Filed under: Cricket | Tags: andrew flintoff, andrew strauss, Ashes, australia, batting, bowling, Cricket, england, first team, history, ricky ponting, victory
Another fantastic Test match, but strangely for England fans, it took place at Lords. Andrew Strauss’ men finally lifted the 75-year hoodoo, beating Australia at the home of cricket by 115 runs. The best part of it all: England were undoubtedly the better side and fully deserved their victory.
Galvanised by Andrew Flintoff’s retirement from Test cricket, the tone was set by Strauss and Alistair Cook’s superb opening wicket stand of 196. Strauss deserves special credit for demonstrating that the task of captaincy has not affected his batting, posting an almost flawless 161 runs. Questions will be asked again of the middle order, who once again failed in the first innings – contributing just 78 runs from Ravi Bopara to Flintoff. The latter, however, would use the rest of the match to rectify his mistake.
Australia’s bowling was uneven. Mitchell Johnson once again kept his ‘secret weapon’ abilities very much under wraps, conceding more than six runs an over in the first innings but mystifyingly claiming three wickets. With none to his name in the second innings, Ricky Ponting must be wondering whether to persist with the out-of-form bowler; an eager Stuart Clarke is waiting in the wings.
England’s bowlers, on the other hand, attacked with venom and vigour, which was palpably missing in Cardiff. Jimmy Anderson moved the ball, Stuart Broad found a better rhythm, Graham Onions was unfazed by the occasion. They all contributed and Flintoff iced the cake with a second innings performance we have not seen since 2005.
Returning personal best figures at Lords – 5 for 92, only the third five-wicket haul of his Test career – Flintoff was imperious, rampaging down the wicket with ferocious pace and movement. Strauss maintained a fine balance with his star bowler, who completed 39 overs at Lords compared to 35 overs in the second innings alone in Cardiff. This allowed him to function as the dangerous strike bowler England needed to achieve victory.
Looking ahead to Edgbaston, England find themselves in the rare position of leading into the third Test of an Ashes series. The scene of arguably the greatest Test match in history in 2005, England will be looking to emulate the result, and hopefully the drama for the spectators.
If Flintoff stays fit, and the middle order – as well as Bopara wallowing at three – get their act together, fans all over the country could well be celebrating another victory come August 3.
Filed under: Football | Tags: arsenal, chelsea, first team, manchester city, mark hughes, money, perez, real madrid
One month ago, it was Florentino Perez and Real Madrid grabbing the back-page headlines with exhorbitant spending in the football transfer window. Now, it’s all eyes on Manchester City as Sheikh Mansour continues to flex his financial muscle.
Rumours of lavish gifts notwithstanding, the Dubai owner is looking to take his spending at City over the £200m mark. Seeing as Perez spent nearly £150m on two players alone, City seem modest by comparison. Yet it is the sheer gall of Mark Hughes’ movements this summer that has brought activities at Eastlands into sharp relief.
Pinching Gareth Barry from under the auspices of Liverpool outlined City’s intent. A total of £55m so far this summer has seen Roque Santa Cruz and Carlos Tevez also switch their honours to sky blue. But the best could be yet to come, with Emmanuel Adebayor in deep discussions and bids tabled for John Terry and Joleon Lescott.
Garry Cook, City’s executive chairman, makes no bones about what is required for City to challenge for a Champions League spot:
‘The investments that we’re making currently will define the football club for the next 10 years. I think when you do that to compete with the top four in the Premier League, you have to invest to reach those new levels. It stops when Mark feels that he’s got the right quality of players in the squad.’
Can’t say fairer than that. Mark Hughes will be delighted by these supportive words. Yet, the question looming large in the football forums must be prominent in the Welshman’s mind: who makes the starting line-up?
It will be incredibly difficult as it is to accommodate Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Robinho and Tevez in the same team. Santa Cruz must play as the target man. Will Adebayor be deployed in an unorthodox wide right position? Will Tevez play on the left? Will Robinho float?
These issues aside, where does Craig Bellamy factor; a £14m investment? Not to mention Felipe Caicedo, or Valeri Bojinov? The same problems resonate in the midfield. Does Barry play at the £17m expense of Nigel De Jong? If they play together, then surely there’s not enough room for Stephen Ireland or Shaun Wright-Phillips, which is at odds with City’s proud ethos of playing academy graduates.
Reading though these permutations will no doubt have anyone’s head spinning. It’s up to Mark Hughes to make these decisions for real. With the promise of Champions League football and huge wages, it will be interesting to see which players bristle at a spot of bench-warming.
Filed under: Football | Tags: alex ferguson, capello, england, first team, injury, manchester united, michael owen, money, real madrid, ronaldo
Losing one of the world’s most prolific scorers to your footballing nemesis must be a sobering experience. But trust Alex Ferguson to get straight on with it, by signing Michael Owen with such alacrity the Road Runner would doff his cap.
While Stoke City and Hull City were supposedly having a tug of war over the Scouser’s signature, Fergie has pushed the secret button to the trapdoor and snatched Owen before anyone could blink. Oh, and did I mention he’s done it on a free transfer? On a performance based pay scheme?
People will scoff for two reasons: Owen’s recent goal scoring exploits and his relentless injuries. His 32-page brochure hasn’t allayed any fears in this respect, as Martin Samuel aptly explains. Yet, having lost Ronaldo, who wouldn’t sign a free proven goalscorer in his stead?
You simply cannot ignore 157 goals in 271 La Liga and Premier League starts. Of those, 26 have come in 52 league starts wearing a Newcastle United shirt. And lest we forget, this statistic is among his least impressive when it comes to goalscoring.
The more worrying question is injury. Staying fit could well be an issue, but Ferguson has anticipated this. I dread to think what a ‘rigorous’ medical assessment at Old Trafford entails, and should Owen not play enough matches, he will be paid accordingly. Simply brilliant.
Owen will have neither a greater chance nor incentive to reclaim his number ten shirt in Fabio Capello’s England team. If he stays fit, there’s no reason he won’t score 20 Premier League goals next season, with the service he’ll receive from the Manchester United midfield. Reunited with Wayne Rooney, looking to get his career back on track, to disprove the doubters who simply threw his brochure in the bin.
The stage is set. And Fergie will be smiling to himself.
Eduardo’s return to the Arsenal first team has been described as nothing short of “remarkable” by one of the medical staff who treated him.
Dr Ali Alibhai, a GP at University College London, has been a team doctor at Arsenal for 10 years and was intimately involved in Eduardo’s rehabilitation.
He said: “The man has fantastic strength. I’ve seen him every week over the last year and assessed his ankle. The way he has kept in such a srong mental frame of mind is amazing.”
“Eduardo is a very driven and determined man. It was what I would call ‘the perfect injury’ – everything that could be damaged was damaged or cut.”
The 26-year-old Croatian’s infamous ankle break against Birmingham last February required immediate medical attention, and Dr Alibhai was very impressed with the conduct of staff at St Andrews.
“The medical response was amazing – the time from sustaining the injury on the pitch at St Andrews to being on an operating table was 22 minutes.
“But the rehab process takes an incredibly long time. All the staff at Arsenal gradually helped Eduardo back to full strength and physical fitness. But more important was his mental commitment, which is often tougher.”
Eduardo’s return has seen him net three goals in two FA Cup matches, although he has yet to make a Premier League appearance this season. Dr Alibhai revealed that the striker, currently sidelined with a hamstring problem, was disappointed at missing out on Tuesday’s clash with Hull City.
He said: “Sitting next to him last night, you could see his determination to come back. He said to me: ‘God Ali, I wish I hadn’t got this tweak, I should be out there playing’.”
The dedication of the young Croatian is the current success story at the Emirates, and Dr Alibhai cannot praise him enough.
“The man’s commitment is remarkable because it has been sustained. He has literally come back from his football deathbed.”
Filed under: Rugby | Tags: british lions, delon armitage, england, first team, Rugby, south africa
England captain Jason Robinson’s shoulders slump in depressed surrender. Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll scores the try that condemns England to their third successive Six Nations defeat in the 2005 tournament. England confirm their demise from the zenith of international rugby. Two paltry victories follow to secure third place in the competition, but the foundations are well and truly crumbling.
Despite this dismal situation, some England players felt safe in the knowledge of an opportunity to redeem themselves. The promise of a starting place in the Test side on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand was eagerly anticipated. With the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Richard Hill, Andrew Sheridan and Josh Lewsey bolstering the squad, England offered some palpable quality to mull over, whatever the results of their Six Nations campaign.
Returning to the present day, things are roughly the same in the England camp. Martin Johnson’s team imitate their predecessors by being gracious and brave in defeat, yet losing nonetheless. However, regarding the Lions tour to South Africa later this year, the scene has changed significantly and worryingly.
The current crop has yet to fill the void left behind by the old guard and many are too inexperienced to gain a place on their own credentials. Although England’s defeat to Wales last month was courageous, the majority of players gave the distinct impression of punching above their weight.
Even the experienced heads of Mike Tindall and Joe Worsley were noticeably past their best. With the prospect of world champions South Africa on the not too distant horizon, this will not fill Lions manager Ian McGeechan with confidence.
McGeechan knows what is required from his side to win in June, having led the Lions to historic success over the Springboks in 1997. He said upon his appointment:
“It is a unique challenge, you need a tight group, players who can work together, coaches who can work together, with everybody getting the opportunity to make their mark.”
In other words, there will be no room for the indiscipline and naivety of which England have been culpable in their recent matches. Johnson himself conceded after the Wales match:
“If we give that many penalties away at Croke Park [against Ireland a fortnight ago] and have two guys in the sin bin, we’ll lose.”
He wasn’t wrong, as 18 penalties cost England victory by a point.
But these issues of tactics and man-management are comparatively easy to resolve. The real concern lies in the gulf in standard between England and their Home Nations counterparts.
Wales are leading the charge for Lions starting places and it is not difficult to see why. Warren Gatland has instilled a self-belief in his players that has them performing consistently at the top of their game, and form will play a huge part in McGeechan’s Test team selection.
Ireland are also resurgent, with the likes of David Wallace emerging unexpectedly and making his case for the prized Lions jersey. In addition, Scotland’s Mike Blair will undoubtedly press for the nod at scrum-half, with stiff competition from Mike Phillips and Gareth Cooper. Harry Ellis, should he go, shouldn’t hold his breath.
Splitting the pitch through the middle, there is not an available position in the backs for an English player. Expect it to be Welsh dominated with Brian O’Driscoll claiming outside centre, and the above dilemma at scrum-half. Cipriani has been touted to feature on the tour, but he is yet to start for England this campaign. Fly-half looks to be a straight fight between Stephen Jones and James Hook, who currently tussle for Wales’ number 10 shirt.
England’s best back has been Delon Armitage, who has grown in composure and maturity since his autumn debut. However even he is surpassed by Ireland’s Rob Kearney and the mercurial Welshman Lee Byrne, dubbed recently by Jeremy Guscott as:
“The best player playing in the world right now.”
Thus is England’s strongest chance potentially dashed in the back three.
Never mind the backs then, on to the forwards. England have a wealth of Lions history amongst the pack, such as Martin Johnson’s captaining them both in 1997 and 2001 respectively. Of the 23 forwards originally selected for the 2005 tour, 13 were English.
Shockingly, England also fall short here this time round. There has been continuous difficulty in replacing Hill, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio on the back row, with various combinations tried over the past few years. Lewis Moody could be an option, if he can keep fit.
James Haskell is England’s greatest hope, but his indiscipline will not be to McGeechan’s liking. Furthermore, the stiff, proven competition is staggering: Ryan Jones, Matryn Williams, Simon Taylor, David Wallace, Andy Powell, the list goes on.
The locks pick themselves, unfortunately for both Steve Borthwick and Nick Kennedy. Irish veteran Paul O’Connell will be partnered with the colossal Alun Wyn-Jones, with Donnacha O’Callaghan waiting in the wings. It surely can’t be any other way.
Andrew Sheridan is not the tower he once was in the front row and neither is Phil Vickery. The dynamic Gethin Jenkins and Scotland’s Jason White are in better form than any England equivalent
So it seems, from top to bottom, the Lions side will be a fantastic proposition for South Africa come June. The unprecedented flipside, however, is English players will have to work harder than ever before to be a significant part of this team.