Monthly Archives: May 2014

England blow Sri Lanka away to take series lead

Few have had it as hard as Alistair Cook in the previous few months.

After an excellent start to his captaincy, which saw the first win away in India in 27 years and a 3-0 home win against Australia, England’s newskipper has had to endure a period of immense hardship, with continuous defeat and controversy plaguing his reign in recent times.

His side’s comprehensive victory against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford was undoubtedly a crucial win in the series, putting the hosts 2-1 up, yet you feel the most important aspect of it was the confidence it should give this youthful side. Coming off the back of an embarrassing defeat in Durham, England simply couldn’t accommodate another lacklustre performance.

Instead what they got was the most resounding of victories, as the visitors failed to cope with bowler-friendly conditions in the Manchester gloom. Their innings lasted a paltry 24 overs and their final total of 67 was their third lowest ever in ODI’s, as an inability to deal with good swing and pace bowling was laid bare.

England were lead early on by the irrepressible Jimmy Anderson, whose control of the moving ball remains exemplary despite a disappointing winter. Tillakaratne Dilshan was the first to go when he cut inside an Anderson delivery that nipped back sharply, Jos Buttler taking a flying catch behind the stumps.

His opening partner Lahiru Thirimanne was following his back quicklyenough as he suffered the same fate, edging and Anderson bouncer behind. That brought Sri Lanka’s golden pairing together, Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene.

Yet even they looked devoid of form, and Anderson had the chance to run the latter out after a horrible mix up, the Lancastrian missing the stumps by a matter of inches. Cook’s men didn’t have to wait long to break the key partnership as Chris Jordan got in on the act, Sangakarra flashing loosely at a full ball outside off stump.

Dinesh Chandimal was next to go when his lofted drive landed straight in the palms of Ian Bell at cover. James Tredwell then dismissed Jayawardene off his first delivery, the 37-year-old missing a regulationball right in front of the stumps. In total Sri Lanka lost their last six wickets for just 11 runs.

Skipper Angelo Mathews wasted a review after feathering Jordan behind to Buttler, and Ashan Priyanjan was run out after a sharp bit of work from Ravi Bopara. Nuwan Kulasekara also edged Jordan behind, and Senanayake decided he wasn’t going to hang around, lofting his first ball to substitute Chris Woakes at long-off. Like all other before him Lasith Malinga offered little resistance, and he became Jordan’s fifth victim when he was trapped LBW. 

The way England smelt blood and pounced was reminiscent of Australia in the winter, with Jordan once again at the heartbeat of the bowlingunit. The Barbados-born quick was at his fast and furious best whilst taking his first international five wicket haul. This performance merely confirmed that England have found a new star.

Bar a dropped catch with the score on 25 there were no problems for England with the bat as they strolled to victory in just 73 deliveries, with Cook and Bell both looking at ease.

Bell’s lofted six to end the game confirmed the hosts’ authority, and they are now in the ascendancy going into the remaining two games. This is a young England side that will need time to develop, but there have been signs in this series so far that there is a bright future on the horizon.

England’s new star taking each game as it comes

ENGLAND’s new fast bowling prospect Chris Jordan insists he still isn’t thinking about a potential test spot later in the summer, despite two man of the match awards in three games.

Jordan scored 38 off just 13 deliveries and took three wickets in the first game of the series at the Oval, and backed that up with his first international five wicket haul at Old Trafford, a ferocious spell that broke the back of the Sri Lankan innings.

But despite his form Jordan refused to be drawn on possible testhonours: ‘‘I’m not really thinking about it to be honest; I’m taking every game as it comes. Today I was concentrating on Old Trafford and putting in a performance.

‘‘Now today is done we have to draw a line under that and look forwardto Lords. So that’s my primary focus now, I ty to recover well and practice well and try to put in a similar performance at Lords so I’m not thinking too far ahead at the minute’’.

England suffered a heavy defeat in the second game at Durham, something that Jordan believes will happen now and again as this England side develops.

‘‘Cricket’s a funny game isn’t it? After Durham we had a real good chat as a team and we were hurting after that, not just because we got beat, but the manner in which we were beaten.

‘‘Obviously in a team that is in transition, those days can happen but we really wanted to put it right today and that we did so I’m just thankful for that’’.

Alistair Cook, who sat out the game at Durham with an injury, was full of praise for Jordan’s willing attitude and the way in which he has settled into the England side.

‘‘He’s taken to international cricket. He knows it isn’t always going to be as easy as that. What I like about him is his attitude, he hasn’t changed since the day he walked into the dressing room to what he is now.

‘‘He knows he’s going to have tougher times and he had had some tough times in Australia like we all did but his attitude and hunger to keep working hard even though he has had some success means to me he keeps his feet on the ground and he is desperate to do well, and that’s a great attribute to have, and he’s got a hell of a lot of talent as well’’.

Cook accepts that his young side will be ‘‘inconsistent’’, but believes they must keep looking forward in order to progress.

‘‘I think as sportsmen you have to spend your life looking forward and looking at the next challenge, and bouncing back from bad stuff.

“The way the lads went out today in tricky conditions in the fact that we didn’t know what time we were going to start when we rocked up to the ground, and I think we probably caught Sri Lanka a little bit napping, and we were right of the blocks straight away.

‘‘I think there will be some inconsistencies. I’d hope that the inconsistencies that we showed at Durham won’t be as bad as that. You can’t blame that on inexperience at all but younger players who are inexperienced at international cricket do need time to settle into international cricket.

Cook’s opposite number Angelo Mathews was unhappy with the way his side went about their innings, as they were bowled out for 67 in just 24 overs.

‘‘I’m disappointed with the whole batting line-up to be honest, and I include myself. There was no intention of hanging in there, toughing out. We played some poor shots and the English bowlers bowled some good deliveries as well.

‘‘It’s hard to explain why we were all out for 67, I don’t really know. The wicket was pretty good, and it was in the batters hands, but there was some poor shot selection. We knew that they were going to come back hard at us and we just couldn’t cope with it’’.

Premier League 2013-2014: Each team ranked-Part one

 

 

1. Manchester City: Given the depth in quality and the attacking prowess of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad, winning the title would be the only thing that constituted as success for City. Poor form on the road early on in the campaign put this objective in jeopardy, as Arsenal sprinted into an early lead. In the second half of the season it was Liverpool and Chelsea who proved to be the danger, but City’s ability to rotate three top quality strikers in Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo proved vital. With Aguero flirting with injury and Negredo worryingly out of form post-Christmas, Dzeko shouldered responsibility in impressive fashion, with help from a host of attacking midfielders.  Yaya Toure was the most obvious candidate for player of the season with 20 goals from midfield, often the difference in making sure City quashed sides of a smaller ilk. As for the defence, the partnership of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis towards the back end of the season ensured the Blues could work from a more solid base. Despite a greater net spend than any of the other clubs City’s season must be counted as a success, and there is plenty more to come from this exciting squad. Rating: 8.5/10

 

2. Liverpool: Despite failing to claw their way over the line in the final stages, Liverpool were undoubtedly the stand out team of the season. Their devilish forward play was a joy to behold, and the abandonment of any defensive shape at times meant that games involving Rodgers’ men turned into thrilling contests. Luis Suarez was irresistible, with his partner Daniel Sturridge clinical in equal measure. The development of young English talent such as Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan was an added bonus. All three have grown up playing in the Premier League, showing that given a chance young English talent can flourish at the highest level from a young age. Eventually a lack of defensive nous caught up with the Reds, most notably the 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, which ended hopes of their first Premier League title. You can only hope that this won’t be their only title challenge in the next few years. Rating: 9/10

 

3. Chelsea: Despite the much-anticipated return of the special one, Chelsea’s season ended in an underwhelming manner, finishing below their two title rivals and crashing out of Europe in the semi-final stage. Despite finishing seven points better off, Mourinho finished in the same position as public enemy number one Rafael Benitez the season before. The lack of a world class striker proved telling, as Chelsea failed to capitalise on doing the double over both Manchester City and Liverpool. Defeats away to Crystal Palace and at home to Sunderland cost them a league that was there for the taking. Next season should be a different story, with Diego Costa touted as the man to turn their striking woes around. Except Chelsea to come roaring back. Rating: 7/10

 

4. Arsenal: Up until Christmas Arsenal looked like serious title contenders, with new signing Mesut Ozil adding class to an already talented crop of midfielders. Yet injury to Aaron Ramsey and a failure to bring in another striker alongside Olivier Giroud in January meant the Gunners season once again drifted into consolidation of fourth spot, something that Arsene Wenger and the board clearly see as a great success. Injuries along the way to Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil meant Arsenal were perhaps a little unlucky, but their decline was alarming. A victory in the FA Cup would somewhat salvage their season, but Arsenal must invest properly this season if they are to challenge their rivals for the major crown next year. Kim Kallstrom is not the answer. Rating: 6.5/10

 

5. Everton: While Everton failed to qualify for the Champions League in Roberto Martinez’s inaugural campaign with the Blues, stats show it was a successful one. 72 points is their highest points total in the Premier League so far, with 21 victories in a season also a record. The emergence of Ross Barkley has been exciting, whilst the permanent signing of James McCarthy and the loan move for Gareth Barry ensure that Everton’s attacking players could thrive. Another Loan man Romelu Lukaku provided the goals, and John Stones provided excellent cover for Phil Jagielka despite his young age.  While David Moyes opted to make sure Everton were built from a solid hard-to-beat base, Martinez has sought to maximise the potential of his attackers, resulting in a much more fluent style of play. His side have reaped the benefits. Their biggest test will be how they cope without Lukaku if he is not around next season, and if he does go back to Chelsea a new striker will need to be purchased. Rating: 8/10

 

6. Tottenham: Another season of upheaval at White Hart Lane means Tottenham fans endured another rough ride. Andres Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood both paid the price in the end, despite statically being Tottenham’s two most successful managers in the Premier League. Many of the big signings that came in the aftermath of the Gareth Bale have flattered to deceive, apart from Christian Eriksen and Vlad Chiriches. Paulinho has looked disinterested in the second half of the season, Erik Lamela has rarely featured and Roberto Soldado has been a flop. Perhaps the major concern at the Lane was the fact that Spurs never looked like gaining Champions League qualification. AVB was  harshly removed from his post but his high defensive line saw a rampant Liverpool pull them apart too easily. Tim Sherwood came in and ripped up his predecessor’s scrapbook, preferring a 4-4-2 featuring Emmanuel Adebayor. The results were generally pretty positive, but you get the impression he was only a stop gap as Daniel Levy scouts around for his next managerial saviour. Perhaps the chairman should start taking some of the blame. Tottenham meanwhile need to find someone who will shake up the new recruits and make sure they don’t fall away from the main pack. Rating: 5.5/10

 

7. Manchester United: Where to start? Manchester United’s abject failure to continue the dominance under the Sir Alex Ferguson era shows that someone with more experience in the hunt for trophies should have been appointed ahead of David Moyes. That’s not to say the players should be exempt of the blame. Attacking creativity often fizzed out, replaced by cumbersome, predictable football. The defence was guilty of making too many simple mistakes, whilst Michael Carrick was a shadow of himself. His midfield partner Tom Cleverly failed to improve this season, and often took a lot of the blame for his side’s problems. Maroune Fellaini was a complete waste of £27 million, and Juan Mata failed to deliver the expected spark that he was supposed to bring from Chelsea. The only positives were the emergence of Adnan Januzaj and the continued development of David De Gea. Expect probable new boss Louis Van Gaal to shake things up a bit. It certainly can’t get much worse. Rating: 3/10

 

8. Southampton: A breath of fresh air. Like Liverpool and Everton, Southampton’s intense possession game is a reflection of their coach Mauricio Pochettino, who has coached his side into better players. Southampton’s form tailed off towards the end of the season, but sat in eighth place they had little to play for. Adam Lallana became an almost certainty to start in Brazil, whilst Rickie Lambert and 18-year-old Luke Shaw will join him on the plane.  A lot of sackings in this day and age are unjustified, and many people thought that might be the case when Nigel Adkins was given the boot last season. But Pochettino has taken his side to a different level, and Southampton are now the best side after the elite. Keeping hold of Lallana, Shaw and therefore the boss himself will be their biggest problem. Rating: 8/10

 

9. Stoke City: Mark Hughes’ first term at the Britannia stadium has been one of quiet improvement. After many good years things under Tony Pulis were becoming just a little stale, and Hughes has done well to freshen that up despite not being too active in the transfer market. Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie have added extra menace going forward. An unsubtle long ball game has been slightly dispersed, with Stoke now more comfortable with playing the ball along the ground. They have still maintained their defensive solidarity, meaning they are incredibly hard to beat on their own patch. It will be difficult to improve on a ninth place finish next year. Rating: 7/10

 

10. Newcastle United: It seems strange that a season that ended in a quite predictable tenth place finish ended in such a poisonous manner. The fans want Pardew gone, and it is more understandable when you consider they lost eight of their last ten league games, showing little fight along the way. Not to mention the fact that Pardew managed to head-butt Hull City’s David Meyler during a rare victory, which probably should have cost him his job alone. Instead Mike Ashely will likely stick with Pardew, for money saving reasons if nothing else. Newcastle find themselves in a state of limbo, and they continued their policy of selling their best players whenever they become any good, Yohan Cabaye to PSG in this case, is quite obviously flawed. Like so many other clubs it is hard to see where Newcastle go from here, without any significant investment on the horizon. One thing is for certain, their loyal supporters deserve better. It is time for Ashley to put his cards on the table, either sell up or commit to making his squad better. Rating: 5/10

Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa: City with in touching distance of the title after rousing last half hour

For an hour or so, the tension was there for all to see. Aston Villa, playing with a bank of five, were perfectly imitating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side at Anfield 10 days earlier. Not an inch was given by a side who had already secured safety at the weekend. It was a plan devised by Paul Lambert to create doubt and uncertainty in the opposition. Yet having been in this position before two years ago against QPR, City simply refused to lose their heads.

The pace never relented, and the crosses never stopped reigning in on Brad Guzan’s goal. The Blues had come to far this season to let an opportunity like this evaporate. The reward was a flurry of goals in the last half hour, after Edin Dzeko had opened the scoring in a determined manner that befitted such an occasion.

The three goals that followed were the icing on the cake for City, and will give them an extra dose of confidence going into the last day of the season against West Ham. A draw will be enough to clinch it, but it is hard to see anything but a win for the Citizens. Sam Allardyce organises his defences carefully, but time and time again Manuel Pellegrini’s men have proved a solid rearguard is not enough.

There were traffic delays in and around Manchester prior to kick off, and you couldn’t help but feel that the empty seats at the Etihad took away some of the vigour in the atmosphere. Couple that with Villa’s impressive resistance, and things got a little nervy.

However, City almost alleviated tension rather early on. James Milner’s clever reverse pass found Zabaleta, and his low cross found Yaya Toure. But the Ivorian’s effort was unusually tame, allowing Guzan to make a fine low save with his legs. Chances like that before the break came at a premium, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker positioning themselves smartly to deal with endless crosses.

There was no real intent to attack from the away side, but City gifted them a perfect opportunity to counter when a cleared corner kick left Andreas Weimann in a one on one situation with Martin Demichelis. But Weimann was too wasteful, deciding to take an ambitious shot on against Joe Hart too early. City were off the hook.

There was three minutes of added time at the end of the half, enough time for one last chance. Milner got his delivery from the right flank just right. Nasri made a late run, but with the goal at his mercy he somehow diverted the ball wide when it seemed easier to score.

The noise was cranked up a level after the break, the fans realising their own importance in hauling their team over the finish line. Villa attempted to play up to this with subtle time wasting, but City kept their faith.

The goal came in a predictable fashion, with David Silva weighting a perfect pass through the Villa defence to find Zabaleta. The Argentine delivered the ball across the face of goal once more, and it was sheer bloody-mindedness from Dzeko that allowed him to steel in ahead of his man to tuck the ball home. The weight had lifted.

A second followed promptly, Silva and once again combined down the right to find Samir Nasri in the centre. Nasri’s shot was week, but Dzeko was on hand to tap the ball in for his fifth in three games. Dzeko, often the forgotten man in the past, has shouldered much responsibility in the run in, with Sergio Aguero often injured and Álvaro Negredo horribly out of sorts.

There was enough time for substitute Stefan Jovetic to get in on the act, after intricate work from Toure around the edge of the box allowed him to slot home past Guzan. If Toure’s role in the third goal was delicate, he evened the scales with the fourth of the night.

Picking the ball up in his own half on the break, Toure drove powerfully towards goal, leaving Leandro Bacuna trailing in his wake. It was Toure in nutshell, speed and strength combining devastatingly. The last half an hour had seen four goals for City, and Villa must have been left wondering where it had all gone wrong. The title is there to win for the Blues, and Sunday should prove a day of joyous celebration.

 

Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta: Given Villa’s refusal to show any real adventure, Pablo Zabaleta had ample opportunity to burst forward. He did so with real purpose, and played a big role in both the first two goals, allowing City to secure the victory they so desperately craved. Edin Dzeko was the notable beneficiary. 

England v Sri Lanka: Who should feature in the first Test this summer?

 

After a miserable winter of defeat and upheaval, England’s new boss Peter Moores and his selectors have a lot to ponder before the first Test against Sri Lanka in June. Here is how England should line up…

1. Alistair Cook:

England’s new captain had just about the worst winter imaginable down under, as his side were whitewashed by a rejuvenated Australia, just months after comfortably beating their great rivals 3-0 in England. Cook’s captaincy throughout the tour was routinely questioned by former cricketing greats now turned pundits, and an inability to produce big runs placed him under further scrutiny. As if this wasn’t enough, his subsequent decision to axe Kevin Pietersen from the set-up has paved the way for a new wave of abuse from media and fans alike. Cook will be hoping for a return to form for both himself and the team this summer against Sri Lanka and India, and without Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen behind him, he now anchors a batting line-up with a considerable lack of international experience. Every field change he makes and every ball he faces with the bat this summer will be rigorously examined. It is time for the skipper to come out fighting.

 

2. Sam Robson

Sheer weight of runs in recent times means Sam Robson deserves to open up with Cook when the first Test comes around this season. Although Michael Carberry didn’t look too perturbed by Australia’s menacing pacemen in the winter, just one score above fifty during five tests indicates that he failed to properly grasp his opportunity. There were no such problems for Robson on the England Lions tours in the winter. The Australian-born opener hit two centuries for the England Performance Programme before Christmas against his country of birth, and then three centuries in four matches on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka. Coupled with an impressive start to the county season, including 77 in Middlesex’s record-breaking chase against Yorkshire, Robson’s consistent ability to produce centuries when playing for the Lions should see him get his chance.

 3. Joe Root

With Jonathan Trott out of international action for the foreseeable future, England must keep the faith with arguably their best young prospect, Joe Root. Like many of his team mates the winter was a chastening experience for young Root, but his 87 in the second innings of the second Test at Adelaide proved his ability to stand up to high class bowling even with wickets tumbling around him. His 180 at Lords last summer highlighted his appetite for big runs, something England have notably missed in recent times. Nick Compton can perhaps feel hard done by once again, but you feel this summer is a perfect opportunity to fully embed Root into the top of the order, with pace attacks that won’t have quite the same venom.

 

4. Ian Bell

Ian Bell is the only batsman going into this summer’s tests with no serious question marks hanging over him, but it hasn’t always been that way. The Warwickshire man has often been accused of too much style too little substance in the past, but he put that to bed last summer with three beautifully composed hundreds last summer against the Aussies, while others were failing to convert around him. His winter was a mixed bag, often looking comfortable but playing loose shots to throw away his wicket, a habit he won’t want to creep back into his game. If this new England side are going to thrive, they will need the experienced Bell to build on his run-scoring exploits from last summer.

 

5. Gary Ballance

 Like Robson, Gary Balance should get into the England side based on his ability to accumulate big runs. Unlike Robson, Balance has already had a small taste of Test cricket, in the most difficult of circumstances. Ballance’s one Test at Sydney yielded only 25 runs, but his composure spoke volumes given the circumstances. The big left-hander is a grafter with the ability to turn on the accelerator if needs be, but with Bell in front of him and Moeen Ali and Matt Prior both potentially behind him, Ballance’s cool demeanour and sensible game plan may allow other’s flamboyance to flourish. An average of 54.42 in 72 first-class games is mightily impressive, and given recent form he appears almost certain to feature against Sri Lanka.

 

6. Moeen Ali

Moeen Ali may not be the perfect spin bowler to replace Graeme Swann long-term, but whilst England assess their options, the Worcestershire man can combine his developing off-spin in tandem with Joe root, and a long with his undoubted batting ability he will be a very handy number six for England. Ali’s performances for England’s one-day outfit in the last few months have been a mixed bag, but his willingness to play his own adventurous game was noticeable. He is a wristy player, and therefore the spin-heavy nature of Sri Lanka and India’s attacks should suit his game nicely. England have the potential to bat to eight with Ben Stokes, and therefore there is little risk in playing Ali at six.  

 

7. Matt Prior

After a poor winter it is really time for Matt Prior to deliver for England, otherwise he will find himself out of the side, replaced by up and coming star Jos Buttler. Prior has always played a vital role for England, with a mind-set to dominate for the bowler from the very beginning of his innings. His fifties often come in rapid time, often providing much-needed momentum in a stagnating innings. However, Buttler has proved he has the ability to bat in the same way and Lancashire’s new signing has age on his side. Prior has picked up a small injury but should be ready for the start of the first Test, and after the service he has given England; he should be offered another opportunity to prove just how important he is.

 

8. Ben Stokes/Chris Jordan

Ben Stokes was the shining light of England’s tour to Australia, with a magnificent 120 in Perth in just his second test match. The Durham all-rounder endured a testing time of it once the Ashes was finished, and missed the World Twenty20 following an incident that saw him punch a locker following a dismissal against the West Indies. With Stokes at 8 England’s line-up may seem batsman heavy, but with a six wicket haul in Sydney the Durham all-rounder proved his worth as a fourth seamer, and with Ali and Root sharing spin duties, England should have enough to back up Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions. Ali, Prior and Stokes can be interchangeable at six, seven and eight, all depending on the game situation and individual form: Stokes batted at six for England in the winter. His hostility when bowling could well prove troublesome for this summer’s two touring sides.

If Stokes is unable to prove his return to fitness ahead of the first Test match then Chris Jordan should step in. The Sussex bowler was excellent with the ball in the one-day series in Australia, and he has continued his form with wickets for Sussex. He Can also play a role with the bat.

 

9. Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad was public enemy number one in Australia this winter following his decision not to walk at Trent Bridge earlier that year, but he soon silenced the crowds with 6-81 in the first Test at Brisbane. And that is exactly the sort of spell that means Broad is rarely ever dropped from the England team. He produced the same sort of performance to clinch the Ashes at Durham, and spells against New Zealand at Lords and India at Trent Bridge have further reinforced the message that when Stuart Broad is on song, little is going to stop him. With Anderson and Onions there to probe away at batsmen and wear them down, Broad is the man to provide that extra bit of pace and firepower.

 

10. Jimmy Anderson

Anderson had a quiet winter, but he has burst back into life with Lancashire at the start of this campaign, with 18 wickets in his three first-class matches. He remains the spearhead of England’s attack, and with pitches in May likely to suit his hooping swing bowling, it won’t be long before the Burnley Express is back to doing what he does best, taking wickets for England. He is now just 40 off the all-time leading test wicket taker for England, Sir Ian Botham. He is well on course to reach 400 Test wickets.

 

11. Graham Onions

Quite simply, Graham Onions can’t do anymore to prove his worth. County cricket’s best and most consistent bowler, Onions should have added to his nine tests in the winter. Instead England plumped for the towering trio of Steven Finn, Christ Tremlett and Boyd Rankin to bolster their bowling attack. A mistake. Onions’ nine Test matches have produced 32 wickets at an average a touch under 30, and he has 455 first-class wickets at 26. He is the best option in English conditions with his wicket to wicket seam bowling, and it would be a major oversight to overlook him for the first Test.