Sunday, 29 March 2015

Australia strike Cricket World Cup gold again

New Zealand 183 (45) Elliott 83
Australia 186-3 (33.1) Clarke 74, Smith 56*
Australia won by seven wickets   Scorecard

New Zealand Brendon McCullum (c), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (w), Daniel Vettori, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Trent Boult
Australia David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke (c), Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin (w), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood
Attendance 93,013 in Melbourne Umpires Kumar Dharmasena (SL), Richard Kettleborough (Eng) 
04:30 BST start. Live on Sky Sports.

AUSTRALIA captain Michael Clarke hit a half-century in his last ever One Day International and led the Baggy Greens to a record-extending fifth World Cup at the MCG. 


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cricket World Cup 2015: Co-hosts outlast all-comers

Group A preview - Group B preview - Results sheet
Group update - England review - Group review - Knockout stages - FINAL 

18 Mar 03:30Sydney AusSOUTH AFRICA 134-1 18 beat SRI LANKA 133 37.2 by nine wkts
19 Mar 03:30Melbourne AusINDIA 302-6 beat BANGLADESH 193 45 by 109 runs
20 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusAUSTRALIA 216-4 33.5 beat PAKISTAN 213 49.5 by six wickets
21 Mar 01:00Wellington NZNEW ZEALAND 393-6 beat WEST INDIES 250 30.3 by 143 runs

24 Mar 01:00Auckland NZNEW ZEALAND 299-6 42.5 bt SOUTH AFRICA 281-5 43 by 4 wkts D/L
26 Mar 03:30Sydney AusAUSTRALIA 328-7 beat INDIA 233 46.5 by 95 runs

CO-HOSTS Australia and New Zealand ensured the Cricket World Cup followed the form book after both made it through to the Final in Melbourne on Sunday.

Four-time winners Australia will begin the contest as favourites in their seventh appearance in the showpiece event overall.

But, for the Kiwis, the Final will be an entirely new experience after the Black Caps ended a painful sequence of six semi final defeats in dramatic fashion against South Africa on Tuesday.

Grant Elliott scored the winning runs against the country of his birth off the penultimate ball as New Zealand emerged from an amazing encounter in Auckland as winners by four wickets.

The momentum swung back and forth several times during the course of the rain-affected match with Trent Boult removing both openers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, early on in the South African innings.

From 31-2, though, Faf du Plessis (82) led a comeback while being ably supported by Rilee Rossouw (39) and captain AB de Villiers.

Indeed, with De Villiers scoring a typical quickfire half-century, the Proteas looked set for a really big score, perhaps in excess of 350.

But then, in the 38th over, South Africa's mortal semi final enemy made its usual appearance - rain began falling in Auckland.

The delay lasted almost two hours and reduced the tie to 43 overs per side - and so, on the resumption, South Africa had only five more overs to make some quick runs.

Du Plessis's swift departure threatened to cause more disruption - but it was then new man David Miller, rather than De Villiers, who took up the reins.

Not that Miller did a bad job at all - his 49 off 18 balls was De Villiers-esque - and it helped South Africa to a total of 281.

Duckworth-Lewis calculations adjusted the chase to 298 but this was still a score which the Black Caps fancied themselves to achieve taking into account the small boundaries at Eden Park.

Certainly, skipper Brendan McCullum was not slow in producing his usual explosive start with 24 taken off a single Dale Steyn over as New Zealand reached 71-0 off the first five.

But then the Black Caps were checked for a first time as Morne Morkel removed McCullum and, in his next over, Kane Williamson too. 

Indeed, New Zealand started to look really vulnerable when Martin Guptill - fresh from his record-breaking 237 against the West Indies - was run out after a horrendous mix-up with Ross Taylor.

And then, for good measure, Taylor himself was caught behind down the leg-side off the spin of JP Duminy.

Requiring to rebuild the innings at 149-4, the largely unheralded pair of Elliott and Anderson did just that - though they also had to ride their luck.

In particular, De Villiers should have easily run out the latter in the 32nd over but he broke the stumps without the ball in his hand - and Anderson went onto make a valuable contribution of 58.

Nevertheless, there was still just enough time for another shift in the balance of the match, and - with five overs remaining - South Africa appeared to have hauled themselves right back in the contest again.

First, Du Plessis took a skier to dismiss Anderson off Morkel - and then, 13 balls later, Luke Ronchi holed out to Rossouw at deep mid-wicket.

In the same over, the Proteas had also let another two run out chances go to waste and so New Zealand were left needing 22 runs from 12 balls to tie and progress.

The drama was not over. From the second ball of the penultimate over, Elliott's aerial shot over mid-wicket somehow found a gap between three fielders.

And then, off the last ball of those six, the eventual hero escaped again when substitute fielder Farhaan Behardien dropped the ball having been disturbed by Duminy diving in front of him.

Onto the last over and, with Steyn bowling and 12 required to win, New Zealand took a bye and a single off the first two balls before a welcome boundary from the veteran Daniel Vettori.

Another bye off the fourth ball brought Elliott back on strike and Eden Park held its collective breath.

Seconds later, the silence was shattered by an ear-splitting roar - Elliott had hit a six with a gloriously clean swipe into the grandstands. New Zealand had won for an eighth World Cup match in a row.

Yes, after all the heartache, the Black Caps could finally celebrate a maiden appearance in the Final of a Cricket World Cup.

But, of course, there are always two sides to a contest like this - and, for heartbroken South Africa, this was a fourth semi final defeat out of four, and a third which had been affected by the weather.

The Proteas have to hope that, just as destiny favoured New Zealand on this occasion, their time will come eventually.

In the meantime, it was especially heartening to see Elliott sportingly help his adversary Steyn off the floor to console him.

For that moment, as much as for the brilliant unbeaten knock of 84, Elliott deserves all of his plaudits.

No doubt he will not be fully celebrating yet, though. New Zealand still have a Final to win - and it would be especially sweet for them to beat neighbours Australia for a second time in the tournament.

It will not be easy though - as, only earlier today, the Aussies hammered the holders India in the second semi final.

In fact, the crushing 95-run defeat in Sydney was the biggest margin of victory by runs in a World Cup semi final - and Australia's 328-7 was also the highest ever semi final score.

Steve Smith - settled batting at three - did the most damage, with 105 off 93 balls, although he was assisted readily by steady opener Aaron Finch who made 81.

A brief spell of hope for India came on the departure of Smith to the excellent Umesh Yadav, before big-hitting Glenn Maxwell also oddly failed to make too much of an impression.

Captain Michael Clarke was out cheaply too - but the Baggy Greens were able to rebuild through James Faulkner, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson, each of whom scored quickly.

Johnson, in particular, deserves credit for pushing the score well beyond 300, hitting 27 off just nine balls - and the lightning-fast bowler delivered early on with the ball as well.

The Queenslander struck twice, removing Virat Kohli for just one before snaring opener Rohit Sharma to leave India on 91-3.

That became 108-4 when Suresh Raina was out to Faulkner - but there then followed a spell of a relative calm as Ajinkya Rahane and skipper MS Dhoni attempted to rebuild the innings.

Unfortunately for India, their decent partnership of 70 could not prevent the required rate from creeping above 10 an over.

And when, Rahane was caught behind off Mitchell Starc, Dhoni was left all alone to play his biggest innings for India since he hit the winning runs in the World Cup four years ago.

Dhoni, on this occasion, simply could not do it - and, after Ravindra Jadeja was run out, the last four wickets of Dhoni, Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Sharma and Yadav fell for two runs in just 15 balls.

Clinical Australia had won with frightening ease - though a classic never looked on the cards once India's promising opening stand of 76 had been brought to an abrupt end by Josh Hazlewood.

Similarly, none of the quarter finals could be considered a classic with each of the four clear favourites comfortably winning through to the semi finals.

In the first game in Sydney, South Africa won by nine wickets in just 18 overs, a World Cup record-quick chase for a knockout match, having earlier bundled Sri Lanka out for 133.

Of course, the Proteas' main threat to the Sri Lankans was meant to have been the pace of Steyn and Morkel - but, surprisingly, seven of the wickets fell instead to the spin of Imran Tahir and Duminy.

Certainly, it was a sad and rather timid way for such prodigious players of spin as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to leave the international stage for the very last time.

For South Africa, though, the victory marked the end of their ludicrous wait for a first ever knockout stage win at the World Cup which had gone on since 1992.

India, meanwhile, had made light work of surprise package Bangladesh in the second quarter final in Melbourne.

Opener Rohit Sharma hit 137 off 126 balls as the Indians posted 302-6 and then bowled the Bangladeshis out for just 193 with Yadav taking 4-31.

The Tigers - featuring in their first ever quarter final - frankly never recovered from the relatively early loss of their openers Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes, and they were bowled out 109 runs short.

India thus, until this point, had retained the record of having bowled out all seven teams they had faced - and they also extended their World Cup winning run to 11 successive matches.

At least, the third game - Australia v Pakistan - had threatened to resemble a bit more of a contest when the Pakistani quick bowlers Wahab Riaz and Sohail Khan were able to reduce the Aussies to 59-3.

But, unfortunately, Pakistan were attempting to defend a paltry total of 213 - and it only took a couple of half-decent partnerships, between Smith and Shane Watson, and then Watson and Maxwell, for the Baggy Greens to win easily inside 34 overs.

Undoubtedly then, the highlight of the matches in the last eight had come in Wellington for New Zealand and, specifically, opener Guptill - whose 237 off 163 balls rewrote the record books.

Sadly, in terms of a contest though, the double century had also taken the tie away from the West Indies, for whom the previous record holder Chris Gayle resisted at the top of the innings with 61 off 33 balls.

Barring solid skipper Jason Holder, though, no one else really backed Gayle up - meaning, in the end, the Caribbean side were bowled out for 250 to fall short by 143 runs.

West Indies therefore departed the World Cup having only beaten Pakistan, Zimbabwe and UAE  - and it must now perhaps be considered that they will never return to their former glory.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Six Nations 2015: Ireland eclipse title rivals on epic final day


IRELAND recorded back-to-back outright titles for the first time since 1949 after an extraordinary try-laden conclusion to this year's Six Nations Championship.

The Irish topped the table, on points difference ahead of England and Wales, after thumping bottom-placed Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield.

England then fell agonisingly short by six points in the late game at Twickenham, despite putting 55 points past France and finishing the championship with 18 tries.

But the day began in Rome - and it began quietly with little sign of the attacking carnage to come.

Wales were struggling against Italy and led at half time by just a single point, Jamie Roberts having scored midway through the half after Leigh Halfpenny's cute kick.

It was time for the Welsh to move up a gear - or even several gears - if they wanted to keep alive any hopes of a third title in four years.

Warren Gatland's men duly obliged, and crossed early in the second half through Liam Williams after Rhys Webb's quickly taken penalty.

Within a couple of minutes, Williams had turned provider, feeding George North to score unchallenged.

And then the next 10 minutes belonged to North as he completed a quickfire hat-trick. His second try in the corner was followed by another under the posts, and the Italians were broken.

Down to 14 men for the second time in the half, the hosts shipped three more tries in the last 14 minutes.

First, Webb outwitted everyone by running a score off the back of a maul before, just two minutes later, skipper Sam Warburton joined in on the act, finishing off a fast attack started by Scott Williams.

Williams himself scored Wales' eighth try - and their seventh of the second half - as he applied the coup-de-grace to a sensational 80-yard move which had begun on his own try line.

Then, to their credit, Italy somehow had enough about themselves to score a late consolation through Leonardo Sarto and take their total for the day to 20.

Nevertheless, this was a record victory for Wales over Italy - and it was enough for Gatland's side to top the table with a +53 points difference, as compared to England's +37 and Ireland's +33.

It was now an awkward matter of wait and see for the men in red.

Ireland, in fairness, did not make them wait long, attacking from the off and succeeding inside five minutes through captain Paul O'Connell.

Soon after, their 10-3 lead grew into a 17-3 advantage after Sean O'Brien emerged from blancmange Scotland defending at a line-out to enjoy a clear run at the line.

And so, the Irish - 14 points up in 25 minutes - were already only a converted score shy of knocking Wales off the top.

But then came a setback as Finn Russell went over for the Scots. It would fail, though, to divert the direction of this match away from its inevitable course.

Instead, Ireland only came back stronger, scoring early in the second half as Jared Payne piled over the line under the posts.

And, late on in the match, O'Brien scored his second - and Ireland's fourth - after a series of attacks deep in Scottish territory.

By then, a Johnny Sexton penalty had already pulled the Irish clear of Wales on points difference.

Thus, the three-horse race was down to two, and there was only one big question left - whether England, on +37 before kick-off against France, could match Ireland's eventual haul of +63.

England, like the Irish before them, started well. Indeed, within 92 seconds of the opening kick-off, Ben Youngs had crossed the line for the first of a combined total of  90 points in a breathless encounter.

Yes, the signs that this was to be no ordinary match came in the form of a stunning French riposte.

First, Sebastien Tillous-Borde took advantage of some loose English play following a line-out to charge almost half the field and score.

Then, four minutes later, Noa Nakaitaci scored Les Bleus' second - having just managed to remain inside the dead ball line when grounding behind the posts.

Suddenly, France were leading 15-7 and England's already difficult task was beginning to look completely insurmountable.

A spirited comeback was required - and Stuart Lancaster's men at least delivered in this regard to set up the brilliant denouement.

On the half-hour mark, Anthony Watson scored in the corner before, five minutes later, Youngs crossed for a second time after a quick tap penalty inside the French 22.

George Ford then kicked for goal on the stroke of half time - and England went in at the break 27-15 up, almost halfway to their target.

France were not finished yet, though - and Maxime Mermoz's try from the first attack of the second half started a crazy exchange of three tries apiece in the 25 minutes after the interval.

Crazy, it was - but it was also entirely in keeping with the circumstances as England desperately chased the points difference and France bravely resisted.

On 46 minutes, the excellent Youngs burst through the French defence and set up Ford for a clean run under the posts - and, on 53 minutes, Jack Nowell waltzed through a couple of challenges to make it 39-25.

With Ford knocking over the extras, as he did all evening, England were back within six points of the Irish - but, just moments later, the match turned against them again.

James Haskell was at fault, landing himself in the sinbin for a brainless swipe at Jules Plisson - and France scored within three minutes of the offence after loose-head prop Vincent Debaty had somehow kept up with Mermoz and Nakaitaci.

Six minutes later and England's numerical disadvantage had cost them dear again as the French pack forced Benjamin Kayser over.

But, in between, the English had managed to score short-handed through Billy Vunipola to stay in touch of the top of the table.

Heading into the last 10 minutes, it left them still needing two converted tries - but Nowell halved that requirement by speeding through for his second and his side's seventh.

Unfortunately for England, though, an eighth would never arrive - in spite of a wave of frenzied surges deep into French territory which lasted until the dying seconds.

Lancaster's men had therefore finished second again - something which they done for the last four championships since their last title in 2011.

Encouragingly, though, they topped the try-scoring charts for the first time since then - and, indeed, all of the top three sides can take positives from this tournament ahead of the autumn World Cup.

Champions Ireland re-established their claim as the northern hemisphere's strongest team - and proved it by beating England for the first time in four years.

England themselves had earlier overcome any fears they had about playing at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with an excellent 21-16 comeback win on the opening night.

And Wales recovered remarkably well from that defeat, beating Ireland at home in the course of winning all of their remaining matches, three of which were away.

France continued their recent run of disappointing championships, finishing fourth for their fourth consecutive bottom half placing.

Meanwhile Italy got their habitual occasional win, while being roundly beaten elsewhere, to clamber off the bottom.

Instead, Scotland landed the wooden spoon for the fourth time in Six Nations history, having been whitewashed for the second time in four years.

All of the tentative optimism before these championships north of the border has now therefore totally dissipated - though it would be harsh to land much blame at the door of coach Vern Cotter.

After all, the Kiwi has only been in charge since last autumn, in which the results were decent - and, if nothing else, this Six Nations has shown him just how stern his challenge will be.

For, as the match at Murrayfield showed, Scotland are a shadow of a team that Ireland currently are, even following the retirement of the legendary Brian O'Driscoll.

Yes, on the weekend following a solar eclipse over northern Europe, it was Ireland who were the team casting their rivals into the shade.

And it was Ireland who were the team playing in the light of their own glorious era. Maith thĂș!



6 Feb 20:05WALES 16-21 ENGLANDMillennium Stadium
7 Feb 14:30ITALY 3-26 IRELANDStadio Olimpico
7 Feb 17:00FRANCE 15-8 SCOTLANDStade de France
14 Feb 14:30ENGLAND 47-17 ITALYTwickenham
14 Feb 17:00IRELAND 18-11 FRANCEAviva Stadium
15 Feb 15:00SCOTLAND 23-26 WALESMurrayfield
28 Feb 14:30SCOTLAND 19-22 ITALYMurrayfield
28 Feb 17:00 FRANCE 13-20 WALESStade de France
1 Mar 15:00IRELAND 19-9 ENGLANDAviva Stadium
14 Mar 14:30WALES 23-16 IRELANDMillennium Stadium
14 Mar 17:00ENGLAND 25-13 SCOTLANDTwickenham
15 Mar 15:00ITALY 0-29 FRANCEStadio Olimpico
21 Mar 12:30ITALY 20-61 WALESStadio Olimpico
21 Mar 14:30SCOTLAND 10-40 IRELANDMurrayfield
21 Mar 17:00ENGLAND 55-35 FRANCETwickenham

75 George Ford (England)
60 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

58 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
41 Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
35 Camille Lopez (France)
26 Dan Biggar (Wales)
20 Jonathan Joseph (England)
17 Jules Plisson (France)
15 George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)
14 Ian Keatley (Ireland)
11 Kelly Haimona (Italy)

4 Jonathan Joseph (England)
3 George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)
2 Mark Bennett (Scotland), George Ford (England), Luca Morisi (Italy), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Giovanbattista Venditti (Italy), Billy Vunipola (England), Anthony Watson (England), Scott Williams (Wales)
1 Mathieu Bastareaud (France), Dan Biggar (Wales), Danny Cipriani (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Vincent Debaty (France), Brice Dulin (France), Nick Easter (England), Dougie Fife (Scotland), Joshua Furno (Italy), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Benjamin Kayser (France), Yoann Maestri (France), Maxime Mermoz (France), Conor Murray (Ireland), Noa Nakaitaci (France), Paul O'Connell (Ireland), Tommy O'Donnell (Ireland), Sergio Parisse (Italy), Jared Payne (Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Leonardo Sarto (Italy), Romain Taofifénua (France), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (France), Sam Warburton (Wales), Jon Welsh (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Budget 2015: Osborne serves up pre-election Budget

CHANCELLOR George Osborne today delivered his sixth Budget in the last major event of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition ahead of the general election on 7 May.

There are now exactly 50 days to go until polling day, something you could definitely tell from an hour-long speech which was dripping in politics.

For a start, Mr Osborne has craftily adjusted his accounts so that he now forecasts there will only be a £7bn surplus to the government in 2019-20.

This projection is down sharply on the £23bn figure mentioned in the Autumn Statement as recently as December - and it is a move which directly quells Labour's oft-repeated clam that public spending under the Tories would return to levels not seen since the 1930s.

Instead, Mr Osborne can point out that the public spending under his stewardship would be no lower than it was in 2000 when Labour's Gordon Brown was in charge.

Another highly political manouevre came in the reduction of the Lifetime Allowance for pension savings from £1.25m to £1m.

Labour had proposed the same cut as a way of funding a decrease in tuition fees from £9,000-a-year to £6,000 - but now Ed Miliband looks rather cornered by both coalition parties.

Liberal Democrats had already criticised the fee cut as one which would, in reality, only benefit graduates who go on to be wealthy enough anyway.

And now the Tories can ask again where the money for it will come from if Labour is intent on balancing the books.

Elsewhere in his report, Mr Osborne identified policies clearly aimed at key voters ahead of the election.

In her biggest giveaway, first-time buyers could benefit from a Help-to-Buy ISA in which aspiring homeowners who save up to £200-a-month receive a £50 bonus from the government.

Meanwhile, self employed workers will not weep at the the thought of no longer having to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions - nor, for that matter, lament the death of the dreaded self assessment tax return.

Savers will have been pleased to see the introduction of an annual personal savings allowance of £1,000, something which will take 95% of people out of paying any tax on their investments.

And even the announcement of £7bn-worth of funding in public transport in the south west was all geared towards the Conservatives gaining ground in a crucial election battleground against the Lib Dems.

Of course, there were the usual sweeteners - a penny off the price of a pint, a 2% cut in the duty on cider and Scottish whisky, and another fuel duty freeze.

But, for Labour, it was all about what was not in the Budget - namely the lack of any mention of investment in the NHS or other major public services.

That omission feeds neatly into the narrative that Prime Minister David Cameron is avoiding debate on the big issues ahead of the election - quite literally in some cases.

Mr Miliband also attacked the Chancellor on his idea that the growth in the economy was part of a national recovery, pointing out that there are more people with zero-hour contracts than the populations of Leeds, Glasgow and Cardiff combined.

This claim feeds into Labour's other major argument - that the government simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth having broken its promises on clearing the deficit and reducing immigration.

Labour's big problem on this front, however, is that polls show Mr Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are themselves still not as trusted on the big issue of the economy as Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne.

Consequently, it can be summed up that we have an unpopular government and a still untrusted opposition. No wonder there is stalemate in the polls.

Of course, stalemate skewers the debate in that it allows both main parties to cherry-pick the most favourable statistics backing up their cause.

Conservatives will point towards the national polls and various election prediction websites which predict they will have the most seats.

And, against that, Labour will understandably make a great deal of Lord Ashcroft's latest poll of the vital marginal seats which shows them making several comfortable gains.

However, any Labour progress looks certain to be undermined by big losses in their former heartland north of the border to the Scottish Nationalists.

Indeed, just this week Mr Miliband was forced to rule out the prospect of a formal coalition between Labour and the SNP.

Still, despite plentiful bluster over the Budget from both the Conservatives and Labour, neither looks any closer to securing a majority.

Instead, the election has already turned into a debate over which main party can hold the greater mandate by having more votes and/or seats.

With the Lib Dems still collapsing and increased support of UKIP and the Greens likely far too thinly spread, a minority government looks like being the likeliest outcome.

Ultimately then, there was not enough in this Budget to make it a game-changer - and so, after 7 May, the SNP could yet still hold considerable influence even in a confidence and supply arrangement.

As such, the next weeks - and the few weeks after that - could be a very bumpy ride indeed. Strap yourselves in.

State of the economy
*OBR confirms 2.6% growth in 2014, and forecasts growth will be 2.5% in 2015, 2.3% in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and 2.4% in 2019.
*National debt will fall from 80.4% of GDP to 80.2% in 2015-16, 79.8% in 2016-17, 77.8% in 2017-18, 74.8% in 2018-19 and 71.6% in 2019-20 - due to a sale of bank shares (£9bn Lloyds shares to be sold) and reduction in interest payments
*Borrowing in 2014-15 will be £90bn, falling to £75.3bn in 2015-16, £39.4bn in 2016-17, and £12.8bn in 2017-18. There is forecast to be a £5.2bn surplus in 2018-19 and £7bn in 2019-20 (cf. £23bn figure in the autumn statement).
*OBR forecast for inflation in 2015 is 0.2%.

Cuts in the next Parliament (£30bn to be saved by 2017-18)
*£13bn from government departments
*£12bn from the welfare budget
*£5bn from tax avoidance/evasion.

*Personal tax-free allowance rises from £10600 in 2015-16 to £10800 in 2016-17 and £11000 in 2017-18. Above-inflation increase in the higher rate.
*Abolition of requirement to complete annual self-assessment tax return, to be replaced by digital accounts
*Abolition of Class 2 NICs for self employed people altogether in next parliament
*New personal savings allowance of £1000 to take 95% of savers out of tax on investments altogether
*Abolition of employers' NI for employing under-21s and, from next April, for employing apprentices
*Rate of new transferable married couples' allowance to be increased to £1100
*Corporation tax set at 20%
*Regional devolution: Manchester and Cambridge allowed to keep 100% of additional growth in business rates
*Small business rate relief extended until March 2016
*Bank levy raised to 0.21%, raising an additional £900m per year
*Charities will be able to claim automatic Gift Aid on first £8,000 of small donations, up from £5,000
*Petroleum Revenue Tax cut from 50% to 35% to help North Sea Oil industry

*Alcohol: Cut for the third year in a row with another penny off a pint, Scotch whisky and cider duty cut by 2%, wine duty frozen
*Cigarettes: No changes to those already announced
*Fuel: Increase scheduled for September cancelled

*£25m fund to help veterans, including nuclear test veterans
*Church repair fund trebled
*New investment for London transport projects
*£7bn transport investment for the south west region

*Design of a new 12-sided £1 coin to be released in 2017
*New help-to-buy ISA for first-time buyers
*Osborne cuts the maximum size of large pension pots from £1.25m to £1m
*Toll rates reduced for Severn Crossing from 2018

Earlier Budget reports from Mr Osborne 2011 2012 2013 2014

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Cricket World Cup group stage: Pakistan end Ireland run

Group A preview - Group B preview - Results sheet
Group update - England review - Group review - Knockout stages - FINAL 

Thrill a minute stuff from the Black Caps who hold a perfect record of six wins out of six in this World Cup. Trent Boult has been in fine form with the ball, taking 15 wickets at an average of 15.60, and he has been well supported by Tim Southee and the experienced spinner Daniel Vettori.
The real fireworks, though, have come from captain Brendon McCullum who personified his team's aggressive approach when he broke his own World Cup record with a half-century in 18 balls against England, beating his previous marker of 20, set in 2007. McCullum's captaincy has also been excellent, most notably his insistence on keeping slips in place to back up his bowlers. It was no surprise to see the Kiwis bowl out five of the six opponents - only Bangladesh escaped but even they were beaten comfortably enough.
There were a couple of wobbles - against Scotland, McCullum's men struggled to chase a small target of 143 - and, in another low-scoring match, a thriller in Auckland against Australia was won by one wicket after a collapse from 131-4 to 146-9. With both co-hosts progressing, the result did not mean a huge amount overall - but the look on the faces of both sets of supporters told you everything about just how much it actually did mean in itself.

Australia may have finished runners-up to their fellow hosts New Zealand following that thrilling defeat at Eden Park in Auckland - but, having retained home advantage for their knockout matches after thumping Scotland, the Baggy Greens remain the overall favourites.
After all, everything that was written in the preview post still rings true, although it has been Mitchell Starc, and not his namesake Johnson, who has proved to be the bowler of the tournament so far. Starc has taken 16 wickets, more than anyone else, at an average of just 8.50 - and six of those dismissals came in the defeat to the Black Caps as Michael Clarke's men almost pulled off an extraordinary heist.
For, even after having been rolled over for 151 after Trent Boult's own five-fer, there was still much the Aussies could take from the attempted comeback. Certainly, it is doubtful if any other side in world cricket would have got so close. Otherwise, there have been no worries about the Aussie batting with David Warner hitting 178 as Australia recorded the highest ever World Cup score against Afghanistan of 417-6 in the tournament's biggest ever victory, by 275 runs.
Meanwhile, Aaron Finch also scored a fine ton in the opening match against England which also featured a five-fer for the third Mitchell, Mitchell Marsh. The most thrilling Aussie century, though, undoubtedly came from Glenn Maxwell, coming as it did off just 53 balls. And, while Maxwell actually represents Australia's only obvious weakness - their lack of top-quality spin - this seems unlikely to be a decisive factor on the hard, bouncy surfaces Down Under. A tough draw sees Darren Lehmann's team face resurgent Pakistan in the quarter finals and probably holders India in the semis - but they should still get past those two before holding the big advantage of playing the Final at a jam-packed, boisterous MCG.

Sri Lanka's World Cup campaign so far has been the Kumar Sangakkara Show. In the course of the group stages, the number three became the first ever player to score four successive one-day international centuries with 105 not out against Bangladesh, 117 not out against England, 104 against Australia and 124 against Scotland, giving him an aggregate of 496 runs at an average of 124. It seems bizarre, against the backdrop of this record-breaking run, that he still intends to retire at the end of the World Cup. He will be a miss and not just for Sri Lanka fans.
In fairness to the Sri Lanka team as a whole, Sangakkara also has talented company - Tillakaratne Dilshan hit an unbeaten 161 against Bangladesh and 104 against Scotland, Lahiru Thirimanne hit an unbeaten 139 against England, and Mahela Jayawardene scored 100 against Afghanistan. Altogether, the Sri Lankans have hit eight centuries, three more than any other team.
Their bowling has not been quite as impressive with injury-hit Lasith Malinga down on pace. As a consequence, Sri Lanka effectively beat all the teams who were worse than them - but lost against the two co-hosts to settle in third. Nevertheless, with their batting form as strong as it has been, a quarter final against South Africa is a cracking opportunity to progress towards what would actually be a third successive World Cup Final.

A historic World Cup for Bangladesh who have qualified for the quarter finals for the first time after beating England by 15 runs. In that match, Mahmudullah also scored the Bangladeshis' first ever World Cup century as the Tigers recovered from 8-2 and 99-4 to set a target of 275 which was ultimately too much for their nervy and flawed opponents. For good measure, four days later, Mahmudullah scored a much better ton - an unbeaten 128 off 123 balls - in a losing cause against New Zealand as Bangladesh became the first, and thus far only side, to avoid being bowled out by the Black Caps.
Yes, against Australia, Bangladesh benefited from the Queensland rains and gained an unexpected point from just the second ever complete abandonment of a World Cup match - but, in their other five matches, Mashrafe Mortaza's competed against every other team except Sri Lanka.
Truly, the Tigers deserved their place in the last eight much more than Peter Moores's side - and their underdog status means they head into their biggest ever match against holders India on Thursday with nothing to lose.

Thrashed three times by margins of 111 runs against Australia, eight wickets with more than 37 overs to spare against New Zealand, and nine wickets against Sri Lanka, England also lost the vital match of their campaign in going down by 15 runs to Bangladesh after failing to chase a highly-achievable 276. The defeat in Adelaide to the Tigers means they have now suffered defeats in successive World Cups to the them - and, all things considered, there really was hardly anything to cheer for England in this tournament.    
Even the few brighter moments had caveats: Steven Finn became the first Englishman in World Cup history to take a hat-trick - but it feels as if it barely counts, his wickets against Australia having come from the last three balls of the innings to catches on the boundary as the Aussies looked to increase their already mammoth score.
Meanwhile, the two wins over the Associate teams, Scotland and Afghanistan, were flawed victories, England having collapsed in the former from 172-0 in 30 overs to 303-8 in 50 after Moeen Ali's century. With James Taylor denied a ton by an umpiring error against Australia, Joe Root was England's only other centurion with 121 off 108 balls against Sri Lanka. But it was that match which thoroughly exposed England for being behind the times in considering 309-6 as a par score. So far, head coach Peter Moores has remained in position ahead of a Test series against the West Indies in April. Bowling coach David Saker has fallen on his sword, however.

Sporting dreams do come true and the Afghanistan cricket team are the proof. Less than six years after being granted ODI status, the Afghanis were at a World Cup - and, moreover, were able to break their duck at their very first tournament.
Yes, what was absolute heartbreak for Scotland was unbridled joy for Afghanistan, and they subsequently matched England's win-loss record right until the final match. Although that says as much about England's struggles as anything, Afghanistan arguably played better at times, even threatening victory over Sri Lanka by forcing them into the penultimate over in their chase.
Andy Moles's men also took four New Zealand wickets in 36 overs - compared to England's two in 12 - but there were some disappointments too. The mammoth defeat to Australia, by 275 runs, was a World Cup record they would rather not have. Meanwhile, with Sarfraz Ahmed scoring a ton for Pakistan in their last group game against Ireland, Afghanistan were left as the only team out of the 14 competing not to have a centurion.
Scotland extended their unenviable record of having lost every World Cup match they have played with the total now at 14 following six defeats in Australia and New Zealand. It may also have been their last chance to make a big impression on the cricket world if the world governing body, the ICC, carry through with their proposals to restrict future World Cups to 10 teams.
There were some bright moments - Josh Davey bowled superbly and finished the group stages as the joint second highest wicket taker with 15 at an average of 20.73. Meanwhile, Kyle Coetzer scored Scotland's first ever World Cup century with 156 against Bangladesh. But, ultimately, the Saltires were left disappointed, having blown a glorious chance of a maiden victory against Afghanistan. Chasing 211, the Afghanis had been reduced to 97-7 and 192-9 but made it through the winning post with three balls to spare. Just as in 1999 against Bangladesh, Scotland had failed to hold their nerve at the vital moment.

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 1 wicket
26 Feb 03:30Melbourne AusSRI LANKA 332-1 beat BANGLADESH 240 47 by 92 runs
28 Feb 01:00Auckland NZNEW ZEALAND 152-9 23.1 bt AUSTRALIA 151 32.2 by 1 wicket
28 Feb 22:00Wellington NZSRI LANKA 312-1 47.2 beat ENGLAND 309-6 by nine wickets
04 Mar 06:30Perth AusAUSTRALIA 417-6 beat AFGHANISTAN 142 37.3 by 275 runs
04 Mar 22:00Nelson NZBANGLADESH 322-4 48.1 beat SCOTLAND 318-8 by six wickets
07 Mar 22:00Napier NZNEW ZEALAND 188-4 36.1 bt AFGHANISTAN 186 47.4 by 6 wkts
08 Mar 03:30Sydney AusAUSTRALIA 376-9 beat SRI LANKA 312 46.2 by 64 runs
09 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusBANGLADESH 275-7 beat ENGLAND 260 48.3 by 15 runs
11 Mar 03:30Hobart AusSRI LANKA 363-9 beat SCOTLAND 215 43.1 by 148 runs
13 Mar 01:00Hamilton NZNEW ZEALAND 290-7 48.5 beat BANGLADESH 288-7 by 3 wkts
13 Mar 03:30Sydney AusENGLAND 101-1 18.1 bt AFGHANISTAN 111-7 36.2 by 9 wkts (D/L)
14 Mar 03:30Hobart AusAUSTRALIA 133-3 15.2 beat SCOTLAND 130 25.4 by 7 wickets

(Q) NEW ZEALAND600+2.5612
(Q) AUSTRALIA411+2.269
(Q) SRI LANKA420+0.378
(Q) BANGLADESH321+0.147

Holders India have arguably been the surprise of the World Cup so far, as odd as that sounds. Having entered the tournament in terrible form, the Indians have won six games out of six, and can boast the fine achievement of being the only side to have bowled all of their opponents out inside the allotted 50 overs.
Of course, India have long been well-known for their batting - and Shikhar Dhawan, with two centuries, and Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli with one each have delivered on that front. Captain MS Dhoni has also excelled in his role in the middle-order as a finisher of games - but it has been the Indian seam attack which has caused the eyebrows to raise more than anything else.
Normally one of the weaker elements of the team, the pace bowlers have really stepped up, and Mohammed Shami - with 15 wickets at a miserly average of 12.60 - has been the best of the lot. Four years ago on home soil, India fell back in love with the World Cup as Dhoni led them to glory - and they are clearly not about to terminate this relationship without a fight.

It has been a curious World Cup so far for South Africa. The Proteas have hit some big scores - 339-4 against Zimbabwe and 341-6 against the UAE - and some absolutely massive ones, becoming the first side to hit more than 400 runs in successive ODIs against West Indies and Ireland.
But, for all they ultimately finished group runners-up behind India anyway, AB de Villiers's men have also collapsed and lost twice under pressure while chasing after being bowled out by India and Pakistan. In the latter defeat, skipper de Villiers almost single-handedly rescued the game with 77 off 58 balls - but, once he was out, the game was obviously up, and there remains a worry that the South Africans simply rely on him far too much.
Of course, de Villiers is such a wonderful player that sometimes he can be relied upon to win matches on his own, with his 150 against West Indies coming off an ODI-record low of 64 balls. But no one should come to be relied upon every single time - and, as this World Cup has repeatedly shown, the nerves of a big chase are a very different proposition to setting up a big score. Amazingly, South Africa have never won a World Cup match in the knockout stages - can they hold their nerve if they have to chase a big Sri Lanka total? The jury is out on that one.  

Pakistan have recovered well at this World Cup and head into a quarter finals against Australia in a positive vibe on the back of four wins out of four. It now seems a while ago since their dreadful start to this tournament, one which featured a sixth loss out of six to India at World Cups in their opener before an extraordinary top order collapse on the way to a crushing 150-run defeat to West Indies.
Yes, at one stage against the Windies, Pakistan were 1-4, and they eventually did well just to make three figures. But, while nothing compares to what happened in Christchurch, batting collapses have been nothing unusual - and, even in victory against Zimbabwe, Misbah-ul-Haq's men had to rebuild from 4-2.
Pakistan thus remain perhaps the least predictable of the eight teams left in the competition, and the Cornered Tigers analogy of 1992 could yet be reprised. Back then, when Australia and New Zealand last hosted the World Cup, Imran Khan's unfancied Pakistan won the whole thing having almost gone out in the group stage after suffering a poor start. But, while the potential is there for it to happen again, it would still be a big surprise if history did indeed repeat itself.

Arguably the weakest of the eight sides to make it through to the quarter finals, the West Indies' six points would not have been enough to progress from Group A. Defeat to Ireland in their opening match hardly came as much of a surprise, given the two sides' respective build-ups, and everything seemed to suggest this might be a totally ramshackle campaign.
Then, however, Jason Holder's men immediately rallied in big wins over Pakistan and Zimbabwe. In the latter, Chris Gayle hit the first, and so far only, double century in World Cup history with 215 off 147 balls - but, otherwise, the opener has actually not been in particularly good nick. Indeed, it is skipper Holder who narrowly tops the averages ahead of Gayle, without the benefit of a big score - and, aged just 23, the Windies' youngest ever captain has impressed generally with his mature leadership.
Even in their crushing AB de Villiers-inspired defeat to South Africa, Holder attempted to restore some respectability to a hopeless situation with a half-century. But there is only so much he can do himself - and, as the defeats to South Africa and India have already suggested, the West Indies can still expect to struggle against the stronger teams.

It says a lot about the developing expectations of Irish cricket that the team will be absolutely gutted at having failed to reach the quarter finals despite winning three games including two against Test-playing nations. Now, before the World Cup even began, it was clear that Ireland's fixtures were top-heavy with their first few games offering the best opportunity for points.
And Ireland delivered on their promise beating West Indies first up before holding their nerve in the last over when in the unusual position of favourites against the UAE.Another nail-biting victory came in their fourth match against Zimbabwe as the Africans fell five runs short of chasing 332 thanks to a cracking last over by Alex Cusack.
But, generally, bowling was Ireland's weaker hand as they demonstrated in conceding more than 400 runs to South Africa and in losing to India inside 37 overs. Those two big defeats left the Irish with a pretty poor net run rate, certainly in comparison to their rivals for a top four spot - and it effectively left them needing to win a fourth game against Pakistan.
For once, the batting was under-par and, despite skipper William Porterfield's 107, the team total of 237 never looked enough to trouble their in-form opponents. Nevertheless, Ireland can console themselves with the fact that they got a lot closer to the last eight, and played a lot better, than England. Also, except for winning just one more game or even having a bit of luck with the weather, they really could not have done much more to convince the ICC to reconsider their ridiculous proposal of limiting future World Cups to 10 teams. Indeed, they strengthened their case to be given Test status.

Zimbabwe bowed out of the World Cup at a predictably early stage having failed to achieve even the bare minimum as a Test playing nation of beating both of the Associate sides. Yes, they did beat the UAE - and, yes, the match against the strongest Associate Ireland was one which could have gone either way. But, except for mighty efforts and the humility from retiring skipper Brendan Taylor, unfortunately there was not much for the Africans to take away from this tournament.
Taylor really was the one outstanding player to lift Zimbabwe above a level of mediocrity but his two tons - against India and Ireland - were ultimately both in vain. Indeed, the Zimbabweans extended their record of most defeats in World Cup matches to 42 as they made it three successive group stage exits going back to 2007. Coach Dav Whatmore, if he chooses to take on the role permanently, has much work to do to make this team truly competitive again.

The UAE were playing in their first World Cup for 19 years - and eventually it showed as they badly ran out of steam. Narrowly beaten in their first two matches against Zimbabwe - who won with two overs left - and Ireland, who won in the last over, Khurram Khan's team then suffered four much heavier defeats to India, Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies.
However, such a downturn in performance should not come as much of a surprise for what is effectively an amateur team - and, in fact, the only one of the 14 in Australia and New Zealand without professional status. Still, this handicap did not stop them from having their moments - particularly Shaiman Anwar who became the first UAE player to reach three figures at a World Cup - as they threatened that surprise win over the Irish. Nevertheless, the UAE's World Cup experience is perhaps best summed up by vice-captain Mohammad Tauqir who said at the end of the group stage: "Our employers are waiting for us".

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 104-1 18.5 beat UAE 102 31.3 by nine wickets
01 Mar 03:30Brisbane AusPAKISTAN 235-7 beat ZIMBABWE 215 49.4 by 20 runs
03 Mar 03:30Canberra AusSOUTH AFRICA 411-4 beat IRELAND 210 45 by 201 runs
04 Mar 01:00Napier NZPAKISTAN 339-6 beat UAE 210-8 by 129 runs
06 Mar 06:30Perth AusINDIA 185-6 39.1 beat WEST INDIES 182 44.2 by four wickets
07 Mar 01:00Auckland NZPAKISTAN 222 46.4 beat SOUTH AFRICA 202 33.3 by 29 runs (D/L)
07 Mar 03:30Hobart AusIRELAND 331-8 beat ZIMBABWE 326 49.3 by five runs
10 Mar 01:00Hamilton NZINDIA 260-2 36.5 beat IRELAND 259 49 by eight wickets
12 Mar 01:00Wellington NZSOUTH AFRICA 341-6 beat UAE 195 47.3 by 146 runs
14 Mar 01:00Auckland NZINDIA 288-4 48.4 beat ZIMBABWE 287 48.5 by six wickets
14 Mar 22:00Napier NZWEST INDIES 176-4 30.3 beat UAE 175 47.4 by six wickets
15 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusPAKISTAN 241-3 46.1 beat IRELAND 237 by seven wickets

(Q) INDIA600+1.8312
(Q) SOUTH AFRICA420+1.718
(Q) PAKISTAN420-0.098
(Q) WEST INDIES330-0.056

18 Mar 03:30Sydney AusSOUTH AFRICA (B2) v SRI LANKA (A3)
19 Mar 03:30Melbourne AusINDIA (B1) v BANGLADESH (A4)
20 Mar 03:30Adelaide AusAUSTRALIA (A2) v PAKISTAN (B3)
21 Mar 01:00Wellington NZNEW ZEALAND (A1) v WEST INDIES (B4)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

F1 2015 preview: Advantage Hamilton in dominant Mercedes



F1 W06 HybridGPsPoleWins
44Lewis HAMILTON (Gbr)1483833 (2 championships)
6Nico ROBSERG (Ger)166158
Dominant Mercedes remain well clear of the field which can only be good news for defending champion Lewis Hamilton. The Briton won his second world title in November, six years after his first, and this season is a wonderful opportunity for him to ensure he does not have to wait quite as long between championships again. 
A third crown for Hamilton would put him level with his idol, the late Ayrton Senna - and, having seen off team-mate Nico Rosberg with a brilliant surge of form in the second of last season, the biggest danger to the Stevenage-born champ might just be himself.
After all, Hamilton's off-season has once again been dominated by stories about his personal life, most notably his split with his management team, Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment, and his latest break-up with pop-star Nicole Scherzinger. The last time Hamilton had the potential to be so distracted by external events, in 2011, he suffered his worst season in F1 - and, while the Englishman insists he is a lot more mature now, the door is open for Rosberg to exert pressure. 
Certainly, it feels as if the German needs a good start this year to heal the wounds of giving up such a strong position in the autumn of last year. Indeed, Rosberg's early-season form will surely determine just how competitive the Drivers' Championship actually is.  


3Daniel RICCIARDO (Aus)6903
26Daniil KVYAT (Rus)1900
Coming just a year after joining the team as Sebastian Vettel's second-in-command, Australian Daniel Ricciardo is now the undoubted number one driver at Red Bull Racing. It is a fully merited position for the way Ricciardo thoroughly out-raced four-time world champion Vettel with the German consequently seeking refuge at Ferrari, one year short of completing his contract.
Joining Ricciardo instead is highly-rated 20-year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat who impressed so much in his rookie season with sister team Toro Rosso that he got the big call from Christian Horner. Now, of course, Ricciardo is the hunted, more experienced driver - but, while Vettel seemed quick to find faults when things were not going his way, the Aussie's laid-back personality should stand him in good stead for another season in which any Grand Prix wins will again come against the odds. For Kvyat, the move might have come a little too early - though you never quite know and his record against Ricciardo will provide a source of early-season fascination. 


19Felipe MASSA (Brz)2121611
77Valtteri BOTTAS (Fin)3800
Williams enjoyed their finest season for many a year in the last campaign, deservedly taking third place in the Constructors' Championship ahead of Ferrari and McLaren. 
The Grove-based team finished on a particular high as Felipe Massa - seventh in the Drivers' standings - and Valtteri Bottas - fourth - gave the team a first double podium since Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber finished second and third at Monaco in 2005. As a result, it was no surprise to see this talented partnership retained for 2015.
But one thing that will irk Bottas in particular, given his six podium finishes last season, was the lack of a Grand Prix victory - and so Williams might even be prepared to accept a greater level of inconsistency if their points total happened to feature a first race win since Pastor Maldonado's rather random success in 2012, and only a second since 2004.


5Sebastian VETTEL (Ger)1394539 (4 championships)
7Kimi RAIKKONEN (Fin)2131620 (1 championship)
Flailing Ferrari have brought four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on board in a bid to restore former glories - but, despite his quadruple between 2010 and 2013, the German himself also needs to fix his reputation somewhat. After all, Vettel only joined the Italian giants for the 2015 season having been shocked to find Daniel Ricciardo not to be quite as acquiescent a team-mate as fellow Australian Mark Webber.
At least Vettel should have the beating of his new team-mate Kimi Raikkonen if last year is anything to go by. The Finn's best moments came from his often amusing radio communication with the team as, on the track, he totally failed to live anywhere near up to a reputation mainly built on him being a former Ferrari world champion in his first spell at Maranello.
In fairness to Ferrari, testing has gone better than expected and there has been some much-needed change at the top of the organisation. New president Sergio Marchionne has brought in a new team principal - with Maurizio Arrivabene arriving to replace the sacked Marco Mattiacci. Nevertheless, the team's ambitions are as modest as they ever have been - and the stated target of two race wins hardly inspiring stuff for the Tifosi.


14Fernando ALONSO (Esp)2362232 (2 championships)
22Jenson BUTTON (Gbr)268815 (1 championship)
20Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Den)1900
Off the pace until at least May, it would be fair to say that last season's woes for McLaren have continued into this year despite (or perhaps because of) a change in engine supplier to Honda. 
Stalwart Jenson Button has even admitted the Woking outfit could be right at the back of the grid for this weekend's season opener in Melbourne if struggling new boys Manor Marussia do not run. Such an outcome would be a shame for the Frome flyer, a well-liked character and the most experienced driver in the paddock, who only just saved his seat in the sport before Christmas after some last ditch negotiating.
Eventually, once McLaren get going, the Briton will be joined by Spaniard Fernando Alonso following his surprise move to reacquaint himself with a team he left under a cloud in 2007. His second debut will not happen just yet, though, as Alonso has been ruled out of the Australian Grand Prix following a high-speed collision in testing. It actually turned into a rather odd incident with conflicting reports over the extent of the injury and, even now, there remain a few unanswered questions.
Genuine mystery also surrounds the reason behind Alonso's return to McLaren, described rather cynically in some quarters as a marriage of convenience. After all, even if the two-time world champion had become frustrated with so regularly outperforming Ferrari, he has effectively swapped one team struggling to live up to its glorious reputation for another currently doing even worse. Alonso and McLaren is definitely a relationship worth watching.


11Sergio PEREZ (Mex)7700
27Nico HULKENBERG (Ger)7710
Moored in mid-table since 2008, it is difficult to know what Force India can do to improve their fortunes. They have the strongest engine in Mercedes and a decent driver line-up has been retained - but, while they challenged McLaren for fifth throughout the whole of 2014, two double retirements in Hungary and United States ultimately left the Silverstone-based outfit in sixth place for the third time in four years.
Yet more ups and downs can be expected in the next eight-and-a-half months with the best efforts of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg restricted by an increasingly parlous financial situation. Perez, in particular, is capable of a searing lap which can propel him up the grid, while Hulkenberg was a consistent points scorer throughout the whole of the last campaign, missing out only on four occasions.  


33Max VERSTAPPEN (Net)000
55Carlos SAINZ Jr (Esp)000
Red Bull's sister team Toro Rosso have taken their much-vaunted youth policy to extremes this winter with 17-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen hitting the headlines after becoming the youngest ever Formula One driver. Undoubtedly talented, Verstappen won six successive races in the Formula Three championship on his way to finishing third in the series overall last season.
But, frankly, Formula One is another level of pressure again - and, as BBC writer Andrew Benson points out, the Red Bull talent stream is a cut-throat business with many decent drivers failing to make the grade. Nevertheless, others - such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and, most recently, Daniil Kvyat - have thrived, and Verstappen will be determined to add his name to that still-fledgling list. 
Verstappen's team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr, was initially overlooked in the Dutchman's favour - and only won a seat when Kvyat was promoted to the main Red Bull team. Such an occurrence was hardly a vote of confidence in the Spaniard who - while being only 20 years old himself - could do with some strong early performances to quieten the hype surrounding his teenage colleague.


E23 HybridGPsPoleWins
8Romain GROSJEAN (Fra)6400
13Pastor MALDONADO (Ven)7711
Having dropped back from fourth place in the Constructors' Championship in 2012 and 2013 to eighth last year, Lotus should return to a more competitive mid-table placing this time following their switch to Mercedes engines.
It could perhaps be higher than mid-table - but such a result would rely on the most crash-happy pair in F1 cleaning up their act. Actually, that is perhaps not too fair on Romain Grosjean who got much better at keeping his nose out of trouble, especially in the second half of last season. 
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about team-mate Pastor Maldonado who even has a website dedicated to his scrapes. Indeed, in many ways, it was quite refreshing to hear that the Venezuelan had crashed out of the final pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. Clearly, the start of the new season was not far away.


28Will STEVENS (Gbr)100
98Roberto MERHI (Esp)000
The fact that the Marussia name lives on at all in Formula One is a testament to the efforts of everyone at Manor Motorsport and others who were not prepared to allow the team to die without a fight. Considering they were only cleared to race earlier this week, doubts remain over whether the two cars will actually make it on the grid in Melbourne.
Moreover, when they do finally compete, it would be amazing if they were not anything but dead last - at least, though, they have made it this far. A baptism of fire awaits Essex lad Will Stevens and his Spanish team-mate Roberto Merhi but the rookies will hopefully be able to gain something out of the experience. If nothing else, the pair will have nothing to lose with Merhi also only actually announced as racing for the team earlier this week.


9Marcus ERICSSON (Swe)1600
12Felipe NASR (Brz)000
It went right to the wire - but, at the 11th hour, former Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde agreed to drop his legal action against Sauber. All the way through the saga, it had looked as if the opposite might be the case especially after judgements this week from the Victoria Supreme Court in Australia and an appeals hearing found the Dutchman had a case when he said he had been promised a seat at Sauber for 2015.
Nevertheless, van der Garde's decision to move on belatedly gives the team he nearly joined a chance to get on with what is an important campaign. Coming off the back of a dreadful 2014, which saw the Swiss outfit finish with nul points for the first time ever, 2015 can surely only be an improvement.
Coincidentally another former Caterham driver, Marcus Ericsson, and rookie Felipe Nasr have been given the task of restoring Sauber to a place of mid-table respectability. But, even without any further distractions from van der Garde, it looks a tough ask.

Sky will broadcast all 20 races live on its dedicated channel (Sky 407). Where Sky is listed in the column below, the satellite channel has exclusively live coverage and the BBC will only show extended (delayed) highlights. The BBC has live coverage of 10 races where its name is listed below, notably omitting Monaco in May.

Pole positionFastest lapWinner
15 MarchSkyAustralian Grand Prix

29 MarchBBCMalaysian Grand Prix

12 AprilSkyChinese Grand Prix

19 AprilBBCBahrain Grand Prix

10 MaySkySpanish Grand Prix

24 MaySkyMonaco Grand Prix

7 JuneBBCCanadian Grand Prix

21 JuneSkyAustrian Grand Prix

5 JulyBBCBritish Grand Prix

19 JulySkyGerman Grand Prix

26 JulyBBCHungarian Grand Prix

23 AugustBBCBelgian Grand Prix

6 SeptemberSkyItalian Grand Prix

20 SeptemberSkySingapore Grand Prix

27 SeptemberBBCJapanese Grand Prix

11 OctoberBBCRussian Grand Prix

25 OctoberSkyUnited States Grand Prix

1 NovemberSkyMexican Grand Prix

15 NovemberBBCBrazilian Grand Prix

29 NovemberBBCAbu Dhabi Grand Prix