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W2W4: India and Australia meet in Ranchi, AFC Cup picks up steam

Photo/Aijaz Rahi

The Ranchi Test between India and Australia could well determine where the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is headed this time. And Bengaluru FC will take on Mohun Bagan yet again -- this time in the AFC Cup. There will also be golf, tennis, badminton and more involving Indians over the next seven days.

CRICKET

India vs Australia, 3rd Test

Starts Thursday, March 16, Ranchi

Notable storylines: India completed a remarkable comeback after getting outplayed in the first Test against Australia in Pune, with a fighting 75-run victory in Bengaluru in the second of four Test matches. The match was not without its share of acrimony, especially following Australian captain Steve Smith's second-innings dismissal, and the fact that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be on the line in the first Test played at former captain MS Dhoni's home city should make for a fascinating battle.

Also of note: Australia will be without their pace spearhead Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins is expected to make his first Test appearance in six years. India might consider bringing an extra bowler in, though the final team composition will be largely dependent on the surface in Ranchi, which is reportedly expected to favour spin and have low bounce.


FOOTBALL

AFC Cup, Bengaluru FC v Mohun Bagan

Starts Tuesday, March 14, Bengaluru

Notable storylines: Mohun Bagan will be fronting up at Bengaluru FC's home ground, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, for the second time inside three days, following a hotly contested but somewhat mediocre goalless I-League encounter on Saturday. This Group E match assumes significance also because any team losing their matches early on will be forced to play catch up not only with their rivals, but also Dhaka Abahani of Bangladesh and Maldivian club Maziya, the other two teams in the four-team group. Only the winner of the group will progress beyond the group stages and will have to play inter-zonal playoffs to make it to the knockout stages.

Also of note: The battle outside the pitch made for more compelling viewing at times on Saturday, but this match provides an excellent chance for both coaches to put a dent in their rival camp's hopes for both national and continental bliss for the season. Bengaluru have never beaten Mohun Bagan in four matches at home in the I-League, and they will be desperate to put that bogey at rest against a team that has only lost one match this calendar year.


GOLF

PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational

Starts Thursday, March 16, Florida

Notable storylines: India's top-ranked golfer Anirban Lahiri will be part of a star-studded field in the annual event on the PGA Tour, but the first since the death of the legendary golfer Arnold Palmer in September 2016. One of the notable absentees, however, is eight-time champion Tiger Woods, whose persistent back issues have seen him sidelined from the game since withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic in the first week of February.

Also of note: The field will be a competitive one, with defending champion Jason Day leading the way among five of the top nine players in the world. Other notable names for the event include Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and reigning Masters champion Danny Willett.


TENNIS

WTA Tour Indian Wells Open

Continues Tuesday, March 14, California

Notable storylines: The exit of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna from their respective halves of the men's doubles draw has left Sania Mirza as the only Indian left standing in the fray at Indian Wells, where she and her Czech partner Barbora Strycova have made it to the last eight of the women's doubles draw.

Also of note: Sania and Strycova, seeded fourth, will face the sixth seeds Martina Hingis of Switzerland and Chang-Yung Jan of Taipei. Both Sania and Hingis are bidding for their third doubles title at this event. While Hingis earned her first title alongside Russia's Anna Kournikova in 1999, Sania won hers with another Russian partner, Elena Vesnina, 12 years later. The second title for both players remains in each other's company in 2015, the same year that they embarked on a 41-match winning streak at the US Open in September.


BADMINTON

Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold

Starts Tuesday, March 14, St Jakobshalle

Notable storylines: Indian badminton players will get the chance to make up for their lacklustre performance at the All England Open last week. Ajay Jayaram and HS Prannoy are seeded third and fifth, respectively, in the men's singles event.

Also of note: Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy will be part of the men's doubles draw, while N Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponappa will lead the Indian charge in women's doubles. Reddy will also be participating in the mixed doubles, where she and her partner Pranav Jerry Chopra are seeded fourth.


SHOOTING

ISSF Shotgun World Cup

Starts Sunday, March 19, Acapulco, Mexico

Notable storylines: India are sending a 10-member contingent to the first shotgun World Cup that will be organised since the multi-discipline World Cup in Delhi got over in the first week of March.

Also of note: Sunday will be the first day of competition, and the only finals will be in women's trap, a contest India are not sending any athletes for. However, it will also feature the first day of competition in men's trap, where India are represented by Olympian Kynan Chenai, Zoravar Singh Sandhu and Birendeep Sodhi.