Axed Australian paceman Mitchell Starc returns for a Sydney Sixers side looking to continue their home city bragging rights when they play Sydney Thunder in a Big Bash League match at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Set up as cross-town rivals for the Twenty20 competition, the results so far have been one-way traffic, the Sixers unbeaten in their five clashes with the Thunder dating back to the inaugural 2011 BBL.
With the mercurial Starc returning to spearhead the Sixers’ attack after being dumped for Australia’s third Test against India, the men in magenta will fancy their chances of making it six in a row.
The 2012 Champions League winners are two from two this season with comfortable victories against the Melbourne Renegades and Hobart Hurricanes, veteran paceman Brett Lee and allrounder Moises Henriques looking in particularly good touch.
But the Thunder appear a different side to the one that finished last in all three editions of the BBL in which they won a combined three games from 23 fixtures.
The addition of star allrounder Jacques Kallis already looks to be a huge boon, the South African belting 97 not out from 55 balls in the Thunder’s 56-run win over the Brisbane Heat in round one.
“Obviously I haven’t been involved in the last few years and it has been quite tough for the guys so to get away with a victory first game up has really got the guys excited,” Kallis said on Friday.
The 39 year-old wasn’t the only star on a night where the Thunder compiled 1-208 with fellow veteran Mike Hussey slamming 96 off 60 balls.
Lee said he expected that pairing to be key for Thunder.
“They’ve always had a decent side – they haven’t probably played up to their expectations but with the way that Jacques and Michael Hussey played the other night we have to make sure we knock these two boys over pretty early,” he said.
Organisers at ANZ Stadium are hoping the crowd will break the record for a domestic cricket match in the state – the 32,587 that attended the Sheffield Shield final between NSW and Victoria in 1934.
China’s Christian population, currently estimated at around 60 million, is rapidly growing and Christmas is increasingly marked in the country ruled by the officially atheist Communist Party.
But the government education bureau in Wenzhou, an eastern Chinese coastal city sometimes called “China’s Jerusalem” because of its large Christian population, banned schools from holding “Christmas-related” events, the Global Times reported.
Local officials “hope schools can pay more attention to Chinese traditional festivals instead of Western traditions”, said the tabloid, which has close ties to the Communist Party.
Interest in Christmas has grown in China as an occasion for shopping, with marketeers using everything from saxophones and Smurfs to steam trains to get consumers to open their wallets.
But authorities in Wenzhou this year launched a demolition campaign aimed at local churches, with more than 400 forced to remove visible crosses and some completely destroyed.
The ban came as a university in central China required students to watch a documentary about Chinese sage Confucius instead of celebrating Christmas.
“Be good sons and daughters of your country, stand against kitsch Western holidays,” a banner on the campus of Northwest University in the ancient city of Xi’an said, according to photographs posted online.
“Resist the expansion of Western culture,” read another.
A university spokesman told the state-run Guangming Daily that the school appealed to the students to pay more attention to Chinese traditional culture, and not to “idolise foreign festivals”.
The newspaper added: “Each year Christmas brings debate, with one side saying that the festival can bring a lot of new fun things, and another side saying that we should not fawn over foreign things and overlook Chinese traditional festivals.”
China’s Communist party periodically issues broadsides against “Western cultural infiltration” amid growing consumption of foreign movies, music and other goods.
The microblog of the ruling party mouthpiece, the People’s daily, displayed pictures of around 10 university students in the central province of Hunan holding an anti-Christmas street protest.
“Resist Christmas,” read banners held up by the students, who wore traditional Chinese outfits. “Chinese people should not celebrate foreign festivals.”
The Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions in one of several high-stakes contests in the final weekend of the National Football League’s regular season.
There are playoff spots and division titles to be determined including the critical Green Bay game which will see the winner earn the NFC North Division title and a first-round bye.
Both teams have already clinched postseason spots and the Packers are a perfect 7-0 at home this season.
Green Bay claimed their spot in the playoffs for the sixth straight season with a 20-3 win over Tampa Bay last Sunday.
If Green Bay beats the Lions and Seattle loses to St. Louis, the Packers will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Lions, who rallied to beat Chicago 20-14 last week, have lost 23 consecutive games at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a left calf injury in the win over Tampa Bay but the Packers say they are not worried.
“I don’t think there’s much concern at all,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “I think he’ll be ready to go. So, we’ll see how his week goes and we’ll find out on Sunday. I think he’ll be fine, though.”
Two teams with losing records square off in a winner-take-all game when Carolina visits Atlanta.
The winner will claim the NFC South Division title as the Falcons just need a win while the Panthers need a win or a tie.
Carolina has won its past three games and 11 of past 12 in December.
The Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys, who can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win — but only if Seattle and Arizona also lose.
Cowboys star DeMarco Murray needs just 29 yards to break Emmitt Smith’s 1995 club rushing record.
Washington won the first meeting this season between the two teams, 20-17 in overtime.
The Miami Heat weren’t in a giving mood as they spoiled the Christmas Day return of LeBron James to southern Florida.
James tallied a team-high 30 points and eight assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers lost 101-91 to his former team in one of five NBA contests on the Christmas holiday.
It was James’s first game in South Beach since spurning the Heat to rejoin his hometown Cavaliers in the offseason.
James, who got a big pre-game ovation from the crowd of 19,800, won two NBA titles in four seasons with his former team, who have fallen to a sub .500 club since he left.
Miami didn’t play like a struggling team this time.
They were a determined bunch, especially James’ former sidekick Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 31 points.
The Heat victory came just 48 hours after a disappointing 91-87 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
“It could have been easy for us to be down on ourselves but we weren’t,” said Wade, who hugged and chatted with James on the court after the final buzzer.
It seems there were no hard feelings between James and the Heat fans either, as he received plenty of applause and just a smattering of boos during the pre-game introductions.
The Heat also played a video tribute to James during one of the timeouts.
“What me and my teammates created while we were here is going to last forever,” said James, who led the Heat to four championship appearances. “You can never take that out of the (history) books.
“I gave everything and more to the city while I was here. I never disrespected the city, the franchise, or any of my teammates.”
Wade said he was pleased to see the cheers outnumber the boos for James.
“That is the way it should be. There is no reason to say anything negative about LeBron James,” said Wade, who scored 24 of his 31 points in the first half.
In San Antonio, Russell Westbrook didn’t mind picking up the slack for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were missing reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant for the fifth-straight contest.
Westbrook tallied 35 points and 11 assists as the Thunder beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs 114-106 in front of 18,500 fans.
Westbrook also had five rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, who lost to the Spurs 4-2 in the playoff semi-finals last season. Serge Ibaka added 21 points and Steven Adams engineered 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
In Los Angeles, Jamal Crawford scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and Chris Paul scored 22 points as the LA Clippers beat Golden State 100-86, handing the NBA-leading Warriors their second loss at Staples Center in three days.
Klay Thompson scored 15 points and Stephen Curry 14 for Golden State, who have now lost three of five following a 23-3 start that included a franchise-record 16-game winning streak.
In Chicago, former Lakers centre Pau Gasol had 23 points and 13 rebounds against his former team as Chicago beat Los Angeles 113-93 with Lakers star Kobe Bryant resting his sore body for a second staright game.
Jimmy Butler added 21 points, and Derrick Rose had 20 points and six assists to help the Bulls win their season-high fifth straight.
In New York, John Wall had 24 points and 11 assists, eluding the Knicks all day until getting knocked to the floor by a flagrant foul that sparked an altercation, and Washington beat New York 102-91.
Wall toyed with the Knicks for 3 1/2 quarters, highlighted by a spinning, 360-degree layup, before Quincy Acy knocked him down with a forearm shove with 5:31 to play.
Wall got up and pushed Acy, who responded with a punch that appeared to hit Wall behind the neck. Acy was ejected in the Christmas dust-up, and Wall received a technical foul.
Bradley Beal added 17 points for the Wizards, who had their top five of Wall, Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene and Marcin Gortat in the starting lineup for the first time this season.
Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points for the Knicks, who fell to 5-26 and have the most losses in the NBA. They have dropped six straight and 16 of 17.
Big-hitting New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum fell just short of scoring the fastest double century in Test history on the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka in Christchurch.
In the form of his life, McCullum put his side in a commanding position, blasting 195 off 134 balls as the Black Caps reached 7-429 at stumps.
The 33-year-old skipper blazed away for 18 fours and 11 sixes, christening New Zealand’s eighth Test venue, Hagley Oval, in style in 200 memorable minutes.
He had plenty of time to beat the double-ton speed record of 153 balls, set by compatriot Nathan Astle against England 13 years ago, also in Christchurch.
And he punched the air with frustration when caught by Dimuth Karunaratne at long off, handing offspinner Tharindu Kaushal a memorable first Test wicket – even if it came at a fearful cost of 117 runs off 15 overs.
“The man is an x-factor player. He has the ability to dominate, to dismantle bowlers very quickly and change the tempo and the way an innings is heading very quickly,” New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan said.
“He’s the most domineering and destructive player that’s played for New Zealand that I’ve seen.”
Having been sent in on a green surface, the Black Caps limped to 3-88 just after lunch before McCullum strode to the crease.
He put on 126 for the fourth wicket with Kane Williamson (54) and 153 with James Neesham (85), the latter a fifth-wicket record for New Zealand against Sri Lanka.
Five more runs would have allowed McCullum to match the exclusive feat of Australian Michael Clarke, who scored a triple century and three double tons in 2012.
McCullum could at least reflect on a host of other milestones as he walked off with the scoreboard reading 5-367.
He beat his own record for the fastest Test century by a Black Cap. His 74 balls faced was four less than it took him during his previous innings a month ago, when he went on to reach 202 against Pakistan in Sharjah.
The 33-year-old became also the first New Zealander to notch 1000 Test runs in a calendar year.
Earlier, openers Hamish Rutherford (18) and Tom Latham (27) made sound starts. The recalled Rutherford’s lean trot continued, having failed to pass 50 in his last 13 Test innings.
Ross Taylor was run out for seven when he slipped mid-pitch in the first over after lunch, while Williamson fell just before tea, ending an innings which lost momentum when McCullum took charge.
BEST OF 2014
1431 – Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka, average 79.5)
1164 – Brendon McCullum (NZ, 72.8)
1096 – David Warner (Australia, 64.5)
1064 – Younis Khan (Pakistan, 66.5)
MOST SIXES IN TESTS
100 – Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
98 – Chris Gayle (West Indies)
97 – Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
92 – Brendon McCullum (NZ)
91 – Virender Sehwag (India)
88 – Brian Lara (West Indies)
87 – Chris Cairns (NZ)