Posted by: Pete Robertson | October 11, 2011

Welsh Dragons Roar On While The English Are Slain

For the Home Nations as a whole, the Rugby World Cup has not been the success that many hoped for. But for one of the quartet of teams, the tournament is shaping up nicely.

The Welsh have shown that they are not the floundering team who would struggle to escape a particularly tough group that many critics predicted them to be. Despite having a very young and inexperienced captain at the helm, Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton looks just as comfortable with the role of captain as the likes of John Smit or Richie McCaw, both of whom have been in the job for years.

Wales captain Sam Warburton leads his team.

But just what happened to  the rest of our home favourites?

Scottish fans will leave the World Cup disappointed after the Tartan Army crashed out in the group stages. While they may not have been favourites to qualify from a strong group including 6 Nations winners England and 2007 Rugby World Cup over-achievers Argentina, Scotland had every chance to do just that. However, a simple drop-goal was missed by fly half Dan Parks in the final minutes against Argentina, condemning the Scots to a 13-12 loss, where a win would have seen them qualify to the quarter finals.

Irish fans too will be left feeling that their team could have gone further in the tournament, especially after their incredible victory over a strong Australian side to win their group. However, they met their match in the form of Warburton and his rampant Welsh side, and never looked like they had a chance in their quarter-final showdown on Saturday. Sadly for the Irish, this loss could well be the last time that the likes of captain and talisman Brian O’Driscoll, and key players Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara feature in a Rugby World Cup, and in the coming years Ireland will have to show that the team can adapt to such losses, and deal with such a squad overhaul.

But it is England fans that will be feeling the worst about their Rugby World Cup experience. After winning the 6 Nations title for the first time since 2003, a World Cup win was set on the minds of many of England’s supporters. However, both the performances on the pitch, and the conduct of the players off it, showed that all was not well in the England camp. Manager, and World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson was forced to spend as much time at press conferences defending the conduct of his players off the field, notably Mike Tindall who was caught on CCTV with the now infamous ‘blonde girl’, rather than being able to focus media attention on the positives. After all, while the performances were far from convincing, England still managed to top their group with four wins out of four. But yet again, poor discipline and errors during their quarter-final match against France, saw the 2003 champions fail to recapture their 6 Nations form, and sent them home from the tournament.

Mike Tindall's off field antics drew more media attention than his on-field play.

So it is Wales that now carry the hopes of all four home nations on their back. Whether English, Irish or Scottish, the whole of the UK should be backing Warren Gatland’s men to go all the way, and hope that they see the youngest ever World Cup captain Warburton lift the Webb Ellis trophy come the final on the 23rd October. First France, and then either Australia or hosts New Zealand stand in their way and Wales are far from favourites. But with France reliably unreliable, Australia faltering in the group stage against Ireland and then in the quarter-final against South Africa, and New Zealand losing fly half Dan Carter and several other key players to injury, Wales go into the semi finals as the most consistent performers.

One thing is for sure though. Should the Welsh go on and win the tournament, there’s going to be one hell of a party up and down the rugby mad country, and the squad will return to a heroes welcome after their endeavours in New Zealand.

What are your thoughts on the Rugby World Cup so far? Do you think Wales can go on and win the tournament? Please leave your comments below…

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Posted by: Pete Robertson | September 13, 2011

Who’d Be A Football Manager?

Coming into his 15th season as manager of Arsenal, it appears that Arsène Wenger is approaching his toughest period yet.

The 8-2 battering handed to the Gunners by Manchester United a few weeks ago was simply the icing on the cake of what must have been Wenger’s least enjoyable pre-season to date.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is facing his toughest start to a Premier League season.

The current rut of form can be traced back to the end of last season. For the first time in the last few seasons, it looked like Arsenal were to be Manchester United’s closest rivals in the race for the title. They fell away dramatically though in the final part of the season, highlighted no better than a loss in the Carling Cup final to Birmingham City, and a dramatic 4-4 draw with Newcastle after being 4-0 up at half time.

Arsenal then went on to lose the Emirates Cup, their stadium based pre-season tournament, for only the second time, in a summer that was dominated by talk of two big name players leaving the club.

The sagas surrounding the transfers of captain Cesc Fabregas and playmaker Samir Nasri dominated the back pages of the newspapers over the summer, with Wenger often forced to repeat his desire to keep both players at interviews. Ongoing rumours such as these quickly become tiresome for a manager who wants to talk about the future and his squad as it is at that point in time, rather than endless questions over which players are leaving, and the manager’s inability to keep his squad together.

A shaky start to the Premier League season has further deepened the hole that Wenger currently finds himself in, and qualification to the Champions League has barely registered amongst a goalless draw to Newcastle, a home defeat by Liverpool and the 8-2 drubbing dealt to them by the Champions Man United. Even this weeks win against Premier League new-boys Swansea came courtesy of an error from Swans keeper Michel Vorm, and Arsenal looked extremely shaky for large periods of the game.

It’s not just the Gunners manager who is already under pressure to perform though. Blackburn manager Steve Kean was given a vote of confidence by the clubs new Indian owners towards the end of last season. However, a relegation battle and failing to grab a single point so far this campaign has left Kean’s job in doubt already, with the bookmakers having the Glasgow born manager as favourite to be sacked before any other Premier League boss this year.

Failing to perform in the transfer market is another sure way to turn fans against you and your club. A prime example of this can be found at Newcastle, where the fans were promised a new striker to replace the £35m sale of Andy Carroll. Added to this are the sales of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique, all key players for the Toon Army, and yet manager Alan Pardew and the board have, in the eyes of many of the Geordie faithful, failed to use the funds acquired to replace these players and re-enforce the squad.

Even success it seems can be fatal to a manager’s realm at a Premier League club. Just look at Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian guided Chelsea to a league and FA Cup double in his first season in charge, and was rightfully praised for his efforts. During his second season though, Chelsea only came 2nd in the League, securing automatic qualification to the Champions League once again might I add, but sadly this was not enough for their billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who instead sacked Ancelotti and splashed out over £13m to bring in 33-year-old manager Andre Villas-Boas from Porto.

The life of a football manager is surely one of the most sought after up and down the country, with thousands of us even buying video games to try to replicate the experience. But there is absolutely nothing that can fully immerse you in the real experience, the everyday stress and constantly having to answer questions of your performance.

But despite all of the stress, pressure and scrutiny, who wouldn’t want to manage a football club?

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 18, 2011

Top of the World England Still Have a Long Way to Go.

For the first time in recent history, England go into a Test match as the number 1 ranked side in the World.

After thrashing the Indian team at Edgbaston last week and confirming their number 1 status, England travel to the Oval hoping to once again show the form that has catapulted them to the heights of their new-found World Ranking.

But listening to Captain Andrew Strauss, this is an England team not prepared to rest of any of their laurels. Instead, Strauss talks of being the World’s best Test team as just another stepping block along the way to bigger and better things. And personally, I completely agree with him.

Looking at the most recent form, we have thrashed India, and won the Ashes in Australia, both stirling achievements in the Test match arena. The form being displayed from the whole team has been magnificent, so much so that it’s difficult to pick out just one or two individuals. I suppose there must be a mention for Alistair Cook, who has shown that he is more than qualified to hold down a spot at the top of the English batting line up, and James Anderson, who has continued to grow into the 2nd ranked bowler in the world, despite world number 1 Dale Steyn admitting that Anderson is realistically one up on him.

ODI Captain Alistair Cook will hope to be lifting the World Cup in 2015

But it is Cook’s one day side that is under the most pressure to perform. In the test rankings, England now top the world, so why in the One Day International rankings are we down in 5th place?

This is the target area for England who have ambitions to win the World Cup when it next comes around in 2015. However, the same group of players that work so well as a Test team, with no apparent weak links to the chain, often struggle in the game’s 50-over format.

This stems from not having a settled team in my opinion. The frequent changes made, especially to the lower order batsmen, makes it that the team often has a number of players who are neither there to be high order batsmen, nor a front line bowler. This seems a waste, and not the same kind of thinking that stems from the management of the test match side, where every player knows their role and what is expected of them for the team.

England need to settle on a one day side, with a mix of experienced International cricketers and youthful players doing well in the county game, if they want to improve on their current world ranking position.

Our success in the test arena recently has come from having a settled squad of players, meaning that any injuries suffered have not led to any real disruption in the team, and the players then moving into the starting XI are grabbing their opportunities with both hands. This is not replicated though in the one day side, with too many players moving in and out of the starting XI, but not staying in the squad, instead being cast aside, with a brand new player moving in, rather than one with any previous experience.

Once England settle on their best team in 50 over matches, Cook and coach Andy Flower can start to work together towards the ultimate goal of World Cup success. Right now, they would admit themselves that they’re not quite ready, but with 3 years to work on improving the one day side, there is no reason that England’s number 1 status in the test rankings cannot be replicated in either ODI’s or even T20 rankings.

But first things first. Let’s finish off this series against India, ideally with another convincing win, and confirm our place as the best Test match team in the World. Let’s enjoy the status, and match the expectations that come with it. After all, with England’s recent form, Strauss and his men deserve it.

Do you think England deserve to be the World number 1? How could we improve in other formats of the game? Let me know your thoughts below, any comments are always welcome.

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 15, 2011

Premier League – Top 3 Goals of the Weekend.

It’s been a busy old start to the Barclays Premier League, with only one home win from the entire round of matches. Defending champions Manchester United got off to a winning start, as did their closest rivals, geographically speaking at least, Manchester City. But where were the best goals of the weekend scored? After all, that’s what we enjoy seeing, right?

An unusual first candidate in the form of Bolton centre back Gary Cahill, who found himself in space on the edge of the QPR penalty area. With the touch of a multi-million pound striker, Cahill curled the ball perfectly into the top corner, leaving Ranger’s ‘keeper Paddy Kenny no chance of saving it whatsoever. The England international put in a solid performance all round, and with 20 days still to go in the transfer window, efforts like this will only serve to boost his already sterling reputation.

Secondly, a warm welcome to English football, and a warning sent to 18 other teams in the league, handed out from Sergio Aguero. The £38 million man scored a goal earlier in the game, but it was his second of the match that truly stands out. Hit from all of 30 yards, the ball was in the back of the net before the Swansea goalkeeper had a chance to react to it. Aguero was also involved in the build up to a goal for David Silva, and looked like the most dangerous man on the pitch during his second half substitute appearance. The forward combination of Aguero, Silva and fellow striker Edin Dzeko looked formidable, and may well become a familiar feature of the Man City side in the weeks to come.

For my third choice of the week, I was temped to plump for Stephen Ward’s effort for Wolves, scoring the winner from a neatly timed volley outside the penalty area. However, I simply couldn’t look beyond Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland. The athleticism he showed in managing to get himself almost horizontally off the ground before burying a right footed volley past Liverpool’s Pepe Reina was outstanding, and especially when doing it on your debut for a new club. If the Swedish international winger can keep producing performances such as this, Sunderland will know that they’ve picked up one of the best free transfer signings of the summer.

New signing Sebastian Larsson scoring a spectacular debut goal.

Do you agree with my choices? Please feel free to leave a comment below…

 

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 15, 2011

It’s United, But Not As You Know It

Ryan Giggs. Michael Carrick.  Patrice Evra. Paul Scholes. Gary Neville. Darren Fletcher. Edwin Van Der Sar. All household names in last seasons Championship winning Manchester United side, and yet none of them feature in United’s Premier League curtain raiser against West Brom on Sunday.

Whether injured, rested or retired, the side that manager Sir Alex Fergsuon played was very different to that which we are used to seeing, with several names who have either been new signings, spent previous seasons away on loan, or have been bubbling just below the first team and just now are getting their chance.

The likes of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverly must have questioned how much of a future they had at United, having spent last season on loan at Sunderland and Wigan respectively. However, after impressing away from United, Ferguson seems keen to give these players a chance in the first team, and may even see Cleverly as a long-term replacement for the now retired Paul Scholes.

And it’s the same story when you look at United’s defence. Of the players that finished the game (admittedly after key players Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand left the field injured), all four of them would expect to be further down the pecking order, yet it appears that Ferguson has plans to use all his players in major roles throughout the season. His young defence of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Johnny Evans and Fabio may not be the most household of names to those who don’t follow the fortunes of the Red Devils, but at United they are seen very much as the future of the club.

Add to them the young goalkeeper David De Gea who did make a few mistakes in the game and looked uncertain at times, but will be given time and allowed to grow into the role as United’s number 1.

But it was new boy Ashley Young (left) who stole the show from all these fresh United talents. The ex Aston Villa winger looked at home on United’s left wing, regularly causing all manner of problems to the West Brom defence, and was made Man of the Match for his display. Over the coming weeks, the battle between himself and Man United legend Ryan Giggs for a starting role will be great to watch, and both will have to be at their very best to show the manager why they should be in the side.

Despite the change of personnel on the pitch however, there was one thing about Sunday’s performance that certainly has not changed at United. The drive of all the players to win every game is clear, and like many previous United teams, this one scored the winning goal inside the last 10 minutes of the match. This competitiveness what has made the transition of players seem so easy, with no apparent upheaval of the team despite the sheer number of new or inexperienced faces.

You may not recognise all the names and faces, but United remain clear favorites for the title, even at such an early stage in the season, despite the relative calm in terms of team upheaval at closest rivals Chelsea.

They may not be the regular household names of years gone by, but this group of players is very much a Man United side, driven by a hunger for success, and desperate to prove that they are every part the same Premier League winning side that we’re used to. And you’d struggle to bet against them to do just that…

How do you see Manchester United faring this season? Will the new players gel into the side? Have they made the right signings or should they have gone for someone else? Please comment below and let me know your views…

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 14, 2011

The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly.

We waited for over 80 days, but finally, after a long and football-less summer, the Premier League returned with a bang yesterday.

It may not have been the most bountiful opening day in terms of goals scored, but it was intriguing for a whole host of other reasons, none more so than the scenes sparked at St James’ Park.

The first incident here involved, you guessed it, Joey Barton. The Newcastle midfielder has had a turbulent summer which included a public Twitter row with the club, leading to him being allowed to leave the club on a free transfer. Now, having been picked to start the season opener against Arsenal, Barton once again finds himself in the back pages of the Sunday papers for reasons other than his footballing talents.

He first played the role of victim in the drama that is his life through 140 tweeted characters. After a fairly innocuous challenge, Arsenal ‘s Alex Song took the law into in his own hands, stepping on the achilles of Joey Barton who was on the floor at the time. This is a malicious act and has no place in football, and while the referee had no chance to see it, the FA will surely review the video footage and a ban will surely follow.

However, being Joey Barton the incident was never enough. He stormed off the pitch to remonstrate with the fourth official, and clearly the incident left his blood boiling. After this the rest of the game was played with a sour taste in the mouth, and it was to no surprise that just minutes later the passions of the match boiled over again.

Barton, protesting against an alleged dive from Arsenal new boy Gervinho, took it upon himself to grab the Ivorian striker, hauling him back to his feet, sparking a brawl between players on both sides in which Gervinho slapped Barton to the floor. Gervinho got his marching orders while Barton escaped with just a yellow card, leaving Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger at a loss as to why the players didn’t receive equal punishment. In his post-match interview, Wenger commented that the referee again missed the incident, something backed up by the video evidence. He claimed “I think he has his back turned to the incident. If he had seen it, he would have sent both of them off, or nobody.” He went on to add, “It is a yellow to the two or a red to the two”.

Joey Barton clashes with Gervinho

These weren’t the only scenes of violence in the Premier League though. Having conceded four goals in front of their own fans, it already was a difficult return to the Premier League for Queen’s Park Rangers. However, a needless red card rounded off the game, defender Clint Hill seeing red for a headbutt to the midriff of Bolton’s Martin Petrov, although replays again suggest an elbow used by Petrov in the build up to the incident.

All we can hope is that today’s matches do not turn out to be a repeat of what has been quite simply a thuggish display from the League’s stars so far, and that the quality of play and plenty of goals are the main talking points coming from Chelsea’s visit to Stoke, West Brom against Manchester United, and Monday’s match of Manchester City taking on Premier League new boys Swansea.

How do you feel about Saturday’s matches? Should Barton have seen red? Please comment below, I’d love to hear your views. 

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 13, 2011

New Premier League: Top 6 Players to Look Out For.

The new Premier League season kicks off today, and here are half a dozen players that could light up the league.

1. Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal

Ramsey has had a mixed time of it so far in his Arsenal career, showing some great promise, but also having limited opportunities behind an array of talent, and a horror leg break injury that kept him out of action for nearly an entire season. However, back to full fitness and seeing midfield competitors Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving the club, Ramsey will be greeting this season with expectations of a more influential role in the first team. A superbly talented player and, given a run in the side, Ramsey has all the potential to shine this season at Arsenal.

2. Hatem Ben Arfa – Newcastle United

Another player here who is on his return from a broken leg, but in the two games he did play for The Magpies last season showed that he can handle himself in the Premier League. Despite being at the club for a year now, Ben Arfa’s return will feel like a new signing for Alan Pardew’s men, and the Clairefontaine graduate will want to repay the faith Newcastle have showed in him throughout his injury nightmare. Newcastle will be desperate for more goals like the one he blasted against Everton last season, and if he can stay injury-free, Ben Arfa could bring good fortunes to the Tyneside club.

3. David De Gea – Manchester United

Following the retirement of Edwin Van Der Sar at the end of last season, Man United needed a goalkeeper, and Sir Alex Ferguson chose the 21 year-old De Gea as his replacement. De Gea’s performances in Spain over the last season has not only forced himself into the Atletico Madrid team, but also the Spain setup, including a call up to the World Cup squad. Adapting to the Premier League, and being so young, United must expect De Gea to make a few mistakes early on, but it is how he responds to those mistakes and learns from them that will show his new employers his worth and talent, making his a star to watch not just this season, but for many years to come.

4. Connor Wickham – Sunderland

Any 18 year-old that a Premier League club is willing to pay £12 million for should be one to watch, and young striker Connor Wickham is no exception. After making his debut as a 16 year old, Wickham became the leading man at Ipswich and had many Premier League clubs hoping to seal a deal for the England Under-21 International, but it was Steve Bruce’s Sunderland that landed the youngster. Expect goals at Sunderland from a player who has what it takes to make the step up from the Championship, and with a good run of form, Wickham is a player that could catch the eye of Fabio Capello and the England team.

5. Adel Taarabt – Queen’s Park Rangers

Captaining QPR’s Championship winning campaign back to the Premier League, Taarabt is not new to the Premier League. He played for Tottenham but failed to make it in the Premier League, but his career has taken off in the Championship. He scored 19 goals for QPR last season, leading to many clubs wanting his signature, including a rumoured bid of £12 million from Paris Saint Germain. The Morroccan International will want to show Spurs what they missed out on by replicating his form of last season in the Premier League, and with his goals, QPR could well have a safe return to the league.

6. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City

Any player who attracts the interest of Manchester City and a £38 million price tag must be on a list such as this. With a huge amount of pace, and a great eye for goal, Aguero should fit well into the Premier League. However, he will have to force his way into the team, past competition from similarly expensive stars Mario Ballotelli, Edin Dzeko and still perhaps Carlos Tevez, and this will be his most difficult task. However, the more he scores, the more he can expect to play, and all eyes will be on him to make a quick account of himself at City.

Do you agree with these suggestions? Is there any players that should be here that I haven’t included? Please have your say below…

Posted by: Pete Robertson | August 12, 2011

Premier League Preview: Top 6

Manchester United

Last Season: 1st.

Transfers: Sir Alex Ferguson acted very swiftly in the summer, completing several transfers before anyone else had even thought about bringing in new faces. In Phil Jones, United have snatched one of the most highly rated young defenders in the country, while big money moves for Spain under-21 goalkeeper David De Gea and Aston Villa winger Ashley Young have also caught the eye.

The Season Ahead: Clearly Sir Alex and his team will be looking to secure their 20th league title, and in doing so show the likes of Chelsea and their city rivals that this evolving Man United team is just as strong as the one that topped the pile last time around. United will also have Champions League ambitions, having just lost out last season to Barcelona.

Predition: United look stronger and more together than their closest competitors, and I see this team lifting the Premier League trophy in May once again. 1st.

Chelsea

Last Season: 2nd

Transfers: More changes to the backroom staff than the players at Stamford Bridge over the summer with the appointment of manager Andre Villas-Boas, but the youngest manager in the league has been busy in the close season. His pursuit of Luka Modric will continue until the final day of the transfer window, but the confirmed addition of Belgian teenage striker Romelu Lukaku will be an encouraging sign of things to come for the Blues, and there may be more young players coming to the club before the end of August.

The Season Ahead: Plenty of questions for Chelsea to overcome in the coming campaign, and the biggest challenge for the new manager will be the club’s away form, which was not good enough last season for them to realistically compete for honours. Villas-Boas must act quickly, and Champions League success is the only goal for owner Roman Abramovich.

Prediction: The Blues will begin to show their age and Villas-Boas must breathe new life and energy into the squad. Champions League will be seen as more important than league success. 3rd.

Manchester City

Last Season: 3rd

Transfers: For the first time in a while its the players leaving the club that have been grabbing the headlines. The Carlos Tevez saga has run all summer, with the player seemingly desperate to leave. However, to replace their captain City have signed Argentine ace Sergio Aguero for a club record £38m. Add to that the now almost definite capture of Samir Nasri and Roberto Mancini’s men will feel they have enough fire power to top their City rivals without last year’s leading goalscorer.

The Season Ahead: More trophy’s are the only aim for City, with their manager Mancini admitting that the Premier League may be another year away. They will target the Champions League as an arena to show off their considerable financial muscle against the very best in Europe, and a good run here will show the clubs owners a continued growth of the team.

Prediction: This is undoubtedly a truly world class team, but still require some time to gel before they top the league. 2nd

Arsenal

 Last Season: 4th

Transfers: It looks like two of the longest running transfer speculations of the summer may be coming to an end, with only the final details to conclude the sales of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Man City. However, with nearly £60m now to spend, it looks as if Arsenal may be leaving it late before bringing in any big names. Striker Gervinho and youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have already been added to the squad though, but surely a defender must now be top of the managers wish list.

The Season Ahead: Fitness has been the problem at Arsenal in recent years, and any hopes of success this season coming will be dictated by whether or not Arsene Wenger can put out a regular eleven week after week. The likes of Robin Van Persie will be especially key, but another season without a trophy would be stretching the patience of players who expect success, and the board who expect the manager to deliver it.

Prediction: Arsenal have been left behind in the transfer window, selling key players and the only team in the top 4 not to re-invest. Could struggle. 5th

Tottenham

Last Season: 5th

Transfers: All quiet on the transfer front for Harry Redknapp and his side this summer. The biggest story coming out of White Hart Lane is their resolute rejection of the advances for Chelsea for midfielder Luka Modric, but the need for a top class striker is clear. With stories linking Peter Crouch with a move away, Redknapp will have to move in the transfer market and may choose to leave it late, as he has done in the last few transfer windows.

The Season Ahead: With no Champions League to concentrate on this campaign, the league will return as Tottenham’s primary focus. That said, without any new players coming through the door Spurs will struggle to keep up with the top 4 and a battle for the Europa League spot may be as good as it gets for the North Londoners this season.

Prediction: Without any new signings Tottenham will be relying too heavily on one or two key players to perform, which is too much to ask for the entire season. 6th

Liverpool

Last Season: 6th

Transfers: Of the top 6 teams, it is Liverpool who have been the busiest over the summer in the transfer market. Manager Kenny Dalglish has heavily bolstered his midfield with the likes of Charlie Adam, Stuart Downing and Jordan Henderson, while also filling the problematic left back spot with Spaniard Jose Enrique. The owners have clearly showed that they have the funds to push the top 4 and reclaim a place in the Champions League.

The Season Ahead: In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “Liverpool are back in the game”. The squad looks very strong having been added to both over the summer but also in January, and, providing the new players gel and their talisman Steven Gerrard can stay fit, they have every chance of breaking back into the Champions League places.

Prediction: A revitalised Liverpool will score plenty of goals, and could push the league leaders right to the very end. 4th.

Do you agree with the top 6? Is there a team that should be included? Feel free to have your say below…

Posted by: Pete Robertson | July 21, 2011

England v India – Test Series Preview

Starting today at Lord’s, in the 2,000th Test Match, England will take on the number one side in the World, India, in what will surely prove to be a thrilling four match Test series. But where will the key battles be, and who should each side be looking out for?

Andrew Strauss vs M. S. Dhoni

The battle of the two Captains could well be the deciding factor in what is certain be a Test series decided on just one or two sessions. Both will want to win the opening coin toss today at Lord’s, and both will hope that the rain doesn’t affect the First Test too badly, with getting an early win under their belt a must. Against either of these teams, to come back to win a series after losing the First Test will be a near-impossible task, and both captains will know it.

Alistair Cook vs Virender Sehwag

Both Vice Captains will open the batting for their respective nations, building the foundations to the wealth of batting talent both teams possess further down the order. Two of the most in-form batsmen in the world, Cook recently won Man of the Series in Australia and led the ODI team to victory against Sri Lanka earlier this month, so perhaps feels he could have the edge against his Indian counterpart. Both men though are key to their team’s chances of success, and a good innings from either of them has the potential to win a Test Match almost single-handedly.

Jonathan Trott vs Sachin Tendulkar

This I feel is the most exciting of the head-to-heads. Ranked fourth and second in the World respectively, both are arguably their side’s best batsmen, and will be a prize scalp for any bowler. While Trott is consistent for England, scoring 203 against Sri Lanka in Cardiff this summer, there is no matching the likes of Tendulkar quite yet. The ‘Little Master’ has scored more runs than any other Test Batsman ever, and even at the age of 38, still looks to be in top form, and nears the unbelievable record of scoring 100 International centuries. He’ll be hoping to achieve this feat in the First Test at Lord’s, and complete one of the few feats that has alluded him in his career, to have his name put on the wall in the Lord’s dressing room.

Graeme Swann vs Harbhajan Singh

The two premier spin bowlers for both England and India will fancy their chances if the pitches stay just that little bit damp, and I’m sure they’ll both pick up a lot of wickets this series. With over 400 Test scalps to his name, writing off a bowler of the quality of Harbhajan could prove costly for England, but Swann’s emergence into the team in the last few years has been nothing short of meteoric. And with home conditions and support, Swann will expect to finish the series as the pick of the spinners, as you may expect from the World rankings, Swann currently ranked second while Harbhajan lies seventh.

James Anderson vs Zaheer Khan

Ranked third and sixth in the World respectively, you would be forgiven for thinking that Anderson will be on top in this battle of the seamers. However, recent poor form (by is own high standards) may give Zaheer a sniff of an opportunity to get on top of England’s senior fast bowler. However, England’s vast strength in-depth of fast bowlers will ensure that where Anderson may be lacking, another will step up to the mark, be it Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn or Tim Bresnan. With four seam bowlers in the top 20 in the World, India’s attack is not of the standard of England’s, but then again, you cannot get to being the World’s number one team without taking a wicket or two…

Billed as the World’s best batting side against the World’s best bowling attack, this series is almost too close to call – even the support of the Barmy Army will be matched by the noise of Indian fans. However, with the conditions in England as they are, the Indian team may take a little time to adapt, as demonstrated by their loss to Somerset recently, and so an early win for England could be the decisive factor to tip the series in the home team’s favour. I’m going to go for a 2-1 England win, but whatever the score, watching two of the very best teams in the World locking horns will be action from start to finish, and has all the potential for a Test series that will reignite a love for Test cricket, and could well be a series looked back on for years to come.

Comments welcome…

Posted by: Pete Robertson | July 17, 2011

A Wide Open Championship.

Heading into the final day at Royal St George’s, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will raise the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.

Current leader Darren Clarke will be pinching himself, and his mentality of simply smiling and enjoying himself is clearly paying off. At 5 under par, he is fortunate to have missed the worst of the weather on Saturday, but took advantage of the conditions, striking the ball superbly from tee to green. And his lead could have been greater still, only his self confessed problems on the greens letting him down. The 42 year old Northern Irishman will be doing all he can on Sunday to hold on to his slender lead, and go one better than his second place finish in this competition at Royal Troon in 1997.

Leader Darren Clarke will look to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Clarke’s greatest threat as it stands comes in the form of 27 year old American Dustin Johnson. The big hitter shared the lead for a short while on Saturday, and will hope that he can post an under par score on Sunday. If he manages that, the weather could just do the rest for him, and he will stand every chance of breaking the current duck facing American’s in major tournaments, not having won in the last five.

Thomas Bjorn did not even know he would be playing at this year’s Open Championship until Monday, but has seemingly taken it all in his stride. The 40 year old Dane took a share for the lead after the first day, and is still in the hunt for the Claret Jug, currently just three shots off the lead at -2. A win tomorrow would be sweet retribution for Bjorn, who infamously threw away a two shot lead here in 2003 with just three holes to play, handing the win to Ben Curtis, by taking three shots to get out of what is now known as ‘Bjorn’s Bunker’.

American Ricky Fowler put in the round of the day on Saturday, shooting a two under par 68 in the midst of the wind and rain, to put himself in a very healthy position heading into Sunday’s final round. And Fowler will be looking to emulate the recent exploits of fellow youngster Rory McIlroy by winning his first major championship, and well and truly kick starting what could well be a long and successful career. Certainly, a repeat performance of his round on Saturday, or looking further back, his singles match at the 2010 Ryder Cup, and only the very foolish will write off one of the most talented youngsters in golf.

But any score under par after three days is an excellent effort in the tricky conditions we’ve seen, and Lucas Glover and Miguel Angel Jiminez have played better golf over three days than their one under par scores suggest. Both still have a great chance to win, and a good final round, combined with some luck of the weather, could easily see either of them topping the leaderboard after Sunday’s play.

Miguel Angel Jiminez smokes his trademark cigar.

But of these six, who will finish on top? Personally, I’m going to go with my heart and cheer on both Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn. Clarke is one of the most liked players on tour, and has faced so much adversity though his career, sadly mostly off the golf course, that a win on Sunday would mean just that little bit more. And for Bjorn, what better way to put to bed the demons that haunted him in that bunker on the 16th hole eight long years ago, than doing what he deserved to do then and lift the Claret Jug, winning his first major along the way?

But with the weather predicted to be bad once again, who’s to say that the likes of Phil Mickleson, Rory McIlroy or even Tom Watson couldn’t do the unpredictable and come from far behind to mount a serious challenge. Anything could happen on Sunday at Royal St George’s, and I can’t wait.

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