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Archive for January 2008

Harbhajan in the clear

The International Cricket Council(ICC) dropped the racial abuse charge against Harbhajan Singh after he was found guilty by the match referee Mike Procter soon after the second Test in Sydney.

Appeals commissioner New Zealand Justice John Hansen decided to significantly reduce the three-match ban imposed on Harbhajan after dropping the charge of racial abuse at the ICC code of conduct appeal hearing in Adelaide.

Harbhajan was then charged with a lesser offence of abusive language and as a result handed down a fine of 50 per cent of the match fee.

The Indian team seem happy with the new offence after they said that they will now continue with the tour.

The worst thing about the whole affair were the on-going threats to abandon the tour if the original charge was upheld and I think its not good for the game of cricket. Those threats show that India know that they are very powerful financially in cricket circles and knew the threat would be taken seriously.

But I wonder whether other countries will also be allowed to use those kind of threats, not that it is good, but India has set a precedent.

I think they should have presented all the evidence and say that they would go with whatever judgment was passed on and not issue threat after threat.

I think in the end Justice Hansen had good reasons to drop the charges but I don't think he needed a cloud of threats to come to his decision.

I hope that this is the last time we have such a thing in cricket and teams must simply trust the procedures for appeal that are already laid down and prepare all the evidence that they have to make sure they come with the judgment they will be seeking.

Djokovic overcomes Tsonga

Novak Djokovic won the men's 2008 Australia Open title when he beat unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets.

It was Djokovic's first Grand Slam title and I think he deserved it given the way he has played in the last fortnight at Melbourne Park.

When Tsonga was broken in the first game it looked like it was going to be a one sided affair but then Tsonga broke back and then I realised we had an interesting match on our hands.

I thought Tsonga played very well in the first and last sets and his loss could be down to experience. It was his first final of any kind and had he won he would have started with a grand slam title.

I also think that the final was hotly contested for most parts apart from the third set and the fact that there was neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal was kind of refreshing.

Meanwhile in the women's final yesterday Maria Sharapova beat Ana Ivanovic in an entertaining final and there is no denying that Sharapova was the best women at the Open this year.

Now the challenge for the winners is to keep this form for the rest of the season and for the losers to try and be better. All in all it looks like its going to be an interesting year of tennis.

Ivory Coast reach quarters

The Africa Cup of Nations has reached half way stage of the group stages with the drawn match between Mali and Nigeria being the sixteenth match and there are sixteen more group matches to go.

At this stage it looks like Nigeria are on their way out and their stay in the tournament now depends on Ivory Coast beating Mali.

Nigeria will still need to beat Benin and get a better goal difference than Mali.

Ivory Coast on the other hand are the first team through to the quarter-finals after Nigeria's draw and they will need a draw to win the group and potentially avoid the hosts Ghana who look certain to top Group A.

Its interesting to see that Nigeria with arguably the best strike force at the tournament have so far failed to find the back of the net. Nigeria has the likes of Obafemi Martins, Nwanko Kanu, Stephen Makinwa, Yakubu and John Utaka in their ranks and yet surprisingly they have recorded zero goals so far.

In Group A Ghana seem to be doing enough to win games and like Ivory Coast they will also need a draw against Morocco to win their group. I think Ghana were fortunate to get away with a win against Guinea but they played very well against Namibia and could have scored more goals had their strikers been sharper.

Cameroon have a mountain to climb after losing to Egypt in their opening match. Zambia's win against Sudan has shown that they are not going to be pushovers and they are capable of beating the Indomitable Lions.

Every team in Group D has scored one goal in the two draws we have witnessed in that group and I think it is Tunisia and South Africa who should be happy about those draws as they did not play very well and therefore both will need to up their play in the remaining two matches.

So the picture is a bit clearer in Groups A and B after the two matches played and I am looking forward to see what happens in Groups C and D over the coming two days.

Tsonga to meet Djokovic in final

Jo Wifred Tsonga will meet oval Djokovic in the final of the Australia Open on Sunday after Djokovic stunned defending champion Roger Federer winning in straight sets.

The first set was tight and for some time it looked like Federer was going to win in the same manner he did against James Blake in the quarter-finals but this time his luck ran out as he made some uncharacteristic errors and he lost that set.

In the second Djokovic totally dominated and its no surprise he won that set 6-3 and at that time I sensed that we were going to see another upset like the previous night.

Federer tried to come back in the third set but once again Djokovic stood his ground and the set went to a tie-break which Federer looked like winning but I think he just lacked his finesse of last year.

Therefore we now have a final between Tsonga and Djokovic and who would have guessed this two weeks ago.

I am now beginning to think that unseeded Tsonga could actually win now especially playing a player who will only be playing in his second grand slam final.

For Djokovic he can see this as the best chance to win a grand slam and I hope we will have a great final.

Tsonga shocks Nadal

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stormed into the Australian Open final after beating the second seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets.

Tsonga totally dominated Nadal that I couldn't believe that it was the Nadal we have known to play so well and work hard to win matches.

Tsonga's shorts were excellent and so was his serve and Nadal seemed to have nothing in reply.

When the first set finished 6-2 I thought that Nadal would back fighting in the second but he tried and I think that the second set was his best of the match.

Tsonga will meet the winner in the Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic where another upset could be on the cards.

Meanwhile in the women's draw, Maria Sharapova will try to go one better than last year when she meets Ana Ivanovic on Saturday in the final.

I actually think that this time, given the way she has been playing, Sharapova will be crowned champion on Saturday.

Tough Task for Roar

Its finals time now in the A-League and the Queensland Roar have a tough task to stop an all NSW grand final for the second time in three years.

Last week I had tipped the Roar to go and get the minor premiership and hence bring the Asian Champions League to Suncorp but they just fizzled out before Adelaide United and in the end finished fourth on the ladder.

Despite finishing fourth one thing in their favour is that they get to play the second leg at home and that could bring them an advantage but it also brings with it a lot of pressure before your home fans.

But playing the second leg away may not be as bad as it sounds for a team like Sydney who went through the regular season without losing away. If they can continue that streak then they can certainly overcome the Roar at home or at least hold them for a draw.

The Roar will be without Danny Tiatto for both matches after he got a two match suspension in the match against Adelaide.

One thing for certain though is the fact that the final will be in Sydney and the home team will be either Central Coast or Newcastle. I think its a good decision to bring the final to a bigger stadium because that will allow a lot of people to watch the final instead of just a few.

But the question is what happens if say Adelaide where to host the grand final. They have a small stadium at Hindmarsh and so will be the match then be moved to Football Park or to the cricket ground? The Jets and the Mariners are evenly poised because its hard to see who might emerge the winner in this contest. The Jets have just won their last two matches and are therefore on a good run but the Mariners main problem lately has been their defence and if they can get that sorted they could on their way to the second final in three years.

Sharapova dismisses Henin

I was surprised to see the manner in which Maria Sharapova dismissed Justine Henin from the Australian Open and get a place in the semis where she will meet Jelena Jankovic.

She would have been excited to see that Serena Williams, her victor in last year's final, had already lost to Jankovic in straight sets.

When the tournament started I had thought Henin was very likely to win or at least reach the final but Sharapova played very well to make sure that did not happen. In the second set of the straight sets victory, Henin failed to win a single match and that shows how clinical Sharapova was.

On the men's side whilst there was no surprise in Rafael Nadal reaching the semis after beating Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets, it is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who has surprised me. He reached the finals after beating Mikhail Youzhny.

Nadal will be at his best to overcome Tsonga but I think we are going to see Nadal in an Australian Open final for the first time this year.

Very late starts not good

Last night's match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis started just before midnight and went to on finish just after 4.30 am which was a record late finish.

I don't think such a start benefits anybody especially the local audience and I think those kind of starts should be avoided.

I think its becoming a norm especially at this year's Open that matches are finishing well beyond midnight. One match that comes to mind is the one between Marat Safin and Baghdatis which finished just after 2 am local time on a weekday.

Obviously the benefiters of this are the European audience but as for the local audience I think its becoming increasingly difficult to follow the matches night after night especially during the week.

Talking about the tennis itself it was a good win for Hewitt and he will now face Novak Djokovic and that should be an exciting match and I hope it wont go beyond midnight again as its likely to be a night match again.

Roger Federer had a scare when he was taken to five sets by Janko Tipsarevic. It was an unusual sight to see Federer stretched so much at the Australian Open but he must be relieved that he won the match and he will now face Tomas Berdych.

Finally, local favourite Casey Dellacqua lost to Jelena Jankovic. Dellacqua played very well in the first set and another upset looked likely but she then lost in a tie-break and in the second set she had no match to Jankovic.

India stuns Australia

India stunned Australia by winning the third Test at the WACA by 72 runs on the fourth day.

If India had drawn the second Test in Sydney, the fourth and last Test in Adelaide could have been a series decider but I think India will go into the fourth Test with more confidence than Austrlia.

Ricky Ponting's men were also searching to equal the record of 17 consecutive Test wins set by Steve Waugh's team but the signs were not good when he was dismissed early on the fourth day.

In an earlier post I pointed out that India could win after setting a big total but in the end they could only set a target of 413 after Australia had the better of the third day in the field but that target was good enough to bring an Indian victory five years after the last one on Australian soil.

I think Australia were let down by their batting in this Test with Michael Clarke scoring the highest score of 81 in the second innings but that was not good enough to save the Test especially with only Mike Hussey and Ponting managing to get past 40 in that innings.

I think India started slowly and their bowlers have been quicker to adjust and now it looks like the final Test in Adelaide could be a thriller.

Federer, Sharapova cruise

There have been some interesting matches already in the first week of the 2008 Australian Open but Roger Federer has so far been very clinical and so was Maria Sharapova when she beat Lindsay Davenport.

In Federer's first match against Diego Hartfield, the top seed won two sets without losing a match and then won the the other set 6-3. This was remarkable especially who somebody who missed the Kooyong Classic warm up tournament due to illness.

In the second match, the defending champion easily brushed aside Fabrice Santoro to reach the third round. I think he will be properly tested in the second week as he meets tougher opponents but at this rate its hard to see who can stop him.

I was impressed by Sharapova when she beat former champions Davenport in her second round match. It was a far much better performance compared to her performance against Jelena Tosic in the first round.

Another thriller was the match between Marcos Baghdatis and Marat Safin. At the end of the second set it looked like Baghdatis would round up the match in straight sets but Safin claimed the next two sets to set up the fifth set in a match that went past midnight local time.

Baghdatis will next meet Lleyton Hewitt and that could be end of the Hewitt's participation in the tournament if Baghdatis can repeat his performance from the first two sets.

Kumble reaches 600

Anil Kumble, the Indian captain took his 600th wicket when he took the wicket of Andrew Symonds on the second day of the third Test against Australia at the WACA.

Kumble is the third highest taking wicket taker behind Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne who are on 723 and 708 respectively. Kumble later on took the wicket of Shaun Tait to reach 601.

Its good to see that the focus is back to cricket in the third Test and India having bowled out Australia for 212 seem to have the upper hand at the moment and all they have to do now is increase their lead on the third day and part of the fourth day and then plan to bowl out Australia on the fourth and fifth days.

India had a good start to their first innings but could only manage 330 runs after struggling later on in the innings but with Australia falling short by 118 runs they have a good advantage which they can turn into a win to record India's first victory in this series.

Top four face bottom four

This week will see the penultimate round of the 2007/8 A-League season and after the weekend results it has turned out that the top four teams will be playing teams in the bottom half of the league ladder.

The minor premiers will be decided in the last round which is good and all teams who have qualified for the finals have 31 points.

With Newcastle beating the pacesetters Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory's hopes of securing a finals spot were all but dashed but there is no denying the fact that Melbourne is the form team at the moment but the problem is that they picked the form at the wrong time of the season.

However, it will be good if that form can be carried over into the Asian Champions League but with the first match on March 12 that form could have been lost by then which is why I think the finals would have been very important this time for Victory.

Back to round 21, just like last season, Newcastle Jets have the disadvantage of playing the first match of the round and this time against the resurgent Perth Glory and this could be a tough match for them especially against a team trying to avoid the wooden spoon.

I still think the matches in the last round of the season should all be played at the same time but it appears like television schedule by FoxSports means this will not happen. They could use Viewer's choice if they wanted to like they do for the English Premiership and make all four matches available live.

I think the Mariners should have wrapped up the minor premiership by now but they have had a horror last six matches only managing to win and draw once in the last six matches. Their form is identical to Adelaide's who have also collected four points from their last six matches.

In Wellington they face a team that is playing reasonably well and trying to avoid the wooden spoon which I don't think they deserve because they have been good throughout the season. It seems like this match will end up in an exciting draw.

Sydney did not lose away this season but they face the in-form Victory at home and I think this will be three points in the bag for the Melbourne team.

Of the top four teams, only Queensland Roar are playing away from home as they match against Adelaide United. I think if recent form is anything to go by then I expect the Roar to collect all three points and possibly win the minor premiership aided by their healthy goal difference.

Adelaide has lost its last four matches and has only won once in the last six matches and so this is a good chance for Roar to claim the minor premiership against a team struggling for form going into the Asian Champions League.

I am sure this is going to be another interesting and unpredictable round and lets hope there are more matches or teams next season.

Fisichella for Force India

During the week where the most of the news involved unveiling of the 2008 cars by Ferrari, McLaren and Toyota, Force India announced that Giancarlo Fisichella was their driver for 2008 alongside Adrian Sutil.

Fisichella did not have a very good season last year at Renault when he was expected to fill the shoes left by Fernando Alonso and take the team forward but instead it was rookie Heikki Kovalainen who got the team the most points.

So it was not surprising when his contract was not renewed and Renault had to re-sign Fernando Alonsobut he then did well to perform so well in testing for Force India to convince them to give him the drive for 2008.

Its hard to tell how the former Spyker team will perform this season but I think they will benefit so much from Fisichella's experience and this time I expect him to get the most points in his team though I doubt they will be many.

2008 Africa Nations Cup Preview

The 26th edition of the Africa Nations Cup kicks off in Ghana on the 20th of January with the host nation playing Guinea in Accra.

I think with every new tournament winning the Africa Cup of Nations is getting tougher and tougher with most of the teams having so many European based players and some squads like those of Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast for example being composed of mostly European based players with some of them being key players in their teams.

The sixteen teams that qualified for the Nations Cup are divided into four groups of four teams and are based in four different cities for the group stages. I will try to briefly look at each of the groups and give my verdict on whom I think will reach the quarter-finals stage.

In Group A I think Ghana as the hosts nation will come through that group and I think they will be joined in the quarter finals by Morocco. While Guinea have a very good team I still think Morocco will use their experience to power themselves into the quarters.

Although Nigeria are the seeded team in Group B, I think Ivory Coast will win that group. Ivory Coast is one of the most balanced teams in the competition with a solid defence marshalled by Arsenal's Kolo Toure and a strike force led by Chelsea's Didier Drogba and a midfield that could feature Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure. I would actually tip them to go and win the tournament itself after losing out to hosts Egpyt the last time around.

While Mali will cause problems and will be a real threat I still think Nigeria should be able to hop past them and I think debutants Benin will prop that group. Nigeria's greatest strength lies in their strike force where they are blessed with an array of talent that includes Obafemi Martins, Nwankwo Kanu, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Stephen Makinwa.

In Group C only Zambia haven't won the competition before but they have reached the finals twice but they look to me like the weak team in the group that boasts past winners Cameroon, Egypt and Sudan.

I think Cameroon and Egypt should be able to fill the top two places of this group. Cameroon missed the last World Cup and since then they have been playing well despite having problems with coaches. Their biggest threat will still be Barcelona's Samuel E'too whilst current holders Egypt should have enough depth to negotiate their way into the quarters.

I think that Group D is probably the trickiest of all the groups. Here we have teams who are all capable of reaching the quarter-finals and I think there will be no run-away leader in this group.

The seeded team in this group is Tunisia but we have a resurgent Senegalese team who I think will be trying to reclaim their success of 2002 in this tournament. Senegal ill once again be looking at Henri Camara, El Hadji Diouf and Mamadou Niang for goals whilst in defence they will miss Ferdinand Coly.

Then there is South Africa who under coach Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira are trying to build a team that will take them at least into the knockout stages at the next World Cup which they will host and I therefore expect them to be very competitive.

The South African squad does not include Benni McCarthy but every player who will be chosen to play will know that a good performance here could mean a place in the squad that will be playing at home in 2010 and that will be a big incentive to perform.

One can also not discount Angola who held their own at the last World Cup in Germany despite going out at the group stages and are also scheduled to host the next edition of the Nations up. So I am sure they would like to be hosts having done well in this competition.

All I can say is that there is a high chance that Tunisia will be in the quarters but at the moment its very hard to see who might join them.

The Nations Cup has been won nine times by the hosts and when Ghana has hosted the tournament on their own they have won it. It is also worth noting that the previous two tournaments have also been won by the hosts. That would probably point to a Ghana winning it but I think that Ivory Coast will win it this time.

Looking at the schedule, for Ghana to avoid Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals, they have to finish in the same position in their groups, that is both first or both second otherwise they will meet in the quarters assuming they both finish in the top two positions.

For the first time I will be participating in a Nations Cup tipping competition on TipsChallenge and it is there I hope to test my knowledge of African football.

Melbourne sizzles

Today we got another 40 plus degrees day which is the third one in less than two weeks and tomorrow the forecast says the temperature will also go beyond 40 degrees before a cool change moves in.

Its been hot in Melbourne over the last fortnight and I am hoping that the Friday's hot day will be the last for this summer. 40 plus degree days are not exactly a rarity but when its continuous hot days it becomes unbearable.

With no rain forecast until next week its very hard to see how the plants can survive with minimal watering afforded by the stage 3a restrictions.

Also I have observed that the water storage levels have been going down since hitting 40% after the mid-December rains but this it to be expected with the amount of evaporation taking place at the moment.

If the current heat is a taste of global warming then it doesn't look good at all.

The ICC must stand firm

The third Test match at the WACA between Australia and India is now in doubt after India decided to suspend their cricket tour of Australia pending the outcome of an appeal against a three-match ban handed to spin bowler Harbhajan Singh.

It looks like to me that if the appeal fails then the tour will be cancelled but if the appeal is successful then the tour will proceed.

I think that the International Cricket Council (ICC) must stand firm and make the right decision for the sport instead of weighing on the tour cancellation and therefore I hope the ICC will stand firm if they have to uphold the initial decision made on Monday morning.

There were a lot of errors during the five day Test and a lot of them seemed to favour Australia and I think that has caused the emotions to rise and this Singh's ban has just inflammed an already volatile situation.

As I said in an earlier post a draw would have been a fairer result given the number of errors made by the umpires but then there was the dramatic Australia win which now looks like was aided by errors rather than being the better team over the course of five days.

Normally the errors seem to even out but I think in this case they did not even out. Andrew Symonds should probably have been out at 30 but was not given out, Mike Hussey maybe should have been out at 40 but was not given out and yet Dravid was given out when he probably should not have been out and the list goes on.

But at the same time if Singh called Symonds a 'monkey' then the ICC should act according to its zero tolerance policy on racism. Whether the ban should be 3 matches or not I don't know but a ban to me looks very appropriate in that case. But if he didn't say that then that's a different story.

Its also good that Ricky Ponting told the umpires once he realised something inappropriate had been said to one of his players and I think all captains should do the same. I don't think Ponting complained to the umpires for the sake of it or just to make sure that Singh gets some punishment.

I am eager to see what the result of the appeal will be but the ICC should stand firm and not be pushed around by any team or indvidual because none of that is bigger than the sport. Racism in cricket and in any other sport for that matter must be tackled and its up to the players to uphold the sport's code of conduct.

Youzhny overwhelms Nadal

There are a number of tennis tournaments going on at the moment in run up to the Australia Open next week and one that my drew my attention was the Chennai Open final where Rafael Nadal faced Mikhail Youzhny.

Youzhny managed to beat Nadal for the fourth time on a hard court but the defeat was very comprehensive because Nadal only managed to win just one game in the whole match.

Nadal had been playing well in this tournament but in the semi-final he played Carlos Moya and the match last for four hours and this was just three sets. I think that took the toll on Nadal.

Elsewhere, the Sydney International tournament starts today and I am keen to see how Lleyton Hewitt will fare after the surprise loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals of the Adelaide International last week.

Thrilling end to second Test

The second Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground came to a thrilling end when Michael Clarke took three wickets when the match seemed to be heading a for a draw to make Australia win by 122 runs.

Maybe a draw would have been a fair result especially in such a match where there was so much controversy. Indian off spinner Harbhajan Singh has been banned for three Tests after the International Cricket Council ruled that he racially abused Australia's Andrew Symonds.

I am keen to see what India's appeal to the decision will yield but I am happy to see that the ICC is at least doing something about racism in the game.

The positives from this Test were Symonds match saving first innings score of 162 not out especially when you consider that he went on the crease when Australia was reeling at 134-6. Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden later scored centuries in the second innings but I think to give India

Another highlight was Sachin Thendulkar's 154 not out which helped India reach 532 first innings score. VVS Laxman also scored a century in the first innings to continue his good record against Australia.

The third and last Test will start in Perth at the WACA and that looks like its going to be another interesting episode.

Victory win in record goals round

Melbourne Victory won at last in a round in which a record number of goals were scored in an A-League round.

In round 18, a total of 21 goals were scored and this is highest number of goals ever scored in a single round in the short history of the A-League. Before this round the highest number of goals scored in a round was 19 and this happened twice in the first season in rounds 11 and 16.

It is interesting to note also that of the 21 goals scored, 15 of them were scored by the away teams with the home teams accounting for the remaining six. Its no surprise then that all the away teams won in this particular round.

Back in season 1 in round 11, the away teams scored 14 goals compared to the home team's five but in round 16 of the same season it was the home teams which scored more goals with 12 goals.

And talking about all the away teams winning, this was the third time in the A-League for all the away teams to win and not surprising the other two times occurred in season 1 in rounds 6 and 11.

Back to Victory this was a welcome win for the Victory and a good one to end the year where things haven't really worked out as expected since the season begun.

This is only the fourth win of the season and another three wins in the remaining rounds will see the team finish with 29 points but maybe this is expecting too much from this team. I still think that at this moment avoiding bottom place will be a good achievement.

Having said that I am waiting to see what will happen against high flying and table toppers Queensland Roar this coming round in round 19. A win there could make the season look not so bad after all.

I was pleased to see Archie Thompson and Danny Allsop combining well again and it is this type of display that will be needed in the Asian Champions League.