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Monthly Archives: July 2013

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England can start enjoying their two wins over their Ashes rivals. Australia is wrong to wring their hands over their consecutive defeats. Why?

As far as the Ashes go, Australia have been, almost always, the better team. If they recall that legacy, their ordinary team may yet achieve the extraordinary.

Set aside the Ashes 2013 for a moment.

Of 66 series clashes only five have been drawn; 61 produced a result – 30 English victories and 31 Australian.

Both evenly matched, right? Not really. There’s something beneath the plaster. Of 312 Tests, 225 produced a result – Australia won 123, England 102. And there’s more.

As many as 11 English victories were before 1897 – there was only one Australian victory before 1897. Come 1897 Australia had transformed. Of 49 Ashes with a result, Australia lost only 19 but won as many as 30. If you ignore 19th century English supremacy, Australia won 61 per cent of the time. For a better part of the 20th century, it seems that the only thing they were any good at was hammering England. If these head-to-heads were a Tom and Jerry clip, England must have felt like an aggrieved but impotent Tom being brutalized by a rampaging Jerry.

But just as Australia did in the late 19th century, England are clawing back in the early 21st century. Australia have won on three occasions (2001, 2002/03 and 2006/07) and England on three (2005, 2009 and 2010/11). Both evenly matched, right? Again, not really.

Australia have been so used to bludgeoning England into submission that it’s going to take more than a few delirious sessions at Lord’s or Nottingham for England to be back on top.

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1989: England lose four Tests, once by an innings and once by 9 wickets.

1990/91: England lose three Tests, by 8 wickets, by 9 wickets and by 10 wickets.

1993: England lose four Tests, twice by an innings and once by 8 wickets.

With a bit of effort you can see where this is heading.

1994/95: England lose three Tests.

1997: England lose three Tests.

Monotony sets in.

1998/99: England lose three Tests.

2001: England lose four Tests – twice by an innings.

2002/03: England lose four Tests – twice by an innings.

In that 14-year period England lost eight successive Ashes.

In the Ashes 2005, England appeared to have seen a brief revival but it is more ‘brief’ than ‘revival’. They win two Tests, lose one and draw the other two.

Then they are at it again… getting hammered.

2006/07: England lose all five Tests, once by an innings and once by 10 wickets.

The Tom and Jerry routine had morphed into a full-blooded horror flick. The laughs had all but drained out of the frame – the humour had become hemorrhage.

England’s recent flourishes are just that – recent.

Australia’s recent losses suggest they’ve hit a bump not a brick wall. They can pause, reverse, change gear and hit the pedal again.

Of course it’s never that simple.

Australia don’t have a Cook or a Pietersen but they have Clarke. And Clarke has 247 fewer runs than Colin Cowdrey but from playing 20 fewer Tests.

Australia don’t have an Anderson but they have… well, actually they don’t have a bowler of that class.

OK. Australia are weaker. But they can bounce back if they believe in their legacy – as heavyweight champion of the Test world for over 100 years.

Young Ashton Agar’s defiant 98 was a spark. Here’s hoping that somehow, somewhere, a fire has been lit and Australia’s flame will burn bright again.

Here’s a look at the list of the candidates who have been nominated for this year’s awards.

Iker Casillas is the only goalkeeper on this list.

The winner of the award has to be above the age of 28 and still playing. Awarded for a footballer’s outstanding sporting achievements, the winner gets to leave his footprints on the Champions Promenade overlooking the seafront at the Principality of Monaco. Just like the Hollywood walk of fame, only slightly less cool.

Iker-Casillas1

Full Name: Iker Casillas Fernandez

DOB: May 20, 1981

Clubs: Real Madrid CF*

Why has he been included on this list?

If one were to give all the players on this list the once over, one would find that all the ten candidates on it have been models of consistency at the highest level of the game throughout their careers. It is the same with Iker Casillas.

To be the only constant in a Real Madrid side that has constantly seen major changes both on and off the pitch since he joined the club in 1990.

Having spent his entire professional career at the Santiago Bernabeu, he is afforded a strain of love and respect that has stood the test of time, the likes of which Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, David Beckham and the rest of the Galacticos were seldom afforded at Real.

That he has still managed to earn the same love and adulation on a near-permanent basis from the Madrid faithful, despite the presence of more glamorous players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Kaka and Mesut Ozil pays tribute to his quality, having won the IFFHS Goalkeeper of the Year Award five times in a row, the only goalkeeper to do so since its inception in 1987.

Since having made his debut for his country in 2000, San Iker, as he is known, has gone on to become his country’s most capped player, which shows just how good he is at the highest level.

What’s he won?

Iker Casillas is the backbone of a Real Madrid side that has won five La Liga titles since he began to feature for the first team in 1999.

He’s added a plethora of trophies to those five league championships. He has to his name one King’s Cup, four Spanish Super Cups, one UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA Intercontinental Cup.

He’s also won the Champions League twice, lifting Europe’s Holy Grail in 2000 and 2002.

Casillas was more than instrumental in announcing the arrival of the Spanish onto world football’s competitive stage. He was a part of the side that ended Spain’s hoodoo of being labelled perennial chokers when his team won Euro 2008.

Despite being such an accomplished goalkeeper at club level, his crowning glory would have most certainly been guiding Spain to the World Cup in South Africa three years ago.

La Roja then made history by becoming the first side to successfully defend their European Championship when they retained it in Poland-Ukraine last summer.

They will look to become only the second side (after Italy) to hold their World Cup crown and with Casillas in the side, that could well happen.

Casillas’ top-drawer performances have seen him named into the FIFA World Team of the Year on five different occasions. On those occasions, he also picked up the FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year Award, adding to his very large collection of personal honours.

Saint Iker lifting the world cup

Saint Iker lifting the world cup

Best and worst moments

Surely, as mentioned above, his best moment would have been lifting the World Cup after seeing his country underwhelm on the international stage time and time again.

Breaking the shackles on Spain’s decades-long underachieving streak would also be up there.

But every player is happy only when he plays and game time is rare for second-choice goalkeepers. Not accustomed to being on the bench, Casillas found himself frozen out of Jose Mourinho’s squad midway through last season because of apparent disagreements between the Spaniard and the Portuguese.

What’s he like off the pitch?

Casillas is in a very well-publicised relationship with sports journalist Sara Carbonero. They are currently expecting their first child.

He is also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and has been feted many times by the Spanish Government for his contributions to sporting excellence.

Casillas regularly travels around the world on charitable missions. In the past, he has been to Mali, China, Mexico, Peru and Chile, where he has worked with various NGOs.

Could he win the Golden Foot?

He most certainly could, but given that he could feature on the list again and there are those who have more experience, might be an outsider this time.

Pakistan v India - Twenty20 Championship Final

Misbah ul-Haq

After completing a clean sweep over the West Indies in the T20s, Pakistan climbed to number 2 in the ICC T20I Rankings, which is the highest ranking they have achieved in the format.It’s surprising though that Pakistan were not there, or even at number 1, earlier. They are clearly the most dominant international T20 team.

Even though Pakistan has played more T20Is than any other international team, they have also won more consistently than any other international team.

Pakistan’s win percentage of 62.3% is the highest among the 17 teams that have played T20 Internationals.

T20IWins

There are a number of other T20 records that belong to Pakistan and their players, which clearly spells out why Pakistan is the best T20 team in the world.

  1. Pakistan’s series win over the West Indies was their 12th series T20I series win, which is the highest number of bilateral series won by an international T20 team.
  2. Pakistan boasts of not only the leading wicket takers in T20 Internationals, but the top 3 leading wicket takers – Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, and Shahid Afridi are on top of the charts with 74, 73, and 64 wickets respectively.
  3. I hate to say this but its true that Kamran Akmal, with 54 dismissals, has the highest number of dismissals by a wicketkeeper in T20 Internationals.
  4. Pakistan hold the record for taking the least number of deliveries to dismiss the opposition – they required only 74 deliveries to bowl out South Africa in Centurion in March this year.
  5. Saeed Ajmal’s 25 wickets in 2012 is the second highest number of wicket taken in T20 Internationals in a calendar year. The record is Dirk Nannes’ 27 in 2010.
  6. Pakistan’s 103 run win over New Zealand in Christchurch in December 2010 is the largest margin of victory by runs for T20 Internationals not involving associates or affiliates.
  7. Umar Gul’s six 4-wkt hauls in T20 Internationals is the most number of 4-wkt hauls in T20Is.
  8. Shahid Afridi has 8 man of the match awards in T20Is, which is the highest number of MOM awards in the format. He shares that record with Shane Watson.

Right, they say that the shorter the game, the better the Pakistan!

As we move in to the off-season, an unprecedented amount of managerial movement around Europe will surely see an already frantic transfer market go into overdrive. This will give plenty of opportunities for transfer rumour and gossip. So how much of it is realistic?

Manchester United are planning a £25m bid to sign Luka Modric, 27, from Real Madrid after coming to the realisation that they are unlikely to secure any of their primary transfer targets.

modric

 What’s the story? Modric was  one of five midfield targets I picked out or United instead of Thiago Alcantara.

Does it make sense? Yes. Modric has the kind of elegance on the ball and ability to dribble, pass and score that United need to add dynamism to the one weakish area of their team. Real have signed Illarramendi to add to Khedira and Xabi Alonso, and all four are competing for two spots so something has to give.

Is the price right? No reason for Real to accept this as they paid £30m for him last summer and he is still worth that.

Will it happen? 6/10 – It may do. I would fancy United to be at the front of the queue if he becomes available.

Chelsea are resolute in their refusal to entertain any bids for David Luiz after it emerged Bayern Munich are considering a £34.5m move for the 26-year-old defender.

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What’s the story? Right. Super rich Chelsea don’t want to sell one of starting players because they don’t need to or want to? What’s new?

Does it make sense? There is literally no reason for them to sell David Luiz.

Is the price right? No. When do these big club to big club transfers ever really happen? What are Chelsea going to be able to do with that money to get themselves a similar standard player?

Will it happen? 0/10 – Unless I’ve missed the news that Chelsea sell star players (which they never have under Abramovich) this won’t happen.

Arsene Wenger is determined not to raise Arsenal’s £40m bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez – even if it means the transfer going to the wire.

suarez

 What’s the story? Well, if Arsenal want to play a game of brinkmanship with Liverpool, it’s very risky because if Liverpool decide not to back down it’s Arsenal who lose out as they will have signed no players having promised so much.

Does it make sense? Only because they’ve backed themselves in to this position. They’ve had an awful window so far, promising big name players and not delivering anything whatsoever. If this doesn’t come off for them, and there’s no reason for Liverpool to under sell themselves, then there will be unrest at the Emirates.

Is the price right? It’s a fair amount but £15m less than what Liverpool want.

Will it happen? 4/10 – Still can’t give this a high number.

Tottenham have entered the running to sign Steaua Bucharest’s 23-year-old defender Vlad Chiriches.

Chiriches

 What’s the story? Chiriches has come to prominence in the middle of Romania’s defence and with solid showings for Steaua in European competition.

Does it make sense? Maybe. Although he ended up using him a lot, it’s hard to be convinced that Villas-Boas really rates Michael Dawson and then with Younes Kaboul injury prone Spurs could probably do with an other centre back to push things.

Is the price right? At least £6m. It’s a decent but not ‘can’t miss’ type proposition.

Will it happen? 5/10 – This is a little out of the blue, but Spurs do like good value and may feel this represents it.

Norwich City manager Chris Hughton hopes to recruit more players this summer and admits being interested in 30-year-old Juventus striker Fabio Quagliarella.

Quagliarella


What’s the story? Really? Despite having spent £13.5m on Hooper and van Wolfswinkel. Who would be missing out?

Does it make sense? Not really. Although Qualiarella is a good player, probably better than the two they’ve signed actually, Norwich can’t afford a luxury buy, and a third striker in a team that sometimes played with one last season is a luxury.

Is the price right? £6m ish is probably about right, but on top of the current spend it’s too much for someone that doesn’t fill a need.

Will it happen? 2/10 – Very unlikely. No real value or need and Quagliarella seems happy in Italy.

A dejected Michael Clarke during the second test

A dejected Michael Clarke during the second test

Distorted, decapitated, defunct – Australia have already been  written off by novices and experts alike, all over the world. The seasoned cricketing heart would implore watchers to be patient and be tempted to cite the old “cricket is a funny game” parable, but the truth of the situation is that the Australian team is only sinking deeper in the shifting sand with every match.

When Siddle took a five-wicket haul on the first afternoon of the series, he played into a pattern that has been prevalent since the Australian tour of India. The one that begins with a glimmer and the potential for something big, almost a miracle, but is invariably followed by a recoil. On that day, it was the top four batsmen who couldn’t see the team through to stumps. In the second test too, they had England begging for mercy after strong opening spells in both innings, only to give it all away; and in the most grotesque of fashions at that – dropped catches, poor referrals, and an uneasy level of dejectedness.

It’s a pattern that lost them important sessions on the tour to India. Time and again, their temperament was tested and time and again, they found themselves on the wrong end. The batting was especially guilty of this, allowing constant room for the question of whether Michael Hussey should really have retired. And there’s good cause for it –  since the beginning of 2011, only Clarke (62.3) and Hussey (54.6) average more than 40.

In the same period, Shane Watson averages a measly 25 (fifteen batsmen average more than him in this period); David Warner is the next best performer in the timeline, with three centuries and seven fifties but finds himself out of the squad at the periphery of a career that was past its prime a few years ago, in the form of Chris Rogers. Strong reminders that confusion reigns in the Aussie camp and more fuel to the opinion-mongers.

The unceremonious shuffling of the batting order to provide a featherbed for their overdependence on Michael Clarke has resulted in an imbalance of the highest magnitude. To think about it at this point would be further aggravating it and accepting that is the only way Lehmann and Clarke can make any amends – even if the return series at home is where it happens.

However, for practicality’s sake, it must be assumed that Australia will think forward – it’s a trait they will never lose, irrelevant of how many they do.

The first issue to address is the pair that takes on Anderson and Broad upfront. Chris Rogers’s patient approach and old-school technique have kept him at the crease for a total of five hours for the 89 runs he has scored. For his argument is the fact that he’s playing the new ball out every time he walks out to bat. But the very point of that comes into question when his modern-day star of a partner at the other end isn’t capitalizing on it. Besides, Khawaja is more than capable of doing the same at number three. What good is rearguard action if it isn’t followed by a siege?

Ed Cowan looks a good bet to be slotted right back into the position, as does David Warner; and although all indications point towards a Warner return, they’re fixedly inclined towards the middle order and Rogers might retain a place for one more match.

Shane Watson will stay on, but will be well aware that his margin for imprudent batting is as slender as his form. Phil Hughes is another batsman who will have similar thoughts, as was apparent from the way he looked in all innings barring the partnership with Agar. He might be the first casualty in that middle order and whether he is replaced by Warner or Wade, it’s a change that needs to be made. Steven Smith and Phil Hughes are utility players in Test cricket at best and playing them together isn’t doing a great deal of good. At best, there is room for one of them and if Smith lands his leg-breaks in the manner that he did in the Lord’s test, he could cause quite a bit of devastation. By that virtue, and the left-hander’s  potential woes on a turning track in Manchester, Smith earns his place.

Whether Warner is suited for the middle order is another debate. Ideally, a Warner assault at the top against England’s best bowler is a proposition that suits Australia dearly. In contrast to Watson’s ability against spin, a more successful composition would be if Watson were to be drafted into the middle order instead. Ideal hasn’t quite been the order of things for Australia so far but if there ever was a time to play fearlessly, it’s now. And hence, a specialist fifth bowler might not be so out of place.

Poor batting has meant little recovery time for the bowlers and Pattinson’s tour has already been put to an end because of it. Siddle and Harris aren’t getting any younger, and neither Agar nor Lyon – by any yardstick – are good enough to be lone spinners against this English line-up.

Shane Watson has to come good, sooner rather than later

Shane Watson has to come good, sooner rather than later

Bringing James Faulkner or Jackson Bird into the mix would provide Australia with an extra spinning option. Bird impressed in favourable conditions against Sussex in the tour game but Old Trafford might not be the same story. Even so, his uncanny resemblance of one Stuart Clark makes him a worthy case considering Australia’s struggle to keep England’s scoring rate under control. And would Agar benefit from a spin bowling partner? The answer is a resounding yes. He has been an intern without a mentor so far, and although neither of them showed great penetration against Sussex, the conditions are expected to favour them greatly in Old Trafford. Again, a long shot in the dark. But with the squad that has been given to him, there is only so much Clarke can do.

There are too many loose ends to fix at the moment and it is too late to try and fix them. The surest step towards a good performance, however, is to get rid of the bad components. In doing so, if Australia find themselves coasting alongside a breezy Michael Clarke hundred or tearing England’s bowling apart with Warner-esque disdain, the series might still have something in store for them. The onus, as is clear from the rest of this article, is on the batting. They owe something to the bowlers.

Winning the toss, for one, might help.

Injuries: James Pattinson out for the remainder of the series, Steve Smith with a slight back niggle that is expected to heal before the Test begins.

Positives: Pacers well-rested since previous game; two fifties for Cowan and a century for Smith against Sussex; Warner 193 against South Africa A.

Key personnel: Michael Clarke, Usman Khawaja, Ryan Harris, The spinners

Conditions: A new look Old Trafford with scenic infrastructure and a pitch that has been rotated about it’s axis, but is still expected to assist spin. Good reason to play two spinners and three quicks.

Watch our exclusive Ashes hangout, Tale Enders, below:

Orlando Pirates v Tottenham Hotspur - Pre-Season Friendly

Gareth Bale

Real Madrid have reportedly made a world record bid for Tottenham’s Welsh winger Gareth Bale. But if he does sign for Real Madrid, where does he play.

Real Madrid’s vacancy of positions

At the moment, Real Madrid play a narrow 4-2-3-1 with two wide wingers that cut in. Of those two wide wingers, Cristiano Ronaldo is irreplaceable, and it’s hard to imagine Bale playing on the left flank. That leaves Bale with 3 other forward positions

At the ‘trequartista’ position, Real Madrid are well stocked with Ozil, Kaka and new signing Isco.

Benzema is currently the only striker at Real Madrid. Gareth Bale could be played as a striker. But Zinedine Zidane persuaded Morata to stay at the club by promising him first team football. And you never know with Real Madrid, they could even make a deadline day signing of another striker, possible Luis Suarez.

Last but not the least, the right wing. Against PSG in a friendly, Carlo Ancelotti played the 4-2-3-1 formation with Ozil on the right wing.

Angel di Maria was used sparingly last season by Jose Mourinho. His inconsistency suggests that the right wing could be his for the taking.

Bale’s preferred position

Gareth Bale would be happy to play anywhere for Real Madrid. It is reportedly his ‘dream’ to play for them. So as long as he keeps playing, I don’t think he would mind.

Bale can play anywhere form left back to striker. But it’s hard to imagine Real Madrid paying £85 million for him. They intend to play him as a forward, where Bale succeeded last term with Tottenham Hotspur.

His strong relation with Andre Villas-Boas helped Bale to excel on the pitch. Bale started the season as a left winger, and ended the season as a roaming forward, as he was given a free role by manager Andre Villas-Boas. His best position seems to be as a roaming forward, but that role is already taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Thus, in conclusion, the vacant right wing is the only position that suits Bale and Real Madrid. Though Bale and Ronaldo are similar players, it’ll be interesting to see how the two players play in one team together , if Bale does sign for Real Madrid.

Manchester United Premier League Winners Parade

“Watch Live,” screams the banner on Manchester United’s official website, the club declaring that “pre-season has arrived” alongside a warning that MUTV online is the “only place in the world” to watch the Reds’ final warm up fixture against AIK in Stockholm next week. Indeed, it is the first time that the club has aired a pre-season friendly on pay-per-online-view platform marking a potentially lucrative new channel.

And the cost for the privilege of catching United’s upcoming friendly against AIK in Stockholm? £5.95 for the online stream.

Except that MUTV online certainly won’t be the “only” place to watch United’s game at the Friends Arena next Tuesday – not in the age of live streaming from a myriad of unofficial sources. It leaves the club’s bean counters betting that  the professionally delivered stream will beat a hefty amount of arbitrage when the teams run out at the 60,000 seat new-build stadium.

At that price club is presumably not banking on the experiment to fund David Moyes’ albeit limited transfer activity this summer, although if each of United’s claimed 699 million “followers” do subscribe the Reds stand to make £3.9 billion in revenues. Should that happen, even the more cynical among the club’s support might expect a midfield acquisition this summer.

In reality, with the match also being shown on MUTV, the club’s “one off, non-repeating cost” that is “not available as part of any existing MUTV Online subscription” is likely to be taken up solely by the overseas market. It is an audience that will not include fans in Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait or Turkey due to broadcasting restrictions, but may tempt others with the novelty.

MUTV remains a niche product even in England, with a range of content focused not on live first team action, but interviews, chat and reserves fixtures.

Still, the trial is a noteworthy attempt to find new media revenue streams outside of the centrally negotiated Premier and Champions League broadcast rights. Or a flagrant attempt to rip-off fans already spending large amounts supporting United at home and abroad, depending on the perspective.

Yet, with the Premier League recently defeating First Row Sports in a UK court case, United’s pay-per-view deal is one small step in the direction of official live online content. To date MUTV Online offers subscribers brief match and news highlights, while The Times has won the right to stream 30 second Premier League clips behind its paywall in the coming season.

The Premier League’s victory means that major UK Internet Service Providers will be forced to block access to the Swedish-based stream-sharing website during the coming season, although there remains a myriad of alternative online, albeit illegal, competitors.

Back at Old Trafford, United’s Stockholm ruse is latest in a variety of approaches to squeezing revenue out of both fans and sponsors. The summer tour is likely to net the club eight figures in new income, with more than 250,000 fans flocking to see a mix of first team and youth players in Moyes’ tour party. The appearance fee for Monday’s fixture against Kitchee in Hong Kong is thought to have approached $1 million alone.

Meanwhile, fans will pay between 500 SEK (£50) and 795 (£80) to see United visit the Friends Arena next week where Wayne Rooney is expected to make a first appearance of the pre-season programme. The striker’s entourage has sought a transfer this summer, with supporters’ reaction to the player’s appearance in Stockholm and back at Old Trafford for Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial potentially bringing the saga to a head.

Elsewhere, the club continues to sign up sponsors on a sectoral basis from mobile telecoms, to tomato juice and even paint. It is a strategy based on claiming ‘exclusive’ partnerships from region-to-region. This summer, for example, the club secured a new partnership with Russia airline Aeroflot, switching from long-term sponsor Turkish Airlines.

And record commercial income is set to drive United’s gross revenue figures past £350 million when the end of fiscal year-end results are announced in the coming weeks. A partial pre-payment from United’s £357 million 2014 – 2021 principle shirt sponsor Chevrolet, a new multi-million naming rights deal on Carrington from current title sponsor AON and other regional contracts have contributed to the steep rise in revenue.

United’s turnover remains some way behind global leader Real Madrid – the Spanish giants earned more than €514 million according to the last reported accounts. However, some analysts believe that United will come close to challenging that figure in the next three years, although net debt remains above £300 million.

Still, in the short-term United’s commercial department will keep a watching brief on next week’s viewing figures. After all, the Football Association secured more than 300,000 paying viewers for England’s match against Ukraine in 2009 at between £4.99 and £11.99 per customer.

United is unlikely to draw a comparable audience for a friendly even with a global fan-base; around 80,000-100,ooo supporters subscribe to MUTV in the UK, with an undisclosed number of overseas viewers through syndication partners across Asia.

But should the club beat that modest number then Old Trafford’s chiefs will have something to cheer this summer. After all, the suits’ performance in the transfer market has been decidedly haphazard.