ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2017 PREVIEW
By Peter Moore as at 17th May 2017
The ICC Champions Trophy will take place in England from 1st June until the 18th June across three different venues. The Kia Oval, Edgbaston and Cardiff. Only the top 8 ranked ODI teams will be taking part in this eighth edition of this one day event.
India are the current holders, after winning the event in 2013 in England. Bangladesh will replace West Indies and will be playing for the second time in the competition. This will be the third time that England have hosted the event, in the last two occasions England have reached the final, but have never won the Trophy.
Hosts England will open the tournament against Bangladesh at the Oval on June 1st. Defending Champions India will begin their campaign with a grudge match against rivals Pakistan at Edgbaston on June 4th. The Competition will also see Australia lock horns with New Zealand at Edgbaston on June 2nd. South Africa will kick off their campaign against Sri Lanka on June 3rd. England will be joined by Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh in Group A with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa in Group B.
Let’s look at all the sides:
After the 2015 World Cup this current England outfit are beginning to have the makings of a very good one day outfit. Captained by Eoin Morgan, their strongest part of their line-up is their vast strength in depth of their batting. Coupled with lots of smart all-rounders. In Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Sam Billings they possess three big hitters who can get the side of to a flying start. With the likes of Joe Root to come in later in the order along with the very talented Jos Buttler and a very useful lower order of the likes of Chris Woakes. Moen Ali and Ben Stokes alongside a more than useful bowling attack which will be suited by the helpful English conditions. The likes of Woakes and David Willey should prosper in the conditions, alongside Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, then England look to have a wonderful chance of claiming the Trophy.
Having won the World Cup in 2011 and Champions Trophy two years later, The Indian team has for a while looked a very good one day side. Captained by the outstanding Virat Kohli, they have a skipper who leads from the front. India’s one weekness has always been that the side have struggled in English conditions. This aside they have an outstanding batting unit which relies on their top order to get them off to the perfect start. However, their bowling has for a while been of concern for them. This may once again be their problem for this year’s event, especially their pace attack which isn’t particularly experienced, but ignore India at your peril.
A very talented side who recently eclipsed Australia in the ODI rankings. As usual South Africa enter the tournament as one of the favourites to go very far in the event, but they still can’t seem to shake of this chockers tag that they have acquired. They are in a group with winnable games on paper. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They have a very good bowling attack along with an extremely good fielding side. Should they get through to the semi-finals, the obvious question will always be- Will they fall short once again. Time will tell.
Pakistan are a side who on their day could go all the way to the final, if the right Pakistan side turn up through the tournament. On paper, they have a more than useful swing bowling attack including Aamir and Jumnaid that should go well in English June conditions. If they can get out of a very tough group and into the semi-finals this might be their year.
An excellent one day side in any format, this current Aussie one day unit is developing very well. Australia will always be feared by everybody. They have a quality balanced squad which should excel in English conditions. In the past Australia have always performed well in previous Champions Trophies, and with the likes of class batsman like David Warner and Steve Smith runs on the board shouldn’t be any problems. They also have a superb bowling unit including Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelewood and James Faulkner, this side looks to have the potential to go all the way.
New Zealand have never won an International Cricket tournament before, could this be when they break their duck.
The Kiwis have some very useful ODI bowlers who should perform well. Tim Southee and Trent Bould are more than useful seam bowlers who should get a fair number of wickets in the Tournament. Along with some more than useful batsman, the Kiwis could well be the dark horses of the tournament.
Sri Lanka are looking like a side who are struggling to cope with the loss of Kumar Sangakara and Mahela Jayawardene. They have bought in new arrivals in the past few months Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis, who will breathe new life into the Sri Lankans. They have some useful all-rounders, but an inexperienced batting line up may see them struggle.
Bangladesh are competing in their first ever Champions Trophy. Despite being the underdogs of the competition, and being drawn in a very tough group, they will go into the competition with nothing to lose. They will remember two years ago in the World Cup when they got themselves out of another tough group to qualify for the quarter-finals. This will certainly be an experience for their players to play in such a prestigious tournament, something they will all cherish.
COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION 1 AND 2 REVIEW
By Peter Moore as at March 2017
With the County Cricket season within touching distance, it’s that time again for Moore to open up his crystal ball and see how the season will pan out in the next few months.
With a new look to Division One this season- Just eight sides competing for the right to be crowned County Champions- Division Two consisting of ten teams- it makes out for some very competitive cricket coming up between April and September.
Let’s start by looking at the eight sides in Division One
After gaining promotion back to Division One, Essex will relish life being back at the top table. They will also be boosted with Alastair Cook being made available for all Essex matches until England’s test series against South Africa, which starts in early July. Essex will boost surely one of the division’s strongest batting line ups. With Cook, Nick Browne, the returning Varun Chopra, Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Dan Lawrence, Adam Wheater and Captain Ryan ten Doeschate, runs shouldn’t be a problem for the southern side. New Zealander left-armer Neil Wagner, who took 32 wickets for Lancashire last summer, has been signed as overseas player for the first half of the campaign, with Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir taking over after the Champions Trophy. The seam attack however will be missing the very experienced pairing of Graham Napier and David Masters. Essex have also signed former South African off-spinner Simon Harmer on a one-year Kolpak deal. Long term replacements for Napier and Masters will be shared by youngster Jamie Porter, who took 55 Championship Wickets last season and Matt Quinn, Matt Dixon, Paul Walter and the promising Aaron Beard. With the return of Chopra from Warwickshire and Wheater from Hampshire, the county should have enough to stay up. However, Essex will want to lose the unfortunate tag of being relegated immediately on their last three previous occasions they have been promoted.
The county can thank their lucky stars that they will be playing First Division cricket this season after initially being relegated. They were reprieved as a Division One side when the ECB chose to relegate Durham, due to their financial troubles.
Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw, two South Africans who chose to quit playing international cricket have joined the county as Kolpak registrations. Quick Bowler Abbott has signed a four-year deal with Rossouw joining on a three-year agreement. Australian batsman George Bailey will be the official overseas player for the county with former West Indies quick bowler Fidel Edwards signed on a Kolpak registration. Edwards was a big success for Hampshire in 2015 when he helped them stave off relegation. The county has also a new Head Coach in the shape of former England allrounder Craig White. Hampshire will be hoping that Reece Topley, who was dogged with injuries last campaign, will have recovered from shoulder surgery this winter, and will be fully fit for the start of the season.
On paper this Hampshire side shouldn’t struggle in the top flight which they did last season, and could be a surprise package this campaign.
Lancashire have recruited West Indies veteran Shiv Chanderpaul for their forthcoming campaign. The 43-year-old joins the Northern county on the back of three consecutive centuries for Guyana this winter. Dane Villas, former South African Test Wicketkeeper also joins the club. On the Coaching Side Glen Chapple will step up from player to new coach. 12 months ago, Lancashire made a strong start to the season sitting on top of the pile on the final week of May, before badly falling away, picking up just 80 points in 11 games to be sucked into a relegation battle. Jimmy Anderson will be able to play in the opening two Championship matches and one One Day Cup game for the Northerners. Lancashire have also made an astute overseas signing in the dependable Ryan McLaren. The club have also recruited another wicketkeeper in the shape of Dane Vilas. Despite on paper a side that looks promising, one fears it could be another survival fight for the County.
It only seems like yesterday when Toby Roland-Jones produced a hat-trick to claim Middlesex’s first Championship since 1973. The county will be under huge pressure to claim back to back Championships, but have the squad to go very close again. Adam Voges will return as overseas player for a fourth stint at Headquarters, with the advantage of having no Australian commitments. Voges will be available for all the Royal London One-Day Cup games, plus all but one Championship fixtures. Middlesex won the title last year with a regular absence of an official overseas player. James Franklin has now been promoted to the job of full-time Captain. The county will be looking once again to the runs of the outstanding Nick Gubbins, who last season hit 1,409 runs at an average of 61.26. Middlesex had four players on the recent England Lions tour to Sri lanka over the winter. Gubbins, Roland-Jones, Tom Helm and Ollie Rayner had good success in the sub-continent. England’s Steve Finn will be available for all matches before England face South Africa in July. Last season many people were saying that Middlesex wouldn’t maintain their position at the top end of the table, but they proved all doubters wrong, even remaining unbeaten in the Championship.
Somerset came within a whisker of lifting the County Championship in September, only to be denied by Middlesex on the last day. They were indebted to spinner Jack Leach last season. The off spinner claiming 65 Championship wickets at almost 22. The counties seam bowling is strong as well, led by the Overton twins Jamie and Craig. Lewis Gregory and Tim Groenawald are two other quick bowlers who will regularly chip in with wickets. On the batting front the west country side have added to their batting line up with the signing of former Surrey wicketkeeper batsman Steve Davies. Somerset have also recruited Dean Elgar as their overseas player to improve their batting this season. In the evergreen Marcus Trescothick- now in his 25th season- the opener will no doubt still keep piling on the runs, especially on the juicy batting tracks at Taunton. With experienced heads in the shape of Peter Trego (35) and James Hildreth(32) Somerset could well be once again challenging for the honour of County Champions.
When Surrey were promoted back to the top flight of English cricket last season, it took the county almost half a season to really get going. The club have made two significant signings for the forthcoming season. Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick from Durham will surely enhance a side containing some outstanding youngsters and experience heads. Both Stoneman and Borthwick have been proven performers in Division One cricket. Surrey suffered from a host of injuries to their pace attack last season, with Mark Footitt and Stuart Meaker suffering injury problems during the campaign. Two successes last season were the ever-improving Curran brothers. Tom and Sam picked up a hat full of wickets between them, and they will be looking to kick on once again this season. Once again Surrey will have the services of the prolific Kumar Sangakkara for the vast majority of the season. Expect Surrey to be around the top of the table come September.
A county that were expected to challenge for honours last season, failed miserably, eventually finishing in sixth place. It eventually cost Dougie Brown his job as Director of Cricket, with Ashley Giles replacing him at the helm. The main problem with the Midland outfit is that this is an ageing side. Ian Bell Captain, Jonathan Trott, Ian Westwood, Rikki Clarke, Tim Ambrose, Boyd Rankin, Chris Wright and Jeetan Patel are all well into their 30’s. One of the best performers for many a season in the Championship has been Patel. The New Zealander hasn’t missed a championship match in four seasons. During the winter, Warwickshire recruited Ollie Stone from second division side Northamptonshire. As regards this season, Could Warwickshire challenge for the title, simple answer is yes, but they have to be more consistent.
Yorkshire just missed out on a hat-trick of County Championships after losing to Middlesex on the final day of the season at Lords. Club Coach Jason Gillespie decided to end his five-year stint with the county, with Andrew Gale taking over as Coach. Gary Balance, once on England’s radar, should be available for the whole part of the season after falling behind in England’s pecking order. Once again, the ever-reliable Ryan Sidebottom will be turning his arm over, but has announced he will retire in September. Jack Brooks, was the leading seamer in Division One last summer, with Tim Bresnan having surgery on his elbow during the winter, he will return fresh and keen to take wickets. Yorkshire have stiffened their batting with the signing of Australian Peter Handscomb. The former Gloucestershire player will be available for the full season, and will certainly enhance a side that in the past have relied heavily on their seam attack to take 20 wickets to win matches. Expect the Yorkies to be the side that everybody will have to beat to win the title, especially with the availability of current England Captain Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow for the opening game of the season and Adil Rashid who is available for two Championship matches at the start of the season against Warwickshire and Hampshire.
Here is a look at the ten sides in Division Two
The County will once again be looking to improve on their lowly position of ninth, which they achieved last season. The County have made a few additional signings for the new campaign, bringing in former Surrey player Gary Wilson and former Lancashire player Luis Reece- who was released by the Northern side. Derbyshire were dealt a big blow around Christmas when Neil Broom was called up by New Zealand. Broom, playing on a British passport requested to be freed from the final year of his contract, which Derbyshire agreed to. The County pulled out of a deal to sign West Indies veteran Marlon Samuels, but have signed Daryn Smit, 33 year-old South African batsman on a Kolpak deal. South African fast bowler Hardus Viljoean has agreed to join the club on a three year deal. The major spin option will come from the two official overseas players, Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir. The county has also recruited Luis Reece from Lancashire. Despite adding to their squad, it looks like being another struggle for the County.
It will not be until their third Championship match of the season that Durham will be able to register their first point of the campaign. Their minus 48 point start for the championship- due to the county requiring a financial bale out from the ECB- will hamper their chances of going straight back up to the top flight of English cricket. Durham possess a seam attack which is envious of all other counties. In Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth they have one of the best new ball pairing around. Throw Mark Wood, Paul Coughlin and Brydon Carse into the mix and on paper Durham should easily take wickets. The County have recruited South African Stephen Cook and New Zealander Tom Latham as their two overseas players. Latham, is familiar with English conditions, having previously featured briefly for Kent last season. Under normal circumstances Durham would prove a real threat and would be favourites to bounce straight back up, but the 48 point penalty will hamper their chances for an automatic return.
The Welsh county will be without the services of Mark Wallace this season. Wallace, retired in the winter after 18 dedicated seasons with Glamorgan. A consistent run scorer and fine keeper, he will be badly missed by the county. Glamorgan will be hoping for a better return from their Captain Jacques Rudolph this season after a disappointing 2016 season where he scored just 659 runs at an average of 24.40. A major boost for the county will see a return to full fitness of Colin Ingram. A knee injury ruled him out of all championship cricket in 2016. The county will once again rely on the prolific Michael Hogan, the Australian with a British passport ended last season with 49 Championship wickets, but was outdone by Aussie raised Dutch man Timm van der Gugten who claimed the scalps of 56 victims. It looks like another season where the Welsh daffodil won’t be blooming much.
Led by the prolific Michael Klinger, who at the age of 36 made his Australian debut in a Twenty 20 international against Sri Lanka during the winter. Klinger, and his fellow Australians Cameron Bancroft and Andrew Tye enjoyed further success in the Big Bash series during the winter. All three players will be returning across the Seven Bridge. Phil Mustard, former England one-day international wicketkeeper/batsman has completed his move from Durham. He will replace Hamish Marshall, who announced his retirement having scored over 1,000 championship runs last season. Once again it looks like being a tough test for Gloucestershire, who on paper don’t have the quality to challenge for promotion.
Due to the reduction of Division One to eight counties, only one promotion place was available, and not the usual two. Kent can consider themselves very unfortunate not to be the side that were promoted instead of Essex. They could only pick up four points in their opening championship match of the season at Worcester due to a sodden outfield which caused an abandonment despite four days of glorious sunshine. The county also failed in their promotion claims being rejected by the ECB in the wake of Durham’s enforced relegation. A largely home grown side will start the season off with aspirations to gain promotion. Matt Walker, who played 16 seasons out of 19 for the county has been promoted to head coach after Jimmy Adams stepped down in October. The former South African fast bowler Allan Donald has been appointed as Walker’s assistant. Once again Kent will look to the excellent Sam Northeast, who amassed over 1,300 championship runs last campaign. Along with Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings, they should once again not struggle to score substantial runs.The evergreen Darren Stevens, who turns 41 in late April, will once again be spearheading the Kent all-rounder’s position. Stevens, scored 782 championship runs last season and picked up 37 wickets for his troubles. The county has recruited Will Gidman from Nottinghamshire following a successful loan spell at the end of last season. The county has yet still to announce who will be their overseas player for the forthcoming campaign. Expect Kent to be among the main challengers this season.
The county will be hoping to improve on last season’s seventh place finish, and have drafted in a new head coach in the shape of Pierre de Bruyn. The East Midlander’s have signed former South African Under 19 player Colin Ackermann. He will be playing on a Dutch passport, and is also considering representing Holland. Another South African, left armer Dieter Klein has joined permanently after coming through the county’s second eleven. Gavin Griffiths arrives at the club after his release from Lancashire, where he failed to make a first-class appearance. The club have also entered into the loan market by signing all- rounder James Burke from Surrey. Richard Jones has also agreed to join the club following a temporary switch from Warwickshire in 2016. The county will be led once again by Australian Mark Cosgrove- registered on a UK passport. The club will be looking to improve their dismal record of last season, with just two championship wins of last season.
Northamptonshire are one of only three counties never to have won the championship. The club also possess the smallest squad on the county circuit. With another low budget for the forthcoming season, it is hard to see Northamptonshire being among the challengers for promotion. They will look to the extremely talented Ben Duckett to continue his breath-taking start to his career. Former Lancashire player Nathan Buck has been recruited whilst Max Holden, Middlesex’s young batsman, has been brought in on loan. Buck, has been plagued by injuries, and was released with 12 months remaining on his contract.
Northants best hope of silverware this season looks to be in white ball cricket, where there has been a much improvement of their game in this format of the game.
Many people were amazed when Nottinghamshire were relegated from Division One. Most folk were saying how can a side that has been playing in the highest league in Cricket perform so badly last season. It’s a question that is very hard to answer, with the talented squad on paper that really should be performing, but clearly are not. They will be looking to bounce straight back, and are understandably firm favourites to do so. Peter Moores has been promoted to Head Coach and will continue to operate under director of cricket Mick Newell. On paper Notts bowling attack is the envy of most counties. At the start of the season they will have Stuart Broad, Harry Gurney, Luke Wood and Luke Fletcher as a quartet of fine seamers. Notts have recruited James Pattinson as their overseas player for the season. Billy Root, youngest brother of Joe, finished 2016 with an unbeaten half century on his only championship appearance and will looking to break into the first team.
Expect Nottinghamshire to make early running and last the distance. Surely come September they will be in contention for an instant return back to the top flight.
Sussex, who finished fourth last season and who have won seven county titles between 2003 and 2009 look to have a squad who will be challenging for a return back to the top flight of English cricket. The South coast side have signed South African paceman Vernon Philander for the opening six championship matches of the season. The club have recruited both Stiaan van Zyl and David Wiese on Kolpak deals. Van Zyl, a 29-year-old opener played 12 tests for South Africa. Laurie Evans has made the move from Warwickshire, and looks a very useful acquisition for the County.
Worcestershire who finished in fourth spot last season are another side that could be featuring at the top end of the table throughout the season. They have signed the excellent Australian all-rounder John Hastings as their overseas player for the season. Hastings, is well used to English conditions, having featured for Durham in the past. All-rounder Joe Leach has been appointed as Club Captain following Daryl Mitchell’s six seasons as skipper. Having had a good England Lions tour, expect big things from Joe Clarke. Having passed 1,000 Division Two runs last season, he closed the campaign with 194 against Derbyshire, his sixth hundred of the summer. A side that are always nearer the top end of the table than the bottom, will once again be featuring in a competitive Division Two.
2017 RBS Six Nations preview as at 28th January 2017
By Peter Moore
The 2017 RBS Six Nations takes place from February 4th to March 18, with England bidding to not only defend their title but also maintain their unbeaten winning run which now stands at 14 matches.
Eddie Jones side are now just four wins short of New Zealand’s world record for consecutive victories, and a second Grand Slam in the coming weeks would see them break the record with 19.
This seasons Six Nations will also see the introduction of a bonus-point system- used to great effect in the Aviva Premiership. England, will start as slight favourites, but Ireland are also very heavily fancied to run England very close after a very successful Autumn campaign.
Scotland and Ireland will get the Six Nations roadshow off and running, when both sides meet at Murrayfield on Saturday 4th February, with a 14:25 kick off. Two and a half hours later will see England commence their campaign at Twickenham with France the visitors.
How Will Eddie Jones superb unit do this campaign. Will Irish Eyes be smiling come March. Can the ever-improving Italian really flourish under Conor O’Shea. Will underdogs Scotland and Wales prove the experts wrong and maintain a big challenge. The answer to these and many more questions will be answered in the next few weeks.
Here’s a quick guide to all six sides:
The undisputed favourites for the Championship, England are the undoubted side to beat. Despite going into the start of the Six Nations with a massive injury list, England have a lot of strength in depth in all positions. England will kick off their campaign against the French at Headquarters. If they can beat the unreliable French, then you feel with winnable home games against Scotland and Italy, England will be in pole position to be crowned Champions. The potential stumbling block could be the last round of matches when England must travel to Dublin to face the Irish. Aside from this, England have the quality and strength in depth to warrant the favourites tag. They have been building under Eddie Jones after a Six Nations triumph last season, winning all five matches. The momentum from that Six Nations triumph has continued under Jones, but the big question is can England take the pressure of being favourites. Answer, I feel if they can beat France in the opening match then they will go on and lift the Six Nations.
A side that severely underachieved last year, Joe Schmidt will be looking for a much better campaign this year. He will go into the tournament with a side brimming with confidence after a very successful Autumn campaign, having defeated the Wallabies and New Zealand. The squad is one hundred per cent healthy going into this year’s tournament. The main talking point will be can Jonathan Sexton, their number one fly-half stay healthy? If he can then you cannot rule out the guys in green lifting the trophy. The Irish will have home games against France and England with trips to Scotland, Italy and Wales sandwiched in between.
Under temporarily Head Coach Rob Howley, Wales will go into the tournament on the back of some disappointing autumn international results. Australia demolished them in Cardiff and Japan ran them very close before the Welsh edged home. However, in their final match they pulled out all the stops to beat South Africa. If they can replicate that form, they could be a threat. But the big question is will they be consistent in all five games? Time will tell. Wales will host England and Ireland in Cardiff, whilst travelling Italy, Scotland and France.
The Scots will come into the tournament with confidence after winning an important game for the 2019 World Cup draw against Argentina. Vern Cotter’s unit have made steady progress in recent years, and on their day, can surprise sides. With backs like Finn Russell, Greg Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg, they have try scoring ability. What they need to do is play consistent rugby for 80 minutes. Scotland will open their campaign against Ireland, with Wales and Italy also visiting Murrayfield. The Scots must travel France and Twickenham to face England.
It is the age-old question on every rugby fans lips, what French side will turn up. Head Coach Guy Noves will be looking for a much improved Six Nations campaign than last term. The French finished fifth, with just a couple of victories to their name. For this seasons campaign the French travel to Twickenham to Face England before a home match against the Scots. They then face a daunting trip to Dublin to face Ireland before playing Italy in Rome. France finish their campaign with a home game against Wales in the final round of matches. Have France got a chance of lifting the crown this season, again it goes back to the familiar question, which French side will really turn up today. The one that looks a class side or the one that looks very average.
This is the Tournament where the whole rugby world will be looking to see just how far Italy have developed. Under former Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea. The Italians will be looking to improve on their miserable Six Nations Record. In 2015 they finally won a Six Nations game, against Scotland. Last season it was another wooden spoon for the Italians. Already under O’Shea, he has made this side a very competitive unit, having recently pulling off a sensational win against South Africa. Under the ever-reliable Sergio Parisse and O’Shea’s enthusiasm and belief, this could be the year when Italy start to make a name for themselves in the Six Nations. Opening their campaign in Rome against Wales and Ireland, before a trip to Twickenham, followed by the French coming to Rome with the Italians travelling to Murrayfield for their final match, could well see Italy springing a surprise or two.
So, there you have it. Will it be England or Ireland to lift the Trophy. Can Scotland and Wales pull out a surprise, or will the Italians no longer be the whipping boys of the Six Nations.
For me if England can get past the French in the opening game, remembering that England are usually slow starters, then I feel they have a great chance of winning the Six Nations. If not, then Ireland look the other obvious choice for glory.
AVIVA PREMIERSHIP RUGBY PREVIEW
By Peter Moore as at 1st September 2016
Tomorrow, the 2nd September will see the eagerly awaited kick off for another Aviva Premiership season. If last season’s tightly competitive campaign is anything to go by, then we are in for another season of thrilling games. Will Saracens retain their crown or how will the new boys Bristol fare? These and many more questions will all be answered between now and next May.
Here’s my guide to all 12 sides.
Under new Head Coach Todd Blackadder the West Country unit will be looking for a much better campaign than last season’s disappointing ninth palce effort. Bath have brought in Welsh Internationals Taulupe Faletau(NG Dragons) and Luke Charteris(Racing 92) to boost their side. Along with current England stars Anthony Watson, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph the Rec should once again be a difficult place to get results at. Bath have also signed Springbok flanker Francois Louw to their ranks this season, and on paper Bath have the squads to challenge for the top four. The West Country side open their campaign with a visit to Franklin Gardens before a spell of two potential winnable home games at the Rec against Newcastle and Worcester.
Welcome back to the big time Bristol. It’s been seven years since Bristol were in the top flight of English rugby, but all rugby fans will be so pleased to see them back where they belong. Under Head Coach Andy Robinson, they have opted for a less ambitious recruitment plan, relying mainly on the squad that secured promotion to the Premiership to keep them there. They will rely heavily on the experienced heads of Welsh duo Gavin Henson and lock Ian Evans. They key for their survival chances will rest on how they will perform at Ashton Gate under sell-out crowds. The home fans will relish local derbies against Exter and Gloucester. If they can maintain a good start to the season the momentum could well be enough to see them survive.
The Premiership runners up from last season have built a squad to be reckoned with. With home grown young English talent in the shape of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, blended with some fine imports, this side will go very close once again. The arrival of Ollie Devoto from near neighbours Bath should improve their back line. The Chiefs kick off their campaign with an opening set of three very hard fixtures. Wasps(a), Saracens(H) and Quins(H). Despite this opening start you feel that once again the Chiefs fans will be in full voice come May.
Gloucester will be looking to put the disappointment of last season behind them as they approach the new campaign. Despite having a mouth-watering pack which includes Two All Blacks at prop and lock, a Lions hooker and an England number 8 in Ben Morgan, they have struggled. They have been boosted by the excellent form shown by openside Matt Kvesic last season. For the current campaign Gloucester have added to their ranks with two Kiwi imports. Tighthead Josh Hohneck and hooker Motu matu’u. Under DIR David Humphreys it looks like being another season where Gloucester will struggle to reach the dizzy heights of a top four finish.
With John Kingston replacing the departed Conor O’Shea, Kingston has very big boots to fill, but will relish the challenges ahead of him. A new era at Quins also sees a new forwards coach in Graham Rowmntree. Nick Easter has hung up his boots to concentrate on a coaching role with the club. Quins, who this week announced the signing of Samoan International Alofa Alofa, have also added to their ranks with signings including Aaron Morris(Saracens), Ruaridh Jackson(Wasps), George Naoupu(Connacht) and Cameron Holenstein(Pau). For Quins to mount a serious top four challenge they need to compensate for the loss of a host of players due to the international break. This problem has faced Quins for a while, which so far they haven’t been able to overcome this. As always it will be up to the fringe players on the verge of selection who will have to fill their boots whilst the International players are away. If a fully fit Nick Evans can continue his impressive points record with the club alongside youngsters who would have developed by another season, then the change in coaching personnel could well see the South West London side surprise a few people. Quins open their campaign with the London Double header against Bristol before three trick fixtures with Sale and Exeter(a) and Saracens at home.
Despite the East Midlanders starting the season of slowly, come May a familiar face is always in the paly-offs, Leicester. Despite being well beaten in last season’s semi-finals of both the European Cup and Premiership, Leicester will once again be a major threat. Richard Cockerill has signed Wallaby play-maker Matt Toomua and Springbok JP Pietersen, along with former Sale flyer Tom Brady. Leicester will be boosted by the news that Tom Youngs returns as Captain after in jury, a massive key to their success. Expect Leicester to be in the frame once more.
With a summer of players in and out in the North East, with Newcastle making 14 ins and 17 outs, the question is will they be any better for this. A side that has always struggled in the Premiership, look like having another long hard season. They will once again have to rely on their Kingston park home being a fortress for points. The Falcons have made two interesting signings for the forthcoming season. Veriniki Goneva from Leicester and Evan Olmstead, a Canadian blindside/lock from London Scottish. The Flacons will be targeting the opening month of the season with crucial early season games against Sale, Bath. Leicester and Gloucester followed by two games against sides who they will be hoping to beat, Worcester and Bristol.
A side that struggled to make headway last season, has now been filled with the arrival of French No.8 Louis Picamoles. Saints, looking to improve on lkast seasons disappointments, have added scrum-half Nic Groom to their line-up. The Saints have also signed Argentine Olympic Sevens centre/wing Juan Pablo Estelles. Coupled with England internationals Dylan Hartley and Courtney Laws, surely the Saints will be their or there abouts come May.
Sharks will be looking to recover from losing four players of the ability of Vadim Cobilas, Tommy Taylor, Danny Cipriani and Tom Brady. Steve Diamond has signed tight-heads Kieran Longbottom(Saracens) and Halani Aulika(London Irish), alongside hooker Rob Webber who has joined from Bath alongside Laurence Pearce from Leicester. The impressive Josh Beaumont, who impressed last season, will need to keep his consistency going once again. Loosing Cipriani will be a massive blow for the Sharks, but Diamond has signed an adequate replacement in AJ McGinty from Connacht. Sale open with four of their first five games against opponents who finished below them last season.
The double winners from last season will once again be the side that everybody will have to beat for silverware. Saracens have invested in quality to their side for the forthcoming season with the signing of Springbok star Schalk Burger, filling the breach left by the retirement of his namesake Jacque Burger. Sarries have also added to the squad with Springbok tight-head Vincent Kock from the Stormers. Despite losing Charlie Hodgson to retirement, Sarries will look to youngster Alex Lozowski to fill those tired boots. The Champions have also added Fiji Olympic gold Medalist Savenaca Rawaka at Centre. Once again this squad will take some stopping.
Rumoured to be the biggest spenders in the League, with new signings Springbok full-back Willie Le Roux, Wallaby Kurtley Beale and Kyle Eastmond and Danny Cipriani already in place, Wasps will run Sarracens very close this season. Already looking very settled in their new home at the Ricoh Arena, Wasps look like a side that will be a big force in English Rugby for a while. They will start their campaign at home to Exeter with a trip to Leicester to follow before Bristol come to the Ricoh followed by a visit to Franklin Gardens. Expect wasps to be up challenging on all fronts this season.
With the departing Dean Ryan replaced by Carl Hogg, it looks like being another season where the Warriors will be in the lower regions of the league. Once again they will be looking to the brilliant scrum half Francois Hougaard to lead the line for the Warriors. Worcester added Ben Te’o(Leinster) and Alifoti Fa’osilva(Bath) to their line-up during the summer. With the outstanding Chris Pennell at full-back Worcester have another key player who will be pivotal for their chances of staying in the Premiership. Warriors need to get off to a good start with games against Sarries, Gloucester, Bath and Sale before Newcastle visit Sixways. If they can pick up points against the likes of Bristol and Newcastle, they should survive.
EURO 2016 PREVIEW
By Peter Moore 8th June 2016
When Friday 10th June finally arrives, 24 teams will all be setting off with the aim to reach the final of The European Championship 2016. The tournament in France will run for a month, with the final on Sunday 10th July. The current holders are Spain who were victorious in 2012 after beating Italy in the final held at Kiev 4-0, with the event held in Poland and the Ukrain.
So who are the sides to look out for, along with some who will surprise a few people. Here is a rundown of all 24 teams.
Albania secured an historic first-ever qualification for the finals of a major competition after producing fine wins against Armenia and Portugal. Few people gave them any hope to get out of a qualifying group which included Portugal and Denmark, after defeating Portugal 1-0 away in their opening game gave them a platform to build on. Drawn in Group A Albania will open their campaign in Lens where they will face Switzerland. They then have the daunting task of facing the hosts in Marseilles four days later before playing their final group match against Romania in Lyon. Coached by Italian Gianni De Biasi, the Albanians will be led by Captain Lorik Cana. The Kosova born Central Defender is a rock solid defender who is a born leader. The Albanian’s look to be the side that will finish bottom against other much more experienced sides in the group.
Austria qualified for the finals for the first time after topping the group ahead of Russia and Sweden. Austria included nine straight victories in qualifying, and are a side who could prove dangerous opponents. Austria will commence their campaign in Bordeaux on the 14th June when they will face Hungary before playing Portugal four days later. The Austrian’s finish their group matches against Iceland in Saint-Denis. Austria are a vastly improved side since former Swiss international midfielder Marcel Koller took charge of the side. Stoke City midfielder Marko Arnautovic is a player to watch along with Bayer Munich’s David Alaba, who is the brains in midfield. Austria have the potential to surprise a few people, and should get out of Group F.
The Red Devils, as Belgium are known, are currently ranked number two in the World by FIFA. Belguim booked their place in the finals after seali8ng top spot in their qualifying group. Belguim reached the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and are a side that on their day can be a match for anybody. Despite missing their defensive leader Vincent Kompany due to injury, Belguim can still boast quality players including Eden Hazard, Thiabaut Courtois, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruynen along with strikers Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Liverpool’s Divock Origi. Belguim kick of their group matches against Italy in Lyon on June 13th before entertaining the Republic of Ireland five days later before completing their group matches against Sweden in Nice. If Belguim can get out of a very tough Group E, they are a side that won’t fear anybody.
Croatia struggled in the qualifiers, but have qualified for five out of six Euro finals since the break up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. Croatia changed coaches during their campaign, and are now led by Coach Ante Cacic. Star man for Croatia has to be one of Europe’s outstanding midfield players, Luka Modric. The Champions League winner with Real Madrid will be a key player for the Croation’s. Forward, Ivan Perisic was Croatia’s leading scorer in the qualifying groups with six goals. Croatia open up their campaign against Turkey in Paris on the 12th June before a match against the Czech Republic five days later. They then finish their group games against the current holders Spain on the 21st June.
Despite being drawn in a difficult group which included Holland and Turkey, the Czech Republic qualified for Euro 2016. Coached by Pavel Vrba, who has been in charge since 2014, will look to Arsenal’s Peter Cech to continue with his outstanding form for Arsenal last season. Cech, who recently equaled Kavel Poborsky’s record of 118 caps, will be key to the Czech’s chances of progressing out of the group. The Czech Republic will looking to equal, and go one better than they did in 1996, when they finished runners up in the tournament.
The only team boasting a 100 per cent record in the qualifiers, England will travel to France full of confidence. Manager Roy Hodgson has turned to youth to lead England into Euro 2106. Hodgson may just have used his trump card by bringing in to the squad the very young but talented Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford. Striker Harry Kane, along with youngsters John Stones, Nathaniel Clyne, Eric Dier and Ross Barkley along with elder statesman Wayne Rooney give hope to any England fan, that this just might be our time to lift the trophy. England will open up their group matches against Russia in Marseilles on Saturday 11th June. Five days later England will face fierce rivals Wales in Lens with a final group match against Slovakia four days later. England should get out of the group stage, after that given a good draw they could well go a long way in the tournament. But remember we are talking England here. As a country we always anticipate that this is the time for England to win a trophy, after all it’s only been 50 years since that memorable 1966 final.
Although the hosts will have the added pressure of the nation expecting them to win Euro 2016, looking at the 23 man squad that Coach Didier Deschamps has chosen, the this French squad have plenty of talent at their disposal. Winners of the European Championships in 1984 and 2000 France quite rightly are firm favorites to lift the trophy. With a squad that boosts a world class goal keeper in Hugo Lloris, Defenders of the caliber of Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Midfielders Lassana Diarra along with Leicester City’s undoubted player of the season N’Golo Kante, West Ham’s Dimitri Payet and Juventus’s Paul Pogba they can boast some of the best midfield players in the world. Up front France are led by Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and the brilliant Anthony Martial of Manchester United, this squad has quality written from 1 to 11. Drawn in Group A alongside Romania, Albania and Switzerland, expect France to be there or there abouts when it comes to the Final on July 10th.
Winners in 1972, 1980 and 1996, along with a semi-final place in 2012, the current World Cup holders are a side that has to be taken very seriously. Joachim Low’s side will be one of the favorites to lift the trophy in July. Germany qualified as winners of their group and have been drawn in Group C alongside Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland. Bastian Scweinsteiger has been appointed as Captain, with Marcus Reus returning back after missing the World Cup through injury, the squad oozes class. Star Man Thomas Muller will lead the attack along with quality forwards including Mario Gomez, and Dortmund’s Marco Reus, scoring goals won’t be a problem. Boasting Manuel Neur, quiet possibly the best goalkeeper in the world. Along with quality defenders in the shape of Jerome Boateng and Matts Hummels backed up with the excellent Toni Kroos and Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, nobody will fancy playing the Germans.
Hungary have qualified for their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup. The Hungarian’s qualified for the finals by beating Norway in the play-offs. Hungary, changed their coach no less than three times during the course of the qualifying campaign. Most of the squad play in their domestic league, with only five players playing outside of Eastern Europe. Hungary will kick of their campaign on June 14th against Austria before entertaining Iceland on the 18th with Portugal being their final group opposition. With Portugal the clear favorites to win the group, Hungary will be looking to get out of the group as the second placed side.
Iceland became the smallest nation ever to qualify for the finals of the European Championships, after drawing with Kazakhstan in September. They are fancied to be the whipping boys in Group F alongside favorites to win the group Portugal, Hungary and well fancied Austria. Iceland will rely heavily on their most prolific player and top scorer in qualifying Gylfi Sigurdsson. Realistically Iceland will do well to avoid finishing bottom of the group.
Ital won seven games and drew three in qualifying for the Euros, but didn’t look particularly impressive. However, The Italians finished runners up behind Spain in 2012. Relying mainly on their defence, the Italian possess Goalkeeper, Captain and national record cap-holder Gianluigi Buffon. Age 38 the Juventus stopper will be key to Italy’s chances of success in Euro 2016. Italy have been drawn in Group E alongside Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. A tough group which may see the Italians miss out.
Northern Ireland qualified for their first Euros, and their first tournament finals since the 1986 World Cup. Michael O’Neill has put together a hard working squad who don’t know when they are beaten. With key players including skipper Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty, they are the type of side who will be a match for any side. Drawn in Group C alongside Poland, Ukraine and Germany, the Irish could spring a surprise or two.
With the outstanding Robert Lewandowski leading their attack the Poles are a dangerous outfit. Having failed to reach any finals before 2008, they were co-hosts in 2012 but failed to get out of the group stage. They finished second behind Germany in their qualifying group, Pioland have to be respected.
Under new boss Fernando Santo, Portugal reeled off a record seven consecutive competitive victories. In a group that looks comfortable to get out of, with star players in the shape of Nani, Eder and one of the world’s greatest footballers, Christiano Ronaldo, Portugal could be one of the dark horses of the tournament. For Portugal to go a very long way in the Euros, then Ronaldo has to fire in all games, many a time in big games he goes missing. In Euro 2016 he simply can’t.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Hard work and fantastic team spirit have taken the Republic of Ireland to the finals in France. The Republic of Ireland qualified for France after beating Bosnia- Herzwgovina in the play-offs, Under Martin O’Neill’s astute management, the Irish will give 100 per cent in every game. Boasting their record scorer and cap-holder Robbie Keane and Shane Long, they have experienced heads. Drawn in Group E alongside Belguim, Italy and Sweden the Irish eyes may well be smiling into the next round of Euro 2016.
A very defensive minded unit, Romania will compete in their first finals since 2008. They had the best defensive record in qualifying, conceding just twice. However, goals are their problem, hitting the net just 11 times. With France, Switzerland and Albania in their Group, Romania will do well to get out of the group stage.
The 2018 World Cup hosts almost missed out on Euro 2016, but thanks to new Coach Leonid Slutsky, who replaced Fabio Caapello midway through the qualifiers, they booked their flight to France. Drawn alongside England, Wales and Slovakia in Group B Russia are a side not to be taken lightly.
Slovakia are preparing for their first Euro finals. They finished a commendable second behind Spain in their group. Another side that will be difficult opponents to play against. If they can get out of the group, they are many peoples tips to be one of the dark horses of the tournament.
The current holders, will be looking to make it three consecutive European Championships. After a disastrous World Cup campaign in Brazil, Coach Vicente Del Bosque introduced smome new faces to the squad. One not so new face will hold the key to Spain making it for a tjhird time running. Andres Iniesta, surely the greatest midfield player in the world. Throw in the likes of David De Gea, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Koke, David Silva and Diego Costa, this squad oozes class in every department. They join the Czech Republic, Turkey and Croatia in Group D. Spain are sure to be there or there about come the final on July 10th.
The Swedes enter Euro 2016 drawn alongside the Republic Of Ireland, Italy and Belgium. One man holds the key to Sweden progressing. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, certain to be joining Manchester United soon. The PSG forward is one of Europe’s leading players, and will have to be marked very carefully. Sweden will fancy their chances to get out of a tough group.
The Swiss qualified for the Euro finals after finishing second in their group behind England. The Swiss also have one of the younger squads competing in France. Drawn in Group A alongside France, Romania and Albania, they will fancy their chances of getting out of the group and progressing further into the competition.
The Turks squeezed through to Euro 2016 as the best placed third- placed team. Turkey have been drawn in Group D along with Croatia, Spain and the Czech Republic. On paper it looks like being a close fight to see who joins Spain in the next round. Turkey could well be in the mix.
Ukraine booked their passage to France after beating Slovenia in the play-offs. Drawn in Group C, Ukraine will be up against Germany, Northern Ireland and Poland. Ukraine are another side that may struggle to get out of the group.
Four years on from the death of their Manager Gary Speed, Wales have qualified for their first major tournament since 1958. Led by the Worlds most expensive player at 85 million Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid player was Wales top scorer in qualifying with seven goals. Wales will be looking to get out of the group alongside England, but will face tough competition from the other two sides in the group Slovakia and Russia.
So there we have the insight into all the teams taking part. The next question is who will win Euro 2016. I will stick my neck out and say that France look the side to beat. They have on paper the best squad in the tournament. Expectations level will be very high for the hosts; will they be able to handle the pressure. I certainly think they will. Other sides who look likely to go well are Germany and Spain. Expect good showings from Portugal, Belgium, Croatia and Austria.
COUNTY CRICKET PREVIEW DIVISION’s ONE and TWO
By Peter Moore
With the brand new Cricket season almost upon us, it is that time of the year to look into Moore’s crystal ball and see what the forthcoming months might hold for the counties in Division One and Two.
A county that for the past couple of seasons have been plagued by injuries to key players, will be looking for a clean bill of health throughout the season to mount a realistic charge for the title. Despite being decimated by injuries, the North East unit finished a respectable fourth in last season’s campaign. Spearheaded by Chris Rushworth, who picked up 83 victims, once again he will be key to their chances this season. The County won’t be helped by the news that their popular overseas Australian John Hastings will miss a large chunk of the season due to his early IPL commitments, and his left shoulder, which will require surgery or a rest, will mean he could well miss the entire season. Expectations level will once again be high for Durham, but look a side on paper that aren’t quite good enough to win the Championship.
A side who looked at once stage favorites to be relegated from Division One, survived the season to just avoid relegation and finish in a lowly seventh spot, will be looking to kick on this season. James Vince has been handed the Captains reigns in place of Jimmy Adams. Vince, who had a successful stint as One Day Captain will be looking to improve the counties four day performances. Vince, who turned down the chance of the IPL auction, will be looking to new acquisition Reece Topley to spearhead their opening attack. The County lost Danny Briggs to Sussex along with Joe Gatting. Hampshire will be looking to the experienced heads of Michael Carberry and Sean Ervine to help push their encouraging youngsters, amongst which is the very promising leg-spinner Mason Crane, who is very much on the England radar. Under Coach Dale Benkenstein, the County will be looking to improve their seventh place performance of last season.
The Red Rose County returned back to the top flight of English Cricket after finishing runners up to Surrey in Division Two. Ashley Giles, in his first season in charge couldn’t have wished for a better start for the former Warwickshire spinner. Lancashire will have to face this season with the loss of key bowlers Kyle Hogg along with the semi-retirement of the 42-year-old Glen Chapple will leave a big gap in the county’s seam attack. Steven Croft has been handed the Captaincy in place of Tom Smith, who is still recovering from major back surgery. The retirement of Ashwell Prince- who plundered no less than 1,478 Division Two runs last season- will leave a big gap in the batting line up for the county. Lancashire will be boosted with the news that England International Jimmy Anderson will be available to play in the opening three Championship rounds, joining fellow seamers Neil Wagner and Kyle Jarvis. Lancashire may well struggle with the bat this season in the top flight, heavily relying on Kolpack capture Alviro Petersen.
Middlesex will go into their campaign with three Captains in charge. Australian test batsman Adam Voges and overseas signing will lead the side in the four-day format of the game with James Franklin taking over for the Royal London One Day Cup competition and Dawid Malan in charge of the NatWest T20 Blast campaign. Middlesex finished runners up to Yorkshire in 2015. After such a bright start to the campaign they fell away towards the later part of the season- exactly as they did 12 months previously. Once again Middlesex will rely on their excellent seam attack which has been boosted with the signing of James Fuller from Gloucestershire. The evergreen Malan, who had an excellent England Lions campaign with the bat, should have another promising season. Coupled with Ravi Patel, who will be looking to push on this season and Toby Roland-Jones, a reliable source for taking wickets, Middlesex once again should be in the mix, as long as they can continue to keep the winning habit throughout the Championship campaign.
Nottinghamshire are a side that have been consistent in Championship cricket for a few seasons. Last season they finished third to Yorkshire, after their poor start to the season- they were in a relegation fight in June at the bottom of the table- the county turned to Peter Moores to assist Mike Newell, and their fortunes improved immensely. The late charge from Notts saw them finish the campaign in fine fettle. Moores has signed a two-year deal with the County, which looks very good business. Homegrown bowlers Jake Ball and Luke Wood impressed last season, and can only get better this campaign. Despite losing Peter Siddle for a month in the second half of the season when Australia tour Sri Lanka, they county may well be able to call on the services of fellow Australian Dan Christian. Stuart Broad may well be available for the opening exchanges in the Championship. Despite Captain Chris Read suffering a bicep injury, he looks like he will be able to start the season when the County open their campaign against Hampshire.
The West Country side will commence the 2016 season with a new Captain in charge of the four-day team. Australian International batsman Chris Rogers will skipper the side in the red ball format of the game, replacing the ever reliable 40 year-old Marcus Trescothick. Jim Allenby will Captain the side in one-day cricket, and for six NatWest Blast T20 matches the county will have the services of Mr Entertainer himself Chris Gayle. Roelef van der Merwe has joined the county. The former South African has been signed on a Dutch passport.The county can also boost young English talent in the form of the Overton twins, Jamie and Craig, Tom Abell and Jack Leach. During the winter the County felt the need for a clear out, releasing five players including Alfonso Thomas, George Dockrell and Craig Meschede. The county was also hit badly last season with the premature retirement of wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter. Lats season Somerset drifted around the lower reaches of the table towards the end of the season, and will be looking to improve their sixth finish in the last campaign.
After securing the Division Two title last season, Surrey are back in the top flight under a new Coach. Michael Di Venuto has taken over from Graham Ford, who has returned back to Coach Sri Lanka again. Di Venuto has signed for the county on a three-year deal. Surrey have secured the services of Mark Footitt from Derbyshire. The Curran brothers proved to be a massive hit with the fans last season, and will both look to kick on from last season’s campaign. Sam, will be fully available by June, after he has finished his A Levels. It will be interesting to see how the talented 18-year-old will adapt to First Division cricket. With the likes of Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Ben Foakes and Kumar Sangakkara as overseas player, runs shouldn’t be a problem. The ever improving spinner Zafar Ansari will look to another successful season with both ball and bat. If the ever growing youngsters who performed well for the county last season can adjust to life in the top flight, Surrey could well be the surprise packet of the Division.
The Tykes will be aiming for a third successive County Championship title after back to back wins. Deservedly the bookmakers favorites will take a lot of beating this season.The biggest challenge for Yorkshire could be how many players will they lose to England duties. With Gary Ballance, Adam Lyth and Liam Plunkett on the fringes of the England set up, they will need to look to other players to be pushed into first team action. Yorkshire will begin their campaign without an overseas player, until Kayne Williamson returns in June with Travis Head joining up later in the season. All rounder David Willey has joined the Tykes from Northamptonshire, the all rounder should turn out to be an excellent additiuon to a very strong team. Along with the seam attack that can boast Jack Brooks, Tim Bresnan, Ryan Sidebottom and Steven Patterson, the side are the envy of everybody in the Division, and look to have the quality to once again be knocking on the door.
If there is one side who could halt the Yorkshire express, then on paper this season that honor could well fall to Warwickshire. They look the side that could run Yorkshire very close. Under new Captain Ian Bell, who has taken over from Varun Chopra, along with the likes of Jonathan Trott and the experienced and one of the best overseas player on the circuit in Jeetan Patel, Warwickshire will be a hard side to beat. In all rounders Rikki Clarke and Chris Woakes runs and wickets are guaranteed. The seam attack of Chris Wright and Keith Barker along with the outstanding 20 year old batsman Sam Hain, who has a habit of converting fifties into hundreds, the this side shouldn’t be out of the top two.
COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION TWO
Derbyshire will look to their campaign without the services of Mark Fotitt, who has moved on to Surrey. The left-armer picked up 76 victims last season for the county. Replacing him looks a problem for the side. Derbyshire have added to their squad with the signings of Andy Carter from Nottinghamshire and Tom Milnes from Warwickshire. Hamish Rutherford returns after a short stint last season along with fellow Otago team mate Neil Broom, who qualifies with a UK passport. It was a disappointing campaign by Derbyshire last season as they finished eighth. Coach Graeme Welch will be looking for a much better improvement all round this season.
It’s all change at fortress Chelmsford as Chris Silverwood has succeeded Paul Grayson as Coach. Ryan Ten Doeschate has taken over from James Foster as club captain. Ravi Bopara will act as one-day captain. Anthony McGrath joins as assistant coach with former Essex player Ronnie Irani returning as cricket chairman. Essex will be aiming to get out of Division Two for the first time since 2010. Constantly underachieving, the county once again just missed out on promotion for the second year running by finishing third. Reece Topley, Mark Pettini, Monty Panesar and Greg Smith have all departed from Chelmsford, with the county recruiting Matthew Quinn, a quick bowler from New Zealand with a UK passport. The ever reliable Jesse Ryder will return as their overseas player for a full season, which will please all Essex fans. Tom Westley, who had a superb season in 2015 is named as vice-captain to both Ten Doeschate and Bopara, and will look to maintain his fine form from the last campaign. In order to mount a serious challenge for promotion the Essex need to be more consistent. Having opened up with a victory they have struggled to claim further victories during the campaign, coming with a late run of victories at the back end of the season and narrowly missing out on going up.
Former player Robert Croft is now in overall control at Glamorgan. Replacing Toby Radford, who was in charge for two seasons. Croft will look to improve Glamorgan’s position of fourth in 2015. In truth Glamorgan over achieved last season, mainly due to the runs of Captain Jacques Rudolph and wickets of Australian seamer Michael Hogan. The county will be boosted by the news of Craig Meschede’s acceptance of a three-year contract after a successful loan spell with the club last season. The county has also signed young fast bowlers Timm Van Der Gugten and Harry Podmore on a two-month loan from Middlesex. Along with Hogan, Glamorgan will turn to the evergreen Graham Wagg for a bulk of the wickets. After a successful campaign in 2015 the expectation levels will be very high in the Welsh valleys.
Despite finishing sixth in last season’s Division Two, Gloucestershire did claim silverware in the form of the Royal London Cup final after beating Surrey in last season’s final at Lords. A new coaching team is at the helm at Bristol with Ian Cockbain and Ian Harvey in control. Chris Liddle has joined from Sussex after James Fuller’s decision to join Middlesex. Geraint Jones has now retired and Cameron Herring has been released. For Gloucester to be more consistent they will look to Australian Michael Klinger to claim more scalps with the ball.
Kent had a disappointing 2015, eventually finishing a lowly seventh. The county has taken the opportunity to sign the very encouraging South African quick bowler Kagiso Rabada. The 20 year-old will join Kent for a short six-week spell in mid-season. Last season the county decided not to go with an overseas player, which in the long run turned out to be a bad mistake. For runs Kent will look to the impressive Sam Northeast and the experienced Rob Key. Matt Hunn. The tall 22 year-old who made such an impression last season could well have another good season, but overall the county need to improve a great deal to be challenging.
Following two seasons without a single County Championship win, Leicestershire picked up two victories last season against Essex and Derbyshire. Despite these two wins the County still struggled, finishing rock bottom. The county has appointed Andrew McDonald for the forthcoming season. Leicestershire have added to their squad with the experienced signings of three 30 plus guys. Paul Horton, Mark Pettini and Neil Dexter have been brought in for their general experience and to help a young squad. Mark Cosgrove will Captain the side, with Pettini skippering the side in the white ball format of the game. Clint McKay has been named as vice-captain for the side. Young batsman Aadil Ali- who scored three half-centuries in September could well be a name to look out for in the future, but overall Leicestershire’s aim for the season will be to try and finish as high as possible and get back to the dizzy heights of 1998, the last season the county won the County Championship.
Rather surprisingly Northamptonshire struggled in Division Two last season, eventually finishing fifth. They are still trying to shake of the image as being a very good Twenty20 side- They have visited Twenty20 Finals day twice in three seasons. The county is going to have to start the forthcoming season without the services of David Willey, who has made the move to the reigning Division One Champions Yorkshire. Without Willey, Northamptonshire will once again look to Rory Kleinveldt- who took 57 wickets last season, to come up trumps again. Ben Duckett, who has already had highlighted troubles of the field- will look to continue his excellent form with the bat which he produced towards the back end of the season.
Sussex will be looking to bounce straight back into Division One, after being relegated last season, and finishing a very disappointed eighth in Division One. The locals at Hove will be hoping that James Anmyon, who was sidelined throughout the season with injury, will be able to add his experience to a seam attack that will be reliant on the outstanding Steve Magoffin, who is now UK qualified. Ajmal Shahzad should also have another fine season for the South coast outfit, after missing a bulk of last season due to injury. The signing of former Hampshire spinner Danny Briggs looks an interesting signing on paper as well. Luke Taylor will skipper the side in all formats of the game, whilst the county has announced Ross Taylor as an overseas player. Sussex look to a have a very well balance side who stand a great chance of bouncing straight back to Division One.
Despite finishing bottom of Division One, Worcestershire will be one of the favorites to bounce straight back up, although they still have to shake of the tag of being a county that go up from Division Two but immediately come straight back down again. With Steve Rhodes in charge, no less than seven players under the age of 25 signed long term contracts last September. Joe Clarke and Tome Fell- who were outstanding in Division One last season- now have to produce that kind of form in Division Two. With the ball Joe Leach, who snared 59 wickets last season in the top flight, should produce another fine season along with the reliable Jack Shantry. Worcestershire have recruited well for the overseas player positions, with fast bowler Matt Henry signed for the opening part of the season with Kyle Abbott replacing him in June. Abbott has already reveled in English conditions before, with Hampshire. With these acquisitions Worcestershire look the side to beat.
ICC WORLD TWENTY 20 PREVIEW
By Peter Moore as at 5th March 2016
The ICC World Twenty 20 will be held in India starting on the 8th March and running through to the 3rd April. The tournament will be staged across eight venues across India. The games will be staged at Bengaluru, Chennai, Dharmsala, Kolkata, Mohali, Mumbai, Nagpur and New Delhi. The semi finals will be hosted at New Delhi and Mumbai with the final at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. There have been five different winners of the tournament, India, Pakistan, England, West Indies and Sri lanka. In the last World Twenty 20 final Sri Lanka defeated India by six wickets in Bangladesh.
The first round of matches will commence on 8th March until the 13th with Dharamsala and Nagpur the venues. In Group A, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Ireland and debutant Oman will feature, whilst Group B will consist of Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, with the group winners joining Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and India in the Super 10 stage of the competition.
Defending champions Sri Lanka are in Super 10 group 1 alongside South Africa, West Indies, England and the winner of Group B. Hosts India, who won the inaugural tournament in South Africa in 2007, are in Group 2 along with 2009 winners Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and the winner of Group A. The top two from each group will battle it out in the semi finals.
Below is a look at the main teams in the tournament
Sri Lanka, the current holders of the tournament, have been boosted by the news that experienced fast bowler has returned from injury and will lead the attack. The selectors have also recalled left arm spinner Rangana Herath. The current Test and One Day International skipper Angelo Mathews has been named in the squad as well. Sri Lanka will open the defence of their title with a game against a qualifier before taking on the West Indies, England and South Africa.
South Africa will go into the tournament on the back of a run of five consecutive victories against England. They had to come from 2-0 behind in the ODI’s to win 3-2 before completing a 2-0 success in the Two Twenty 20 games. The prolific wicket taker Dale Steyn is named in the 15 man squad by South Africa, although his inclusion is subject to him being passed fit. If he is ruled out the Springboks can call upon Kagiso Rabada, who has been a huge success in the recent series against England. Along with the likes of Hashim Amla, AB Devilliers and the impressive Quinton De Kock, the South Africans batting looks very strong. On paper they have a good balanced side who should go very well.
The West Indies, who won this event in 2012, have named Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Darren Sammy along with Marlon Samuels in their squad. Under Captain Jason Holder, who captained the side in the last World Cup. The Windies will open their campaign against England before facing Sri Lanka and South Africa and finishing their group against a qualifier.
England coach Trevor Bayliss named uncapped all-rounder Liam Dawson in their squad for the World Twenty 20. The Hampshire all -rounder was a surprise selection, which will be led by Eoin Morgan. England will look to get back to winning ways after suffering a recent ODI and Twenty 20 loss to South Africa. England will be hoping that batsman Alex Hales will continue his excellent one-day form of 2016 alongside the powerful hitting of Jos Buttler. England will kick off their campaign against the West Indies before facing South Africa, qualifier and finishing with Sri Lanka.
India will start as favorites in a very open tournament. They will be helped by home advantage and conditions that will favour their attack. India have a fine record in this event having won it in 2007 and runners up in Bangladesh in 2014. The side will be led by the experienced MS Dhoni alongside Virat Kholi, who is in terrific form at the moment. They will also look to key players Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and Suresh Rania. India will start their group campaign against New Zealand in Nagpur.
The Pakistan Cricket Board have called up opener Sharjeel Khan and fast bowler Mohammad Sami in for the injured Babar Azam and Ruman Raees. Pakistan have also named batsman Khalid Latif in their squad. The batsman has already hit 190 runs in eight PSL games so far. The Pakistanis will be led by the experienced Shahid Afridi alongside a regular for the side in the shape of Shoaib Malik.
Australia have named Steve Smith as Captain, replacing Aaron Finch for their World Twenty 20 campaign. The Aussies have also named Peter Nevill, Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa in their 15-man line up. They can also call upon all-rounder Glenn Maxwell along with a fine bowling attack and excellent all round side. For the past few months Australia have excelled in all forms of the game, and will go very close in this tournament.
New Zealand, who look to be the dark horses of the tournament, have announced a 15 man squad which includes three spinners. Due to the conditions in India the Black Caps have selected off spinner Nathan McCullum, left-armer all-rounder Mitchell Santner and leg spinner Ish Sodhi. Under Kane Williamson, the kiwis will look to Tim Southee to lead their bowling attack alongside Trent Boult. New Zealand will open up their campaign against the hosts India in Nagpur.
So, after 26 days which side will be likely to lift the Trophy. India, who are outstanding in Twenty 20 cricket at the moment, and are having a magnificent Asia Cup, understandably are firm favorites. Personally, I think they will take a lot of beating and would be my tip to win the event. South Africa and Australia I feel will have a wonderful tournament, and could well be in the shake up come April. Either way this should be a wonderful event to watch, and will be interested to see how the so called minnows will perform on the grand stage.
SIX NATIONS 2016 PREVIEW
By Peter Moore 2nd February 2016
The eagerly awaited and much anticipated Six Nations is only days away, and for the first time in a while it looks a very evenly balanced Championship. Looking at the six teams involved, you could make a case for virtually all of them, bar the Italians. So here we go then with Moore’s look ahead to a fascinating few weeks of rugby action that lies ahead.
France have the honor of kicking off the Six Nations this Saturday, when they welcome Italy to Paris in the afternoon. The fiercely though Calcutta Cup between Scotland and England at Murrayfield will kick off at 4.50, with Ireland and Wales locking horns in Dublin on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm.
So let’s take a look at the Six sides involved, hoping to be crowned Six Nations Champions.
After the disappointment of the Rugby World Cup, the RFU took the decision to relieve Stuart Lancaster of his duties and appoint Eddie Jones in charge. Jones, who had done wonders with the Japanese national side, will be under immense pressure to deliver a Six Nations Championship. England, have been close to winning the Six Nations in the past few seasons, and will be looking to improve on their runners up position from last year. As you would expect when a new man is in charge he has to make bold decisions. Jones’s first task was to strip Chris Robshaw of the captaincy and name Northampton’s Dylan Hartley as Skipper. A bold and brave move that most people would agree, taking into account Hartley’s poor disciplinary record in the past. Nobody can doubt Hartley’s talent, but how will he react under pressure, only time will tell if this has proved to be a master stroke from Jones. This may also make Hartley a better player, knowing the responsibility that he now has. After the poor showing in the World Cup it was evident that the forwards needed a complete overhaul, having said that Jones has decided against this. Apart from the excellent Harlequins back-rower Jack Clifford and Saints Paul Hill, every one of the forwards in the 23 named squad for the Calcutta Cup opener were regulars in the Lancaster era. The backline can threaten teams, which was proved in last season’s tournament as they proved by finishing as top try scorers. England will be looking to get off to the perfect start with victory in Murrayfield, before travelling to Rome to face Italy. England welcome the Irish to Twickenham on Saturday 27th February, with Wales visiting Twickers two weeks later, before England travel to Paris on the final round of matches, hoping they are in with a shout of glory.
The Welsh will be looking to put the disappointment of narrowly missing out on winning last seasons crown by a whisker, firmly behind them. Suffering an opening night defeat to England left the Welsh playing catch up. Despite handing out a 61-20 thrashing to the Italians it proved all in vain. They will start their campaign with a tricky encounter against Ireland in Dublin, but do have the advantage of three home games at the Millennium Stadium against Scotland, France and Italy. Sandwiched in between those games they have to visit Twickenham to face England. Wales on paper have the biggest, most experienced and most settled side in the tournament. Wales also have the best stat of all sides in the tournament, they have recorded Slams in both the previous Six Nations, following a World Cup. With Sam Warburton skippering the side along with the experienced Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies as a centre partnership along with Fly- Half Dan Biggar who was superb in the World Cup, Wales look the side to beat.
Looking to win the tournament for the third year running Ireland will start of their campaign with a home game against Wales. The Irish then travel across the sea to Paris before facing England at Twickenham. They will complete their campaign with home games against the Italians and Scotland. The Irish will be looking to start on the front foot after a World Cup which was affected by injuries to key players. Coach Joe Schmidt has already made a big call by naming Rory Best as Captain, succeeding the departure of Paul O’Connell. The Irish line out and scrum l0ooks very promising, along with key players in the shape of Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip they will prove a threat. Key to their chances will be the opening game against the Welsh, Win and you feel the Irish will be a threat.
Just how many times have we used the saying “ It just depends on which French side turn up”. A disappointing Six Nations in 2015, with just two victories backed up that point. This campaign will see the French in the strong position of three games in Paris. Italy, Ireland and England will travel to the French capital, knowing that playing France in their own back yard is always difficult. New coach Guy Noves will be looking to improve on a poor Six Nations record, three fourth places and the dreaded wooden spoon in 2013. Noves, has installed Toulon Hooker Guilhem Guirado as the new Captain. With Sebastien Bezy, Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard expected to shine in the tournament, this could be the year the French reign at the top of the pile.
The ever improving Scots could well be in the mix for this seasons tournament. Scotland will look to put behind them the disappointment of last seasons campaign which resulted in them not winning a single game, and a deserved wooden spoon. On the back of a successful World Cup- losing narrowly to Australia in the Quarter-Final- Coach Vern Cotter has molded together a hard working side that are becoming increasingly difficult to beat. The Scots will be looking to win the Calcutta Cup for the 43rd time in the history of the Cup. Their last victory against England goes back to 2008, when they defeated the old enemy 15-9. The Scots will be looking to Scrum-Half Greig Laidlaw along with the promising Saracens Centre Duncan Taylor and ball winner Blair Cowan to put in key performances during the tournament. If the Scots can beat England in the Calcutta Cup, then this current team will give any side a run for their money.
The battle of the wooden spoon in last seasons tournament was a straight fight between the Scots and the Italians. The Italians did at least avoid bottom spot after defeating Scotland 22-19 at Murrayfield. This will be the last time that current Coach Jacques Brunel will take charge of the national side. Already Harlequins Current Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea has been linked with the job, with an announcement of the new coach due in April. Brunel will be keen to improve on the Italians record in the tournament, they currently hold the undistinguished record of most wooden spoons- 10. They will be boosted by their current Captain Sergio Parisse who admitted that he had thought about retiring from international rugby at the age of 32. The Italain Captain missed the opening two games of the World Cup due to injury. The number 8 will be a key player in the Italians chanes of avoiding bottom spot.
Overall this years Six Nations looks the most open for a long time. Italy aside, there are cases for England, Wales, Ireland, France and Scotland. I just have a hunch that it will be Wales who will lift the Six nations ahead of England.
COUNTY CRICKET REVIEW FOR THE FORTHCOMING 2015 SEASON
By Peter Moore 31st March
With the eagerly awaited County Cricket Championship season barely two weeks away, it is time for me to cast my crystal ball and take a look at each side’s chances for the five months ahead.
After the successful 2013 season, the North east county were always going to struggle to replicate that feat last season. Due to a succession of injuries, mainly to their seam attack, this hit the club hard. The club did have some silverware last campaign, after winning the One Day Royal London Cup. This season it will be the ever reliable Paul Collingwood’s 20th season in first-class cricket. Graham Onions will be looking for an injury free season after back problems side-lined him for a large part of last season. Once again Durham will be looking to their pace attack to pick up twenty wickets, led by Onions and Chris Rushworth. The county could well be hit by the loss of Ben Stokes to England. After finishing fifth in last season’s championship, I feel that once again Durham won’t be challenging again this term.
Having gained deserved promotion after winning Division Two last season, staying in Division One will be their main priority this term. Senior players Michael Carberry, Jimmy Adams, Sean Ervine and James Tomlinson will be the key to them remaining in the top flight. The County have made an interesting move by signing the Australian fast bowler Jackson Bird. Just yesterday the county announced the signing of West Indian quick bowler Fidel Edwards for the second half of the season, as a Kolpack player. The county have gone for further experience in the shape of new signings Gareth Berg from Middlesex and Andre Adams, who will always take a bucket load of wickets, and is more than a useful batsman.
If only the county championship season lasted around three months, then Middlesex would be a major contender. In the past they have always got out of the blocks very quickly, but faded away at the back end of the season. This was so true of last season, after giving their fans hope of winning the county championship, in the end they narrowly avoided relegation. The loss of Aussie Chris Rogers will be a massive hole for the county to fill. They have signed fellow Australian Adam Voges, but his participation may be in doubt as earlier today he was called up into the Australian Test Squad to play test against the West Indies in June and a certain Ashes here, starting in July. The county welcome back Nick Compton, returning from Somerset, alongside James Frankilin, who has signed on an Irish passport. Once again Middlesex will be turning to Steve Finn, if surplus to England’s requirements.
The county were in a strong position to capture the title last season, but their inability to bowl sides out twice cost them dearly. The county have recruited Will Gidman from Gloucestershire. The overseas pair of Vernon Philander and Ben Hilfenhaus should take wickets, especially in the helpful conditions of Trent Bridge. Overall, the loss of Adams will hurt them, but they are a side that should be up their challenging come September.
The county have been hit hard by Craig Kieswetter’s serious eye injury. The county signed Jim Allenby from Glamorgan in the winter, and have announced Pakistan Test spinner Abdur Rehman as their main overseas signing. The county will no doubt be relying on Marcus Trescothick at the top of the order for big runs. The Overton twins in the shape of Craig and Jamie look set for promising careers down in the West Country also.
A good finish for Sussex last season, certainly bodes well for the new campaign. The county have signed the very fast, but erratic Tymal Mills from Essex and fellow fast bowler Ajmal Shahzad from Nottinghamshire. With a pace attack of Chris Jordan, James Anyon and Steve Magoffin, a much underrated cricketer, then taking wickets won’t be a problem. Expect them to once again be knocking on the door.
Could this be the year that Warwickshire get their hands on the title?. Last season was an impressive season for the Bears, finishing in the top two of every competition. Once again they will be looking to the outstanding overseas talent that is New Zealander Jeetan Patel. They will be hampered by the loss of Ian Bell and possibly Jonathan Trott to England duties, but this well balanced side could go all the way.
Finishing runners up to Hampshire in Divison Two last time, meant that it was another return to the top flight for the county once again. Normally when they have been promoted, they return straight back down again. Can they stay in the division this season?. They will be looking to Daryl Mitchell for big runs alongside new signing Alex Gidman. They were indebted to Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal for promotion last season. He claimed 63 wickets in only nine appearnces, which went a long way to winning games for them. They will be hoping that he will return this season, over wise you have to fear for them staying in the division.
Deserved Champions from 2014, will they make it back to back champions, well in one simple answer I would say Yes. They were the outstanding side last campaign, and despite the likelihood of losing some players to England, they have a huge amount of strength in depth to reclaim the crown. Their strength remains once again in the bowling department. It will take a very good side to finish above them this season, and wrestle away their crown.
COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION TWO
My tip to finish in the top two this season. Came with a storming run last season, winning five of their last six games. A very youthful side led by the excellent Wayne Madsen. They have recruited well by snapping up Shiv Thakor from Leicestershire. Their seam attack headed by Tony Palladino and Mark Footitt should take plenty of wickets, to maintain that momentum from last season. Much of the continuing rise of Derbyshire can be put down to their Coach Graeme Welch, who looks to have really galvanised this group of players in to believing they can win games.
Will it be more heartbreak for Essex once again, after narrowly missing out on promotion for the last couple of seasons? Always a side on paper that looks capable of getting out of Division Two, but still are stuck in the lower league of cricket. The County are always slow starters, before timing a late run at the end of the season. Much to their chances of success this season will rest with the returning Jesse Ryder, a revolution in both bat and ball for Essex last season. In Monty Panesar, they have a bowler who given the right conditions will win games for them. The ever reliable James Foster with the bat and David Masters, guaranteed for at least 50 wickets a season will spearhead the counties hope for a return back to the top flight.
The county have brought in former Kent wicketkeeper Geraint Jones as their new skipper. Jones will take charge of a side who have lost both Gidman brothers, but have retained the services of Australian opener Michael Klinger. It would appear another season of Gloucestershire developing, but unlikely to challenge for promotion.
A high profile appointment from the Welsh county was made in the winter with the signing of Jacques Rudolph as Captain. Jim Allenby’s loss to Somerset is a big hole to fill, but the county have signed Colin Ingram as a kolpak signing.Once again they will look to the experienced seamer Michael Hogan for the bulk of the wickets. Expect Glamorgan not to be pushing for promotion.
Captain Rob key will lead a Kent side this season looking to improve on their 6th place finish of last season. Youngsters Sam Billings, Adam Riley and Daniel Bell Drummond will be looking to take of where they finished last season. The returning Matt Coles is a useful addition, as is the signing of Joe Denly from Middlesex. Certainly Kent have a chance to be in the shakeup come September.
Despite getting relegated from Division One last season, under new Coach Ashley Giles this unit has the potential to go straight back up to the top tier. The County have signed Nathan Buck and George Edwards in the winter. Ashwell Prine has gone back on his original decision to retire, and is now joined by Alviro Petersen, who is classed as a Kolpack player. Should have too much class not to go straight back up.
It’s been an incredible two years without a championship victory for Leicestershire, and looking at their squad for the forthcoming campaign, don’t expect them to gain too many wins this season. The squad is much the same as per the last campaign, and there are no growing signs that things are about to get better for the Midlanders.
Big underperformers from last season, Surrey will looking for a big improvement this season as one of the favourites to gain promotion. After a host of big name overseas signings have proved to be disappointing, this campaign the county have turned to Sri Lankan Kumar Sagakkara. Surrey have made to good signings on paper, bringing in former Essex wicketkeeper Ben Foakes and Hampshire bowler David Balcome. The county will be boosted by the news that they have signed the services of a certain Kevin Pietersen for the forthcoming campaign. Graham Ford and his troops will be expected to deliver this season, after many disappointing seasons.
After a very disappointing time in Division One last term- finishing rock bottom, the county have made big changes for the new season. Alex Wakely, returns after missing all of last season. The county have also named David Willey as vice-captain. The returning Richard Levi on a Kolpack deal along with the recruitment of Leicetsershire’s Josh Cobb, should see the county not struggle in the Division.
So far what it is worth, here are my predictions for the summer ahead.
Divison One: Yorkshire to regain their title
Division two: Lancashire to finish top with Derbyshire surprising a few people and gaining promotion.
Enjoy the summer
ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2015 PREVIEW
By Peter Moore
The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup will be the 11th World Cup. The Tournament will be hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand. The event will run from the 14th February until the 29th March 2015.
Australia will be looking to win their fifth World Cup, after relinquishing their hold of the trophy to India back in 2011. The Indian’s won the event in favourable conditions back in 2011, and with conditions expected to favour the hosts, Australia look the side to beat.
Here is my take on the tournament, with a look at the sides in each group.
England go into the tournament with expectations of success quiet low. Having said that, they come into the tournament beginning to show signs of a side that are progressing under Captain Eoin Morgan. In the current tri series tournament featuring Australia and India, England have put in some very encouraging performances, most notably Ian Bell, who looks an entirely different player when opening. In a tough group, if England can start off with a couple of victories, then the momentum should see them through to the quarter final stage.
The joint hosts look the side to beat. With Steve Smith in wonderful form coming into the tournament and batsman of the like of Michael Clarke, George Bailey, David Warner, all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, along with a seam attack that oozes class including Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, they will be the side that everybody will fear.
Given the conditions that you feel would not suit a sub-continent country, then the Sri Lankans may struggle to get into the quarter finals. They will look to the experience of batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene to get big runs on the board. Their seam attack may struggle to take wickets, and as always they will look to their spin department to try and take wickets on pitches that shouldn’t favour spin.
Having home advantage should certainly help the Kiwis, who are always a dangerous side in World Cups. The outstanding Brendon McCullum will captain this very useful side. McCullum is in a purple patch of form at the moment, and is a very dangerous batsman, once he starts teeing off. He scores runs at a very quick rate, and can easily win a game on his own. Along with batsman Kayne Williamson and all rounders Nathan McCullum and the ever green Daniel Vettori, along with the pace attack of Kyle Mills and the outstanding Tim Southee, then New Zealand are my dark horse for this tournament.
The three other teams to complete the group are Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland. With the likely four to qualify for the quarter finals, Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
In potentially a much easier group, South Africa would be expected to top the table and progress to the quarter final stage. Another outstanding one day side, they have the run machine in Hashim Amla, along with another batsman who on his day can make batting look so simple, along with a very quick run getter, A B De Villiers, who doubles up as Captain and wicket- keeper. Their pace attack on paper looks very threatening, with the likes of Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and the experienced Dale Steyn guaranteed to pick up wickets. South Africa have the potential to go all the way in this competition, as long as they can shake of their tag of chokers.
Winners back in 2011, the Indian batting attack has the look of the side that will get plenty of runs on the board, and will always chase down a total. Their big problem remains in the bowling department. Batsman of the ilk of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and the brilliant Rohit Sharma, will be very entertaining to watch. Their seam attack will once more be headed by Ishant Sharma. They should be good enough to get out of the group and a chance of getting into the semis.
The Pakistan side in any World Cup can be so unpredictable. They are a team that you can never rule out, and if they can get into the semis then the World Cup could be theirs. Captained by batsman Misbah-Ul-Haq, along with a very young seam attack including the likes of Junaid Khan and Ehsan Adil, along with spinner Yasir Shah, will be competitive in the tournament.
Not for the first time, the West Indies go into this World Cup with problems off and on field. They will be led by a very inexperienced Captain in 23 year-old Jason Holder. They will have to look to the experience of Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy to score runs, along with Kemar Roach, Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn to take wickets. You can never rule out the Windies, but in a difficult group, they should qualify for the quarter finals.
Zimbabwe, Ireland and United Arab Emirates will join the other four sides in Group B.
I expect to see South Africa, India, Pakistan and the West Indies to make it through to the quarters.
Overall, it should be a fascinating tournament. Expect the odd upset along the way, but for what it’s worth I feel Australia will win the World Cup, with South Africa going close and New Zealand my dark horse.
NHL STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
On Wednesday the Los Angeles Kings will host the New York Rangers in game one of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings reached the Final after beating the reigning Stanley Cup holders the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, while the Rangers got to the final after defeating the Montreal Canadians in the Eastern Conference Final.
These sides haven’t met in the Stanley Cup play-offs since the Rangers 3-1 series win in the best of five series back in 1981. In their two meetings in the regular season both sides won a game each. New York Rangers won in Los Angeles 3-1, while the Kings got their revenge with a 1-0 victory at Madison Square Gardens.
This best of seven games final could well be settled by the performance of both net minders. For the New York Rangers the experienced Henrik Lundqvist will start between the pipes, with 28 year old Jonathan Quick starting for the Kings. Both net minders have had an outstanding season for their side.
The Kings will look to forward Marian Gaborik, who leads all players in goals for the play-offs. He also spent almost five seasons with the Rangers. For New York Brian Boyle has been with the Rangers for the past five seasons, having acquired him at the 2009 NHL Draft.
The Los Angeles Kings will start the final as favourites, having been in the Final twice in the past three seasons. The Rangers have won the Cup four times in their history, but the last time they were in the final was back in 1994, when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks.
I’ve a feeling this is going to be a very well contested Final, and I am going to take the Los Angeles Kings to win the coveted Trophy.
WORLD CUP PREVIEW BRAZIL 2014
After a four year wait, the time has come once again for 32 teams to battle for the highest accolade in World Football, the World Cup.
The host Nation Brazil will open up the carnival on Thursday 12th June against Croatia. Just over four weeks later we will find out whether the host national will be lifting the trophy, the current holders Spain could they win back to back world cups, or will we see a new name engraved on the famous trophy.
Let’s take a look at the Teams and their groups.
Winners no less than five times, the last being in 2002, there will be added pressure on the entertainers of South America as the host nation, but under Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari they will understandably be favourites. With key players of the likes of Captain Thiago Silva, Luiz Gustavo, Oscar, Hulk, Fred and Barcelona’s Neymar, they will be the side to beat. They will also have the advantage of being used to the conditions in Brazil.
Having qualified for the Finals after beating Iceland 2-0 on aggregate in the play-offs, Under Coach Nico Kovac they will be looking to improve on their highest ever World Cup finish of third place in 1998. Key players to look out for are Captian Dario Srna, Luka Modric and young midfielder Mateo Kovacic.
This will be Mexico’s fifteenth appearance in the finals, having reached the quarter finals in 1970 and 1986. Under Miguel Herrera they will revel in the hot conditions. Midfielder Hector Herrera, Stricker Oribe Peralta, Giovani Dos Santos and Rafael Marquez are players to look out for.
Qualified for the finals by beating Tunisia in the African Play-Offs, Cameroon have graced the World Cup Finals seven times. Their best finish has been quarter finalists in 1990. Volker Finke is the coach of the African side. Players to look out for are Captain and striker Samuel Eto’o, Alex Song, Benjamin Moukanjo and Jean Makoun.
Under Coach Vincete Del Bosque, Spain go into this tournament as not only the current holders, but a side that are in a rich vein of form having also won the European Championships in 2012. This will be their 15th appearance in the finals, and with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, along with the outstanding Andres Iniesta along with Ces Fabregas and Diego Costa, this European side you feel will go very close once again.
Having been runners up in 1974, 1978 and 2010, could the Dutch under new Manchester United Manager Louis Van Gaal go one better this time around. Thjey will be looking to the experience heads of Rafael Van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie to help get out of what could be a tricky group.
Having qualified by finishing in third place in the South American section, Chile go into the finals having a best world cup finish of third place in 1962. They will look to key players Marcelo Diaz, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to improve on this record. They do however have a group of players who have been together since the 2007 World Youth Cup.
This will be the Socceroos fifth appearance in the World Cup Finals. They qualified for Rio by finishing in second place in the Asian Group B. They have a new Captain leading the line who is Mile Jedinak, and will also have the experienced Tim Cahill available.
With five appearances in the World Cup Finals, the first being in 1962, the South American outfit have a good chance of going quiet far in the tournament. Players to look out for are Striker Radamel Falcao, Juan Quintero and James Rodriguez. They had the best away record in the South American qualifiers, and boost an abundance of attacking talent.
This will be Greece’s fourth appearance in the finals. They qualified for Brazil by beating Romania in the play-offs. Key Players to look out for are Striker Kostas Mitroglou, Jose Holebas, Kostas Manolas and the experienced Giorgos Samaras. They will come into the tournament with a squad that are more attacking mind than previous Greek sides.
Having never ventured further than the first round, it will take a big effort this time round for the Ivory Coast to beat that record. They come into the tournament having beaten Senegal in the African play-offs. With Captian Didier Drogba and reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure along with Salomon Kalou and former Arsenal man Gervinho available for Coach Sabri Lamouchi, he will look towards these experienced players to cause an upset in the tournament.
Having reached Rio by finishing up the top of Asian qualifying group B, the Japanese will be entering their sixth finals. Players to watch out for are Midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinju Okazaki. They performed well at the 2013 Confederations Cup, and could well advance to the Second round in Rio.
This will be Uruguay’s 13th appearance in the tournament. The first going back as far as 1930, the year they won the event. They had to wait a further twenty years for more success. They go into this tournament having won a play-off against Jordan. But with the reliant Luis Suarez and fellow striker Edinson Cavani, you can expect goals.
Costa Rica will be involved in their fifth World Cup Finals, having qualified in second place in the CONCACAF section. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto will be looking towards key players Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Keeper Keylor Navas to help to try and get them out of a very tough group.
Having won the World Cup in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 the Italians have been drawn in what most people are calling the group of death. They go into the event having put in a fine performance to finish third in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Manager Cesare Prandelli will look to Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo, Keeper and Captain Gianluigi Buffon and the very eccentric striker Mario Balotelli along with winger Alessio Cerci, who has been in outstanding form in Seria A this season.
Roy Hodgson has gone with a very inexperienced side, but for the first time in a very long time, low expectations. The squad containing few experienced players aside from Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, consists of young, keen and eager youngsters of the like of Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain, Luke Shaw,Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley. Having qualified by winning European Group H, England start their campaign in this tough group against Italy.
Having reached the Quarter Finals three times, the Swiss will be looking to get to the next level as they take part in their 11th World Cup. Having reached the finals by winning European Group B, they will be looking to key players Xherdan Shaqiri, Gokhan Inler and Pajtim Kasami to perform well.
Having been victorious just once in World Cup history 1988, The French will be hoping that this may be their time again. Manager Didier Deschamps has put together a side that can finally concentrate on their football after all the problems in the past. With the experienced Franck Ribery, keeper Hugo Lloris, striker Karim Benzema along with Loic Remey and the excellent talent of Paul Pogba, if the right French side turn up, then they could go a very long way.
This will be Ecuador’s fourth appearance in the World Cup. They qualified for Rio by finishing fourth in the South American qualifiers. Players who are worth watching include Antonio Valencia, Jefferson Montero and Enner Valencia.
Having qualified for Rio by finishing in third place in the CONCACAF section, Honduras are rank outsiders for the tournament. Players to look out for include Defender Maynor Figeuroa, Carlo Costly and Jonathan Meija.
Winners of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1978 and 1986, with conditions in their favour Argentina could figure very highly in Rio. Having qualified by winning the South American section, they will look to the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi to really turn on the style. They will also be looking to Angel Di Maria along with Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain to get the goals to win games. They boost a strong attacking line up that will scare defences in the tournament. They will understandably be one of the top three sides to win the tournament.
BOZNIA & HERZEGOVINA
This will be their first appearance in a World Cup. They qualified by winning European Group G. They will look to the goals of Edin Dzeko along with midfielder Miralem Pjanic. They scored a hat full of goals in the qualifiers.
This will be Iran’s fourth appearance in the Finals. They qualified for Rio by winning the Asian Group A. They look to be a side that are very defensive minded, and will struggle in this group.
The Super Eagles go into their fourth World Cup Finals having beaten Ethiopia in the African play-offs. They will look towards John Obi Mikel, winger Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses to help them qualify for the second round.
This will be the Germans 17th appearance in the World Cup Finals, having won the tournament three times. Manager Low has again picked a more than useful squad that could go all the way. With Mesut Ozil performing in a national shirt the way that he can, along with the excellent Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller along with veteran Miroslav Klose, then Germany will be a tough side to beat.
This will be Portugal’s sixth appearance in the finals. Having qualified by finishing second in European Group B and beating Sweden in the play-offs. The key player to watch just has to be Ronaldo, despite doubts that he doesn’t perform on the big stage. On his day he will cause defenders a massive headache trying to contain him. The Portuguese can also look to Pepe and William Carvalho to perform well in Rio.
Having finished third in the last World Cup in 2010, Ghana will be looking to push for a semi-final spot. They come to Rio having qualified by beating Egypt in the African play-offs. Michael Essien will be the man to watch, along with Kevin Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan.
The Americans come into their 10th World Cup Finals with Manager Jurgen Klinsmann looking towards the experience of Landon Donovan and Captain Clint Dempsey to help them progress to the second round. They do have the advantage of two very good keepers in Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.
Having qualified for Rio in fine style by winning European Group A, Belgium are many peoples dark horses in the tournament. Coach Marc Wilmots has put together a young side with quality in all departments. Captain Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne. Keeper Thibaut Courtois has been in outstanding form for Atletico Madrid. If Belgium can get through the group stages and avoid the big three, then thjis excellent side could go a very long way in this tournament.
Having beaten Burkina Fasi in the African play-offs to qualify, this will Algeria’s fourth appearance in the World Cup Finals. Look out for Tottenahm youngster Nabil Bentaleb, who should have a good tournament.
Having qualified by winning Europen Group F, Fabio Capello brings his side to Rio hoping to progress to the next stage of the competition. Key players to look out for include Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, Sergey Ignashevich and Alexander Kokorin.
This will be the ninth time that South Korea have appeared in the World Cup Finals. Their best achievement is fourth in 2002. Key players to watch are Koo Ja-Cheol, Kim Young- Gwon and Son Heung- min
So there are all the 32 teams. It is going to be a fascinating month of football. As regards the winner, all I will say is here are my four teams that I feel will do well.
Brazil- Germany- Spain and Belguim
KOOL AM'S JACOB HUTCHINSON AND PETER MOORE WILL BE BLOGGING FROM TIME TO TIME ABOUT SPORTING MATTERS.
ICC WORLD TWENTY 20 TOURNAMENT in BANGLADESH
The ICC World Twenty 20 began on Sunday in Bangladesh, with the West Indies hoping to reproduce the form that saw them crowned champions two years ago.
The eight main test playing nations are split into two groups, with two qualifiers from either Zimbabwe, Ireland, UAE, Holland, Afghanistan, Nepal, Hong Kong or Bangladesh joining the elite ten teams in the final stages of the competition.
In Group 1 Australia are joined by India, Pakistan and the West Indies along with a qualifier. In Group Two England are grouped with New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka along with another qualifier.
Let’s take a look at the teams in Group One
Australia go into this tournament as one of the favourites, after completing impressive wins over both England and South Africa recently. Hosting a very impressive batting line up with the likes of David Warner, along with powerful hitters in the shape of Cameron White, Gerge Bailey, Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson, they have the power to score big runs quickly. Along with key bowlers Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc and Doug Bollinger, they could have enough in their locker to win the tournament for the first time ever.
Winners of the inaugural World Twenty 20, India recently had a poor Asia Cup with close losses to both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In MS Dhoni they have a player who is a more than useful batsman, wicket keeper and Captain. They also have a fine array of spinners in the form of Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, who should excel in these type of conditions.
Pakistan are a team that have a good record in this tournament. They recently qualified for the final of the Asia Cup, but were outplayed by Sri Lanka in the final. They have some classy spinners who are proven game winners, led by the outstanding Saeed Ajmal. This team on their day can win this tournament, even though they are not one of the fancied teams to do so.
The pressure will be very much on thw Windies, as the current holders. Without the injured Kieron Pollard the West Indies are going to miss an outstanding all-rounder. They will no doubt look to Chris Gayle as their main power hitter to get them off to a flyer in all games. They do go into this tournament on the back of a fine series win over England.
England have at least had the honour of winning this tournament in 2010, but all signs so far don’t suggest a repeat of this. They will be without the injured all-rounder Ben Stokes who recently fractured his hand. They also are vulnerable against spin, and don’t process a genuine quality spin bowler. They also have to qualify from a very tough group. One player who may well shine for England is Ravi Bopara, who has recently looked back to his best with his batting and bowling, which is very much under used.
The Kiwis could well be this year’s dark horses for this tournament. Led by the outstanding Brendan McCullum and more than useful Kayne Williamson, Tim Southee and Ross Taylor, all sides need to beware of the Black Cats as they are more than likely to spring a surprise or two.
Despite an abundance of talented players in all departments, South Africa come into this tournament having suffered defeat to Australia. They also have a terrible record in this tournament, having made it out of the Super Eight stage just once. Despite this poor record, this may well be the year for South Africa. Their batting is very strong with the likes of Hashim Amla, AB Devilliers and JP Duminy who should score plenty of runs. Backed up with a fine pace attack of Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnell and Albie and Morne Morkel, they will prove tough opponents for anybody.
Hot of the back of the Asia Cup where they were crowned champions, Sri Lanka will be amongst the favourites for this year’s event. They are a magnificent fielding side, who have some wonderful mystery spinners along with the ever reliable Lasith Malinga. Kumar Sangakkara will lead the batting in his usual positive manner. Runners up in the last two competitions, the Sri Lankans are fancied to go one better this time around.
Overall, it should be a fascinating competition, with a host of fancied sides who could lift the trophy. It will also be interesting to see how the so called minnow nations perform under the pressure of the tournament.
SIX NATIONS PREVIEW
Well it’s that time of the year when England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy pit their wits against each other for the coveted title of Six Nations Champions and possible Triple Crown winners also.
Let’s take a look at the six countries, and their chances.
Coached by Stuart Lancaster, who was appointed in 2012 until the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, He has guided England to runners up in 2012 and 2013, can they go one better this year. Captained by a born leader in Chris Robshaw, they have strong claims for the title. The key players to watch out for are Mike Brown and Joe launchberry. Brown, who is having a wonderful season with Quins at full -back and Launchberry at Lock with Wasps are two fine players to keep an eye on.
England have the advantage of playing both Wales and Ireland at Twickenham, but have a tough opening start to the campaign when they take on the French in Paris.
The Welsh, who will looking for a hat trick of Six Nations victories, have the big advantage of playing three of their five matches at Cardiff. They play Scotland, France and Italy at home and travel to Dublin to play the Irish and the key game will be when they play England at Twickenham.
Captained by Sam Warburton, the Welsh look to have the player in the tournament George North, who has been in scintillating form for the Northampton Saints this season.
When Ireland recently appointed New Zealander Joe Schmidt, eye brows were raised amongst the Irish public about the appointment, so there will be a lot of pressure on the Irish to perform. Captained by the ever reliable Paul O’Connell, the Munster second row legend has already notched up an impressive 88 caps for the men in green, and the Irish will be looking towards him as a key leader. They begin the tournament with successive home games against Scotland and the Welsh. But their biggest test will be when they travel to face England at Twickenham.
As always with the French, the burning question is what French side will turn up for this tournament. The French will be looking to improve on their performance from last season’s Six Nations, when they finished with the wooden spoon. France start their campaign with an opening match against England and a visit from the Italians.
Captained by Saracens back-row Kelly Brown, the Scots will go into the tournament with the belief that they can improve on last season’s third place. They do however face daunting trips to Ireland, Italy and Wales.
The Italians, captained by experienced Number 8 Sergio Parisse, will look to build on an impressive 2013 campaign where they beat both France and Ireland and ran England close. This season they face two opening away trips to Cardiff and France, and if they start off with the likelihood of two defeats, that would almost certainly rule them out of the title.
So it’s time to make my prediction, for what it is worth. I generally feel the Six Nations will be between Wales and England. If England can open their account with a win in Paris, they will be strong contenders. I believe that they can do this, but the crunch match will be when the English face the Welsh at Twickenham.
Overall I will stick my neck out and predict that Wales will win the Six Nations, on the basis that they have three winnable home games, and have a star in George North.
Peter Moore's thoughts on the Ashes debacle
When England set out to Australia in November, It was the visitors who were slight favourites to win the Ashes. Surely nobody could have expected a 5-0 white wash.
Before everybody starts jumping on the let’s get rid of Flower, Cook and Gooch bandwagon, let’s take a look at some harsh facts.
Cast your mind back to the last couple of tests last summer against the Aussies, and you will find that Australia were beginning to look like a side who would improve. To be fair to the Aussies they made a massive change by appointing Darren Lehmann as coach. Anybody in Cricket knew that this would make a huge difference to the Aussies, and it has proved with a completely looking Australian side to the one that toured in England last summer.
The Australians have deserved to win back the Ashes from England. It is obvious that Lehmann and the backroom staff have done their homework on the English batsman, and have found plenty of weaknesses. Also the return of Mitchell Johnson has made a massive difference to the Aussies. Why wasn’t this man picked to play in English conditions is beyond me. Massive mistake by Australia.
The facts are simple, Australia outplayed and outthought an English side, which were lacking in confidence. So were did England go wrong. Here is where I feel England lost the Ashes:
Overall I felt the bowling wasn’t too bad, it was England’s batting that let them down. Take a look at the stats. Highest run scorer for England KP with 294, followed by Carberry with 281 runs in the series. Compare that with David Warner’s 523, Brad Haddin’s 493, Chris Rogers 463 and 300 plus runs from Clarke, Smith and Watson, says it all. Even with bowling stats, Australia come out on top. Johnson 37 wickets and Harris 22 lead the way. Another point which I feel Australia have improved on immensely is their fielding, how many chances did they drop, hardly anything. England’s fielding at times was very lazy.
England could argue that the loss of Jonathan Trott with a stress related illness, and the shock timing of the very experienced Grahame Swann didn’t help, but overall even with those two key players would it have made any difference to the result.
On a plus point for England, I feel that Michael Carberry has done well as an opener. It is always difficult as an opening batsman in Australian conditions, but overall I feel he adapted well. Certainly the main plus point for the tourists was Ben Stokes, who has excelled under pressure. It may be in a very short time that England will be looking for the likes of Stokes, Borthwick and Bairstow to start pushing for places.
Finally, I don’t go along with a high percentage of people that it is time to start a thorough clear out of players and coaches. Up until this Ashes Series England were ranked very high, you don’t become a bad team overnight. Yes, there are a few ageing players, eventually they will no doubt retire, which will give a chance for some younger players to be given a chance, but you can’t just blood all youngsters without some experienced heads.
To me the likes of Andy Flower and Alistair Cook should stay. England will regroup and I am sure become stronger after this embarrassing loss. My big worry for England, is who do you replace Graham Swann with. Personally, I don’t feel that Monty should be our number 1 spinner. The job of finding a replacement spinner will be hard, as Swann will be a huge miss both on and off the field.
Peter Moore takes a look back at the county cricket season.
With the end of the current domestic cricket season, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at the past few months, and see who were the winners and losers of the season.
Surely the team of the year has to be Durham, deserved winners of Division One. The team from the North East secured the Championship with a late run of victories. They won a total of ten matches during the season. Captained by Paul Collingwood, and containing not one overseas player and an abundance of local talent, their seam attack was the best in the division. With Graham Onions leading the way with 70 Championship wickets, he was superbly backed up by Sunderland born Chris Rushworth who took 54 wickets. Onions must feel desperately disappointed that he is constantly being overlooked by England.
It wasn’t just the strength of the Durham seamers that won them the title, they can look back on a very good season from both Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman, who both posted over 1,000 Championship runs for the season.
Aside from Durham, players that have impressed me during the season include Tim Murtagh of Middlesex who took 60 championship wickets at an average of 20.40, and Wayne Madsen who topped 1,000 championship runs in his first season in the top division, despit the relegation of Derbyshire.
In the Second Division, surely the team of the season has to be Northamptonshire, who a season ago looked like a side who were going nowhere. This season has seen the Midlanders look a completely different unit in all forms of the game. They finished runners up to Lancashire, but with a group of players from a very small county, they deserved their reward of promotion.
Players who impressed me in Divison Two include the ever reliable Alan Richardson of Worcestershire, who took 69 wickets this season, Mooen Ali, who I personally have rated for many seasons. This campaign has been his best by far which has seen him score 1,375 runs at an average of 62. Graham Napier of Essex has also had his best season for the county taking 48 championship wickets along with scoring 796 runs.
Finally, biggest disappointment of the season falls to Surrey who brought in big signings of the like of Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting and Hashim Amla all to no avail as the club were relegated with just one win all season. Surrey’s main problem was they often fielded five over 35’s at the expense of some promising youngsters including Dominic Sibley who scored a double century in their final game of the season against Yorkshire.
Peter Moore takes a look ahead to the forthcoming NHL season.
After a lockout-shortened season in 2013, NHL fans can start looking forward to a full schedule of 82 games starting on Tuesday 1st October.
I thought that I would run through the Divisions in each Conference, and for what it is worth pick out four teams that should do well. I’ve picked out two sides from each Conference.
The teams are divided into four Divisions, Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The Eastern Conference containing both Atlantic and Metropolitan which consists of eight teams in each division, while the Western Conference which has the Central and Pacific divisions contain seven teams in each.
In the Eastern Conference I’ve a fancy that both New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators will feature well. The Rangers, have installed Alain Vigneault as head coach. The Rangers have a nice mix of youngsters and veterans, including the outstanding Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
Despite losing Daniel Alfredsson the Ottawa Senators could surprise a lot of people this season. They have added a promising forward to their roster this season in the shape of Bobby Ryan. The Sens look a good solid team, and perhaps this could be their year.
In the Western Division once again you have to feel that the Chicago Blackhawks will be there or thereabouts. Last seasons deserved Stanley Cup Champions will be looking to lift the trophy for the third time in the last three years. Coach Joel Quenneville has moulded a young side who play a fast style of hockey, mixed with a solid defence. With Captain Jonathan Toews, Netminders Nikolia Khabibulin and Corey Crawford along with Brandon Saad they will once again be the team to beat.
Los Angeles Kings, who were Stanley Cup winners in 2012 for the first time, look on paper this season to be a side that will be right up their challenging. Coach Darryl Sutter has put together a side led by Captain Dustin Brown, Centre Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Netminder Jonathan Quick. These bunch of guys know how to play hard hockey for 60 minutes, and could also be challenging once again this season for the Stanley Cup.
The “Super humans” Rule London
By Jacob Hutchinson
In January 2012, if you were to ask most Londoners about the Olympics this summer some might respond by saying: “over budget” … “a waste of time” or even “a disaster in the making.” However over the last few months people seem to have united - forgetting about all the worries and concerns and just being proud to be British and proud to be a Londoner.
My Olympic experience began on the 22nd of July in Dagenham. A friend of mine Sara Angeli was chosen to carry the Olympic flame through this part of East London. It was a hot summer day and the atmosphere gradually built up throughout the morning. The whole area was electric with excitement – Neighbours getting together, hauling out their sofas to put in front gardens and waiting – waiting all morning for a glimpse of the golden flame to pass their door. Community spirit ruled – with free cupcakes, tea and children’s entertainers in the local park afterwards, with torchbearers posing for photos with those who stayed to cheer them on.
Over 2000 medals were won in the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, with Great Britain winning an amazing 184 medals, finishing third in the medal table for the Olympics and fourth in the Paralympics!
Everyone will have their stand out moments of the games - some would say Mo Farah’s double gold in the 5 and 10, 000 meters… others might say Chris Hoy becoming the greatest ever British Olympian - winning six gold’s … or maybe Katherine Grainger at the age of 36 finally winning her first gold medal in the women’s double sculls after silvers at Beijing, Athens and Sydney.
For me these athletes are all great – fantastic even - but it’s the “Super humans” that really demonstrate how sport can bring people from many different backgrounds with various disabilities to greatness! Here are four athletes that to me demonstrate the Paralympics values of Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality.
Ahmed Kelly - Australian Swimmer
Every competitor that enters the Paralympics has their own story to tell of bravery, courage and life changing situations, but the Iraqi born athlete (who now represents Australia) swims without arms and legs. This truly represents everything good about the Paralympics. Ahmed and his brother during the Gulf War were exposed to chemicals, thought to be Uranium and were both born with deformities. When he was born Ahmed was abandoned and left on the side of the road outside an orphanage. At the age of seven he was adopted by Australian Moira Kelly from the Children First Foundation charity. At the age of 17 he swam professionally for the first time, taking victories at the 2009 Oceania Paralympic championships
At London 2012 he finished fourth in the SB3 class, 50m
David Weir - British Wheelchair athlete
David the “Weirwolf” was one of the poster boys of London 2012, and he certainly did not let down anyone down. David won the 800m, 1,500m, 5,000 m and the marathon in less than a week. This demonstrates pure class. At Atlanta 1996, David said “I fell out with the sport; I had missed my teenage years of growing up and being with my friends” David watched the Sydney games in 2000 and it is reported that when he watched his event being won by someone else - he cried. From that night on David has never looked back: A Silver and Bronze in Athens in 2004, two Gold’s a Silver and a Bronze and of course those four Gold’s at London 2012. This now makes him a new public icon and an inspiration to young disabled children to be just like the “Weirwolf”
Sarah Storey- British Cyclist
Storey won four gold medals at London 2012 to equal Tanni Grey-Thompson's women's record of 11 Olympic gold medals. Storey completed a clean sweep of her cycling events at the Games - an achievement which has never been done before! But she began her sporting career as an Olympic swimmer. At Barcelona 1992 at the young age of 14 she won double gold, but in 2005 Sarah contracted a nasty ear infection which ended her swimming career and she switched to cycling. After being selected for the GB London 2012Cycling team Sarah won double gold in the LC1-2/CP4 individual pursuit and the LC1/LC2/CP4 500m time trial.
Alan Oliveira - Brazilian Sprinter
As everyone sat down to watch the 200m T44 race there was only one name on everyone’s lips “Oscar Pistorius… surely no one can beat him!” - it is true that he had never been beaten before. Well the Brazilian teenager Oliveira changed all that.......… Oscar was leading after the first 100m, but Oliveira came storming down the home straight to win in 21.45 seconds only 0.07 seconds behind the “Blade Runner” to shock the world and to shock Pistorius himself. He will surely be the poster boy of Rio 2016 in his home games!
London 2012 has been described as the greatest Paralympics in history with stadiums full for every session - for the first time ever! Every athlete that takes part in the Paralympics demonstrates sheer determination and hard work, forgetting about their disability and representing their country with pride.
For me I hope that the Paralympics has “inspired a generation” to take up sport and to show how sport can change a person’s life for the better.