Rajasthan Royals Training Session!

I recently had the good fortune and privilege to attend the Rajasthan Royals’ training camp at Jaipur. I could actually see all the players right in front of my eyes, running, catching, throwing, talking, laughing. It was like a dream come true for me. The players were within 10 meters from me. Imagine my joy when the best Test batsman in the world, Steve Smith waved back to me after I waved to him still in shock of seeing all these supergiants of modern cricket right in front of me! In this blog, I’m going to tell you about some observations that I made about the camp, how it would affect the team and how they play.

It was clearly visible that Krishnappa Gowtham was the joker in the squad. He was trying to gel with everyone. He kept making jokes with Sanju Samson, calling him a ‘pit bull trying to run’ at one point of time. He was doing the drills with captain Rahane first, and then with Stuart Binny. He wasn’t particularly excelling at any exercise but was definitely helping to create a positive atmosphere. He was also engaging in discussions with the physio, so he might have picked up a niggle during training. Still, I am sure that he is definitely in the starting 11 for the opening match.

Steve Smith was there to train right from the start even though he was recently injured. It looked like he had recovered physically, but not mentally. The wonderful athlete that he is, he was leading in all the drills, but it wasn’t looking like he was giving his all. He was looking a little forlorn which could be because the whole controversy surrounding him with the ball-tampering incident. After being away from the highest stage for a whole year, he will take some time to get to his original level.

Rahane was not behaving like a captain should. Even though he was doing all the drills well, he was not trying to encourage the more younger members of the squad. He performed most of the drills with youth batsman Prashant Chopra who is a backup for the No.4 position. Rahane did not speak a single word, and that leadership flair was missing. However, he led RR well last year and they will hope for a captaincy performance like that again.

The player who was leading all the races was Mahipal Lomror, the local Rajasthan all-rounder. He might get a chance to play, but it is a long shot. Aryaman Birla was on the field much before the rest of the team and was talking to the coach the whole time. They might have been working on his batting techniques. Varun Aaron was doing fielding drills, while Dhawal Kulkarni was nowhere to be seen. This might be a hint that Varun Aaron might play as RR’s third pacer instead of Kulkarni. I was wondering where Rahul Tripathi is when he ran in wearing last year’s practice jersey. It took him around 2 seconds to realise that he was wearing the wrong jersey. Everyone laughed and made fun of him and that was a great team bonding moment. The fast bowling coach Steffan Jones was handling all the practices and he was the one coaching all the players. I could also see the spin bowling coach Siraj Bahutule on the sidelines.

Overall, it was a great experience and I learnt quite a bit about how teams train and how players communicate and prepare for every sort of situation that might come up during a match. Thank you for reading!

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Bayern Vs Liverpool – Second Leg Preview

Tonight Bayern Munich and Liverpool will square off in the Allianz Arena at Munich. The first leg at Anfield ended in a somewhat uninteresting 0-0 draw. After that match, both teams must have gone home happy with the result. Now that the second leg has rolled around, I think that Bayern will be the happier of the two teams.

Last night’s matches were both one-sided, yet interesting. The Juventus-Atletico matchup was almost certain to end in a penalty shoot out but from out of nowhere, Cristiano Ronaldo came in with a hat-trick Of 3 goals, and completely turned the game around. Despite all the odds being stacked up against them, Juve have qualified for the quarters, thanks to their star player Ronaldo. On the other hand, Manchester City completely demolished Schalke. They beat them 7-0 at home. This just goes to show that Man City are serious this year and are aiming for a Premier League win along with a Champions League top 4 finish. And with the way they are playing, they might just get both of these. Coming back to tonight’s clash:-

Bayern Munich

Bayern started the season disastrously. At a point of time they were 8th on the points table in the Bundesliga. Nothing seemed to be working for them and players were not clicking. Thy have worked their way out of this slump now. Since the tie against Liverpool in February, they have won all of their matches, scored 11 goals in their last 2 games and kept a clean sheet in almost all of them. Needless to say, their attacking lineup is doing great. Led by the lethal Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s strikers are sure to give the Liverpool defenders things to worry about. Franck Ribery too is in stellar form notching up a hat trick of assists in the recent 6-0 win against Wolfsburg. Even though the team is in top form, a few of their best players are missing too. Joshua Kimmich, who was the man of the match for me in the last match, is suspended. Thomas Müller is suspended too. These losses will surely hurt Bayern’s chances, but they have the skill to power through it all.

LiverpoolLiverpool, on the other hand, has had a contrasting fortune after the draw in the first leg. All 3 of their latest away games have ended in draws. This has hurt their chances in the Premier League title race. This trait of failing to win away from home will stand in the way of qualification to the next round. They have some new additions to the team who did not play last time. Their Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk is the most important addition to this match. He is being regarded as one of the best, or possibly The best defender in the whole world right now. He needs to prove it to be true by stepping up for his team and performing.

Starting Lineups

Bayern

Liverpool

Prediction (A Little Biased😜)

Being a big fan of Bayern, I think that Bayern is going to win this 2-1 or 1-0. Even though Liverpool is a good team, I do not think any team has the caliber of beating Bayern right now with the form they are in. The best chance Liverpool has is going through in away goals, which also seems a little improbable. Thank you for reading!

Juventus Vs Atletico Madrid – Preview

After Juve’s disastrous 2-0 defeat to Atletico at the Metropolitana at Madrid, Atletico are now visiting Juventus at Turin for the second leg of this Champions League Last 16 matchup. The last time, Jose Gimenez and captain Diego Godin’s late goals helped the Spanish giants to claw their way to a victory against Cristiano Ronaldo’s side. This time around, things won’t be the same as now Juventus has the home advantage and stats show that Atletico has a history of not doing that well in away games.

Before we start, we need to understand what Juventus will need if they are to qualify for the next round. As they are currently down by a difference of 2 goals, they will need a victory of at least a margin of 2. Even if they achieve that, a 3-1 or a 4-2 victory won’t do. This is because Atletico Madrid will have gotten ahead on away goals. Remember that Juventus had scored no goals in the away tie against Atletico. That is why, if Atletico get even one goal in, Juventus will have to score 4 goals or more to secure a victory on aggregate.

Juventus

Juventus has their work cut out for them. They need to get at least a 2 goal victory. Atletico does not let in a lot of goals, specially in big games like these, so their best bet would be to grab on to a 2-0 victory and force extra-time. They have players who can take penalties well, so that will help matters. Ronaldo has been stellar in the Serie A but has failed to impress in the Champions League this season. He will be itching to get that much needed breakthrough for his side. Juve recruited Ronaldo so they could win the Champions League, if he fails today, he is going to have failed at the most important task he had to do for his new club.

Atletico Madrid

The possible injury of their captain and star defender Diego Godin due to injury is surely a big setback. Nonetheless, they will probably scrape out a win on aggregate here. They know that even 1 goal from them tonight will result in almost a definite qualification to the next round. It should be clear in their heads – go all out attacking, score 1 goal and then go into a complete defensive shell. Griezmann will be trusted with the job of scoring the goal in the absence of star striker Diego Costa. The pressure will be on keeper Jan Oblak to perform as well as he did in the first leg at Metropolitana.

Here are their predicted lineups :-

Juventus

Atletico Madrid

Prediction

I think that Juve might just get a win in this match but Atleti will still qualify for the next round on aggregate or away goals. Thank you for reading!

IPL Squads Review – Part 4

We are left with just two more teams to review – Kolkata Knight Riders and the defending champions Chennai Super Kings. Both these teams reached very far in the competition last time. KKR came in 3rd and CSK actually lifted the trophy. Even though their teams are almost the same as last year, I have a feeling that they are a little weaker this time around. Maybe it has got something to do with other teams getting stronger, but this season, I believe that these teams will have to beat the odds to produce last year’s performances again.

Kolkata Knight Riders – Dark Horses

Every year KKR’s squad comes out, and I think – ‘Oh, they’re not going to perform well’ but every time, they surprise me. Last season, I actually predicted that they would come last, but I was proved wrong. KKR is one of those teams that, on their day, can get a side like RCB all out for 49, but when they misfire, they can malfunction badly too. They have what is surely the best spin trio in all the 8 teams. Here is their predicted playing eleven –

  1. Sunil Narine*
  2. Chris Lynn*
  3. Robin Uthappa
  4. Nitish Rana
  5. Andre Russell*
  6. Dinesh Karthik (c) (wk)
  7. Carlos Brathwaite*
  8. Kamlesh Nagarkoti
  9. Piyush Chawla
  10. Kuldeep Yadav
  11. Prasidh Krishna

Their hard-hitting openers Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn will surely provide a quick start to the rest of the batsmen. Nitish Rana performed well last year despite of his vast inexperience. Dinesh Karthik is their very own captain cool and finisher. They have two young Indian pacers in Prasidh Krishna and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. Narine, Kuldeep and Chawla make for a world-class spinning trio. One weakness though, is that they don’t have even one quality experienced fast bowler. Due to this, they get 4/5

Chennai Super Kings – The Champions Curse?

CSK defied common belief last year when they won the IPL. When they walked into the auction room this time, all they had to do was – well, nothing. They did not need to do anything. They have almost the same squad from last time this year too. But somehow, as I mentioned in the beginning, their squad looks a little weaker this season. I believe their playing eleven will be –

  1. Shane Watson*
  2. Faf Du Plessis*
  3. Suresh Raina
  4. Ambati Rayudu
  5. Kedar Jadhav
  6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c) (wk)
  7. Dwayne Bravo*
  8. Ravindra Jadeja
  9. Imran Tahir*
  10. Deepak Chahar
  11. Mohit Sharma

Watson was the man of the match in the final of last year. He is going to be their match-winner with the bat and might even contribute a few overs with the ball. Last season was incredible for Ambati Rayudu, and he will hope that it will be the same this time too. Rayudu could open for them too. Dhoni is a man who needs no introduction. He will be finishing games and stumping batsmen for CSK for a long, long time. Their bowling is a little bit of a concern even though they have got back Mohit Sharma, and Chahar is in great form. It will definitely be interesting to see how the defending champions perform this year. They get – 4/5

IPL Squads Review – Part 3

In this blog, I am going to be reviewing the squads of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals. Till now, I have reviewed RR, KXIP, SRH and MI. Now it is the turn of the ‘misfiring superstars’ and the ‘perennial underachievers’. I’m also going to be giving what I think would be their best playing eleven.

Royal Challengers Bangalore – E Sala Cup Naamde?

Bangalore is a side that has always had a lot of star players. While this guarantees that they have a huge fanbase, it does not guarantee that they win. RCB is one of the three teams who have never won an IPL trophy, and it is definitely the strongest of those three. They have a strong captain, and one of the best batsmen in the world in Virat Kohli. AB De Villiers is still going strong even after retiring from international cricket. Their batting has also been beefed up by new West Indian big-hitter and opener Shimron Hetmeyer. It will be interesting to see how they use him this year. Here’s their predicted playing eleven.

  1. Shimron Hetmeyer*
  2. Parthiv Patel (wk)
  3. Virat Kohli (c)
  4. AB De Villiers*
  5. Marcus Stoinis
  6. Shivam Dube
  7. Washington Sundar
  8. Nathan Coulter-Nile*
  9. Yuzvendra Chahal
  10. Umesh Yadav
  11. Mohammed Siraj

Needless to say, RCB have a stellar batting lineup. They bat very deep and every batsman right till No.8 has the ability to finish off the game. Their fast-bowling lineup is pretty great too even though they only have two full-time fast bowlers. Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal form a great leg and off spinning duo. Overall they have a solid lineup. They get – 4/5

Delhi Capitals – Change Of Name, Change Of Game?

Another team that has constantly underperformed and never won the trophy, Delhi Daredevils have now changed their name to Delhi Capitals. Let’s see if this change can help them break the curse. They have a pretty decent team this year, with Shikhar Dhawan leading the batting lineup and Kagiso Rabada heading the bowlers. In Rabada and Lamichanne, they have two exceptional overseas bowlers, while Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw all will give a glimpse of the talent of Indian youth. Their predicted lineup is –

  1. Shikhar Dhawan
  2. Prithvi Shaw
  3. Shreyas Iyer (c)
  4. Rishabh Pant (wk)
  5. Colin Ingram*
  6. Chris Morris*
  7. Axar Patel
  8. Amit Mishra
  9. Sandeep Lamichanne*
  10. Ishant Sharma
  11. Kagiso Rabada*

Shreyas Iyer was impressive as a captain the last time that he stepped out on the pitch. It will be interesting to see how he handles the team. Last season was a breakthrough one for the young Rishabh Pant. Now he is returning with more maturity to his game, and the ability to play the role of an anchor. Ingram was bought in the auction for a whopping 6.2 crores, so he has to live up to that price tag. Overall, from me they get – 3.5/5

Key

* = Overseas player

(c) = Captain

(wk) = Wicket Keeper

India Not Playing Pakistan In World Cup

Recent news has emerged that BCCI is considering refusing to play Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup. With bilateral ties between the two countries stopped entirely, the only time they face each other is in ICC tournaments. BCCI is considering this because of the recent Pulwama attacks on the Indian soldiers. Cricketers like Harbhajan Singh, Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Azharuddin, all have spoken on this subject. All of them believe that the nation comes first, and that they are Indians first, and cricketers later. Thus, they should not play Pakistan in the World Cup this year.

Now let me just give my personal opinion here. The way that the World Cup works is that all teams face each other one time in a round robin format. In the end, the top four teams in the league with the most points advance to the semi finals. For every match that a team wins, they get two points. Now let’s assume that India does boycott the match they have to play against Pakistan. In a way, India forfeits that match. So Pakistan will get the two points of that match, while India will get none. And let’s suppose that India does boycott the group stage match, but somehow both the teams manage to make it to the semis. If India faces Pakistan in the knockout stage and they refuse to play, they give Pakistan a direct ticket to the final, or to the trophy itself! Now does India want to get revenge on Pakistan by letting them move ahead without a fight in the biggest competition at the world stage?

I know that it is about ‘isolating’ Pakistan from the world and things like that, but this is not the way to do it. Sports were meant to unite the countries, not to help them push their political propaganda onto a global stage. Even if BCCI does go through with this, I don’t think ICC should allow this to happen. It is not in the spirit of sports. Rest assured, I am sure they will make the correct decision.

Bayern Vs Liverpool – The Toughest Champions League Clash

Today, Bayern are going to be visiting Liverpool in the Champions League Last 16 knockout clash. Without any hesitation, this can easily be called the most difficult Champions League clash this year. Liverpool is in top form sitting at the top of the Premier League table despite of one or two minor setbacks. Bayern, on the other hand, have begun to recover from the slow start to their season. They are second to Dortmund in the Bundesliga table. Now admittedly, my favourite team is Bayern Munich, but all things considered, I strongly doubt they can win this match. But they are the ones I’m going to be rooting for! Here, I’m going to be listing some key players from each side whose performance the result will depend on.

Liverpool

Alisson

The Brazilian goalkeeper will need to be on his toes to keep the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka from scoring tonight. His form has more or less been okay this season, with some excellent saves. Tonight’s match will be extra hard for Alisson as he does not have his defensive rock Virgil Van Dijk in front of him. Dejan Lovren too is injured. He will have to work extra hard to earn a clean sheet.

Fabinho

A Center midfielder usually, Fabinho might have to fill in for Virgil Van Dijk at the Center Back position tonight. The last time he played in that position, he performed quite well, and he will need to do so again to ensure that no goals are let in.

Naby Keita

After a lot of angry remarks about his form in December and January, Keita is finally starting to show the potential that tempted Liverpool to cough up 52 million pounds to sign the center midfielder. His passes to the front will be key to the goals that Mo Salah and Co. score.

Mo Salah

The Egyptian King is in great form (as he always is) and he is going to be waiting to go out there and score some goals. The performance of Salah will decide how close this match is, and whether Liverpool slip up or not.

Bayern Munich

Manuel Neuer

The German captain has not been in ‘Neuer-esque’ form lately. He has not kept a clean sheet for the past six games. Even after being provided with a defence line consisting of Mats Hummels, Niklas Sule, David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich, he has conceded a lot of goals. Today, it’s not going to be easy for him against the likes of Salah, Firmino and Mane, all of whom are in great goal-scoring form.

Mats Hummels

The centre back has been consistent lately, but he needs to do a little bit better if he’s going to stop his team from slumping to a first knockout clash loss. Liverpool are going to go all out today in terms of attack, and Hummels needs to put his best foot forward.

Leon Goretzka

Second only to Lewandowski in the Bayern top scorer’s chart, Goretzka has been performing well. He forms a nice partnership in the middle with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman. His assists to Lewandowski in the front will be crucial for a Bayern victory, and he might have to score a goal too, to get his team to win.

Robert Lewandowski

The Polish goal-machine might just be in the best form that he has been in ever at Bayern. With 25 goals and 11 assists, he is truly a force to reckon with. He is going to be the one to score the goals for Bayern. If he doesn’t fire, then I’m sorry to say, Bayern is done for.

Note For Bayern Coach : Niko Kovac, honourable sir. I know you might not like James Rodriguez all that much, but please please play him tonight. He really can make a difference. From one person who really cares about Bayern to another, please play him. Thank you.