The week in numbers: w/e 18/3/12

Tendulkar finally completed his century of centuries after waiting for more than a year

100Sachin Tendulkar finally ended a run of 33 innings – over the space of 370 days – without a hundred to become the first batsman ever to hit 100 international centuries, scoring 114 in a one-day international against Bangladesh in Dhaka. However, Bangladesh won the match by five wickets.

3Wales completed their Six Nations campaign with a third Grand Slam in eight years after their 16-9 victory over France.

5 – Italy’s 13-6 victory over Scotland left them bottom of the Six Nations table having lost all five games.

16 – Big Buck’s tied Sir Ken’s record of 16 consecutive jumps victories by winning the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for a record fourth time.

23 – World number one Victoria Azarenka recorded her 23rd consecutive victory of 2012 as she defeated Maria Sharapova 6-2 6-3 to win the Indian Wells tournament.

Read more of this post

My sporting month: March 2012

The football season will be gearing up for its home stretch in March, as the Premier League season enters its final third and we have the quarter-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League to look forward to. Similarly the Six Nations reaches its climax this month with a potential Grand Slam showdown to look forward to. And the England cricket team embark on the final leg of their winter tours.

But for many other sports their year is only just beginning, or at least getting into their stride. As winter turns to spring, here are five of the key sporting events I’ll be watching this month.

Read more of this post

The week in numbers: w/e 20/3/11

Evans won Tirreno-Adriatico by 11 seconds

21 – Australia’s Cadel Evans became the 21st different winner of the Tirreno-Adriatico seven-day cycling race, defeating Robert Gesink by just 11 seconds.

1 – Australia’s Matt Goss became the first non-European to claim the Milan-San Remo one-day classic, winning a thrilling eight-man sprint in Saturday’s 102nd edition of the race.

2Inter Milan became only the second club ever to win a Champions League knockout tie after losing the first leg at home. They won 3-2 at Bayern Munich, going through on the away goals rule after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.

0 – Number of representatives from Germany, Italy, England and France in the quarter-finals of the Europa League – the first time this has happened in the history of the Europa League/UEFA Cup.

27Barcelona‘s 2-1 win over Getafe means they are now unbeaten in their last 27 La Liga matches, a new club record.

8 England‘s points total in the 24-8 defeat to Ireland which denied them a grand slam. It was their lowest score in a Six Nations game since a 31-6 loss to France in March 2006.

25 Brian O’Driscoll scored his 25th Five/Six Nations try against England, breaking the competition record set by Scotland‘s Ian Smith between 1924-33.

18Novak Djokovic improved his 2011 record to 18-0 by defeating world number one Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-3 6-2 in the BNP Paribas Open final in Indian Wells. Djokovic had already guaranteed he would move up to the number two spot by defeating Roger Federer in their semi-final.

60:23 – At his first competitive attempt at the distance, Mo Farah won the New York half-marathon in a new British record time of 60:23.

The cricket World Cup in numbers

131 Ireland‘s 131-run defeat by South Africa was their largest losing margin in a World Cup match, surpassing their 129-run loss to New Zealand in 2007.

Duminy fell one run short of a century against Ireland

99 – In that same game, South Africa’s J P Duminy became only the second batsman (after Adam Gilchrist) to be dismissed for 99 at a World Cup.

183 Shane Watson and Brad Haddin put on 183 runs, the highest opening-wicket partnership for Australia at the World Cup, as they cruised to a seven-wicket win over Canada.

2 – The NetherlandsRyan ten Doeschate scored his second century of this tournament, tying with A B de Villiers and Sachin Tendulkar. However, his 106 was not enough to avoid defeat as Paul Stirling‘s 101 (off 72 balls) helped Ireland to a six-wicket win.

206Bangladesh‘s 206 -run defeat by South Africa – they were bowled out for just 78 – was their largest margin of defeat in a World Cup match, and their second-largest in all one-day internationals.

34Pakistan ended Australia’s 34-game winning streak after bowling out the defending champions for just 176.

0Kenya‘s 176-run defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe ensured they finished this World Cup with no wins from their six games. The Netherlands were similarly winless.

21 – The West Indies lost their last eight wickets for just 34 runs as they were beaten by India by 80 runs in the final group phase match. They have not beaten a Test-playing nation in an ODI since June 2009 – a period of 21 months.

The Premier League in numbers

31 – Including blocked attempts, Tottenham had 31 shots in their goalless draw with West Ham.

Van Persie averages exactly a goal per game in his last 19 appearances (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

19 – In scoring Arsenal‘s equaliser in their 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion, Robin van Persie improved his record to 19 goals in his last 19 Premier League games.

28 – West Brom have now failed to keep a clean sheet in 28 consecutive matches – a new Premier League record.

1Steven Reid‘s third-minute goal in that game marked the first time Arsenal had conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes of a league game this season – making them the last team to do so.

4Stoke City‘s 4-0 win over Newcastle marked the first time they have ever scored more than three times in a Premier League game.

22Junior Hoilett‘s 93rd-minute equaliser in Blackburn‘s 2-2 draw with Blackpool should have come as little surprise. There have now been 22 goals in the last ten minutes of matches involving these two teams this season.

18Everton‘s 2-1 win over Fulham was their 18th straight home league win against these opponents (and the tenth in the Premier League era).

(Some statistics courtesy of Opta Sports, The Times@InfostradaLiveCricinfo and @StatManJon.)

Goss sprints to thrilling Milan-San Remo win

HTC-Highroad‘s Matt Goss continued his fantastic start to the 2011 season by coming out on top in a tense eight-up finale to win the 102nd running of Milan-San Remo after a series of dramatic breakaways and attacks in the closing kilometres. In so doing, he became the first non-European rider to win this traditionally sprinter-dominated Classic, which was famously won by the great Eddy Merckx on no fewer than seven occasions.

At 298km, Milan-San Remo is the longest professional one-day race on the calendar, typically taking around seven hours to complete. The course is lumpy rather than seriously hilly, but features a series of testing challenges in its final quarter which can spell doom for the tactically unaware. There are the three ‘capi’, none overly taxing in isolation, but which are each attacked at a frenetic pace as the top sprinters ensure they are in prime position to avoid being dropped. These are then followed by the Cipressa and the Poggio in the final 20 kilometres. The latter in particular is narrow and winding, and its proximity to the finish provides the perfect springboard for an attack. By the final sprint, the speed of the bunch is always lactic acid-inducingly quick – if you lose a wheel at this point there is no getting back – and the winner is not necessarily the man with the quickest legs, but the one who has conserved his energy the best to launch himself to glory in the final few hundred metres.

As Goss’s HTC teammate Mark Cavendish, the winner in 2009, said at a press conference before the race:

If there’s one thing that goes wrong in 300km, it’s going to take its toll later on. Everything has to go right. In 2009 when I won, we had a team of eight riders and we used that team of eight riders throughout the whole race. I didn’t have one puncture, didn’t have anything go wrong and it just saves you [energy].

A race shaped by La Mànie

This year’s race began to take shape on La Mànie, just under 100 kilometres from the finish in San Remo, with several of the pre-race favourites effectively eliminated from contention.

Earlier in the day, Japanese champion Takashi Miyazawa had led the peloton in a minute’s silence for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, before launching himself into an early four-man breakaway after 15km which at one stage held an advantage of over 13 minutes. By the summit of La Mànie, however, only Mikhail Ignatiev and Alessandro De Marchi remained at the front with a vastly reduced lead of 1:20.

On the approach to and descent from the climb, two separate crashes split the peloton and put paid to the chances of several leading contenders. First a crash of around 20 riders delayed world champion Thor Hushovd and Goss’s teammate Cavendish – who said afterwards he had spent much of the day feeling sick – while on the descent 2010 winner Óscar Freire went down on a wet, sweeping right hand bend. With the remains of the break swallowed up, a lead group of 44 riders formed with a two-minute lead over the rest of the peloton, including big names such as Philippe Gilbert, André Greipel, Fabian Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro Ballan, Vincenzo Nibali, Heinrich Haussler, Tom Boonen and, of course, Goss. With significant numbers in the lead pack and a determined Liquigas team on the front determined to make the gap stick, there was to be no way back for the main bunch, with only Michele Scarponi able to successfully bridge the gap.

Cipressa and Poggio set up the decisive attacks

On the descent from the Cipressa, FDJ‘s Steve Chainel pulled teammate Yoann Offredo, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) off the front of the lead group, opening up a gap of close to 30 seconds as they attacked the final climb of the Poggio with ten kilometres to go. Van Avermaet launched a solo attack just inside the 9km mark, while behind him first Vincenzo Nibali and then Cancellara split the chasing bunch, dragging a select few across the gap. First Chainel was overhauled, and then O’Grady and Offredo were also swallowed up, as a small elite group hunted Van Avermaet down.

The catch was not completed until 2.5km from the finish, at which point Offredo immediately counter-punched. After he was hauled back by Cancellara, Gilbert then attacked, only for Pozzato to bring the others back to him. Just beyond the one kilometre flag Nibali then had a speculative try, only to quickly reconsider. It was left to Offredo to drag the leading eight through the final bends, with Scarponi the first to try his luck at around 200 metres. However, his exertions in chasing down the lead group earlier meant he had little to give, so as Gilbert ducked out from behind his wheel the pair were easy meat for the fast-finishing pair of Goss and Cancellara who swept past on either side of them. Goss had relied on others to do the chasing earlier, conserving energy which, coupled with his superior sprint, meant he had little trouble holding off Cancellara by more than a bike length to ease to victory.

It was a fantastic finish to a thrilling and unpredictable race which had viewers guessing right up until the final 50 metres.

Goss celebrates the biggest win of his career after a perfectly-judged effort (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The 24-year old Goss had stated that he thought he could do well in pre-race interviews:

I’m really looking forward to it. This is the best form I’ve had at this time of year. I think I have the legs to be with the lead group on Saturday.

His form so far this season has indeed been superlative, having won stages at each of his three prior races – the Tour Down Under, Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice. And although the cards fell his way here he did a superb job of marshalling his resources to ensure he was in a position to unleash his devastating final burst. Afterwards he said:

I was actually a bit worried, there were so many strong guys and attacking guys in there. I knew I was going to have my work cut out, especially since I was one of the fastest sprinters in there. It was tough, but I’m happy.

I knew I’d been going well, I knew I could get a good result, but actually to get the win is incredible. I knew Gilbert was dangerous and would try for an attack on the Poggio, so I rode across to that front group just as we reached the top, and once I was with them I knew I was in with a chance.

It was an advantage knowing the route. I live nearby and I’ve trained over the Poggio a few times in the last few days just to check it again. The descent was fast, but it wasn’t too tricky because fortunately it wasn’t wet, and with 500 meters to go I just gave it everything I had and hoped for the best.

Cavendish has stated elsewhere that he is happy Goss is on his team, as he genuinely respects his speed and would consider him a serious threat if he was on another squad. With his eye-catching form so far, it is likely Goss will receive many lucrative offers from teams offering to make him their star sprinter and give him the opportunity to go head to head with Cavendish in 2012.

It’s a mouth-watering prospect for next year. For now, however, an HTC sprint train which can feature either or both Goss and Mark Renshaw in front of Cavendish for the Grand Tours looks like a pretty formidable combination.

Result:

1. Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) 6:51:10

2. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) same time

3. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

4. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) s/t

5. Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) s/t

6. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

7. Yoann Offredo (FDJ) s/t

8. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:03

9. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:10

10. Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) +0:12

My sporting month: March 2011

March is an extremely busy month in the sporting calendar, with a host of different major events across multiple sports. In addition to the five events listed below, I will also be taking time to catch as much as I can of the FA Cup quarter-finals (which includes the mouth-watering possibility of a showdown between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford), the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Paris, cycling’s World Track Championships (which this year takes place in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands), the University Boat Race and the final two rounds of Six Nations matches, which offers the possibility of an England Grand Slam.

None of the above makes my personal list of highlights for March, though. Here are the five that did.

1. UEFA Champions League, Barcelona vs Arsenal (8th)

Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1 in the first leg at the Emirates, leaving this last-16 tie delicately poised for next week’s return match at Camp Nou. History suggests that teams which lose the away leg 2-1 are still the more likely to progress, and Arsenal know Barcelona will rightly consider themselves favourites to overturn the deficit at home.

The English side will not be able to sit back and hope for a goalless draw, which would guarantee their passage to the quarter-finals – in six previous European meetings between these two teams, neither has yet to keep a clean sheet. Arsenal will certainly look to snatch a crucial away goal on the break to cancel out David Villa‘s goal at the Emirates, but their own goal is likely to come under siege from the likes of Lionel Messi, XaviPedro and Villa himself.

If the second leg is anywhere near as good as the first, it will be a classic and a wonderful game for the neutrals. Miss it at your peril.

Mark Cavendish will be looking to win Milan-San Remo for the second time (image courtesy of TDWSport.com)

2. Milan-San Remo (19th)

One of cycling’s big one-day Classics, Milan San-Remo always attracts a large number of the sport’s big names. It is the longest professional one-day race at 298km, and although it is sometimes referred to as ‘the sprinters’ classic’, it features a lumpy route ending in the Poggio climb just a few kilometres from the finish. The last of a series of shortish but tough climbs, it drains the legs of energy to set up a taxing finish.

British superstar sprinter Mark Cavendish won here in 2009, and he will be back again looking to claim a second win after injury compromised his defence last year. Look out for also for last year’s winner Óscar Freire, world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara and Heinrich Haussler, who was edged out by Cavendish in 2009 but already has two stage wins at last month’s Tour of Qatar under his belt.

3. Cricket World Cup knockout phase (starts 23rd)

The quadrennial World Cup tournament takes an awfully long time to get going, with the group phase taking over a month to whittle down the original 14 entrants to eight. But once we reach the serious business of the knockout stages – the quarter-finals start on the 23rd – the drama will come thick and fast as we build towards the final on April 2nd.

Defending champions Australia have already made an ominously strong start to the tournament, winning their opening games over New Zealand and Zimbabwe with some ease as they seek an incredible fourth straight win (and fifth overall). And England, after a shaky start against the Netherlands, will have taken great encouragement from Sunday’s thrilling tied match against co-hosts India. Can Andrew Strauss‘s men safely negotiate their group and give themselves a chance of adding the 50-over world title to last year’s Twenty20 win?

4. Australian Football League kickoff (starts 24th)

After 2010 saw only the third Grand Final replay in history – Collingwood finally beat St Kilda at the second attempt – the 2011 Aussie Rules season kicks off on Thursday 24th. This year the league has expanded to 17 clubs with the introduction of the new Gold Coast team.

Collingwood kick off the defence of their title at Port Adelaide on Saturday 26th, but I will be focussed on the final game of round one the following day as the West Coast Eagles travel to North Melbourne to take on the Kangaroos. After a dismal 2010 in which they finished bottom of the ladder just four years after winning their third Grand Final, the only was is up for the Eagles.

2010 champion Sebastian Vettel (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

5. Australian Grand Prix (27th)

With the opening Bahrain GP cancelled due to safety concerns, the 2011 Formula 1 season now kicks off at the end of the month with the Australian race around Albert Park in Melbourne. Red Bull and their 23-year old driver Sebastian Vettel – the youngest drivers’ champion in the sport’s history – remain the combination to beat, although the German can continue to expect stiff competition from team-mate Mark Webber, not to mention the massed forces of both McLaren and Ferrari.

With Bahrain now removed from the calendar, the season now comprises 19 races, ending at Interlagos in Brazil at the end of November. If 2011 is even half as close as last year, which gave us the tightest title race in years with the four Red Bull and McLaren drivers all in contention until the final couple of races, it should be an exciting year.

%d bloggers like this: