The surprising results that have happened in Group B mean that the losers of crucial games in Group A could get easier quarter-final games than the winners. Let me explain why.

Group B has been the more interesting half of the draw in this year’s Cricket World Cup. It’s seen nail-biting finishes, the first World Cup double century, the biggest ODI win by one Test-playing country over another and the question of which four teams will go through from it is still not settled. Ireland’s victories and the mercurial nature of the West Indies and Pakistan have opened up the battle for third and fourth place in the group, whilst India’s win over South Africa puts them as favourites to top the group, despite AB De Villiers’ demolition of the West Indies.

Meanwhile, Group A has been progressing more sedately and more in line with form. There’s the mild surprise of New Zealand’s overnight win against Australia, but the Kiwis seem to have come into form at just the right time as they did last time they co-hosted the World Cup. Behind the two hosts, England’s match against Sri Lanka will likely settle who takes third place in the group, while Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland squabble over the minor places.

However, because of the unexpected results in Group B, the losers of this weekend’s big clashes may find themselves with the easier match in the quarter-finals. Australia’s loss means they’re now most likely to finish second in the group, which will match them up with Group B’s third place side. That now seems most likely to be Ireland, while New Zealand as group winners will face whoever comes in fourth, which will likely be Pakistan or West Indies. While Ireland are good, I’m sure the Kiwis would rather face them rather than risk another Chris Gayle explosion.

Likewise for Sri Lanka and England. The winner of their game seems likely to finish third (though Sri Lanka could still finish second if they also beat Australia), which means playing the runner-up of Group B, while the loser should finish fourth, where they’ll meat Group B’s winner. India seem highly likely to win the group now (they’d need to lose two of their remaining games to not do so), but South Africa seem the more dangerous team to face after their record-obliterating performance against the West Indies. I suspect England especially would much rather face the team they beat twice in the pre-World Cup triangular tournament than discover just how much damage AB De Villiers can do to their bowlers.

While I’m sure Australia are kicking themselves over their loss to New Zealand, and both Sri Lanka and England will be giving their best for victory tonight, they’ll all have it in the back of their minds that losing isn’t the end of the world, and the escape route could be the easier way to the semi-finals.


England are a long way from going out of the Cricket World Cup

I’m old enough to remember the last time the World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand. 1992 was my first year at university, and I remember sitting around late at night listening to games with my housemates. One game in particular springs to mind – the group match between England and Pakistan, where Pakistan collapsed to 74 all out, but England ended up having to settle for a draw because of rain. At that point in the tournament, England were looking like real contenders, while Pakistan were clearly on their way out. I don’t think anyone expected that Pakistan’s one point from that game would be the difference between them and Australia in semi-final qualification, nor that they’d beat a previously dominant New Zealand to make the final where, of course, they’d beat England.

This time around, England have been comprehensively battered in their first two games against Australia and New Zealand, but yet again the World Cup’s format means those defeats aren’t terminal for their chances. In a seven-team group where four teams go through to the knockout stage, three wins should be enough for a team to qualify. England have had the bad luck of facing two of the strongest teams in the tournament at the start, but now their schedule becomes a lot easier. Scotland, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan await England in their next four matches and three wins from those four should – without a new Kevin O’Brien appearing – be possible. Indeed, a win against Sri Lanka could even mean England qualify in third place from their group.

That then puts England into the quarter-finals, and up against a team from Group B. This is where the placement in the group becomes important. Fourth place in Group A means they’ll likely be facing South Africa, and probably going home, but third place plays the runners-up in the other group, and that’s a much more interesting prospect. That seems likely to be India, who England have recently beaten twice, or if they have a disaster, one of Ireland, West Indies or Pakistan, none of whom should instil great fear in England.

Suddenly, England have a path to the semi-finals opening up before them. Yes, that’ll likely be against Australia or New Zealand again, but they’d be there and suddenly a tournament that looked like a disaster would be their most successful World Cup since 1992. That says a lot about just how poor England have been at World Cups in the last twenty years, but it looks like a good result from here.

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If you want to stop Russia, calling for England to host the 2018 World Cup is a bad idea

One of the small highlights of the recent World Cup for me was the BBC showing the official FIFA World Cup films on BBC Two on weekend mornings. In the 1982 film – G’Ole! – there’s a moment near the end when the camera pans over the crowd for the final and shows a Colombia 1986 banner, the only time that tournament ever appeared on camera.

Colombia had been selected to host the 1986 World Cup but withdrew from hosting later in 1982 because of a host of domestic and economic problems. In the words of President Betancur: “We have a lot of things to do here and there is not enough time to attend to the extravagances of Fifa and its members.” Colombia 1986 is the only time a country has not hosted the World Cup after being awarded it.

Luckily for FIFA, there do still remain several countries willing to attend to their extravagances, and indeed will compete to provide more and more extravagances in order to get to host the World Cup. That’s why there was heated bidding for the rights to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and why some have cried foul after they were awarded to Russia and Qatar. Since they were awarded, there’s been constant criticism of the Qatar 2022 decision, and recent events in Ukraine have also made people question whether it’s right to host the 2018 tournament in Russia and Nick Clegg has called for it to be taken away from them.

Unlike the complaints about Qatar, the arguments given for having the 2018 World Cup are almost entirely political, based on the recent actions of the Russian Government, though they tend to ignore that world sporting bodies are generally autocratic institutions themselves and don’t really respond to that sort of argument. Despite the fact it opens up a lot of other questions – should British clubs refuse to play in Russia in UEFA tournaments? If FIFA don’t change their minds, should the home nations boycott 2018? – it’s a legitimate thing to propose.

However, if you want to scupper your entire campaign very quickly, what you shouldn’t do is this:

Talking about the situation in Ukraine, Nick Clegg raised the question on whether Russia should host the World Cup in 2018:

“He (Putin) can’t constantly push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup.”

In light of Russia’s actions, one option could be to bring the World Cup to England instead.

If you agree, sign this petition.

We the undersigned call on England to host the 2018 World Cup instead of Russia.

That’s currently on the Lib Dem website, and suddenly turns it from legitimate concerns about Russia to one of the countries beaten by Russia in the 2018 bidding trying to get revenge. It weakens the case against Russia hosting it by associating it with England getting the tournament instead and thus makes it into a contest of two countries, not weighing up the merits of one.

The reason I brought up Colombia 1986 at the start of this post was because when the decision was made to not have the World Cup there, it wasn’t because another country had stepped forward and said ‘we’ll do it instead’. The decision to not host the tournament and the decision of the location of the replacement were separate, and if FIFA were to decide to take it from Russia, there’d surely be an open process (well, open by FIFA standards) to decide the replacement, as happened for 1986 (with Mexico selected over the USA and Canada). One could also look at the ongoing dispute over Qatar 2022, where the USA (probably the most likely location for it if it doesn’t happen in Qatar) are being very careful not to put themselves forward as the alternative, but instead are keeping the debate about whether it should be in Qatar at all.

(I’d also question if England was able to host the tournament on such short notice, given the suggested new stadiums and expansions proposed in the original bid. If Russia were to lose it, and it was to stay within Europe, the most logical new host would likely be France, given the work they’re currently doing for Euro 2016.)

This might just be an overenthusiastic staffer at Great George Street getting carried away and starting off a petition without thinking about it, but it’s a huge own goal. If you want to make the case against Russia, you should do that, and not confuse the issue by trying to fly an England flag at the same time.

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I was pretty surprised when they announced that the start of this year’s Tour de France would be in Yorkshire. That it would come back to Britain was no surprise but the Yorkshire bid had seemed to come up quite late in the day and seemed doomed to lose out to Scotland. Edinburgh seemed a much better backdrop for a Grand Depart than Leeds, after all.

That, though, was to assume this would follow the format of previous Grand Departs outside France. The formula is pretty simple – a prologue time trial around the host city that shows off all its best sights, then one or two generally flat stages to take the race back to France. The Tour has started using road stages rather than time trials for the opening stage in recent years, but only when it started in France.

What Yorkshire showed is that you can use the Tour to promote a whole region through the Grand Depart, and that the race organisers are willing to throw in tricky stages as part of it. Stage 2 shook up the race much more than a prologue time trial would have done. Dozens of riders could have ended up in yellow after Sheffield, rather than the Martin or Cancellara battle in a time trial.

Having millions of people lining the route, and making the start of the Tour a massive event across another country means we’re now going to see more Grand Departs following the Yorkshire formula. The format for the next Grand Depart in Utrecht was already agreed as the traditional prologue and flat stages formula, but the next time it goes outside of France (likely to be in 2017 or 2018) I think we’ll see somewhere that wants to set up a much more interesting start. Barcelona’s been mentioned as a possible destination, but what we could see is stages that get to roam across the whole of Catalonia.

It also means the Tour’s next Grand Depart in Britain is a question of when and where, not if. I’d expect it either in 2020 or 2021, but there’ll be lots of places now thinking they could follow Yorkshire’s example. Imagine a start in Edinburgh that rolls out through the hills of the Borders followed by a stage in the Lake District? Or going to Wales for a thrash through Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons? The Tour of Britain has brought out big crowds on Dartmoor for its stages there, and that could be the centrepiece for a bid from the South West.

Finally, what we also saw on Sunday was that the Pennines offer a great platform for a race. There’s surely the scope to build on the success of the Grand Depart and organise a regular one-day classic that could follow a similar route and create some great racing in the style of Liege-Bastogne-Liege? (You could even make sure the route takes in Lancashire and Yorkshire and call it the Tour of the Roses) Britain still doesn’t have a World Tour race, and as the Tour of Britain’s unlikely to make that step up, this could be a real legacy from the Tour de Yorkshire.

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The Ashes are back in Australia

Going back over my old blog posts, I’m reminded that I created the ‘alternative Ashes’, tracking where the trophy would be if every Test cricketing nation was allowed to compete for them, not just England and Australia.

In our last update, the Ashes had made their way to Sri Lanka but now they’ve moved on again. Australia won this year’s series between the two countries 3-0, so as well as winning the Warne-Muralitharan trophy, they’ve now claimed the Ashes back as well. Their first defence of them will be against India next month.


Nicole Cooke retires

One of Britain’s most successful road cyclists ever retired today. Nicole Cooke won races all over the world, including a World Championship and an Olympic gold medal in 2008, but she got a fraction of the attention that riders like Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins have received.

I think her retirement shows some of the problems that are faced by women in cycling, especially the lack of attention they receive. Cooke’s retirement has made headlines, though that seems to be just as much for the fact that she’s not gone quietly into retirement as it is for the fact that she’s retired. As she says:

“Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour.”

For me, that goes to the heart of the problem – Cooke and her fellow female professionals have slogged it out around the world, delivering some exciting racing with huge ability, yet she’s had to talk about Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton to get significant attention for her retirement.

So to redress the balance, here’s my favourite memory of her career – winning the Olympic road race in Beijing. Unfortunately, the editing of the video is terrible, and it misses out the key moment when the lead group of five come round the final bend and start the drag to the finish. At that point, Cooke looked like she’d made a mistake and been dropped off the back of the group, but she powered up the final straight, overhauled the others and won the medal.

Chapeau, Nicole Cooke! Or ‘het!’, if you want it in Welsh.

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Giro D’Ireland

We’ve already heard how the 2014 Tour de France will be starting in Leeds, but that might not be the first British Grand Tour of that year. Reports have come out today that the 2014 Giro D’Italia will be starting in Belfast, with the opening stages taking it from Northern Ireland into the Republic, probably to Dublin.

It’s all unconfirmed as yet, but perhaps another indication that the UK remains the largest untapped market for professional cycling in Europe. The other interesting part is that according to that Cycling Weekly report, new rules mean a Grand Tour must run for at least five days before the first rest day, which opens up the possibility of the race having some stages in Wales or England before heading back to Italy. Though there is also the possibility of them putting on a short stage around Dublin one morning, and using the afternoon to fly all the riders and teams back to Italy ready to start again in the morning.

One has to wonder now if the Vuelta a Espana will follow the path of the Tour and Giro in coming to the UK. Edinburgh’s likely interested, following it’s defeat by Yorkshire for the Tour, and as the Vuelta loves hilly stages, there might even be the prospect of it heading up into the Highlands. That might sound far-fetched, but a couple of months ago, so did the Tour de France starting in Leeds.

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