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That’s odd: Fierce encounters to kick off 2021 for fans

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After Indian cricket fans found a silver lining at the end of a catastrophic 2020, where India defeated Australia in the Boxing Day Test to level the ongoing Test series 1-1, things have started to look strenuous for the visitors ahead of the third Test match.

For football fans, though, this week could not get any more exciting. With both Manchester City and Manchester United in terrific form in the Premier League, an EFL Cup knockout fixture is just what the viewers wanted.

While the first full week of 2021 brings numerous exciting clashes in various leagues across cricket and football, these two encounters stand out in terms of thrill and tenacity.

India vs Australia 3rd Test Match – Border Gavaskar Trophy

Indian cricket team’s historic triumph over Australia in Melbourne in the absence of star players like Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami was followed by a social media outrage when five Indian cricketers were accused of breaking biosecurity protocols to eat at an indoor restaurant in Melbourne on New Year’s eve.

Consequently, things have escalated with India coming to the third Test match in Sydney with claims of the visiting players unwilling to travel to Brisbane for the fourth and final Test match of the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2021.

This hasn’t gone down well with the Queensland government with the state’s Health Shadow Minister Ros Bates stating, “If the Indians don’t want to play by the rules, don’t come.”

Hence, when Indian players take on the field on January 7, Thursday, their actions will be scrutinised like never before. To make things worse, India’s Test record at the Sydney Cricket Ground isn’t very encouraging, with the visitors winning just once since their first match at the venue in 1947.

However, with momentum in their favour and hosts Australia visibly struggling against the Indian bowlers, Ajinkya Rahane and Co. will be looking to capitalise on the situation.

Watch out for

Ajinkya Rahane: A stand-in captain for India in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, Rahane has proved that although he might not be as flamboyant as Virat Kohli, he has every ability to change the course of a game single-handedly both with bat and leadership skills.

Coming to bat when India were 61/2 in the first innings, Rahane used all his experience to steady India's ship with a brilliant ton that lasted 365 minutes. After his innings set the ball rolling for India's win in the second Test match, the captain guided India to a historic win at the iconic MCG with an unbeaten 27 along with Shubman Gill at the other hand.

The fact that MCG's brilliant knock came after Rahane received all the criticism for his involvement in a disastrous run-out with Kohli in the Adelaide Test, showed the Mumbaikars incredible fighting spirit. And India's haunting record at the Sydney Cricket Ground has little chance of dismantling the unparalleled form that Rahane is in.

Manchester United vs Manchester City – EFL Cup

The last Premier League matchweek saw Manchester United edging past an astute Aston Villa defence 2-1 while Pep Guardiola’s men schooled Frank Lampard’s star-studded Chelsea team 3-1 at the Stamford Bridge.

After a topsy-turvy start to their season, both domestic and European, the Manchester clubs have found their ground at the right time. With the Premier 

League finishing its first half in December, both the clubs are very much into the top-four race, which makes Thursday’s EFL Cup semi-final clash between the two sides a mouth-watering prospect.

However, despite Manchester United’s home advantage, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men will come to the fixture as the second favourite. City boast of an envious record at the Old Trafford, where they have won five and drawn twice in their last 10 matches across all competitions.

Watch out for:

Kevin De Bruyne: The Belgian midfield maestro has continued his dominance in the 2020-21 season with three goals and an unbelievable 12 assists in 18 matches so far. The fulcrum of Guardiola’s sophisticated machinery, De Bruyne was at the top of his game yet again against Chelsea on Sunday, where he scored one and assisted another.

Interestingly, Manchester City have not lost six of their eight encounters with United when KDB was in the line-up and the attacking midfielder will be the most important player for the visitors on Thursday, yet again.

Wondering what to do next? Head to to select your picks.

Feature image courtesy: William WEST / AFP

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