Wednesday, 10 January 2018

England suffer another stomach-turning defeat Down Under

23-27 Nov 17
FIRST Australia beat England by 10 wickets Brisbane
02-06 Dec 17
SECOND Australia beat England by 120 runs Adelaide (D/N)
14-18 Dec 17
THIRD Australia beat England by an innings and 41 runs Perth
25-29 Dec 17
FOURTH Match drawn  Melbourne
03-07 Jan 18
FIFTH Australia beat England by an innings and 123 runsSydney

Australia won the series 4-0
Player of the series: Steve Smith (687 runs at 137.40)

AUSTRALIA confirmed their superiority in this Ashes series, winning the fifth and final Test in Sydney by the crushing margin of an innings and 123 runs.

The Aussie victory at the SCG made it 4-0 overall with England only having avoided another whitewash by securing a draw in the fourth Test on a lifeless pitch in Melbourne.

Nevertheless, England have now failed to win any of their last 10 Tests Down Under.

Indeed, it seemed inevitable that the tourists were heading for their third whitewash in 11 years when the urn was lost in Perth before Christmas.

Senior players - namely Stuart Broad and former captain Alastair Cook - had been rightly criticised for their lack of contribution.

But, in fairness, both bit back in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Broad took 4-51, his best figures all year, to help reduce the Aussies from 260-3 to 327 all out.

Cook then carried his bat to score an unbeaten 244, the highest of any opener remaining unbeaten in Test history. It was his best performances for years.

Notably, he also became the first England opener to carry his bat since Michael Atherton in Christchurch against New Zealand in 1997, and the first English opener to achieve the feat against Australia since Geoffrey Boycott in Perth in 1979.

Sadly, England - despite posting a competitive 491 - came no closer to a consolation victory, as a third Steve Smith century guided Australia to the safety of 263-4.

England actually also started the fifth Test pretty well and were at one stage 228-3 - but the late wickets of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow took the shine off their opening day.

From that point onwards, though, it was all depressingly one-way traffic. First, England were bundled out for 346 despite some rare resistance from the tail.

Then, the Aussies truly put their visitors under the pump, declaring on 649-7 following centuries from Usman Khawaja (171), and both of the Marsh brothers Shaun (156) and Mitch (101).

Inevitably, England failed to make Australia bat again, not helped by Root being unable to continue his second innings beyond lunch on the final day.

Skipper Root was suffering from severe dehydration caused by gastroenteritis - and surely the extreme Sydney heat could only have made his condition worse.

It has indeed been stomach-turning stuff from England over much of the past two months - and, while this was not another whitewash, it was still a complete hammering.

Indeed, the cumulative aggregates for the batting and bowling of both sides neatly demonstrate the gulf between them.

Australia scored 2,982 runs in total and took 89 wickets. England, by contrast, scored 2,595 runs and took only 58 wickets, their lowest amount in an Ashes series since 1958-59.

Undoubtedly, the English bowlers have struggled, especially in comparison to their Aussie counterparts.

All of the top four wicket takers in the series were Australian - and they did not need anyone other than their main quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.

Of the England bowlers, only James Anderson - with 17 wickets at 27.82 apiece - could be said to have justified his place.

Overall, England were regularly too short and lacking in the requisite pace. Lyon, meanwhile, totally outclassed Moeen Ali in the spin department.

For sure, it came as no surprise that a player in the class of Aussie skipper Smith therefore flourished.

But it was pretty galling to see the mediocre Marsh brothers were swatting away the England attack just as easily by the end.

Of course, from an England perspective, this series will be just as well remembered for events off the field.

The tourists were without the services of their best all-round player, Ben Stokes, following his arrest on suspicion of assault after an incident near a night club in Bristol in the early hours of 25 September.

Bizarrely, more than three months later, Stokes has still not yet been charged with any offence, a somewhat damning indictment of the efficiency of the British justice system.

However, there were also other incidents once England had reached Australia. Bairstow was said to have headbutted new Aussie opener Cameron Bancroft in a Perth bar before the first Test.

Then, following the second Test, Ben Duckett was ejected from a tour match and left facing disciplinary action for pouring a drink over team-mate Anderson in the same bar.

Undoubtedly, the perception painted by large parts of the English media was that of a squad totally out of control. With a reactionary curfew imposed on the players, the Aussie press gleefully lapped it up.

The reality, however, was more prosaic. It quickly became evident that the Bairstow-Bancroft incident could be described, to the obvious amusement of the latter, as playful - or, at very worst, an odd example of social awkwardness.

And so, Duckett's behaviour was therefore pretty much an isolated act - and, in itself, hardly a hanging offence.

Certainly, Anderson has no problem with alcohol being poured over him when England actually manage to win a Test.

But, if it feels a long time since that was happening consistently, that's because it is. In 38 Tests since Trevor Bayliss took charge of the team in 2015, England have won 15 and lost 18.

Progress made in limited overs cricket appears to have come at the expense of performances with the red ball, and England are now correctly perceived as home-track bullies.

That should be no surprise, really. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has clearly marginalised development of the Test team in favour of their new money-spinning city-based T20 competition.

And that is a position with which the board appears pretty comfortable.

Speaking in the wake of the third Test defeat which lost the Ashes, ECB chief executive James Harrison said: "The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas.

"We've had record-breaking attendances in domestic and international cricket, changed our governance structure, hosted two global events, won the women's World Cup, and launched a participation initiative for kids.

"We've had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024."

All of which will surely come to the great comfort of the Barmy Army fans and their own individual bank balances after this winter.

Incredibly, the stench of denial became greater again at the conclusion of the campaign when Anderson - in a post-series interview - claimed England had "not been blown away".

But Anderson himself cannot be blamed for this debacle.

The biggest culprits occupy far more senior positions - they are the decision-makers who put money over all other considerations and who have turned England's senior four-day competition into a non-event.

Without games scheduled at the height of the summer, the English system will never produce a conveyor belt of top-class, genuinely quick bowlers - or, for that matter, a world-class spinner.

Where exactly is the motivation for the counties to field these players when they can get on by just fine with a trundling medium-pacer on an April green-top?

Thankfully, though, there appears to be a realisation that some fundamental change will be required in order to improve the fortunes of the England Test team on overseas tours.

Bayliss himself has stated that England may have to risk losing at home in order to improve away.

Meanwhile, former captain Michael Vaughan has made the eminently sensible suggestion of staging a selection of County Championship matches abroad.

The ECB, no doubt, will act far more slowly in addressing any issues. After all, under its watch, the game in England already has excellent corporate governance.

Of course, Australia - with the still significant advantage of being at home - may well have been triumphant regardless.

Frankly, though, this Ashes series was again far, far too easy for the Aussies. Far too easy.

Australia 9-3 England 
244* Alastair Cook (England), fourth Test
239 Steve Smith (Australia), third Test
181 Mitchell Marsh (Australia), third Test
171 Usman Khawaja (Australia), fifth Test
156 Shaun Marsh (Australia), fifth Test
141* Steve Smith (Australia), first Test
140 Dawid Malan (England), third Test
126* Shaun Marsh (Australia), second Test
119 Jonny Bairstow (England), third Test
103 David Warner (Australia), fourth Test
102* Steve Smith (Australia), fourth Test
101 Mitchell Marsh (Australia), fifth Test

687 Steve Smith (Australia)
445 Shaun Marsh (Australia)
441 David Warner (Australia)
383 Dawid Malan (England)
378 Joe Root (England)
376 Alastair Cook (England)
333 Usman Khawaja (Australia)
320 Mitchell Marsh (Australia)
306 Jonny Bairstow (England)
242 James Vince (England)

137.40 Steve Smith (Australia)
106.66 Mitchell Marsh (Australia)
74.16 Shaun Marsh (Australia)
63.00 David Warner (Australia)
48.00 Tim Paine (Australia)
47.57 Usman Khawaja (Australia)
47.25 Joe Root (England)
47.00 Alastair Cook (England)
42.55 Dawid Malan (England)
41.50 Pat Cummins (Australia)

Australia 2-1 England
5-43 James Anderson (England), second Test
5-48 Josh Hazlewood (Australia), third Test 
5-88 Mitchell Starc (Australia), second Test

LEADING WICKET TAKERS - min 10 wickets
23 Pat Cummins (Australia)
22 Mitchell Starc (Australia)
21 Josh Hazlewood (Australia)
21 Nathan Lyon (Australia)
17 James Anderson (England)
11 Stuart Broad (England)
10 Chris Woakes (England)

BOWLING AVERAGES - min five wickets
23.54 Mitchell Starc (Australia)
24.65 Pat Cummins (Australia)
25.90 Josh Hazlewood (Australia)
27.82 James Anderson (England)
29.23 Nathan Lyon (Australia)
37.66 Craig Overton (England)
47.72 Stuart Broad (England)
49.50 Chris Woakes (England)
115.00 Moeen Ali (England)

662-9d Australia in the third Test, Perth
649-7d Australia in the fifth Test, Sydney
491 England in the fourth Test, Melbourne
442-8d Australia in the second Test, Adelaide (D/N)
403 England in the third Test, Perth
346 England in the fifth Test, Sydney
328 Australia in the first Test, Brisbane
327 Australia in the fourth Test, Melbourne
302 England in the first Test, Brisbane
263-4d Australia in the fourth Test, Melbourne
233 England in the second Test, Adelaide (D/N)
227 England in the second Test, Adelaide (D/N)
218 England in the third Test, Perth
195 England in the first Test, Brisbane
180 England in the fifth Test, Sydney
173-0 Australia in the first Test, Brisbane
138 Australia in the second Test, Adelaide (D/N)

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Index 2017

08.05 In the hands of the youth?
10.05 Young hearts run free as May clings on

13.05 NUFC: Mission accomplished
07.06 For the record: Winners and losers
11.08 Premier League preview: Can Chelsea defend their title?
World Cup 2018
11.10 Undewhelming England reach World Cup in Russia
16.11 Playoffs: Arrivederci Azzurri, Ireland and Northern Ireland
01.12 Draw: England can breathe in Group of Life
05.07 Taking Root
Ashes 2017/18
22.11 Adversity test for England in Ashes defence
18.12 Dust to dust 

30.06 Glastonbury: A worthy return
09.07 Lions roar to series draw
02.11 High-rolling Hamilton completes his quadruple

11.11 Lest we forget

Monday, 18 December 2017

Dust to dust

23-27 Nov 2017
FIRST Australia beat England by 10 wickets Brisbane
02-06 Dec 2017
SECOND Australia beat England by 120 runs Adelaide (D/N)
14-18 Dec 2017
THIRD Australia beat England by an innings and 41 runs Perth
25-29 Dec 2017
03-07 Jan 2018

ENGLAND surrendered the Ashes urn this morning as Australia took an unassailable lead with a crushing innings victory in the third Test in Perth.

The tourists lost their last four wickets for 22 runs to go 3-0 down in the series - and they now face the devastating prospect of a third whitewash Down Under in just 11 years.

As it stands, a whitewash result is now the odds-on favourite with most bookmakers. Yes, that is how little regard there now remains for this England side.

That should come as no surprise really. After all, the tourists have been outplayed in every facet of the game, and Australia have had almost a monopoly on the truly magic moments in the series.

From Nathan Lyon's superman dive, with which he executed his caught-and-bowled dismissal of Moeen Ali, to Mitchell Starc's incredible jaffa that splattered James Vince's stumps.

And then, of course, there has been the not-so-insignificant matter of Steve Smith's imperious form with the bat.

In four innings so far, the Aussie skipper has scored a ton and a double ton in an aggregate of 426 runs at an average of 142. His figures, quite frankly, are Bradman-esque.

By contrast, Alastair Cook and Joe Root have scored a combined total of 259 runs at a hideous average of 21.59. Cook's top score is just 37.

Yet, despite all this, England have had fleeting moments of hope.

In the first Test in Brisbane, the tourists appeared to be heading for a first innings lead having reduced the Aussies to 209-7 in reply to their own 302.

But it was in fact Australia who took a 26-run lead into the second innings before openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft then easily knocked off the required runs following an England collapse.

In the second Test in Adelaide, England blew another opportunity having taken the second new ball with Australia on 209-5.

Of course, the day-night match in Adelaide was always meant to represent the best chance of England securing a victory in the series with the conditions under lights bringing swing and seam into the equation.

Joe Root inserted the Aussies at the toss hoping to dismiss them cheaply but he then watched on forlornly as his attack bowled too short and the hosts declared on 442-8.

Belatedly, two of the English bowlers - James Anderson and Chris Woakes - adjusted their lengths and duly tore through the Australians in the second innings.

By then, though, England - who had been bowled out for 227 - needed to complete a record run-chase of 353 to avoid going 2-0 down.

At the end of the penultimate day, England had reached 176-4 and were talking up their hopes of completing an incredible comeback victory.

It was a record chase for a reason, however - and, once Root departed without having added to his overnight score, England proceeded to lose their remaining wickets before lunch.

And so to Perth - and what is expected to be the last ever Ashes Test at the WACA.

The WACA is a venue at which England have historically struggled. They have won just once there ever - back in 1978 - against an Australian side severely weakened by defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket.

In fact, the last seven Ashes Tests in Perth had all gone the way of Australia with even the gloriously victorious 2010-11 tour party going down to a heavy defeat there.

Back to this series - and England, having won the toss for a third successive time, decided to bat - but, to the great surprise of nobody, found themselves in some trouble on 131-4.

Nevertheless, another of those fleeting moments of hope then happened to come along. Ashes rookie Dawid Malan completed a maiden international ton as part of a 237-run stand for the fifth wicket alongside fellow centurion Jonny Bairstow.

Typically, though, the tourists then lost 6-35 for a final first innings total of 403. It was never going to be enough on a true WACA deck.

This was especially the case considering the obvious weaknesses of the England bowling attack with their lack of pace and variation exacerbated by the lack of a top-quality spinner.

No fewer than five bowlers - Anderson, Woakes, Craig Overton, Ali, and Stuart Broad - conceded a century of runs in the Australian innings of 662-9 declared. Broad, indeed, recorded his worst ever Test figures of 0-142. 

England ultimately failed to make Australia bat again making it the third time in just over 12 months that they have lost by innings despite scoring 400 runs first up.

Remarkably, that was something which had only previously happened on three occasions in the entirety of Test history prior to December 2016.

With statistics like that, it is difficult to see any way forward for England in terms of avoiding the whitewash - something that could not be said even amid the struggles of the 1990s.

For, while England failed to hold the Ashes for a single day in the whole of that decade, and nearly half of the next, they were also never whitewashed during that period. 

Even Down Under, on tours in 1990-91, 1994-95, and 1998-99, the tourists managed to avoid defeat in one of the first three Tests of the series.

But, already, that has proven to be beyond this England side - just as it was in 2002-03, 2006-07 and 2013-14. 

Indeed, England have now lost their last eight Test matches in a row in Australia, their worst run since the 1920s.

The stats are damning while the performance level of some of the senior players in particular has been pathetic.

England have once again lost the Ashes before Christmas. Now, we simply wait to find out if they can salvage anything at all from the ruins of this tour.

239 Steve Smith (Australia), third Test
181 Mitchell Marsh (Australia), third Test
141* Steve Smith (Australia), first Test
140 Dawid Malan (England), third Test
126* Shaun Marsh (Australia), second Test
119 Jonny Bairstow (England), third Test

426 Steve Smith (Australia)
302 Dawid Malan (England)
241 Jonny Bairstow (England)
224 Shaun Marsh (Australia)
196 David Warner (Australia)
5-43 James Anderson (England), second Test
5-48 Josh Hazlewood (Australia), third Test
5-88 Mitchell Starc (Australia), second Test

19 Mitchell Starc (Australia)
15 Josh Hazlewood (Australia) 
14 Nathan Lyon (Australia)
12 James Anderson (England)
11 Pat Cummins (Australia)

Friday, 1 December 2017

World Cup 2018 finals draw: England can breathe in Group of Life


ENGLAND have been drawn against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium in Group G at next year's World Cup finals in Russia.

The Three Lions will begin their tournament against the Tunisians on Monday 18th June at 7pm in a repeat of their opening fixture at the 1998 World Cup which they won 2-0.

Head coach Gareth Southgate was on the pitch in Marseille that day - and he will be looking for a similar result when he takes his place on the touchline in Volgograd.

Thereafter, England face tournament debutants Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on 24th June at 1pm, before finishing the group stage against top seeds Belgium on 28th June in Kaliningrad.

Currently ranked fifth, the Red Devils undoubtedly have a hugely talented side with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne all among the best players in the Premier League.

Their head coach - former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Roberto Martinez - is a familiar face too.

However, having been second seeds, England were always going to face at least one high quality opponent - and thankfully the rest of the draw has been pretty kind.

Even Group H - which features Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan as possible Last 16 opponents - could have been far more frightening.

But Southgate urged caution at the draw which was hosted by Three Lions legend Gary Lineker at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

"My experience of tournaments is you need to get a result in all three matches," Southgate said. "In the past we've assumed we'll be in certain rounds but we need to make sure we get out of our group." 

Hosts Russia were perhaps given the weakest group, in terms of the rankings, which they could mathematically have drawn.

Stanislav Cherchesov's men open the whole tournament against Saudi Arabia on Thursday 14th June before going on to face Egypt - who are appearing in their first World Cup since 1990 - and then an ageing Uruguay side.

France, similarly, can have no complaints at having been placed in Group C alongside Denmark, Australia, and Peru - who will be making their first appearance since 1982.

Group B, however, appears to be a different matter altogether. European Champions Portugal, ranked third, will begin their campaign in an Iberian derby against 2010 champions Spain in Sochi on Friday 15th June.

Meanwhile, Iran and Morocco are the other teams in the section, both having qualified convincingly from the Asian and African sections respectively.

Elsewhere, defending champions Germany will surely be given a stern workout by their opponents Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea.

The Swedes, in particular, will be ones to watch considering they have already accounted for the Netherlands and Italy in the qualifying stages.

Of course, if the Nationalmannschaft happen to slip into second, they could be reacquainted with Brazil who they beat 7-1 in Belo Horizonte in the semi finals of the last World Cup.

Brazil, after all, have somewhat recovered from that mauling, and so would expect to leave their group opponents - Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia - fighting it out for just the one other spot in the Last 16.

Not that long-time German head coach Joachim Loew seemed particularly worried.

"At such a draw everything is possible. Whatever the group, we have to advance. I was generally relaxed. There is no reason for us to be nervous," he said.

There is, however, understandable concern in Argentina. A mess of a qualifying campaign was only saved on the final day by a Lionel Messi hat-trick - and their first opponents, debutants Iceland, know a little bit about bloodying a nose or two.

Croatia could also prove tricky - and then there is Nigeria, a familiar World Cup foe.

Remarkably, the fixture on 26th June means the Super Eagles will have met La Albiceleste on five of their six finals appearances.

For now, the Argentines have a perfect record in World Cup matches between the pair - but they were beaten 4-2 in a recent international following a second half capitulation.

Vulnerability undoubtedly hangs in the air in Buenos Aires currently - and, in fairness, it never feels far away from the Three Lions either.

After all, we have been here before - and relatively recently at that.

In 2010, The Sun newspaper reacted to the news that England would face Algeria, Slovenia and United States by printing EASY in big letters on its front page.

England did make it through the group - but only in second place behind the Americans, and they were then thumped 4-1 by Germany in the Last 16.

Thankfully, though, there was equally no repeat of the cut-throat gesture given by former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke at the 2014 draw when England were grouped with Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

For, if England are to get anywhere, they simply must have more self-belief than that.

And, while they certainly cannot be considered among the favourites for the World Cup itself, the draw has presented Southgate's men with a genuine chance of a decent showing in Russia next summer.

Now, where did I put that bunting?

4pmThu 14 JuneRUSSIA v SAUDI ARABIAMoscow
1pmFri 15 JuneEGYPT v URUGUAYYekaterinburg
7pmTue 19 JuneRUSSIA v EGYPTSaint Petersburg
4pmWed 20 JuneURUGUAY v SAUDI ARABIARostov-on-Don
3pmMon 25 JuneURUGUAY v RUSSIASamara
3pmMon 25 JuneSAUDI ARABIA v EGYPTVolgograd

4pmFri 15 JuneMOROCCO v IRANSaint Petersburg
7pmFri 15 JunePORTUGAL v SPAINSochi
1pmWed 20 JunePORTUGAL v MOROCCOMoscow
7pmWed 20 JuneIRAN v SPAINKazan
7pmMon 25 JuneIRAN v PORTUGALSaransk
7pmMon 25 JuneSPAIN v MOROCCOKaliningrad

11amSat 16 JuneFRANCE v AUSTRALIAKazan
5pmSat 16 JunePERU v DENMARKSaransk
1pmThu 21 JuneFRANCE v PERUYekaterinburg
4pmThu 21 JuneDENMARK v AUSTRALIASamara
3pmTue 26 JuneDENMARK v FRANCEMoscow
3pmTue 26 JuneAUSTRALIA v PERUSochi

2pmSat 16 JuneARGENTINA v ICELANDMoscow
8pmSat 16 JuneCROATIA v NIGERIAKaliningrad
7pmThu 21 JuneARGENTINA v CROATIANizhny Novgorod
4pmFri 22 JuneNIGERIA v ICELANDVolgograd
7pmTue 26 JuneNIGERIA v ARGENTINASaint Petersburg
7pmTue 26 JuneICELAND v CROATIARostov-on-Don

1pmSun 17 JuneCOSTA RICA v SERBIASamara
7pmSun 17 JuneBRAZIL v SWITZERLANDRostov-on-Don
1pmFri 22 JuneBRAZIL v COSTA RICASaint Petersburg
7pmFri 22 JuneSERBIA v SWITZERLANDKaliningrad
7pmWed 27 JuneSERBIA v BRAZILMoscow
7pmWed 27 JuneSWITZERLAND v COSTA RICANizhny Novgorod

4pmSun 17 JuneGERMANY v MEXICOMoscow
1pmMon 18 JuneSWEDEN v SOUTH KOREANizhny Novgorod
4pmSat 23 JuneGERMANY v SWEDENSochi
7pmSat 23 JuneSOUTH KOREA v MEXICORostov-on-Don
3pmWed 27 JuneSOUTH KOREA v GERMANYKazan
3pmWed 27 JuneMEXICO v SWEDENYekaterinburg

4pmMon 18 JuneBELGIUM v PANAMASochi
7pmMon 18 JuneTUNISIA v ENGLANDVolgograd
1pmSat 23 JuneBELGIUM v TUNISIAMoscow
1pmSun 24 JuneENGLAND v PANAMANizhny Novgorod
7pmThu 28 JuneENGLAND v BELGIUMKaliningrad
7pmThu 28 JunePANAMA v TUNISIASaransk

1pmTue 19 JunePOLAND v SENEGALMoscow
4pmTue 19 JuneCOLOMBIA v JAPANSaransk
4pmSun 24 JuneJAPAN v SENEGALYekaterinburg
7pmSun 24 JunePOLAND v COLOMBIAKazan
3pmThu 28 JuneJAPAN v POLANDVolgograd
3pmThu 28 JuneSENEGAL v COLOMBIASamara

3pmSat 30 June(1) WINNER C v RUNNER-UP DKazan
7pmSat 30 June(2) WINNER A v RUNNER-UP BSochi
3pmSun 01 July(3) WINNER B v RUNNER-UP AMoscow
7pmSun 01 July(4) WINNER D v RUNNER-UP CNizhny Novgorod
3pmMon 02 July(5) WINNER E v RUNNER-UP FSamara
7pmMon 02 July(6) WINNER G v RUNNER-UP HRostov-on-Don
3pmTue 03 July(7) WINNER F v RUNNER-UP ESaint Petersburg
7pmTue 03 July(8) WINNER H v RUNNER-UP GMoscow

3pmFri 06 JulyWINNER (1) v WINNER (2)Nizhny Novgorod
7pmFri 06 JulyWINNER (5) v WINNER (6)Kazan
3pmSat 07 JulyWINNER (7) v WINNER (8)Samara
7pmSat 07 JulyWINNER (3) v WINNER (4)Sochi

7pmTue 10 JulyWINNER QF1 v WINNER QF2Saint Petersburg
7pmWed 11 JulyWINNER QF3 v WINNER QF4Moscow

3pmSat 14 JulyLOSER SF1 v LOSER SF2Saint Petersburg

4pmSun 15 JulyWINNER SF1 v WINNER SF2Moscow

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Adversity test for England in Ashes defence

23-27 November 201700:00FIRST TESTBrisbane
02-06 December 201704:00SECOND TESTAdelaide (D/N)
14-18 December 201702:30THIRD TESTPerth
25-29 December 201723:30FOURTH TESTMelbourne
03-07 January 201823:30FIFTH TESTSydney
Dates and times are GMT. (D/N) Day/night Test.

ENGLAND begin their bid to keep hold of the Ashes overnight as the oldest cricket rivalry in the world resumes with the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane.

Joe Root's men enter the latest edition of this perpetual contest confident in the knowledge that they have won four of their last five series against Australia.

However, three of those wins came at home - and the team's most recent visit Down Under, the so-called Pomnishambles tour - ended in a humiliating 5-0 whitewash to the Aussies.

Already this time, without a single ball having even been bowled, England have faced a few notable setbacks.

Most prominently, they are without the services of their best all-round player, Ben Stokes, following his arrest on suspicion of assault after an incident near a night club in Bristol in the early hours of 25 September.

Stokes had been named in the original squad in an announcement on 27 September which actually raised a few eyebrows on several counts.

But, following a review of video footage published in The Sun, the 26-year-old Durham all-rounder was withdrawn from the touring party "until further notice", pending an investigation.

Of course, there is still a chance at this stage that Stokes may yet play a part later in the tour if the charges against him are dropped.

The case against him is not clear-cut, with the Sun newspaper also publishing a later story in which two men hailed Stokes as a hero for protecting them from homophobic abuse on the night of the alleged assault.

For now, though, England must make do without him - or indeed his named replacement, Steven Finn, who was forced to pull out of the series on 7 November with a serious knee injury.

At least Root's men head into the winter having won the first two series under him at home this summer.

But, despite those victories over South Africa and West Indies, the same old batting problems persisted at slots two, three and five.

Dawid Malan, Gary Ballance and James Vince were all therefore rather unconvincing selections, particularly in the cases of Ballance and Vince.

Meanwhile, Mark Stoneman will be playing just his fourth Test when he takes to the crease to open the batting with Alastair Cook.

Stoneman has at least played himself into a bit of form already with a century and three half-centuries in the warm-up matches - and he certainly looks a far better bet than the painfully statuesque Keaton Jennings.

More worryingly, though, England have continued to struggle in adverse situations as a collective.

Indeed, it is something which has affected the consistency of their performances for several years now.

They usually either win handsomely or lose horribly with no middle ground, and often no sign of steel or fight in the players if they fall behind in a game.

Such weakness is exactly what the Australian pace bowlers love to prey upon. No one will ever forget the way Mitchell Johnson terrorised the English batsmen in the 2013-14 whitewash.

And, while Johnson has now retired, his natural successor - Mitchell Starc - warmed up for the series by becoming the first bowler in Sheffield Shield history to take a hat-trick in both innings of a match.

England simply cannot allow Starc - or Josh Hazlewood - to bully them in the way that Johnson did. They must stand up to the challenge that awaits, and perhaps they might just surprise themselves a little.

After all, it is not all doom and gloom heading into the Gabba.

There are, in fact, some genuine grounds for optimism on the basis that the Australian batting is not in particularly good shape either.

Just as England have Cook and captain Root as mainstays in the top six but offer little else, the Aussies appear to have an over-reliance on David Warner and skipper Steve Smith.
It would be fair to say then that there has been just as much head-scratching from the Australian selectors ahead of the first Test.

Unfortunately for them, though, their eventual decisions have gone down like a lead balloon among the press and public Down Under.

Chief among the grievances is the shock recall of 32-year-old Tim Paine, a wicketkeeper who played his most recent Test seven years ago.

Bizarrely, Paine has not even been taking the gloves for his state side, Tasmania, and his most recent first-class ton came back in 2006.

The umpteenth return of Shaun Marsh is not exactly the most inspiring news, either. Meanwhile, young Middlesbrough-born opener Matt Renshaw is one of six players dropped from their most recent Test, despite that being a hard-fought win in Bangladesh.

Former Aussie leg-spinner Stuart MacGill took to Twitter to refer to the selectors as "morons masquerading as mentors" while Australian Test Match Special commentator Jim Maxwell described them as "unhinged".

And so, there are already signs that, if Australia struggle in Brisbane, their fickle supporters could turn against them.

It is not just England who will be feeling the pressure. As such, it is essential that the tourists get a good start at the Gabba - though history shows that is far easier said than done.

The Aussies have not lost a Test match to any opponent on the Brisbane ground since 1988 - and England last won there on their successful 1986-87 tour, although they did secure a draw in 2010.

A strong start is vital then, especially in this particular series - as opportunity knocks in the second Test in Adelaide.

That match - regardless of what actually happens on the pitch - will go down in history as the first ever day-night Ashes Test.

And, of course, England hope that the evening sessions - with the pink ball under lights - will give their main man James Anderson the chance to swing the ball as prodigiously as we all know he can.

This time then, the Ashes could still be alive at Christmas following the third Test at the WACA in Perth.

Thereafter, the tour moves onto Melbourne for the traditional Boxing Day Test before the Sydney Cricket Ground hosts the fifth and final Test in the first week of 2018. 

In summary, this Ashes series appears to be a relatively evenly-matched contest between two sides which are still developing under the guidance of their respective young captains.

Unfortunately, that means home advantage feels as if it is going to be decisive with the hard, bouncy pitches surely favouring the Australian bowlers.

Indeed, if frontline pace pair Starc and Hazlewood remain untroubled by injury throughout the series, the Aussies could easily get on a roll against an England team still so fragile in adversity.

Certainly, this should not turn into another Pomnishambles tour - as, even without Stokes, England have the talent to play plenty of good cricket.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Australia are rightly favourites to regain the Ashes urn.  

Prediction: 4-1 to Australia


Joe Root (c)26Yorkshire601332254
Moeen Ali30Worcestershire44512155*
James Anderson35Lancashire1290181
Jonny Bairstow (wk)28Yorkshire45317167*
Jake Ball26Nottinghamshire30031
Gary Ballance27Yorkshire2347156
Stuart Broad31Nottinghamshire109111169
Alastair Cook32Essex1473155294
Mason Crane20Hampshire000-
Tom Curran22Surrey000-
Ben Foakes (wk)24Surrey000-
Dawid Malan30Middlesex50265
Craig Overton23Somerset000-
Mark Stoneman30Surrey30152
James Vince26Hampshire70042
Chris Woakes28Warwickshire180366
Ben Stokes26Durham39612258
HS high score   *not out

⚱️Overall series 69
Australia 32 England 32 Drawn 5
⚱️In Australia only 34
Australia 18 England 14 Drawn 2

⚱️Overall Tests 325
Australia 130 England 106 Drawn 89
⚱️In Australia only 162
Australia 82 England 56 Drawn 24

RECENT SERIES since 2000

2001ENGAustralia won 4-1 Australia
2002-03AUSAustralia won 4-1 Australia
2005ENGEngland won 2-1 England
2006-07AUSAustralia won 5-0 Australia
2009ENGEngland won 2-1 England
2010-11AUSEngland won 3-1 England
2013ENGEngland won 3-0 England
2013-14AUSAustralia won 5-0 Australia
2015ENGEngland won 3-2 England currently hold the Ashes

Thursday, 16 November 2017

World Cup playoffs: Arrivederci Azzurri, Ireland and Northern Ireland

09-Nov-2017Northern Ireland 0-1 SwitzerlandBelfast
12-Nov-2017Switzerland 0-0 Northern IrelandBasel

(Q) Switzerland won 1-0 on aggregate

09-Nov-2017Croatia 4-1 GreeceZagreb
12-Nov-2017Greece 0-0 CroatiaPiraeus

(Q) Croatia won 4-1 on aggregate

10-Nov-2017Sweden 1-0 ItalySolna
13-Nov-2017Italy 0-0 SwedenMilan

(Q) Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate

11-Nov-2017Denmark 0-0 IrelandCopenhagen
14-Nov-2017Ireland 1-5 DenmarkDublin

(Q) Denmark won 5-1 on aggregate

10-Nov-2017Honduras 0-0 AustraliaSan Pedro Sula
15-Nov-2017Australia 3-1 HondurasSydney

(Q) Australia won 3-1 on aggregate

11-Nov-2017New Zealand 0-0 PeruWellington
15-Nov-2017Peru 2-0 New ZealandLima

(Q) Peru won 2-0 on aggregate

ITALY failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 - and only the second time ever - as both Northern Ireland and Ireland also missed out in the playoffs.

Amid a series of low scoring matches, which - at one stage - featured six successive 0-0 draws, the Italians went out 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden after a deflected Jakob Johansson goal in the first leg.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland can consider themselves even more unlucky having gone out to Switzerland by the same aggregate score as a result of a simply shocking first leg penalty call in Belfast.

Corry Evans was adjudged by Romanian referee Ovidiu Haţegan to have handled a shot from Stoke City winger Xherdan Shaqiri even though his back was turned and the ball hit his shoulder.

Ricardo Rodríguez showed no sympathy by dispatching the spot kick and then added insult to injury by clearing Jonny Evans' header off the line in the dying moments of the second leg in Basel.

Sympathy for the Azzurri and the Northern Irish must be tempered, though, by the fact that neither side managed to score against their opponents in just over three hours of football.

Yet only the most hardened football cynic felt no sadness at Gianluigi Buffon's fine international career ending like this.

Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Barzagli have also retired from national duty, the former having unsuccessfully implored 69-year-old head coach Gian Piero Ventura to bring on striker Lorenzo Insigne.

Unsurprisingly, Ventura has now been sacked by the Italian FA - and, having been a thoroughly uninspiring choice in the first place, the Azzurri's oldest-ever head coach holds a reputation which is the equivalent to that of Steve McClaren among England supporters.

By contrast, Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill is held in rather higher esteem having reinvigorated football in the province.

Under O'Neill, the Northern Irish have risen from 88th in the world rankings from when he took over in 2011 to a current position of 20th. Along the way, they also reached the last 16 of Euro 2016.

Of course, the 48-year-old's achievements have not gone unnoticed and it would be no surprise if he now looked for a different challenge. Managerless Scotland are said to be interested.

O'Neill's namesake on the south of the Irish border, Martin, also holds a contract for the Euro 2020 qualifiers - but he now faces a challenge of a different kind after a crushing playoff defeat.

The Irish appeared to be on course to qualify against Denmark having backed up their 0-0 draw in Copenhagen with an early goal in Dublin from Shane Duffy.

From that point onwards, though, it all went wrong as Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen took advantage of some slack defending to score a hat-trick in a 5-1 win.

An unfortunate own goal by Cyrus Christie began the rout before Eriksen hit a trio of wonderful strikes either side of half time.

Nicklas Bendtner then finished off a horrible night for Ireland by winning and scoring a 90th-minute penalty after he had been fouled by West Bromwich Albion winger James McClean.

Elsewhere, the playoff between Croatia and Greece was a straightforward affair.

The Croatians cruised through to make it an impressive 10 successful World Cup and European Championship qualifying campaigns out of 12, since the country gained independence in 1993.

Luka Modrić, Nikola Kalinić, Ivan Perišić, and Andrej Kramarić all found the net in a 4-1 win in Zagreb as a dreadful Greek defensive performance effectively ended the tie inside the first 90 minutes.

This was, nevertheless, a sharp improvement for Greece on their abysmal qualifying effort for Euro 2016 when they finished bottom of their group, and were beaten home and away by the Faroe Isles.

Outside of Europe, Australia took the penultimate World Cup finals spot yesterday after beating Honduras 3-1 in Sydney.

Captain Mile Jedinak scored a second half hat-trick - including two penalties - to settle a tie which had been, up until that point, a finely-balanced encounter following three goalless halves.

The Socceroos certainly appear to have benefited from their move in 2006 into the more competitive Asian confederation. Indeed, World Cup 2018 will be the Australians' fourth finals in a row.

Peru, by contrast, have qualified for the first time since 1982, taking the last place on offer with a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Lima.

Goals in each half - from Jefferson Farfan and Christian Ramos - were enough for the Peruvians to progress, the first leg in Wellington having finished in stalemate.

So, with the identity of all 32 qualified teams now known, it is worth looking at just how the finals draw could work out.

Hosts Russia and holders Germany are seeded along with Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, and France in pot one (see below).

Then, unlike some previous World Cup editions which were split geographically, the remaining pots are also simply based on the teams' FIFA World Ranking from last month.

Ranked 12th in October, England are in pot two, and are joined by 2010 winners Spain, as well as Peru, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, and Croatia.

The Three Lions therefore will definitely face a seeded team in group phase - but will avoid all of those other sides in the second pot.

As in previous tournaments, two countries from the same confederation cannot be drawn against each other, with the exception of UEFA teams due to the number of participants from Europe.

Under the same principle, there also cannot be a group which has three or four UEFA teams in it.

Consequently, England could possibly face Brazil, Sweden and Nigeria in their group - or there could be an early reunion with Euro 2016 conquerors Iceland who are in pot three.

Alternatively, Gareth Southgate's men could be pitted against Poland, Tunisia and Panama, a selection which he would surely take in his first campaign as England boss.

Regardless, we will all find out soon enough. The finals draw will take place on Friday 1 December at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

The tournament itself will begin on 14 June 2018 with the Russians' opening group game.

Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, England, Spain, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Peru

POT ONEWRDate of (Q)Method of (Q)
(Q) RUSSIA6502-Dec-2010Selected as hosts
(Q) GERMANY105-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group C
(Q) BRAZIL228-Mar-2017Winner of CONMEBOL
(Q) PORTUGAL310-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group B
(Q) ARGENTINA410-Oct-2017Third place in CONMEBOL
(Q) BELGIUM503-Sep-2017Winner of UEFA Group H
(Q) POLAND608-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group E
(Q) FRANCE710-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group A

POT TWOWRDate of (Q)Method of (Q)
(Q) SPAIN806-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group G
(Q) PERU1015-Nov-2017Playoff winner
(Q) SWITZERLAND1112-Nov-2017Playoff winner
(Q) ENGLAND1205-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group F
(Q) COLOMBIA1310-Oct-2017Fourth place in CONMEBOL
(Q) MEXICO1601-Sep-2017Winner of CONCACAF
(Q) URUGUAY1710-Oct-2017Runner-up in CONMEBOL
(Q) CROATIA1812-Nov-2017Playoff winner

POT THREEWRDate of (Q)Method of (Q)
(Q) DENMARK1914-Nov-2017Playoff winner
(Q) ICELAND2109-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group I
(Q) COSTA RICA2207-Oct-2017Runner-up in CONCACAF
(Q) SWEDEN2513-Nov-2017Playoff winner
(Q) TUNISIA2811-Nov-2017Winner of CAF Group A
(Q) EGYPT3008-Oct-2017Winner of CAF Group E
(Q) SENEGAL3210-Nov-2017Winner of CAF Group D
(Q) IRAN3412-Jun-2017Winner of AFC Group A

POT FOURWRDate of (Q)Method of (Q)
(Q) SERBIA3809-Oct-2017Winner of UEFA Group D
(Q) NIGERIA4107-Oct-2017Winner of CAF Group B
(Q) AUSTRALIA4315-Nov-2017Playoff winner
(Q) JAPAN4431-Aug-2017Winner of AFC Group B
(Q) MOROCCO4811-Nov-2017Winner of CAF Group C
(Q) PANAMA4910-Oct-2017Third place in CONCACAF
(Q) SOUTH KOREA6205-Sep-2017Runner-up in AFC Group A
(Q) SAUDI ARABIA6305-Sep-2017Runner-up in AFC Group B

WR Pots determined by FIFA World Ranking in October 2017
Europe CONMEBOL South America CONCACAF North America AFC Asia CAF Africa
W Winners RU Runner-up SF Semi finals QF Quarter finals 2R Round of 16 1R First round

* as Soviet Union  ~ as Yugoslavia

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Lest we forget

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun...
And in the morning...
We will remember them

Thursday, 2 November 2017

High-rolling Hamilton completes his quadruple

7 Michael Schumacher (Ger)Germany1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
5 Juan Manuel Fangio (Arg)Argentina1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957
4 Alain Prost (Fra)France1985, 1986, 1989, 1993
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger)Germany2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
4 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)United Kingdom2008, 2014, 2015, 2017

LEWIS HAMILTON may have secured his latest world title in inauspicious circumstances on Sunday after being lapped and finishing down in ninth place in the Mexican Grand Prix.

But his achievement in having reached the summit of his sport - again - has sealed his place as a legend of Formula One.

Mercedes man Hamilton joins Alain Prost and contemporary rival Sebastian Vettel on four Drivers' Championships. Only Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio have more.

Yet, at certain stages of the season, it looked as if it might be Vettel joining Fangio on five, as Ferrari produced a far more impressive car than in recent years.

After the Monaco Grand Prix in late-May, Vettel enjoyed a healthy 25-point lead, the exact equivalent of a whole race win.

And, even after both drivers had endured an indifferent summer, the German still led Hamilton at the four-week break by 14 points.

The autumn, though, was an entirely different story as Vettel imploded and Hamilton ignited his challenge with five wins out of six.

In Singapore, Vettel qualified on the pole - but, at the start, he and team mate Kimi Räikkönen squeezed the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, causing the Dutchman to touch Räikkönen.

The collision sent the Finn out of control and he hit the left sidepod of his team mate Vettel's car, causing major damage to both.

None of the three drivers involved completed a lap, while Hamilton - who had qualified fifth - picked up a fortunate victory, a third win in a row.

Two weeks later in Malaysia, Ferrari again had the fastest car - but an engine problem in qualifying consigned Vettel to the back of the grid.

And, although the German recovered to fourth, Hamilton took a surprise second to extend his lead to 34 points.

Remarkably, in Japan, Vettel retired early again - on that occasion due to a spark plug failure - and the Mercedes man Hamilton took full advantage with another race victory.

The championship lead was up to 59 points - and, at the following race in the United States, Mercedes were crowned Constructors' champions for a fourth successive year.

That achievement should not be understated for it came despite a whole raft of technical changes at the start of the 2017 season.

Indeed, it would also be wrong to suggest Hamilton and Mercedes have solely relied on the misfortune of Vettel for their success.

As Andrew Benson, chief correspondent for the BBC website, explained: "Of [Hamilton's] nine wins, at least three were of the very highest calibre, and in very different ways.

"He fought back to catch and pass Vettel in Spain, held off a faster Ferrari in Belgium, and came through against the odds with pace his team did not know they had in wet-dry Singapore. Three others - in Britain, Italy and the United States - were utterly dominant."

Of course, Hamilton will never be universally popular. Off the track, he is a self-styled high-roller, seemingly hopping from one celebrity bash to the next. One week he is hanging with Mo Farah, the next week with Usain Bolt.

He scored a big own goal when he was the only one of the 20 Formula One drivers who refused to take part in an event in London in the run-up to the British Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, on the track, he has gained a reputation for pettiness, badly damaging his longstanding friendship with Nico Rosberg in last year's tussle for the title.

Even on Sunday, Hamilton immediately speculated Vettel had hit him on purpose at the third corner, though the racing incident had done no favours for the German either.

Vettel ultimately finished fourth, well short of the required second place - which was guarded in any case by Hamilton's loyal Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas.

Red Bull's Verstappen consequently earned a merited victory, his second of the season and the third of his fledgling career.

But - despite a self-proclaimed "horrible" race in Mexico City - the day belonged to Hamilton.

He already had more race victories (62) than any other British driver in Formula One history anyway - and he also has the most pole positions of any driver in history with 72.

Now, most significantly of all, he has more world titles than any other Briton, surpassing Sir Jackie Stewart's three.

And so, if it was not clear before this week then it certainly is now: this is Hammer time.

FORMULA ONE 2017 Race-by-race

HamiltonVettelHamilton lead
26 March
Australian Grand Prix2nd - 18🏆1st - 25🔽7
9 April
Chinese Grand Prix🏆1st - 432nd - 43🔼🔽Level
16 April
Bahrain Grand Prix2nd - 61🏆1st - 68🔽7
30 April
Russian Grand Prix4th - 732nd - 86🔽13
14 May
Spanish Grand Prix🏆1st - 982nd - 104🔽6
28 May
Monaco Grand Prix7th - 104🏆1st - 129🔽25
11 June
Canadian Grand Prix🏆1st - 1294th - 141🔽12
25 June
Azerbaijan Grand Prix5th - 1394th - 153🔽14
9 July
Austrian Grand Prix4th - 1512nd - 171🔽20
16 July
British Grand Prix🏆1st - 1767th - 177🔽1
30 July
Hungarian Grand Prix4th - 188🏆1st - 202🔽14
27 August
Belgian Grand Prix🏆1st - 2132nd - 220🔽7
3 September
Italian Grand Prix🏆1st - 2383rd - 235🔼3
17 September
Singapore Grand Prix🏆1st - 263DNF - 235🔼28
1 October
Malaysian Grand Prix2nd - 2814th - 247🔼34
8 October
Japanese Grand Prix🏆1st - 306DNF - 247🔼59
22 October
United States Grand Prix🏆1st - 3312nd - 265🔼66
29 October
Mexican Grand Prix9th - 3334th - 277🔼56
12 November
Brazilian Grand Prixtbctbctbc
26 November
Abu Dhabi Grand Prixtbctbctbc

Drivers' Championship

01Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)Mercedes333 (9 wins)
02Sebastian Vettel (Ger)Ferrari277 (4 wins)
03Valtteri Bottas (Fin)Mercedes262 (2 wins)
04Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)Red Bull-Renault192 (1 win)
05Kimi Räikkönen (Fin)Ferrari178
06Max Verstappen (Ned)Red Bull-Renault148 (2 wins)
07Sergio Pérez (Mex)Force India-Mercedes92
08Esteban Ocon (Fra)Force India-Mercedes83
09Carlos Sainz Jnr (Esp)Renault54
10Lance Stroll (Can)Williams-Mercedes40
11Felipe Massa (Brz)Williams-Mercedes36
12Nico Hulkenburg (Ger)Renault34
13Romain Grosjean (Fra)Haas F1-Ferrari28
14Kevin Magnussen (Den)Haas F1-Ferrari19
15Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel)McLaren-Honda13
16Fernando Alonso (Esp)McLaren-Honda11
17Jolyon Palmer (Gbr)Renault8
18Pascal Wehrlein (Ger)Sauber-Ferrari5
19Daniil Kvyat (Rus)Toro Rosso5

Constructors' Championship
01Mercedes595 (11 wins)
02Ferrari455 (4 wins)
03Red Bull-Renault340 (3 wins)
04Force India-Mercedes175
06Toro Rosso53
08Haas F1-Ferrari47