Why Donald Bradman chose Arthur Morris for Invincibles

There is no dearth of great opening batsmen in world cricket, but when Bradman selected his dream team, his choice of openers did raise a few eyebrows. He omitted legends like Jack Hobbs, Sunil Gavaskar, Len Hutton, Dennis Amiss, Conrad Hunte, Bob Simpson, and Herbert Sutcliffe, and reserved the spots for the South African Barry Richards and his own buddy Arthur Morris. Morris’ was more justifiable because Richards had played only four Test matches. But it was not modern day statistics that Bradman considered for his team; he had more insights into the capabilities of the two openers, especially Morris.

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Premature end to a promising career

It was shocking to hear about the passing of the Australian opening batsman Phillip Hughes, two days after taking a bouncer blow during a domestic Sheffield Shield match. Irrespective of what happened off the pitch, Hughes remains not out in his final outing. He constructed a solid innings and immortalised it by infusing it with his life. I understand that he was expecting an Australian call up any moment. Is god Australian?
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Trivandrum Brevet!

Till the end of 2013, I was a regular in the Trivandrum Bikers Club rides ferreting out the undying charisma of Trivandrum city, its coastal areas, and hinterlands. I rode my MTB in a fantastic team to Shankumugham, to Vellayani, to Pothencode, to Attingal, to Anchuthengu, to Muthalapozhi, mostly under a searing sun or a mesmeric moon, often taking far-out and arcane routes, doused in rain, dirt, and sweat, sustaining an adventitious fall or a muscle pull at times. No other ice stick has been more luscious than the ones sold at the Shankumugham beach, and no AC has been more calmative than the squeaking ceiling fan in my rented house – after a full ride!

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Bad tactics, poor refereeing, and shameless opposition ‘bite’ Italy out

World Cup football 2014
Group stage: Italy lost to Uruguay, 0-1

It was clear – Italy had to secure a draw to advance to the second round, but Uruguay had to win. Italy had the advantage because only ‘loss’ from the three possibilities – win, loss, and draw – could have knocked them out of the tournament. Italy went into the game with good planning. They selected three centre-halves in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli and two forwards in Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile. Such a decision was taken by manager Cesare Prandelli for the first time in the tournament. It was a clear indication that Italy would be ready for attacking the opposition goal, but that they were ready to settle for a draw if that did not work. Apart from this, they had two wing backs in Mattia De Sciglio and Matteo Darmian and three in the midfield in Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, and Marco Verratti. Gigi Buffon stood at the goal, making it an all-four Juventus back line.

The match opened to a very dull first half. There were minimal attacks from either side and the ball was mostly in the midfield with Italy dominating possession. Buffon showed why he is still amongst the best in Europe through back-to-back saves to deny the opposition twice, which eventually earned him the Man of the Match award. The second half saw some good moves from Uruguay, but Italy ably defended them. Just then came an unexpected passage in the play, with Marchisio leaving the field with an undeserved red card. By definition, a red card is to be shown to a player who poses some kind of danger or threat. Marchisio committed a foul which looked unintentional and non-dangerous. But the referee was quick to take out and flash the red card to show him the exit door, while a yellow card would have been sporting. This shaked up Italy, a mental state from which they never recovered. When they were down to 10 men, with just two regular central midfielders, Italy resorted to complete defence. With just 10 minutes to play for, Uruguay captain Diego Godin converted a set piece to a brilliant goal. After that Italy planned some swift moves, but none of them could be converted. It was saddening to see even Buffon coming up to the penalty area of the opposition in an attempt to find that one goal which could secure them a place in the pre-quarter finals. But it wasn’t to be, and the Italians were knocked out for the second successive time in the first round of the world cup finals.
It is true that Italy struggled in the midfield and failed to reach the ball to the forwards. Bad refereeing also affected their plans. They were down to 10 men and they had to change their game to make up for the loss in midfield. Just then Luis Suarez bit Chiellini in the Italian penalty area, something which the referee completely overlooked. If Uruguay were also down to 10 men, the match would have become more interesting. One can only wish that FIFA will make use of technology to give instant penalties to players who make such hard moves on the pitch. It is a shame and disgrace to the game.
Italy will not take any further part in this world cup, but they had their moments in the opening match against England. They were clueless against a defensive Costa Rica, and their bad tactics and bad refereeing were pivotal in the last match against Uruguay. Prandelli had another two years of contract period to bring confidence back to the team and to make them ready for the Euro Cup in 2016, but he resigned following their first round exit. With the likes of Buffon, Pirlo, De Rossi, and Cassano leaving the game soon, one can expect to see more young blood in the team in the near future.

Italy down, but not out

World Cup football 2014
Group stage: Italy lost to Costa Rica, 0-1
Italy may have gone into their second group match against Costa Rica with the intention to win, but their starting XI did not look promising. While it was good to see Gigi Buffon back in the side, it was surprising to see Thiago Motta getting an early appearance. Maybe the manager Cesare Prandelli wanted Italy to play the holding game in the midfield. The back line was just the same as I predicted in my last post. Ignazio Abate came in on the right wing, Matteo Darmian moved to the left, and Giorgio Chiellini came to the centre. I would have given Marco Verratti another chance, but it was Motta instead who went to the pitch.
The first half saw some dull football, with Mario Balotelli wasting a few opportunities as he usually does. Balotelli seldom moved and gave the impression that he wanted the ball to find him rather than the other way. He did not have the speed or accuracy and that cost Italy dearly. Motta did not make any impact although Darmian made some advances. Pirlo was his usual self. In the dying minutes of the first half, Costa Rica scored an impressive goal to take the lead. Buffon could not do much as the ball hit the cross bar and then went past the goal line.
The second half saw Italy going in with Antonio Cassano instead of Motta. Italy played good attacking football in this half, but could not score goals. Cassano missed direction from a curvy corner kick from Alessio Cerci. The substitutions were hard to understand as well. Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio were replaced with two strikers Lorenzo Insigne and Cerci, but there was no sight of Ciro Immobile, their best bet who was warming the bench. I don’t remember any match in which Italy played four regular forwards all at once. Balotelli played the entire 90 minutes without making any impact other than getting a yellow card for himself. Costa Rica played very good holding game in the second half to keep their lead intact, a group attempt in which they succeeded. They also deployed the off-side trap very effectively against Italy forwards in the second half. They have qualified now to the second stage of the competition, knocking out England.
With England out, the group of death is really turning into one. Either Italy or Uruguay will also see the exit door from this group, which nobody expected at the start of the tournament. Although they lost today, Italy has a strong chance of advancing to the next level. They can qualify if they get at least a draw in their last group match against Uruguay. But for Uruguay, a win is a must. So in all likelihood, the last match of the group will be a real thriller. I would like to see the coach making some adjustments in the team for the last match. He should bring in either Alberto Aquilani or Marco Parolo to the midfield and drop Motta. If there is only one striker up front, it should be Immobile and not Balotelli. If Mattia De Sciglio comes back, Darmian should go to the right wing instead of Abate. They may also think about playing two forwards Immobile and Insigne together. In that case, I would like to see Candreva deployed on the right wing instead of Abate. 
There is bad news for Italy that they may miss Daniele De Rossi for the final group match against Uruguay. De Rossi is a main stay at the back of the midfield and has very strong defensive skills. If he misses out, I think Prandelli might deploy Thiago Motta in this role. So this is the team I predict:
Buffon – De Sciglio, Chiellini, Barzagli, Bonucci – Marchisio, Motta, Pirlo, Aquilani, Candreva – Immobile
De Sciglio moves forward along the left flank and Candreva on the right. This will allow the all Juventus back three to guard the goal. Midifled will be very strong, with Candreva charging along the right flank with assistance from Aquilani. If the opposition defence heavily marks the lone striker, both Marchisio and Aquilani can try long rangers too. Possible substitutions are Insigne for Marchisio and Marco Parolo for Candreva.
Photo: FIFA

Italy beats England and Manaus heat to start world cup campaign

Italy vs England was to be one of the classics of this world cup, and it really became one. Both teams played with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and in the end, the side that was better on the day turned out to be the winner. 
Italy fielded just one forward in Mario Balotelli and had three changes from the side I detailed in my last post. The change meant more work for Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva in the midfield. Italy lost Gigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio with injuries and that gave opportunities to Salvatore Sirigu and Matteo Darmian. Darmian had to take care of the right wing, which meant the regular centre-back Giorgio Chiellini had to move left and along the flank. 
Both teams started well and Italy scored first thanks to some brilliant deception technique by stand-in captain Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo jumped over a ball to deceive the Englishmen, which gave enough time to Marchisio to plan his long ranger effectively. In less than three minutes, England drew level thanks to a brilliant cross from Wayne Rooney targeting Daniel Sturridge. Balotelli tried a great slow lofted ball from almost 180 degrees, which beat the goalkeeper but was headed away to safety by English centre-back Gary Cahill.
The second half started with Italy moves and the fast Candreva created opportunity for a perfect close-in header for Balotelli. This put the Azzurri in front, a lead they maintained till the end of the game with some perfect defensive tactics. Pirlo almost scored from a curvy free kick, that deflected off the English post, much to the astonishment of a bewildered Joe Hart at the goal.
Sirigu demonstrated his talent in the absence of Italy’s regular shot stopper and he saved some long rangers with great skill and concentration. Darmian was quick on the right wing and crafted several swift moves. But the make shift left back Chiellini was not fast and most of his moves were very slow. This left Italy with attacks from one wing alone. Raheem Sterling was the star for England. He played the whole 90 minutes and justified his place in the starting lineup with some fantastic fast moves and some fearless long rangers at times. Aside from the cross that helped Sturridge score the equaliser, Rooney was nowhere near his best. He even wasted one corner kick by lobbing it behind the net.
Italy did well to score goals and defend their goal line. This would allow them to face Costa Rica and Uruguay with more confidence. They would really fancy their chances against Costa Rica and ensure their place in the pre-quarters. Even if they lost, England has a better chance of qualifying ahead of Uruguay because they have a match left against Costa Rica. England should plan well and beat Costa Rica to pile up pressure on Uruguay to win their last match against Italy.
Italy takes many positives from this match. Sirigu, who had a good outing against Ireland in one of the friendlies leading to the world cup, had an impressive game on his world cup debut. In the next match, I would like the manager Cesare Prandelli to move Chiellini back to the centre, drop Gabriel Paletta, and include De Scilio if he is fit. Else, they should bring Ignazio Abate on the right and move Darmian to the left. Marco Verratti wasn’t given enough room to work and he couldn’t make an impact in his first world cup outing. But I would like Prandelli to give him another opportunity in the next match.
Italy faces Costa Rica next, and hopefully a win will help them ensure a place in the round of 16. Go Azzurri!
Photo: FIFA

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