Virat Kohli: The hope of a generation

May 19, 2012 Leave a comment

In recent years, Indian cricket has been characterised by excellent batting. The irrepressible Sachin Tendulkar, the textbook blueprint VVS Laxman and ‘The Wall’ Rahul Dravid have punished bowling attacks for the best part of two decades, ably supported by swashbuckling run scorers like Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. Age is, however, something that catches up with even the greatest sportsmen. Tendulkar is now 39, Laxman 37 and Dravid announced his retirement in March this year. Sehwag is now 33, Dhoni turns 31 this year, Yuvraj Singh is recovering from cancer and Ganguly is long gone.

India fans are understandably asking where the new blood is because sooner or later, even world-class operators like Tendulkar and Laxman have to call it a day. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has given many young Indian players great exposure and a fair few have been given the chance to represent the world champions, particularly in the shorter formats. However, only one has so far come to the fore: Virat Kohli.

The 23 year old from Delhi has already represented his country eight times in tests and 85 times in ODIs. In eight tests, he has registered one century and three 50s on his way to an average of 32.73. If this form is good, his performances in ODIs have been nothing short of spectacular. He averages over 50 (50.56) and has scored 11 centuries, including three already in 2012. His 183 match winning knock (off just 148 balls) against Pakistan in this year’s Asian Cup was particularly impressive. He hit 22 boundaries and one 6 as he took top-class bowlers like Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal to the cleaners in what was ultimately a match-winning innings.

Kohli walks off the field after making 183 against Pakistan in Mirpur (This image is the property of Reuters)

 

At the age of 23, Kohli has become an integral part of India’s limited overs set-up and can already boast a World Cup winner’s medal. He is, however, yet to firmly cement his place in the test team. India are approaching their first Dravid-less summer, and in Kohli, they may just have the perfect replacement.

The youngster is a more aggressive batsman than Dravid and if anything, is most similar to Tendulkar. When the situation calls for it, he is capable of shifting through the guys and blasting the ball to all parts ala Sehwag, but he is naturally a fluent right handed batsman who will score heavily by playing what Geoffrey Boycott would call ‘proper cricket shots,’ particularly the cover drive. This should make him well-suited to five day cricket and if the selectors give him the chance to play at that level regularly, he will not disappoint. If there is a question mark over Kohli’s ability, it is the same one that hangs over all young Indian cricketers: can he do it on pitches that are not typical sub-continent flat tracks? Of his 11 ODI centuries, nine have come in either India or Bangladesh. Time will tell if he is able to consistently score big runs in conditions that offer the bowler assistance, but his style leaves little reason for doubt.

Kohli represents a new breed of cricketer, the playboy millionaire. As India’s economy has boomed, so too has the amount of money in cricket in the country. The IPL brings together top players from across the world and pays them handsomely, with the star players earning more on a pro-rata basis than most footballers. Kohli most definitely falls into this bracket, raking in a huge $1.8 million for just seven weeks work in Bangalore. The razzmatazz of the IPL has brought more attention to cricket and in India, a country well-known for worshipping stars, the likes of Kohli are scrutinised in ways unimaginable to most sportsmen. He has been linked with actress and former Miss India Sarah Jane Dias, as well as Bangalore-born actress Sanjana. Whilst these may be unfounded rumours, it illustrates the intrusion and interest in to Kohli’s private life and he will have to ensure that he can take fame and fortune in his stride and focus on his cricket. If he requires guidance in doing so, he need look no further than teammate Sachin Tendulkar, who is seemingly only one rung below Lord Ganesha on the ladder of worship for many Indians.

Kohli may in fact become the new Tendulkar in so far as he could very well be the man a nation of one billion looks to to lead them to glory. With no other youngsters making a significant impact, Virat Kohli looks set to represent the hopes of a generation. Time will tell if he can deliver but if the early signs are anything to go by, India’s future is in good hands.

Categories: Cricket

Hodgson’s first England squad fails to impress

May 16, 2012 Leave a comment

New England manager Roy Hodgson today announced the squad that he will take to Poland and Ukraine to participate in this summer’s European Championships. It is, of course, Hodgson’s first squad, having only been announced as Fabio Capello’s successor on 1st May.

As is always the case when the squad for a major tournament is announced, England turns in to a nation of football managers, all of whom are convinced they could do better. The emotions expressed invariably range from great optimism (‘Our boys are gonna win it!’) to anger (‘What a cr@p squad!’) to disappointment and despondency (‘That team won’t win anything.’) Today’s announcement has followed this well-entrenched pattern with some sounding downbeat, while others called for Hodgson to be removed from his post (#Hogdgsonout was a trending topic on Twitter this afternoon).

There have been no shocks on the seismic scale of Theo Walcott’s inclusion in the squad for the 2006 World Cup, but several of Hodgson’s selections (and omissions) have raised eyebrows. So why are fans so underwhelmed by the squad that was announced today? Who is on the plane and who is at home?

Roy Hodgson announces his first England squad (This image is the property of Action Images)

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart (Manchester City), Robert Green (West Ham United), John Ruddy (Norwich City).

Standby goalkeeper: Jack Butland (Birmingham City)

Probably the position of least concern to England fans as Joe Hart is a certain starter. The Manchester City stopper has performed well for the last three seasons and cemented his place as England’s number one. He is probably one of only three or four genuinely world-class players available to Hodgson. Many people had expected Ben Foster to be included as one of the substitute options following his impressive showings for Hodgson’s West Bromthis season, but he has been surprisingly omitted. Instead of Foster, Hodgson has opted for former number one Robert Green, who spectacularly failed to impress in South Africa two years ago, and more unexpectedly, John Ruddy of Norwich City. Not many people saw the 25 year-old’s inclusion coming, but it is difficult to argue that he is undeserving. Ruddy has impressed greatly during Norwich’s first season back in English football’s top flight, making a number of world-class reflex saves. Evidently this did not escape Hodgson’s attention. The standby is Birmingham’s 19 year-old goalkeeper Jack Butland and this has taken many by surprise. In fact, a large number of people have been heard asking ‘Jack who?

Conclusion: No serious surprises (Butland excepted) but Foster can consider himself unlucky to not be at least standby

Defenders

Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea)

Standby defender: Phil Jagielka (Everton)

The big question before today’s announcement was whether Hodgson would pick Rio Ferdinand and John Terry given that the latter is awaiting a hearing for reputedly racially abusing the former’s younger brother. Hodgson provided the answer by omitting the Manchester United man, stating that it was a decision based purely on footballing factors. Many observers are sceptical given that Ferdinand has made the most appearances he has in a Premier League season since 2007/08 and shown his best form in four years. The other shock exclusion is Manchester City fullback Micah Richards. Opinion is split as to who is the best right-back in the country with some certain it is Richards and others emphatically arguing in favour of Tottenham’s Kyle Walker. Nobody would claim that Glen Johnson is worthy of such a title. Nobody except Roy Hodgson that is. With Walker missing out through injury, surely Richards would be a shoe-in? Wrong again. The 23 year-old must be wondering what he has to do to secure a place in the side. It would appear that the manager feels Phil Jones will provide sufficient cover for Johnson. It remains to be seen whether the Manchester United youngster can perform consistently at this level and in an unnatural position. Hodgson has therefore taken a risk by omitting Richards. The rest of the defensive corps throws up no shocks with longstanding stalwarts Ashley Cole and John Terry included, while the likes of Phil Jones, Leighton Baines, Joleon Lescott and Gary Cahill were all regular fixtures in the last 12 months of Fabio Capello’s reign.

Conclusion: Rio Ferdinand may feel hard done by given his impressive performances this season and may feel that off-field matters have played a part in Hodgson’s decision. Micah Richards omission seems totally unjust and he can consider himself very unlucky not to make the cut.

Midfielders

Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United)

Standby midfielders: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City)

Hodgson is not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to top-class midfielders and it shows in this selection. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard bring great experience with them, but both are past their prime and neither has enjoyed a stellar season. Nonetheless, they have been regular inclusions for over a decade and so their selection did not bring about any shock-induced heart attacks. Gareth Barry has his limitations (the ones that Mesut Özil so ruthlessly exposed in Bloemfontein), but he has played his part in Manchester City’s title win and deserves his place. Theo Walcott has enjoyed a good season at the Emirates, scoring 11 goals and laying on another 13 for teammates. His pace is always a valuable asset and so not many would argue against his inclusion. Ashley Young provides a similar threat from the wide areas and has demonstrated a knack for scoring goals at international level. Scott Parker is a solid performer and so is not a shock selection despite the fact that he is carrying an injury. James Milner has regularly featured for the Three Lions in recent years and can play right across the midfield as well as at right-back if required. He is therefore a valuable player to have in a tournament situation, although his detractors will point to the fact that he has been unable to hold down a regular place at the Etihad. The wildcard pick of the 23 is Arsenal teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He has impressed in his first season for Arsene Wenger’s team but has been used only sparingly. There is, therefore, a limited body of work on which to judge his ability to perform at elite level. He could prove to be a master stroke or may just watch whilst wearing a suit as Walcott did six years ago, only time will tell. His ability to create chances from wide areas or in the number 10 position may be the reason for his inclusion. Manchester United duo Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick did not make the squad and the latter may feel aggrieved that he did not even make standby, particular since that role went to Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson. Henderson has failed to make any sort of impact since his £16 million move to Anfield and looked well out of his depth when he made his debut against France at Wembley last year. Although he is only a standby, it seems to be his inclusion that has provoked the most ire/laughs from the England faithful.

Conclusion: The usual suspects accompanied by two in-form wide men. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s selection is a risk, while Jordan Henderson’s selection as standby is just baffling.

Forwards

Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur),Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)

The only real surprise here is that Hodgson has opted for just four forwards given that Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games. Rooney is undoubtedly England’s best player and so his selection was never in doubt, despite the suspension he must serve. Jermain Defoe is included on merit having this season notched 17 goals in 38 appearances, many of which were as a substitute. Crucially, he has a proven track record at international level, boasting 15 goals. Hodgson will no doubt have taken this into account. Danny Welbeck has impressed in spells for Manchester United this season, his link-up play with Rooney being particularly praiseworthy. However, he is not an out-and-out goal scorer and so he will need to be partnered with Defoe in the opening two games. Andy Carroll has endured a torrid start to life at Anfield but his inclusion is a classic non-surprise surprise. He offers something that none of the other forwards selected do, a strong physical presence. Players from Spain and Italy are not used to playing against 6’3 battering rams and so he may prove useful as an alternative to Rooney and co. He does however; represent a risk given his lack of form going in to the tournament. In selecting just four strikers, Hodgson is banking on them staying fit and not picking up suspensions, particularly during Rooney’s enforced absence. Only time will tell if this is a foolish gamble but the likes of Walcott and Young capable of playing as secondary strikers, there should be sufficient cover should one or more of the forwards suffer misfortune.

Conclusion: No real surprises here. Could have maybe selected one more striker, perhaps Peter Crouch, and Carroll and Welbeck could be seen as risks given their relative lack of experience. Hodgson has done about as well as he can with what is available to him in this position.

England fans should not be under the illusion that Hodgson has a plethora of world-class stars at his disposal. To a great extent, the new manager has selected the best players available and it seems probable that his selection does not differ greatly from the one Fabio Capello would have announced had he still been in the hot seat. There are however, one or two selections that are open to criticism, most notably the decision to leave Micah Richards at home in favour of Glen Johnson.

We will only truly be able to judge Hodgson’s selection after the European Championships are over, but one thing is for sure; his first squad announcement has not exactly worked England’s fans in to a frenzy or created a great sense of optimism about the future under his stewardship.

Categories: Football

Is Roy Hodgson the right man for the England job?

May 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The FA today finally announced the man who will lead England at this summer’s European Championships and beyond. Despite all the talk of Harry Redknapp, Roy Hodgson was chosen and has signed a four year contract that will cover two European Championships and a World Cup, but do you think the 64 year old West Brom manager is the right man for the job?

Categories: Football

Flying under the radar: Sebastian Giovinco

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Fans of Italian football have known about the talent of Sebastian Giovinco for some time now. He is one of one of those players who seem to have been around forever even though he is still only 25. Outside of hardened Serie A followers, Giovinco’s fame is very limited, but if his recent form for Parma is anything to go by, he may be about to make a real name for himself.

The diminutive second striker has become a key component of Roberto Donadoni’s side as they look to avert the threat of relegation. He is a vital source of goals in a team that has struggled to find the net in Italy’s top flight this season. If he is not scoring them himself, he is making goals for teammates, as is shown by his team-best totals of ten goals and seven assists in 2011/12.

Giovinco has come into his own at Parma

This form has seen him become an increasingly regular inclusion in Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squads and the Parma man should get the opportunity to showcase his talents at this summer’s European Championships. In fact, Giovinco may very well be in the shop window come June as Parma currently lie only four points clear of the drop zone in Serie A. If he performs well for Italy, he will surely attract the attention of bigger clubs who may be able to secure his services for a cut-price fee if Parma are relegated to Serie B, a division for which Giovinco is undoubtedly too good.

One potential destination could be Juventus, his hometown club. The Old Lady still hold 50% of his sporting rights as the €3 million Parma paid last year only got them 50%. Italy’s current league leaders could do a lot worse than look at a player who may be a tailor-made replacement for the aging Alessandro Del Piero.

Giovinco is of course a product of the Juventus academy having learned his trade there from the age of nine. In his time as a junior at Juventus, Giovinco won a league title and a cup with the club’s Primavera team and although he made over 40 appearances for the Juventus first team, he was never able to command a regular starting place and so he moved on loan to Parma at the beginning of last season. Since then, his career has been on an upward trajectory.

At just 5’5, the man aptly known as formica atomica (atom ant) lacks the physical presence of many modern day footballers. He does however, more than make up for this with excellent technical ability. He is equally comfortable with either foot and this, along with his low centre of gravity and extremely quick feet, make him a formidable opponent when dribbling. In fact, it would not be inaccurate to state that at times, his slaloming runs resemble those of, dare I say it, Lionel Messi. This ability to dribble and beat defenders is a rare commodity in Italy and has earned him many admirers. He is capable of playing out wide or through the middle as a classic number ten and his set piece accuracy is second to none. All of this makes him a valuable attacking option to have in a team.

His performances since moving to Parma have rightly earned him rave reviews and led some to exalt him to the status of the ‘new Roberto Baggio.’ This is typical modern footballing hyperbole, but his form has not gone unnoticed, with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and even Barcelona all being strongly linked with his services. If such a club were to put up sufficient cash, Parma would have to sell and his excellent contribution to Parma’s cause this season, it is surely only a matter of time until someone tests their resolve to keep him. If Giovinco does secure a move to one of Europe’s leading clubs, it will provide him with the perfect platform to showcase his talents and then he will very much be registering on everybody’s radar.

Name: Sebastian Giovinco

Place of Birth: Turin, Italy

Nationality: Italian

Date of Birth: 26th January 1987

Club: Parma

Previous Clubs: Juventus, Empoli (loan)

Career League Appearances: 130

Career League Goals: 26

Total Career Appearances: 148

Total Career Goals: 28

International Caps: 7           

International Goals: 0

Categories: Football

Flying under the radar: Antonio Valencia

April 1, 2012 3 comments

Manchester United is arguably the biggest club in world football so it may seem strange to say that one of its players flies under the radar. However, even big clubs have unsung heroes and Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia certainly fits in to this category. Whilst the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani take the plaudits on a weekly basis, Valencia’s performances often go unnoticed. He does not however, make an issue of this and instead just focuses on playing as well as he can and helping his team win matches. His contribution to United’s latest title charge cannot be overstated.

At the beginning of the season, it did not look like Valencia would be a key component of a potentially title-winning team. Whilst representing Ecuador at last summer’s Copa America, he sustained an ankle injury which forced him to miss United’s entire pre-season training and tour. The club’s blistering start to the season, coupled with the excellent form of Ashley Young and Nani, meant that Valencia initially struggled to force his way back in to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The Scot’s squad rotation policy and injuries to Young presented the Ecuadorian with a chance to re-establish himself and he has not looked back since.

Only Manchester City’s David Silva can better Valencia’s 11 Premier League assists and he has played ten more games than the United winger. In short, it is no coincidence that Wayne Rooney’s sudden surge in scoring has come at the same time Valencia has had a prolonged run in the starting line-up. Rooney has in fact publically lauded the winger’s ability to keep it simple and whip perfect balls in for him to convert. This is where Valencia differs from the club’s other star wingers, Nani and Ashley Young. He does not possess the natural skill and trickery of these two, but he is quicker and more direct. Whereas Young and Nani often look to beat a defender more than once, Valencia does not. He instead uses searing pace and excellent physical strength to leave defenders in his wake before crossing for the likes of Rooney and Hernandez. It would be fair to say that Valencia is one of football’s few remaining out-and-out, old-fashioned wingers. He is also extremely hard-working and very much a team player. He always helps out the full-back, often covering if the defender has pressed further up the field and he has in fact sometimes played right-back himself during injury crises. This aspect of his play is a clear advantage over Nani and in fact, Sky commentators remarked during last week’s victory over Fulham that playing behind Valencia must be easy as you do not have to do anything.

 

Valencia scores in a recent game against Wolves (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Valencia chips in with goals and this is an aspect of his game that has improved greatly since he joined United from Wigan in the summer of 2009. If there is a criticism however, it is that he still does not score enough, but as long as he keeps creating them for others, Sir Alex Ferguson will live with this.

Valencia was singled out for his poor performance in last May’s Champions League final as Ferguson opted for his work rate over Nani’s trickery. In truth, Valencia did look out of depth, but it is unfair to single him out as United as a team were played off the park by a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona.

His recent performances in the Premier League have put the likes of Arsenal, Bolton and Wolves to the sword and may see him make the PFA Team of the Season for the second time in his career. Then again, his shy and retiring nature means that he does not get the credit he deserves so probably not. Manchester United know how important he is though and have tied him to the club until the summer of 2015. Replacing the great Cristiano Ronaldo was always going to be impossible, but Valencia has done as good a job as anybody could have. If United do win a 20th league title, he will be able to look at his medal safe in the knowledge that it is fully deserved.

Name: Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera

Place of Birth: Nueva Loja, Ecuador

Nationality: Ecuadorian

Date of Birth: 4th August 1985

Club: Manchester United

Previous Clubs: El Nacional, Villarreal, Recreativo de Huelva (loan), Wigan Athletic

Career League Appearances: 244

Career League Goals: 27

Total Career Appearances: 289

Total Career Goals: 33

International Caps: 51

International Goals: 6

Categories: Football

Kell Brook: Ready for the big time

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

With the possible exception of Amir Khan, Kell Brook is the most talented fighter of his generation in Britain and now, after 27 fights and 27 wins, he is ready to prove himself on the world stage.

On Saturday night (17th March), the 25 year old welterweight from Sheffield faced what was supposed to be the toughest fight of his career when he took on Manchester’s Matthew Hatton in a fight dubbed ‘The War of the Roses.’ Hatton was coming off a recent valiant showing against WBC light-middleweight champion and rising superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, in which he took the much bigger Mexican the distance. Brook has looked highly impressive in his seven-and-a-half year career, but has not been extended. The thinking behind a matchup with Ricky Hatton’s younger brother was that he would provide the Sheffield man with a stern test and give him chance to show how he can perform when he does not have things all his own way.

This test did not materialise as Brook put on a clinic, dominating Hatton from the first bell to the last. Alvarez has earned rave reviews on the other side of the Atlantic, but the man dubbed ‘Special K’ looked even more impressive and beat Hatton even more convincingly than the Mexican did. The 25 year old utilised his trademark ramrod job to dictate the pace of the fight, keep his more experienced opponent at bay and set up hurtful right hands. Brook simply looked a class above on Saturday night and gave a clear indication that he is operating at a level way above domestic. Now is the time for Brook to be let loose on the division’s elite.

Being a product of Sheffield’s famous Wincobank gym, comparisons with Prince Naseem Hamed are inevitable, but Brook is a very different fighter. He does however have the necessary tools to emulate Naz’s success in the ring. Whilst 18 knockouts in 27 wins shows that Brook can punch, he does not possess the stunning one-punch knockout power that Naseem had and he is nowhere near as arrogant as Hamed. The quick reflexes, however, are there and if anything, Brook is technically superior. He has a exemplary jab that allows him to control fights and he delivers his punches correctly, punching through the target. He times his punches impeccably, particularly when fighting on the back foot and his hand speed is impressive. If there is a criticism, it is that he is open to the overhand right and although he has shown a good set of whiskers to this point, it is something he will want to eradicate as he moves in to a higher class of opposition. It could perhaps also be said that he is sometimes a little one-paced, as was seen against Hatton. It appeared that Brook could have finished the fight within the distance, particularly after flooring the Manchester man in the ninth round but he did not manage to do so. At the highest level, such chances need to be ruthlessly ceased upon.

Kell Brook impressed against Matthew Hatton on Saturday night (This image is the property of Lawrence Lustig)

Brook undoubtedly has the talent and desire to go all the way to the very top and there are currently few better divisions to inhabit than welterweight. The division contains Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Mike Jones, all of whom have top ten rankings. This means there are plenty of money-spinning and career-defining fights for the Sheffield youngster and whilst he may not yet be ready for Pacquiao or Mayweather, he would stand a very good chance against any one of Berto, Ortiz or Jones. All are aggressive fighters and Brook’s supreme counterpunching ability and perfect timing would leave him well placed to come out on top.

Whether such a fight will come to pass remains to be seen. Jones has a fight with Randall Bailey scheduled for 9th June, whilst Berto and Ortiz face off in a rematch on 23rd June. A fight against Jones (should he come through) or the winner of the latter fight would propel Brook in to boxing’s elite. Jones represents the best option for Brook as he provides a fan-friendly style. His over-zealous attacks leave him open to counter punches and his eagerness to throw punches can lead to him flagging as fights continue beyond the opening rounds. In short, Brook is well equipped to beat the American in an entertaining fight, something which could help make him a star on both sides of the Atlantic.

Brook himself realises that he is now ready to step up to world level and has repeatedly called out fellow Brit Amir Khan. With Khan slated to rematch Lamont Peterson in May, this may have to wait, but the 25 year old from Sheffield is making all the right noises. Frustrated at what he perceived to be a lack of progress, he left Frank Warren’s promotional stable in 2011 and signed with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport. Hearn has promised to make Brook a global star. Let’s hope he lives up to his promise because at 25, Brook is reaching his physical peak and is now ready to become the latest in a long line of British world champions.

Categories: Boxing

Tendulkar’s achievement is Bradmanesque

March 18, 2012 1 comment

By Faisal Hanif

Like most sports the game of cricket has its internal debates concerning those it sees as the standard bearers of excellence throughout its long history. Unlike many, cricket has at least managed to single out one individual above all others; Don Bradman. Bradman is widely regarded as the undisputed greatest player of all time.

Bradman’s claim to this title comes as a result of extraordinary statistics. The Don finished a 52 test match career in 1948 with a batting average of 99.94 and in a sport seemingly obsessed with statistics this is beyond compare.

Of course statistics like most things are relative but Bradman’s numbers are lauded for this very reason. His average dwarfs that of any of his rivals who have played over 20 test matches. His three closest competitors are Graeme Pollock, George Headley and Herbert Sutcliffe, who all achieved averages of just over 60, with the former two having played less than half the number of tests.

The Don’s numbers are so prolific that on a statistical basis alone he has claim to not only be hailed as the cricketer supreme, but also the greatest sportsman of all time.

However, if Bradman’s achievements are held in such high esteem, then Sachin Tendulkar’s achievement of scoring one hundred international centuries must be placed on a similar pedestal. Tendulkar may not be near the Don when it comes to career average, but similarly nobody comes close to India’s Little Master where international centuries are concerned.

Tendulkar celebrates one of his 100 centuries

Like Bradman, Tendulkar is way ahead of his compatriots with Ricky Ponting heading up the chasing pack on 71 international hundreds. With the Australian having had his limited overs international career brought to an end in recent weeks and seemingly being one bad run of form away from demotion from test cricket, he has little hope of catching Tendulkar. South Africa’s Jacques Kallis comes next on 59 centuries but at 36 years of age will likewise fall someway short of Tendulkar’s feat.

Ponting and Kallis like Lara, Gavaskar, Richards and Sobers before them, will be considered amongst the giants of cricketing history. Yet when Bradman’s name crops up only Tendulkar is mentioned alongside the Aussie maestro. Even Don Bradman himself mentioned that amongst modern players, Tendulkar resembles him most in terms of technique; a technique which comprises picture perfect balance and is exemplified by a beautiful range of stroke play that has put the best bowling attacks to the sword. Even when age has curtailed some of the flamboyance Tendulkar’s brilliance has shone through, as seen in his epic battle with Dale Steyn to reach his 51st and most recent test century in 2011.

This ability to face any challenge that has come his way has put Tendulkar ahead of his contemporaries and made certain that he outlasted them all. Many point to the idiosyncrasies of the different eras that Bradman and Tendulkar inhabit to decide on who is the superior batsman. The nature of the pitches, the quality of opposition and the different types of game with the advent of limited overs cricket all major points of contention. Even if such factors could be analysed to give a definitive answer the sentiments of one billion plus Indians and millions of Australians would be little affected. Such an argument can be left for another time, perhaps when Tendulkar finally hangs up his gloves will the ultimate comparison be fully discussed and settled.

What has sustained Don Bradman’s legacy however is the acceptance from many within the cricketing fraternity that Bradman’s average is unattainable and no one will ever come close to it. Likewise Tendulkar’s feat is also being hailed in similar terms as a record unlikely to ever be broken. At present it seems as if Sachin’s desire for the game is the only thing that can prevent him from adding to his tally of international hundreds and such an occurrence would solidify such a viewpoint.

Whatever becomes of Tendulkar’s records his achievement must be seen for what it is. To score one hundred international centuries is an astonishing feat. It’s a testament to the longevity and adaptability of the Little Master that he has carved it out over 22 years at the top. Wherever he takes his place in the pantheon of cricketing legends it is safe to assume that no player has possessed Tendulkar’s ability to seamlessly transform his game according to the demands of the time and situation.

The argument has always held sway that statistics show that that no one comes close to the Don. If that has been fact for over half a century then on one level we may now pose a challenge. To adopt poker parlance, we will see Bradman’s average and raise you Tendulkar’s hundreds.

Categories: Cricket, Guest Blogs

Flying under the radar: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment

In this, the second instalment of our ‘Flying under the radar’ series, we take at look at Schalke and Netherlands goal machine Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Some players are simply born to score goals; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is one of them. The Hunter follows in the footsteps of other great Dutch goal getters such as Marco van Basten, Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy, continuing a rich footballing tradition in the country. Huntelaar’s record measures up to that of almost anybody playing in Europe and very few can match his strike rate at international level. However, the Schalke striker is not held in the same high regard as the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Villa or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Why is this the case?

When it comes to flair and eye-catching moments of skill, Huntelaar cannot compete with the likes of Rooney and Ibrahimovic, but a striker’s primary job is to score goals and there are not many better than Huntelaar at doing this. He does not drop deep to find the ball in the same way that Rooney and Ibrahimovic do, he is instead a good old fashioned striker whose game revolves around finding the back of the net. He seems to have an innate sense of when a scoring opportunity will present itself, always being in the right place at the right time – the mark of a top-class striker. He makes excellent runs to get in to scoring positions and once he has a sight of goal, he is unerring in his finishing. Huntelaar scores goals with both feet and has also earned a deserved reputation for being an excellent header of the ball (as England fans are all too aware after last month’s friendly at Wembley). You are also unlikely to find a better penalty taker anywhere in Europe. All of this means goals, goals and more goals, but in recent years, Huntelaar has had to cope with a fair amount of disappointment.

Huntelaar first came to the attention of those outside the Netherlands when he played for Ajax (2006-2009). Just as the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy had done before him, Huntelaar found the net with astonishing regularity in the Eredivisie. 76 goals in 92 league games and 105 in 136 in all competitions attracted the attention of a whole host of bigger clubs. This quickly turned in to a scramble for the then 25 year old’s signature, with Manchester United, Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid reportedly all involved. In the end, the Spanish club were successful and in January 2009, Huntelaar moved to the Spanish capital for an initial fee of around €20 million.

The move to Los Merengues proved to be a strange and ultimately short-lived one as Huntelaar spent only half a season at the Bernabeu. The Dutchman did not exactly flop as he scored eight goals in 20 appearances, only 13 of which were starts, but Real were seemingly unimpressed and decided to offload him after just six months at the club.

Huntelaar has already scored 31 times for his country (This image is the property of The Sun)

Huntelaar was given another chance to prove himself at a top European club when AC Milan paid €15 million for him in August 2009. Huntelaar showed glimpses of his brilliance at the San Siro but again, the move was ultimately a disappointment. The form of Marco Borriello meant that the Dutchman made only 25 appearances in Serie A, many as a substitute, and he could only muster seven goals.

Huntelaar’s failure to establish himself in Madrid and Milan led to some doubting his ability to cut it in Europe’s top leagues and is probably the reason that he is not as highly regarded as he should be. Nonetheless, German club Schalke were keen to acquire the services of a talented striker and so paid €12 million for him in 2010.

The striker has re-found his scoring touch in Gelsenkirchen and has again started to attract the attention of bigger clubs. In fact, Schalke are rumoured to be tabling a new contract worth a reputed €7 million a year to ward off potential suitors, such is his importance to the team.

In his first season in Germany, Huntelaar managed a solid but unspectacular total of 13 goals in 35 appearances, but during this, his second season at the Veltins Arena, he has exploded in to life and has already fired home a career best season total. So far, The Hunter has netted 37 times in 36 appearances, including 19 in the Bundesliga. If you except Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this scoring form is as good as anything in Europe. Huntelaar has become the go-to guy in a Schalke side gunning for Europa League glory and pushing for a place in next year’s Champions League, and he is seemingly revelling in this role.

The 28 year old has taken this form in to the international arena. He was the top scorer in qualifying for Euro 2012 with 12 goals, and with 31 goals in 50 caps for the Oranje; he is already his country’s seventh leading scorer of all time. With only 10 more goals needed to usurp Patrick Kluivert at the top of that list, Huntelaar may very well go on to re-write the Dutch football record books. In fact, at international level, Huntelaar’s strike rate is superior to that of Robin van Persie, Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Marco van Basten; no mean feat.

Following disappointed, short-lived spells at Real Madrid and AC Milan, Huntelaar has flown under the radar for some time, but now he is back to doing what he does best, the transfer rumour mill is in overdrive again. Perhaps, just perhaps, people are starting to realise what a world-class striker he is. Schalke will just hope that his good form does not cause them to lose their prized asset.

Name: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Place of Birth: Voor Drempt, Achterhoek, Netherlands

Nationality: Dutch

Date of Birth: 12th August 1983

Club: Schalke 04

Previous Clubs: PSV Eindhoven, De Graafschap (loan), AGOVV Apeldoom (loan), Heerenveen, Ajax, Real Madrid, AC Milan

Career League Appearances: 274

Career League Goals: 177

Total Career Appearances: 348

Total Career Goals: 227

International Caps: 50

International Goals: 31

Categories: Football

Sport Report Video Blog Episode 3

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

In this week’s edition of the Official Sport Report Video blog, I answer the following questions:

Why are so many clubs on the brink of bankruptcy? (Football)

Is there any justification for the so-called British premium on players in the transfer market? (Football)

Owen Farrell may be the brightest spark for England Rugby at the moment, but will he be a mainstay and the next Jonny Wilkinson? (Rugby Union)

What more can Scotland do? (Rugby Union)

Categories: Video Blog

Flying under the radar: Robert Lewandowski

March 3, 2012 Leave a comment

In this, the first of a five-part series looking at players who do not get the attention their talents deserve, Sport Report looks at the story of Borussia Dortmund and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski.

In the age of internet and satellite TV access, football fans are now more familiar with players in foreign lands than ever before. It is not uncommon to hear people in an office in Manchester talking about ‘last night’s Real Madrid match’ or to see kids in English playgrounds pretending to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Lionel Messi. However, ask people you know to list some players who they feel are currently amongst the best in Europe and you are unlikely to get a list that includes the name of Borussia Dortmund’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. This may, at least in part, be down to the fact that the Bundesliga does not have the ‘glamour factor’ of La Liga or Serie A, but Lewandowski does not get the hype afforded to others even within Germany. In short, he is one of those players that fly under the radar.

Lewandowski is, simply put, a very good all-round striker. He has two good feet, is good in the air and at six foot, offers a reasonable physical presence. He is strong and his style of play is more akin to that of an old-fashioned centre forward than that of the speed merchants we are so accustomed to seeing these days. Crucially for a striker, he is ice cold in front of goal, always giving the impression that he WILL score when he bears down on goal.

The 23 year old first came to prominence with Znicz Pruszków in Poland’s second tier. As a 19 year old, he scored 21 goals in 32 games, attracting the attention of bigger clubs from the Ekstraklasa (Poland’s equivalent of the Premier League). Eventually, Lech Poznań signed the youngster for a fee reported to be 1.5 million złoty (about £305,000) and quickly realised that they had secured a bargain.

The striker spent two seasons in Poznań, netting an impressive 32 times in 58 league matches, catching the eye of scouts from bigger clubs in the process. Borussia Dortmund, Genoa and Blackburn Rovers were all reputed to be interested but in May 2010, Dortmund’s general manager, Michael Zorc, announced that the club had secured Lewandowski’s services for a fee of €4.5 million (£3.75 million), representing a tidy profit for Lech Poznań. Since joining the Schwarzgelben Lewandowski, or Lewa as he is affectionately known by the club’s fans, has enjoyed great success.

On a personal level, his first season in Germany was solid but unspectacular. He impressed in fits and starts but took time to adapt to the quicker pace and superior technical standard of the Bundesliga. He did however, find the net eight times in 33 league appearances and Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp was more than satisfied with his overall contribution during the club’s title-winning season.

Dortmund’s title win attracted much attention within Germany as it was something of a surprise and achieved with a team of which the average age was only 24 years and two months, the youngest in Bundesliga history. It was however Mario Götze who won the plaudits, with players like Kevin Großkreutz and Shinji Kagawa lauded as the main supporting cast. Not many were raving about the contribution of the club’s Polish striker.

This has continued to some extent in to the current season, despite Lewandowski’s improved form. The striker has been simply sensational this season, scoring 16 times in 23 Bundesliga appearances and 21 in 33 matches in all competitions. Add in seven assists and you have the picture of a player bang in form. Furthermore, the Pole’s form has helped Dortmund build a four point lead at the top of the Bundesliga as they look to seal back-to-back title triumphs. In fact, it is the main reason for it. Großkreutz has struggled to hit the heights of last season, strike partner Lucas Barrios has misfired all season and club superstar Mario Götze has struggled for fitness. Lewandowski has stepped up and shown that he is a big time player and if Die Schwarzgelben do indeed go on to win the title, it will be impossible to overestimate the importance of Lewandowski’s contribution.

He still does not receive the attention given to the likes of Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski or Franck Ribery and continues to fly under the radar somewhat, but it does appear that some of Europe’s bigger clubs have started to take note. Both Arsenal and Liverpool have been linked with the £10-15 million rated striker, but the 23 year old’s representative, Cezary Kucharski, insists his client is happy in Germany. He did, however, tell Polish sports daily Przegląd Sportowy that a move to a major club could not be ruled out: ‘We are only interested in the top clubs, such as Chelsea or Manchester United.’

Lewandowski's goals will be crucial if Poland are to enjoy success on home soil (This image is the property of Marek Zakrzewski)

Lewandowski has also become a key part of the national set up and a player that the team looks to for inspiration. Although he is only 23, he has already amassed over 40 caps and scored 16 goals for Poland. A look through Franciszek Smuda’s squad shows very little in the way of goal scorers. The next two highest scoring strikers (Pawel Brozek and Ireneusz Jelen) have only eight and five goals respectively. Poland are looking for a good showing on home soil at this summer’s European Championships and with a group containing Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic, they have an excellent chance of progressing to the knock out stages. If they do so, Lewandowski’s goals will be a factor. If he impresses for the national team, he may even find himself on many people’s radars, perhaps even those of the biggest clubs.

Name: Robert Lewandowski

Place of Birth: Warsaw, Poland

Nationality: Polish

Date of Birth: 21st August 1988

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Previous Clubs: Delta Warsaw, Legia Warsaw, Znicz Pruszków, Lech Poznań

Career League Appearances: 146

Career League Goals: 77

Total Career Appearances: 187

Total Career Goals: 87

International Caps: 44

International Goals: 16

Categories: Football