Kausav Baruah

Embracing the new normal and getting used to the biosecure bubble setup, the last one month has been witness to some high-octane performances in various sporting arenas. From the Australian Open to the newly-reconstructed Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, there has certainly been ample action for the sports enthusiasts. With Novak Djokovic winning his ninth Australian Open crown and 18th Grand Slam title recently, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the dominance of tennis by the ‘Big Three’. The three – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Djokovic have had a stranglehold on Grand Slams and it has been like this since 2005, when Nadal won the first of his 13 French Open titles. Since Federer won his first title at Wimbledon in 2003, there have been 70 Grand Slams till the recent one in Melbourne. The Big Three have won 58 of them, and there have been just six summit clashes where neither of them reached the final.

Although in the women’s section, there have been new Grand Slam champions, including the likes of Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu, Sofia Kenin, and Iga Swiatek, but the ‘Next Gen’ – the term used to describe the younger generation in the sport – among men continue their struggles to get an inch from the old-guard of the ‘Big Three’.

Coming to the India versus England Test series, the hosts have done well to bounce back after the defeat in the first Test in Chepauk. Now that India sits pretty with a 2-1 lead, there is a lot of hullabaloo over the Motera (Narendra Modi Stadium) pitch. The England collapse has re-ignited the debates about pink balls and underprepared wickets. Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, the left-arm spinner in his second Test, dismissed England for less than 200, both innings put together. It is not new that India has had to defend home pitches. Several former players have dismissed criticism of the rank turners saying India never complains about pace and seam-friendly pitches abroad. India finished the third Test in Ahmedabad under two days and a Test that finishes in such a short span is likely to come under scrutiny. It is very likely that it will be under the scanner of the International Cricket Council.

Ashwin, who has been in scintillating form, is also an angry man over what he sees as too much importance being given to criticism of the pitches prepared for the second and third Test. Asked by an English journalist if the pitch for the final Test would be similar to that of the pink ball game, Ashwin snapped: “What is a good cricket surface?” When told it was one that produced an even contest between bat and ball, he said batsmen failed in Ahmedabad. India, too, were dismissed for 143 in the first innings.

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