Monthly Archives: February 2012

The best of British!

Harry Redknapp has proved himself worthy of England job

In the aftermath of Fabio Capello’s exit from the England management job, one name has been mentioned constantly by pundits and broadcasters as his possible successor: Harry Redknapp. As people call for an English manager to take over the England job, is Redknapp the best man for the job? Or are there other options to consider?

In a management career that has seen him take charge of Bournemouth, West Ham United, Portsmouth (twice), Southampton and currently Tottenham Hotspur, Redknapp has proven himself to be the most successful English manager of the current era. He enjoyed success during his second spell with Portsmouth, guiding them to victory in the FA Cup in 2008. More recently, he took Tottenham to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history and they performed admirably, topping a group which included the holders, Inter Milan and defeating AC Milan, the second most successful club in the competition’s records, to reach the quarter finals.

There is no doubting his record on the field, but his record off the field is not neccesarily perfect in recent times. Although cleared of all charges, the recent court cases over tax evasion may take away from some of the respect he has earnt with his feats on the pitch. Will this have any effect on the FA’s decision? Certainly, I feel it should not prevent him from becoming manager, but the FA may feel that with such a prestigious position they should entrust it to someone with a slightly less tainted past. Another potential barrier may be his age, but again this should have little influence on the decision. His age may, in fact, be an advantage. He has a lot of experience and a vast knowledge of the game. After all, Fabio Capello was far from young. Of course, another question to ask is whether Redknapp will actually want the job. He is doing exceptionally well at Tottenham and looks like guiding them into the top four of the premier league again this season. He may also be aware of the public humiliation of recent England managers- remember Steve McClaren? It is possibly the hardest job in football, as we, as a nation, demand so much in such a short space of time. Redknapp may enjoy the challenge, but he will be quick to remember that his head will be the first to roll if things don’t go to plan.

One man who may feel slightly let down if Redknapp gets the job is Stuart Pearce. The current England U21 manager has done a tremendous job with the U21’s and perhaps does not get the credit he deserves. In 2007 he took them to the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-21 Championships and in June 2009, he guided them to the final of the same competition. He has nurtured players, such as Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere, who are now breaking into the senior side. He would bring something that perhaps Redknapp would not be able to bring to the England side- a strong understanding of the young talent England has to offer. Stuart Pearce may bring with him a younger, more exciting side, which will grow into the future of English football. In terms of other options, the FA may be forced to look overseas at the likes of Guus Hiddink. I have heard speculation (and that is all) that Jose Mourinho may be interested in the job, but I feel it would be unlikely that he would want to leave his current club, Real Madrid.

With the overwhelming demand for an English manager I suppose it comes as no surprise that Redknapp is being considered as frontrunner for the job, but I do not think that we should rule out Stuart Pearce as he certainly will bring some qualities with him that, perhaps, Redknapp will be unable to provide. Having said that, Redknapp for me still seems the most suited to the job and I trust that he would be the man, if given the job, to lead England to some sort of glory in the future.

 

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Captain Cook crushes Pakistan

Skipper hits second century in as many matches as England put in polished performance

 
Alistair Cook continued his excellent form in ODIs as England overcame Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. He was backed up well by Ravi Bopara, who scored 58, and Steven Finn, as he once more produced an excellent bowling performance, finishing with figures of 4-34 from his 10 overs.
 
Cook followed up his career-best 137 on Monday with a disciplined 102, as he and Kevin Pietersen put on a half-century partnership for the opening stand. Although Pietersen has lacked his usual fluency, the pair have begun their reign as the new opening partnership well, racking up two stands of over 50 in their first two games together. Pietersen, though, was once again undone by spin, this time from the in-form Saeed Ajmal. Jonathan Trott came in at number three and made a good start, making his way to 23 before driving loosely at Aizaz Cheema and edging a catch through to Umar Akmal. This reunited Cook and Ravi Bopara, who had put on over 100 together just two days earlier. They picked up where they had left off, working around Pakistan’s slower bowlers in the middle overs, taking England to 200 within 40 overs. Cook brought up his second century of the series, having hit 10 boundaries along the way, but couldn’t take his score beyond 102 as Shahid Afridi snapped up a simple catch off his own bowling. However, it was a brilliant, composed performance by the England captain, giving only one chance; a dropped catch when he was on 28- a mistake which proved to be extremely costly for the home side. Eoin Morgan joined Bopara at the wicket, tasked with supplying some fireworks in the last ten overs. Although he only managed one six- the only six of England’s innings- he finished unbeaten on 25, as Bopara was caught off the final ball of the innings for an excellent 58. Pakistan’s bowlers looked largely ineffective, with Aizaz Cheema proving to be the most dangerous, finishing with figures of 2-49.
 
The Pakistan response began slowly, with the score on a meagre 33 after the first ten overs. Opening partners Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat continued at their leisurely pace, taking the score to 61, before Jimmy Anderson had Hafeez caught for 26, ending what had been a lacklustre period of cricket. Azhar Ali became Farhat’s new partner, having replaced Asad Shafiq in the Pakistan starting eleven following his golden duck in the previous match. Farhat, though, was to fall soon after in bizarre circumstances. A Stuart Broad delivery cannoned into the Pakistan opener’s pad, following which Farhat set off on a run despite having little clue where the ball had actually gone. Broad was aware and capitalised on the foolish mistake, running out Farhat just three runs short of a half century. Younus Khan came and went quickly as Samit Patel dismissed him LBW for just 5. Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, came to the crease with his side in trouble at 104-3 after 25 overs and with England’s spinners doing an exceptional job, bowling economically whilst still looking threatening. It came as little surprise when Patel uprooted Ali’s off stump to claim his second scalp of the day, dismissing Pakistan’s number three for a wary 31. At the 35th over the 100 runs required looked achievable, particularly with Misbah and Umar Akmal in the middle and with the dangerous Shahid Afridi still to come. However, it began to look unlikely when, after a brief partnership, Akmal was dismissed for 21, thanks to a stunning catch by Samit Patel in the covers off the bowling of Steven Finn. Afridi’s arrival at the wicket rekindled hopes for Pakistan, as he smashed Patel for six and followed it up with a four through the covers, but Pakistan’s hopes were short lived as Anderson clean bowled him for 18. When Abdur Rehman was bowled by Finn Pakistan looked all but done, and it was confirmed when Misbah smashed Broad straight up, with Craig Kieswetter taking an outstanding catch. Finn mopped up Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal to finish with four wickets, as England went 2-0 up in the series.
 
England’s performances in the first two ODIs have perhaps contrasted with their performances in the recent whitewash suffered by the test side against the same opposition. The batsmen have performed well, with Alistair Cook and Ravi Bopara having particularly stood out. The bowling, whilst perhaps the stronger aspect of what was overall a very disappointing test series, has been much more disciplined and has looked a more threatening proposition for the opposing side. I would still like to see Jade Dernbach in this England side, though. He looked like a very good prospect for England- someone with good variations who is excellent at the death. Having said that, the current bowling unit is producing the goods, with Steven Finn bowling excellently and so, perhaps, having some continuity (particularly in the bowlers) is not a bad idea. The test side has a very settled bowling attack, with Anderson, Broad and Swann having been in the side for a long time and with Bresnan and Tremlett establishing themselves well. The ODI side has never really found a settled attack with players, such as Dernbach, Woakes, Bresnan etc in and out of the side. Constant change gives the players limited chance to bond as a unit and form a world-beating team- something which this England side surely must be aiming for. As they have shown, the quality is certainly there. Now they need to find some consistency.
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A match made in heaven

Djokovic and Nadal advertise everything tennis has to give

With the disappointment of Murray’s defeat to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open the epic match that ensued in the final between Djokovic and Nadal was perhaps some what overlooked in this country, but I feel it would be unfair not to reflect on what was, perhaps, one of the greatest finals ever.

When the two greatest competitors in their sporting field meet, you always anticipate that there may be the possibility of witnessing brilliance. On many of these occasions the resulting quality may not match your expectations, but occasionally you are lucky enough to view something that surpasses anything you could possibly imagine. In recent times, tennis has been dominated by two supremely talented men; a Spaniard named Rafael Nadal and a humble man from Switzerland, Roger Federer. Many consider the latter to be the greatest player ever, but certainly Nadal has challenged that idea, overcoming Federer in several unbelievable matches. Who could forget the Wimbledon final where the fifth set was played practically in the dark? Now, however, a new era has begun. A Serb named Novak Djokovic has broken what had become a recurrent theme of Nadal and Federer Grand Slams. In a sensational 2011, Djokovic moved to the pinnacle of tennis, displacing both Nadal and Federer at the top of the game. However, as the England cricket team are learning, reaching the summit is the simple part, remaining there is a whole other matter.

Djokovic would begin 2012 by attempting to defend his Australian Open crown in Melbourne. On his road to the final he met extremely stern competition in Andy Murray, who fought valiantly til the very last point, but, despite seeming to exhaust all his talent, enthusiasm and energy, was still unable to defeat the super Serb. So it would be that World number 1, Novak Djokovic, would meet World number 2, Rafael Nadal, in a remarkable final.

Nadal began the stronger of the two when, following a set in which the initiative switched backwards and forwards, he broke Djokovic in the 11th game, taking the set 7-5. Djokovic, however, came back strongly, breaking early in the second set to level the match at 1-1. Djokovic’s baseline play was simply too good for Nadal in the 3rd set, with the Serb storming to a 2-1 lead after winning the 3rd set 6-2 with a scorching forehand down the line. When the heavens opened with the 4th set finely poised at 4-4, a short break had to be taken whilst the Rod Laver Arena roof was closed. The break, however, did not seem to have any effect on either player, as they took the set to a tie-break. Although it proved to be very tight, Nadal eventually claimed the set, laying the foundations for a quite incredible finale. Djokovic appeared to be fading at the business end of the match, as Nadal raced to a 4-2 lead. But the world number 1, who has inspirationally shown the resilience to fight through anything over the last year, was not yet finished. He fought back against all the odds to take a 6-5 lead, setting up the chance to serve out the match. Nadal did manage to force a break point, but when his efforts were rebuffed, Djokovic kept his cool to serve out the match and claim yet another grand slam title. Considering Djokovic’s semi-final against Andy Murray lasted for nearly 5 hours, it was a quite incredible feat that the Serbian, destined for greatness, managed to complete the 5 hour 53 minute match, never mind win it.

Put simply, Djokovic and Nadal delivered one of the greatest tennis matches that I, certainly, have ever witnessed and I’m sure that anybody who was fortunate enough to view the spectacle will agree with me when I say that, although Djokovic will be remembered as the victor, neither player deserved to or can be considered the loser. However, the world number 1 once again proved his worth and continues his brilliant form into 2012 and who’s to say that he cannot go on and continue this form for the rest of the year? Could he even complete a clean sweep of grand slam titles? The sky is the limit…

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New-look England gears up for Six Nations

England look for new blood to provide results

A new management team, a new starting XI, a new England? For too long have we been harking back to the glory days of 2003 and praying that those days will be reincarnated and that we will once again sit on our proud pedestal at the heighest heights of rugby. It’s time to look forward, to look past the disappointments and the heartaches and to dream of better things to come. Tomorrow, we will witness the beginning of Stuart Lancaster’s reign, as England face Scotland in their first clash of this year’s Six Nations tournament.

Lancaster has been bold in his team selection and although it largely lacks international experience, he has picked a group of players who are already playing together at club level. The backs include Owen Farrell (centre), Brad Barritt (centre), Charlie Hodgson (fly half) and Dave Strettle (wing) who all play for Saracens and when you add to that list Chris Ashton, who will be moving to Saracens in the summer, you can clearly see what Lancaster is trying to create. It reminds me of the Spanish football side, made up largely of Barcelona players. International coaches get limited time with players, making moulding a set of talented rugby players into a team difficult. Simply look at the England football team. Certainly it is made up of talented players, with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and John Terry, to name but a few. However, it has failed to shape into a talented team and I feel this is mainly because the players do not play together regularly and therefore do not fully understand each other’s games. To form a group of backs made up majoratively of players from one team then, is a positive selection and one that I feel will strongly benefit the team in the long run.

The decision to make Chris Robshaw captain is one that has thrown up some debate since it was announced, with many people expecting a player with more international pedigree to get the nod. In my view, though, the England management have got their decision spot on. Robshaw has been sensational for Harlequins this season, leading them to the top of the table and showing all the qualities a captain needs to possess. I am certain that Robshaw will lead England admirably and will emphasise all of the qualities that this new-look team will hope to express.

England seem to be fully prepared for the start of this tournament and look raring to go, looking to begin a long road to reclaiming the throne they established in 2003. Is it possible that Lancaster and Robshaw can provide the magical formula which Johnson and Moody failed to find? Here’s hoping…

We must remember, though, that if all does not go to plan we cannot immediately berate the team and the team selection. Lancaster will need time to put his stamp on the team and this is only the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful term as England coach.

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