Pakistan Victory is a Victory for World Cricket

22/06/2009
pic from Associated Press

pic from Associated Press

Pakistan’s victory in the T20 World Cup in England was a win for world cricket. The problems that the country is facing has meant that they have had the hosting of the next ICC World Cup taken away from them, no country will tour Pakistan,because of the volatile climate there but specifically because of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team, the last team to tour Pakistan. Pakistan are in cricketing limbo, without a home and without a clear future. They needed this, and so did cricket.

Before the T20 World Cup began the favourites were seen as the defending champions India, and the always strong Australia and South Africa. After the first week the clear favourites were South Africa and Sri Lanka. India made it past the first phase but were on the whole disappointing. They failed to win any of their Super 8 games and were sent packing. The blame was put on IPL fatigue. Yet only Wayne Parnel from the South African starting 11 didn’t play in the IPL, and they seemed not to feel the effects. Australia didn’t get past the first phase, losing to Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Only South Africa coped with, and lived up to, the favourites tag. Pakistan weren’t talked about.

They did what was needed to get through the first two phases and onto the Semi Finals. And then they came alive like only Pakistan can. The best team doesn’t always win the tournament, the best team on the day does. South Africa were the best team in the competition. The team was well balanced, had defined roles for each player, and was consistent and ran like a well oiled machine. Pakistan were the spanner in the machine. The flair and talent available to Pakistan is amazing – the consistency is not. But when an individual comes off Pakistan will beat anyone. It is perhaps unfair to say that Afridi single handedly beat South Africa, but that’s what it would have felt like. His batting had been terrible in the first 10 days of the World Cup, but pushed up the order in a gamble that paid off spectacularly, he got Pakistan to a total that was just enough to send South Africa out of yet another semi final. This was no South African choking. They fought and battled to the very end, but on the day they were beaten by Afridi with the bat and ball, and Umar Gul’s death bowling. No other team would have gotten to within 7 runs of Pakistans total batting second on that pitch.

In the final against the other then unbeaten team, Sri Lanka, Pakistan bowled and fielded as a team. On the rare occasions that they manage to do so they are very affective. Again it was Afridi with the bat, having found his form and confidence, that took Pakistan a step further than they managed two years ago in South Africa.

While it may seem that Pakistan stuttered into the semi’s before awakening in time to march towards the title, a look at the stats shows that they were in fact the best bowling team in the World Cup, and ended with the best economy rate as well as the leading wicket taker. They didn’t start spectacularly but they the were effective and did the job in the end.

Pakistan cricket has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the past year or so, let them revel in the limelight of a job well done – and deserved.

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United’s Loss

21/06/2009
Pic from teamtalk.com

Pic from teamtalk.com

In a week Manchester United have let Christiano Ronaldo and then Carlos Tevez leave Old Trafford. There will no doubt be a lot of comments from all sides coming out about both these departures, but I fear the loss of Tevez is harder to swallow for United fans.

Ronaldo’s had his heart in Madrid for a long time now. He has come out and said he decided he wanted to leave United for Madrid last season. As much as United fans have loved what Ronaldo has done on the pitch, the news of his departure did not come as a shock. United fans have had a season to prepare for it and many realised that the world record fee of 80 million pounds was too good an offer to turn down. Ronaldo had some great years at United and he will be missed.

Tevez departure is harder to take. The Argentine forward is a United player. His work rate and effort for the team was second to none. United fans took him to heart immediately and all the noises coming out of the Old Trafford board room and from the player himself, after his first season, was that it would be when and not if United would sign the player permanently. As the last season wore on a few grumblings began about why Tevez had not been signed up. He began to start far less often and had to settle for more of a bench role than he, and United fans, liked. Tevez became frustrated at how he was treated and it became more likely that he would leave. And that’s what has now happened.

United agreed to pay the 25.5million fee that was asked and offered a 5 year deal to Tevez. When Tevez needed time to think about the offer United took it off the table and announced that Tevez had turned them down and was leaving. There are two things to take from this. Firstly United are not frustrated and did not lose patience with the player himself, but rather with his representatives. Tevez unique situation meant that his rights were owned by a company and not a club and United were finding it difficult to deal with them. That being said, the second point is United have not been fair to the player himself.

Tevez wanted time to think about the offer. Many feel that he’s had two years to think about it and shouldn’t have been taking this long to let United know. The general feeling is that if a huge, successful team like United want you for 5 years you say yes please. Had the offer been made at the end of last season there is no doubt that is exactly what would have happened. But Tevez situation with United changed this year and he had to decide if he wanted to remain with the United he played for during his first season or the United he played with in his second. He should have been given the time he needed, his loan spell still had 10 days to run, and United should have done everything to make him stay.

With Ronaldo gone Tevez would have played a more important role in the team, and United would have needed that. Yet they have let him go. Another point to consider is if United have known that Ronaldo was leaving this season then why was the team build around him? Surely it would have made more sense to build for a Ronaldoless team and focus on Rooney and Tevez?

It’s been said a million times before and will be said a million more, but no player is bigger than the club. United will go on without Ronaldo and Tevez and build a new successful team, just as they did when Hughes and Ince left, when Cantona retired, when Beckham left, and when Keane left. United will go on. Sir Alex has always steered the club in the right direction and will no doubt do so again. Players will be brought in to replace those who leave, and those at the club, Nani, Tosic, Kiko and Welbeck will be given chances to stake a claim for starting births. However the heart and courage of Carlos Tevez will be hard to replace and he will be missed. It says a lot about the man that he has ruled out moving to Liverpool because of the rivalry between the clubs. Yes Carlos Tevez will be missed by United. Good luck to him.


Ronaldo’s Madrid Bound – Now What?

11/06/2009

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Manchester United and Real Madrid both confirmed today that a world record bid of 80 million pounds had been accepted by United for Christiano Ronaldo. So after a few years of will he won’t he it now seems that Ronaldo will be a Madrid player before July.

Manchester United are losing one of the best players in the world, and there is no doubt that Ronaldo will be missed, and won’t be easy to replace. In truth a player of his current ability can only be replaced with two other players, Kaka and Messi, and neither will be at Old Trafford next season. So have United erred in letting the current World Player of the Year leave?

The most important factor in all this is that the player wanted to leave. Ronaldo has known for a while that he would end up at Real and has refused to commit himself to United, giving ambiguous answers that best suited him and did nothing to appease the United fans. Rather than vilifying him, what United fans must realise is that while a lot of the world dream of playing for United, kids from Spain, Portugal and Latin America dream of pulling on the Real Madrid or Barcelona shirts. Ronaldo has always wanted to play for Real and players of his calibre generally get to pick their clubs. So while the move may not be the best for his career, and only time will tell, and few have succeeded after leaving Old Trafford, it is his dream move. There is little point in keeping a player who wants to go.

The price tag, 80 million, is too good to turn down. When it became clear to United that Ronaldo wanted to leave, and he asked to, they had to try and get as much as they could. Following so close on Kaka’s move to Real it would have been hard to imagine that Real would be willing, or able, to pay the money being talked about in the press. But thy have agreed. United failed to get the maximum they could for Beckham when he left for Madrid, only taking into account his footballing worth, and not commercial worth. They haven’t made that mistake this time. With 80 million Sir Alex could buy a couple of super stars, or a host of potential stars, or a combination of both.

So what should United do with the money? Replacing Ronaldo is impossible so United should look to do what’s best for the team. Firstly they should sign Tevez. Things have gone on so long that it seems more likely that Tevez will be leaving, but United can not afford to lose both Ronaldo and Tevez, and should do everything possible to convince Tevez he should stay. Most United fans would have chosen keeping Tevez ahead of Ronaldo if asked in the last month. Hopefully those that deal with such things at United will get that right. So which players should be targeted after the Tevez situation is sorted out? United need someone who will score the goals that Ronaldo assured them of each season. They will look at bringing in Benzema, who has been a long time target of there’s. However a better option now would be David Villa. Chelsea and Real have been linked with the Spanish hitman so United would have to move fast to get him, but he will be well worth the 30-40 million Valencia would ask for him. He guarantees goals and that’s what United need. Sergio Aguero, and Pato should also be looked at. Both will be among the best players in the world in the near future, with Aguero closer right now than Pato, but both will work for the future and present. Wide players who United should look at are likely to be Ribery and David Silva. The prices being asked for Ribery by Bayern are too high for the 27 year old, but like United and Ronaldo, Bayern may have a hard time keeping a player who wants to leave. United tried to buy Silva last season but they player wasn’t interested in leaving Spain. If that were to change Silva  could be the ideal replacement for Ronaldo. Another name being mentioned is Madrid’s Robben. United were on the verge of signing him before he went to Chelsea. Fergie is a fan of the dutchman, and with Madrid looking to sell, United could be at the front of the line to bring him back to England. His injury record may be a concern though.

While a host of big names will now be linked to United in the coming weeks, and while Fergie may bring in one or two of them, the more likely scenario is that United will buy Antonio Valencia from Wigan to play down the wing and push Wayne Rooney upfront, where he belongs. While United will miss Ronaldo, and any team would, his leaving may be the best thing for Rooney. Rooney has spent much of his time at United doing whatever job he’s asked to do, and his done it with no complaints. He’s spent much of the last few years out on the wing. Rooney is a forward and needs to be playing there to reach his true potential. This may be his chance to finally get to cement that position, and take him forward on his quest to be the best in the world.

Ronaldo is most likely gone but United can be stronger for it, if they use the money and personnel wisely. It should be an interesting few months.


Ireland Do It Again!

08/06/2009
pic from Associated Press

pic from Associated Press

 

Ireland beat Bangladesh to progress through to the Super 8 round of the T20 World Cup, and send their Test playing opponents home. This is the second time Ireland have beaten Bangladesh, having also beaten them in the ICC World Cup in 2007, where they also beat Pakistan and tied with Zimbabwe. The plucky Irish, still an associate member of the ICC are punching above their weight on the big stage and are fast become everyones second team.

While Holland beat England in the opening match and Scotland gave New Zealand a bit of a scare on Saturday, before being crushed by South Africa, it’s Ireland who look the best of the so called minnows. The team is well made up, and well coached by West Indian Phil Simmons. They show enthusiasm in the field, and go about their batting and bowling as best as they can. Where they have out performed their other smaller teams, and backed up their surprise results in the 2007 World Cup, has been their approach to their cricket. They play as a team. While the Scots tend to have a couple of good performers per match, not backed up by the full 11, the Irish have all pitched in.

The O’Brian brothers stole the show with their batting today, Niall, who was also excellent behind the stumps, took the Bangladesh attack on, scoring a boundary laden 40 from 25 balls, including three 6’s, and brother Kevin came in and finished the match for the Irish with an unbeaten 39 from 17 balls, taking his team home, and through to the next round.

While the minnows in these tournaments tend to look like amateur cricketers, enjoying the chance to play on the big stage against many of their heroes, and enjoying the holiday from work, the Irish look like real cricketers. They came with every intention of causing an upset and getting through the first round, and not merely making up the numbers and relishing the occasion. They way they paced their innings and talked about it suggested professionalism that bodes will for the men in green.

Ireland take on the champions, India, on Wednesday before they begin the Super 8 phase. While they will no doubt enjoy themselves tonight and have made their point in the tournament, don’t bet against another upset from the Irish in the coming matches. No doubt they will be taken seriously by all – and rightly so.


Proteas Balance is Just Right

08/06/2009

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South Africa handed out a thrashing to Scotland on Sunday that was as professional as it was destructive. The balance in this South African squad is the best it’s ever been and there showing in the warm up games, and in the real thing yesterday, suggests that they are in with a real chance at ending their World Cup drought.

Some doubters may sneer and point out that it was just Scotland that were beaten yesterday and not one of the bigger teams, but remember that on the opening day England took and, and lost too, just Holland. The shorter the form of the game the better the chances are for the smaller teams to cause an upset. The intensity and professionalism has to be there for the bigger teams if they are to carry momentum forward in the tournament and lay down a marker to those watching. South Africa did just that.

There isn’t a weakness in this South African outfit. The biggest problem they had before the T20 World Cup was where to bat Kallis. That’s more of a luxury than a problem. They’ve opted to open with the all rounder and he’s shown that there is a place for orthodox batting up front, and it doesn’t have to slow down the run rate. The over he savaged by Stander yesterday was pure class and orthodox placement.

The batting line up covers all bases. There are players that can carry an innings, players that can smash the ball out of the park, players that can rebuild if needed and players that can finish. Importantly these roles can be filled by most of the batsman, as AB de Villiers showed yesterday. De Villiers innings of 79 not out from just 34 balls was a master class in T20 batting. He didn’t come out hitting from ball one but played himself in and then let lose with destructive hitting full of style and solid thinking. De Villiers is the form batsman in world cricket right now and has aspirations of being the best batsman in the world. He’s on his way to achieving just that.

The bowling attack is something new to South African cricket fans. For so long South Africa have been accused of having a solid, but one dimensional attack. All right arm fast with little variation. There is no such accusations this time. The opening pair of Steyn and Parnell are a right arm left arm combination that includes pace and swing. They are supported by Kallis and Albie Morkel. If the pitch offers more bounce then Morne Morkel is waiting in the wings. The trump card for South Africa, and this has not been said before in South Africa’s 19 years back in international cricket, are the spin twins of Botha and van der Merwe. Firstly against Australia and now in England they are showing how effective they are in the middle of an innings, both strangling the run rate, and picking up wickets. South Africa’s strength is spin. That’s a sentence most would never have thought they’d see.

The batting and bowling are balanced perfectly and are supported by outstanding fielding. This is probably the most athletic cricket team ever on show. AB de Villiers and Gibbs may be battling it out for the title of world best fielder, but not too far behind are Duminy, van der Merwe, and even on the South African bench Robin Peterson and Justin Ontong are class acts in the field.

The balance in this team is perfect. The brand of cricket they are playing is perfect. The only thing counting against this team is history and their own nerves. It’s about time South Africa jumped off the back of world cup failure and rewrote history. This T20 World Cup in England is a great place to start.

 

pic from cricinfo.com


Arrivederci Maldini

01/06/2009
Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Sport

Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Sport

Paolo Maldini played his last professional football match yesterday, in a 2-0 win for AC Milan against Fiorentina, guaranteeing his team a place in next seasons Champions League, and bringing to a end the career of one of the games legends.

In a era where money seems to be the driving influence in football, amongst players and owners, where constant transfers swells the pockets of all concerned, Maldini, like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Totti, was a one club man, playing his entire career for his home town club. 25 years after making his debut for Milan, as a 16 year old against Udinese in January 1985, the 40 year old defender has hung up his boots.

His career has been littered with success, both with his team and as an individual. During his time with Milan Maldini collected 7 Serie A titles, 5 Champions League titles, a Copa Italia win, 5 UEFA Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup. Maldini also played in a record 8 Champions League finals, and holds the appearance record for both Milan and Serie A.

For his national team, Italy, Maldini notched up a record 126 appearances, captained the team from 1994 until 2002 and played in one World Cup final, 1n 1994 when Italy were beaten on penalties by Brazil.

Maldini will go down as one of the legends of the game, one of the all time great defenders, and one of the most respected players to step out onto the pitch. He was the complete defender, able to play in the centre as well as on the left, his timing, positioning, strength, tackling, pace and leadership made him the best defender of his generation and one of the best ever. The word legend is branded about to easily these days, but in Maldini’s case it doesn’t fully do him justice. He was more than a legend. Mr Milan will be missed by all in Milan, Italy and football fans world wide.

AC Milan have retired the number 3 jersey from their squad list as testimony to the high standing and appreciation they have for their former captain. The number will be unretired should any of his sons play for the first team.