Greetings all. First off today, congratulations to Greg Henderson. As mentioned last week, he is currently competing in the Paris-Nice Cycle Classic where he won the opening stage last year. This time around, he had to wait a day longer, taking out the second stage after 199 typically grueling kilometers. You can see some slightly shonky footage of his success here. What is remarkable about his victory is the distance from which he sprints from. Most winners of a sprint stage leave their final burst of speed until the final 80-100 meters; Henderson however goes from around 250 meters out, and somehow has the speed and power to hold off his pursuers until the line. Aside from being able to take a great deal of satisfaction from this win, it is also crucial for Henderson as he battles for a place in the nine-rider team for the Grand Tours this year. He missed out last year due to the strength in depth of the Team Sky squad; fingers crossed he makes it this time around. Along with Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston it would be tremendous to see three Kiwis competing in the Giro, Tour de France and the Vuelta.
Also of two-wheeled note is Alberto Contador’s win in his first race since emerging unscathed from his somewhat bizarre doping case, details of which can be found here (see the Tour de France 2010 section). He is riding with his new squad, Team Saxo Bank-Sun Gard, and has stated that he wants to become the first rider to win all three Grand Tours in a year. It’s always nice to be ambitious, but this is a fairly preposterous goal. We will be providing extensive coverage of the Grand Tours this year, starting with the Giro d’Italia in May, so stay tuned.
Right, onto today’s business, starting with The Supercoach’s look at the Black Caps victory over Pakistan. Featured also is Ashton (“I’d rather a Pims actually ahahaha”) Drinkwater’s look at the upcoming Indian Wells Tennis Masters Tournament.
Paper + Cracks = She’ll Be Right?
Let me begin by saying that those final five overs of the New Zealand innings were extraordinary. Even given that the Pakistani bowling went all to pieces and that Afridi maybe made some poor decisions in his choice of bowlers at the death, you still have to put the bad balls away, and Ross Taylor in particular, did so in amazing fashion. 100 runs off 30 deliveries is quite simply stunning. We have this quote from correspondent Darren Butts which we believe probably came via Cricinfo.com:
“The Taylor-Oram partnership of 85 off 3.4 overs, by a massive margin, the fastest ODI partnership of more than 50 runs. If New Zealand had batted at that rate for their whole innings, they would have scored 1159. Most teams would struggle to chase that down.”
Super stuff. I had been hoping for an early night, but those last overs were like a shot of adrenalin akin to Hunter Thompson’s shenanigans with adrenal glands in Las Vegas, and large amounts of red wine were needed to calm my system. However, it is now caveat time.
Up until this boundary fiesta, things were not going so well. As has been well documented, Taylor should not even have still been batting, having been twice missed by the Pakistani wicketkeeper in hugely inept circumstances when he was still on single figures. Had either of those simple chances been taken, the Black Caps would have been in a great deal of trouble.
Also, at around 210 with just five overs remaining, a score of at best 260 looked on the cards, which after batting first, and against a strong, if unpredictable Pakistani lineup, may well have not been sufficient. There is no way NZ will score 100 runs off 5 overs again, so the top order will need to improve. Obviously Pakistan didn’t even score 200 in their chase, but the demoralising effect on their side of Taylor’s hitting, combined with the boost it gave us in the field, must be taken into account when looking at their total. Kudos though to great opening spells of bowling from Tim Southee and Kyle Mills.
Another issue is Brendon McCullum. Yes, the ball that got him from Shoab Ahktar was very fast and came back off the seam, but McCullum’s technique was quite awful. One of the first things you learn as a young player is to keep bat and pad together when playing a forward defensive shot. McCullum failed to do so, leaving a good ten or so centimeters between the two, and sure enough he was comprehensively bowled. It must only be for lack of options that he continues to open the batting; surely his hitting is better suited to later in the innings. James Franklin at five, a player we are tremendously fond of here at the Comments, is also of concern. Let’s hope Jesse Ryder makes a swift recovery from his case of the Dovers.
On the plus side, Martin Guptil looked wonderful again. As a young fellow, The Supercoach was taught by legendary cricket coach and driving instructor Indiana Grandbill to always play in the V: i.e. play with a straight bat down the ground. Guptil is a great exponent of this approach, and his drives are a thing of beauty. Unfortunately at this initial stage he seems to suffer a little from Early Career Stephen Fleming-itis in his inability to convert great starts into big scores, but the potential is certainly there.
Basically though, let us all hope that despite the fact that this victory relied a lot on luck and opposition ineptitude as much as our own skill, the Black Caps will take the confidence they have gained from the win and turn their generally poor recent run of form around. It is a shame that the next match is against Canada: I really think now would be the best time to be taking on the Sri Lankan side, but a huge win on Sunday will hopefully keep the forward momentum going.
Wonderful stuff there from me, many thanks to myself. Lastly today, it’s over to Ashton (“I’d rather a Pims actually ahahaha”) Drinkwater for a look at the first Tennis Masters Series event of the year.
What ho chaps. The Tennis Masters is upon us, beginning with the BNP Paribas Open played on the hard courts at Indian Wells in California. For those of you who are ignorant of the Masters Series format, there are nine tournaments played throughout the season, and they rank in prestige second only to the four Opens (Australian, French, Wimbledon, US). Unlike the Open tourneys, matches are played in the best of 3 sets, rather than the 5 sets one sees at the four biggies. This year sees a typically strong field with all eight of the top seeded players in the Main Draw, although there seems to be some doubt as to whether Roger Federer will play. He is listed as second seed, but seems to be absent from the draw.
Looking at said draw, there are a few interesting scenarios. Top seed Rafael Nadal has a fairly easy run, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a likely quarter final opponent. The bottom half of that section is much more open, with David Ferrer, given his current strong run of form possibly the most likely semi-final opponent should Nadal make it that far. However Ferrer will be severely tested early on by the massively huge serving Croat Ivo Karlovic. Gilles Simon, if he can recapture some of his strong form of previous years, is another contender from that section who will run into Ferrer in the early stages, so all in all, it is a very tough section to pick.
The other side of the draw is equally open. Fourth seed Robin Soderling has a relatively easy run, though standing in the way of a semi-final will be last years surprise winner Ivan Ljubicic. One is never quite sure what to expect from Ljubi, and of major concern to him will be the lurking Juan Martin Del-Potro. After winning the US Open in 2009, Del Potro was out injured for almost the entire season last year, sending his ranking plummeting into the depths of obscurity. This season though, he appears to not only be fit, but also close to returning to his best. His low current ranking has meant that he has been unseeded at every event he has contested this year, and he has consistently cut a swath through seeded players who would have been very unpleasantly surprised to find him in their section of the draw. Ljubi and Soderling will be very aware of the threat he poses, particularly on the Hard Court surface.
The bottom section of that side of the draw is harder to pick than the proverbial broken nose: of the seeded players Tommy Robredo is probably the weakest, and Fernando Verdasco and Andy Murray the strongest, but keep an eye on Sam Querrey playing on home soil.
So ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. At the bequest of Self-Proclaimed Tipping Guru and Office Pariah Roby Towe who is involved in yet another of his obsessive compulsive fantasy leagues, I will refrain from making any exact predictions as to a winner. But fear not, for I will provide you with regular updates as the tournament progresses. Until then, fare thee well.
- Ashton (“I’d rather a Pims actually ahahaha”) Drinkwater
Thanks Ashton, you upper-class git.
That’s it for the Comments today, and there may be a slight delay in the next edition as Comments HQ is undergoing a change in location early next week. Hopefully we’ll be back by Tuesday. Kind thanks as always for your time, and please pass on the blog link to anyone you know who has a passion for sporting drivel. Enjoy your weekends.