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India versus NZ is a fitting World Test Championship final

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New Zealand and India face off in a rare Test knockout, the culmination of two years of hard work.

The integrity of the World Test Championship is a contentious subject. The original format might have been okay, but it’s been marred by a global pandemic and has been reduced to a situation of way too many numbers.

Australia only misses out on the final because they were four overs short bowling on Day 2 of the 2020 Boxing Day Test. Alas we still have a mouth-watering contest, which will be a spectacle for any cricket fan.

Both teams have earned their spot but still have a lot to prove. New Zealand have been undermined because they were smashed by Australia away and relied mainly upon home results. They also had a tour of Bangladesh wiped out.

However, it can’t be denied they have assembled an amazing group of players, all of which on their day are unplayable. NZ silenced the critique that they can’t win away by defeating England in their backyard this week, their first series win there in 22 years.

A World Test Championship title will be a landmark for the best ever NZ cricket generation, slightly softening the blow of one and a half World Cup final defeats.

You could argue India already conquered their final frontier, beating a full-strength Australia away by ending the Gabba fortress. Yet there’s a few more things to check off the list for Virat Kohli to silence the most pessimistic critics.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

After this game, India have a five-match series against England as well as a tour of South Africa at the end of the year. India might be the favourite for both series already, but a World Test Championship final win could be the crucial mental push that they need. They also would want revenge against New Zealand after last year’s demolition.

Both teams also have big selection dilemmas, good problems to have compared to Joe Root and Tim Paine’s though. Assuming Kane Williamson and BJ Watling are fit, the top six of NZ picks itself.

Devon Conway after two games already seems like a seasoned Test veteran at the top of the order. There’s also the all-rounder option of Colin de Grandhomme or Daryl Mitchell.

Spin is also of question. If they need it, they have to pick between all-rounder Mitch Santner or the traditional left armer Ajaz Patel. Now is the difficult part. NZ have five quality fast bowlers to pick from.

Tim Southee and Trent Boult are the reliable duo. Neil Wagner is the aggressive option and is the highest ranked quick. Matt Henry is the England specialist and the tormenter of India in 2019 while Kyle Jamieson offers steep bounce and handy runs.

Every bowler has succeeded against India and it is a tough choice but here is my XI for New Zealand: Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult.

Tim Southee appeals

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The first decision for India to make is who partners Rohit Sharma as opener.

Shubman Gill had a brilliant start to his career in Australia but was slightly underwhelming against England. People have quickly forgotten how successful Mayank Agarwal was in starting his career before he was exposed by his technique in Australia.

The rest of the batting is obvious, rounded off by the resurgence of Rishabh Pant.

Ravindra Jadeja is an obvious pick at number seven. He’s just as good as any sixth batsman option and is of course a handy bowler, and the best fielder in the world.

Ravichandran Ashwin should also be picked, proving in recent tours he can indeed be effective overseas and just recently he showed his prowess again with the bat.

This leaves just three spots for Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj.

Bumrah is the obvious pick. Siraj was the golden boy in Australia, and it seems harsh to leave him out. Both Shami and Ishant have been injured lately but are still very reliable pacers, especially in English conditions.

They can’t play all four due to a massive lack of batting between them, with a quartet only possible if Shardul Thakur plays. Here is my India XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

As for a prediction, this contest is too tough to call. The toss plus pitch conditions will probably be deciding factors. I’ll back my boys India but wouldn’t be surprised by another clinic from New Zealand.

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SL vs IND | We were 10-15 runs short and that made a difference in the end, admits Shikhar Dhawan

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Following a four-wicket loss at the hands of Sri Lanka, Indian skipper Shikhar Dhawan has admitted that the visitors were 10-15 runs short after the first innings, which made the difference. However, Dhawan also insisted that he continues to be proud of his team for putting up a fight.

Despite losing the toss, Shikhar Dhawan and India were sent to bat first, on a surface that read tricky. While India’s start, especially from Ruturaj Gaikwad and Dhawan suggested a great presence of mind, the scoring rate started to decline after Gaikwad’s dismissal. Since then, it was a struggle for the Indian batters, who could only end up putting 132 runs on the board, with only five specialist batsmen in the playing XI. 

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, after a poor start, at 12-1, took on the challenge of the visiting bowling unit. While wickets kept tumbling, at no stage did Sri Lanka look too far away from a victory. In the end, Dhananjaya de Silva’s unbeaten 40 combined with efforts from Bhanuka (36), Hasaranga (15) and Chamika Karunaratne’s 6-ball 12 took the hosts home. 

In the post-match presentation, Indian skipper Dhawan admitted that the visitors were short of the target by 10-15 runs, which made the difference. 

“The surface turned and was a stopping a bit. We knew we were one batter short. We knew we had to construct our innings smartly. We were 10-15 runs short. That would have made the difference,” Dhawan stated.

Despite the loss at the hands of Sri Lanka, Dhawan insisted that he was proud of his team and the boys for showing a never-die attitude in the second T20I. 

“I am proud of the boys. Never say die attitude is amazing. Hats off to the boys for taking it into the last over.”

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Premier League: Headers in training to be limited

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New regulations are to be introduced that will limit the number of headers professional footballers practice in training per week.

Over the last few years, heading within football, especially among children, has become a hot topic.

A study conducted in 2019 found that footballers are more likely to suffer from degenerative brain diseases Dementia compared to people whose jump doesn’t involve frequently heading a ball.

In February of last year, the practice of heading in training sessions was banned for all children aged 11 or under in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland at all levels.

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Several high-profile former footballers such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Jeff Astle have all died within the last few years after suffering brain disease, with Charlton suffering from Dementia before his death.

In order to protect players, they will be limited to 10 ‘high force’ headers per week in training at ever level of English football including the Premier League.

“Our heading guidance now reaches across all players, at all levels of the game,” said FA chief executive Mark Bullingham.

“We are committed to further medical research to gain an understanding of any risks within football. In the meantime, this reduces a potential risk factor.

“It is important to remember that the overwhelming medical evidence is that football and other sports have positive impacts on both mental and physical health.”

What has the reaction been?

Former Arsenal, West Ham and England central defender Matthew Upson told Sky Sports he is in favour of the rule change.

“I 100% back the research and the studies that have gone into making this step,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes, researching the impact of heading the ball and it seems a very reasonable request if I’m honest.

“The key words are the ‘high impact’ contact. You can still practice heading, technically, as let’s be honest, heading is a real art – a matter of timing, technicality towards it.

“Those big ones when you’re heading from a goal kick or from a corner – it just makes sense in training not to expose yourself to that impact.

“Save it for opportunities in matches when three points are on the line. In training, it just makes perfect sense, so I fully welcome the change.”

Studies have shown that it can have an impact on your health

When asked whether he looks back on some training sessions in the past and worries about his own health, Upson admits he wouldn’t agree to them now.

“I sometimes cast my mind back to some of the sessions that I’ve done over the 20 years as a professional footballer, and looking back, you wouldn’t entertain a training session like that,” he continued.

“You wouldn’t head a number of large balls into the box. When as an apprentice practicing those big, headed clearances and getting your head on kicks from the halfway line.

“There isn’t really a need to practice that in mass numbers. Studies have shown that it can have an impact on your health.”

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Boston Bruins among 4 free agent destinations for Ryan Getzlaf

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The Boston Bruins are looking to bring in a veteran center for their next playoff push and Ryan Getzlaf is one of the leading options.

NHL Free Agency opened on Wednesday and has already kicked into full gear with signings and rumors flying in. The latest comes from TSN’s Pierre Lebrun as the Boston Bruins are one of the top destinations for Ryan Getzlaf if he leaves the Anaheim Ducks for the first time in his 16 year career.

The Bruins join the Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens among the potential destinations.

The move makes a lot of sense for the Bruins, who are still looking to get another Stanley Cup with their main core before the window closes. A potential Bruins-Getzlaf signing feels reminiscent of when Boston brought in David Backes during the 2016 offseason. While that partnership didn’t ultimately work out for either side, it did give them another center and more leadership for the team.

What could Ryan Getzlaf bring to the Boston Bruins?

Getzlaf is an interesting addition for anyone this offseason. The 37-year-old is far from his prime anymore and had the worst statistical season of his career during the 2020-21 season. In 48 games, Getzlaf totaled career lows in goals, assists, and points with 5-12-17. To be fair to him, however, the Ducks were terrible this season. The only team to finish worse than them was the Buffalo Sabres.

A better assumption of what Getzlaf could bring to the table this season would be to look back at the 2019-20 season. He totaled 13 goals and 29 assists, good for 42 points overall. Seeing that the Bruins are looking for secondary scoring and overall solid play from their third and fourth lines, Getzlaf feels like the perfect fit for them this season and maybe even beyond.

The former Stanley Cup champion could channel his former linemate, Corey Perry, by leaving the Ducks as Perry has found success and has made it to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. Seems like a good fit if the Bruins and Getzlaf can come together on a deal.

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