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The Sports Express – April

Cricket

  • The 2021 edition of the Indian Premier League got underway on the 9th of April, 2021 with the schedule of playing in two different stadiums simultaneously and rotating across 6 stadiums throughout the entire season. The first half of the season saw Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bengaluru emerge as strong favorites for the playoff spots. Defending champions, Mumbai Indians endured a rather inconsistent start to the tournament alongside the Punjab Kings while Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad struggled, culminating in the dropping and replacement of Sunrisers captain David Warner. Other notable moments included centuries by Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler, a 5-wicket haul by the unexpected purple cap holder Harshal Patel, Ravi Jadeja’s 37 run over off the aforementioned Harshal, a couple of classic AB De Villiers innings as well as a classic game between arch-rivals Mumbai and Chennai, ending in a final ball finish.
  • However, there was some criticism on holding the IPL while India was going through a severe increase in Covid-19 cases and the pandemic caught up to the IPL, with Varun Chakravarthy testing positive for the virus. Initially, the match between Kolkatta Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians was postponed however more positive cases including Amit Mishra and Wriddiman Saha forced the postponement of the tournament.
  • The first test match of the 2-test series between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh ended in a high scoring draw with Dimuth Karunaratne scoring his maiden test double century. Mominul Haque, Dhananjaya De Silva and Najmul Hossain Shanto also scored centuries as Sri Lanka’s plan of preparing a green pitch suited for pace bowling backfired.
  • South Africa and Pakistan faced each other in a 3 match ODI series where Pakistan emerged 3-1 victors. The first match was won by Pakistan on the back of a Babar Azam hundred, while South Africa levelled the series in the second match despite a heroic innings by Fakhar Zaman who scored 193 runs. Pakistan won the third game against a depleted South Africa side who had four players departing for the IPL. The 4-match T20I series which followed also ended in a 3-1 Pakistan victory, notable for a Babar Azam century. Babar Azam ascended to the No.1 position in the ODI batting rankings due to his performances in this series.
  • South Africa’s problems continued off the field as the country’s sports minister Nathi Mthethwa derecognized Cricket South Africa from running the sport in the country due to their inability to agree on a new constitutional model. This made it quite possible that the South African national team would be unable to play international cricket, however the situation was resolved for the time being with a new governance model being agreed upon a few days later.
  • Nepal, Netherlands and Malaysia took part in a triangular T20I series hosted in Kirtipur, Nepal. Nepal dominated the tournament, crushing Netherlands by 142 runs in the final. The tournament was also notable for Max O’Dowd scoring the first T20I century by a Dutch cricketer.
  • The Sheffield Shield title, Australia’s premier First Class competition went to Queensland, who defeated New South Wales by an innings and 33 runs in the final. Despite, New South Wales boasting 3 members of Australia’s regular test bowling attack in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon they were put to the sword by Marnus Labuschagne who kept up his fine run of form with 192 runs in the first innings. The Queensland bowling attack led by Michael Neser, Jack Wildermuth, Xavier Bartlett, Brendan Doggett and Mitchell Swepson dismissed New South Wales for scores of 143 and 213.  However, New South Wales made amends in the Marsh Cup final, the domestic 50 over competition in Australia, winning the final against Western Australia. 
  • For the first time in the two tournaments’ century plus long history, the English County Championship and the Sheffield Shield saw matches being played simultaneously. The County Championship introduced a new format with 3 groups of 6 teams each with 2 teams from each group progressing to different leagues based on their position within the group. Defending champions Essex endured a slow start to the season, placed 5th in Group A which is currently led by Warwickshire with a resurgent Nottinghamshire who won their first County match in more than an year in second place. Group B sees surprise leaders in Gloucestershire with usual suspects Somerset in second while group C is led by the two Roses rivals, with Lancashire and Yorkshire occupying the top 2 spots.

Football

  • Undoubtedly, the biggest story coming out of football in the past month was the proposed European Super League, which was proposed as a Champions League replacement with 12 founder clubs in Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan, with a further 3 teams expected to sign on as founding members. There was swift public outrage both from UEFA as well as from fans which led to 9 clubs dropping out of the project within the next few days. Currently, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus have not dropped out of the project but it remains to be seen if the project ever becomes reality. PSG and Bayern Munich were swift in their condemnation of the project and reiterated their commitment to the Champions League which itself will see a major format change from 2024 onwards. The protests against the Manchester United ownership, the Glazers increased massively in the following days which culminated in fans breaking into Old Trafford causing the Manchester United vs Liverpool game to be postponed.
  • The Champions League quarterfinals took place with defending champions Bayern Munich being knocked out by PSG on the back of a 3-2 win in the first leg. Manchester City progressed to the semifinals as well despite being troubled by Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea continued their impressive form since the appointment of Tomas Tuchel with a 2-0 victory over Porto in the first leg enough for a victory in the tie while two injury hit squads in Real Madrid and Liverpool battled against each other with Real Madrid emerging on top after a 3-1 victory in the first leg.
  • The UEFA Europa League semi-finalists were also determined with Manchester United making their way past Granada, Arsenal eliminating Slavia Prague, Roma defeating Ajax and Villarael defeating Dinamo Zagreb.
  • The Premier League continued with Manchester City going within one win of cementing the Premier League title. Manchester United continues to be in second place with Chelsea and Leicester remaining in the top 4. West Ham still stand a chance of making it to the Champions League while Liverpool and Tottenham also harbour ambitions of their own. Chelsea faced their first loss under Tomas Tuchel with a surprise 5-2 demolition at the hands of West Brom and Jose Mourinho was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur days before the League Cup Final which they would go on to lose 1-0 to Manchester City courtesy of a late Aymeric Laporte goal. However, City’s hopes of a quadruple were smashed by Chelsea who defeated them in the FA cup semi finals. Chelsea will face Leicester City in the final after they defeated Southampton in the other semi final.
  • The La Liga title fight continues to be enthralling with stuttering form from Atletico Madrid has seen both Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as an inform Sevilla draw close to them in the league table. All 4 sides will have genuine title ambitions with Atletico only remaining in the lead due to a shock Barcelona loss against Granada and Real Madrid enduring two consecutive 0-0 draws against Getafe and Real Betis. Real Socieded won the 2019/20 Copa Del Rey title after the postponed final from last season against Athletic Bilbao resulted in a 1-0 win courtesy of a Mikel Oyarzabal penalty. Athletic Bilbao would go on to lose their second cup final of the month after being demolished 4-0 in the 2020/21 Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona.
  • Inter Milan won their first Serie A title in 11 years after a strong run of form corresponding with hiccups to their closest contenders in AC Milan and Juventus resulted in them sealing the title with time to spare. Juventus and AC Milan could still miss out on the Champions League altogether as Atalanta and Napoli ensure that the battle for the 3 remaining Champions League spots will go down to the wire.
  • Bayern Munich got within one win of winning another Bundesliga title with only a shock loss to Mainz denying them. The battle for the Champions League spots continues to be intriguing as Borussia Dortmund surged into the top 4 after Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg dropped points. This corresponded with the current coach of Eintracht Frankfurt, Adi Hutter being named the Borussia Monchengladbach coach for next season. Meanwhile, Hansi Flick also decided to leave his post as Bayern Munich manager after the season’s end following tension with the sporting director, Hasan Salihamidžić and is heavily rumoured to be Joachim Low’s successor for the German National team manager. Julien Naglesmann, the RB Leipzig manager was named his replacement from next season.
  • The Ligue I title race continues to be on the most exciting title races in the European leagues as Lille defeated Paris St Germain 1-0 to put themselves in pole position to win the title. However dropped points against Montpellier means Lille have a meagre one point advantage going into the final 3 games of the season. Lyon effectively dropped out of the title after losing 3-2 to Lille, however they were still able to ruin the title ambitions of Monaco, defeating them 3-2 to effectively end Monaco’s run at the title. Monaco and Lyon still have a slim mathematical chance of snatching the title but it’s effectively a two horse race between PSG and Lille with just one point separating the two sides. 

F1

  • The Australian GP street circuit is getting a layout change to promote overtaking with turn 9 and 10 being straightened and turn 13 getting a bit of an extension.
  • It was found out that the low rake cars have about a second loss in lap time due to the 2021 regulations. Mercedes and Aston Martin are the main two teams to run low rake cars for several years now.
  • Nico Hulkeburg is confirmed as the Test and Reserve driver for Aston Martin.
  • F1 has asked the Canadian GP promoters (Octane Racing Group) for an extra $6 Million as compensation to organise a closed-doors event. A deadline was set as april 12th. With the promoters being unable to pay, the Canadian GP was cancelled.
  • It was pole position for Lewis Hamilton at the 2nd race in Imola. It was also noteworthy that Sergio Perez beat his teammate Max to 2nd place while Lando Norris set a time for P3 but the time was deleted due to track limit violations.
  • Max Verstappen wins the Imola GP with a lead of over 20 seconds, The wet starting race saw Verstappen lunging into turn 1 and taking the lead while having a bit of contact with Lewis Hamilton.
  • Valterri Bottas and George Russell crashed midway through the race when Russell in the slow Williams was trying to overtake Bottas, went into the wet part of the track and lost control. The race was Red flagged as there was too much debris. 
  • When 1 Mercedes had a huge loss the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton benefited, after Lewis Hamiton went off the track and dropped to 9th with a lap down on the race leader he was able to unlap himself before the restart and was able to make up places and finish P2. and the Mclaren Driver Lando Norris finished 3rd afet a brilliant race, The brit collected his 2nd Podium finish. 
  • The Miami GP is confirmed for 2022.
  • The FIA officially announced Sprint Race Qualifying. This format will be first tested at the British GP and the format will be, Friday 1st session is a practice session, Session 2 of friday will run the usual qualifying format which will set up the grid for the Saturday Sprint race. On Saturday the 1st Session will yet again be a Practice session and the evening will be a 100km Sprint race where the finishing order will be the starting grid for the main race on Sunday. In the Sprint race, there will be no mandatory pit stops and in the case of damage to the car, the FIA will allow up to 200,000 euros for damages. 
  • It is planned to have 3 sprint Qualifying sessions this year starting with the British GP.
  • This 3 race sprint Qualifying will be a test for the FIA to bring more exciting races to Formula 1
  • Formula 1 announces a deal extension with the Suzuka Circuit to host the Japanese Grand Prix for three more years.
  • Alfa Romeo announces Callum Ilott as their new additional reserve driver with Robert Kubica.
  • The Turkish GP returns to F1 in place of the Canadian GP.
  • Bottas denied 100th Pole position for Lewis Hamilton at the Portugese GP.
  • Even without getting Pole Lewis Hamilton’s masterclass driving saw him take the checkered flag 1st even though Lewis fell back to 3rd at the opening stages. Max Verstappen and Valterri Bottas finished P2 and P3 in a very uneventful race. 
  • Meanwhile, Lewis, Max and Valterri now have the record for the most common podium shared in F1. The 3 drivers finished in the top 3 15 times.
  • It’s 2:1 race win ratio in the favor of Lewis Hamilton for the battle in the title fight with Max Verstappen.
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