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The week in numbers: w/e 29/1/12

Azarenka won both her first major and gained the number 1 ranking (image courtesy of Mark Howard/Flickr)

1 – Having lost the opening two games of the Australian Open final, Victoria Azarenka won 12 of the next 13 games to defeat Maria Sharapova 6-3 6-0, winning her first Grand Slam tournament and taking over the number one ranking.

15 – This was the third time in the last six tournaments that only 15 games were required to complete the ladies’ singles final. On each occasion the losing finalist was Russian (Sharapova in 2007 and 2012, Dinara Safina in 2009).

7 –  A joint-England-record seven players failed to score more than one run as the tourists were skittled out for 72 in pursuit of a target of 145 to give Pakistan an unassailable 2-0 lead in the second of their three-match series.

22 – 22 wickets fell in one day as New Zealand inflicted Zimbabwe’s record defeat to win their one-off Test in Napier by an innings. New Zealand declared on 495/7 before dismissing Zimbabwe for 51 and then 143 following on.

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My sporting month: January 2012

A new year brings with it the start of the season for many sports which have been in hibernation over the past couple of months. For winter sports, it sees the competition hotting up as their calendars pass the midway point or, in some cases, the road to the end-of-season playoffs.

With both the London Olympics and football’s European Championships upcoming this summer, 2012 looks set to be a bumper year for all sports fans. And January gets things off to a fast start with a post-Christmas cracker of a schedule. Here is a personal list of my top five events for the coming month.

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The week in numbers: w/e 6/11/11

Butt was found guilty of spot-fixing

30 – In months, jail sentence handed down to former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt for his role in agreeing to arrange for three no-balls to be delivered at specified times during a Test match against England at Lord’s last year. Bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were given 12 and six-month sentences respectively.

10 – Casey Stoner, who had already secured the 2011 MotoGP title, overtook Ben Spies on the final corner of the season-closing race in Valencia to win his tenth race of the year.

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SPotY-watch

In exactly three months’ time (Thursday 22nd December) the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPotY) Awards will take place at the BBC’s new MediaCityUK complex in Salford, Manchester. As ever, this will be a celebration of British sporting achievement in 2011, which includes England crushing Australia in the Ashes and rising to the number one Test ranking, a 19th top-flight title for Manchester United, victories in two of golf’s four majors, the green jersey at the Tour de France and two golds at the World Athletics Championships.

The competition for the main SPotY award looks set to be a close-run affair, with several candidates vying for supremacy in the public vote. The final shortlist of ten will not be published for several weeks, but here is a quick overview of the top ten contenders based on the current odds offered by bookmakers’ William Hill.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Darren Clarke (10/11)

Won The Open Championship by three shots at his 20th attempt, giving him his first victory in one of golf’s four majors. The genial Irishman, who remains a firm public favourite, dedicated his victory to his two children and late wife Heather, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2006. That year he was runner-up in SPotY, having said that he did not want to win because of a sympathy vote.

SPotY prospects: The runaway favourite. Possesses the winning combination of a great sporting achievement and a human interest back-story.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Rory McIlroy (4/1)

After a spectacular implosion on the back nine in the final round of the Masters which saw him card a final round 80 – the worst ever of any player leading the tournament after three rounds – the 22-year old Irishman bounced back at the US Open. He led every round and finished with a 16-under par total of 268 (both tournament records) to win his first major by an astonishing eight shots. He is currently ranked three in the world.

SPotY prospects: Slim. If Clarke dominates the golfing vote as expected, McIlroy may well slip outside the top three.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mo Farah (4/1)

Having launched himself into the elite echelon of distance runners with gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2010 European Championships, the Somalia-born Farah continued his upward trajectory in 2011. He won the 3,000 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, and then followed that up with gold and silver at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. After narrowly losing out to Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan in his favoured event, the 10,000, he bounced back to outsprint 2007 world champion Bernard Lagat in the 5,000 to win his first global championship gold.

SPotY prospects: Top three.

Image courtesy of Graham Watson

Mark Cavendish (12/1)

For the fourth year in a row Cavendish, the Manxman regarded as the world’s best sprinter, was dominant at the Tour de France. He won five stages – including the prestigious finale on the Champs-Élysées for an unprecedented third year running – and claimed his first green jersey as the leader of the points competition. He also won two stages at the Giro d’Italia in May, and starts as the favourite for Sunday’s road race at cycling’s Road World Championships. Winning the rainbow jersey might just elevate him into the top three.

SPotY prospects: The cycling world is relatively small but will mass in support of Cav after years of being overlooked in the public vote. It may just be enough to put him into the top three – I will be voting for him – but I suspect he will fall just short.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Tom Daley (20/1)

2011 has been a relatively unexceptional year for the young diver (who is still just 17 years old) in terms of performances, failing to top an individual event – he finished second in both the 3m springboard and 10m platform at the British National Championships – and notching just two wins in the synchronised event with partner Pete Waterfield. However, his year has been overshadowed by the death of his father Robert in May after a long struggle with cancer.

SPotY prospects: No chance.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Alastair Cook (25/1)

Cook was the outstanding batsman in the 2010/11 Ashes series, scoring 766 runs – the second-highest total ever by an Englishman in an Ashes series – at an average of nearly 128. This summer against India, his 294 in the third Test was the highest individual score of the series. (In eight innings, India as a team only surpassed this total once.) For 2011, Cook finished with 927 runs at an average of 84, and recently won the ICC’s Test Player of the Year Award.

England teammate Jonathan Trott had an equally impressive year and was named the ICC’s Cricketer of the Year. The 4-0 series whitewash of India catapulted England to the top of the Test rankings, making them a virtual shoo-in for Team of the Year – even if the rugby team wins the World Cup. This is reflected in the official ICC rankings: England current has four of the top nine batsmen (Cook, Trott, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen) and three of the top five bowlers (Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad).

SPotY prospects: Possible top three, and an almost certain winner as part of the Team of the Year.

Image courtesy of fantasypremierleague.com

Wayne Rooney (33/1)

Having started the 2010/11 season slowly, England’s primary striker finished strongly to help Manchester United to a record-setting 19th league title and the final of the Champions League. However, his form at the start of this season has been electrifying, with nine goals in five league games, including back-to-back hat-tricks.

SPotY prospects: Slim, unless he continues his blistering early season form and performs Beckham-style heroics in England’s final qualifier in Montenegro in a fortnight’s time.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Dai Greene (33/1)

The 25-year old Welshman added the World Championships 400 metres hurdles gold to his European and Commonwealth titles with a storming finish in Daegu. He is also the second fastest-ever British man in the event, behind Kriss Akabusi. His achievements are all the more notable for the fact that he suffers from Osgood–Schlatter disease (a condition which affects the knees) and was diagnosed as a teenager with epilepsy.

SPotY prospects: None, despite his inspirational back-story. Track-and-field voters will opt for Farah.

Image courtesy of rugbyworldcup.com

Chris Ashton & Jonny Wilkinson (both 66/1)

The two rugby players’ SPotY prospects rely solely on England’s performance at the current World Cup, even though both featured in the Six Nations triumph earlier in the year. Winger Ashton – he of the controversial ‘swallow dive’ celebration – has scored 12 tries in just eight internationals this year, including four against Italy during the Six Nations and two in Sunday’s World Cup group victory over Georgia.

Image courtesy of rugbyworldcup.com

Wilkinson is the record points-scorer in World Cups with 257, but had a less than impressive start to this tournament, converting just three of his eight kicks at goal in England’s stuttering 13-9 win over Argentina – a performance which included five consecutive misses. The fly-half did win SPotY in 2003 after that kick, but he remains the only winner of the award from rugby, and several years of injury and declining form since them will weigh heavily against him.

SPotY prospects: None, unless England win the Rugby World Cup – in which case it could be any one of half a dozen or more players – and even then, neither is likely to feature higher than third. 

Beyond the current bookies’ favourites, if I could usher one more sportsperson into the final SPotY shortlist of ten it would be Alistair Brownlee, who recently clinched his second senior world triathlon title in three years. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis misses out this year, by virtue of ‘only’ finishing second in her event at the World Championships.

In terms of the other major awards, I think we can probably safely pencil in the England Test cricket side as the Team of the Year, and Andy Flower must surely be the favourite to become Coach of the YearOverseas SPotY has gone to a tennis player in four of the past seven years and Novak Djokovic – world number one and winner of three Grand Slam singles titles in 2011 – is likely to make it five out of eight, with an honourable mention for Sebastian Vettel, who is on the verge of his second Formula 1 title.

The Lifetime Achievement Award has been won by a football player or manager six of the 12 times it has been awarded, but it could genuinely go to any of a number of sportspeople – however, my bet would be Michael Schumacher. Seve Ballesteros, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, could potentially be posthumously given the Helen Rollason Award (for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity). There would certainly be few more popular winners. Tom Daley has won the Young SPotY award in three of the last four years. Open to anyone aged 16 or under on January 1st 2011, he is eligible for the last time this year, but I suspect it may be heading elsewhere this time around. Your guess is as good as mine on that one, though.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why the ceremony is taking place on such an unusual and late date this year (it is normally held on a Sunday in mid-December) it is reportedly because two of the favourites, Clarke and McIlroy, are scheduled to play in tournaments up to the 18th and would not otherwise be able to attend in person. So now you know.

The week in numbers: w/e 18/9/11

Djokovic improved his record against Nadal in 2011 to 6-0 in winning the US Open

6Novak Djokovic‘s 6-2 6-4 6-6 6-1 victory over Rafael Nadal in Monday’s US Open men’s singles final improved his 2011 record against the Spaniard to 6-0 and made him only the sixth man to win three Grand Slam singles titles in the same year, joining Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Roger Federer (three times) and Nadal.

97.0%Djokovic‘s win percentage in 2011, currently the best single-year record ever. He has lost just twice in 66 matches this year.

26Federer (12), Nadal (10) and Djokovic (four) have now won 26 of the last 27 Slams between them, dating back to the 2005 French Open. The only man to break the sequence is Juan Martín del Potro, who won the US Open in 2009.

77Lancashire won their first County Championship in 77 years after beating Somerset by eight wickets.

3AC Milan became only the third team in Champions League history to score in the first and last minutes, as they drew 2-2 at Barcelona. Alexandro Pato‘s opening goal after 24 seconds was the fifth-fastest in the history of the competition.

17 – Borussia Dortmund’s late equaliser in a 1-1 draw extended Arsenal‘s run of Champions League away games without a clean sheet to 17 games.

Giggs has now scored in 16 separate Champions League campaigns

16Ryan Giggs‘ goal for Manchester United in the 1-1 draw at Benfica means he has now scored in a record 16 of the 17 Champions League campaigns he has played in, failing only in 2007-08.

2Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake recorded the fastest times of 2011 in the 100 and 200 metres respectively at the Diamond League meeting in Brussels. Bolt clocked 9.76s in the 100 metres, while Blake’s 19.26s in the 200 metres was also the second-fastest run ever, 0.07s behind Bolt’s world record.

1Jonathan Trott became the first ever English cricketer to win the ICC Cricketer of the Year award outright. (Andrew Flintoff shared the award with Jacques Kallis in 2005.) Alastair Cook also won Test Player of the Year.

8Barcelona‘s 8-0 win over Osasuna in La Liga on Saturday night marked the first time they had scored eight times in a game at the Camp Nou since October 2003. Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick.

3 – The HTC-Highroad pair of Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw recorded three one-two wins during the Tour of Britain‘s eight stages. Cavendish won the final sprint in London to claim his second stage. Dutchman Lars Boom won the overall race by 36 seconds.

58:56 – Kenya’s Martin Mathathi broke the men’s record for the Great North Run, winning in a time of 58:56 – nine seconds faster than the previous record and the sixth-best half-marathon time ever.

The Premier League in numbers

3 – All three promoted sides won on Saturday: Swansea beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0, while QPR and Norwich won 3-0 at Wolves and 2-1 at Bolton respectively.

Arteta has scored for both Everton and Arsenal at Ewood Park this season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

2Mikel Arteta‘s goal in Arsenal’s 4-3 defeat at Blackburn marked the second time he has scored in the Premier League at Ewood Park this season. He had already scored the only goal when Everton won 1-0 in August.

3 – Shots on target by Blackburn, who scored four goals.

373 – Scott Sinclair’s 14th-minute opener for Swansea was their first Premier League goal, ending a run of 373 minutes without scoring.

5Bolton‘s 2-1 defeat at home to Norwich means they have lost five consecutive top-flight home matches for the first time ever.

5Norwich equalled Wimbledon’s feat (in the 1999-2000 season) of conceding a penalty in each of the first five games of a season.

14Liverpool‘s 4-0 defeat at Tottenham, in which they finished with just nine men, was the 14th consecutive away game in which they have gone on to lose after trailing at half-time.

4Stoke‘s 4-0 defeat at Sunderland means they have failed to score in their four Premier League visits to the Stadium of Light.

5Wayne Rooney became only the second player to score in each of first five matches of a season, scoring the last of Manchester United’s goals in the 3-1 win over Chelsea. Former Arsenal player José Antonio Reyes was the first to achieve the feat, in 2004/05.

6Martin Jol remains unbeaten as a manager against Manchester City as Fulham recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2. However, the draw did end his perfect record of six wins out of six against City prior to yesterday’s game.

1 – Four of the five teams who started the weekend winless – Blackburn, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich – won their matches. Only Fulham remain waiting for their first victory.

The Rugby World Cup in numbers

11 – Penalties committed by England in an ill-disciplined first half of their 41-10 win over Georgia. They conceded just three after the interval.

Shaw became England's oldest ever World Cup player

38 – At 38 years and 17 days, Simon Shaw became the oldest player to play for England at a Rugby World Cup.

0 – Number of tries scored in Scotland‘s 15-6 win over Romania.

1Russia lost 13-6 to the USA in their debut World Cup match, as Mike Petri scored the only try in the first half. It was also only the third ever win in the competition for the USA.

83New Zealand‘s 83 points in their 83-7 win over Japan was the 14th highest score in Rugby World Cup history. In total, they have posted six of the top 14 individual scores.

3Australia‘s 15-6 defeat to Ireland was only the third time they had failed to score a try in their 36 World Cup matches.

6South Africa and Argentina both scored six tries from six different players as they beat Fiji 49-3 and Romania 43-8 respectively.

The NFL in numbers

11 – New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became only the 11th man to pass for over 500 yards in a single game as he registered 517 yards and four touchdown passes in a 38-24 Monday night win over the Miami Dolphins. One of Brady’s four touchdown passes was a 99-yarder to Wes Welker, a former Dolphin.

358 – However Brady did throw one interception, ending his NFL record streak without an interception at 358 pass attempts.

Janikowski tied the NFL record with a towering 63-yard FG (image courtesy of raiders.com)

63 – The Oakland Raiders’ Sebastian Janikowski tied the NFL record by kicking a 63-yard field goal in their 23-20 win over the Denver Broncos. New Orleans’ Tom Dempsey (in 1970) and Denver’s Jason Elam (1998) also landed 63-yarders.

5 – The Buffalo Bills scored on all five second half possessions as they overcame a 21-3 half-time deficit to beat the Oakland Raiders 38-35. The lead changed hands five times in the last 14:10, the last on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to David Nelson with 14 seconds remaining.

45 – The Detroit Lions‘ margin of victory in their 48-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs was the largest in the team’s history.

16Santonio Holmes‘ first quarter score in the New York Jets‘ 32-3 win over Jacksonville broke his team’s streak of 16 consecutive games without an offensive touchdown in the opening period.

11 – Rookie running back Ben Tate became only the 11th player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in his first two games as the Houston Texans defeated the Miami Dolphins 23-13. Tate gained 107 yards on the ground.

7 – Both Carolina Panthers rookie Cam Newton and New England’s Tom Brady had their second consecutive 400-yard passing days, becoming only the sixth and seventh quarterbacks ever to achieve the feat. Carolina have lost both games (they lost 30-23 to the Green Bay Packers last night); New England have won both (they beat San Diego 35-21).

(Some statistics courtesy of Opta Sports, The Times, StatManJon, Infostrada, nfl.com and rugbyworldcup.com.)

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