Same old, same old
Russell Degnan

I wish the Socceroos could play Germany more often. They might not be stylish, they won't beat a team with a piece of individual brilliance but they find problems in a defence like a well paid structural engineer. And it shows that Australia has not improved on their biggest faults. Faults that have cost us in world cup campaign time and time again.

Problem 1: defensive lapses. There is no excuse for this, they are not amateurs, but the marking was shoddy against Germany and goals were scored. Once I'd have said this was because they don't play together enough, but Popovic and Moore have played together at least 30 times if not more.

Problem 2: lazy players. Watch Zidane, Beckham or Ronaldinho and they obviously want the ball because they track back to get it. Watch some of Australia's players and you wonder whether they really do. Once you are past the Australian midfield you can run at the defence in numbers. It makes them vulnerable on the break, and a lot of soft goals go in: see home against Iran '97, and away to Uruguay '01 for example. Kewell is the worst offender -- see the semi-final against Juventus -- but others are as bad.

Problem 3: one paced. England are one paced, but they are always intense. Australia never controls the pace of the game, it is always worked around methodically. You rarely see the lightning break, the holding of a ball in defense for long periods, the midfielder who waits then accelerates isn't there. Defensively, the sudden speed rips Australia to shreds. Offensively, there is not a lot of penetration through the centre. Shut off Australia's wings -- difficult though that is -- and there aren't many other options.

Having said that, the offense is not a problem, Australia has a surfeit of quality attacking midfielders -- just think, Bresciano and Kewell have to fit into a side that scored thrice against Germany. Viduka, when and if fit will allow them to hold the ball up in attack and bring Cahill and company into play. The wingers get forward and there are backups.

But if there are two soft goals scored over the two-leg play-off, then Australia will miss out. Again.

Football 16th June, 2005 14:19:59   [#] [2 comments] 

Ratings - June 2005
Russell Degnan

England v Bangladesh
Opening Ratings: Eng: 1209.78 Ban: 616.46
1st Test: England by an innings and 261 runs
2nd Test: England by an innings and 27 runs
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1211.20 Ban: 614.29

The most fascinating statistic from this most pointless of all series was that both tests took 191 overs to be completed. That's just four full days and a session of cricket. Some kudos to Javed Omar who got four starts and a 71; Khaled Mashud who got three starts, a 44, and took three catches; and Aftab Ahmed who also got three starts and a run-a-ball 82. But Bangladesh were never going to get near a good English side still trying to establish themselves as a unit. As I've said before, the ICC needs to rethink the way they introduce new test nations. This doesn't include stripping 'test status', but series like this are a pointless side-show. No change in the ratings, England are 2nd, Bangladesh 10th.

West Indies v Pakistan
Opening Ratings: WI: 808.01 Pak: 1065.38
1st Test: West Indies by 276 runs
2nd Test: Pakistan by 136 runs
Closing Ratings: WI: 823.10 Pak: 1046.49

These two-test series are going to kill test cricket. This could have been a fascinating tussle, but instead it finishes with an unsatisfactory draw before it has got going. The West Indies won the first on the back of a Lara 130 (off 120 balls) and a 92 and 153 by Chanderpaul. Shahid Afridi's 122 off 95 balls couldn't prevent a big loss. Edwards and, of all people, Gayle, taking 5-fors in respective innings. In the second test, a hundred by Younis Khan with good support, was matched by another Lara hundred (153). Collymore getting 7 wickets in Pakistan's innings. Inzaman, having missed the first test, made the difference though, getting 117 -- again with support until a late-order collapse set an intriguing 280 to win. Collymore getting 4. The West Indies didn't get close though, Kaneria picked up five on a deteriorating pitch, and Shabbir Ahmed polished the tail to get 8 for the match. It is hard to make any statements about how good each of these sides are. The West Indies keep losing, despite a mountain of runs from Lara -- and on occasion others; Pakistan are up and down as only they can be. They retain their respective places in the rankings, 6th, and 8th.

Forthcoming Series:

Sri Lanka (1077.85) v West Indies (823.10) - 2 Tests.
Another day, another pointless two match series. The West Indies have been abominable away from home in recent years; Sri Lanka have been equally as good on their own turf. Sri Lanka were close to the second best team in the world a few years ago, but have stalled recently. They should win both tests here however.

England (1211.20) v Australia (1389.17) - 5 Tests.
This is the one. First versus second. England at home, and improving, Australia still as good as they've ever been. A mere 78 points difference in the adjusted ratings for home advantage. Oddly, it was closer in 2001 -- 43 points -- but England were put back in their place quite firmly. Somehow I can't see the same happening here. England are more settled, more focused and more used to winning. But therein lies the rub.

For me, this series seems like the Australian tour of the West Indies, in 1990-91. An emerging side, with some strong batting, reasonable bowling, and capable of annihilating a side on their day. Against them, a side full of players who were used to doing one thing: winning. It was a great series. Australia, at times played extremely well, and yet then, they couldn't do what they do so well now; they couldn't stick the boot in. In the first test they led by 107 on first innings; the West Indies replied with 3/334 to get a draw. In the second, 348 was met with 569, and 248 in the second innings resulted in a ten wicket loss. In the third, a 67 run lead on first innings but it rained. In the fourth, Australia bowl the West Indies out for 149 in the first innings. The response? Australia are bowled out for 134, and the West Indies pile on 9/536 to win by 343 runs. Border claimed they were "blitzed", but it is more accurate to say the West Indies turned it on when it counted.

The recent history of these two sides supports the idea that Australia will turn it on at the same juncture. Australia have made a habit of coming back from precarious positions of late: New Zealand scored 433 runs in the first innings and had Australia 6/201 but it still ended in a 10 wicket loss; against Pakistan Australia did just enough in the first two tests; and then there are the comebacks, a 141 run deficit against India, 91 and 161 run deficits against Sri Lanka.

England have swept all before them of late, but the sort of pressure they will get from Australia hasn't been applied too often. When it has, as it was, fleetingly, in South Africa, England lost. But worse, for them, when the game started to drift from them, they couldn't stop it.

I expect England to be very competitive. On their good days, they will run up scores over 400, and run through Australia for less than 200. But Australia will hang in there, waiting for their chance to do likewise or worse. And when its played out, they'll have won when it really matters to retain the Ashes. After the never ending tapas menu of two-test series, this will be the best cricket all year.

India (3rd) 1142.64
South Africa (4th) 1127.19
New Zealand (7th) 1034.08
Zimbabwe (9th) 707.44

Cricket - Ratings - Test 10th June, 2005 16:35:02   [#] [0 comments]