Wood fires England to set second Test up for thrilling finish

By Sports Desk August 15, 2021

Mark Wood led the attack as England boosted their hopes of victory in the second Test as India were reduced to 181-6 by the end of an absorbing fourth day at Lord's.

Holding a slender first-innings lead of 27, England quickly put their opponents under pressure with three early wickets before Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane held up the hosts.

The duo put on a 100-run stand to help ease concerns for India, only for the tourists to then lose three wickets for 20 runs before the close, leaving the game wonderfully poised.

KL Rahul had scored a century on day one but fell for just five second time around, caught behind off the impressive Wood (3-40). Rohit Sharma erased the deficit with two fours and a six, though fell to the same bowler – caught in the deep taking on the short ball – before his side had gone ahead.

However, it was Sam Curran who struck the crucial blow, claiming his first wicket of the series as Virat Kohli was caught by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler after prodding tamely at a delivery outside off stump.

Kohli's departure for 20 left India teetering at 55-3 just prior to lunch, yet England's attack could not make further inroads in the afternoon session.

However, Pujara was eventually dismissed for a battling 45 by a brute of a delivery from Wood, the ball rising off a length to take the edge and be caught by Joe Root at second slip.

Ajinkya Rahane did reach his half-century but became one of two late wickets for off-spinner Moeen Ali, a thin edge ending his knock at 61. Ravindra Jadeja did not last too long, beaten by one that turned to be bowled for three.

Rishabh Pant survived a late trial by spin in fading light to finish on 20 not out, with his continued presence in the middle – and just the tail for company – adding further intrigue ahead of Monday's play.

Digging in

Pujara has had a lean time of it of late, this his highest score since making 73 against the same opponents in Chennai back in February. Indeed, since the start of 2020, he has averaged just 25.95 with no century since the tour of Australia over two years ago.

It took him 35 balls and 51 minutes to get off the mark on Sunday, a long-awaited single greeted by ironic cheers from the crowd and a wry smile from Pujara himself.

Wood makes things happen

England let slip a chance to dismiss Rahane on 31, Jonny Bairstow unable to hang on to a tough diving chance off Ali, but the late clatter of wickets could be crucial in the final reckoning.

Wood started the mini-collapse by ending Pujara's stubborn resistance, fine reward for the pace bowler's perseverance on a sluggish surface. Worryingly, though, he was not on the field at the finish after hurting his shoulder diving to stop a boundary.

Related items

  • Koeman considers Aguero and Fati as Barcelona boss faces Valencia crunch clash Koeman considers Aguero and Fati as Barcelona boss faces Valencia crunch clash

    Ronald Koeman had Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati on his mind ahead of Sunday's clash with Valencia as the under-pressure Barcelona boss seeks the wins he admits his team urgently need.

    Former Manchester City striker Aguero – the Premier League champions' record scorer – has yet to play a competitive game for Barcelona since joining in the close season, due to a calf injury.

    The Argentinian was in Koeman's thoughts, however, ahead of the clash with Valencia at Camp Nou, while Fati appears ready to make his first start of the season.

    It remains to be seen whether that comes on Sunday or in the Champions League game with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, or even in the Clasico against Real Madrid next weekend.

    Three home games in eight days for Barcelona could go a long way to determining whether Koeman has a future at Camp Nou, with a Champions League defeat to Benfica and a LaLiga loss to Atletico Madrid before the international break having ramped up pressure on the Dutchman's position.

    Assessing Aguero, Koeman said on Saturday: "He has improved a lot lately. He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well.

    "But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique. He will get that with games. There is a possibility that he will be on the squad list. His quality is not questioned, he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

    Barcelona have taken 12 points from their opening seven games in LaLiga, meaning they have ground to make up already on the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico and Real Sociedad, who each stood on 17 points from eight games coming into this weekend, albeit Koeman's men have a game in hand.

    Teenage forward Fati is being eased back into the first team after his long-term knee injury absence, with Koeman determined not to rush the young Spain international, while at the same time aware his qualities could be hugely helpful to this Barcelona team.

    The shot conversion rate by Barcelona in LaLiga so far this season is 13.6 per cent, their lowest in a single campaign in the top flight since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

    "Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said of Fati. "You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

    Koeman was backed by president Joan Laporta before the Atletico game, but he needs results and knows it.

    "I always try to be calm, which isn't easy," Koeman said. "The important thing is to put your energy where you have an influence. Winning games and points is what counts."

    The former Ajax and Everton boss will hope Barcelona's reasonably strong recent record against Valencia can continue. They have just lost one of their past 10 LaLiga games against Valencia (W5 D4), a 2-0 setback in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

    A flurry of goals would seem likely, given the recent history of this fixture. Valencia are the away team with the most goals at Camp Nou in LaLiga since 2013-14, netting a remarkable 14 goals in eight games and scoring at least twice in six of those.

    Koeman would presumably take a win by any means, whether a scrappy 1-0 or a dramatic and high-scoring affair. A defeat is almost unthinkable, given it would be a third straight loss for the Blaugrana.

    Asked about his position and the pressures that come with it, Koeman said: "I am used to it. Don't worry, in a big club there are always things with the coach. Last year they also talked about the coach.

    "The president has defended me and supported me. Things are fine as they are, in spite of the fact that every coach has to win games to continue."

  • Sadio Mane reaches 100 goals landmark in Premier League without a single penalty Sadio Mane reaches 100 goals landmark in Premier League without a single penalty

    Sadio Mane has reached 100 Premier League goals, with the Liverpool star achieving a rare feat by hitting the milestone without any penalties in his tally.

    Mane coolly finished from Mohamed Salah's pass early in Saturday's match at Watford to bring up the milestone.

    The Senegal forward netted his first back in October 2014 as he scored the winner for Southampton in a 1-0 victory over Stoke City.

    He went on to score another nine that season and followed up with 11 in 2015-16, his impressive and swift adaptation to the Premier League persuading Liverpool to spend a reported £34million on him.

    While some may have had their doubts initially, Mane again settled quickly and went on to score 13 times from 27 league appearances in his first campaign.

    He has reached double figures for goals in each of his previous five full Premier League seasons with the Reds, with 2018-19 undoubtedly his best.

    Mane plundered a career-high 22 goals, the clinical nature of his finishing highlighted by the fact he outperformed his expected goals (xG) by 6.9. Only Lionel Messi (12), Paco Alcacer (8.4) and Iago Aspas (8.1) boasted better records than Mane across the top five European leagues that season.

    Even last season when he came in for a little more criticism than usual and failed to match his xG figure of 14.2, Mane still added 11 goals.

    And he is seemingly well on track to make it eight successive seasons with at least 10 Premier League goals, with his effort against Watford taking him to five from just eight matches in 2021-22.

    What makes Mane's goalscoring achievements at Liverpool even more impressive is the fact none of his 100 have come via penalties.

    He is the 31st player to score at least 100 goals in the Premier League, but only the third to reach that landmark without any coming from the spot, joining Les Ferdinand (149) and Emile Heskey (110) in an exclusive club.

    Mane is also the third African player to that mark, after Didier Drogba and team-mate Salah.

  • Can Rashawn Slater win Offensive Rookie of the Year? Can Rashawn Slater win Offensive Rookie of the Year?

    Offensive linemen do not win NFL awards.

    For as much as their performance is pivotal to the success of an NFL team, the cold hard truth is the narratives that decide the MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards are not built around those who spend their time in the trenches.

    But if there is going to be an end to the wait for the first offensive lineman to win Rookie of the Year, then it may come from Rashawn Slater of the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Slater is enjoying a stellar beginning to his NFL career, the 13th overall pick vindicating his draft status and locking down the left tackle spot to allow quarterback Justin Herbert to enjoy an MVP calibre start as the Chargers have gone 4-1 through five games.

    With the class of rookie quarterbacks enduring plenty of first-year struggles and few of the highly drafted skill position players delivering results worthy of such significant recognition, Slater should have a better chance of at least receiving some Offensive Rookie of the Year votes.

    And ahead of a blockbuster clash between the Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens, Stats Perform assesses whether Slater can take home the prize.

    Slater's stellar performance

    Though he had difficulties protecting Herbert from Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett in Week 5, giving up a sack on a stunt involving Garrett and Malik McDowell and another following a spin move from the 2017 first overall pick, Slater has otherwise done a superb job keeping his quarterback clean.

    His pressure rate allowed of 5.3 per cent ranks fourth among left tackles with a minimum of 100 pass protection snaps. Digging deeper into his numbers, Slater has lost only 13 of his 110 pass protection matchups, a win rate of 88.18 per cent.

    Slater's stunt-adjusted win rate of 87.29 per cent is 13th among tackles with at least 50 matchups and is superior to that of Penei Sewell (76.27), the seventh overall pick of the Detroit Lions.

    With his athleticism translating superbly to the highest level, Slater has been similarly effective in the run game, with a double-team adjusted win rate of 85.25 per cent from his 37 matchups.

    Rarely would such sound offensive line play even put a rookie in the conversation for an individual award; however, 2021 could prove a unique case.

    A lacklustre QB class?

    Much was made of the strength of the 2021 quarterback class, yet that has not been reflected in the play of the five signal-callers to be taken in the first round so far.

    Truly standout performances from rookie quarterbacks have been thin on the ground to this point, and the fact 15th overall pick Mac Jones leads the group in passing yards (1,243) and percentage of accurate, well-thrown balls (83.2) speaks to the mediocrity of their displays.

    Jones has been accurate while struggling to push the ball downfield, with his air yards per attempt average of 7.51 the lowest among rookie quarterbacks.

    First overall pick Trevor Lawrence's six touchdowns lead all rookies, yet his well-thrown percentage is a disappointing 75.2 per cent and his pickable pass percentage of 4.85 is well above the league average of 3.16.

    The only two rookies to have excelled at avoiding turnover-worthy throws are Justin Fields (1.43 per cent) and Trey Lance (2.13 per cent). However, Fields has yet to put together a game to suggest he could win the award while Lance's one start so far was an uneven performance in which his positive flashes were negated by the poor execution of his offensive team-mates.

    With the quarterbacks failing to build a convincing case, the favourite for Offensive Rookie of the Year must be Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

    Chase's 456 receiving yards are seventh in the NFL and he already has five touchdowns to his name. The fifth overall pick is producing a big play on 38.9 per cent of targets, comfortably the best rate among rookie receivers with at least 10 targets.

    Such numbers would seem to make him the clear frontrunner, but with the Bengals now 3-2 and facing a more difficult schedule than they have contended with through five weeks, his stock could soon take a dent and open the door for Slater, whose case would be strengthened by a strong performance against a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

    Oweh a significant challenge

    The Chargers' ability to move the ball against the Ravens on Sunday may be contingent on how well Slater performs against another first-rounder in Baltimore pass rusher Odafe Oweh.

    Oweh already has three sacks to his name and his 14 pressures were second only to Miami Dolphins' rookie Jaelan Phillips among first-year edge rushers heading into Week 6.

    Boasting only 12 wins from 54 pass rush matchups, the more granular numbers are not as impressive for Oweh.

    But his production to this point in terms of sacks suggests Oweh is a player who is quick to take advantage of opportunities that come his way.

    A freakish athlete with elite short-area and long speed, Oweh only started playing football in high school, meaning there is likely plenty more growth to come from a defender who has already developed rapidly in his short time with the Ravens.

    Slater, therefore, cannot afford to take the challenge of facing Oweh lightly despite the matchup numbers indicating he should have a clear advantage over his fellow rookie.

    Coverage of the sport is such that more focus is given to the plays where the pass rusher beats his man and gets to the quarterback than to the plethora of snaps where the offensive lineman stops a defender from making an impact.

    As a result, Slater's Rookie of the Year argument perhaps rests on him completely stopping Oweh from producing any splash plays.

    Even if he does so, the prospect of him claiming the honour will be an unlikely one, but a performance that sees him shut down Oweh, help the Chargers to 5-1 and assist Herbert in further building his MVP case will at least be worthy of a wider conversation about recognition for arguably the premier offensive rookie of the class in the opening month of the season.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.