaloni first took charge, the Inter star has 11 goals in 20 games – averaging one every 120.3 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 7.8. Messi has six goals at 193.7 minutes per goal from an xG of 8.0 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, as evidenced by that slightly more ordinary return, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has to date during his 100-game Serie A career (37 goals at one every 172.4 minutes).

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero – a regular until Martinez came to the fore – may still have a role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. But Scaloni has come to rely on new faces as he quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of three years ago into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties.

A pair of substitute appearances in November were Di Maria's first international outings since being dropped during the Copa. Paulo Dybala is fit again but seemingly now no longer even a bench option in the coach's eyes.

Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul, whose 122 completed dribbles led Serie A this season, while his 18 goal involvements (nine goals, nine assists) ranked joint-third among midfielders.

Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes has started alongside De Paul in each qualifier to date, and Giovani Lo Celso has two assists in just 159 minutes of international action this season.

Disappointingly, winger Nicolas Gonzalez has been dogged by thigh injuries since scoring twice in November. With a goal every 155.8 minutes in the Bundesliga this term, he had been one of those set to profit from the Copa's new date.

Selection has also been consistent in defence this season, but German Pezzella's ill-timed injury absence meant Lucas Martinez Quarta was the Fiorentina defender allowed to settle in the heart of the back line.

Pezzella – a stand-in captain for the national team not so long ago – remains the main man in Florence, playing 32 league games to Martinez's 21, yet his younger colleague averages more tackles (1.9), interceptions (2.4) and blocks (0.6) per 90 minutes.

It looks like a case of either/or next to Nicolas Otamendi and his frequent reversions to slapstick, although Atalanta duo Cristian Romero and Jose Luis Palomino are also both now in the mix.

Elsewhere, despite the new call-ups – Emiliano Buendia is another debut option but has been plying his trade in the Championship – Scaloni's reliance on a steady XI might hint at a lack of depth. When the Copa was delayed by 12 months, one of world football's heavyweights might have hoped for more than the development of Inter's second-best striker and a wealth of defensive options in the meantime.

Instead, the narrative remains frustratingly familiar: Argentina need Messi to fire.

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

Jose Mourinho on borrowed time

Tottenham Hotspur has been struggling in the Premier League and there is speculation Jose Mourinho’s days at the club are numbered. Their 20/21 season has been atrocious and looks likely to miss out on Champions League qualification for a second consecutive season, having previously played in the competition four times in a row.

With six games left in the Premier League, Spurs are five points off fourth-placed West Ham. The team’s decline has been evident after its 3-1 defeat at home to Liverpool on January 28. They have lost seven of the following 14 Premier League games after that, they won five matches and drew two, conceding 21 goals, one less than they scored.

To make matters worse, Mourinho’s side exited the FA Cup in the fifth round with defeat at Everton and then collapsed in Croatia throwing away a 2-0 first-leg lead to lose 3-2 on aggregate at Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League.

What is clear is that Mourinho is failing to get the best out of his players. When asked about his team’s poor run his response, “Same coach, different players”, suggests that there is also discontent in the dressing room.

Paul Pogba, who was Mourinho’s world-record marquee signing following his 2016 appointment at Old Trafford accused the former Manchester United manager of casting players, including himself, aside without explanation.

Former English footballer Danny Mills claimed that Jose Mourinho is preoccupied with protecting Tottenham’s backline and it has affected his selection decisions farther up the pitch.

 “Mourinho has continued to chop and change his centre-back partnerships over the last few months, with all of Tottenham’s centre-halves being guilty of some poor mistakes at the back,” Mills opined.

As of now, it seems the Special One is not that special anymore.

 

Time for Harry Kane to win a Premier League title

Despite Tottenham Hotspur’s woes Harry Kane continues to stand out for his club. He is currently the leading goal scorer for the Premier League but is yet to win a title. He’s now scored 20 or more league goals in five different seasons, a feat accomplished only by Alan Shearer, Sergio Aguero and Thierry Henry.

 Despite his productivity, it is unlikely that Kane will win a title at Spurs. They are not going to make the Champions League next season and nobody knows for sure what the future holds.

At age 28, Kane must make the move before it is too late. There will be clubs interested in signing him including the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City, both good options.

  Manchester United needs a Europa League win

Manchester United is set to face Roma and is favourite to win the Europa League given the quality of their opponents and their form at this point in the season. United beat Granada 2-0 at Old Trafford on Thursday to complete a 4-0 aggregate success and set up a semi-final against Roma, who edged Ajax 3-2 on aggregate and are outsiders to lift the trophy.

United have not lifted silverware since 2017 but can end that drought if they are successful in the Europa League this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hoping to make it fifth-time lucky after United fell short in four semi-finals across last season and this.

United beat Ajax in the 2017-final in Sweden and to many, they are a better side now than they were then and have shown consistently this season that they have what it takes this season to beat some of the top teams in Europe.

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

   A 2021 risk-free IPL sets the stage for T20 World Cup.

The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League, IPL is off to a competitive start despite concerns over spikes in Covod-19 infections in India. India has averaged 90,000 new infections daily but the richest T20 tournament has proceeded with eight teams playing 52 games at six venues.

On April 1, India became the second country after the U.S to report 100,000 new cases in a single day.

Before the start of the tournament, four cricketers and a team consultant tested positive for Covid-19 and were isolated. In addition, 10 members of the ground staff at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium tested positive.

The stadium has been earmarked to host 10 games, and as such, the number of infected grounds men raised questions regarding the tournament being played in six cities when spectators are not allowed.

There is no doubt that managing these bubbles will be difficult but once executed properly it will go some way into reassuring organizers of the ICC men’s T20 World Cup scheduled for October.

Cancelling the tournament would cause massive financial losses and have a potentially disastrous ripple effect if a large number of players become infected. The spillover could significantly impact India’s cricket calendar which includes 14 tests, 12 ODI’s, 22 T20’s as well as the World T20.

What is making a difference are the vaccines that are now available.

  Real Madrid looks dangerous.

Saturday’s El Clasico had a bit of everything as defending La Liga champions Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium to move to the top of the table.

There was controversy, yellow cards, goals, rain, and a thrilling end.

Los Blancos, fresh of their 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool on Tuesday, went into the match with similar energy. When Karim Benzema scored the opening goal, his ninth in the last seven games, he became one of four Real Madrid players to ever score in consecutive El Clasico encounters joining Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Toni Kroos doubled the lead before half-time and even though Óscar Mingueza García pulling one back late in the second half, Real Madrid was simply tactically superior.

 The firepower and finesse displayed by Real Madrid clearly demonstrate that they are not ready to concede the title without a fight.

  Draymond Green knows better and should do better.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green last Thursday said his tweets about the pay disparity between men and women’s sports have been “misconstrued”. “I am on their side,” he declared.

His response came after U.S women’s soccer team star Megan Rapinoe lashed out saying Green’s tweets were “unfortunate” and that she expected he would have had a more informed opinion.

In his tweets posted on March 27, Green blamed women for making “complaints rather than taking action to reduce the pay gap between men and women playing the same sport.  Green’s response that they want the same thing is not enough.

Initially, I found his tweets quite alarming, especially his use of the word “complaints” because he comes from a household where his mother Mary Baker is very expressive and he has been cited saying he has adopted that quality from her. There is no doubt that Green wants to see the women thrive but he can do better.

The first step to allyship is listening and then assisting. The first response of posting on Twitter did more harm than good.  The fact that he is now the centre of the conversation shifts the focus from the issue of wage parity. It would be only fair that Green use his political capital and resources to assist where he can.

 

 

 

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

 

 Positive signs for Windies batting

West Indies batting has been a matter of concern, especially in the Test format for some time.

As recently, as of July 2020 when West Indies faced England in three Tests, the Jamaica Observer newspaper blared the headline “West Indies bowlers undermined by batting woes” a sentiment shared by many newspapers in cricket-loving nations around the world.

After winning the first Test against England, the West Indies only survived 70.1 overs in the second innings of the second Test. It was even worse in the second innings of the third Test when they lasted a mere 37.1 overs as England completed a 269-run win in Manchester.

However, against Bangladesh and in the just concluded test series against Sri Lanka, the Windies have shown signs of improvement.

Generally speaking, West Indies batsmen do not face enough balls and hence give their wickets away cheaply. Against Sri Lanka, there was a refreshing change in attitude and application.

In the final Test, Captain Kraigg Brathwaite made 126 in the first innings- his ninth Test century, his first as captain and 85 in the second. In all, the skipper batted 813 minutes, the most in a Test for the Windies. In that time, he faced 507 balls, the joint-most by a West Indian in a Test match since Brian Lara's 400* off 582 balls against England in 2004.

Similarly, Kyle Mayers and Jason Holder each spent time at the crease while setting a 377-run target for Sri Lanka. Mayers faced 76 balls for his 55 while Holder scored 71 not out off 88 balls.

In the first Test, Nkrumah Bonner’s maiden century of 113* was an exercise in patience and determination. Batting at number three, the 32-year-old Jamaican faced 274 balls in more than seven hours at the crease.

 There is still a lot of work to be done but the early evidence suggests that the West Indies batsman might finally be on the right path.

 

 Sergio Aguero still has value

 It has been confirmed by Premier League club Manchester City that Sergio Aguero will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.

However, this does not mean that his career has come to an end.

This season has been a challenging one for the striker, who has had to endure injury, Covid-19, and lack of game time. In his 14 appearances, he has started nine games and scored three goals.

Despite his struggles, he is arguably the best non-English striker to grace the Premier League and the numbers speak for themselves. Aguero is the fourth highest goal scorer in the Premier League history with 181 goals. He also leads the statistics in the rate of scoring in English top-flight football since 1992.

Aguero’s famous goal in injury time against QPR in 2012 when he clinched the club’s first English title in 44 years, is one for the books. Overall, he has helped The Citizens to four Premier League titles, one FA Cup and five League Cups.

Though slowed by age and injury, in Saturday’s game against Leicester City, he worked hard off the ball and contributed to his side’s win, something he has done constantly during his incredible career at Manchester City.

His boots will not be easily filled as was made clear by Pep Guardiola.

“I want to be clear. Maybe we'll find a new player to replace Sergio. In terms of numbers, he might be replaced, but in terms of what he means to the club, it is impossible.” 

 

Why are super teams an issue for some in the NBA?

The news of LaMarcus Aldridge joining the Brooklyn Nets did not sit well with many Los Angeles Lakers fans with many saying the Nets are so desperate for a championship they are buying one. Lakers superstar Le Bron James’ son Bronny also weighed in tweeting, “All this to stop a 36-year-old man in Year 18.”

LA Lakers CEO and owner Jeanie Buss, who sees the move as making the NBA a more compelling product said, “So, bring it on.”   

Personally, I see nothing wrong with the Nets creating a super team because LeBron has done the same many times in the past.

In fact, LeBron created his own super team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami Heat in 2010-2011. He also helped assemble Kevin Love Kyrie Irving for the championship-winning Cleveland Cavaliers.

 And while the Nets signed the talented LeMarcus Aldridge it is important to note that the Lakers also recently signed two-time all-star centre Andre Drummond, who is averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds this season despite having not played since February 12.

 

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

 

Bonner’s maiden test century was worth the wait.

West Indies all-rounder Nkrumah Bonner’s maiden century in the first Test against Sri Lanka helped the team play to a draw in the match that looked like it had slipped away from the home team. Batting at number three, the 32-year-old Jamaican scored 113 not out to achieve what he described as his childhood dream.

After winning the toss the home side bowled out Sri Lanka for 169. In reply, the Windies scored 271 for a lead 102 runs. Sri Lanka scored a massive 476 in their second innings which left the home side requiring 375 for an unlikely victory.

Entering the on 34-1, still 340 runs behind, only two results seemed likely – a Sri Lanka win or a draw. Bonner helped to achieve the latter as the West Indies were 236-4 when play was called off.

It is notable that Bonner came into this series in good form from the 2-0 Test series win over Bangladesh earlier in February. He was named Man of the Series having produced scores of 17, 86,90 and 30.

In the West Indies first turn at bat against Sri Lanka, Bonner scored 31 but was not happy with his performance. Recognizing that there was a problem, he sought and received the help that saw him produce his unbeaten century that prevented the West Indies from slipping to defeat.

 T&T’s Soca Warriors victory is exactly what they needed

Trinidad and Tobago’s 3-0 victory over Guyana their opening 2022 CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers on Thursday, was exactly what the team needed to lift their spirits.

 Prior to the match, T&T’s preparations were limited and were forced to play away from home because of their government’s pandemic protocols that kept their borders closed.

 Additionally, T&T has had many off-field issues including a FIFA imposed suspension after a protracted battle with the football’s governing body. Then, just days before the qualifiers were to begin, head coach Terry Fenwick and Director of Communications Shaun Fuentes were alleged to have been involved in a physical altercation.

On form, the team was coming off a 7-0 thrashing from the United States 7-0 in January.

With this in mind, the 3-0 victory over Guyana, was a welcome respite that gave Fenwick his first official win as national coach.

The coach, who said he was incredibly pleased with the team’s performance, will want to keep the momentum in the second qualifier away to Puerto Rico. 

Trinidad and Tobago will be heading into the match against Puerto Rico in high spirits as it would go a long way to shifting the narrative away from off-field woes.

 

#INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah Ramharack On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they've seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah

  Barring injury, Manchester City on track for a quadruple.\

Based on current form Manchester City is on course to secure four titles – the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, and the Carabao Cup.

The Citizens possess depth, quality and mental fortitude and guided by the tactical genius Pep Guardiola to sweep all that lies before them. In all competitions this season, Man City has won 25 of their last 26 games, their only defeat coming against Manchester United, who beat them 2-0 on March 7.

However, Guardiola will remind his players that there is no room for complacency as they have not won anything, yet. He will also be hoping that his players steer clear of injury during the international break.

Other than their silky smooth passing that break teams down with regularity, Manchester City have been blessed with an unyielding defence, which will be key to their success in the Champions League.

The first task will be overcoming German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals.

In the Premier League, City winning the title looks inevitable as with nine games to go, they hold a healthy 14-point lead over Manchester United who has 57 points.

The Manchester-based juggernauts have also sealed a place in the FA semi-finals following their recent 2-0 win over Everton. They are also set to face the inconsistent Tottenham Hot Sput in the Carabao Cup.

After a difficult start to the season, Manchester City has hit top form at the right time and as their genius coach explained, the secret to success is simple.

“It is not just tactics, it’s mental-being ready every game,” he said.

 

India showed its quality against England in the T20I series

India and England were locked at 2-2 heading into Sunday’s final T20I match of their closely fought series and the final match was no different.

 However, India showed their tremendous quality and class in securing a victory that was not as close as the scores suggested.

Sent to bat, India posted 224-2 in their 20 overs. It was a total that overwhelmed England, who fell short scoring 188-8 in 20 overs.

Opening the innings with Rohit Sharma, skipper Virat Kohli led from the front and was there at the end, scoring an unbeaten 80 not out from 52 balls, which prompted commentator Ian Bishop to tweet, “I would love to see Kohli open more often, especially when India bat first in T20I.”

The Indian captain and Sharma and Kohli mounted a 94-run partnership that laid the foundation for India’s mammoth score.

Sharma went on the attack early smashing 64 from 34 balls while Kohli supported from the other end.

Suryakumar Yadav’s 32 from 17 and Hardik Pandya’s unbeaten 39 not out ensured that India never lost momentum while Kohli played the perfect anchor taking over at the end to push India well beyond 200 runs.

 It was then the turn of their bowlers to defend the total on an excellent batting strip and they duly obliged. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the difference maker taking 2-15 in his four overs. Shardul Thakur took 3-45 as England struggled to stay close to the required run rate.

“It was a complete game for us. We totally outplayed the opposition,” said Kohli afterwards. “The fact Rishabh and Shreyas didn’t get the chance to bat and still got close 230, is testament to how we did with the bat.”  

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

 

England is among the T20 World Cup favourites.

 It is no secret that England has put a lot of focus on white-ball cricket in the last eight years. The results were clear when they trampled South Africa at the end of 2020 winning all three T20 games. It was at that point; they rose to the number one T20 team in the world. 

 Since then, they have dominated in this format of the game, having won their last five T20I and eight of their last T20I series overall. Despite struggles with their batting during the recently concluded Test series against India, it is evident that the English possess firepower in their T20 lineup.

 In the ongoing T20I against India, opener Jason Roy appears to be in great form, having blasted 49 of 32 balls. David Malan, who averages an excellent average of 54 in T20I, is also an asset with 24 from 20 balls while remaining not out.

 In this shorter format of the game, England’s rest and rotation policy has worked to their advantage and has been endorsed by England’s T20 captain Eoin Morgan.

One notable example of the benefit of their rotation policy is the performance of England’s pace bowler Jofra Archer. Having struggled with an elbow injury, the 25-year-old Archer missed two Tests in England’s 3-1 series defeat by India, he returned taking in 3 for 23 in the first T20I. 

The England Cricket and Wales Cricket Board has also maximized the benefits of having their players in the Indian Premier League. The ECB has made provisions for 13 of their players in this year’s IPL even at the expense of missing the first Test of the summer. 

“As a white-ball captain planning towards World Cups, certainly over the last five years, we’ve used it ( the IPL) and benefitted from it hugely in the development of our players and the confidence that we’ve built in the changing room in guys like Ben Stokes and Jos Butler going there and being MVP and bringing the knowledge they’ve learnt into our dressing room,” said Morgan is endorsing the move to allow their players the opportunity to play in the IPL.

A combination of all these factors places England among the favourites for the ICC T20 World Cup.

  Welcome back Shai Hope

West Indies right-hand batsman Shai Hope announced his return to international last Wednesday with his 10th ODI century as West Indies beat Sri Lanka by 8 wickets at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.

Due to a lack of form, Hope was dropped for the West Indies tour of New Zealand. He missed the tour of Bangladesh after he was infected by the Covid-19 virus.

However, while his Test form has been poor, Hope has been among the best batsmen in the world in the 50-over version of the game.

In ODIs, he continues to stamp his authority, having amassed 3483 runs at an average of 53.58. The 27-year-old hit a brilliant century in the first T20 match against Sri Lanka and maintained that form in the second match ODI, scoring 84 from 104 balls.

His maturity opening the innings for the West Indies has helped his team and the fact that the West Indies have been winning recently and he has the backing of Captain Kieron Pollard, would have helped his confidence.

“For us in the white-ball cricket Hope is the guy. He has been given a role he gives us a foundation and others can bat around him. In one day, cricket, he’s been fantastic,” Pollard said after Hope’s century in the first ODI.

Hope will now be banking transferring his form to Test cricket where he could be a boon for the West Indies for the foreseeable future.

 

INCASEYOUMISSEDIT with Mariah

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they've seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

 

 Pollard, a master of the shorter cricket formats

Kieron Pollard is proving to be a game-changer in the shorter formats of cricket. The 33-year-old West Indies captain has been criticized for failing at the international level but his recent exploits for the West Indies have silenced the naysayers.

Pollard made a mockery of Sri Lanka’s spinner Akila Dananjaya at the Coolidge Cricket Stadium in Antigua, blasting him for six sixes in a single over. In his previous over, the Sri Lankan had snapped up a hat-trick - removing Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle (0) and Nicholas Pooran (0) - triggering panic within the Windies camp as they chased 132 for victory.

Fresh from leading the T&T Red Force to victory in the 2021 CG Insurance Super50 Cup, Pollard smashed 38 from 11 balls to put his team back into the driver’s seat.

Pollard’s accomplishment puts him in elite company. Before him, only South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs against the Netherlands at the 2007 ICC World Cup and India's Yuvraj Singh against England at the Twenty20 World Cup, have ever achieved that feat in international cricket.

What is next for Pollard? Only time will tell.

 

  England’s rotation policy did more damage than good

England’s 3-1 Test series defeat in India was not only because of their rotation policy but it played a major part. The tourists lost the final Test by an innings and 25 runs after being bowled out for 135 in their second innings.

Despite understanding that the rotation policy is there to manage the health of the players, it is hurting the overall performance of the team.

Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes have all been rested at different times during the series and it backfired. 

Jos Buttler was rested after the first Test. Bairstow was rested for the first two Tests and then sent to bat at number three in the last two matches. In Bairstow’s case, he suffered greatly registering three ducks in four innings on his return.

Moeen Ali was recalled for the second Test in India, just before he was scheduled to miss the last two as part of a planned rest, taking the place of Dom Bess. When Bess was re-introduced into the team for the final Test it was evident that the off-spinner lacked confidence thereby resulting in him bowling numerous full tosses.

 

England was one of the teams in the race to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship but have now lost the opportunity. 

 

 

 

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they've seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah

 Big names in Windies T20 and ODI squads; execution will be the key.

Last Friday, West Indies named T20I and ODI squads as they get ready for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka beginning on March 3 in Antigua. These matches will serve as preparation for the team that hopes to successfully defend the ICC T20 World Cup title in India later this year. On paper, the team looks strong. However, teamwork will be among the keys to success for Kieron Pollard’s men.

The recall of Chris Gayle and Fidel Edwards did not come as a surprise as the selectors believe both still have a lot to offer. The 41-year-old Gayle last played for the Windies in 2019 when he scored 72 against India in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The Universe Boss is heading into the series against Sri Lanka in good form. Before he returned to the Caribbean, Gayle had scores of 39 and 68, playing for the Quetta Gladiators against the Karachi Kings and Lahore Qualanders, respectively.

Gayle’s experience will prove invaluable to the West Indies having scored 13,691 runs in T20I with 22 hundreds. His influence in the dressing room is also expected to be a significant factor.

Edwards returns to the team after an absence of nine years but at 39, he is still able to generate 90mph deliveries that CWI will hope he uses to add to his 26 T20I scalps.

Experience aside, the selectors have included a number of younger players who are expecting to make their debuts during the series. Guyana’s Kevin Sinclair and Trinidad’s Akeal Hosein impressed with recent performances in Bangladesh and during the CG Insurance Super 50 competition.

Both players played in the finals of the Super 50 tournament on which the 21-year-old Sinclair picked up five wickets and scored 47 runs for the Guyana Jaguars. Hosein impressed for the Trinidad Red Force taking eight wickets at a miserly economy rate of 4.18.

The mixture of youth and experience will need a strong leader and the West Indies are blessed with that in the form of Kieron Pollard, who in recent months, won the CPL and the Super50 and had a leadership role in the Mumbai Indians winning the IPL late last year.

His wisdom, experience and will to win will be key to any success the Windies have against the Sri Lankans and future series.

“Winning is the only thing,” he said after claiming the Super50 title on Saturday. It is imperative his team believes that as well.

 

 Red Force too hot to handle!

The Trinidad and Tobago Red Force won all seven of their matches to lift the Sir Clive Lloyd Trophy on Saturday after smashing the Guyana Jaguars by 152 runs in the final at the Coolidge Cricket Ground.

The aptly named Red Force scored an imposing 362-5 and then restricted Jaguars to 210 from 43.5 overs.

It was an all-around team effort that resulted in the domination of a strong Jaguars team.

Lendl Simmons saved his best performance with the bat for the final scoring 146, the highest score in a 50-over final and he was supported by Evin Lewis’ 57, 47 from Dwayne Bravo and a quick-fire 39 from Nicholas Pooran.

Their bowlers, led by Ravi Rampaul’s 4-52 and Jayden Seales, who picked up 3-40 and Anderson Phillip 2-40 decimated the opponent’s batting notwithstanding a courageous unbeaten 97 from Raymon Reifer.

The team’s dominance came down to the consistency of each member. Jason Mohammed was the highest run-scorer with 327. He scored a century (122) and averaged an excellent 81.75 for the tournament. Lewis, who had a high score of 107, was the second-highest run-scorer with 318 at an average of 45.42.

Simmons was also among the top-five run-scorer for the 2020 champions and was the only batsman with more than one century in the tournament.

The veteran Ravi Rampaul’s 14 wickets were the second-best haul for the tournament, just three behind fellow finalist Gudakesh Motie’s 17 for the Jaguars.  However, all their bowlers contributed to the team’s success this season.

Leave the NBA logo as it is else change it to Michael Jordan!

The NBA logo is a timeless classic, a representation of love and respect for the game. It remains a silhouette of Lakers great Jerry West since 1969.

However, in recent times, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has called for it to be changed to an image of late Laker great Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, and whose contributions to the game cannot be accurately quantified.

“Gotta Happen, idc what anyone says,” Irving said on Instagram.

Irving’s call has been endorsed by Bryant’s widow Vanessa.

 While I understand the call for the change, it must be noted the G.O.A.T discussion in the NBA starts and ends with Michael Jordan, a person who Kobe admired greatly.  Having played 15 seasons and winning six championships with the Bulls, he should be considered as the logo replacement.

Apart from the statistics which are compelling - 11 All-Star teams, 5 MVP awards, 10 scoring titles – Jordan’s killer instinct and obsession with winning are qualities that embody the NBA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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