Ashes Preview

It is merely a couple of weeks away from the biggest showdown in world cricket. Australia and England are set to do battle yet again in what will surely be one of the most intriguing Ashes series in a long time. England come into it unsurprisingly as underdogs, as many fancy Australia’s strong top order, and destructive pace battery. However, with England the current holders of the urn, they will no doubt be more focused than ever on retaining it.

England Preview-

England come into this Ashes series with a major setback. They will be without arguably the best all round cricketer in the world right now in Ben Stokes unless something drastic changes with his police case. Still, without Stokes they remain a definite threat to the Aussies with a strong squad. Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman seem to complement each other well as opening partners, with Cook grinding his innings out, whereas Stoneman is seen as the dasher, quite similar in a way to Australia’s opening pairing of Warner and Renshaw. Joe Root will be captaining England for the first time in an Ashes series, and he will of course be expected to lead from the front with his batting. If there is one thing that can be criticised about Root’s game, it is that he has a definite problem with converting his 50’s into 100’s. This issue will need to be urgently ironed out for this series if England want to win, as Root is by far and away England’s best batsman, and has the capability to take apart and completely demoralise opposition bowling attacks once he starts finding rhythm as the crease.

England’s middle order is going to be very hard to predict for the first game at the Gabba. Without Stokes, who has cemented his place at number 6 in recent years, they find themselves in need of a player who can come in and perform as well as he has. They have many options in their squad, with the likes of Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan and possibly even Craig Overton being possibilities for that role. The scrutiny will definitely however be on James Vince. He is almost certain to bat at 3 in the first test, and in all honestly, won’t even have to perform that well if he is to better his first part of his England test career. He failed to pass 50 in every one of the 7 tests that he played back in the summer of 2016, and was subsequently dropped for the subcontinent tours. Despite a very mediocre county season, averaging in the mid 30’s for Hampshire, Vince was called up as a replacement for the dropped Tom Westley for the Ashes. Many ex professionals including Shane Warne had called for his inclusion, based on the fact that he appears to have a technique that is a lot more suited for Australian conditions than English ones, which in other words means, he prefers to bat on flat tracks as opposed to ones that do a bit.

England’s bowlers have notoriously struggled in Australia, with the same style bowler going out there and getting the same results- right arm medium fast bowlers who can’t move the Kookaburra ball getting hammered by the Aussie batsmen. They perhaps have a better chance this year, with maiden away Ashes series for Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Jake Ball. I personally think that Craig Overton should be given a go. He has the ability to bowl for long sessions and bowl fast and accurately. Overton would be a difficult customer for the Aussies to deal with, and couple that with his ability to come in and score quick runs with the bat, he is a definite contender for a debut in Brisbane. Should Moeen Ali not pass his fitness test and be ruled out for the first test, then England will be forced to choose whether to go with an all out pace attack, or to include the spin of Mason Crane. Crane has impressed in his short international career so far, albeit in the shortest format, but the potential is definitely there for everyone to see. He has experience bowling in Australia as he made his Shield debut for New South Wales last year, and picked up a 5-fer at the SCG.

Overall, England’s team has the potential to be a very strong outfit, but there are a few players who need to solidify their positions and make them their own. The players inexperience in Australian conditions and an Ashes series might play a factor, with only Cook, Root, Anderson, Finn and Broad a part of the England squad that got mauled by the Aussies in 2013.

Predicted Line up for the first Test at the Gabba:

Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root (c), Ballance, Bairstow (wk), Moeen, Woakes, Overton, Broad, Anderson

 

Australia Preview-

Australia come into the series lacking test match practise you could say. Since the India tour in February, they have only had one test series against Bangladesh which finished 1-1. They look to have a more settled team than England do, with question marks only really raised over the number 6 role and the wicket keeping position. At the top of the order, Warner will be relied on heavily to score big as he always does at home, and will look to get on top of the England bowlers right from the off. Matt Renshaw is a stark contrast to Warner as a batsman and the partnership is reminiscent of the Warner-Rogers partnership which dominated world cricket for a few years. Steve Smith will be the man to watch as always, with his test average reaching 60 this year, something that the great Ricky Ponting once achieved in his career at one stage as well.

Australia’s middle order has the potential to be very dangerous. Peter Handscomb comes in at 4 with a test average of over 50, and a lot of cricket played for him in more challenging conditions than what he is likely to face at home. The Aussies have the ability to play both Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright in that middle order to follow Handscomb- something which England might find to difficult to manage. Maxwell is destructive, a brutal yet innovative player who refuses to die wandering even in the longest form of the game. Hilton Cartwright is more of a reliable batsman, if not a bit less entertaining than Maxi. Cartwright averages 50 in first class and has only really just begun his international career. He is also a more than handy bowler, as Steve Smith can surely attest to, as Cartwright dismissed his skipper in the New South Wales vs Western Australia shield game a few days ago. They do have other options as well as these two, with Shaun Marsh always a reliable batsman wherever he plays in the order, and with his brother Mitchell looking in supreme form domestically, we could potentially see the Marsh brothers at 5 and 6 for Australia. The main issue for the Aussies however, is the wicket keeping position. It has been an issue that has plagued them ever since the retirement of Adam Gilchrist, and is currently at it’s worst point. Matthew Wade has demonstrated time and again in his turbulent international career that he is not reliable with the gloves, and doesn’t score the amount of runs to potentially ignore his wicket keeping flaws. There is no real challenge from anyone else on the domestic scene though, with there being no full time keepers who boast good enough batting stats. It will come down to Wade vs Peter Nevill for the role, and all signs point to Wade at the moment, but this is a area in which Australia will be concerned.

The Aussie bowling unit is probably the best bowling attack going around at the moment. They have a ridiculous amount of world class fast bowlers, so much so that not all of them can get a game, and have to be satisfied with carrying drinks, or not even selected at all! Their main threats are of course Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. Starc is looking absolutely lethal with the ball right now, and will definitely fancy himself against the technically flawed Gary Ballance if he plays. Starc has just taken a career best 8 wicket innings haul for New South Wales, and then followed it up next game with a hat trick against Western Australia. Hazlewood is a top 5 bowler right now, with his outstanding ability to hit the perfect line and length every ball with great pace earning him rightful comparisons with Glenn McGrath. Cummins is the quickest of the lot, and whilst his international debut against South Africa feels so long ago, he is still very young, and has plenty of time to improve. If Cummins can consistently hit 150kph plus, then England’s batsmen might start to panic, and have flashbacks to Mitchell Johnson’s pace barrage 4 years back. This is all without mentioning their leading wicket taker in Tests this year Nathan Lyon, who is probably right now the best spinner in the world across all conditions. Lyon has spun Australia to numerous victories this year, and will enjoy bowling to an England line up that has shown an inability to cope with the turning ball at times recently.

Overall, it really is hard to look past Australia at the moment with the way their squad lines up. Their batsmen have such incredible records, and ability to score the big hundreds, and once that is coupled with the fact that their bowling attack can take out any top team in the world, it makes them perhaps too hot to handle.

Predicted line up for the First Test at the Gabba:

Warner, Renshaw, Smith (c), Handscomb, Cartwright/Khawaja, Maxwell, Wade (wk), Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon

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100 Best Players- Centre Backs

 

1: Virgil van Dijk: Age: 27  Club: Liverpool

Since joining Liverpool in January last year, Virgil van Dijk has undeniably made more impact than any other Premier League transfer since. He has massively improved what was a very shaky and inconsistent defence, and has contributed to Liverpool’s higher percentage of clean sheets since he joined. He has everything that the perfect centre back should have, he is quick, intelligent, very good tackler, and is incredibly comfortable and confident on the ball, which helps Liverpool to build attacks from the back.

 

2: Diego Godin: Age: 32  Club: Atletico Madrid

When you play for the world’s best defensive team, you have to be one of the very best in your position, and Diego Godin continues to prove that he is just that. A brilliant showing for Atletico last season, and then followed up with a very impressive performance for Uruguay in the World Cup, who were only beaten by the eventual winners. Godin is the perfect player for Simeone at Atletico, and is a great example for young centre backs to model their style of defending on.

 

3: Kalidou Koulibaly: Age: 27  Club: Napoli

Kalidou Kouliably has hugely enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s best defenders over the last couple of seasons, and he is definitely one of the most feared centre backs in the world. When Napoli played PSG in the Champions League earlier this season, Koulibaly produced a wonderful display, and pocketed Kylian Mbappe, one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world. Koulibaly possesses amazing pace and strength, along with a calm presence and intelligence at the back that allows Napoli’s defensive unit to work so well.

 

4: Sergio Ramos: Age: 32  Club: Real Madrid

Whilst Ramos would have dominated this list for years in recent times, he has had somewhat of a turbulent year from a purely defensive standpoint. He did guide his team to a third successive Champions League, and is undoubtedly the best captain and leader in world football, but there have been seemingly more and more errors creeping into his game defensively, and this has subsequently resulted in poor results for Real Madrid, and an extremely underwhelming World Cup campaign with Spain. He will be hoping 2019 will be a better year, and he does still have a chance of winning yet more continental silverware with Madrid.

 

5: Milan Skriniar: Age: 23  Club: Inter Milan

The Slovakian has been making a name for himself as one of the world’s very best defenders as opposed to just a prodigy over the last season. His move to Inter Milan has proved very fruitful, and he is only behind Koulibaly in terms of Serie A’s best defenders. He has age on his side also, and he is a player on this list that I can absolutely see becoming the best centre back in the world in the years to come. I am incredibly impressed when watching Skriniar play, and have to admit that it can surely only be a matter of time before one of the truly big clubs comes in and signs him.

 

6: Samuel Umtiti: Age: 25  Club: Barcelona

The majority of people would have included Raphael Varane ahead of Samuel Umtiti, however I feel that at present, Umtiti is a far more polished defender, and has excelled not only for France, but also domestically for Barcelona, where he has gone from strength to strength. Umtiti was part of a resolute defence that saw France march towards World Cup silverware, and was one of the tournament’s outstanding players in his position. In my opinion, he has overtaken Gerard Pique as Barcelona’s best defender, and it will be interesting to see whether he can keep up a good level of consistency.

 

7: Raphael Varane: Age: 25  Club: Real Madrid

Despite winning a Champions League and a World Cup, Varane finds himself at number 7 on my list, which I suppose re-enforces the fact that trophies do not mean that every player in the team is the best in his respective position. Varane had a very inconsistent 2018 from a defensive standpoint, and has been part of a Real Madrid back line that has looked completely at sea against even the lower positioned teams in La Liga. He excelled for France in the World Cup, and I think one of the keys was that they were all playing with confidence and the knowledge that they were better than every team they came up against. For Madrid, Varane has looked short of confidence, along with the rest of the defence. If Varane is to prove he is the able successor to Sergio Ramos, then now is as good a time as ever to try and galvanise a faulty defence.

 

8: Aymeric Laporte: Age: 24  Club: Manchester City

Laporte joined the Premier League champions last January, as City were facing a shortage of centre backs, and needed to bring someone in during that window. Laporte was the player they went for, and they will be delighted at the way in which he has repaid their selection. Laporte looks every bit a world class defender, and especially one that Pep Guardiola will enjoy managing. He is calm on the ball, and his distribution from the back is what suits Man City so well. Guardiola is known for rotating his players fairly regularly, however Laporte seems to be one of the few players that Guardiola seems reluctant to leave out of the team.

 

9: Gerard Pique: Age: 31  Club: Barcelona

A club legend, Pique has consistently been one of the best defenders in the world, and is not looking in any way of a decline, which speaks volumes about how good of a defender he has been and still is. Barcelona value someone like Pique so highly, someone that was brought through their youth teams, and despite a brief spell at Manchester United, has remained loyal to them throughout his career. Pique and Umtiti have formed a very important partnership at the back for Barcelona, and could very well guide them to domestic and continental success this year.

 

10: Jose Gimenez: Age: 23  Club: Atletico Madrid

The apparent successor to Diego Godin at Atletico Madrid, Gimenez impresses from a defensive standpoint in virtually every game I have seen him play in. He is a physical presence at the back, and very competent with the ball at his feet, which ensures consistent results for Atletico. He and Godin both formed the centre back pairing for Uruguay at the World Cup, where they looked like dark horses until they met France in the Quarter Finals. The best thing for Gimenez would be to remain at Atletico while he is still young and can still improve his game, but it remains to be seen whether he could be tempted by a big money move in the future.

100 Best Players- Right Backs

 

 

1: Joshua Kimmich Age: 23  Club: Bayern Munich

Joshua Kimmich’s reputation as the world’s most versatile player is completely deserved, as the once central midfielder has completed his transition to right back as Phillip Lahm’s successor seamlessly. Kimmich is equally adept going forward as he is going back, and is incredibly important to the build up play for Bayern, and Germany’s goals. Whilst right back was not his initial position of choice, it says a lot about how talented he is, that he was able to become the best in the world through continuous training and game time.

 

2: Thomas Meunier: Age: 27  Club: PSG

A player that is grossly underrated, Meunier has been essential to the Parisian club during Dani Alves’ absence. Meunier, like Kimmich, is incredibly adept at going forward and creating goalscoring opportunities, and this is evidenced by the hat trick that Meunier scored for the Belgian National Team last year. Meunier was evidently a huge miss for Belgium in their World Cup semi-final against France, and you can only wonder if he was playing, perhaps Belgium may have had more of a chance of prevailing.

 

3: Cezar Azpilicueta Age: 29  Club: Chelsea

The Chelsea captain has consistently proved himself as one of the very best defenders in the Premier League, whether he is playing at right back, left back or in the centre. This season, he has been re-deployed as a right back, and is continuing to show why Chelsea value him so highly. Azipilicueta is very versatile in defence, and is a commanding presence at the back, which has seen Chelsea resolve some, not all of their defensive frailties this season.

 

4: Sergi Roberto: Age: 26  Club: Barcelona

Sergi Roberto has gone from strength to strength year after year at Barcelona, and is definitely one of the world’s most elite right backs. Barcelona are dominating La Liga at present, and they seem to have found a perfect balance in their squad, and Roberto slots in perfectly at right back. Whilst he has a different job to Jordi Alba on the other side, who is far more attacking, Roberto is still undeniably important to the side, as his defensive skills and range of passing are crucial to build up play.

 

5: Kyle Walker: Age: 28  Club: Manchester City

Manchester City had an outstanding year under Pep Guardiola last season, and Walker was one of the most important signings of the season for them. Guardiola was not content with the full backs that he had at his disposal and sought after Walker, who has since linked up with the team fantastically and even bagged a few goals. This season, Walker has looked slightly more shaky defensively, but he was so impressive last season for City, and also slotted in well at centre back in the World Cup for England.

 

6: Joao Cancelo: Age: 24  Club: Juventus

Cancelo has long been one of the most promising full backs in the world, and he is now starting to prove that the hype was real. Cancelo’s all round play is incredibly impressive, and his vision and range of passing is astonishing at times, and has allowed Juventus to play in a more free-flowing attacking style, of course helped by the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo. Cancelo is still very young, and whilst not in his prime yet, he has shown over the last year that he is definitely amongst the world’s best.

 

7: Dani Alves: Age: 35  Club: PSG

At 35 years of age, Dani Alves is still one of the very best in his position, and was still highly sought after by clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea last season, before settling on PSG, where when fit, he has impressed with his performances. He is usually rotated with Thomas Meunier, and Alves contributed heavily to PSG’s title win last year. Alves has struggled with injury this season, but is undoubtedly still one of the best around.

 

8: Dani Carvajal: Age: 26  Club: Real Madrid

It may come as a surprise to see Carvajal this low down on the list, especially as he has enjoyed continental success with Real Madrid in the last few seasons. Carvajal however, has struggled with injuries in the past year, and has not looked his normal self as a full back in the games that Real have played, and this is exemplified by the poor start that Madrid have made to their domestic season. If Carvajal is fully fit, and can do away with some of the theatrics that seems to have crept into his game, then he will be rising back up the list.

 

9: Sime Vrsaljko: Age: 27  Club: Inter Milan

The World Cup finalist was incredibly unlucky to be loaned out by Atletico Madrid this past season, but he unfortunately does not fit their system at the current time. Vrsaljko was one of the standout players during Croatia’s incredible World Cup Campaign. He is a very versatile defender, and is very skilled going forward. He has the chance to revitalise his domestic career at Inter Milan this season, and prove that he is worthy of getting back into Diego Simeone’s plans.

 

10: Ricardo Pereira: Age: 25  Club: Leicester

Perhaps a slightly controversial choice, Pereira has been touted as potentially one of the best right backs in the world previously. Whilst many would feel that his career is perhaps stagnating at Leicester City, I feel that he has proved this season that he is definitely capable of playing for a much better team, and could secure himself a move to a Champions League club by the end of the season. Pereira is lightning quick, and is also very intelligent defensively and offensively, and I can definitely see him moving up this list in the coming years.

100 Best Players- Goalkeepers

 

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1: Jan Oblak: Age 26  Club: Atletico Madrid

In the last few years, Jan Oblak has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the world’s most elite goalkeepers, and in my eyes, he is the best goalkeeper in the world as of now. Atletico Madrid are known for their resolute defence and their incredible ability to limit the amount of goals that any team can score past them, and Oblak is essential to their setup. The Slovenian is an extraordinary shot stopper and is a brilliant commanding presence for his back line to communicate with each other. Oblak has been linked with many high profile transfer moves, but as of now, he remains faithful to Atletico, and I can only see the very best teams being an option for him to move.

 

2: Marc-Andre ter Stegen: Age: 26  Club: Barcelona

Marc-Andre ter Stegen is a goalkeeper that has flown under the radar throughout his career. In terms of the German National Team, he has long been overshadowed by Manuel Neuer, and in terms of his club career, he has often not got the recognition he deserves for being an outstanding goalkeeper. He has saved Barcelona from the jaws of defeat many times with his shot stopping, and he is blessed with good technical ability for a goalkeeper, which allows for very swift Barcelona attacks at times. I think that with the slow decline that Manuel Neuer has shown over the last few years, ter Stegen has a very legitimate case to being Germany’s top choice for the goalkeeper spot.

 

3: Alisson Becker: Age: 26  Club: Liverpool

Alisson has had a fantastic year in terms of boosting his reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers. He finished off a good season for Roma by securing a huge transfer to Liverpool in the summer, and has subsequently proven why Jurgen Klopp valued him so highly. Liverpool have been keeping clean sheets for fun, and Alisson’s shot stopping has been a highlight of what could be one of the best debut seasons for a Liverpool goalkeeper in their history.

 

4: David de Gea: Age: 28  Club: Manchester United

It may seem incredibly unfair to have de Gea this low on the list, and certainly in the last few years I would have had him at the number one spot each time, but de Gea has not proven that he is the best in the world over the past year, and with such stiff competition, it was always a possibility that he would be usurped. de Gea had a poor showing at the World Cup, his appearances marred with errors, and perhaps was indicative of Spain as a whole during the tournament. So far this season domestically, Manchester United have had a pretty poor season, and de Gea has struggled to keep clean sheets, and although some of the blame can be laid on the shoddy defence, de Gea hasn’t been producing those highlight reel saves he is often synonymous with. I expect 2019 will be a much better year for the Spaniard.

 

5: Thibaut Courtois: Age: 26  Club: Real Madrid

Belgium were incredibly unlucky during the World Cup, and I thought that they were very worthy candidates to win the whole thing. It is undeniable that Courtois was instrumental in their campaign, and went on to win the golden glove award for the tournament’s best goalkeeper. He showed during the World Cup that he was capable of producing the performances that had everyone raving about him whilst he was at Atletico Madrid. Courtois had a quiet season for Chelsea, and is currently part of a struggling Real Madrid side that has serious defensive issues.

 

6: Ederson: Age: 25  Club: Manchester City

Ederson was one of the most important signings for Pep Guardiola in Manchester City’s dominant title win last season, as he showed remarkable ability with his distribution that often led to incredible counter attack goals for Manchester City. Whilst he may not be the best shot stopper out there, Ederson is certainly someone that completely suits the system that he plays in, as his ability with his feet and his range of passing works so well for the way in which City play.

 

7: Keylor Navas: Age: 31  Club: Real Madrid

Keylor Navas has certainly been unlucky that Real Madrid did not value him as their top goalkeeper anymore when they signed Thibaut Courtois during the summer. Navas has been consistently brilliant for Madrid in their domestic and continental successes during his spell there, and has also been integral to Costa Rica’s surprising results on the international stage. Navas is too good of a keeper to be kept on the bench, and we can expect a transfer for him during 2019.

 

8: Gianluigi Buffon: Age: 40  Club: PSG

It truly is a testament to how good Buffon is that he is still performing at the highest level at 40 years of age. Buffon had been part of a domestically dominant Juventus side that came close on many occasions to winning the Champions League. Buffon left Turin in the summer and moved to PSG, and has continued to show that his age is not holding him back.

 

9: Samir Handanovic: Age: 34  Club: Inter Milan

The fact that Handanovic has been forced out of the Slovenian National Team is more a testament to how good Jan Oblak is rather than reflecting on the ability of Samir Handanovic. Since 2012 when he moved to Inter Milan, he has gone on to prove to be consistently one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A, and he is not showing many signs of decline. Handanovic is a player that I am surprised has not played at a higher level, but he remains loyal to Inter and continues to perform for them.

 

10: Andre Onana: Age: 22  Club: Ajax

While all the hype of upcoming young goalkeepers has mainly centred around Gianluigi Donnarumma, Andre Onana has been putting in some spectacular performances for Ajax, and consistently finds himself making highlight reel saves to help his team. Ajax have qualified for the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time in a long time, and Onana has been highly important to this success. A player that began at the Barcelona academy, it is surely only a matter of time before Onana becomes one of the most sought after goalkeepers in the world.

IPL Auction- 3 Key Targets

The auction for the 2019 IPL is almost upon us, slightly earlier this time around than usual, but the hype is still the same. Whilst there won’t be too many major transfers of players between teams, there is still the possibility for plenty of high profile players and rising stars to get selected by a franchise. Here are five players that I believe could attract top dollar at the auction this year.

 

Shimron Hetmyer

The young West Indian star has had a phenomenal start to his international career, which has seen him take apart attacks from all over the world, and stamp his authority on the world stage. Hetmyer would be a solid buy for virtually all franchises, as he has such an ability to smack the bowlers all over the park from ball one. Hetmyer also has the advantage of having played and impressed in India in the last few months, which is surely something that the franchise management teams will take into consideration.

 

Oshane Thomas

Another young West Indian starlet, Oshane Thomas is definitely one of the most promising fast bowlers in the world right now. He has the ability to clock speeds upwards of 150kph, and has already claimed the scalps of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Chris Gayle in his blossoming career. Fast bowlers that have the ability to harry batsman for pace are proving to be a very useful commodity in modern T20 cricket, with the likes of Jofra Archer, Billy Stanlake and Lungi Ngidi all proving to be important bowlers for their franchises in recent years.

 

Shivam Dube

The All rounder from Mumbai has had an astonishing start to his career so far, averaging over 60 with the bat and in the low 20’s with the ball for Mumbai in their Ranji Trophy campaign. What will excite selectors about his batting, is his strike rate, and his clear six hitting ability which will surely see him as a very handy middle to lower order hitter. He is also a very solid bowler, and all rounders as we know are the most valuable assets to a team by a long way in this format. I expect Dube to be one of, if not the most expensive player at this auction.

 

Shimron Hetmyer: Windies New Superstar?

The Test series between Bangladesh and West Indies has concluded, and as many expected, Bangladesh dominated the Windies with a vicious spin assault which saw the Caribbean batsmen collapse under the pressure of the turning ball in assisting conditions. The West Indies were comfortably beaten in both games, with the spin trio of Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taijul Islam and Shakib al-Hasan doing the main bulk of the damage to the lineup. It can be said that during the two tests, 10 of the 11 West Indian players playing looked completely at sea when facing the spin barrage, but the one player that did stand out, was the player who is making a name for himself as one of the biggest talents the game has seen in a long time.

Shimron Hetmyer finished the Test series as the leading run scorer with 222 runs at an average of 55 with an astonishing strike rate of 105, including 12 fours and 15 sixes. In the second innings of the second test, with the Windies staring down the barrel of an enormous innings defeat, Hetmyer bullied the Bangladeshi spinners on his way to a mesmerising 93 off 92 balls with one four and nine sixes. His attacking approach showed tremendous courage, and marked him as the lone player in his team that seemed to have the desire to stand up and win the game for his team. It is a shame for Hetmyer that the same desire and application cannot be said of any his teammates during the series.

It is of my belief that Shimron Hetmyer is the best talent West Indies have produced since the great Brian Lara. At only 21, Hetmyer has had a breakout year, exploding onto the international scene with a swashbuckling batting performance in West Indies ODI series against India last month. During that series, there were times where he looked more impressive and at times far more entertaining than the Indian skipper Virat Kohli. So far, he has taken to the ODI scene more naturally than the longer format, where he has amassed 738 runs so far at an average of 43.41 at a strike rate of 108 including 51 fours and 29 sixes. If there’s one question mark that I have about Hetmyer so far, it is his ability to make big scores in the Test arena. He is yet to record a century in Test cricket, and while his incredible strike rate is entertaining, his game will go to the next level if he is able to perhaps rein in his attacking instincts at times, and know when to grind out an innings. West Indies’ next Test series comes next month against a buoyant England side, and I will be fascinated to see how Hetmyer approaches his batting against some of the best bowlers in the world such as Anderson and Broad.

With the IPL auction for 2019 coming up in the next few weeks, Hetmyer has to be one of the hottest properties, and surely every franchise will be looking to splash the cash on the dynamic left hander. It remains to be seen whether his loyalty to international cricket will prevail over the riches of the T20 leagues, but so far, he has started his career in the way that, in my opinion, will make him a future great.

The Most Underrated Player In Cricket?

In the past few years, the upsurge in talented batsman has reached new heights, with players such as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson all dominating the game in all formats. However, I believe that during this period, there has been one player in particular that has flown under the radar.

New Zealand haven’t played a lot of cricket in the last few years, and when they have, they have been a mixed bag. It’s no secret that the Blackcaps have struggled since the perhaps premature retirement of legendary skipper Brendon McCullum, especially in the batting department. Whilst Kane Williamson would usually be the standout, I believe that Ross Taylor has been one of the most consistent batsman in the world over the last 2 years, across both Tests and ODI’s. Since 2016, Taylor has scored 1,049 runs in Tests at an average of 58.27 with 4 hundreds and 4 fifties. New Zealand have contested in close series during that period, and the runs of Taylor have been crucial to their performances. To put Taylor’s performances into context, it is interesting comparing him to his compatriot Kane Williamson; the number 3 ranked batsman in the world. In the same period, Williamson has played 3 more matches, and has scored 1,443 runs at an average of 51 with 5 hundreds and 8 fifties. Going by these numbers, Taylor is neck and neck with one of the best batsmen in the game right now, and has a higher average with a better conversion rate. Overall in Tests, Taylor has scored 6,281 runs at an average of 47.22 with 17 hundreds and 28 fifties. These are truly remarkable numbers, and surely will earmark him as one of the very best players to ever play Test cricket for New Zealand.

The One Day format is where Taylor’s stats are truly outstanding and you get a sense of just how underappreciated he is as a batsman. Since 2016, Taylor has played 37 innings in ODI’s and has scored 1,807 runs at an average of 62.31. Taylor has been crucial to the New Zealand middle order during this period, and has saved them from embarrassing defeats on a number of occasions. The most notable from recent memory was his fantastic 181* off 147 balls against England in March earlier this year, where he guided New Zealand spectacularly through their chase of 336. This period of dominance from Taylor has seen him shoot up through the rankings in ODI where he sits in 6th place currently, only bettered by Babar Azam, David Warner, Joe Root, Rohit Sharma and of course Virat Kohli. New Zealand have real issues in their opening partners in the One Day game and their lower order, but surely the combination of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor has to be one of the best 3 and 4 partnerships in the world as of now. Taylor’s overall Test numbers are top class, and his One Day numbers aren’t lacking either. He has accumulated 7433 runs up to this point at an average of 47.04 with 19 hundreds. To average over 47 in both Tests and ODI’s with 13,000 runs combined is something that very few players can lay claim to.

Taylor began his career as a six hitting slogger for lack of a better term, but has truly transformed his game throughout the latter half of his career. He rarely goes for the big shots now in either version of the game, instead choosing to accumulate his runs safely and capitalise on any loose bowling. I remember Ross Taylor being one of my favourite players growing up, because of his dazzling displays during the IPL, but now I really can truly appreciate him as a player due to the way in which he has adapted his game to suit Test cricket, and to significantly improve a weak New Zealand outfit. I hope that as the next few years roll by, that Ross Taylor gets his richly deserved appreciation, as he seems to have flown under the radar in the last few years.

Virat Kohli- The Master

Virat Kohli wrote his name yet again into cricketing history today by becoming the fastest player to reach 10,000 ODI runs in his magnificent 157* against the West Indies. The previous record for the quickest to 10,000 belonged to one Sachin Tendulkar, who reached it in 259 innings. Kohli today reached it in 205 innings, and has accomplished the feat with an average of 59.62 which for someone with so many runs, is bordering on absurd. What is even more absurd, is that Kohli reached 9000 runs in 194 innings, meaning it has taken him 11 innings to go from 9000 to 10,000. It is just incredible that Kohli is able to constantly score runs in the shorter format of the game in every innings he plays. His conversion rate is stunning too unsurprisingly, with 48 fifties and 37 hundreds. Again, I must repeat that this is in the 50 over format, which should be unthinkable for anyone to achieve these numbers.

Kohli now stands out far beyond any of his contemporaries in the One Day format, as he continues to assert his dominance and status as the greatest One Day player of all time. Last year, I would have considered AB de Villiers the best One Day player to ever play the game, but I feel that Kohli is surpassing him, and is achieving much bigger things than AB ever did. The fact that Kohli is making de Villiers’ look less special is truly a testament to how good he is. I think now, that there is no more competition between them in terms of their legacies, especially as AB has now retired, and Kohli has not even hit 30 years old yet. It also says a lot about Kohli as a person that he remains humble, as he still says he ranks de Villiers as the best player he has ever seen. He will now no doubt set his sights on Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most runs in ODI’s as he seeks to write his name furthermore into cricketing history.

The West Indies had no answer for Kohli the other day, as he struck an imperious 140 to guide them to a win in an easy chase of 322, and they had no answer for him today either during his unbeaten 157. Some of his shots at times looked like he was playing a video game on the easiest difficulty, but never seeming to get bored. His shots show to me just how hard he must work in the nets. The amount of times he must have practised that flick off his pads through midwicket, as it seems to go for four every single time it is bowled anywhere near his legs. His cover drive is sumptuous, and always along the ground, unless he is showing off. While it may have seemed at times in the past that Kohli was carefree and arrogant about his game, it is certain now that he is by far the hardest working cricket player out there, and he is reaping the rewards for it. A highly talented sportsman making the most out of his talents is truly wondrous to see, and I hope it serves as an encouragement for all the other young cricketers out there seeking to have great careers. I certainly hope it serves as a wake up call to a lot of the England cricketers who seem to prioritise drinking over training in the nets. Kohli attributes the majority of his success to his incredibly strict fitness regime, in which he has transformed himself from a chubby youngster to the fittest athlete in cricket. The difference that being as fit as you can be cannot be understated. Kohli now runs so many 2’s and quick singles that help him to accumulate runs effortlessly that would not be so easily attainable if his fitness was not at the level that it is.

To summarise, Kohli is a genius. He is cricket’s Lionel Messi, and if he continues at the rate in which he is going, he will shatter all kinds of cricketing records. From a kid discovered during the 2008 IPL, to the best batsman in the world, Kohli has truly cemented his status as a cricketing legend, and I cannot wait to see how his career continues after this momentous milestone accomplished today.

The best Football XI

Every year, UEFA selects what it deems to be the best team of players. As is customary, I tend to disagree with a lot of the selections, so I thought I’d select my team which I think would be unbeatable against any opposition. The formation will be 4-2-3-1(wide) as I believe this is still the strongest formation to use.

GK: Jan Oblak

The Slovenian goalkeeper has rarely received the credit he deserves for his outstanding performances for Atletico over the last few years. Oblak is one of the best shot stoppers in the game and his record speaks for itself as a goalkeeper. He has kept more clean sheets than he has conceded goals as Atletico keeper, and he has consistently been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in world football. It was close between Oblak, de Gea and Ter Stegen, but I believe that Oblak is less error prone and capable of more match winning performances.

LB: Jordi Alba

The Barcelona full back has established himself as one of the best attacking full backs in world football in recent years. Barcelona’s attacks are often heavily reliant on the penetrating runs from full back from Alba and his link up play at times with Lionel Messi is nothing short of sublime. He does his defensive duties well also, and I believe him to be far and away the most complete full back in the world.

CB: Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk is easily the best centre back in the premier League and has arguably been Liverpool’s best player so far this season. I thought Chris Sutton made a very interesting and valid point when he said that he believed van Dijk to be the third best player in the world, but was unfortunately scoffed at by many people who gave the classic responses of have you seen Neymar, Mbappe etc. Van Dijk very rarely makes a mistake and is so imperious at the back, that it is just such a confidence boost for any team to have a player like him in their ranks. I believe van Dijk will continue to grow even more as a player at Liverpool and soon people won’t be able to deny that he is the best centre back in the world.

CB: Diego Godin

Along with Oblak, Diego Godin is another pivotal reason as to why Atletico are having the success that they are. Godin is as reliable as they come, and is a true leader at the back. He had a superb world cup, where Uruguay were only beaten by France who were of course the eventual winners. Godin was of course crucial to Uruguay’s world cup campaign, and the way in which they denied top teams from scoring against them epitomises the way in which Godin plays. A lot of the reasons why Godin is now considered among the elite is because of Diego Simione who I rank to be the best manager in the world.

RB: Joshua Kimmich

The only German player on this list, Joshua Kimmich has to be one of the most versatile players in the game. He has perfectly filled the void left by Phillip Lahm, and I believe he is such an intelligent footballer, and a big reason as to why Bayern Munich have had the success that they have had over the last few years. Kimmich is capable of playing as a wing back or as a defensive full back which is essential for a manager to have a player like that.

CM: Adrien Rabiot

Probably the most surprising and controversial player on this list, and I can perhaps see why, but I think that Rabiot is so hugely underrated as a player, and I think that he will most definitely go onto be one of the best midfielders in world football in the coming years. I rarely see Rabiot making mistakes, his work rate is phenomenal, and his calmness on the ball is what I feel makes him such a key asset to PSG. It was a tight call between him and N’golo Kante, but I believe you can only have one of them in that midfield as they both play similar roles. Rabiot is so intelligent on the ball with who he passes to and when he passes which is so crucial to building attacks.

CM: Kevin de Bruyne

Under Pep Guardiola, de Bruyne, like many other Manchester City players has flourished as a player. He has produced a number of highlight reel assists, and has also been getting his name on the scoresheet a lot more often as well. De Bruyne is such a wonderful player to have in that central midfield role because he brings the ball up the pitch so well and distributes it to either wing with ease. City have missed him this season, but as he is returning from injury soon, they will relish having a player such as that amongst their eleven once again.

LW: Eden Hazard

For me, Hazard is now the second best player in the world. At times I am left in jaw dropping disbelief at the magic that he produces on a football field. Hazard is by far and away the best player in the premier League, and I believe it’s not even close between him and anyone else. His dribbling rivals Messi and his finishing skills have just improved year after year and he is now so deadly in front of goal, which makes him even more feared. It was criminal that he did not receive the World Cup Golden Ball as he was definitely the best player in the world cup. His performance against Brazil was the best individual performance from a player that I have seen in a long time. I believe that as Hazard is getting better, and Messi is getting older, that Hazard is in with a serious case of being a Ballon d’Or winner very soon. The premier League is lucky to have a such a phenomenal talent playing week in week out.

CAM/CF: Antoine Griezmann

France’s most valuable player and one of the most selfless and hardworking footballers out there, Griezmann is definitely one of the first names on the team sheet. Griezmann is such a quality technical player also, that he is a defenders nightmare playing just behind the striker, causing havoc among the back line and releasing the wingers when necessary, or going for goal when he has the opportunity. Another player who attributes most of his success to Diego Simione, Griezmann has truly flourished at Atletico and translated those domestic performances to the international level where he was crucial in sealing the World Cup for France this year.

RW: Lionel Messi

Quite simply the best of all time. No one comes close, and there is very little needed to be said to justify having this genius in any team.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo

I’m a big fan of the way that Cristiano Ronaldo has transitioned from a number 7 winger into more of a number 9 striker in recent years. It shows his intelligence as a player that he is able to recognise his strengths, and continue to perform at the highest level for so many years now. As a striker, Ronaldo’s goalscoring record is just unmatched, and he is guaranteed to score you goals, especially with the service in this team. The Portuguese great has been so prolific and is so deadly from any situation in front of goal, that I feel he is the best striker in world football.

World Cup Day 4 Recap

After an action packed start to the World Cup, the games kept on coming on Sunday and there was only one place I was going to be sat for the three games that were on.

The first game came from Group E as Costa Rica entertained Serbia. On paper, the game seemed as though it wouldn’t be appealing, but I was just as excited to watch this game as any other. Serbia have been a team in transition for a number of years, and they are starting to produce some quality footballers and now have a team that looks like it could potentially take them places. They have a good blend of youth and experience, and looked like a well organised team against Costa Rica. Both teams played pretty well, and it was difficult for both to break down each others defences. The standout player of the match was Sergej Milinkovic-Savic who I have been keeping a close eye on these past 2 seasons at Lazio, and I was excited to see how he performed at an international tournament. Milinkovic-Savic was superb, and I could tell just watching him that he is going to be some player. He dominated and bossed the attacking midfield region, having a very good blend of quick feet and agility as well as strength and power, which makes him a force to be reckoned with for defenders. He was precise with his passes, and showed a key attribute which I believe separates the top players with the others, and that was his decision making. It is often the case that young players lack the right decision making in the final third particularly, and I believe we see that with Kylian Mbappe, but with Milinkovic-Savic, I was very impressed with his vision, and his composure to get his head up, and slot Mitrovic in on goal when the opportunity presented itself. Mitrovic up top was a disappointment for me. He possesses qualities similar to Diego Costa, in that he is a tenacious, strong and aggressive forward, who tends to bully centre backs off the ball. The problem with Mitrovic was that he failed to demonstrate prolific qualities such as finishing and composure in the box that makes a great striker great. He was put through on goal a number of times, and each time either got the ball stuck under his feet, or failed to beat the keeper. It appears to me as if Serbia need to think about playing another striker alongside him, who can bang in the goals while Mitrovic is that target man up front who wins the balls and supplies to his striking partner. Serbia scored the only goal of the game when Aleksandar Kolarov curled in a beautiful free kick from some way out midway through the second half. Costa Rica didn’t really threaten Serbia much, and looked short of goals, but they did show a lot of heart and courage in the defense and midfield to keep Serbia at bay at times. I do think that with a more prolific striker, Serbia would have perhaps scored a few more, but they will be happy to get their campaign underway with a win, putting them top of their group.

I was thoroughly looking forward to the second game, which saw Group F get underway with a very intriguing match up in Germany vs Mexico. Coming into the game, I was surprised that so many people were writing off Mexico as they have a good team, and have performed very well in qualifying. In the first half, it was clear that Mexico were employing a Liverpool esque counter attacking style, which saw them constantly hit Germany on the break at rip roaring speed with their two wingers and forward. Mexico scored the opening and only goal of the game in the 20th minute when a swift counter saw the ball fall to Hirving Lozano, and the PSV man cut inside his man and buried the chance with aplomb. Lozano started the season for PSV in red hot form, and I closely followed his season, and was impressed with his technical ability coupled with his lightning pace. Lozano has been linked with a move to Liverpool, and he certainly proved in the first half that he fits in with their style of play. Mexico could have scored 3 or 4 in that first half if there final ball was a bit more improved. They were constantly exposing Kimmich for his forward runs, and Hummels and Boateng looked incredibly shaky against the pace of Mexico’s attacking counters. Throughout the game, Germany looked lothargic and very lackadaisical in their passing and movement. Muller and Ozil were particularly disappointing as they frequently gave away possession and kept playing horrible drifted balls into the box, which does not suit Germany’s style. I guess it was a testament to how well Mexico were playing that Germany had to resort to that. The game finished 0-1, and Germany have some serious problems to fix. I thought that when he came on, Julian Brandt looked a very exciting and talented player, and perhaps they could start him ahead of Draxler for their next game. They need to ensure that they don’t get hit so easily on the counter, because a more clinical team than Mexico would have torn them to shreds similar to how they tore Brazil to shreds in 2014.

Speaking of Brazil, they played in the final game of the day in the second Group E of the day as they took on Switzerland. The Swiss are certainly no mugs, and proved it today as they truly went toe to toe with the South Americans. Brazil flew out of the starting blocks, and were all over Switzerland to begin with, stringing together lovely one touch moves, resulting in scoring chances. The goal did eventually come in the first half through a Phillipe Coutinho wonder strike. During his time at Liverpool, and since he joined Barcelona, Coutinho has scored plenty of goals similar to this one, stepping inside on his right foot and bending it perfectly out of the goalkeepers reach from outside the box. Brazil deserved their goal, but Switzerland did not wilt. They essentially made it their aim to foul Neymar so much that he couldn’t have any influence on the game. The Brazilians were going down like bowling pins all over the pitch, and crucially for Switzerland, were not getting anywhere with the ball. Frustration and annoyance seemingly crept into their game, as they became sloppy on the ball, and started fouling Switzerland back. Just after the restart, Switzerland got their equaliser through a Steven Zuber header from a set play. Switzerland continued from here with their game plan and nullified any Brazilian attack with tenacious defending from their midfield as well as their defence. There is a reason why Switzerland are ranked so highly in the FIFA rankings, and they showed it today. They performed very well as a team, and all understood their roles very well. Brazil were electrifying at times, and showed glimpses of why they are tipped to go all the way and win the tournament by many, but Switzerland kept the same pace, and I thought outplayed Brazil for a lot of the second half mentally. It will be fascinating to see this group play out, as I was very impressed with Switzerland as well as Serbia today, although I do still see Brazil topping this group.

Tomorrow’s games see Sweden take on South Korea, Belgium against Panama, and then the big one. Is it coming home? No more years of hurt? We will find out how England get on against Tunisia in their opening World Cup game.

World Cup Day 3 Recap

Day 3 of the World Cup promised to be one of the best days of the tournament so far, with four games taking place over the course of the day.

The day began with France taking on massive underdogs Australia. France come into this tournament with huge expectations as being one of the best squads, and as one of the favourites to lift the trophy at the end. I was highly anticipating watching the French team in action, but afterwards I have to confess being underwhelmed and unimpressed by their performance against a plucky, but not overly impressive Australia team. I was expecting to see electrifying runs down the wings from Dembele and Mbappe, with Griezmann in the box ready to pounce on any loose ball. It didn’t quite play out that way, with France seeming very languid in their build up play, and quite sloppy in possession. They were defensively sound, but I felt as though they were not making the most of their offensive options. They took the lead in the second half after a boring, goalless first 45 minutes, when Griezmann was brought down in the box for a penalty. He tucked it away confidently, and is underway for the Cup in his first game, which will surely give him a big confidence boost. Sure enough though, only minutes later, and a moment of madness from Samuel Umtiti saw him thrust his hand in the air and almost punch the ball from out of the box, resulting in a penalty. Mile Jedinak stepped up and buried the penalty, leaving France in a poor situation after 60 minutes against the weakest team in their group. France however, did get their winner, and it came in the last 10 minutes of the game from Paul Pogba, who managed to just get the ball of the bar and over the line to break the Aussie spirits. All in all, it was a frustrating performance from France, but the good news is that they have plenty of time in which to figure out their mistakes and improve their game.

The second game saw Argentina take on Iceland, and the big question was how Argentina were going to play as a team. We all know how much quality lies in that Argentinian attack, especially when you are having to leave guys like Mauro Icardi at home after the season he has just had. The Icelandic team still lives long in the memories of English fans, who will all recall how England were knocked out by the Scandinavian team back in Euro 2016. The game was quite end to end at the start, with Iceland enjoying plenty of space in the Argentine box, and getting a few shots away in the process. Argentina took the lead when Man City striker Sergio Aguero blasted the ball into the top corner from inside the penalty box to give them the ideal start. Aguero has a poor record at World Cups and will surely be glad to get his first goal of a World Cup game in their first of 2018. The joy was to be short lived for Argentina as Iceland capitalised on lacklustre and unconvincing defending at the back, and Finbogasson buried his chance when it fell to him from the edge of the six yard box. Iceland performed heroically throughout the game, and their defending was top drawer, as was their composure and decision making up and down the pitch. From an Argentinian perspective, I thought their performance was atrocious. If I was an Argentine fan, then I would be asking serious questions, as their game plan was one of the worst I’ve seen for a supposed top ranked team. Their play quite literally revolved around giving the ball to Messi and hoping he could produce some magic. Even for the casual football fan, it is clear to see why this tactic is so flawed, and why it is so mind-blowing that Argentina chose to play like this. The Icelandic team realised the game plan almost instantly, and just started throwing three men to man mark Lionel Messi and essentially stop him from having any space to have any creative spark. This worked perfectly as Messi was subdued throughout the game, and yet Argentina didn’t change their tactics at all. They are a team full of talented players, and yet they were repeatedly being ignored as they made runs, because the team was so focused on giving the ball to Messi. Couple this with the fact that their defence and central midfield is below average, and you have to question why Argentina are ranked where they are. Messi’s situation was not helped when he missed a penalty that was given midway through the second half. Again, I have to question the decision making in this team. Messi has a pretty average record from the penalty spot, domestically and internationally, and realistically should have given the ball to Aguero, who has a much better record from 12 yards. The game finished 1-1 and I was angry at the way Argentina went about this game, as it showed a complete lack of awareness as to what it takes to win World Cup games. They need to fix themselves up very quickly if they are to get anything out of the game against Croatia on Thursday.

The last two games were definitely not as entertaining as any of the other games we have seen at the World Cup so far.

The first was Denmark against Peru which was the second game from Group C. It was a cagey affair, with neither team creating any clear cut chances, or having more of the play. The big moment in the first half did come when Peru were awarded a penalty for a foul, but perhaps overcome by nerves, Cuellar blasted it way over the bar and into the crowd, giving Denmark a lifeline. The penalty miss must have stung the Peruvian confidence, because although they were the better team for the rest of the game, they could never find that chance to open the scoring. The only goal of the game did come through Yussuf Poulsen as he slotted in a nice finish from inside the box. Before the game, many were anticipating Christian Eriksen’s performance amidst plenty of transfer rumours linking him with a move to Barcelona. He was fairly quiet throughout the game, and didn’t really have much of an influence on the result. Despite Peru being the better team, Denmark got the result, and will perhaps fancy themselves as a chance against the French who didn’t look convincing either in their win over Australia.

The final game saw Croatia take on Nigeria, and after Nigeria gave England a bit of a scare in a friendly match the other week, there was an air of uncertainty to this match. Their needn’t have been however, as Nigeria were poor from the outset. They lacked energy, skill or decision making to ever concern Croatia at all. Croatia looked slick on the ball, and with the influence of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, bossed the game from the centre of the park. It was a pretty dull game with barely any action. Croatia weren’t looking to force chances, and Nigeria were shockingly bad with their passing and team cohesion. The opening goal came towards the end of the first half when Etebo put the ball into his own net after uncertainty in the box from a corner caused panic among the defence. Nigeria went into the break 1 down and needed to come back out showing fight and passion to bring themselves back into the game. It was more of the same however, in fact probably worse, as Croatia continued to control the game under no real pressure. Croatia bagged their second goal from 12 yards, on this day of penalties. The Nigerian defender Ekong seemingly forgot that he was playing, and perhaps thought he was in the UFC as he grabbed a hold of Mandzukic’s neck in the box, putting him in a headlock right in front of the referee. A decision that summed up Nigeria’s performance, and Modric stepped up and coolly slotted in from the spot to seal the 3 points for Croatia. All in all, it was a solid game for Croatia who can take many positives from the game, one major one being that they didn’t have to exert too much energy in getting a comfortable win in their first game. For Nigeria however, they will have a lot to worry about as their team seems to have no cohesion, and were seemingly bereft of ideas during the match.

Tomorrow’s games include Costa Rica vs Serbia, Germany vs Mexico and the much anticipated Brazil against Switzerland.