Monday, 21 March 2011

Comments From The Supercoach- Punted

   Welcome back. Today the Supercoach takes a look at the Quarter-Final matchups in the Cricket World Cup, and Barry Munta reviews last weekend’s Premier League action. First though to the cricket.


   So after nigh-on four weeks of Group play, the eight Quarter Finalists have emerged, and in the end, there were no upsets. Bangladesh and Ireland threatened to sneak through Group B, probably at the expense of the English, but in the end the heavyweights prevailed. So, let’s take a look at the four matches to be played this week.

Pakistan vs West Indies

   Smart money must go on Pakistan to win this one. Aside from a loss to New Zealand brought about through a freakish five overs of batting from Ross Taylor, Pakistan have looked solid. The win over Sri Lanka in their second Group match continued the momentum and confidence they picked up during their tour of New Zealand, and the comprehensive win over Australia in their final group match dispelled any notions of shakiness. In Gul they have a fine strike-bowler who takes the opportunities created by the parsimonious bowling of the likes of Rehman and Hafeez. With Afridi also taking wickets and Razzaq providing support, this is a strong line-up with the ball.
   They are similarly well-balanced when batting. Stroke makers like both the Akmals, Afridi and Hafeez are complemented by the more reserved approach of Ul-Haq and Khan. This is a strong side when they play with belief, and after beating the Windies they should be a match for India in the Semi-final.
   Not to totally discount the Windies though. If Gayle fires then anything could happen. Benn has bowled well, Roach has taken a lot of wickets, and they have further options in Russell, Rampaul and Bishoo. Bravo looks as if he will be a fine talent batting at number 3 in years to come, and Smith and Pollard can also score runs quickly. But on current form and on paper, Pakistan should win this one.

India vs Australia

   Unfortunately due to technical issues there were no Comments last week, but penciled in amongst my predictions were for the Aussies to lose against Pakistan and then whoever they played in the Quarters, crashing out in fine style. After something like 34 World Cup match victories in a row, I still believe this is the end for Australia, and after losing against India, Ricky Ponting will retire. The current side just has too many problems, especially in the slow-bowling department where they look completely toothless. If Sehwag gets on top of Tait, Lee and Johnson with the new ball coming hard onto the bat, it could be brutal.
The Indians look far from perfect, and a couple of middle and lower order collapses will be very worrying for them, as will some erratic bowling. Zaheer Khan has been consistently excellent; none of the other bowlers have. A lot will come down to whether Harbajan has a big game against his biggest rivals, as the Aussies have looked poor against the tweakers.  
Obviously, despite their issues Australia will go into this game full of their trademark confidence; I strongly suspect that they will be leaving it with none of it intact. The quality of the Australian team is just too greatly diminished, and in front of a rabid home crowd the Indians should prevail.

New Zealand vs South Africa

   Probably the easiest match of the Quarters to predict, even though one never quite knows what to expect from the Kiwis. Even if they play to their potential this is a very tough ask against a South African side that has quality in every department. The top-order of Smith, Amla, Kallis and deVilliers is simply awesome. In Steyn and Morkel they have two of the most fearsome quicks in the world today, and with Peterson, Tahir and Botha all bowling with control and at times turning the ball sharply, the Africans must be favourites to win the Cup.
   The Black Caps have continued their insipid form of the last twelve months, and will need something of a miracle to win this one. Every time they have faced bowling of any quality they have wilted badly. There is no doubting the potential of the likes of Guptil, McCullum, Ryder and Taylor to dominate an attack; it’s just that it never seems to happen at the moment. Depending on the eleven that is picked, they do bat a long way down the order, and chances are facing the well-rounded South African attack they will need contributions from just about everyone. All said, it’s very hard to see a New Zealand victory in this encounter.

Sri Lanka vs England

    Surely the Lankans in this one? The English have been up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers so far in this tourney, so there is every chance they could cause an upset as they did against South Africa. A decent performance against the Windies will also boost their confidence. But realistically, unless Swann can pin them down, Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakarra should be too good for the English bowlers, and Muralitharan, Mendis and Kulasekara too good for the batsmen.

   There you have it, and in the end I reckon a Pakistan vs South Africa Final is on the cards. Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Cheers.
- The Supercoach

Frothing at the Nelsen

   Pretty exciting weekend in the Prem; here’s a review.

- the title race between Man U and Arsenal will be decided by which side copes best with the incredible injury tolls they have both sustained in defence. Man U just keep on winning, and the Arse keep on underwhelming; however, with Man U facing extra fixtures in the Champions League and FA Cup, fatigue may just swing things in the Gunners favour. Expect the title to be won through attack rather than defence from this point onwards.
- Sp*rs, despite a fine Champs League campaign, will struggle to make the top four this season. With Man City having nothing else to play for, they should be able to turn around their current lack of goals and form and pip the Londoners to fourth. It also looks like, despite their improved showings under Dogleash, Liverpool will not be taking part in European competition next season for the first time in many years. Suckers. The money they spent on Suarez looks a good investment; Andy Carroll on the other hand…
- at the bottom it is just vicious. Every time a team looks like being written off- West Ham, Wolves and now Wigan- they start picking up points and clawing their way back up. There are eight teams who all have a realistic chance of being relegated, and Fulham and Newcastle could both be drawn into this dogfight yet too. If possible I’d pick Birmingham to take all three relegation spots, but here’s hoping they take at least one. Also fingers crossed that West Ham and Blackburn stay up to ensure Kiwi representation in the league again next year. Blackburn weren’t helped over the weekend by an abysmal penalty decision going against Ryan Nelsen in their match against Blackpool: after the match even the Blackpool manager Ian Holloway called it a shocker. It was a great effort by Nelsen’s side to come from two goals down and get a point from this match, and the Hammers did equally well to get a point away at Sp*rs. It is unbelievably hard to guess who will find themselves playing in The Championship next season, but put a gun to my head and I’ll go with Wigan, Birmingham and West Brom. Ask me again this time next week and it could be three entirely different sides. Epic. Let us know who you reckon is for the drop, and how the top four will finish up. Nice.
-Barry Munta

   Cheers for that Baz. In just a quick round up of other events:
- it seems the Warriors are having a tough go of it so far this year, losing two from two. At home against defending champs the Dragons next weekend will not be any easier for them.
- good signs ahead of the World Cup with Australia’s strongest team of the past few seasons the Warratahs crapping out entirely at home to the hapless Cheetahs in the Super Rugby. Also, from the bits and pieces we saw of the Crusaders/Highlanders match, surely Kieran Read is the answer to the Number 8 question all Kiwis have been searching for since Zinzan retired?
- and Novak Djokovic proved his Australian Open title was no fluke, beating both Federer in the Semis and Nadal in the Final to win the Masters Series event at Indian Wells this morning. A great result for him and for the sport. Three genuine contenders for the number 1 spot should make for an awesome year of tennis.

   That’ll do it for today. We’ll be back later in the week with a full preview of the upcoming Formula One season which rolls off in Melbourne this weekend. Until then, take it easy.

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