The Big Review (Part 1)

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England have regained the Ashes! Not that it was ever in doubt… A 3-0 scoreline does flatter our boys though, as I don’t think they were that much better than the Aussies. Here is my take on I think England performed throughout, with the Australian report following tomorrow.

Key (Batting): Average = average number of runs per innings; HS = Highest score; 50s/100s = number of half-centuries/centuries scored.

(Bowling): Average = average number of runs per wicket; 5wh = number of times they took 5 wickets in an innings; 10wh = number of times they took 10 wickets in a match.

England – 7/10

  • They may have regained the famous little urn with a hefty margin on paper, but on the pitch things weren’t so plain sailing. Not once did the team pass 400 in an innings, something that was a problem back in 2007 and 2008. The difference this time, though, is that the boys are strong enough mentally to overcome this. They are a unit who have been together for a good number of years now and have been through lots of experiences (good and bad) together. When one or two don’t perform there is always someone else who will rescue the team and that, I feel, is what meant that they won the series.

Alastair Cook (Runs – 277; Average – 27.7; HS – 62; 50s – 3) – 5/10

  • Since acquiring the captaincy Cook had found runs relatively easily to come by until this series. It was certainly a struggle for the captain with the bat, as he looked very scratchy at the start of the series before some serious determination saw him score more runs in the latter games. His captaincy at times was also very basic and predictable, but he did have a great time in the slips, despite dropping Shane Watson on 104 (he went on to get 176) in the final Test.

Joe Root (Runs – 339; Average – 37.66; HS – 180; 50s – 1; 100s – 1; Wickets – 3; Average – 11.33) – 6/10

  • The first blemish in the short international career of England’s new ‘golden boy.’ Moved up to open the batting at the start of the series, Root’s weakness on the front foot was exploited by Australia’s disciplined seamers. His 180 at Lord’s, though, was absolutely fantastic and, coupled with his 68 in the final match, proved that he can indeed flourish at this level. Was pretty handy with the ball too, picking up the crucial wickets of Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke (both of whom had just passed 50) to set England on their way to winning the second Test.

 Jonathon Trott (Runs – 293; Average – 23.9; HS – 59; 50s -2; Wickets – 1; Average – 28) – 5/10

  • Like Root, this was Trott’s first really poor series since his introduction to the Test arena in 2009. He made plenty of starts (scores of 48, 58, 23, 49, 59 and 40 prove that) but could never convert those into ‘big’ scores. His dismissal in the second innings at Trent Bridge was controversial but, on the whole, Trott looked nervous every time he batted. He may have played stylishly but the furious gum chewing, walking towards the bowler and attempts to score at a run-a-ball were very unusual and showed how hard he was working to find his form of old.

Kevin Pietersen (Runs – 388; Average – 38.8; HS – 38.8; 50s – 3; 100s – 1) – 7/10

  • KP’s start to the series couldn’t have been more opposite to that of 2005 – three failures (including two single-figure scores) in his first four innings led to some fans calling for England’s greatest entertainer to be dropped from the side. He responded with one of his finest performances in the first innings at Old Trafford, ensuring England avoided the follow-on after yet another top-order collapse. That shut them up! He then hit two fifties in the final Test at The Kia Oval, the second of which (62 off just 55 balls) gave England hope that they could chase down the target set by the Aussies. The fact he was never at full fitness makes his performances that bit better and I think he’s silenced the doubters for a little while at least.

Ian Bell (Runs – 562; Average – 62.44; HS – 113; 50s – 2; 100s – 3) – 9/10

  • By far England’s best and most consistent performer, Ian Bell has to be the Man of the Series as well as their saviour. He became only the fourth Englishman to score hundreds in three successive Ashes Tests (including the last match of the 2010/11 series) and never looked like failing. His amazing stroke play was once again on show after what could be described as a lean patch over the last 18 months as the Warwickshire man stepped up to the plate when others struggled.

Jonny Bairstow (Runs – 203; Average – 29; HS – 67; 50s – 1) – 6/10

  • Was harshly dropped for the last game but showed the selectors what they were missing with a sparkling 62 for Yorkshire on the same day Shane Watson and Steve Smith were smashing England’s bowlers all over the place. It was a tough series for Bairstow, though, with plenty of cameos but no ‘daddy’ scores. He played some superb shots all over the wicket but just needs to score a hundred in England colours to prove his place in the team. His stats with the White Rose (8 first-class hundreds including scores of 205 and 180) show it is a matter of when and not if.

Matt Prior (Runs – 133; Average – 19; HS – 47; Catches – 18) – 4/10

  • If it wasn’t for his ‘keeping Prior would have received a lower score! His batting was shocking at times this series and the only person he can blame is himself. Most of his dismissals were the result of him giving his wicket away trying to be too aggressive. True, he likes to play his shots, but his supreme century to save the game against New Zealand in March shows he can also stay in for the long haul. However, a solid 47 at The Oval and awesome showing all series behind the stumps means Prior can head to Australia on a high.

Stuart Broad (Runs – 179; Average – 25.57; HS – 65; 50s – 1; Wickets – 22; Average – 27.45; 5wh – 2; 10wh – 1) – 8/10

  • A very good series for the lanky blonde, although not a controversial-free one. His decision not to walk in the first Test sparked rage, with Aussie coach Darren Lehmann being just one of many to publicly call him a cheat, but Broad let his bowling do the rest of the talking. He was, by far, the standout performer in the fourth Test at Durham, picking up 11 wickets in total, before securing another 4 wickets on the last day of the final Test. He may have liked a few more runs with the bat but it’s clear to see his form on that front has returned and, all in all, he has had a very good series.

Graeme Swann (Runs – 126; Average – 25.2; HS – 34; Wickets – 26; Average – 29.03; 5wh – 2) – 8/10

  • Swanny was definitely the workhorse of England’s bowling attack, bowling nearly 250 over in the series, and he deserved to be the leading wicket-taker in the series. Disappointing at Trent Bridge but almost single-handedly won England the second Test at Lord’s and didn’t look back. Some useful runs with the bat further proved how crucial he is to the side, although he did put down a couple of chances in the slips.

James Anderson (Wickets – 22; Average – 29.59; 5wh – 2; 10wh – 1) – 8/10

  • After his scintillating performance at Trent Bridge to give England the edge in an extremely tight encounter, Anderson never really replicated that form throughout the rest of the series. He bowled tight, disciplined lines but seemed just too good for the batsmen, beating their bats numerous times. A 4-fer in the final game, including a spectacular caught-and-bowled, will have elevated his confidence though and it’s certain the leader of England’s attack will once again prove himself a decisive factor in the return series starting in November.

Steve Finn (Wickets – 2; Average – 58.5) – 3/10

  • Finn just didn’t look right in the opening Test and I feel dropping him was the right choice. He needs to regain the form he’s lost and there is no better place to do that than county cricket. I do feel he or Tremlett should have been picked for the final game, however, and no doubt Finny will prove that he also thinks that should have been the case in the upcoming one-day series.

Tim Bresnan (Runs – 103; Average – 25.75; HS – 45; Wickets – 10; Average – 29.6) – 7/10

  • After replacing Finn for the second Test, Bresnan did a great job in the next three games before a stress fracture of the back ruled him out for the final match. It was great to see the big man back in form after a dodgy elbow caused him to bowl like a drain last year. His delivery to remove David Warner at Durham was first class and crucial runs with the bat yet again show that the most underrated player in the side is truly back to his best – let’s just hope he’s fit by November.

Chris Woakes (Runs – 42; Average – 42; HS – 25; Wickets – 1; Average – 97) – 6/10

  • It was very hard for Woakes, making his Test debut against Australia in an Ashes series. Despite the fact England were 3-0 up and playing for pride, making your first appearance in a game like this is still special and rather nerve-wracking. I think his performance with the ball was ok, nothing special, but if he can learn to move it off the pitch and become a bit more consistent then he will prosper on the international stage. A first-class bowling average of 25 proves that the talent is there. It was his batting that struck me, however – he played a glorious cover drive for four off the first ball of his Test career and was very positive in both innings. He may have tried to be too attacking in the end during his first innings but if the light had held out I think he and Prior could have won England the game in the second. I reckon he will become a world-beater in a few years.

Simon Kerrigan (Wickets – 0; Average – N/A; Economy – 6.62) – 2/10

  • Poor, poor Simon Kerrigan. Brought in for the final game as a result of Monty Panesar’s late-night shenanigans, the left-arm spinner had a performance many an international cricket has dreamt of the night before their debuts. He wasn’t helped by the fact he was told just 90 minutes before the start that he was playing and the nerves he hadn’t had time to control were there to see. He struggled to bowl two balls in the same area and Shane Watson carted him here, there and everywhere. I think Cook should have let him bowl on the second day but there you go. Definitely not ready for international cricket yet but hopefully we’ll see him in England whites again in a few years.

Lightning Bolt

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Almost exactly a year after London 2012, the world’s finest track and field stars repeated their battles at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for the 2013 World Championships in Athletics. Despite the recent doping allegations, legends such as Usain Bolt, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sally Pearson combined with rising stars Adam Gemili and Warren Weir amongst others to provide a captivating contest.

Whenever I turned on the TV to watch the championships (which, admittedly, wasn’t too often as I was on holiday) there was always something fascinating and gripping happening. It’s what I love about athletics – there is never a dull moment. In sports such as football, cricket, rugby (union and league) and Formula 1, which some would argue are the most followed in Britain, there are always periods of attrition where not a lot is happening. With athletics, however, it is almost impossible to find yourself trying to stifle a yawn. You could argue that watching a few men and women run round a track, throwing a weird object or launching themselves into a glorified sandpit is plain and boring, but it’s the simplicity that makes is so attractive. It’s a case of one person pushing themselves to the limit to beat the rest that makes it so endearing to me, as well as the fact that anything can happen and the standings are constantly changing. I also love the simplicity of most of the events – I remember with fondness the times my sister and I spent as youngsters on the beach trying to do the long jump. Of course, with our lack of technique and rather short legs, it wasn’t a pretty sight but we’d been inspired by the athletes we’d seen on TV, despite not being able to name any of them.

The evening of Thursday 15th August is just one great example of the interminable excitement of the championships. Alongside what many pundits are calling the ‘greatest high jump final of all time,’ where Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko broke the Championship record by jumping an astounding 2.41 metres to beat Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar for gold, the outrageous Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya stormed to victory in the men’s 3000m steeplechase. Indeed, it would have been a Kenyan whitewash if it wasn’t for Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad forcing his way to bronze ahead of Paul Kipsiele Koech. Soon after, Zuzana Hejnová of the Czech Republic outclassed the rest of the field in the women’s 400m hurdles, with British favourite Perri Shakes-Drayton stuttering to seventh after a poor race. It wasn’t all bad for Great Britain, though, as Eilidh Child finished off a solid individual season with a fantastic 5th place from the outside lane.

Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago then produced something special to win his first ever major international medal in the equivalent men’s event, beating all three medallists from London 2012 in Michael Tinsley (who couldn’t better his silver medal from London) and the greats Felix Sanchez and Javier Culson, both of whom were surprisingly beaten into bronze by the little known Emir Bekric from Serbia. This was then followed by an amazing women’s 1500m race in which the controversial Ethiopian-born Swede Abebe Aregawi clung on desperately for gold from Jessica Simpson, therefore stripping her of her title as World Champion, while Hannah England’s fantastic finish saw her just miss out on a bronze medal.

Can you feel the adrenaline rush just from reading that? I know I certainly can! That evening epitomised a World Championship that was, despite low attendances, gripping to even the most reluctant of converts. Most of talk was done in the stadium, although Russian hero Yelena Isinbayeva made some ill-judged comments in the heat of her victory. Bolt and Fraser-Pryce both showed that athletics doesn’t need doping to be interesting. The latter was unstoppable, securing three gold medals from a possible three and improving her solid performance during the London Games. Bolt, however, admitted himself that he wasn’t anywhere near his best yet still secured another three golds to make him the most successful athlete in the history of the World Championships with eight medals, six of the gold. His 100m win was particularly amazing; as the athletes lined up, a thunderstorm hit. It seemed as though the weather gods were sending a message – there was going to be only one winner. But could the big man overcome the elements that made the track extremely treacherous? Of course he could. His time of 9.78 seconds was astounding given the sodden track, further cementing his place as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

So what of Great Britain? I think it’s fair to say that it was a mixed competition for the team – they may have achieved their medal target of six but some performers will not be happy with how they did. Greg Rutherford and Robbie Grabarz, both struggling with injury prior to the event, couldn’t replicate their Olympic medals whilst Shakes-Drayton yet again failed to deliver in a major final. Dai Greene has not re-discovered the form he showed in 2011 and looks as though he may never as he also struggles with persistent injuries, whilst Steve Lewis (who finished 5th in London) had a mare in the pole vault. Our relay stars were also subject to a fair deal of controversy, with the men’s 4x100m team being disqualified and losing a bronze medal after an illegal changeover. It wasn’t all negative, though, as the equivalent women’s team were promoted to bronze after France was disqualified. It was also positive to see youngsters Gemili (5th in the 200m final after becoming the only Brit to run under 20 seconds in the semis), Andrew Osagie (5th in the 800m), England, Child, Shara Proctor (6th in the long jump after qualifying 1st in the preliminaries) and Katerina Johnson-Thompson (5th in the heptathlon with a personal best points haul) putting in solid performances and showing that GB athletic has a fantastic future ahead of it.

Some may worry, though, that there is an over-reliance on certain athletes, namely Mo Farah and Christine Ohuruogu. Between them they won four of the six medals (Farah in the 5000 and 10,000m and Ohuruogu in the 400m and 4x400m relay), and they grabbed half of GB’s athletics medal tally a year previously in London. While at the moment everything is going well, we cannot rely on these two superstars forever and, sooner rather than later, the aforementioned youngsters need to take over. However, with the team missing London poster-girl Jess Ennis-Hill (Achilles) as well as 110m hurdler Andrew Pozzi, pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale and the holder of the British javelin record Goldie Sayers, it was a pretty decent performance that bodes well for the 2014 European Championships, 2015 Worlds and, ultimately, Rio in 2016.

One thing is certain though – the 2013 World Championships have yet again shown just how dynamic, exciting and brilliant athletics is and I for one cannot wait for the Euros next year.

Time for a revamp

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Yet again cricket finds itself in another technological mire. Yesterday the Aussie media finally lost it, accusing players from both England (namely Kevin Pietersen) and Australia of using tape to cover up the edges of the bats in order to prevent the thermal imaging technology Hot Spot from picking up the white marks when they snick the ball behind. Ever since its introduction in 2010, the Decision Review System (DRS), of which Hot Spot is a crucial element, has been under constant scrutiny, and not without good reason.

For those who don’t know, DRS allows teams to challenge an umpire’s decision. It was designed to overrule the ‘howlers’ that umpires can sometimes make. Each team having two correct reviews per innings, reviews which they lose every time they get a review ‘wrong’. In theory it’s a fantastic system, yet the players continuously abuse it. Captains often refer decisions more in hope than anything else, maybe even to waste time if they feel the game is getting away from them. This angers me – it’s not what DRS was created for. The Australians were heavily criticised in the first two Test matches of the current Ashes series for incorrectly using the technology and quite rightly – opener Shane Watson, a potential match-winner on his day, reviewed LBW decisions that were clearly out in both of the first two Tests, therefore wasting a review each time. This led to fellow opener Chris Rogers not challenging his LBW decision at Lord’s, despite the fact he clearly wasn’t out, as he didn’t want to lose the second review after Watson’s selfishness.

It’s not just the players who aren’t using the system correctly, though, as the third umpires haven’t fared much better in the series. DRS was designed so that any incorrect umpiring decision could be overturned by the third umpire, who has access to all the technology used by DRS as well as TV replays, yet this isn’t always happening. Aussie batsman Usman Khawaja’s dismissal in the recent third Test is the prime example – on-field umpire Tony Hill gave him out caught behind to a delivery from Graeme Swann, which was fair enough as in real time it seemed as though he had hit it. He reviewed it and both Hot Spot and the replays showed the ball was actually nowhere near the bat. The audio from Stump Cam also suggested the noise was made after the ball passed the bat. What the third ump (Sri Lanka’s Kumar Dharmesena) should have done was reversed the decision as is protocol as there was no definitive evidence that Khawaja was out, but he instead chose to go with Hill’s decision. Some are suggesting that this is because the TV umpire doesn’t want to overrule their colleagues but, whether or not this is the case, it’s very worrying that this yet another incorrect decision from an umpire with all the assets needed at their disposal.

Another problem with DRS is that players have 15 seconds in which they can decide to review a decision or not. For me this is far too long and has led to the development of desperation reviews, either from bowlers who want a wicket or batsmen who don’t want to be out. A batsman will always know if they’ve edged the ball or not so should only have 3 seconds in order to review a decision where they’ve been given caught and they don’t think they’ve nicked it. As regards the bowling team appealing a catch that hasn’t been given, there is the possibility that the noise could have been the ball or bat striking something else so they should have 7 or 8 seconds to make a decision, while both teams should have maximum 10 seconds in which to review LBW decisions. By reducing the time available this should decrease the number of wasteful reviews and stop players from incorrectly using the system.

It’s not just the system on the whole, though, that’s the problem but also the individual pieces of technology used in it. Hot Spot is under the most pressure due to the fact that it has missed a number of edges in this series alone, despite a revamp over the winter. There has been speculation ever since its introduction that batsmen are covering up the sides of their bats to stop the friction from the edges being detected, with the most recent theory being the tape. The journalists from Down Under who accused KP of cheating did forget, however, that Hot Spot picked up a think edge in the first innings than none of the Aussie players appealed for! This could be countered by the argument that he covered his bat in the second innings to stop a repeat, but I don’t think this is true. Despite his seeming arrogance, KP is a true cricketer who has huge respect for the game and I, for one, don’t believe he has ‘cheated.’

If there is such concern over batsmen covering their bats then why don’t the umpires check them before the game? Some say this could lead to a lack of trust, but the days of umpires having a drink with the players after the game are long gone, so this won’t affect the relationship between the two. Let them check the bats before the game to ensure they are ‘clean’ and then check them afterwards. Of course you cannot ban bat tape because it is a useful tool to stop cracks developing but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to take the tape off and have a look to see if it is there through necessity or to get away with a thin edge. The problem for me, though, is that Hot Spot is far too inconsistent and open to variations in temperature and even the type of bowler. It should be drastically changed or binned altogether.

I also feel that Hawk Eye isn’t being utilised as well as it could be. When reviewing an LBW decision this technology is used to track the flight of the ball and see where it would have gone if it hadn’t hit the batsman’s legs. If it predicts that less than half of the ball would have hit the off or leg stump then the decision gives the on-field umpire the benefit of the doubt and stays with their decision. The problem here is that Hawk Eye is so accurate that the margin of error needs to be less than half the ball. Everyone knows that the ball only needs to flick the stumps 99% of the time to knock the bails off, yet a batsman can survive a review if a fair part of the ball is hitting the stumps as long as the umpire has given it ‘not out.’ It’s not fair and should be reduced to a third or even a quarter of the ball’s width.

The final piece of technology that is being incorrectly used is ‘Snicko.’ It detects sound and uses then uses a graphic showing the sound waves, alongside cameras, to determine, firstly, whether or not there was a noise and then if it was ball hitting bat. It provides conclusive evidence to viewers at home as to whether or not a batter is out, yet it’s not used in the DRS because it takes too much time to load in order to be used. For me it is a fantastic piece of technology that nearly always shows whether a batsman hit the ball and a speedier version needs to be developed as soon as possible. With Hot Spot seemingly struggling to pick up edges consistently and umpires only relying on audio from the stump mic, ‘Snicko’ could drastically improve the amount of correct decisions from the system and needs to implemented sooner rather than later.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of being able to challenge incorrect decisions, but I personally think that the changes I have suggested above need to be implemented. It will stop cricket from making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as it has done far too often this summer, and focus on fantastic individual and team performances instead. Or the weather if that has the biggest part to play!

Should I Play or Should I Go (and have some physio)?

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The rugby world was given a nasty surprise yesterday when former Scotland full-back Rory Lamont accused both the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and his former employers Toulon of forcing him to play on through injuries that could have played a part in his career coming to a premature end earlier this year. Of course, the SRU have denied this but I don’t think Lamont’s claims should just be ignored.

Every sportsman or woman will pick up an injury at some point in their careers, it’s just the way that sport works. At club level people will often play on through these injuries if possible as it’s something they do to relieve the stresses of work, but for those professionals playing on could lead to further problems that could end their careers. As a result, they would have no means of earning an income and, all of a sudden, would have gone from the top right to the bottom of the employment ‘ladder.’ Lamont said that he broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist near the start of one season, yet was refused a scan by Toulon until that campaign ended. He added that “they just kept playing it down as something insignificant, whereas effectively I was running the risk of arthritis in later life by not having it fixed” – not only were the club seemingly making him play when his performance would have been hindered, they were also potentially creating problems that could affect him in later life. Arthritis is not only a painful condition, it is also one that could have severely hampered his chances of getting another job, especially if it affected his hands. It seems as though the club were only focused on the present and ignoring the future of both Lamont as a player and as a father/husband.

In 2010, Lamont also claims to have been forced to play through a Test for his country against New Zealand despite suffering a hamstring injury. “I didn’t feel that I could withdraw myself from that match,” he said. “I was unsure if I was going to be able to make it through the game. I felt that I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to keep on trying to be picked for Scotland and keep a good relationship with the coaches.” That’s extremely worrying – players should not feel as if they have to play on through a problem because they fear upsetting their coaches. If that was the case (as the management team has since changed) then how many more Scottish internationals have potentially risked their careers to keep their coaches happy?

Hamstring injuries, even minor ones, can cause quite a lot of pain and their prognosis is unpredictable. You have to rest completely until you feel that it is fully healed or else you risk pulling it again and spending more time recovering instead of playing. Lamont was a very good player with great pace that would have been severely hampered by the problem, so should have not partaken in the game, even if it was against the greatest side in the world. He would have easily managed to regain his place in the team when he regained fitness, making this claim even more surprising. It seems that he must have had a strained relationship with certain members of the SFU, perhaps because he already spoken up about how he felt on the way they treated injuries.

Rugby union is, arguably, the most physical sport in the world and your fitness levels need to be at 100% in order to play. It is not uncommon for players to miss a game or two for their club side due a seemingly minor injury, especially before an international match, but even the smallest of knocks can make a player hesitant and, in a contact game, this can seriously affect performance while also increasing the chance of further injury. In other games, such as cricket, players can play on through injury but only when the management regime feels they are fit enough. Kevin Pietersen is a great example – he was forced out of the last two Test matches against New Zealand in March and then whole of the reverse series in May as the English Cricket Board (ECB) wanted him fit for the current Ashes series. He was suffering with a bruised kneecap, a minor yet painful injury, and the ECB took the bold decision to tell him not to play in order to get him fit. Ultimately it seems not to have worked as his fitness for the third Test is in question, but the ECB were clearly focused on the long-term. The game Lamont was forced to play through was a largely meaningless Test at the start of the season; the SFU’s focus should have been on getting him fit and in good form for the 6 Nations.

Of course, there are occasions where players don’t play due to injury despite the fact it isn’t that serious and won’t hamper performance (namely male England footballers) but most professionals sporting stars will do anything to play. It is their livelihood after all, as well as their greatest passion. They aren’t stupid, though, and will know when it is safe to participate and when it isn’t. This is what makes Lamont’s final claim even more frightening – he claims that players have cheated in concussion tests in order to play despite not being ready. Concussion is a brain injury so should be treated extremely seriously, even when only very minor, yet these players felt they had to potentially put their lives at risk just to please their coaches. Although this is a sickening claim, it could also help shock people into realizing that sport is just another job/form of entertainment, depending on who is taking part. There will always be risks, but hopefully this will make both players and coaches realise that you don’t need to undertake unnecessary ones that could damage your long-term health or worse. As the saying goes, it’s just a game.

Team GB – the greatest ever?

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Two royal weddings, a Diamond Jubilee and now the birth of Will and Kate’s child – if that isn’t enough to stir up any feelings of patriotism then I don’t know what is. But is our sport making us feel quite the same way at the moment?

There is a strong argument that British sport has never been better. Last year we had the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the best the world has ever seen (according to me anyway), in which new heroes were discovered and existing ones were elevated to sporting immortality. The success of the athletes led to a feel-good wave that swept across the nation and still seems to be lingering now, with the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Park this weekend likely to stir memories from last year and, alongside the World Athletics Championships next month, create huge excitement for next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Andy Murray was one of those for whom London 2012 created a god-like protection. Having emotionally lost the Wimbledon final to the legendary Roger Federer, Murray bounced back superbly on the same court just 4 weeks later to defeat him and win gold. This win turned him someone many perceived as just a Scot into a true Brit and he won over the hearts of the nation. Of course, this could have been only temporary if he failed to deliver in Majors but, to everyone’s great relief, he then won the US Open a few months later with a superb victory over the seemingly unstoppable Novak Djokovic. But it was this year’s victory over the same man at Wimbledon that truly sent the nationalistic tennis-fever through the roof. He became the first British man to win the home event for 77 years, securing the Major that he and all of the British public wanted to win. No matter what he does now, Andy Murray will forever be remembered as the man who finally broke the duck and won Wimbledon for Great Britain.

Another man who broke an even greater stronghold was Bradley Wiggins as he became the first British man to win the Tour de France in its 99-year history. The outspoken mod captured the hearts of the nation with his dominant victory in the Alps, although it’s fair to say a large percentage of the population wouldn’t have known he was actually born in Belgium! Still, even for those who did know, it didn’t really matter as the cyclist had already won a large number of medals for GB on the track at previous Olympics. His victory in the Time Trial at London 2012 just a week after the Tour sent the country into overdrive, with everyone going mad for Wiggo and led to him being voted Sports Personality of the Year for 2012.

What slipped most people’s minds, however, was that he wasn’t the only British road cyclist to do well on the Tour and in the Time Trial. Chris Froome (who again wasn’t born in Britain but actually in Kenya) was second only to his team-mate in France as Wiggins was team leader, while also securing a hard-fought bronze during the Games. The shy, reserved Froome, however, was forgotten by many as Wiggo found a place in the heart of a large majority of the British public. That was until just the other day, when he became the second Brit to win the Tour de France in as many years. In many ways his victory was even more impressive that Wiggins’ as he had to fight harder due to a series of problem within his team. Although press coverage around his success is not quite as frantic, Froome’s victory has further increased the popularity of cycling in the country and, with the Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014, this could become even greater.

Britain also had a lot of success in the golfing world in 2012, with Ian Poulter almost single-handedly winning Europe the Ryder Cup while Rory McIllroy claimed the US PGA Championship. Justin Rose then secured the US Open just last month to carry on the success, but not everything is plain sailing at the moment. McIllroy’s game has fallen apart this year, with the Northern Irishman failing to make the cut at the recent Open Championship at Muirfield, while Lee Westwood yet again threw away a Major win at the same event. Leading by two shots after 3 rounds, he carded a four-over-par 75 to finish at +1. Poulter’s late rally to finish level with Westwood provided the British with some hope but the overall feeling was one of disappointment that Westwood had yet again failed to deliver whilst no-one else was even close to the eventual winner, Phile Mickelson.

Things have happened the other way round in the cricketing world though. 2012 started off appallingly, with the boys being thrashed in the Test series against Pakistan before struggling to tie with Sri Lanka. The summer didn’t get much better, despite an easy victory over the West Indies, as the might of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and other South Africans relegated our boys from the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket. They then limped out of the World T20 World Cup at the Super Eight stage, whilst the women failed to retain their World Cup title at the start of this year. Things did get better for the men, though, as they recorded a historic Test win in India at the back end of the year. A dire away series in New Zealand followed but this couldn’t have been further from what happened in the reverse fixture in May as England annihilated the Kiwis. This served as a perfect warm-up for the Ashes and, after two enthralling games that have both gone England’s way, cricket is now the sport that everyone is talking about again. As well as this series, England then travel away to Australia over the winter while the women contest for their own Ashes next month – a 3-0 England whitewash would be something that most English fans have dreamed of for so many years and, if it happens, could help propel the sport to being the national game once again.

It’s ironic that the nation’s favourite and most-played game is the only major sport where the national teams are failing to deliver. Last year’s European Championships saw England get knocked out in the inevitable way – on penalties! Truth be told, their football was dire and, except for a Jack Wilshere-inspired victory over Brazil, has not gotten any better over the last year. Is it down to the manager and his tactics or a lack of players good enough to represent our nation? I think it’s a mixture of both – Roy Hodgson’s brand of football is indeed very boring while an influx of money and foreign stars into the Premier League means young home-grown players are getting very limited playing time. This was proved by the way both the U-21s and U-20s flopped at their respective tournaments this summer, while the U-19s didn’t even qualify for their Euros. This was compounded by the dismal performance by the women earlier this month, proving that British football has a long way to go before the public can even think of winning an international trophy.

However, this is just one sport where our country isn’t doing particularly well. On the whole British sport is in an extremely good place – I haven’t even mentioned the British and Irish Lions’ superb victory over Australia or the success of GB’s rowers and track cyclists so far this year. If we carry on like this, what’s to say Britain will one day be seen as the greatest sporting nation in the world?

2005 all over again…

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Once again, sorry for the delay. You’d think that having finished exams I’d be able to write blogs more regularly – clearly not! The biggest issue in relation to sport that has come up over the last few days has to be the uncovering of substance abuse by leading athletes Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, but I’d rather like to keep away from that subject. The sun’s out, the Pimms are flowing and, as of tomorrow, the egg and bacon ties will be out in force. It can only mean one thing – the Ashes is coming to Lord’s.

Having been to the Lord’s Test in 2009 I can say that it is an opportunity that you should never, ever give up (unless, of course, there is no other option). The atmosphere is amazing, the ground itself is a maze of interest and the cricket will undeniably be gripping. As well as all of this there is an extremely small chance of rain, something no-one has said before a Test match in England for a long time. Can life really get any better?

The first Test of the summer was, without question, one of the best and most dramatic encounters in cricket history, let alone between the great foes. The balance swung back and forth, back and forth, until it felt like we were watching a tennis match! Heroes were created with each innings, with Australia’s Peter Siddle being the first man to shine by claiming a 5-fer (5 wicket haul) in the first innings to dismiss England for a paltry 215. However, James Anderson and Stephen Finn both struck twice before close of play on that first day to seemingly give England the edge. Indeed, Finn went from hero to villain in the space of 4 days – he could not repeat his early-evening heroics on day 2 and, despite a fast and ultimately unlucky spell, the only thing fans of both sides will remember from the second innings is Brad Haddin taking 15 runs off one of his overs to make the Aussie run-chase seem much more realistic than anyone had previously thought. Finn has had a tough time of it over the last 8 months or so and seems destined to lose his place, but if Geoff Boycott says we’ll see him in a Test shirt again then it’s almost inevitable that he will return before long.

Steve Smith and Phil Hughes both did super jobs to salvage the Aussie innings, especially given the pressure both were under before the game, but the stand-out man has to be Ashton Agar. A young 19 year-old left-arm spinner few had heard of before the tour, his inclusion in the team was a huge surprise. He was a late call up to the squad, didn’t really shine in the warm-up game against Worcestershire and was behind Nathan Lyon, who took 7-90-odd in his last Test, in the pecking order. It was a brave call from the selectors and it seemed to pay off, although not in the way they expected. Batting at number 11, he played strokes a top order batsman would love to play; straight drives, wristy flicks and quick footwork, he had the lot. His score of 98 was a tad fortunate (he should have been given out stumped when on 6) but ensured that the Aussies were now the favourites to win.

Matters became a lot worse for England when Joe Root and Jonathon Trott were dismissed in successive balls to leave England at 11-2. Both were victims to questionable umpiring, the latter on the receiving end of one of the worst decisions in the history of the game, but captain Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen steadied the ship by both scoring obdurate 50s. The real star, however, was Ian Bell. The man some say is the classiest batsman in cricket needed to once and for all silence his doubters by scoring a match-winning hundred and did so wonderfully. His 5-hour plus century, helped by useful runs from Matt Prior and Stuart Broad (the latter causing further controversy by not walking when he clearly edged it), meant the boys from Down Under needed 311 to win.

Despite a very promising start from Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, the Wallabies never really looked like being able to chase down the total. They closed day 4 on 171-6, having been 84-0, as Graeme Swann seemed to be causing chaos. Indeed, when Anderson removed Agar, Mitchell Starc and Siddle to leave Australia still needing 80 to win with just one wicket left it seemed that an England win was just around the corner. But it seems as though Australia are actually putting their best batsmen at number 11 at the moment as James Pattinson never looked troubled against the in-form Anderson and Swann. He and the courageous Haddin took Australia to within 15 runs of victory before the latter edged behind to Prior. Initially given not out, technology finally proved its worth by showing that the Aussie ‘keeper had in fact edged it and gave England a win not too dissimilar to Edgbaston 2005. The tension was unbelievable – I couldn’t eat the BBQ my dad had made because I was just so engrossed with the game!

James Anderson was quite rightly given the Man of the Match award for his 10 wickets across both innings but I don’t think we can expect to see the same results from him at Lord’s. With the weather as it is and the flatness of the pitch at the historic ground, expect a lot more runs to be scored in the second Test. But do be on the look out for Swanny – the slope at the ground should already help him, while the dryness of the pitch will create even more turn for a man who gets 2000+ revs on the ball regularly. I can’t call it, but whatever happens it’s sure to be another pulsating game.

An Apology, a Thanks and a Moan

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Before I start, I would like to apologise for having not written a blog for what seems like an eternity. The last few weeks have been pretty manic with exams and cricket and I have had very little time to even contemplate writing.

I would also like to thank everyone who helped me achieve 1000 views! After an initial surge when I first started blogging, views were very hard to come by but as I have gone on writing the hits have increased gradually and now I achieve at least 10 a week, a feat which I am really proud of. The landmark was achieved with a view from America, one of 30 countries that my blog has reached. When I began writing I didn’t realise that I would become ‘global’ so quickly so I am really grateful to everyone across the world who has read my views on sport, even if they clicked on the link by accident. I would also like to thank my small but loyal group of readers in the UK who read lots of what I write and give me really positive feedback, you are all brilliant. Let’s see how quick I can achieve my next 1000 views…

Anyway enough of the cheese, let’s get back to business!

After the Monaco GP I wrote a blog criticising the tyres used in Formula 1 this season, with good reason. The sport was no longer about driving fast with drivers and teams instead focussing on tyre management. However, never did I imagine what would happen at this weekend’s British Grand Prix.

The signs were there when Sergio Perez’s left rear exploded on Saturday morning during the final practice session after the tyre had been ‘cut’ by something. No one took much notice of this, however, as it wasn’t the first time that a Pirelli tyre had suddenly disintegrated this season. What we failed to notice, though, was that this was much unlike any other tyre failure seen so far this season. Previously, cars had suffered delaminations, where the tyre suddenly looses pressure, but Perez’s incident was a sudden explosion of the tyre caused by the ‘cut.’ Why this was seemingly ignored we will never know, but it could easily have cost drivers their lives.

Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne and Perez then suffered spectacular blow-outs of their rear-lefts during the race, while Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez had his front-left also implode and Fernando Alonso noted a sudden loss of pressure in his front-right just before a pit-stop. But what caused it? Currently the thinking is that it was a combination of very sharp kerbs cutting into the soft tyre walls, with the pressure of a fuel-laden car causing the tyres to burst rather than slowly deflate. This then raises the question ‘who do we blame – the track officials or Pirelli?’ Probably not the former, as the kerbs have been in place for a number of years now with no such problems. This seemingly places the blame with the tyre suppliers, but I don’t think it’s entirely their fault.

As I stated in ‘It’s Just Not Cricket – Literally!’ I think a large portion of the blame for this season’s tyre fiasco has to lie with the FIA. They were the ones who wanted softer tyres for more interesting races and they are the ones who banned in-season testing, therefore restricting Pirelli’s opportunities to improve the situation. Indeed, it was only last week that both Mercedes and Pirelli were given reprimands for doing a 1000km testing session in order to develop the tyres. While they are the ones who built the tyres in the first place, they are also the people who have wanted to make a change and improve the racing but have been severely restricted by the powers that be.

Pirelli did, though, make a slight change for this weekend’s tyres in that they made the rubber compound stronger and reduce the number of pit stops a driver would need. It’s just a shame that they hadn’t looked at making the sidewalls stronger too. The failures really took the emphasis away from what was a fantastic race, full of exciting overtaking with very few incidents of cars hitting each other. It was just what F1 has been missing all season, with the drivers fighting to win places through pure speed and not trying to conserve tyre usage. Both Hamilton and Massa made numerous manoeuvres while they moved back up through the field after their respective failures, proving that the changes Pirelli have made are the right way to go.

The FIA have finally succumbed to the pressure and allowed Pirelli to change its compound for this weekend’s German GP as well as allowing current drivers to take part in the Young Driver Tests later this month to help develop the further tyres. They have also allowed the teams to revert to the 2012 tyre range from the Hungarian GP onwards, a splendid move as the racing last year was so exciting. But, for myself and many others, this move is far too late. The problem has been there for everyone to see for months but it has taken a serious incident that could have ended much worse than it did to finally get these stubborn so-and-sos to finally give in. The drivers don’t deserve this – they have put their safety at risk as a result of a load of pig-headed men refusing to admit they are wrong in order to maintain status. Let’s just hope the racing does the talking for the rest of the season.

‘Calm down dear, it’s only a game!’

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As regular followers or close friends will know, I have a fascination with the psychology that is involved in sport. I have touched on it a few times throughout my blogs but my first real article dedicated to it was ‘The Greatest Battle,’ which focused on depression in professional sport. This week I am going to focus on the extraordinary range of emotions sports put their players through and how hard it can be to control them.

Everyone who is involved in sport for a living is immensely passionate for it – they must be, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. It requires a huge amount of dedication to turn away from an ‘easy career’ in some dead-end job, stuck in a sweaty office in a city full of people you don’t know and don’t particularly want to know. Actually, that makes it sound like it’s an easy choice to leave that sort of profession! But to make it in professional sport – whether it be as a player, coach or analyst – you have to have a fascination for it that most would class as unnatural. It isn’t right really, to be that addicted to something, but that is what is go great – you can be abnormally passionate about it without having to worry about the damage it can cause you, something that’s not the case with drugs, alcohol etc. Professional sport is such a competitive industry that you have to have something unique that makes you stand out from the rest. If you don’t have it, then your chances of success are hugely limited.

There are times, though, when this passion translates itself into a negative form of behaviour that isn’t so desirable. If you are out of form, whether it be not being able to score runs in cricket or consistent poor performances in netball, your obsession for the sport can actually make matters worse. You are so desperate to perform that you put huge pressure on yourself and, as a consequence, make matters worse. This leads to a further loss of self-confidence, more poor performances and, as a result, you will lose your love for the game. Fernando Torres is a prime example of this – he has struggled hugely at Chelsea after his £50million move from Liverpool in January 2011. He arrived at The Blues on the back of a relatively poor run of form and he was so desperate to put this right at his new club that he almost over-tried – his performances were far from his best and it resulted in a huge loss of confidence. Even now, two and a half years later, the Spaniard is still suffering from this, although things are looking up after he scored 23 goals in the season just finished. Some may disagree with me, saying it was the immense pressure of the price tag and the prestige of the club that caused his disastrous loss of form. While I acknowledge this may well have played a part, I think that if you dig down to the root of the problem then you’ll find that his passion for football is there at the heart of it.

The other, and potentially more dangerous, way your passion can negatively affect you as a sportsman or woman is that if it clouds your judgement and leads to you losing your temper. Anger, as any psychologist will tell you, is a good thing to have. It’s one of the few emotions that everyone will feel at some point in their lives and is beneficial in moderation. However excess anger, channelled with an inability to control it, is not a good combination. For the professional sporting stars, it can mean a damaged reputation at best and the end of their careers at worst. All performers will become frustrated and angry if they or their team aren’t performing as they should be or they feel decisions made against them have been unfair – it’s a right of passage. But for some this, coupled with their passion for the game, leads to actions that have no place in sport or society. Whether it be someone making a dangerous tackle, throwing a punch or threatening to hit their opponents with a piece of equipment (as the Indian cricketer Javed Miandad famously did to Aussie fast bowler Dennis Lillee, holding his bat high above his head as though it was a club), failure to control your anger is a huge problem that our heroes have to conquer.

Some sports, such as ice hockey and rugby union to an extent, encourage these physical acts as it is part of the game. There are some incidents where it can go a bit far however, such as when Manu Tuilagi laid into Chris Ashton in an Aviva Premiership game a couple of years ago. Such incidents are normally isolated, though, and there are few who have more than one incident of ‘rage’ in their professional careers. But, sadly, there are some who cannot control their tempers. Dylan Hartley, the England hooker, recently threw away his opportunity to tour Australia with the Lions because of his inability to keep his mouth shut and insulting the referee when things got a bit tense in the recent Premiership final. This follows a string of incidents that have seen him banned far too many times for his own good. His ‘uncontrollable’ temper has left him with a sour reputation and has meant he has missed a chance to go on the biggest tour in rugby union, something that he’ll probably be too old to do when it next comes around in four years time.

‘What about Luis Suarez? Surely he has anger management issues?’ While it is true that the Uruguayan has been seeing an anger management specialist following his disgusting incident with Branislav Ivanovic, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. I don’t particularly think he has issues controlling his temper, more trouble understanding what is acceptable in our society. As proved with the racism saga with Patrice Evra, which saw him banned for eight matches, I don’t think Suarez quite understands what we do and do not accept over here in Britain. I’m not in any way saying we are better than Uruguay, but that we are different from them and do things differently. For him, anger management isn’t as much of a problem as it is for some in my opinion.

With an increasing involvement of psychology in today’s sporting world, there is a much greater opportunity for the stars to find solutions to control their temper and passion to make sure it doesn’t boil over. For us amateurs, however, things aren’t quite so easy. There are many articles on the Internet that tell us what to do and how to do it but, without the aid of a professional, this is quite hard to implement on our lifestyle. Personally, I have found that none of the recommended techniques has worked and my anger is still a huge issue for me, both in terms of sport and personal relationships. It’s not because I don’t want it to work, it’s because I need someone to help me adjust the techniques in a way to suit me and my personality. It’s not all doom and gloom for us though and I think within a the next 20 years psychological help will be as readily available as any other form of treatment. Until then, keep your anger in check!

It’s Just Not Cricket – Literally!

It seems like every week there is some sort of controversy in Formula 1 – whether it be accusations of cheating or teammates falling out, there is always a story for the press to cover and make something out of nothing. However, the 2013 season has created a storm that has already been over-exaggerated but is still something to be worried out.

On Sunday, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg won the Monaco Grand Prix after claiming his third pole position in a row – from the outside that seems like a pretty normal race. What possible problem could there have been? The fact was that he won the race because there was no room for faster cars to overtake him, unlike the previous two races. Tyre manufacturers Pirelli were told to make rubber for 2013 that was more unpredictable than last year’s but have created tyres that are just too soft and fall apart too quickly. Again this might not seem like a problem from the general point of view, but for a die-hard fan like myself it has made F1 painful to watch.

Last year the tyres Pirelli created took some teams a few races to get used to, with drivers testing the limits to the maximum and some going too far. A fantastic example was Kimi Raikkonen at the Chinese GP – he was pushing his tyres at the end of the race but ‘hit the cliff’ (the metaphorical term to describe the sudden loss of drive as the tyres run out of rubber) and slipped from 7th place to 14th in the space of two laps. This was only a rare occurrence as teams tried their hardest to push the boundaries in order to win. But this year it is completely different – it isn’t those in the lower points-scoring positions who are worried about tyre management, it’s those up the front. Mercedes are a prime example, being extremely quick over one qualifying lap but having a horribly slow race pace as their car just cannot look after the tyres. And it’s not just them struggling – only Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus seem not to have a problem, making it no coincidence that they have dominated the season so far.

In terms of out-and-out racing, Monaco was slightly farcical. Yes there were big crashes and some fantastic (and rare) overtaking manouvers through the narrow streets but the fact was that Rosberg only won due to the fact it is extremely hard to pass. He was also helped by the multiple Safety Car periods (and a red flag), meaning he could conserve his tyres. The ridiculousness of the situation was summed up at the start of the race, with race-leader Rosberg doing lap times of about 1:22.50 while Giedo van der Garde (driver for the Caterham who are normally around 4 seconds slower) matched him after pitting for a new nose and running in free air. It was embarrassing for a sport that should be all about who is the fastest driver in the fastest car.

Those at Red Bull claimed after the Spanish race earlier this month that Formula 1 ‘isn’t racing any more’ due to the tyres, something I have no doubt Lewis Hamilton felt too after slipping from 2nd on the grid to 12th at the end of the race purely because his car destroys the tyres. David Coulthard then said that Monaco was ‘rubbish’ because of the fiasco of a backmarker running as quickly as the leader. I agree with both, but only to an extent. Formula 1 battles are no longer characterised by the cars, teams and strategy – it’s now all about the latter. While it is still fascinating to a point, it has taken away the adrenaline rush you feel when watching one car (or more) hunting down another in front of them.

People may be blaming Pirelli for this predicament, and they have accepted the blame, but the fact is they have tried to change things. They have already announced a new range of tyres to be released at the next Grand Prix, while tried to revert back to 2012’s compounds for the race at Monaco. They have been proactive in resolving the situation because they want to get F1 want to get back the glories of last year, where 7 different drivers won the first 7 races, but they have been held back by none other than the FIA. Surely the rulers of one of the most global sports would want to satisfy the needs of both the teams and fans? Clearly not, as they rejected Pirelli’s proposal to back to last year’s tyres because of a contractual agreement. Screw that! Listen to both the experts and those who give their money to the sport and change it.

Formula 1 is by no means dead and buried. This tyre issue may be quite a big problem but there is a small, if expensive, solution that means everyone can be happy again and get back to pure racing. Please FIA, just use your brains!

A Solid Start

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Hamish Rutherford – castled!

James Anderson and Stuart Broad produced a masterful display of swing bowling to see England to a comfortable victory in the first Test over New Zealand at Lord’s – but they didn’t have it all their own way until that fateful fourth morning.

Indeed, it was a match to forget for most of England’s batsmen. Many got starts but failed to go on and most didn’t seem to have the correct mental state for the occasion. On the back of some poor performances in New Zealand the batsmen were far too cautious in the first innings – England scored only 160 runs on the first day at less than 2 runs per over. For those of you who don’t really follow cricket, that is extremely low, even for Test standards! Some pundits were saying that it was still an enthralling day of cricket, but for someone who has grown up in the days of attacking 5-day batsmen such as Brian Lara, Kevin Pietersen and David Warner it was extremely painful to follow. This slow rate also heaped the pressure on England’s batsmen, drawing all of them into playing false shots in order to try and up the rate. The Kiwis have to be commended, their bowling was extremely tight, but England’s fear of playing big shots meant that they missed out on lots of easy runs. Spinner Bruce Martin, in particular, bowled some absolute filth that was not dispatched by our men. But, when paired with tail-enders, Jonnie Bairstow did indeed show that it was a lovely track to bat on.

This, however, would not have filled the bowlers with confidence, knowing that runs were indeed available on that wicket. But Anderson got the team off to a flyer, producing two magical deliveries to remove Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford, claiming his 300th Test wicket in the process. After a less-than-impressive and injury-plagued start to his career, despite a 5-fer on debut, Anderson has been a revelation since returning to the Test team in 2007. His control and discipline is astounding and he has to be the greatest proprietor of swing bowling in the world at the moment. But not even he could stop a bullish Ross Taylor from seemingly swinging the game back into the Black Cap’s favour. He brought up his half-century in just 49 balls and his innings of 66 was one of power and class.

New Zealand ended the second day trailing by just 79 runs with six second-innings wickets still in hand. They looked to have the initiative in the match, something neither English players or fans had expected before the game. But some rather reckless batting saw them collapse to 207 all out, Anderson ending with 5-47 and Stephen Finn chipping in with 4-63. England then came out and started solidly, getting to 36-0 before both Nick Compton and Alastair Cook were removed by some fantastic swing bowling from Neil Wagner and Trent Boult respectively. Jonathon Trott and Joe Root got England to the relative safety of 159-2 before the latter was bowled playing a lazy shot to Tim Southee. This sparked a collapse that saw England crumble to just 213 all out by the 12p.m the next morning, the only real resistance being offered by Broad.

Despite their collapse England went into the final innings in a relatively good position. New Zealand needed 239 runs to win, a score that would have been the fourth highest run-chase in Lord’s Test history. And with the amount of swing messrs Southee, who ended the match with career-best figures of 10-118, Wagner and Boult had found on a pitch that was getting quicker by the ball, everything looked good. But what followed next was unbelievable. In the space of an hour New Zealand had gone from a position where they could win to one where they were fighting to retain an inch of pride. Broad ripped through the top order to reduce the Kiwis to 29-6 at lunch, including a special delivery that moved up the Lord’s slope to remove Rutherford’s off stump and send it cart wheeling towards the ‘keeper (pictured). Anderson bowled with impeccable control at the other end and, between them, they saw New Zealand off for just 68. It was a true thumping of almost comical proportions given what had happened up to that point in the game, the innings being perfectly summed up by the farcical run out that ended the game.

Even though they won, England still have many things they need to iron out before the next Test, starting later this week. The batting is a big issue – too many batsmen got starts before getting themselves out. They just need to be told to play their natural game and not worry about the situation. One man who could definitely use this advice is Nick Compton – his two failures in this game have put even more pressure on him to perform, especially given the excellence of Root in the game. He needs to forget about what everyone thinks and just enjoy batting and he will get back to scoring hundreds. Personally I feel it is unfair to say that Root is his long-term successor – leave the future planning up to the management and cut the guy some slack! The bowling also needs some work as both Broad and Finn, despite their success in terms of wickets, were far too inconsistent in the first innings and have been for a while. They need to pitch the ball up more often and get it swinging, even if that does mean slowing things down a little. But, overall, these things are minor and this match has proven that an exciting summer lies ahead of English cricket fans.