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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Pietersen: I'm nearly back to my best for Boxing Day

Kevin Pietersen returns to the ground where he made his first impact AGAINST England 10 years ago, insisting: "I am nearly back to my best."

Pietersen, who scored 61 not out for the KwaZulu Natal Dolphins as a 19-year-old against Nasser Hussain's England at Kingsmead in 1999, heads into the second Test against South Africa on Boxing Day on the back of a match-saving 81 in the second innings of the drawn Test in Centurion on Sunday.

After a troubled operation on his Achilles tendon in the middle of the Ashes series in July, the 29-year-old, born 56 miles inland from Durban at Pietermaritzburg, said: "Learning to trust my leg was a big thing for me but I am almost there and hopefully the consistent batting will come back at some stage and I think I am almost there. Technically-wise, I think I am almost back to my best."

Pietersen shrugged off the suicidal run-out that ended his resistance and led to gloating from South Africa captain Graeme Smith saying: "That run-out was my fault and I held my hands up and apologised for it. It was just a bit of a brain freeze. Well, not really a brain freeze, it was a case of trying to rotate the strike.

"It is the way that I play. I make mistakes but I was actually really restrained all day and played an innings that is not typically me. Even the dismissal was restrained. It was played right under the eyes and I just misjudged a run."

Pietersen, who put on 145 runs for the fourth wicket with Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott, added: "The important thing was that three and four batted in a partnership.Paul Collingwood, at five, and myself have formed a good partnership of the last few years in terms of how we have gone about things.

"Our top-order has always been 20 for three or 10 for two and if we can get some consistency so that one, two, three, four, five and six can bat really well together and build partnerships then, for the England cricket team, it will be magnificent."

On Saturday, Pietersen will face severe barracking from Kingsmead's notorious Castle Corner. He said : "I believe we can score runs against their bowling attack but we need to take 20 wickets.

"Graeme Smith is a big wicket for us, so if we can keep getting him out cheaply, and manage to nip Jacques Kallis out, I think it puts a lot of pressure on the other players."

Neal Collins' novel "A Game Apart", the book you must read before the World Cup, is now available.

Labels: , , drawn first test, , , ,

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Liverpool bitten by Lyon... now for the Europa League

DEPENDING which paper you read, Liverpool lost anything from £10m to £40m last night when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Quite how that odd American couple, Gillette and Hicks, will take this loss of earnings on their Anfield investment is not yet known. But under-fire boss Rafa Benitez, now talking about winning the Europa League, knows he's got a job on his hands.
Sure, the Reds won 1-0 at pointless Debrecen but with Lyon understandably losing 1-0 at Fiorentina, qualification from Group E is now beyond them. Would you want to win or draw if it meant going to Anfield and playing for your lives?
Poor old Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have been battling injury all season and they're a modest 7th in the Premier League, five points behind Spurs in fourth. We won't even mention the beach ball.
Dramatically, Sky Sports 2 showed Gerrard watching the final minutes of the game in Fiorentina on a screen in the tunnel at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest. Gutted. He didn't stop to talk when the whistle went. Later he said: "You get what you deserve in football. The disappointing thing was having to rely on other people. We have played well today but now we have to try and move on, build on tonight and, with a lot of players coming back from injury, try and win the Europa League.
"Of course its disappointing. The Champions League is the main trophy at the start of the season but the only consolation now is to try and win the Europa League."
And Benitez emerged briefly to say: "I am 100% confident we will finish in the top four in the Premier League this season."
And all this while Arsenal were merrily skipping through to the last 32 with a game to spare. Their 2-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege came courtesy of welcome goals for the returning Denilson and Samir Nasri (pictured).
Quite an improvement after Saturday's demoralising 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland and their former Spurs striker Darren Bent. No need to mention the two penalties turned down in front of the Emirates crowd... or the double rattling of the woodwork by the Belgians, who had a man sent off late on. Funny how we don't notice these things when English clubs are winning. Former Gunner Paul Merson did. He pointed out in the Sky studios: "What worries me is they were dominant throughout but they still could have lost this game. Liege had a stonewall penalty and a couple of clear chances. Any team that plays Arsenal knows they're always in with a chance, they can always nick a goal."
Another small point before the London showdown against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday: William Gallas took a nasty blow to the eye and looked concussed after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, while Kieran Gibbs limped off with what looked like a recurrence of his ankle injury. But still, they're through for the 10th season in a row, joining Chelsea and Manchester United, whatever they do tomorrow night.
Rangers are out too, beaten 2-0 by Stuttgart... and they don't even get the consolation of a late place in the Europa League as they finish bottom of Group G.
The good news for UEFA came in Spain where Barcelona eased the threat of non-qualification with a 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in fascinating Group F. Rumours of Thierry "Hand of Gaul" Henry diving twice in the first half have yet to be confirmed.
Bad news for Portsmouth fans with manager Paul Hart departing (former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is waiting in the wings), good news for Wycombe, the Division One strugglers, who followed up their shock 2-0 win at Millwall with a 1-0 win over Brentford last night.

Labels: barcelona, , debrecen, , lyon, , , world cup, Wycombe

I'm not like Maradona says Henry, the mouth of God

THIERRY HENRY should not be judged in the same bracket as fellow Hand-of-God user Diego Maradona. And who says so? Erm... Thierry himself.
Today we are assailed by another avalanche of self-justification and bluster from the man who cheated to put France through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year, courtesy of a blatant handball.
Maradona did the same for Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final against England in Mexico 23 years ago but never admitted he cheated, preferring to refer to his deft finish over Peter Shilton as "the Hand of God".
Henry apparently feels he has the Mouth of God as he attempts to wriggle out of the situation he has created for himself.
The 32-year-old Frenchman has been under pressure ever since his basketball-style move helped make the crucial goal for William Gallas in Paris last week, but as the 450,000 strong Facebook petition to have the game replayed fades in FIFA's memory, the Barcelona striker says: "I was in a situation where, whatever happened, I couldn't have won. At a certain point I thought I had done something very seriously wrong. After the game I went to a press conference to say I had touched the ball with my hand.
"That is not like Maradona or Messi (his Barcelona team-mate Lionel also scored with his hand once, perhaps the Nou Camp has an expert on hand to explain this), I could have easily avoided it and not said a word.
"But I did not run away from my responsibilities. On Friday, when everything went too far, I was really upset."
Hold on a bit Thierry, most of Ireland and the rest of the football-speaking world were upset too. With you. And it hasn't helped that the perfectly acceptable idea of a replay - agreed as "the fairest solution" by you and a million others - appears to have been firmly shelved by FIFA.
Despite yesterday's claim that he nearly quit playing for France over the incident, Henry adds: "I've always fought for Les Bleus. Like a dog. I won't let my country down."
No, Thierry, you've already done that. Last Wednesday. With your left arm.
And like Maradona, that single act will define your career.

Labels: barcelona, diego maradona, hand of God, , , , , world cup

Monday, 23 November 2009

Trott the all-rounder? A revelation from Botham

IAN BOTHAM, who knows a thing or two about all-rounders, picked out Jonathan Trott’s performance in the thumping seven-wicket win over South Africa yesterday as “a revelation”
While the immediate headlines surrounded the performance of Paul Collingwood, who took two wickets, a superb catch and scored an undefeated 105 in his record 171st one-day international for England, Botham went straight to Trott’s performance with bat and ball in his post-match analysis.
The Sky Sports commentator and former England captain said: “You have to look carefully at what Trott (pictured) did out there. He scored 87 and bowled seven overs for nothing (21, the most economical England bowler). England are having to learn to live without Andrew Flintoff and Trott will help them do that.
“It’s been a real revelation for England. South Africa are struggling without their all-rounder Jacques Kallis (broken rib) but we have Trott, Paul Collingwood, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan who can do both now.”
Botham appears genuinely optimistic about England’s chances after they eased past South Africa’s 250-9 with seven wickets and four overs to spare.
With South African captain Graeme Smith admitting: “There is a realisation we’re in for a long, hard summer of cricket,” Beefy argues: “We all want to see a vibrant and punchy England side going at it hammer and tongs with the opposition.
“The best one-day teams in the world are front runners - the Australians and the Indians. I think Andrew Strauss finally recognises that. He was conservative in the West Indies, but he has been captain for a year now and I expect to see him blossom in charge.”
Collingwood, who overtook Alec Stewart as his country's most capped player in the ODIs, said: "It was a big day for me on a personal note.We were quite comfortable in the end. It was a special performance by all the boys really."
But the Durham dynamo also picked out Trott after their 162-run third-wicket partnership. Trott opened for the first time, replacing Kent’s Joe Denly, and fell just 13 runs short of a maiden one-day ton.
Collingwood purred: "It was a top knock by Trotty. He really played the anchor role. "Credit to him, all the international innings he's played so far have been special ones and hopefully that continues. He’s taken his county game to the international level."
England captain Strauss, who dropped three catches and scored just 16 off a sluggish 26 balls, did the vital thing - winning the toss - and said: "Jonathan and Paul both played exceptionally well. We always felt we could chase down 250 but we needed to get stuck in and build a partnership.
The great disappointment yesterday? Adil Rashid, once more England's least economical bowler. The young Yorkshire spinner, hit for four sixes in the only over allowed him in last week’s crushing Twenty20 defeat on the same ground, bowled just three overs for 27, leaving the door open for Kent’s James Tredwell to make his debut in the third one-day international at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday.
Tredwell, England’s Under 19 captain back in 2002, took 95 wickets in all forms of the game last season and he can bat a bit as well, with two first class tons and a 16 fifties for Kent.
The only other thing England need to worry about on Friday? The captain’s hands. After dropping those three catches, Strauss said: "That was the one negative. My hands went missing somewhere. I'll have to do some practice before Newlands on Friday."

Labels: , , , , , , world cup

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Replay? Justice? It's not going to happen

SO the Irish, like most other right-minded football fans, want a replay. They feel Thierry Henry's blatant handball - understandable but unforgivable - robbed them of their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
As of now, the Republic of Ireland are out, beaten 2-1 in extra-time thanks to Henry's basketball-style move just wide of the right upright which resulted in a cross to make William Gallas's decisive header.
Henry can be clearly seen explaining afterwards that he had cheated as he sat with distraught Irishman Richard Dunne. He hasn't gone quite that far since, simply admitting: "I did handle the ball, but I am not the referee."
And as the clamour for justice mounts, the Republic's charming Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni insists: "This situation has to give a chance to who is responsible to rethink. It can be repeated in the future and we have to stop it."
But he accepts: "When a referee decides a game has finished I know it is impossible to replay the game."
Even the Swedish press have blasted their trio of officials for failing to spot the greatest handball since Diego Maradona circa 1986. Aftonbladet said: "There are approximately 80 million Irishmen around the world. We guarantee they all feel pretty bad today.
"But I sincerely hope there are three Swedes that feel even worse.
"They are Martin Hansson and (referee's assistants) Stefan Wittberg and Fredrik Nilsson. There will be no World Cup for Ireland and I assume that Team Hansson has also forfeited its right to continue to take charge of major international matches.
"Anything else would be a further insult to the Irish nation."
A replay might ease the pressure on the three Swedes too, but Fifa have already released a statement saying: "The hand ball was recognised by the Fifa commissioner, the referee observer and the match officials, as well as by the player himself.
"There is precedent for the invalidation of such results. In 2005, the bureau of the Fifa World Cup organising committee reached a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualification match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain on the basis of a 'technical error by the referee of the match'.
"But Law 5 of the Laws of the Game states that: The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
"The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match."
So that's it. No replay unless you're Uzbeki or Bahraini.
The FAI hit back with a terse: "We hope Fifa and its disciplinary committee will, on behalf of football fans world-wide, act in a similar fashion so that the standards of fair play and integrity can be protected."
Trapattoni questioned their competence of the Swedish trio and still wants to know why Fifa seeded the play-off draw at late notice, making things, theoretically, easier for the French (at this point most people would mention UEFA president Michel Platini hails from just across the channel, but that would be very provocative), though they made heavy weather of it.
Trapattoni's final verdict: "All sports lose credibility with this situation - it affects the integrity of the game. For me it's bitter. There are many questions.
"There are many doubts that have to be eliminated. Out of the non-seeded teams we were the only ones to play the second game away - why?"
La Figaro quotes Henry saying this: "I know what it is you want me to say and I am not going to lie - there was hand.
"The ball hit my hand and I continued to play. The referee didn't blow his whistle and there was a goal. Obviously I would have preferred that things panned out differently but I am not the official. I do not think we have stolen qualification."
Sorry Thierry, you're wrong. In the digital age, which so much at stake, either you get banned for cheating... or the match gets replayed.
But we all know neither will happen. France are through, it's what the big guys wanted.

Labels: blatter, diego maradona, fifa, , platini, , , world cup

Thursday, 12 November 2009

KP won't look Bok in anger

KEVIN PIETERSEN’S first task on arriving in South Africa? Offering a little advice to the other bloke in the England squad with that dodgy aksent, Jonathan Trott.
KP, off the crutches he used for weeks after the mid-Ashes operation on his right ankle, flew in late to join the tour in Johannesburg and said: “I’ve just caught up with Trottie and asked how everything’s been so far — he said it had been great.
“I had a long chat with Jonathan in the dressing room after the Ashes, talking about the little things I didn’t do when I first came into the England side that perhaps he could do — to try to stop him making the mistakes I made.”
Pietersen, 29, doesn’t like to be reminded of his attitude when he first appeared for England against his former homeland in a stormy series in 2005.
The unrepentant manner and the multi-coloured “skunk” hairstyle didn’t go down to well with the old guard at the ECB — and South African fans were only too happy to jump on the bandwagon, heckling the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman with some relish.
Both the hair and the mood are much quieter now as Pietersen recalls: “Don’t remind me. I was 24, still growing up and I was having a great time, fresh and buzzing. I hadn’t had many knocks along the way. In the last few years I’ve grown up, got married and am a lot more mature. This year has been like never before but it’s all part of development and learning.
“It’s been a fantastic ride and I want to jump back on now. I have identified the next four or five years to get back on that treadmill again.
“It’s been a horrible year but I can turn that around by playing some great cricket against South Africa. I love playing here. The wickets are good and it’s a fantastic country. It’s a recipe to make runs.”
And old foe Trott? “I’ve heard he’s been fantastic in the dressing room and there will be no problems between us.
“Yes, we were opponents growing up in South Africa but that’s because he played for Western Province and I played for Natal — they were big rivals.”
That rivalry will pale into insignificance at the Wanderers’ bull-ring on Friday night, venue of the first Twenty-20 international — and the opening clash of a battle between England and South Africa which will run until the end of the fourth Test, back in Johannesburg, in mid-January next year.
Pietersen won’t play on Friday “unless the injuries pile up” but he adds: “It was pretty hostile five years ago, but I’ve been back for the Twenty20 World Cup and the IPL and had fantastic receptions. Hopefully they respect the cricket I’ve played in the last five years.
“What happened to me at the Wanderers in 2005 will come up over the next couple of days and if Trotty wants to talk about it I’ll help in any way I can.
“But I won’t force myself on him. I’ve thought about how the crowds will be this time over here.
“All our efforts have to go on beating South Africa, not worrying what anyone else says. It doesn’t bother me how the South African crowds react.”
What might bother him is mischievous spinner Graeme Swann’s suggestion earlier in the week that Pietersen may struggle to break into a side which blasted through their opening games in some style.
But after the crashing defeat against South Africa A in Bloemfontein on Tuesday night, Pietersen grins: “I think the team looks like they’re really on fire out here.
“I’m very encouraged.”
NEAL COLLINS will be joining the England tour next month. Read his daily blog from South Africa and express your views on the tour simply by logging on to

Labels: , , , , , tour, world cup

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Haskell starts at Twickenham... as predicted

Yesterday I twittered James Haskell to tell him Lawrence Dallaglio is backing him to start for England against Argentina on Saturday at Twickenham. He turned things around when he came on for Leicester's Jordan Crane against Australia last week, full of energy and endeavour. Today, even better news... confirmation of his place in the first 15 despite leaving Wasps for Stade Francais in the summer.
Here's the story I wrote for the paper this morning:
YESTERDAY James Haskell was so miffed by the weather in not-so-sunny Surrey, he called for a radical move to summer rugby.
Today, he’ll be officially told he’s back in the England starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with Argentina at Twickenham, where the Windsor-born 6ft 4in loose forward will revel in the mud of a British autumn.
Through the mists of a winter’s morning at England’s Bagshot base yesterday, jameshaskell grumbled on www.twitter-com: “Raining and miserable at Pennyhill Park, but mood is good. Forwards and team session this morning.
“I vote we make rugby a summer sport, we would only have to compete with cricket. Bigger crowds, better games and more hospitality.”
Within hours twitters were flying and Haskell accepted: “Okay, taking some heat for my summer chat. Didn’t think about the hard grounds. But we live in England and the hardest it gets is medium soft.”
And, as news of his selection for Saturday began to permeate the England camp, that was soon followed by: “Keep it winter. Too many good arguments. Hard pitches are the main reason.”
And just to make things perfect for the No8 who moved from Wasps to Stade Francais last summer, his old Wellington College pal Paul Doran-Jones is in the squad too.
Best not to mention the pair of them were suspended over a video camera incident at one of Britain’s poshest public schools in 2003.
England boss Martin Johnson had little choice in calling up Gloucester’s Doran-Jones. With David Wilson and David Barnes forced out by injury, there are no other front-row options.
Bath veteran Duncan Bell and Tim Payne of Wasps will start at tight-head and loose-head with the versatile Doran-Jones as cover on both sides.
Northampton’s Dylan Hartley will start between them at hooker, with World Cup-winner Steve Thompson reverting to the bench.
Graham Rowntree, England’s scrum coach, said: “I like what I see in Paul. I’ve been watching him all season, I think he’s a true prospect for the future. He’s good at a lot of things and I give him my full backing.
“He’s good enough and that’s what we’ll tell him. Paul has a great attitude, he’s fitted in well since he’s been with us.”
Jordan Crane, replaced at No 8 by Haskell during the defeat against Australia last Saturday, has been told he can go back to train with Leicester this weekend.
And the full team? Probable: Monye (Harlequins); Cueto (Sale), Hipkiss (Leicester), Geraghty (Northampton), Banahan (Bath); Wilkinson (Toulon), Hodgson (London Irish); Payne (Wasps), Hartley (Northampton), Bell (Bath); Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Deacon; Croft (both Leicester), Haskell (Stade Francais), Moody (Leicester).
Replacements: Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Thompson (Brive), Lawes (Northampton), Worsley (Wasps), Care (Harlequins), Goode (Brive), Erinle (Biarritz).
England v Argentina,Saturday, live on Sky Sports 2, from 2pm
ELITE squad players sent back to clubs: D Strettle (Harlequins), B Foden (Northampton), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), S Armitage (London Irish), D Barnes (Bath), G Chuter (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath).

Labels: argentina, australia, james haskell, , , rugby, rugby union,