Monthly Archives: January 2012

Murray goes down fighting

British number 1 still lacks X factor required to win a Grand Slam

Andy Murray put in a valiant effort against Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-final, but still lost in what proved to be a thrilling, tightly-contested encounter.

Djokovic, the world number 1 who had such a sensational year in 2011, had to produce some of his finest tennis to overcome the challenge from the determined Scot, who fought right until the final point. At one stage Murray held a 2 sets to 1 lead over the Serb, but Djokovic came back strongly, winning the fourth set 6-1 and then cruising to a 5-2 lead in the final set. However, Murray did not give up, breaking Djokovic to love when he was serving for the match at 5-3. Murray then went on to level the set and leave it finely balanced at 5-5. Djokovic proved too strong, though, saving 3 break points and then overcoming Murray’s serve to win the match. Although Murray once again lost in the latter stages of a Grand Slam tournament, this defeat showed promise- signs that he has the ability to challenge the very best.

So, why is Murray unable to compete with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer and claim that elusive first Grand Slam title? There are a number of variables to consider. Firstly and most simply, luck. If a few extremely close calls had gone Murray’s way then the result may well have been very different. Luck plays a large part in most sports, but in tennis its role is massive. A few inches can be the difference between a win or a loss, a ticket to the final or a flight home. It is also important to consider that because Murray has not won a Grand Slam title before there is potentially more pressure on him. This is not to say that because Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have all won Grand Slams they don’t feel under pressure, as this is certainly not the case, but they may have more confidence in themselves as they know they have done it before. Federer and Nadal have far more experience in semi-finals and finals and can perhaps use this experience to control their nerves better in pressure situations. Djokovic has less experience, as up until 2011 he was in a similar position to Murray, still playing catch-up with Nadal and Federer. However, he is coming off an incredible run of form and, as has been proven time and again, winning is a habit which breeds further success and Djokovic will be hoping that it remains for a long time to come. Finally, Murray still seems to lack that certain something that makes the other three stand out. No one can doubt his commitment, his passion or his drive, but he still seems to lack that ‘X Factor’ that perhaps will come over time.

2011 was Djokovic’s year to come to the forefront, perhaps now is Murray’s time… certainly, judging by his performances in this competition, he is not far short of the mark. Still, Djokovic remains a class act and looks very hard to beat, but perhaps Murray has just found a chink in his armour? One thing’s for sure, the Nadal- Djokovic final should indulge us in some magical tennis. But for Murray, the wait goes on…

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Mohammad Aamer: Could he have been the greatest?

Did spot-fixing rob us of the greatest bowler ever?

With the test series between Pakistan and England underway, it occurs to me that the last time these two sides met in the longer format of the game it ended in uproar and scandal. Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt have both been banned by the ICC for spot-fixing offences, but it is the name Mohammad Aamer which will no longer be remembered, or certainly not in a positive context. Asif and Butt had already had good careers and achieved as much as they were likely too- Asif having once been ranked the second best bowler in the world, but Aamer was so young and tragically, so talented. He, like Asif and Butt, also received a lengthy ban from the ICC, perhaps ruining what could have been an incredible career.

My first memory of Mohammad Aamer was watching him in the World T20 competition in May 2010, where he bowled a 5 wicket maiden in the last over of the game against Australia. Because he was a left armer, he already caused problems to the right-handed batsmen with the angle going across them and forcing them to play at balls they didn’t want too. Combine this with the accuracy and pace with which he was bowling and you began to appreciate the danger he posed. Then add in the fact that at the time he was only 17. It was truly remarkable that a bowler carried all these traits at such a young age.

His bowling was thrilling to watch, particularly in test match cricket, as he was able to swing the ball both ways. He bowled an incredible over against Shane Watson, where he left him completely dumbfounded as the ball swung back and knocked off his bails. As a young left-armer playing for Pakistan, the comparison between him and Wasim Akram was inevitable, but Akram even said that at the same age he was no where near as good as Aamer.

It is a shame for Pakistan fans and fans of cricket as a sport that Aamer had to bowl that fateful no ball, as he was surely destined for greatness. It is unlikely that we will ever see Mohammad Aamer with a cricket ball in his hand again. Would he have been the greatest?

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Murray breezes into quarter finals

British No 1 finds going easy in 1st week

Andy Murray has been heralded as potentially the first Brit in over 50 years to win Wimbledon, but, despite dramatic improvements over the last couple of years, he still falls against the big three- Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. However, in the first week of the Australian Open we have seen a more composed, more mature Andy Murray. Certainly, Murray has been maturing as a player over the last year and has shown significant improvements and a far better temperament. We have seen fewer moments where he becomes infuriated and berates himself, which has appeared to significantly affect how he performs in the past. The Australian Open represents his biggest chance to win a grand slam to date, something which has eluded him throughout his career so far. He has come very close to achieving this goal on three occasions, when he has reached the final of a grand slam tournament. However, on this occasion, Murray appears to be a more finely tuned and effective player. Federer and Nadal have already booked a place in the first semi-final, having beaten Juan Martin Del Potro and Thomas Berdych respectively. Djokovic looks likely to join them, although he faces a tough test in the resilient David Ferrer, and Murray faces Kei Nishikori, seeded 24th, in a bid to seal the final semi-final place. Nishikori’s place in the quarter-final will come as a surprise to many, but, having knocked out 6th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, he may prove to be a more difficult prospect than he appears.

Murray has been in impressive and ruthless form thus far in the tournament, progressing with ease to the quarter final stage, defeating Ryan Harrison, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Michael Llodra and Mikhail Kukushkin on the way. Harrison was the only competitor able to take Murray beyond 3 sets, before being crushed in the fourth. Murray labelled his victory over Kukushkin as ‘boring’, after the Russian was forced to retire in the 3rd set, but it leaves him well rested for his match with Nishikori, particularly as his match against Tsonga lasted for more than three hours.

Murray looks to be in fine form heading into his clash with Kei Nishikori and, if he keeps this form up, who’s to say a first grandslam title can’t be achieved?

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England humiliated in Dubai

Ajmal and Gul slay Strauss’ men

2011 was an exceptional year for English cricket. They crushed Australia downunder, retaining the Ashes, and then established themselves at the top of the tree, as the number one test playing nation in the world. Reaching these heights, however, they knew was only the beginning of a long and arduous road, with testing but exciting times ahead. The first hurdle to overcome would be Pakistan on their ‘home’ territory, in Dubai. Would England be able to repeat the feats of the previous year and continue on their road to greatness and supremacy in the world of cricket? Well… not exactly.

England’s batsmen crumbled on what appeared to be a placid pitch, as Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul ran riot. Ajmal, who took 7 wickets in the first innings, did not appear to be generating a large amount of spin off the wicket, yet managed to bamboozle the English top order, removing Strauss, Pietersen, Bell and Morgan; four of England’s top six. Matt Prior, England’s wicketkeeper-batsman, emphasised the docile nature of the pitch with an imperious 70 not out, but only Graeme Swann (34) was able to provide any support. England were dismissed for a meagre 192. In response, Pakistan’s batsmen, perhaps more accustomed to the conditions, faced far less problems, with four of their players notching up accomplished half centuries. England’s bowlers toiled away admirally, with Stuart Broad particularly impressive, but Pakistan still managed to post 338- 146 runs ahead. England’s second innings began badly, as Umar Gul ripped through the top order, removing Strauss, Cook and Pietersen in quick succession. Only Jonathan Trott (49) and Graeme Swann (39) were able to make any sort of score, as England, for the second time in the match, were dismissed cheaply for 160. This left Pakistan with the simple task of scoring 15 runs to win the match, which they did without concern.

This defeat has humbled England, who had not lost a test match since December last year. It has highlighted one specific issue, however, which I think needs to be remedied if England are going to increase their chances of winning in the sub-continent, where they must succeed in order to remain number 1. In recent history, England have been unwilling to play a second spinner when perhaps it should have been considered more seriously. I’m not suggesting that playing Monty Panesar instead of one of the seamers would have changed the outcome of this match, as this is not the case. The blame needs to be placed on the batsmen. However, it is something that should be considered for the next match, particularly with the fact that Chris Tremlett looks unlikely to play. Graeme Swann is a fantastic spinner and, in my opinion, probably the best in the world, but he cannot be expected to do all the damage on pitches where the seamers are ineffective. The England selectors need to be brave and perhaps try something new. England are an exceptional team in English conditions, where the ball seams and swings around, but unless they add this new dimension to their game they will never be as good in the sub-continent.

England are in no way out of this three-match series with Pakistan, but they need to recover quickly from this defeat and respond ruthlessly.

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