Jamieson and Conway put New Zealand in control

By Sports Desk June 20, 2021

Kyle Jamieson and Devon Conway continued their magnificent starts to life in the longest format to put New Zealand in charge of the rain-affected World Test Championship final against India.

A first-day washout at the Ageas Bowl before Saturday's action was truncated by bad light means a positive result might not be possible, even allowing for Wednesday's reserve day.

However, towering seamer Jamieson (5-31) picked up his fifth five-for in eight Tests as India were dismissed for 217 under leaden skies before opener Conway (54) passed 50 for the third time in five innings to help Kane Williamson's men close on 101-2.

A day of New Zealand domination was not necessarily on the cards when India skipper Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane resumed their 59-run partnership with the score 146-3, although Jamieson was quickly on the money.

He nipped one back to trap Kohli in front for 44, unable to add to his overnight score.

Rahane also missed out on a half-century, falling a run shy of the landmark when he popped Neil Wagner (2-40) to Tom Latham at midwicket. That made it 182-6 – Rishabh Pant had grown frustrated at failing to get off the mark for 20 balls before throwing his bat at the 22nd and edging Jamieson to Latham for four.

Ravindra Jadeja (15) and Ravichandran Ashwin (22) offered a modicum of lower-order resistance but Jamieson had his fifth when he pinned Jasprit Bumrah lbw.

Mohammed Shami's average of 47.95 across nine Tests in England is by far his worst in any country, although the India paceman was desperately unlucky not to improve upon those numbers across a 11 probing overs, with Conway and Latham both ballooning edges over the cordon.

Off-spinner Ashwin (1-20) gave one some extra flight to have Latham taken by Kohli at short extra cover for 30, ending a 70-run opening stand.

After bringing up a fine half century to sit alongside 200 and 80 in his debut series against England, Conway will be frustrated to have flicked to wide mid-on when Ishant Sharma overpitched.

Williamson (12 not out) remained when bad light intervened once more – the elements now arguably more likely to deny his side glory as opposed to anything India might muster in Southampton.

Kyle the king of swing and seam

Jamieson might not be the sort of express pace bowler whose emergence on the scene provokes widespread excitement, but he is a relentless performer and his nagging line, length and lift proved perfect in gloomy English conditions. He might race to 50 Test wickets before this game is out, currently on 44 at a remarkable average of 14.13.

India's big hitters come up short

Kohli's review for a plum lbw certainly fell into the L'Oreal category and India's day did not improve. It feels slightly harsh to highlight Rahane, who top-scored when batting was tough, but the manner in which he plonked himself into an obvious trap set by Wagner will gnaw away at him. The richly gifted Pant never looked like matching Kohli and Rahane's efforts during a torturous stay where he appeared completely ill-suited to the situation.

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    At that point, Salah had bagged 15 goals in 12 games for Liverpool for the season, and had only failed to score in one.

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    If he can get the "revenge" he is openly seeking against Madrid for their 2018 Champions League final victory against the Reds and make it a trophy treble, he could well be top of the list in the Ballon d'Or voting.

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    Like Salah, Mane had an impressive start to the season as he scored in nine of his team's first 16 games in all competitions, though had a drier period just before the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring just once in 10 outings.

    Where Mane arguably has the edge over his rivals is his showing in Cameroon. Though he only scored three goals during the tournament, he played a big part in key moments.

    He netted a pressure stoppage-time penalty in the opening game against Zimbabwe that turned out to be their only goal in the group stage, therefore crucial in them progressing. Mane then scored the opener against Cape Verde in the last 16, and a late clincher against Burkina Faso in the semi-finals.

    Mane then took the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he slammed home the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Egypt in the final.

    By the time he returned to club action with Salah, Luis Diaz had arrived at Anfield and already taken up residence in Mane's usual position on the left of the front three.

    It wasn't a problem, though, as Mane simply reinvented himself as a central striker, scoring a vital winner against West Ham before repeating the trick of scoring a pressure penalty against Egypt to send Senegal to this year's World Cup.

    Mane really started to motor as Liverpool looked to win an unprecedented quadruple, scoring nine goals in his last 13 games, including in both the league draw and FA Cup semi-final win against Man City, and then in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

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    Calling Benzema the man for the big occasion still doesn't feel like it quite does him justice. The 34-year-old is in the form of his life, showing that age really is just a number.

    Benzema has made headlines throughout the season, mostly for his uncanny ability to come up with important goals in the Champions League, and he is without doubt the main reason Madrid made it past the last 16, let alone all the way to the final.

    Five goals in the group stages from Benzema helped Los Blancos to a last 16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain, with Kylian Mbappe and company taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Mbappe was dominating again that night, making it 2-0 on aggregate and getting through time and again, until Benzema took over.

    His 17-minute hat-trick turned the tie on its head, and sent Carlo Ancelotti's team through to face Chelsea, who Benzema also scored a treble against at Stamford Bridge.

    Though Madrid struggled in the second leg at home, Benzema's extra-time strike sent them into the semis, where Man City awaited.

    Two more goals from Benzema in the 4-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium gave them a fighting chance, and though it was Rodrygo who caused all the drama in the closing stages of normal time of the second leg, it was Benzema from the penalty spot who ultimately took his team to the final.

    As this year's Ballon d'Or takes into account the whole season, you would have to assume that includes the 2020-21 Nations League, which Benzema and France won in October, with his goals in the semi-final win against Belgium and the final success against Spain seeing Les Bleus lift the trophy.

    Benzema was also unstoppable in LaLiga, with his 27 goals being nine more than anyone else managed in the Spanish top flight, and he scored an incredible 44 goals in 45 games in all competitions.

    He has also been almost as creative as Salah and more so than Mane, with 83 chances created and 20 big chances created (a chance from which the attacker would be expected to score), while Salah created 85 chances and 21 big chances, and Mane 63 chances and 14 big chances.

    So, there are the three cases. For me, if the Spanish giants win, I think you can close the betting on Benzema.

    However, should Liverpool lift the trophy, it could lead to an interesting few months as people debate whether Salah's slightly superior numbers or Mane's international credentials mean more.

    Whatever happens, you can be sure that whichever horse you back, you will end up having an argument with someone somewhere who thinks Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo should win the crown again.

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