Monthly Archives: July 2014

Chanceless Rahane defies inconsistent England

India 290-9 (Rahane 103, Anderson 4-55)

 

Upon arrival on English shores in June, the microscope was firmly honed in on two Indian batsmen, as the tourists began their quest to win their first test series away from home since 2011. Cheteshwar Pujara, seen as Rahul Dravid mark two, and Virat Kohli, one of the world’s most devilish young talents, were pinpointed as the two key batsmen for MS Dhoni’s team on a notoriously difficult tour.

In comparison to India’s two bright hopes, there was no real pressure resting on the shoulders of Ajinkya Rahane, an unassuming middle order batsman with just one test century against New Zealand to his name. Yet it was the man from Maharashtra who saved his team with a supremely graceful century on day one of the second test at Lords.

Rahane, yet another graduate from the Indian one day side, looked right at home on an uncommonly green wicket, happy to play on the front foot yet equally capable of punishing the all too frequent short ball from the England bowlers. His ability to shift through the gears after a watchful start meant his side had the better of the day, with his dismissal just before the close failing to take the shine off a wonderful knock.

For England, a day that promised so much once again ended in an unsatisfactory manner, with the last session costing 150 runs for just three wickets. A good afternoon session was neutralised by two poor bowling performances in the morning and the evening, after Alistair Cook had gleefully asked his opposite number to bat on a pitch that was sure to offer plenty after five turgid days at Trent Bridge. The most baffling aspect of England’s bowling masterplan was Liam Plunkett’s decision to bowl round the wicket and dig the ball in short shortly after tea, when there was plenty of reward for full bowling around off stump. Plunkett, a capable bowler, must learn how to play the situation. On wickets like this he must have more than a mean short ball in his armoury.

The opening spell from James Anderson and Stuart Broad was wayward, apart from one hooping delivery from Anderson that slanted across Shikhar Dhawan and took his edge, Gary Ballance taking a good low catch. Murali Vijay and Pujara were rarely made to play outside off stump for the ball, and England seemed unable to capitalise on helpful conditions. They somewhat fortuitously picked up a second before lunch, Plunkett taking Vijay’s edge after the opener tried to force the ball into the leg side. It was another smart catch from Ballance, who looks right at home in England’s slip cordon.

Despite losing two wickets the morning session was shaded by India, especially after Matt Prior failed to hold onto the final ball before lunch after Moeen Ali had induced the edge from Kohli, ending a bad session for Cook’s trusted lieutenant. Prior still looks to be struggling with his troublesome right Achilles heel. Luckily for him the drop just before lunch didn’t prove too costly, as Kohli edged a full Anderson ball, continuing his poor start to the series. England seemed to be atoning for their morning’s errors, and three wickets fell for just 15 runs as the home side seized control. Pujara, who had toiled his way to 28, was undone by a lovely Ben Stokes delivery, the ball just nipping back through the gate.

MS Dhoni’s problems against Stuart Broad continued as he suffered the same fate as most of his team mates, edging a full delivery behind. Next in was Ravindra Jadeja, who had to endure the oddity of being booed by a usually conservative Lords crowd, retribution for his part in a spat with Anderson at Trent Bridge, which has seen the Burnley fast bowler facing a potential two game ban, after he was alleged to have shoved the left-hander.

Jadeja wouldn’t last long, and despite Shane Warne’s calls for Cook to bring Anderson into the attack, it was Ali who trapped him LBW. It had been an excellent session for the home side. Stuart Binny was the victim of a dodgy LBW decision shortly after the tea interval, the delivery from Anderson appearing to go over the top of the stumps on replay. It was a daily reminder to India of the need for DRS, the technology they continually refuse to accommodate.

But despite Binny being the last of the recognised batsmen India continued to push on, with the rate at over four runs an over at one stage. Bhuvneshwar Kumar once again proved his capabilities with the bat, facing 84 balls, aiding Rahane’s nifty quest for a century, the latter scoring at a run a ball once past the fifty mark. Rahane fell in the 87th over of the day, as Anderson held on to a sharp return catch, but Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami held on till the end of the day, signifying the end of a tough period for Cook’s men.

As Sharma blocked the last ball of the day, Broad gave the ball a firm kick. The irritation was there for all to see.

Brazil 2-1 Colombia: Brazil scrape through on yet another emotionally charged night

David luiz brazil

 

Ever get the feeling that Brazil might just win the World Cup on home soil without producing a single convincing performance? The way events are currently unfolding; this just may well turn out to be the case. In fact, the manner of the hosts’ 2-1 victory over Colombia in Fortaleza bordered on the downright ugly at times, with referee Carloss Velasco Carballo happy to let tackling with a vicious edge go without any major ramifications. Yet Luis Felipe Scolari’s men march into the semi-final to take on Germany, and with each tentative step they get ever closer to the one trophy they truly covert, one that they firmly believe belongs to them. Yet surely they can’t go any further playing so poorly.

Aside from a stunning David Luiz free kick which sealed their passage, this was another ragged performance from Brazil. Colombia, much like Chile before them, once again proved that the pre-tournament favourites are a side with many flaws, especially at the base of midfield. Without Luis Gustavo, the five-time champions could never truly control the game, leaving Thiago Silva and David Luiz to face the brunt of the opposition onslaught on a far too regular basis.  

Brazil’s problems do not lie solely in central midfield. Upfront Fred continues his quest to be Brazil’s worst ever forward, while Oscar retreats further into his shell after a super opening game. Hulk was more energetic and lively in previous appearances, but remains wasteful in front of goal. Neymar has been slightly subdued since the group stages, but if his injury suffered at the end of the game is anything as serious as it looks, Brazil are in the mire. Thiago Silva will definitely not face Germany after a needless booking.

As for their daring opponents Colombia, the World Cup will undoubtedly feel a pang of regret in their absence, especially the wonderful James Rodriguez. Colombia’s star man departs the tournament with six goals, two ahead of any other play. Lionel Messi may yet have a say in this, but one thing is for certain: Rodriguez has cemented himself as a true star of the world game.  It was his penalty that gave his side a fighting chance with ten minutes remaining in this contest, but it wasn’t enough. It is also worth sparing a thought for Jose Pekerman, who was knocked at the same stage eight years earlier with his native Argentina. Football can be a cruel game.

Unlike its predecessor, Germany against France, this game got off to a roaring, breathless start. A test of true champions is the way they respond to their critics, and from the outset Brazil seemed determined to banish any doubts about their star quality. It took just seven minutes to break the deadlock, the hosts playing to their set piece strength once more.

It was a simple whipped delivery from the left by Neymar, but crucially the ball eluded the first set of defenders. Carlos Sanchez, tasked with marking Thiago Silva at the back post, was half asleep and allowed his opponent to drift in behind and bundle the ball home. It felt like a particularly defining moment, given the stick the PSG defender has taken during the week after seemingly failing to keep his emotions in check in the previous game.

Fernandinho made sure he left his mark on James Rodriguez early on, merely a sample of things to come. Pablo Armero made sure the game was not out of his sides reach, as he denied David Luiz at the back post with a last gap challenge, after a scuffed Hulk cross. The Colombians were yet to snap out of their daze.

Brazil’s intensity soon turned into a move of rare fluidity, Hulk and Neymar neatly combining down the left, Hulk bursting into the box and testing David Ospina with a rasping drive. In between extended bouts of Brazilian pressure Rodriguez weaved his magic, breaking past two defenders on the half way line before finding Juan Cuadrado on the right hand side. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his side Cuadrado wasted a golden opportunity and Brazil were back in control.

Hulk found himself in an identical position to his last opportunity, this time forcing Ospina to save low down to his left. It was to be the last opportunity before half time, a relentless one that had largely belonged to the side willed on by unrelenting support.

The opening gambits of the second period belonged more too rash challenges and players niggling away at each other rather than genuine goalmouth action. Yet the game was still dangling in the balance, one slip away from presenting a totally different complexion. Adrian Ramos, a substitute at half time, was offering more physical presence for Colombia, allowing Teo Gutierrez to play off him.

The first booking of the night was long overdue, but it was a worthy one. As Ospina set himself to boot the ball up field in search of another break away, Silva came dashing in to knock the ball to the floor. Clear obstruction, Brazil lose their talismanic centre-half for a daunting semi-final clash. It smacked of nerves from Silva, revealing how stretched they felt by their vibrant opponents.

But for all his good work, it was Rodriguez who dived in late on Hulk to prevent Brazil with a free kick 25 yards from goal. David Luiz stepped up to the mark like he has throughout the tournament, and straight from the Didier Drogba School dipped the ball perfectly into the top corner. Bedlam in Fortaleza, surely there was no way back for Jose Pekerman’s men?

But Rodriguez had one moment of inspiration left in his battered tank, sliding Carlos Bacca through with another perfectly timed ball. Bacca got to the ball ahead of Julio Cesar, and the hero of the last round was perhaps lucky to escape red, and Rodriguez slotted home, setting up a frenetic last ten minutes.

But perhaps the most significant point of the match from Brazil’s point of view was saved till the end, as Neymar was stretchered off following a robust challenge from Juan Zuniga. Brazil’s boy prince has been taken to hospital, and Scolari has confirmed he is likely to miss the semi-final.

So Brazil live to fight another inevitably traumatic day, against a side that strikes fear into every international side they play (perhaps discounting the Italians). The time has come for Brazil to prove it is their time once more. It will be even harder without their main hope, the one they all look upon to deliver glory at a time of desperate need.