Virat Kohli needs to make some tough calls as India eye world supremacy: Is the captain up for it?

first_imgDoes Virat Kohli think this team will help him win the World Cup in two years’ time?The Champions Trophy was a great launching pad for India. They had played 13 ODIs in 2016 before diving head first into a packed domestic Test season. And then there was the IPL which left any time for the team to prepare for their title defence in England.However, the players were confident. More importantly, Kohli was confident. The leader, the best batsman in the side and the nemesis of bowlers the world over, felt it was specific skills that would help India stand out in what he defined was a tough tournament because the top eight sides in world cricket got to play in it.India’s campaign up until the final was clinical and the team followed a set formula. With the bat, they consolidated up top for the first 10 overs, accelerated in the middle and delivered the killer blow in the slog overs.The bowling was equally efficient and the pacers stuck to what they did best over the last one year: dry up the runs up front and keep chipping away with wickets in the middle overs. And then it was over to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah to stop the opposition from exploding at the end.It was supposed to be a successful formula for success. Except in England, the formula failed twice in five matches and India had to concede the crown they won so heroically back in 2013.It is all very well to say India did incredibly well to reach the final and Pakistan were the better team on the day. But with the World Cup two years away, it is also important to look at the cold, hard facts. The truth is India lost two out of five matches – on both occasions, the bowlers conceded well in excess of 300 and on one occasion, the batting caved in after the top three failed to fire.advertisementThe top three – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli – had contributed for the bulk of the runs throughout the tournament. Their failure against Pakistan exposed the Indian middle-order to possibly the best pace attack in the world.Yuvraj Singh played a gem of a knock against Pakistan at Edgbaston and MS Dhoni was sharp against Sri Lanka but the two legends are no where near the potent force they once were. The match was as good as out of India’s grasp but the two failed to even show the spark to play for pride. Kohli has been stubborn about his team selection in the limited-overs formats and has openly backed Yuvraj and Dhoni to be a part of the team.Photo Credit: Reuters But to what end? It is clear both men are past their prime. They were outstanding against England at home but the 2019 World Cup will be played in England in similar conditions to the Champions Trophy, where a good pace attack will never be out of the contest.Away from home is where the trouble starts for Dhoni. He has played 25 matches outside the subcontinent since the beginning of 2015 and has returned only 460 runs from 16 innings at an average of 30.60.Does Kohli reckon Dhoni, at 35, will improve on those numbers? Who will convince Kohli to look beyond MSD? Will it be coach? But Anil Kumble and Kohli do not see eye-to-eye.Yuvraj, meanwhile, played outside the subcontinent for the first time in nearly four years. How do these numbers exude confidence? Will Kohli get over his Yuvraj obession?Yes, Yuvraj is a giant in limited-overs cricket. He was the game turner in 2007 and the protagonist in 2011 and has since been a talisman for India at ICC events. But what happened in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017? How many performances stand out to justify his presence in the team? Why is it so difficult in India to look past the big cricketers and ask questions?Why for instance, should the likes of Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer continue to be ignored when they are bristling with energy at he prime of their youth? These are skilled cricketers and highly motivated. There are only two years left for the World Cup and these young men should probably be given some time out in the middle in so that the management understands where they fit in.But who will convince Kohli to look ahead and plan for the future? It’s surprising a forward-thinking captain like him should succum to the charms of an era gone by. He has tasted staggering success at home but sterner tests lie ahead – foreign Test tours and then that World Cup. These events will determine Kohli’s legacy as captain and a player of repute. How will he traverse the tricky road ahead?advertisementlast_img read more

Baseball’s Big Arms Must Deliver Fast

first_imgMax Scherzer and Jon Lester might as well have neon-green dollar signs stamped all over their uniforms and caps when Major League Baseball spring training opens next week.Their careers were redefined this off-season when they joined MLB’s elite echelon of $100 million arms, a sweet 16 whose salaries total an even sweeter $2.42 billion. Every game they start, and every pitch they throw, will be viewed through the prism of their incomes.Judging by history, they had better succeed swiftly with their new teams. Wins and innings pitched are likely to dwindle with age.Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs’ President of baseball operations who signed Lester, likens these megadeals to a “splurge on a luxury item,” MLB’s equivalent of a Birkin bag or vintage Ferrari.Is the roster candy worth it to their teams? Or merely a status symbol?“They are difference-makers. They are special talents. Usually there are only 10 to 12 of these in the game, and they give you something that no one else has,” said agent Scott Boras, who negotiated the deals for Kevin Brown, Barry Zito and Scherzer. “A lot of teams have a lot of pitchers, but few teams have a true No. 1.”Only three pitchers have won World Series rings after signing nine-figure contracts: CC Sabathia with the New York Yankees, and Zito and Matt Cain with the San Francisco Giants. The rest find their finances sated but their ambitions starved.The $100 million pitchers have combined to average a 12-9 record and 3.39 ERA during the first four seasons of their deals, according to STATS. During the remaining years, they fell to a 7-7 record and 4.43 ERA.Durability decreases dramatically, with the group averaging 205 innings in first seasons, 178 by the third year, and 132 by the fifth.Justin Verlander was 124-65 and 30 years old when he signed his big deal with Detroit in March 2013. He is 28-24 since, slowed by core muscle surgery before the 2014 season.“I don’t think that there’s anyone that looks at long-term contracts for pitchers that are older, and thinks that all of them are going to be years of investment that are at the highest rate,” Detroit Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said. “You expect some type of decline and adjustment that takes place.”Pitchers and catchers started workouts with World Series champion San Francisco on Feb. 12, and position players join five days later.Among the players making fresh starts are Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez with Boston; Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and James Shields with San Diego; and David Robertson with the Chicago White Sox.And Alex Rodriguez returns to the New York Yankees at age 39 following his yearlong suspension.Seeking their first championship, the Washington Nationals gave the 30-year-old Scherzer a $210 million, seven-year contract, $5 million shy of the record for pitchers set by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.The Cubs, who won their last title 17 days after the Ford’s first Model T left the car factory in 1908, guaranteed $155 million over six seasons to Lester, and included 25 hours of private jet use annually to seal the deal with the left-hander, who turned 31 last month.Epstein weighs health history, body type, athleticism, character, work ethic, mechanics and toughness among the factors in determining whether a pitcher is worth it.“If you sign Andy Pettitte at age 31, you would have gotten performance throughout the contract,” Epstein said. “So it’s just a matter of trying to sign the right guy.”Brown became MLB’s first $100 million man when he signed with the Dodgers in December 1998. He pitched Florida to the 1997 World Series title, and San Diego to the 1998 NL pennant.Brown’s deal shocked a league accustomed to escalating salaries since free agency began in 1976.Sandy Alderson, then an executive in the commissioner’s officer, called it “an affront to baseball.”“I’m in mourning,” said Larry Lucchino, San Diego’s president at the time. “Not for the Padres, but for baseball.”Brown was 139-99 with a 3.30 ERA when he agreed to the contract and went 72-45 with a 3.23 ERA during the deal for the Dodgers and Yankees, who acquired him for the final two years.In all, the $100 million men have averaged a 96-64 career record with a 3.46 ERA when they agreed to the contracts, then a 39-28 mark with a 3.55 ERA mark while earning the big money.Just two of the previous 14 have losing records under their deals: Zito was 63-80 for San Francisco, and Cole Hamels has gone 17-23 for Philadelphia despite a 3.05 ERA in the first two seasons.“For most long-term deals, you see the best return on investment in the earlier years, and typically in the last year or two, you’re not getting quite the bang for the buck,” Epstein said.“Inflation helps mitigate that somewhat, because by the end of your deals, salaries have escalated, the cost per win has escalated, so you’re not requiring the player to do quite as much to be worth the contract at that point.”Nine of the pitchers reached their deals as free agents, and the others were within two years of free agency. Kershaw and the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka were the youngest at 25, and Brown the oldest at 33.Boras said the dropoff is factored in. He argues the aces are underpaid in the initial seasons.“These players may be worth $40, $45 million for those three or four years,” he said, “The complaint is that, ‘Oh, you’re going to pay for this in the latter years.’ Well, the reality of it is you’re not paying their true value in the early years. That’s the quid pro quo.”(RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer)TweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more