Thursday, 25 August 2011

A quizzical US Open preview

With the 2011 US Open nearly upon us, and the men's singles draw done, it is customary for a tournament preview. But rather than my usual rolling out of docile and ultimately inaccurate opinions on who's on form, who will win and who to watch out for, I thought I'd find out the right answers first, then make you do the work. 

Rafa later regretted agreeing
to do the quiz himself
That's right, it's a US Open quiz (mostly focussed on Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray), combining my geeky love for stats with my obsessive love for tennis, and hopefully producing some vaguely interesting facts to raise an eyebrow or induce a "really?". The real dream for a quiz creator is for the quizee to google (other search engines are available) something because they find it so astonishing that it can't possibly be true. (Not ideal if it turns out to indeed be too good to be true, but I'm sure that won't be the case here). Anyway, I digress. 

Happy being bemused, befuddled, bamboozled, bewildered and ultimately bored bowled over like a Lasith Malinga yorker. Answers at the bottom

1. Last year, Juan Martin Del Potro was reigning champion after his 5 set defeat of Federer in '09 - how far did he get defending his title? (2 points)

2. Which of the top 4 have lost the most number of matches at the US Open? (1 point) How many times has he lost? (1 point)

3. Put the top 4 in order of their all-time winning percentage at the US Open. (2 points or nothing)

4. How many double faults did Djokovic serve during last year's US Open? (3 points if you get it exact, 1 point if you're within 3)

5. This is the first US Open since which year that Federer has been seeded outside of the top 2? (2 points) Who was top seed that year? (1 point)

"Come on Roger, you know this!"
6. How many times in the last 4 years of Grand Slams (i.e. out of 16) have Federer/Djokovic been on one side of the draw with Nadal/Murray on the other side? (2 points - exact answer or nothing)

7. Which of the 4 was in the top 20 fastest servers at last year's US Open? (2 points) BONUS point for the speed of the serve

8. How many times in the Open Era has someone won the US Open without dropping a set? (Wimbledon has been won once, Aus twice, French five times) (2 points)

9. Which of the 4 made most line call challenges during last year's tournament? (2 points) BONUS point for the number of challenges

10. There has never been 8 different nationalities represented at the QF stage of the US Open. Which two countries had more than 1 player in last year's quarters? (1 point for each country)

11. Which player/players have a positive overall head-to-head record against the other 3? (2 points)

"I should have known that
Scotland wasn't the answer to 14."
12. Excluding JMDP in '09, who was the last man to win a Grand Slam other than the top 3? (1 point for the name, 1 point for the year + GS)

13. Which of the 4 won the US Open Boys' Singles title? (2 points) BONUS point for the year

14. After the USA, which country has the most Open Era US Open Men's Singles titles? (2 points)

15. Which is the only of the 4 to have lost more Grand Slam singles matches in a year than he won? (2 points)


Post a comment with your score - if you've not done too embarrassingly that is. Maximum is 32 (35 if you get the bonus points too)

1. He was injured, so didn't compete in the tournament at all.

2. Nadal - he has lost 7 times (from 8 appearances). Djokovic, Federer and Murray have all lost 6 times. ND/AM from 6 appearances, RF from 11

3. Federer 90.32%, Djokovic 81.25%, Nadal 80%, Murray 73.91%

4. He made 28 double faults, the tournament leader was Verdasco with 36 but my favourite has to be Berankis, with 30 from just 2 matches!

5. 2002 - Lleyton Hewitt was top seed. Federer was 13th seed. Pete Sampras, seeded 17, was victorious

6. 15 of the last 16 Grand Slams have had that pattern. Roland Garros 2010 is the only time that it hasn't been Murray/Nadal on one side of the draw and Djokovic/Federer on the other side, despite constant variations in seedings

7. Andy Murray, with a 136mph serve.

8. Never - the US Open is the only Grand Slam to have never been won without the loss of a set

"I was right with all 23 challenges,
Hawkeye got the other 14 wrong"
9. Djokovic, with 23 (9 of which he was correct. Their successful challenge percentages were Nadal 46.67%, Djokovic 39.13%, Murray 35.29%, Federer 25%)

10. Spain and Switzerland with Nadal/Verdasco and Federer/Wawrinka respectively

11. Only Nadal. His record against the others is 45-24. Djokovic is 27-34, Federer 28-34 and Murray 16-24

12. Marat Safin - 2005 Australian Open. (not Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros 2004 as I put first!)

13. Andy Murray 2004 - incidentally, Gael Monfils won all 3 of the other boys' Grand Slam titles that year 

15. Federer, in 1999, lost in the first round of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, while not playing in Aus/US

PS If you hated my quiz and thought it terribly dull or boring, please try this one then come back to me.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Greatest Test side ever (in 2011 at least)

So that's that. Perhaps telling that a match in which India supposedly put up a bit of fight and showed some determination was still won by an innings and 8 runs, after an England declaration only 6 wickets down. Who knows how many England would have scored if Bresnan (series average 77), Broad (61) and Swann (18) had been let loose as well. Fortunately for India, we'll never know. A dramatic final day that just about summed up how India performed all series, OK in patches, generally dismal.

Lots of discussion about whether this series was more about England's awesomeness or India's awfulness. The reality is probably a bit of both, with all the usual stuff about thorough preparation, injuries etc. playing their part too. I believe that there are a few (billion) people in India who take a passing interest in cricket, and are a lot better placed to analyse their shortcomings currently, so I'll instead revel in England genuinely being the best at a major sport perhaps since Rugby Union in 2003. Full video here - WARNING: it is physically and emotionally impossible to ever get tired of watching this video.

And what better way that to get carried away and start making comparisons with the Aussies of the 90s/early 00s? And while I'm at it, I might just see how we'd get on against a World Test XI, as that's the great compliment paid to McGrath & co back in 2005. I've used the current ICC test player rankings but "massaged" my selection, to make it match up as a good player by player comparison, hopefully no controversial choices though! It is also quite difficult to just use the rankings as so many of the positions are taken up with Englishmen. For the Australian team, I've taken the 2006-7 Ashes squad because that is when I remember them being so utterly dominant and delivering a thrashing the like of which we've not seen since, well, today.

So the teams are: (I know I did a table, if you've read even a single blog post before you'll know I'm geeky, get over it)

England 2011
Aussies 90s/00s
World XI 2011
Strauss (c)
De Villiers (SA)
Watson (Aus)
Ponting (c)
Dravid (Ind)
Kallis (SA)
Tendulkar (Ind)
Chanderpaul (WI)
Prior (wk)
Gilchrist (wk)
Sangakkara (SL) (wk)
Johnson (Aus)
Morkel (SA)
Shakib (Ban) (c)
Steyn (SA)

My backside hurts. To be entirely honest, as I was putting together the Aussie team I came back to earth with an almighty bump. Stupid comparisons. I think a composite team made up of the 3 would probably look remarkably like the middle column *I don't actually think this, I'm just sulking cos Cloud 9 proved unaccommodating

Strauss/Langer/AB: Fairly evenly matched really, JL performed consistently for years, but Strauss adds something with the captaincy prowess. Difficult one to call. 
Cook/Hayden/Watson: Two destructive Aussies against one accumulative Englishman. Although Shane's bowling is a factor to consider, Hayden struck fear into any attack, especially on hard bouncy Aussie wickets.
Trott/Ponting/Dravid: A punter between two walls. Perhaps the most marked difference in styles of all our comparatives. Frankly absurd averages all 3 of them. I can't choose between the latter two but I guess Richard is a more entertaining choice
Pietersen/Martyn/Kallis: KP and Damien are both class but someone who averages 57 with the bat and only 32 with the ball in nearly 150 test matches gets into any team in history. That's Kallis by the way.
Bell/Clarke/Tendulkar: The poor guy only needed 9 more runs. I've little doubt that Sachin will get there one day but a testament that virtually every England fan seemed to want an opponent to score a century today.
Morgan/Hussey/Shiv: Not sure Eoin stands a lot of chance in this company. If you had Hussey and Chanderpaul in the same team it is possible they would simply never be bowled out.
Prior/Gilchrist/Sanga: Gilly was really the first wicketkeeper-batsman that seems to be so important in modern test cricket. Only a few genuinely class batsmen can combine the two skills, England have the very best in "the Sussex gloveman" (try finding any story about MP without that phrase) but AG was the first and best.
Bresnan/Lee/Johnson: Lee was (and to a lesser extent, is) class. Sheer pace, aggressive batting but top class sportsmanship. Bresnan may be yet to taste defeat (or even a draw), and Johnson has his days where he only bowls 2 wides an over but Brett wins this hands down.
Broad/Clark/Morkel: A bit of a weaker 3 and an opening for the English team. Is Broad finally developing into the top performer he promised to be in the 2009 Ashes? It could go a long way to helping us stay on top if he is.
Swann/Warne/Shakib: In my opinion Shane Warne is the best spin bowler ever. I know Murali took more wickets etc but the only bowler in the Wisden 5 cricketers of the century does it for me. He's also good fun in the commentary box.
Anderson/McGrath/Steyn: Jimmy and Dale are unbelievable bowlers, and would lead any attack they played in. But Glenn McGrath is another league altogether. So another one from the Aussies I'm afraid.

It looks like this then: Strauss, Hayden, Ponting, Kallis, Tendulkar, Chanderpaul, Gilchrist, Lee, Broad, Warne, McGrath.

I never liked cricket anyway. When does the tennis start again?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Typical England, we're so frail and inconsistent... Oh wait

It is clear that England are a weak, vulnerable and inconsistent team, relying on a few star players, most of whom aren't even English. That's why, after they scrape a win at Lord's purely by virtue of injuring their opponents, they just collapse in the face of a bit of pressure.

Put into bat in ideal conditions (a heavy cloud cover and irregular bounce), they can't even get to 125 without losing 8 wickets. A few lucky slogs and they scrape to a meagre 221. So much for challenging to be the best team in the world!

It was highly fortunate for England to be bowled out at that time, leaving India a difficult period in the evening on Friday. Mukund's wicket was a joke really, England using such gamesmanship like warming up before bowling, putting fielders in places where they could catch the ball and bowling quicker than 75mph. Just not on really.

Dravid & Laxman showed them how to bat - these are two class batsmen who know how to perform under pressure, not like Ian Bell or someone! There's no way he'd cope with being moved to a different position in the order during a match and having to overturn a deficit in classy style and go onto score big runs. Not a chance.

So then Stuart Broad managed to get a few tailenders out, conveniently taking advantage of the lack of DRS for LBW decisions. Frankly I'd rather not get a hatrick if it was achieved in such a manner. He should be ashamed of himself. How can you expect India to score 300+ in those circumstances, or any circumstances indeed?

Alastair Cook showing his true colours with another performance you'd expect from the so-called run-machine. I think he may require an MOT. 
Trott's wimpish injury (dislocated shoulder! I've had worse playing pro-evo) meant that Bell came in at 3, where we all know he can't bat. Fortunately he hardly scored any runs, and most of the runs he did get he did so by just wandering down the pitch as he felt like it and then crying to Mummy Flower when he was run out. Luckily for him, MS appears to stand for Majorly Soft or possibly Massive Sucker. There's been a lot of talk about how good it was of India to let Bell back into bat but there's a couple of things about that:

1) we always gave our younger brother two lives (*also, if he was out golden duck it "didn't count") - surely similar rules apply to such a diminuitive fella like Ian.
2) The overlooked but more significant demonstration of thoughtfulness came from the Indian bowlers, who, aware that Bell/Morgan probably didn't get much to eat during tea cos of the stress, dished up some lovely buffet bowling, on which the English(/Irish) feasted.

As well as the after-tea nutrition, there was a healthy and decidedly ample breakfast laid on for Bresnan and Broad. Despite this, England were only able to set a target of 478, which was really very get-able, after all, 3 times in test match history teams have chased down more than 200 runs at Trent Bridge, so why not another couple of hundred to set the record? 

Given that it was a reserve bowler who took most of the wickets in the second Indian innings, it doesn't really count and I'm sure that if Gamhir/Sehwag were there things would have been different. As it was, India didn't really make too much of an effort - fair play I suppose, always good to let the underdogs take a game or two. 

All in all, a very weak and inconsistent team at the moment - we'll be lucky to win another match this series. Heaven knows what will happen against West Indies next summer.

Anyway, here are the traditional (2nd match in a row) ratings that you're (both) clamouring for:
Strauss - 48 runs but another victory 4/10
Cook - I never rated him. Another couple of failures with the bat, now averages the lowest of all England players across the two games (CT/JA haven't been out) 0/10
Trott - joking aside, clearly wasn't fit in the second innings but somehow managed to score even less that Cook, I'll cut him some slack and go for 1/10
Pietersen - couple of decent knocks, looks in good touch really. 7/10
Bell - as discussed, very poor performance from him. As a result, only 9/10
Morgan - wasn't really there when we needed him 1st innings but was able to play like an ODI in the second for a good 70. 6/10
Prior - as per Eoin 6/10
Bresnan - 7 wickets (at 14 runs each) plus 101 runs isn't bad for a second stringer. May have earned himself a place for the 3rd test. 9/10
Broad - Another exceptional performance, made all the more impressive because he got his runs when we were seriously under the cosh and got his wickets when the game was running away from us. In other words, people like Bresnan and Bell did the damage, but were only able to because Broad had saved us from the brink. Worthy MotM 10/10
Swann - Oh Swanny, where are you mate? Decent and very important knock in the first innings but 97 runs for no wickets isn't the return you'd expect from the world's best spinner, even if the seamers were doing the job anyway. Let's hope it was just a bruised hand and not a sign of his form. 3/10
Anderson - quietly picked up 5 wickets in the match at only 26 and continues to lead the attack well. 7/10

Mukund - 3 runs probably isn't what the selectors were hoping for to be honest 0/10
Dravid - another century in vain, he must wonder why he bothers. Hopefully he won't at Edgbaston. That would help. A shame he couldn't put up a Wall when India really needed it on Monday. 8/10
Laxman - has threatened to really come good but not quite there yet. Again, went missing when his country need him. 6/10
Tendulkar - the wait for the hundredth hundred continues. And in this form, it may wait all summer. 6/10
Raina - the promised showed at Lord's was left thoroughly unfulfilled in Nottinghamshire by Suresh. If all you had to do was bowl a bouncer or two at him, it makes you wonder how he scored so many last test match. Very weak game for him 2/10
Yuvraj - offers a good option with the ball, especially with Habhajan bowling like a Dad trying to build his son's confidence with a few underarms, and can do damage with the bat but as with his whole career really, lacking concentration and consistency. Will surely make way for Gambhir and/or Sehwag. 62 and the wicket of Bell earn him 6/10
Dhoni - sadly no points for sportsmanship, which is a shame for MS, cos he sure isn't going to win any for his field placements or batting skills. The 4th Indian golden duck of the match and the final nail in the coffin. 0/10
Harbhajan - 67/1 doesn't look too bad really, given that the Turbanator is bowling a lot of unthreatening Ashley Giles at the moment. His only consolation is that Swann isn't doing much better. Nice little cameo with the bat though. 2/10
Kumar - Praveen is picking up a good number of wickets, he now has 13 for the series, second only behind Broad. But frankly, I can't help thinking he gets wickets mostly just because no-one else in the Indian team does. Still, you can't argue with 169/7 - 7/10
Ishant - five wickets in the match may seem like a decent effort, but at nearly 40 runs a pop, he probably won't be opening the bubbly. 4/10
Sreesanth - as with Ishant, 5 wickets, but at 42 runs each. Nothing to write home about and certainly nothing to threaten Zaheer's return should his hamstring return to full working order. 4/10

Team totals:
England - 62
India - 45

Prediction time:
It looked for a while as though my 100-150 run victory could be accurate. Little did I account for Tim Bresnan. India will be stronger with a bit of a break and a couple of big players to return but it would take a massive turn around to stop England securing the top spot in the ICC rankings next weekend. England to win again