Sport

PSL review, new kids on the block!

Hello and good morning, here I Ayyaz Malik aka The Sports Buff, talk about this years on going PSL. the games have been brilliant!

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Broad and Anderson the ultimate bromance

Sports like football and cricket, are beautiful sports for several reasons. Games can be decided and won through good teamwork or individual brilliance, yes that knock by Ben Stokes in the Ashes at Headingley comes to mind.

As important as those factors are for winning games, I want to talk about the need to build good partnerships in a duo, the bromance or the Romeo and Juliet pairings if you will. Let me elaborate.

Football fans, do you remember the Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer partnership for Blackburn Rovers, which helped the Lancashire side win the Premier League title in 1995.

Or what about the Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer partnership for England, or even the legendary pairings that both included Andy Cole, it’s fair to say someone is loved. First Cole and Peter Beardsley in the early ’90s, who combined to score more than 60 goals. If combining with Beardsley and scoring a sack load of goals wasn’t enough, it was when Andy Cole teamed up with Dwight Yorke at Manchester United that did an ultimate bromance develop.

In that 1998-99 season, as brilliant as Beckham and Giggs were, it was the deadly two upfront.

From the telepathic linkup play in the game against Barcelona or the semi-final win against Juventus in the 2nd leg, Cole and Yorke were brilliant, in fact so brilliant that then Blackburn manager Graeme Souness reunited the duo at Rovers.

In this blog, what I want to talk about are some of cricket’s deadly duo’s. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, Alan Donald and Sean Pollock or Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. In terms of the latter two players, they sound more like a solicitors firm rather than a potent Australian bowling attack.

In the example of every duo, that I have listed, one player seems to compliment the other, which I think can be said of the example I want to use now, the example of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

With 1100 wickets between them, it’s obvious to see that despite Joffra Archer, Olly Stone, Sam and Tom Curran at their disposal and many more bowlers in the production line, England will revert to type and go to their two premier bowlers at any given opportunities, it’s with good reason.

Despite Broad being 34 and Anderson 38 respectively, these two are the men who seem most likely to answer the call of need for England.

The ongoing test between India and England seems to be proving my theory. This may be a bit harsh, but at the time of writing Archer and Ben Stokes combined have bowled eight overs between them and have conceded 43 runs.

Yes, the West Indies born pacer does have a wicket in the India innings, but compare that to the legendary duo of Anderson and Broad, they two have conceded just 31 runs in 15 overs. Both Stuart Broad and Anderson have been able to produce bits of brilliance on several occasions in their brilliant careers.

To be fair, the supporting cast have produced at times, but there’s an over-reliance on Broad and Anderson. With 1100 wickets between them, this thinking is natural. Until England area able to find this formula of winning games without Anderson (easier said than done) then England will remain stuck in the past.

India (Bumrah), South Africa (Rabada), Pakistan (Shaheen Afridi), New Zealand (Trent Boult) and Australia (Pat Cummins) have younger main strike bowlers than England. All I will say is, I don’t envy Joe Root’s dilemma, but until they find a formula I think England will be stuck in the past.

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India vs England third test, the tale of the wounded animal

They dared to win the first test and win at a canter.  That looks to have been the worst thing that they could have done. England since winning that first test in Chennai, have since been the victims of an Indian backlash. The sparkling double hundred from skipper Joe Root seems like a distant memory.

That 578 all out that they scored was this the same team? There have been some subtle changes but otherwise, the core of this batting unit has been the same.

Since that Stella knock by the England skipper and well backed up aggressive 40 in the 2nd innings, captain Root by his high standards has failed to get a score of note in the two innings since.

In that first game, both Bess and Leach did make significant contributions in the first test with the ball, but it was just Jack Leach who made a 2nd innings contribution with the ball. To get over the line, England were indebted to James Anderson like they have on so many occasions to help them finish India off.

At the time of writing, tourists England are again under the cosh. After making a paltry 112 all out, which included a Zak Crawley 50. To their credit Joe Root’s men have grabbed two quick wickets, to just put the brakes on proceedings.

Coming into this test The Three Lions would have wanted to lick their wounds after a chastening defeat in the 2nd test, but India are still obviously aggrieved that England had the nerve to win a game in this series.

With Anderson and Broad in their side, England will always have a chance, but if they didn’t know the task at hand, they will surely know now. A lot will depend on their start tomorrow, with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli at the crease, the signs look ominous.

Where is Moeen Ali when you need him? He seemed to have Kohli’s number. If England didn’t know what they were in for, they do now. After all, it was England who were the last team to beat them in India, that was some eight/nine years ago.

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The over 40’s club

With Pakistan being neighbours to them, many won’t be able to resist the comparisons between Pakistan Super League and the Indian Premier League. Such comparisons are extremely unfair of course as the PSL is an infant a toddler almost at 4 years old whilst the IPL is the bigger brother at 13 years old, the IPL knows more than the PSL, but he too is inexperienced and can mature much more. What I want to talk about here is that many see these T20 tournaments as a ‘young man’s game’.

This year’s PSL tournament is an example that the youngsters won’t be solely dominating the Super League team sheets, several veterans are blessing the PSL.

West Indian legend Chris Gayle (Quetta Gladiators), Mohammed Hafeez (Lahore Qalandars) and Shahid Afridi (Multan Sultans)  are all members of the 40-year old club. The four, might not want to scream that from the rooftops, but fans will be screaming and shouting about how Messers Gayle, Hafeez and Afridi have made solid contributions.

Former Pakistan captain Afridi has impressed with the ball, in particular, the first game as the veteran all-rounder Afridi finished with 2-24 off four overs against Islamabad United in the first game.

As for the other three, they have made some good contributions with the bat. Gayle scored a solid 39 and a streaky half-century (68) in two games. The fifty that The Big Boss scored did offer a couple of big changes to the Lahore Qalanders, but the Qalanders fielders shelled those chances. Those drops didn’t prove costly as fellow veteran Mohammed Hafeez clubbed an unbeaten 73 off just 33 balls, which helped Lahore win and chase down a potentially tricky target at a canter.

For the cricket purists amongst you, I know you will be thinking why hasn’t Kamran Akmal been mentioned? I must admit as I drafted this up, I was thinking the same thing too, but then after some research realised he’s a spring chicken at 39. Just like Akmal,  Shoaib Malik is a youthful 39.

As I was compiling this blog, there was some drafting and re-drafting, my criterion is strict, this blog is a shout-out to the 40’s club. Messers Malik and Akmal wishing them good health will be in the club next year! It’s brilliant to see the veterans we mentioned doing so well. Sohail Tanveer, Mohammed Irfan, Sarfraz Ahmed are arguably in the veteran category too but are a bit more youthful than Gayle, Hafeez and Afridi.

The youngsters in the tournament and the emerging players too is clear evidence that the PSL is making huge strides on the T20 cricketing world map. Not bad for a tournament that’s 10 years behind the IPL and the other leagues around the world.

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This weeks Champions League preview

It seemed like it took a lifetime, but last week Champions League football returned after a roughly two month absence. Last week, we were treated to some good games. Sevilla were outscored by Borussia Dortmund who won 3-2 on the night and Barcelona were humbled by PSG 4-1. 

In the other set of matches Portuguese champions Porto comfortably beat Juventus 2-1. Although the scoreline may seem flattering to the Italians, make no mistake about Juve were well beaten. In the last game of the round of 16 fixtures saw six-time winners Liverpool comfortably beat Manchester United conquerors 2-0 in Hungary, the adopted home of the German side due to Covid19 travel restrictions. 

As for this week’s round of matches, tonight’s matches see defending champions Bayern Munich travel to last year’s Serie A surprise package Lazio. This tie on the face of it, seems to have a safe Bayern progression written all over it, but The Bavarians have been far from convincing this term and even more since they returned from the Club World Cup. 

Having said that however, I expect the German giants to progress in this one 4-2 on aggregate. Ciro Immobile, will be a handful for the Rome side, but it’s the Lewandowski factor that will be the key for Bayern Munich.

 In the other game this evening, high flying Atletico who lead LaLiga by three points with a game in hand, host Chelsea.

Los Colchaneros who were in the same group as Bayern, have transformed into a brilliant attacking side.

Players like Louis Suarez, Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente of all people have been crucial for the the Spanish side.

Chelsea who recently appointed new manager Thomas Tuchel, have marginally improved since the German took over.

With talent such as Havertz and Ziyech at their disposal, The Blues will be no pushovers, but I can’t see past Atletico Madrid. My prediction for an aggregate score line or Atletico 3-1 Chelsea.

In tomorrow’s matches sees Manchester City come up against Borussia Monchengladbach. The Blues who have badly under achieved in this tournament, have been defensively brilliant this year with Stones and Diaz being key.

This tie seems City’s to lose, my prediction Man City 3-0 Borussia M. I am sure Marcus Thurman and co will be looking to do better than that over two legs.

The final game of the Champions League week sees Real Madrid and Atalanta go head to head.

Real as we know are the most successful team in the history of the tournament with 13 Champions League titles.

Atalanta on the other hand are relative new comers of the tournament and were dumped out last year in agonising fashion in the quarter-finals against PSG.

This year, the Italian side have been a shadow of that side who became everyone’s second team.

Papu Gomez, the captain of that side has left for Sevilla. Atalanta do still have Louis Demirel, Illicic and the bustling figure of Zupata too. They won’t be pushovers for sure.

Having said that, I still do fancy Real in this one. It won’t be an easy game, but this won’t be the nightmare game that Ajax was for Los Blancos. My prediction on aggregate Atalanta 1-4 Real Madrid.

So they were my predictions, but what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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The hangover

This season has been an unprecedented season for so many different reasons. As previously discussed in my blog post, which can be found here; https://ayyazmalik.com/2021/01/09/a-season-like-no-other/. This season has been an unusual one to put it mildly. In the English Premier League, there has been some normality that’s returned as Manchester City seem odds on to win their third title in four seasons.

Across Europe, Real Madrid/Barcelona neither of them are leading Laliga, it’s Atletico Madrid who seem to be running away it, but a surprise 2-0 home loss to Levante, means that the gap has closed at the top to just three points, but Diego Simeone’s side do have a game in hand.

In Germany although usual league leaders Bayern Munich are still top, ever since they returned for a successful and triumphant Club World Cup, The Bavarians have conceded 31 goals already this term, one less than they did in the entire 2019-2020 season. Their 2-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt means that the Bundesliga is more competitive this year.

With the example of Bayern, the Champions League winners have been far from flawless. In France last year’s Champions League beaten finalists PSG, have been suffering from indifferent from and they too aren’t have thing their own way in Ligue 1 as they trail league leaders Lille by four points. This is the same that could be said about Italian champions Juventus.

Juve, who have had a strangle hold on the Scudetto for a past best part of a decade, trail league leaders Inter by a massive 11 points, it must be noted that The Old lady have two games in hand over The Nerazzurri in Serie A. Regardless of this fact, even Juventus haven’t had things their own way.

This bug, shall we call it has travelled to Scotland too. Celtic who were looking to complete the ’10 in a row’, have been thwarted by a resurgent Rangers who are just seven points away from a first trophy in the Steven Gerrard reign. Covid, has affected us all and here’s to thinking that May can’t come quick enough.

But there’s some good things to have come out football being the way that is due to Covid, it’s not as boring and predictable as what it has been across Europe. That is a good thing, here’s to hoping that next season will be something similar, but I am not holding my breath.

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Liverpool vs Everton; the phobia of 20?

To say that Liverpool have had a tough season this year is some under statement. After accumulating over 190 points in the last two seasons, this season has been somewhat of a fall from grace for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Last year, the title was all but sealed before the lockdown, this year? The Reds are fighting for Champions League qualification.

After romping to their 19th title last season, the Anfield side were seen by many as favourites for this year’s Premier League. At the start of the season, what turned out to be an unpredictable season until Man City made an oath that they won’t lose a game. The fall from grace all started when Jordan Pickford forgot what sport he was competing in.

Jordan darling, it’s football. Former Sunderland goalkeeper in a challenge, that was more of a resemblance to a Connor McGregor move, put an end to star defender Virgil Van Dijk’s season. Initially, Jurgen and co, looked to have had the issue under control until 2021 began.

This year has been a disaster for the Merseysiders and that’s putting it mildly. Six defeats in this calendar year already was more than 2019 and 2020 put together. Many have written Liverpool off, this team is past it, this team is this, this team is that. Calm down guys!

Yes, this has been disappointing, but there have been many injuries. It was only last season that Premier League leader Manchester City had an equally disappointing title defence. Bad seasons happen, they have had some rotten luck this year with injuries whereas last year they were fine.

The defence hasn’t been the sole reason for this season panning out the way it has. The constant changing of centre backs doesn’t help, but playing you’re two most important players in midfield in defence has made them severely depleted. After the January window Kabak has been the player partnered with The Red’s captain Jordan Henderson, but they’ve been severely depleted with Henderson at the back.

Liverpool’s midfield is a well oiled machine and without Jordan Henderson, well it’s just getting rust on it. The game against Everton this evening summed up this seasons struggle in a nutshell. Is their a fear of getting to that 20th title? I don’t think so, but they obviously don’t like a number with 20 in it as they have lost for the first time in 21 years to Liverpool.

The Toffees’ last win against their rivals at Anfield was a 1-0 win in 1999. Don’t worry Reds fans, your team will be back, but the Liverpool board do back him, he’s earned it.

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James Anderson, the man who can do it on a ‘cold night in Stoke’

In cricketing terms, he should have retired a while ago, he’s arguably outstayed his welcome, but England fast bowler James Anderson is like fine wine, as they say, he gets better with age.

There are not many other sportsmen that this could be said about, giving this some thought and I would say Juventus forward Christiano Ronaldo is the only man who you can say this about. Jimmy is the other.

Born in Burnley, Jimmy Anderson has turned from a spiky-haired youngster who would have issues with injuries and his action, to a world-beater with the ball. Our Jimmy is no mug with the bat either.

Starring in an Ashes test with folk legend Monty Panesar in a stubborn last-wicket stand to thwart old enemy Australia and save the game on that occasion. An 81 against India, his highest in first-class cricket left the cricketing fraternity pondering on the thought of England having a new all-rounder in the making.

As the Burnley Brian Lara got older, and more greys appeared on the head, what else came abundantly clear was Jimmy was getting smarter with the way he bowled. In his heyday, he could run in at close to 90 mph more consistently. These days towards the mid-eighties is the norm.

Anderson has now almost turned wizard-like with ball. When Ronaldo takes a free-kick in football, no one else can make the football talk like he does. In cricket, the same can almost be said of James Anderson.

Reverse-swing and making the old ball talk was only a skill that many thought Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis could do, but Anderson has mastered the reverse-swing art too. It must be a Lancashire bowler thing.

As impressive as that is for the now 38-year old Lancastrian, the challenge is if he can do it on a dry spinning pitch? The football equivalent of doing it on a cold night in Stoke. With 600 wickets to his name (the most by any fast bowler in world cricket), one would come to a resounding conclusion, yes he can!

In fact, in the ongoing series with India, James Anderson now holds more records. In the previous test series against Sri Lanka, the 38-year old became the oldest man to take a five-wicket haul and has the distinct record of being the man who has taken the most wickets in test cricket after reaching 30.

For a player who changed and remodelled his action, only to go back to it in the process, this is some achievement. James Anderson, you are a legend of the English game, no the world game.

There won’t be a fast bowler who can quite do it in all conditions as you have. World cricket salutes you, it won’t be long till her Majesty will be calling for a Royal Visit. Sir James Michael Anderson arise!

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Klopp the unstoppable Jurgen-aught?

He came to English shores as something as a phenomenon. Touted for Manchester United, amongst other jobs and even earmarked by Sir Alex himself.

So when Jurgen Klopp agreed to come to Liverpool manager after he came out of a sabbatical, The Merseyside club celebrated this monumental coup of getting one of club footballs hottest managers.

A sharp whit, a charming personality, a whiter than white smile but a steely determination about him, made Jurgen the man Liverpool fans have come to love and adore.

Ever since he became Liverpool boss in 2015, 53-year old Klopp has only seen nothing but success at Anfield.
A Europa League final loss to Sevilla, which there’s no shame in as that tournament should almost be renamed the Sevilla League as they have such a stranglehold of that tournament.

Despite this setback, there were signs that Liverpool were improving. With back to back Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019, the latter of which they won their sixth in their history.

The Reds would enjoy a trophy-laden period thereafter. The club World Cup, the Super Cup and most satisfying of all for Liverpool fans, the Premier League all made their way into Anfield’s already bulging cabinet.

Nineteen League champions Liverpool were at the top of the world (literally) at this stage. There was one challenge left for manager Jurgen Klopp, who has enjoyed nothing but success since.
How to see through the transition of a great team? This has been a dilemma for many great sides, Manchester United and Barcelona come to mind.

Liverpool are in this same situation too arguably. After the unprecedented success in recent seasons, both star Firmino and Mane look to be in decline.

Injuries too have depleted Liverpool and the supporting cast too look to not be Oscar-winning worthy.
No Virgil Van Dijk, no Joe Gomez or Diogo Jotta too, that’s some serious talent in the treatment room.
One can’t argue it’s been a disappointing season this season. What people shouldn’t do is write Liverpool off.

The Reds have a tricky task when it comes to it to evolve this team. Now this team isn’t at the end of its cycle, but this great Liverpool team can’t last forever.

Jurgen Klopp has pretty much turned everything into gold that he’s touched so be he’s been in Merseyside.
This season has been unfortunate with the number of injuries that they have suffered. No matter how great the team, injuries come back to bite, just ask Pep at Man City.

At the time of writing, Liverpool are fifth. With the quality of the squad that they have, to qualify for Champions League football next season shouldn’t be an issue.

When (hopefully sooner rather than later) they get their star player Van Dijk back. When he does come back and the other injured players too, I want to raise the issue again of evolving this Liverpool team. Tottenham although they didn’t win a trophy, managed to turn into a consistent side.

But what they didn’t do is not evolve at the right time. As a result Tottenham who were consistently qualifying for the Champions League places, are no way near as a result. Liverpool are very well run and I have no doubt that they won’t make this mistake that Spurs did.

On that, as the saying goes Auf Wiedersehen Pet!

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The match made in heaven?

Love, is a very special thing when you are able to feel it in its entirety. Whether it be the appreciation, or the support, love is a magical thing. Premier League giants Manchester City were too in love. They though were yearning for love.

That love and support was what they craved so dearly, in the form of a reliable centre back. They went through a lot of ‘relationships’ (central defenders). When long term lover Vincent Kompany left for another woman (Anderlecht), City had to do the thing that no one likes doing … moving on and finding a new partner.

City and Kompany had so many memories together, they seemed inseparable, but this is life – nothing lasts forever. The Cityzens began the unenviable task of trying to find a new love. Elaquim Mangala, was a relationship that never worked and the French defender was dumped by City even before they could truly go public as couple.

Nico Ottamendi, Nathan Ake are a string of other defenders that Man City tried to settle down with, but it just didn’t seem natural. Emerick Laporte had been a reliable centre-back and still is, but he didn’t count on John Stones’ resurgence.

Former Everton defender Stones, looks like a player reborn ,but to keep with this analogy City needed a stable relationship .Manchester City spent money, gave them gifts, but these centre-backs couldn’t find a way into City’s heart of hearts.

Then came Ruben Dias, a signing from Benfica. The 23-year old Dias seems to have been the wish to all of City’s prayers and already seems to be the dream partner to have in a relationship. AKe, Ottamendi (who joined Benfica as part of the Dias deal) and Mangala are to name some expensive relationships that haven’t worked and ended with them splitting up from each other.

Here’s to hoping that Dias and Man City, remain the happy couple that they are. I don’t think City could handle the end of another relationship.

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