Monday, 23 February 2015

Cricket World Cup: England avoid slipping on Scotland banana skin

Group A preview - Group B preview - Results sheet
Group update - Group review - Quarter finals - Semi finals - FINAL

ENGLAND got their faltering World Cup campaign back on track with a straightforward 119-run win over minnows Scotland in Christchurch. 

Moeen Ali struck 128 off 107 balls as part of a record opening stand of 172 with Ian Bell as Peter Moores' under-pressure side belatedly enjoyed their first success of the tournament.

Earlier, England had been well-beaten by both co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand, as they briefly sank to the bottom of Group A.

The match on the opening night against the Aussies began well enough as England reduced the home side to 70-3. 

But, in front of a packed out Melbourne Cricket Ground, Aaron Finch put the Baggy Greens in the driving seat with a 135 before Mitchell Marsh produced the goods with the ball, taking 5-33. 

Yes, it was not Mitchell Johnson but rather his namesake Marsh who did the most damage with only James Taylor offering significant resistance. 

Indeed, Notts batsman Taylor made an unbeaten 98 and was unfairly denied the chance of a century after last man James Anderson was run out off a dead ball. 

The ball had become dead after Taylor was adjudged to have been trapped lbw before overturning the decision on review. 

It was a bizarre conclusion to a slightly bizarre match in which Steven Finn became the first Englishman to take a World Cup hat-trick to finish with figures of 5-71. 

Finn took three wickets off the final three balls of the Aussie innings, all from miscued shots to catches in the deep, as Darren Lehmann's side - in typical style - looked to pulverise their opponents.

But, ultimately, their score of 342 was more than enough as England were bowled out in 41.5 overs. 

Amazingly, England's next match - against New Zealand - lasted little more than that length of time in its entirety.

Winning the toss again, but this time opting to bat, England crumbled to the swing of Tim Southee as he became the first New Zealander, and only the fourth man ever, to take seven wickets in a World Cup match. 

Southee ended up taking 7-33 as England were 123 all out in just 33.2 overs. Losing their final seven wickets for just 19 runs, it was a lower score even than Scotland had managed in the Black Caps' previous match. 

In that game, Brendon McCullum's men only just got over the line, winning by three wickets in Dunedin - but McCullum himself was to ensure this contest would remain thoroughly one-sided throughout. 

The Kiwi skipper broke his own World Cup record with a half-century in 18 balls beating his previous marker of 20 from 2007. 

And, after scoring four successive sixes off the bowling of Finn (0-49 off two overs), McCullum was eventually out to Chris Woakes for 77 off just 25 deliveries. 

Woakes then made another quick blow to dismiss Martin Guptill - and New Zealand, by then requiring just 12 more runs, were forced by the vagaries of cricket rules to take a scheduled 45-minute break. 

Nevertheless, Woakes's efforts were far too little too late as Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor saw the co-hosts home inside 13 overs. Altogether, Wellington had seen less than half a game. 

It was indeed a crushing defeat, perhaps England's worst, with BBC correspondent Jonathan Agnew being kind in describing it as the "most one-sided international match" he had ever seen

Most commentators were far more scathing than that, with former captain Michael Vaughan suggesting on Twitter that the match against Scotland had become an "even money contest"

Ultimately, it was nothing of the sort as England enjoyed their largest World Cup victory margin by runs since beating East Africa by 196 runs at Birmingham in 1975.

Even still, there were areas for huge improvement. England, having built up that big opening stand of 172, lost eight wickets and managed only 131 runs in the final 20 overs. 

As the Scottish openers took to the crease, memories of Ireland successfully chasing down 327 four years ago threatened to return to haunt England. 

But, once captain Preston Mommsen and Kyle Coetzer departed in successive overs, the Scots were never really in the chase. 

Indeed, the Saltires have now lost every single one of their 10 World Cup games across three tournaments. 

And they now must look to their next game against Afghanistan on Wednesday or perhaps exactly a week later against Bangladesh to break their duck. 

The Bangladeshis, though, could be a tough proposition as they have their tails up without even playing after gaining an unexpected point in their match against Australia in Brisbane. 

Torrential rain from a cyclone off the Queensland coast caused only the second ever complete abandonment of a World Cup match.

Instead, it is looking more and more as if England v Bangladesh on 9 March will effectively become a fourth-place playoff for the final qualifying spot in Group A, behind New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka.

Group B is less straightforward as a result of Ireland yet again proving their World Cup worth after they easily chased down West Indies' total of 304 to win by four wickets in Nelson. 

It was Ireland's fourth win over a Test-playing nation at World Cups following victories over Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2007, and - as mentioned above - England in 2011.

Moreover, of the five successful World Cup chases in excess of 300, three of them have been by the indefatigable Irish.

Following this most recent success, legendary West Indies bowler Michael Holding rightly called for William Porterfield's men to be given Test status immediately - and so they should, at least on a trial basis.

After all, what exactly have the governing body, the ICC, got to lose by expanding the game, especially in a place where the seeds of success have already been sown?

Back to Group B, and West Indies therefore did remarkably well to bounce back from the Ireland defeat with a convincing 150-run thumping of Pakistan. 

That defeat for Pakistan leaves them rock-bottom of Group B with two defeats out of two after they lost a sixth World Cup match out of six against India on the opening weekend in Adelaide. 

The game against India was the most watched cricket match of all time with an estimated television audience of one billion. 

But, after Virat Kohli's 107 and Mohammed Shami's 4-35, it was the same old story for Pakistan who - like England - must now rely on turning their form around against the minnows. 

By contrast, holders India - who arrived at the tournament in terrible form - now already have one foot in the quarter finals after carrying the momentum from the Pakistan win into their match against South Africa. 

The Proteas - who had won their opening match against Zimbabwe comfortably enough - collapsed from 108-2 to 177 all out to lose by 130 runs after India's Shikhar Dhawan provided scoreboard pressure with a 137.

It leaves the Group B table looking good for India who are clear at the top on four points. Ireland are the only other unbeaten team in the section - but, having played just once, they are one of a clutch of four teams on two points. 

UAE and Pakistan bring up the rear on zero points - with Ireland playing the former in an eminently winnable game on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, England are next in action at 10pm on Saturday night British-time against Sri Lanka.


13 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZNEW ZEALAND 331-6 beat SRI LANKA 233 46.1 by 98 runs
14 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusAUSTRALIA 342-9 beat ENGLAND 231 41.5 by 111 runs
16 Feb 22:00Dunedin NZNEW ZEALAND 146-7 24.5 beat SCOTLAND 142 36.2 by 3 wkts
18 Feb 03:30Canberra AusBANGLADESH 267 beat AFGHANISTAN 162 42.5 by 105 runs
20 Feb 01:00Wellington NZNEW ZEALAND 125-2 12.2 beat ENGLAND 123 33.2 by 8 wickets
21 Feb 03:30Brisbane AusAUSTRALIA N/R BANGLADESH - match abandoned (rain)
21 Feb 22:00Dunedin NZSRI LANKA 236-6 48.2 beat AFGHANISTAN 232 49.4 by 4 wickets
22 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZENGLAND 303-8 beat SCOTLAND 184 42.2 by 119 runs

NEW ZEALAND300+3.596
SRI LANKA110-0.862

15 Feb 01:00Hamilton NZSOUTH AFRICA 339-4 beat ZIMBABWE 277 48.2 by 62 runs
15 Feb 03:30Adelaide AusINDIA 300-7 beat PAKISTAN 224 47 by 76 runs
15 Feb 22:00Nelson NZIRELAND 307-6 45.5 beat WEST INDIES 304-7 by four wickets
18 Feb 22:00Nelson NZZIMBABWE 286-6 48 beat UAE 285-7 by four wickets
20 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZWEST INDIES 310-6 beat PAKISTAN 160 39 by 150 runs
22 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusINDIA 307-7 beat SOUTH AFRICA 177 40.2 by 130 runs

WEST INDIES110+1.272

138* David Miller (South Africa) off 92 balls v Zimbabwe in Hamilton 
137 Shikhar Dhawan (India) off 146 balls v South Africa in Melbourne 
135 Aaron Finch (Australia) off 128 balls v England in Melbourne
128 Moeen Ali (England) off 107 balls v Scotland in Christchurch
115* JP Duminy (South Africa) off 100 balls v Zimbabwe in Hamilton
107 Virat Kohli (India) off 126 balls v Pakistan in Adelaide
102 Lendl Simmons (West Indies) off 84 balls v Ireland in Nelson
100 Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka) off 120 balls v Afghanistan in Dunedin

7-33 Tim Southee (New Zealand) v England in Wellington
5-33 Mitchell Marsh (Australia) v England in Melbourne
5-55 Sohail Khan (Pakistan) v India in Adelaide
5-71 Steven Finn (England) v Australia in Melbourne

Friday, 13 February 2015

Cricket World Cup 2015 full results

Group A preview - Group B preview - Results sheet



13 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZNEW ZEALAND 331-6 beat SRI LANKA 233 46.1 by 98 runs
14 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusAUSTRALIA 342-9 beat ENGLAND 231 41.5 by 111 runs
16 Feb 22:00Dunedin NZNEW ZEALAND 146-7 24.5 beat SCOTLAND 142 36.2 by 3 wkts
18 Feb 03:30Canberra AusBANGLADESH 267 beat AFGHANISTAN 162 42.5 by 105 runs
20 Feb 01:00Wellington NZNEW ZEALAND 125-2 12.2 beat ENGLAND 123 33.2 by 8 wickets
21 Feb 03:30Brisbane AusAUSTRALIA N/R BANGLADESH - match abandoned (rain)
21 Feb 22:00Dunedin NZSRI LANKA 236-6 48.2 beat AFGHANISTAN 232 49.4 by 4 wickets
22 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZENGLAND 303-8 beat SCOTLAND 184 42.2 by 119 runs
25 Feb 22:00Dunedin NZAFGHANISTAN 211-9 49.3 beat SCOTLAND 210 by one wicket
26 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusSRI LANKA 332-1 beat BANGLADESH 240 47 by 92 runs
28 Feb 01:00Auckland NZAUSTRALIA v NEW ZEALAND
28 Feb 22:00Wellington NZENGLAND v SRI LANKA
08 Mar 03:30Sydney AusAUSTRALIA v SRI LANKA
09 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusENGLAND v BANGLADESH
11 Mar 03:30Hobart AusSRI LANKA v SCOTLAND
13 Mar 03:30Sydney AusENGLAND v AFGHANISTAN
14 Mar 03:30Hobart AusAUSTRALIA v SCOTLAND

NEW ZEALAND300+3.596
SRI LANKA210+0.054


15 Feb 01:00Hamilton NZSOUTH AFRICA 339-4 beat ZIMBABWE 277 48.2 by 62 runs
15 Feb 03:30Adelaide AusINDIA 300-7 beat PAKISTAN 224 47 by 76 runs
15 Feb 22:00Nelson NZIRELAND 307-6 45.5 beat WEST INDIES 304-7 by four wickets
18 Feb 22:00Nelson NZZIMBABWE 286-6 48 beat UAE 285-7 by four wickets
20 Feb 22:00Christchurch NZWEST INDIES 310-6 beat PAKISTAN 160 39 by 150 runs
22 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusINDIA 307-7 beat SOUTH AFRICA 177 40.2 by 130 runs
24 Feb 03:30Canberra AusWEST INDIES 372-2 beat ZIMBABWE 289 44.3 by 73 runs (D/L)
25 Feb 03:30Brisbane AusIRELAND 279-8 49.2 beat UAE 278-9 by two wickets
27 Feb 03:30Sydney AusSOUTH AFRICA 408-5 beat WEST INDIES 151 33.1 by 257 runs
28 Feb 06:30Perth AusINDIA v UAE
01 Mar 03:30Brisbane AusPAKISTAN v ZIMBABWE
03 Mar 03:30Canberra AusSOUTH AFRICA v IRELAND
04 Mar 01:00Napier NZPAKISTAN v UAE
06 Mar 06:30Perth AusINDIA v WEST INDIES
07 Mar 01:00Auckland NZSOUTH AFRICA v PAKISTAN
07 Mar 03:30Hobart AusZIMBABWE v IRELAND
10 Mar 01:00Hamilton NZINDIA v IRELAND
12 Mar 01:00Wellington NZSOUTH AFRICA v UAE
14 Mar 01:00Auckland NZINDIA v ZIMBABWE
14 Mar 22:00Napier NZWEST INDIES v UAE
15 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusPAKISTAN v IRELAND

WEST INDIES220-0.314


18 Mar 03:30Sydney AusA1 v B4
19 Mar 03:30Melbourne AusA2 v B3
20 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusA3 v B2
21 Mar 01:00Wellington NZA4 v B1


24 Mar 01:00Auckland NZQF1 v QF3
26 Mar 03:30Sydney AusQF2 v QF4

29 Mar 05:30Melbourne AusFINALIST 1 v FINALIST 2

215 Chris Gayle (West Indies) off 147 balls v Zimbabwe in Canberra
162* AB de Villiers (South Africa) off 66 balls v West Indies in Sydney
161* Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka) off 146 balls v Bangladesh in Melbourne
138* David Miller (South Africa) off 92 balls v Zimbabwe in Hamilton 
137 Shikhar Dhawan (India) off 146 balls v South Africa in Melbourne 
135 Aaron Finch (Australia) off 128 balls v England in Melbourne
133* Marlon Samuels (West Indies) off 146 balls v Zimbabwe in Canberra
128 Moeen Ali (England) off 107 balls v Scotland in Christchurch
115* JP Duminy (South Africa) off 100 balls v Zimbabwe in Hamilton
107 Virat Kohli (India) off 126 balls v Pakistan in Adelaide
106 Shaiman Anwar (UAE) off 83 balls v Ireland in Brisbane
105* Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka) off 76 balls v Bangladesh in Melbourne
102 Lendl Simmons (West Indies) off 84 balls v Ireland in Nelson
100 Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka) off 120 balls v Afghanistan in Dunedin

7-33 Tim Southee (New Zealand) v England in Wellington
5-33 Mitchell Marsh (Australia) v England in Melbourne
5-45 Imran Tahir (South Africa) v West Indies in Sydney
5-55 Sohail Khan (Pakistan) v India in Adelaide
5-71 Steven Finn (England) v Australia in Melbourne

All start times GMT. All matches live on Sky Sports 2 (rebranded Sky Sports World Cup).

Cricket World Cup 2015: Hosts on top Down Under


ICC World ranking 1
Coach Darren Lehmann
Captain Michael Clarke
Rest of squad George Bailey (vc), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin (wk), Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty
World Cup best Winners 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007
Australia returned to the world number one spot in ODI cricket in November - and, on recent form, do not look remotely close to relinquishing it. Indeed, the Baggy Greens head into a first home World Cup for 23 years on the back of nine successive ODI wins as part of a wider run of 13 wins out of 14.
Yes, it now seems an awfully long time ago since August 2013 when Australia's national summer sport had reached its nadir following three successive Ashes series defeats. But, even towards the end of the 3-0 loss to England in 2013, the then-newly-appointed coach Darren Lehmann was sowing the seeds of success by experimenting with his side in search of the right balance. 
The 5-0 whitewash in the return Ashes series of 2013-14, completed by just 11 players, could not have been a more emphatic response - and, while the World Cup lends itself more to the full squad of 15, this is undoubtedly the most well-balanced side in the tournament. Flair with the bat is regularly produced by openers David Warner and Aaron Finch, while the likes of Steven Smith and Brad Haddin can graft a big score in the middle order. Meanwhile, in the bowling attack, Mitchell Johnson's ferocious pace faces fierce competition from his namesake Mitchell Starc.
On the other hand, the spin options - Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell - remain useful but far from legendary and the only other major worry is that skipper Michael Clarke is surely not match-fit following a succession of hamstring and back injuries. That being so, it is still hard to argue with the bookmakers' view that Australia are 2/1 favourites to win a record fifth world title. 
Prediction: Winners

ICC World ranking 6
Coach Mike Hesson
Captain Brendon McCullum
Rest of squad Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Tom Latham (wk), Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, Daniel Vettori, Kane Williamson (vc), Corey Anderson, Tim Southee, Luke Ronchi (wk), Ross Taylor
World Cup best Semi finals 1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, 2011
Not just Australia arrive as hosts to the Cricket World Cup 2015 in good shape, however. New Zealand have also had a massively impressive 12 months, winning five Tests in a calendar year for the first time in 2014, and taking that form into the shorter formats. 
The Black Caps officially open the tournament against Sri Lanka in Christchurch, just a week short of the four-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake which hit the city and claimed 186 lives. It will be an emotional occasion then - but, in terms of the game itself, Sri Lanka should hold no fear for the home side, the Kiwis having recently won 4-2 in an ODI series against their opponents, even if the tourists back then were shorn of Lasith Malinga. 
Appearances at the semi final stage of the last two World Cups have taken the Black Caps' tally to six overall - but, remarkably, New Zealand have never made it into a single final. Nevertheless, some big hitting from Ross Taylor and skipper Brendon McCullum - backed up by a thrilling seam attack led by Tim Southee and Trent Boult - could soon change that.
Prediction: Semi finals (again)

ICC World ranking 5
Coach Peter Moores
Captain Eoin Morgan
Rest of squad Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wk), Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Joe Root, James Taylor, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes
World Cup best Runners-up 1979, 1987, 1992
England have had a typically bizarre build-up to the World Cup, opting to change captains with just eight weeks to go. The end of Alastair Cook's ODI captaincy made for painful viewing with the Essex man given one last chance in Sri Lanka in autumn. Cook could not take it, finishing the series with a high score of 34, as England crashed to a 5-2 defeat. 
In his place, Irish-born middle order batsman Eoin Morgan has overseen a slight upturn in form - India were beaten twice in the Tri-series and West Indies thrashed in a warm-up. But, against Australia in the Tri-series, England were beaten three times as the pace of Mitchell Johnson once again proved too much. 
Psychological scars from the awful Ashes whitewash last winter have been denied by Morgan - but he was not on that full tour, and they may still be there for some of the others who were. We will not have long to find out - England face Australia again in the opening match before going onto meet the other hosts, New Zealand, inside the first week. 
Of course, last winter's Ashes were moved there away from this winter to ensure England arrived Down Under in a fresh and orderly fashion. But, if anything, the build-up to this tournament has been more disorderly than ever before - and now even replacement captain Morgan has had his place in the side put into the spotlight after a run of poor form. 
In the last World Cup, England produced, more by accident than design, some simply brilliant games: they tied with India, beat South Africa and West Indies but somehow lost to both Ireland and Bangladesh. With still few signs of consistency showing, expect another rollercoaster ride this time.
Prediction: Quarter finals

ICC World ranking 4
Coach Marvan Atapattu
Captain Angelo Mathews
Rest of squad Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne (vc), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Dimuth Karunaratne, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake
World Cup best Winners 1996
Sri Lanka received a huge boost on the eve of their World Cup opener against hosts New Zealand with unorthodox round-arm fast-bowler Lasith Malinga passed fit to play. The 31-year-old has not featured in an ODI since the end of August and so sat out the Sri Lankans 4-2 series defeat to the New Zealanders immediately before the tournament.
But Malinga, who is the only bowler in the world to have two World Cup hat-tricks, will ensure the Sri Lankans are far more competitive - and, despite ongoing poor results in the run-up to the tournament, another run to the final week of the tournament cannot be ruled out. 
After all, having finished runners-up in the last two World Cups, time is of the essence for this Sri Lanka generation. Murali Muralitharan has, of course, already retired and some of the finest batsmen in the world - Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, and Kumar Sangakkara - will all be over 40 years old by the time that the next World Cup comes around. It really is now or never for Sri Lanka.
Prediction: Quarter finals

ICC World ranking 9
Coach Chandika Hathurusingha
Captain Mashrafe Mortaza
Rest of squad Tamim Iqbal, Anamul Haque (wk), Soumya Sarkar, Mominul Haque, Shakib Al Hasan (vc), Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah, Nasir Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Taskin Ahmed, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Arafat Sunny, Taijul Islam
World Cup best Super Eights 2007
Recent ODI form WWWWW|LL
Will the 2015 Cricket World Cup be the tournament in which Bangladesh finally shine? Sadly, an answer in the negative can already probably be given. Really, it was the 2011 tournament, in which they had all their matches at home, that was the Tigers' big chance - and, while they briefly roared by beating England, it all ended in a whimper when they were bowled out for just 78 against South Africa having earlier been bundled out for 58 by West Indies.
This time, hopes are not so high - and, with the exception of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh are more reliant on a flash of individual brilliance than any of the other full ICC members. That may come opener Tamim Iqbal or, more likely, Shakib Al Hasan, currently his country’s leading run scorer in ODIs and second top wicket-taker.
But, far from eyeing up a second big World Cup win over England towards the end of the group stage on 9 March, Bangladesh need to be seriously mindful of being the subject of an upset themselves against Associate members Scotland and Afghanistan. A warm-up defeat to Ireland, in which they were bowled out for 189, suggests they could be vulnerable.
Prediction: Group stage

ICC World ranking 13
Coach Grant Bradburn
Captain Preston Mommsen
Rest of squad Kyle Coetzer (vc), Richie Berrington, Frederick Coleman, Matthew Cross (wk), Joshua Davey, Alasdair Evans, Hamish Gardiner, Majid Haq, Michael Leask, Matt Machan, Calum MacLeod, Safyaan Sharif, Robert Taylor, Iain Wardlaw
World Cup best Group stages 1999, 2007
Recent ODI form LLW|WL
Scotland return to the Cricket World Cup scene after missing out in 2011, securing their place this time by reaching the final of the ICC World Cup qualifier in New Zealand. For good measure, the Scots won the Final against the United Arab Emirates by 41 runs with man-of-the-series Preston Mommsen hitting a massive 139 not out. 
South Africa-born Mommsen will skipper a team which can call upon the vast experience of former England captain Paul Collingwood - although the head coach is the former New Zealand international Grant Bradburn. Both will have been impressed by the Scots' recent form which included a warm-up win over Ireland last week by 179 runs. Matt Machan hit the century this time before Alasdair Evans (4-17) and spinner Majid Haq (3-9) did the damage with the ball.
All eyes are already on the clash with England on 23 February - but, while the English famously lost to Ireland four years ago, it would surely still be asking too much of the Scots to repeat the upset. Nevertheless, the Scots will hope there will be some sort of opportunity to make the headlines in the next four weeks - and will hope to keep their nerve better than in 1999 when, in front of a home crowd in Edinburgh, they fell 22 runs short of chasing a highly-achievable 185 against Bangladesh. Revenge of sorts in the repeat of that fixture, on 5 March, is surely a more achievable goal.
Prediction: Group stage

ICC World ranking 11
Coach Andy Moles
Captain Mohammad Nabi
Rest of squad Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Afsar Zazai (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Nasir Jamal, Mirwais Ashraf, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Javed Ahmadi, Usman Ghani
World Cup best Never previously qualified
Recent ODI form LLWL|WLLW|LW
Considering recent history, an Afghani cricket team sounds quite remarkable. Indeed it is - and this squad of 15 players will spend the next four weeks attempting to put their war-ravaged country into a news story which does not also contain the words "bomb" or "cave", "Taliban" or "Al-Qaeda". 
Oddly enough, formal membership of the ICC actually began under Taliban control, cricket being the only sport in Afghanistan to be approved by the authorities - but it is only in the last few years that the really big strides have been made. Despite failing to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, the Afghanis won ODI status in 2009 - and set about making good use of it.
During the 2011–13 ICC World Cricket League Championship, they won nine and lost just four of their 14 matches to finish second behind Ireland and make it to their first World Cup finals. Form since has been patchy - but they have already managed wins over their fellow Associates members Scotland, Ireland and UAE this year - and so fully deserve to join the others at the top table.
Prediction: Group stage

Cricket World Cup 2015: Holders India up against it


ICC World ranking 2
Coach Duncan Fletcher
Captain MS Dhoni (wk)
Rest of squad Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (vc), Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Akshar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny
World Cup best Winners 1983, 2011
Holders India have been in Australia for months now, preparing to defend their second World Cup title on pitches completely alien to those featured in their spectacular 2011 success at home. It was an undoubtedly sensible plan to head Down Under early to acclimatise but, still, it was not one which was guaranteed to go well.
And it has not gone well. Since their arrival in Australia, India have played nine matches across all formats, and won precisely one. Even that was just a warm-up match against Afghanistan. Defeats have not only come against Australia either, with the Indians twice flopping badly against England in the Tri-series. It really comes as no surprise then that some bookmakers rate them as no better than 12/1 shots.
Still, the World Cup format nowadays is massively forgiving and, for all their poor form, it is impossible to envisage the knockout stages taking place without India. A tough start awaits against Pakistan and South Africa - but then the Indians' final four games are against UAE, West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. 
Coincidentally, the long, drawn-out format of the group phase - as well as being there to suckle on the teat of television rights - is effectively a consequence of the 2007 tournament ending in a pool stage disaster for the ICC. India and Pakistan both went out after just three games in mini groups of four - and so the administrator lost its two biggest markets. That simply could not be allowed to happen again - and, as if to prove this point, tickets for the India v Pakistan clash in Adelaide on the opening night in Group B were snapped up in just 12 minutes. It is a fixture in which India have done historically well in the past - and, like Pakistan below, the outcome may decide the mood music for the Indians' whole tournament.
Prediction: Quarter finals

ICC World ranking 3
Coach Russell Domingo
Captain AB de Villiers (wk)
Rest of squad Hashim Amla (vc), Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn
World Cup best Semi finals 1992, 1999, 2007
South Africa could easily argue to have had the best side never to have won a World Cup. The England vintage of 1992 would no doubt put up a fight - but, even now, repeats of the Proteas' final over of the tied semi final against Australia at Edgbaston in 1999 still seem pretty astonishing.
Nine wickets down and requiring nine runs off the final six balls, Lance Klusener got the South Africans off to the perfect start with boundaries from the first two deliveries. Just a single was needed off the final four balls - but the third ball nearly ended in a run-out and the fourth did end up in one as Klusener ran an attempted single with number 11 Allan Donald frozen to the spot. Australia had finished higher in the Super Six table than South Africa due to a superior net run rate, and thus went through to face an inferior Pakistan side for a second World Cup win. It was a devastating defeat for South Africa.
It was also 16 years ago, however - so why is it still important now? Well, ever since that match, every South African side has had to face up to a reputation of them being chokers in tight matches. It is not entirely unfair - in 2003, they also went out after a miscalculation in a tied match in the group stages, and in 2007, they lost to the Aussies in the semis again. 

Last time out, they did not even make it that far after a collapse to New Zealand in the quarters - but, this time, the in-form Proteas look best-placed to challenge the two antipodean hosts. Skipper AB de Villiers is probably the best batsman in the world right now although, if anything, a bowling attack featuring Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander is the stronger hand. Weaknesses include the reliance on Imran Tahrir for spin - oh, and the hitherto unforeseen knack of South Africa being able to hold their nerve.
Prediction: Runners-up

ICC World ranking 7
Coach Waqar Younis
Captain Misbah ul-Haq
Rest of squad Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi (vc), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz
World Cup best Winners 1992
Perhaps far too much can be made of one match in a tournament which has the potential to last seven weeks. However, Pakistan's historical failure to beat their great rivals India at the World Cup is something which simply cannot be ignored ahead of their opening day clash in Adelaide. 
The most recent defeat - in the semi finals four years ago - was particularly painful as, not only did it deny Pakistan a place in the final, it came in a tournament in which hosting rights had been stripped from the country for security reasons, even if those concerns had been justifiable following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. 
For the record, India have beaten Pakistan in all five occasions that the match has been played at the World Cup, with all five contests coming since 1992. Indeed, the only World Cup since then not to feature India beating Pakistan at some stage was in 2007 when both teams were separately humbled in the group stages. Such an outcome will not happen this time as both teams are easily good enough to qualify - but this adds yet still further intensity into the opening match. 
Pakistan can feel confident - they are in much better form than the holders - and, in terms of the wider picture, finally burying the hoodoo would also likely have a positive snowball effect for the following three fixtures against West Indies, Zimbabwe, and UAE.
By game five, then, Misbah ul-Haq's still-developing team could be on quite a roll - though it would take something else again for this side to match their compatriots' achievement on the last occasion that the World Cup was held in Australasia. Pakistan's surprise win over England in 1992 remains their only World Cup win to date.

Prediction: Semi finals

ICC World ranking 8
Coach Richie Richardson
Captain Jason Holder
Rest of squad Marlon Samuels, Sulieman Benn, Darren Bravo, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Gayle, Nikita Miller, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor
World Cup best Winners 1975, 1979
Recent ODI form WLL|LLLWL|LW
Ah, where do you start with the West Indies? Well, frankly, Windies cricket is in another fine mess. It is hardly a sentence which has not been written plenty of time over the last few years but it is sadly just as true now as it was on those countless prior occasions. 
The source of the current problems lies in the aborted tour of India last year, caused by a contracts dispute between the squad - led by then-captain Dwayne Bravo - and the West Indies Cricket Board. Following an embarrassing stand-off, one of the main outcomes was the dismissal of Bravo and fellow-instigator Kieron Pollard from the squad. 
It now means the Windies arrive at the World Cup with their youngest ever captain, 23-year-old Jason Holder - and even he has admitted Pollard and Bravo not making the trip is a "huge loss" to his team's chances.
Already, the Windies are playing a little like a beaten team. Thrashed by England in their first warm-up, Holder's men just held enough together to squeeze past Scotland by three runs in the second. Up next comes a fixture against Ireland which, although the first of six games, could be the difference between a slightly redemptive quarter finals spot and a further soiling of the islands' once glorious cricket prestige. West Indies need to change the way the wind is blowing - and fast.

Prediction: Group stage

ICC World ranking 10
Coach Dav Whatmore
Captain Elton Chigumbura
Rest of squad Sikandar Raza, Regis Chakabva (wk), Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Solomon Mire, Tawanda Mupariwa, Tinashe Panyangara, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya, Sean Williams
World Cup best Super Sixes 1999, 2003
Recent ODI form LLLLL|W
Zimbabwe have lost more World Cup matches in history than any other team - and that tally of 37 will surely increase further in the next few weeks after a bumpy build-up to this edition. Like England with their captain, the Zimbabwe board waited until just eight weeks before the start of this tournament before deciding the position of head coach Stephen Mangongo was no longer tenable following a 5-0 ODI humiliation at the hands of Bangladesh.
His replacement - the experienced Dav Whatmore - has agreed to lead the team through the World Cup with a view to extending his contract after a tournament which he won in 1996 with Sri Lanka. It would probably be the greatest shock ever in sport if he repeated the feat with Zimbabwe but the motivation for this squad of players could not be clearer.
Unlikely ever to be able to bring back their heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Zimbabwe twice reached the Super Six stage, Australian Whatmore could nonetheless make this side more respectable than it has been over the last few years. Already there have been some positive signs of a response - their only completed World Cup warm-up was an excellent seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka - but the men in red must now do it when it counts.
Prediction: Group stage

ICC World ranking 12
Coach Phil Simmons
Captain William Porterfield
Rest of squad Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andrew McBrine, John Mooney, Max Sorenson, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien (wk), Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson (wk), Craig Young
World Cup best Super Eights 2007
Recent ODI form WWL|LLW
For a country still restricted to Associate status, Ireland have a better recent World Cup pedigree than their group rivals Zimbabwe: in 2007, the Irish reached the last eight after tying against the Zimbabweans and beating Pakistan - and then, last time out, Kevin O'Brien hit the fastest World Cup century to bamboozle England. Moreover, throughout this period, the Irish have generally been accepted as the strongest of the Associate teams, winning four out of the five Intercontinental Cups held between 2005 and 2013.
This time, the fixture computer has again rightly given Ireland hope of further success with an opening match against a ramshackle West Indies ahead of a game against the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, United Arab Emirates. Looking further onwards, the fourth match against Zimbabwe is also winnable if the Irish are to prove their worth in this tournament as a nation capable of playing Test cricket.
A word of warning, however: recent form has not been too good with a couple of warm-up defeats coming against Scotland, and another to Sydney club side Randwick Petersham. Nonetheless, the convincing win yesterday over full member Bangladesh will have provided a heartening boost for the squad with Ireland well aware that they must deliver from the start.
Prediction: Quarter finals

ICC World ranking 14
Coach Aaqib Javed
Captain Mohammed Tauqir
Rest of squad Khurram Khan (vc), Swapnil Patil (wk), Saqlain Haider (wk), Amjad Javed, Shaiman Anwar, Amjad Ali, Nasir Aziz, Rohan Mustafa, Manjula Guruge, Andri Berenger, Fahad Al Hashmi, Muhammad Naveed, Kamran Shahzad, Krishna Chandran
World Cup best Group stages 1996
Recent ODI form WWLW|LL
United Arab Emirates have reached the World Cup finals for the first time in 19 years - and for only the second time ever - after finishing runners-up to Scotland in the final of the ICC World Cup qualifier. Old enough to recall the UAE's last venture into the finals are captain Mohammed Tauqir and vice captain Khurram Khan who, both aged 43, will be the oldest players at this tournament.
Both will still be some way short of the World Cup record - held by Dutch batsman Nolan Clarke - which stands at 47 years, 257 days. That record has stood since 1996 when Clarke played, and was out for a duck, as UAE beat Netherlands in their only ever World Cup win. UAE have never beaten a full member nation, however - and it would therefore be a surprise if they broke their own duck in this regard in the next four weeks.
Prediction: Group stage

Friday, 6 February 2015

Six Nations 2015: Injury-hit England eager to ditch "nearly men" tag

ENGLAND begin their Six Nations campaign in Cardiff tonight eager to shed their "nearly men" tag in advance of a World Cup on home soil later this year.

Stuart Lancaster's men have finished runners-up in the Six Nations for the last two years - and, in fact, have lost both on points difference only.

Last season, even a convincing win over eventual champions Ireland was not enough after a last-minute opening day defeat to France in Paris.

Meanwhile, back in 2013, Lancaster's side led the championship from the start until a bruising and humiliating 30-3 defeat in Cardiff gave the title to the Welsh on the final weekend.

Interestingly, tonight's match will be England's first visit back to the Millennium Stadium since that torrid 80 minutes - and preparation work has even included training sessions in front of loudspeakers in a move designed to replicate the raucous atmosphere.

However, the build-up to the opener has also been dominated by news of an England injury crisis.

In all, there are six changes from the side that beat Australia in November - and the absences of Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond at centre have particularly weakened the English line-up.

Not that Wales head coach Warren Gatland has much sympathy. "You always need some luck in the Six Nations," said the Kiwi at the tournament launch.

"Last year England made four changes during the whole tournament. We made 18, mostly due to injuries.

"So I don’t feel sorry for [Lancaster]. England are going through a period that will probably benefit them in the long-term. A lot has been made about their injuries but they have real strength in depth."

That last sentence may have been courteous enough - but Gatland was also still bullish enough about his team's chances to make the unusual move of naming his starting XV fully two days early.

In terms of the overall tournament, though, it is difficult to look past reigning champions Ireland retaining their crown.

Now at world number three after thrilling wins over South Africa and Australia in the autumn, the Irish are eased into this year's action with a match in Rome against Italy.

The Italians continue to shoulder the burden of a simply awful Six Nations record, having won only 11 of their 75 previous matches since their accession in 2000.

Indeed, after losing all five games last year, the Azzurri have collected the wooden spoon on 10 out of the last 15 editions.

And yet, despite the easy starter and the nominal advantage of then hosting France and England in consecutive weeks in Dublin, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt remains uneasy with being considered tournament favourites.

“Favouritism is a superficial thing,” Schmidt said. “There’s nothing tangible. You can’t reach out and say: ‘Well, we can take that favouritism and do something useful with it’. It’s not something that is mentioned in camp.”

Rarely considered favourites in recent years, Scotland nevertheless made steady progress before Christmas under new coach Vern Cotter with a couple of try-laden wins over Argentina and Tonga.

Incidentally, Cotter's appointment means that, alongside his compatriots Gatland and Schmidt, three of the four Home Unions are now led by New Zealanders.

But, having spend the last eight years coaching at Clermont Auvergne, it is Cotter's vast knowledge of French rugby which will be of most assistance to the Scots in their opener in Paris.

Ah, the French. Now, this is the point in most previews where Les Bleus are typically cast as an unpredictable yet talented side forever searching for consistency.

Of course, Philippe Saint-Andre's men hardly help this reputation with results like they had in the autumn when they beat Fiji and Australia before then losing to Argentina.

Nevertheless, it would be difficult to make much of a case for France over the next six weeks.

After all, their three most recent Six Nations campaigns have seen them finish fourth, sixth and fourth - and, this season, they have to make visits to both Ireland and England.

Even the middle away trip to Rome will carry with it some jitters considering Italy have won their home fixture against the French on the last two occasions.

As such, the supposedly unpredictable French could well finish predictably in the bottom three for the fourth year in a row.

In terms of my other predictions: Ireland's confidence and fixtures suggest they will be champions again while it would be no surprise to see England recover and just miss out again after an opening day defeat to Wales.

The Welsh will therefore finish third - with improving Scotland down in fifth but winning more than one game and Italy once again bringing up the rear by losing all of theirs.

So that is Ireland, England, Wales, France, Scotland, and Italy all finishing in the same order as they did last year - which means there is bound to be at least one error somewhere.

Of course, all will be revealed over the next six weeks in what continues to be a thrilling winter-warmer in the sporting calendar. Listed below are the vital dates for the diary.

All matches live on the BBC. All kick-off times GMT.

6 Feb 20:05WALES v ENGLANDMillennium Stadium
7 Feb 14:30ITALY v IRELANDStadio Olimpico
7 Feb 17:00FRANCE v SCOTLANDStade de France
14 Feb 14:30ENGLAND v ITALYTwickenham
14 Feb 17:00IRELAND v FRANCEAviva Stadium
15 Feb 15:00SCOTLAND v WALESMurrayfield
28 Feb 14:30SCOTLAND v ITALYMurrayfield
28 Feb 17:00 FRANCE v WALESStade de France
1 Mar 15:00IRELAND v ENGLANDAviva Stadium
14 Mar 14:30WALES v IRELANDMillennium Stadium
14 Mar 17:00ENGLAND v SCOTLANDTwickenham
15 Mar 15:00ITALY v FRANCEStadio Olimpico
21 Mar 12:30ITALY v WALESStadio Olimpico
21 Mar 14:30SCOTLAND v IRELANDMurrayfield
21 Mar 17:00ENGLAND v FRANCETwickenham

TEAM-BY-TEAM GUIDE Odds from Ladbrokes
ENGLAND Odds 5/2
Coach Stuart Lancaster Captain Chris Robshaw
TwickenhamFixtures Wales (A), Italy (H), Ireland (A), Scotland (H), France (H)
IRB Rank: 4 (-)Six Nations titles 4 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011)
FRANCE Odds 6/1Coach Philippe Saint-Andre Captain Thierry Dusautoir
Stade de FranceFixtures Scotland (H), Ireland (A), Wales (H), Italy (A), England (A)
IRB Rank: 7 (-2)Six Nations titles 5 (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010)
IRELAND Odds 2/1 fav
Coach Joe Schmidt Captain Paul O'Connell
Aviva StadiumFixtures Italy (A), France (H), England (H), Wales (A), Scotland (A)
IRB Rank: 3 (+4)Six Nations titles 2 (2009, 2014)
ITALY Odds 500/1
Coach Jacques Brunel Captain Sergio Parisse
Stadio OlimpicoFixtures Ireland (H), England (A), Scotland (A), France (H), Wales (H)
IRB Rank: 14 (-1)Six Nations titles None
SCOTLAND Odds 33/1Coach Vern Cotter Captain Greig Laidlaw
MurrayfieldFixtures France (A), Wales (H), Italy (H), England (A), Ireland (H)
IRB Rank: 8 (+1)Six Nations titles None
WALES Odds 3/1Coach Warren Gatland Captain Sam Warburton
Millennium StadiumFixtures England (H), Scotland (A), France (A), Ireland (H), Italy (A)
IRB Rank: 6 (-)Six Nations titles 4 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2013)

Friday, 30 January 2015

11* prime reasons to see the Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time

The script in Simon Stephens' play adaptation was almost entirely faithful to Mark Haddon's award-winning book, an important aspect given the unique nature of the narration from 15-year-old protagonist Christopher John Francis Boone. The narration from the lead character is very precise with matters both relevant and seemingly largely irrelevant described in great detail. Without giving too much away, Christopher is an autistic mathematics genius who notices patterns, especially in numbers. He also seemingly has a photographic memory, can recall whole conversations to the word, and lives his life in a solely logical and fundamentally truthful manner.
However, his self-admitted "behavioural difficulties" mean he finds it difficult to mix socially - he cannot eat a plate of food if the broccoli and baked beans are touching, or use a toilet if a stranger has previously been in it. He cannot understand metaphors at all and has little ability to use "white lies" to keep himself out of trouble. Consequently, even the most unremarkable situations can become extraordinarily difficult, something which the play demonstrated over and over again by keeping the narrative pretty much exactly as it was originally written, f-word and all.

Equally as brilliant as the acting and the narrative was the technical output - aided by the intentional decision not to change the physical background throughout the whole of the play. Instead, against grid walls and a grid floor similar to squared paper in maths exercise books, excellent use of lighting marked scene changes with each square in the grid able to light individually or, as often was the case, in a pattern.
In representation of Christopher's horribly confused state of mind when faced with an overload of information, streams of letters and words would flash rapidly across the walls. But - at other times when Christopher was feeling calmer and able to think logically - star constellations, diagrams, maps and mathematical puzzles would appear or be scrawled across the walls in an additional device to explain the narrative. It was all magnificently innovative and quite fascinating in itself to watch.

Author Haddon has mixed feelings that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time has become a set text, studied by schoolchildren and used for professional purposes by policemen and social workers. In June 2012, he wrote on his blog: "I'm a little uneasy when, as occasionally happens, it is used as a textbook, and handed to policemen or social workers to give them some insight into the behaviour of people they might come across in their professional lives."
This is understandable on the author's part - it was, after all, written by him purely as a novel, and nothing more. And yet, within the conversations in his narrative, Haddon so naturally incorporates the raw emotions of two big themes - family breakdown and disability discrimination - that the next generation would be missing out on their own development if there were simply no analysis whatsoever. If nothing else, though, it was wonderful to see that a couple of school trips were clearly as absorbed in what was an impressive, heart-tugging adaptation.

On a lighter note, it is clear that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time is a British book, simply from its intentionally understated humour, drawn largely from Christopher's inability to understand or cope with everyday social situations. Often his lack of comprehension is greeted with a disbelieving expletive - "Holy fucking Jesus, Christopher. How stupid are you?" - but, sometimes even more cruelly, he receives a response dripping in sarcasm. Of course, as the sarcasm cannot be taken literally and Christopher is only able to understand logic, this does nothing more than serve to confuse him further with the potential for still more misunderstandings.

Clearly from the outset, the performance at the Theatre Royal of Simon Stephens' stage adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time was not going to be a dud. As a winner of seven Olivier awards in 2013 from its highly-acclaimed West End run in London, the arrival of this play in the north east was much-anticipated - although that is, of course, no complete guarantee of a good showing.
Thankfully, though, it fully lived up to its fine reputation, staying faithful to a thoughtful, quirky and gladdening tale, and providing two-and-a-half hours of truly great entertainment.

Limited tickets are still available at the Newcastle Theatre Royal here or by calling the Box Office on 08448 112121.

*“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”
Christopher Boone,The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time

Monday, 26 January 2015

The boobs are back - but for how much longer?

THE DEMISE of the Page 3 model in the Sun newspaper last week was greatly exaggerated with the tabloid defiantly printing the photo of a topless young lady in its Thursday edition.

Campaigners in the No More Page 3 pressure group had tentatively celebrated victory last Tuesday after even the Sun's sister paper the Times suggested the 44-year Page 3 era was finally over.

However, it now appears to be the case that the whole thing was a bit of a publicity stunt, something which the Sun itself was not too sheepish in pointing out.

"Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a [topless] picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth," it said.

"We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us."

But it would be a surprise if this was the final chapter in this particular story.

Rumours that Page 3 was on its last legs began circulating as early as February 2013 when the newspaper's proprietor Rupert Murdoch dropped hints of a different direction on Twitter.

Later that year, in August, The Sun’s Irish edition dropped topless Page 3 pictures, with Dublin-based editor Paul Clarkson citing “cultural differences”.

Then, last September, the surest signs yet of a change of mindset came when Mr Murdoch pondered: "Aren't beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes?"

By the middle of this month, the Sun seemed to be following their owner's lead - or, more likely, his direct orders - with the topless model missing from three consecutive editions.

And indeed, the feeling remains that, despite the triumphant return of the feature last Thursday, this may well yet be a short-lived stay of execution.

Not that any final decision will be the result of pressure from the No More Page 3 campaigners.

Rather, octogenarian Mr Murdoch will decide the fate of Page 3 on the basis of a hardened commercial calculation with the increasingly raunchy celebrity world seemingly helping him make his mind up.

His latest tweet said yesterday: "Worry not, The Sun will always have great looking women - and men!"

Noticeably, though, this again does not stipulate that they will necessarily be topless.

Time has, indeed, moved on. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, some of the Sun's Page 3 girls ended up being bona fide celebrities in their own right.

Nowadays, that does not really happen anymore - and it is fair to say, at best, the feature seems dated.

To its worst critics of course, Page 3 has always been totally incongruous with the Sun's self-proclamation of being a "family" newspaper.

But it would potentially be the start of a very dangerous game if any government were ever to legislate control over what any newspaper printed simply on grounds of taste and decency.

And so, for now, boosted by a big wave of somewhat self-made publicity, it is no surprise to see the boobs are back.

And that, while you can't see tits on the radio, you can still see them on page three of the country's best-selling daily newspaper.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Yet another African Cup of Nations

THE fourth African Cup of Nations in just six seasons begins later today with replacement hosts Equatorial Guinea taking on Congo in Bata.

Yet, already - as that introductory paragraph suggests - this 30th edition of the tournament has endured a torrid build-up.

Original hosts Morocco first asked for a postponement until 2016, citing fears over the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. But, once the Confederation of African Football (CAF) stood firm, the North Africans pulled out altogether.

This was despite the fact that the Moroccan city of Casablanca had hosted Guinea's successful qualification campaign because the threat of Ebola meant the Guineans could not play at home.

Morocco's contradictory position therefore looks decidedly odd. It is nothing, though, compared to the subsequent illogical move by CAF to bestow hosting rights on Equatorial Guinea.

After all, the tiny central African country had been disqualified last July for fielding an ineligible player in a qualifying match. Now, bizarrely, they have qualified for the finals automatically as hosts.

Usefully at least, it is not a new role for Equatorial Guinea to take on. They were, in fact, hosts as recently as 2012 - but, back then, they shared the burden of the duties with neighbouring Gabon and only used their two biggest cities, Bata and Malabo.

This time, Mongomo and Ebebiyin - two outposts even by Equatoguinean standards - will also be responsible for overseeing the progress of part of the group phase as well as hosting a quarter final each.

Unsurprisingly, the short notice given to the two venues has resulted in concerns over infrastructure and security.

Additional fears that even the 5,000-capacity stadium in Ebebiyin will not be filled has led to the country's president Teodoro Obiang Nguema to pay for 40,000 tickets for fans to attend for free.

Of course, by "president", think instead of an oil-rich dictator who has been in power since 1979 and whose human rights abuses have been well-documented by advocacy agencies.

Suddenly, as cynical as it sounds, the CAF decision begins to make some sort of sense.

Seemingly driven by greed at the best of times - why else stage the Cup of Nations so often? - these were actually the worst of times for the organisation.

Their centrepiece tournament - older than the European Championships by three years - was hanging by a thread. It is no wonder that it went to the highest bidder.

And so, regardless of what happens over the next month in Equatorial Guinea, there will be a real sense of unease as to how this championship has still gone ahead.

Maybe, by asking for a postponement, Morocco had the right idea after all.

Sat 17 Jan, 16:00EQUATORIAL GUINEA 1-1 CONGOBata
Sat 17 Jan, 19:00BURKINA FASO 0-2 GABONBata
Wed 21 Jan, 19:00GABON 0-1 CONGOBata
Sun 25 Jan, 18:00GABON 0-2 EQUATORIAL GUINEABata
Sun 25 Jan, 18:00CONGO 2-1 BURKINA FASOEbebiyin

Group A TableWDLFAPts
(Q) CONGO210427

Sun 18 Jan, 16:00ZAMBIA 1-1 CONGO DREbebiyin
Sun 18 Jan, 19:00TUNISIA 1-1 CAPE VERDEEbebiyin
Thu 22 Jan, 16:00ZAMBIA 1-2 TUNISIAEbebiyin
Thu 22 Jan, 19:00CAPE VERDE 0-0 CONGO DREbebiyin
Mon 26 Jan, 18:00CAPE VERDE 0-0 ZAMBIAEbebiyin
Mon 26 Jan, 18:00CONGO DR 1-1 TUNISIABata

Group B TableWDLFAPts
(Q) TUNISIA120435
(Q) CONGO DR030223

Mon 19 Jan, 16:00GHANA 1-2 SENEGALMongomo
Mon 19 Jan, 19:00ALGERIA 3-1 SOUTH AFRICAMongomo
Fri 23 Jan, 16:00GHANA 1-0 ALGERIAMongomo
Fri 23 Jan, 19:00SOUTH AFRICA 1-1 SENEGALMongomo
Tue 27 Jan, 18:00SOUTH AFRICA 1-2 GHANAMongomo
Tue 27 Jan, 18:00SENEGAL 0-2 ALGERIAMalabo

Group C Table WDLFAPts
(Q) GHANA201436
(Q) ALGERIA201526
Note: Ghana qualify ahead of Algeria on head-to-head basis (Ghana 1-0 Algeria)

Tue 20 Jan, 16:00IVORY COAST 1-1 GUINEAMalabo
Tue 20 Jan, 19:00MALI 1-1 CAMEROONMalabo
Sat 24 Jan, 16:00IVORY COAST 1-1 MALIMalabo
Sat 24 Jan, 19:00CAMEROON 1-1 GUINEAMalabo
Wed 28 Jan, 18:00CAMEROON 0-1 IVORY COASTMalabo
Wed 28 Jan, 18:00GUINEA 1-1 MALIMongomo

Group D TableWDLFAPts
(Q) GUINEA030333
Note: Guinea placed ahead of Mali after a drawing of lots

Sat 31 Jan, 16:00CONGO 2-4 DR CONGOBata
Sat 31 Jan, 19:30TUNISIA 1-2 aet EQUATORIAL GUINEABata
Sun 1 Feb, 16:00GHANA 3-0 GUINEAMalabo
Sun 1 Feb, 19:30IVORY COAST 3-1 ALGERIAMalabo

Wed 4 Feb, 19:00DR CONGO v IVORY COASTBata

Sat 7 Feb, 16:00SF LOSER 1 v SF LOSER 2Malabo

Sun 8 Feb, 19:00SF WINNER 1 v SF WINNER 2Bata

Eurosport has live coverage of all of the matches. ITV4 will show seven matches - one each from the four groups, both semi finals and the Final. ITV4 also has nightly highlights.