2017 ICC Champions Trophy – Preview

The first major one day international (ODI) tournament since the 2015 International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup will begin on Thursday as hosts England take on Bangladesh in the opening match of 2017 ICC Champions Trophy from The Oval in London.

South Africa come into the tournament as the top-ranked ODI team, with world champions Australia, along with defending champions India, New Zealand and hosts England all looking like serious threats to claim the ICC Champions Trophy.

This is not without discounting the chances of Bangladesh, who are ranked sixth in ODI cricket, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who are all capable on their best day of challenging and upsetting their more fancied opponents.

However, in contrast to the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand where 37 out of the 49 matches were Day/Night matches, only two out of the 15 matches to be played during the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy will be Day/Night matches.

Looking at both groups, it appears that Group A (England, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh) is the slightly tougher group than Group B (India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan).

Group A

Looking in-depth at Group A, since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, it has been England who has had the better form.

Since their disastrous exit in the group stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, England has won 27 out of the 44 ODI matches they have played, with a winning percentage of 61.36 percent.

This is compared with Australia, who have won 25 out of the 42 ODI matches (59.52 percent) they have played since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, New Zealand, who have won 24 out of the 43 ODI matches (55.81 percent) since that time, and Bangladesh, who knocked out England from the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, have won 16 out of the 28 ODI matches (57.14 percent) they have played since that tournament.

The rise in England’s performance is due to their changed mindset under Trevor Bayliss, and since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, England have scored 300 runs or more on 21 occasions, and have bowled out their opposition on 15 occasions.

While Australia, who will be relying on Steve Smith (batting), David Warner (batting), Mitchell Starc (bowling), and Josh Hazlewood (bowling) to perform, and New Zealand, who will be relying on Martin Guptill (batting), Kane Williamson (batting), and Trent Boult (bowling) to perform, have not changed their approaches to one day cricket too much, England have changed their mental mindset and their approach to selecting a one day team, and it has reaped rewards.

They will be looking towards their two leaders in Eoin Morgan and Joe Root to lead the way with the bat, while Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes have been fantastic with ball so far in 2017, taking 20 and 17 wickets respectively.

Bangladesh have also improved a lot in one day cricket, and they will be looking to Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan to lead them towards glory.

However, I see England and Australia making it through to the semi-finals.

Group B

It is clear looking at Group B that the two strongest teams in this group are South Africa and India.

South Africa have won 26 out of 41 ODI matches (63.41 percent) that they have played since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, while India have won 15 out of the 27 ODI matches (55.55 percent) since the last World Cup.

However, South Africa look in much better form in comparison with India after their performance against Australia last year, and the questionable form of Indian captain Virat Kohli.

They will be looking to Faf du Plessis (677 runs), Quinton de Kock (560 runs) and AB de Villiers (557 runs) to lead the way with the bat, with each of them scoring over 550 runs so far in 2017, while Kagiso Rabada has taken 21 wickets so far in 2017, and he will be the one to lead the South African bowling attack.

Although Kohli’s form is questionable after a long season of Indian cricket, the form of the other two teams in the group, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are looking far worse.

Sri Lanka are going through a changing of the guard, and have only won one match so far in 2017, while Pakistan’s approach, not so much with their bowling, but with their batting has been ancient for quite some time, rarely scoring 300 runs or more per innings, and have only won three of their eight matches so far in 2017.

To me, South Africa and India are clearly better than the other two, and by some distance!

Final tournament predictions

In terms of who will win the tournament, I think South Africa are the favourites to win the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, and are my tip to win the tournament.

However, you can never rule out Australia of contending for any piece of silverware in the world of cricket, and as long as they are in the tournament, they will be the team that everybody fears!

My sports commentary (TV style): Canberra Raiders vs. Sydney Roosters (NRL Round 12, 2017)

I have done some more sports commentary to show off my skills! This time, it is the Round 12 match in the NRL (National Rugby League) between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters, which took place at GIO Stadium in Canberra.

I hope you enjoy it!

My sports commentary (TV style): New Zealand Warriors vs. Brisbane Broncos (NRL Round 12, 2017)

As one of the features of my sports blog site, Ryan Eckford Sports, I want to showcase my abilities as a prospective sports commentator.

At home, calling from my iPad, watching this match by accessing the official NRL (National Rugby League) app, I called the Round 12 match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos, which took place at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland in New Zealand.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

2017 FA Cup Final – Preview

On Saturday afternoon (Sunday morning Australian time), the 136th The Football Association (FA) Cup final will take place between Arsenal F.C. and Chelsea F.C. at Wembley Stadium in London.

Arsenal F.C. come into their 20th FA Cup final in improved form, having won nine out of their last 11 matches in all competitions, including their last five matches in the 2016-17 Premier League season to qualify for next season’s Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Europa League.

However, by finishing in fifth position (missing fourth position by a single point) means that Arsenal F.C. won’t be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when they played in the UEFA Cup, which is now known as the UEFA Europa League.

However, Arsenal F.C. will be looking to atone for failing to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League by winning their 13th FA Cup, which would be the most won by a single club in the history of the competition.

In addition to this, if Arsenal F.C. win on Saturday, their manager Arsène Wenger will become the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup by winning his seventh.

Chelsea F.C. come into their 12th FA Cup final in marvellous form, winning 32 of their last 38 matches in all competitions, including 19 of their last 23, 15 of their last 18, 14 of their last 16, nine of their last 10, and their last seven matches, including winning their last six matches of the 2016-17 Premier League season on-route to reclaiming the title after finishing 10th in the 2015-16 Premier League season, thus claiming a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Chelsea F.C. will be looking to complete the domestic Premier League-FA Cup double by winning their eighth FA Cup crown. If they do that, they will complete the Premier League-FA Cup double for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Antonio Conte, the manager of Chelsea F.C., will be seeking to win a major cup (knockout) competition for the first time in his managerial career, after not winning the Coppa Italia with U.S. Arezzo, F.C. Bari 1908, Atalanta B.C., S.S. Robur Siena, and Juventus F.C. during his time in Italy.

Looking at the path of Arsenal F.C. to reach the 136th FA Cup final, The Gunners started their campaign in the third round, and defeated Preston North End F.C. (2-1), Southampton F.C. (5-0), and Sutton United F.C. (2-0) away from home in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds to reach the quarter-finals.

In the quarter-finals, they played at home at the Emirates Stadium against Lincoln City F.C., where they enjoyed a 5-0 victory to reach a semi-final up against Manchester City F.C. at Wembley Stadium.

In the semi-finals, the match went to extra-time after finishing one-all after 90 minutes after Nacho Monreal scored a 72nd minute equaliser to cancel out a 62nd minute goal by Manchester City F.C. striker Sergio Agüero.

Then, in the 101st minute (in extra-time), Alexis Sánchez scored the decisive, match-winning goal to send The Gunners through to their 20th FA Cup final, as they look to win their third FA Cup in four seasons.

Looking at the path of Chelsea F.C. to reach the 2017 FA Cup final, The Blues started in the third round, and defeated Peterborough United F.C. (4-1), and Brentford F.C. (4-0) in the third and fourth rounds (both at home) to reach a fifth round meeting away to Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., which they defeated 2-0 to reach a quarter-final meeting against Manchester United F.C. at home.

In the quarter-final, The Blues defeated The Red Devils, who were reduced to 10 men, by a goal to nil thanks to a 51st minute goal by N’Golo Kanté to send Chelsea F.C. through to a Wembley Stadium semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur F.C., where they defeated them 4-2 to reach their 12th FA Cup final, looking to win the competition for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In terms of team news coming into the final, vice-captain Laurent Koscielny (after receiving a red card against Everton F.C. for a tackle on Enner Valencia), and fellow defender Gabriel (due to a knee injury) will both miss the final, and Shkodran Mustafi has been in-doubt due to suffering a concussion against Sunderland A.F.C. over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Chelsea F.C. will be pretty much at full-strength.

The referee for the 136th FA Cup final will be Anthony Taylor.

He was the fourth official in the 2013 FA Cup final, and has also been the referee in the 2015 League Cup final, and 2015 FA Community Shield. Taylor was also an additional assistant referee (goal-line referee) in the 2014 UEFA Super Cup, 2015 UEFA Europa League final, 2016 UEFA Champions League final, and the 2016 UEFA European Championship final.

It should be a wonderful occasion, and with two teams in great form, I am expecting a tight contest, one that could well go to extra-time, but an final that I see Chelsea F.C. winning by a single goal.

 

Kick Off on Saturday 27th May, 2017 at 5:30pm local time (Sunday 28th May, 2017 at 2:30am AEST).

 

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Preview

The sixth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend on the famous streets of Monaco, with the championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, and their respective teams, Ferrari and Mercedes, evenly poised.

After the first quarter of the season, Vettel (104 points) leads the Drivers’ World Championship by six points over Hamilton (98 points), while Mercedes (161 points) leads the Constructors’ World Championship by eight points over Ferrari (153 points).

After their retirements in Spain, and their relative lack of pace and performance compared to their teammates, both Valtteri Bottas (63 points), who retired with engine problems, and Kimi Raikkonen (49 points), who retired with a broken suspension, who are 41 and 55 points behind the championship leader, look set to be cast into supporting roles for their respective teammates Hamilton and Vettel as the championship heads to Monaco for the next installment of the Vettel vs. Hamilton battle.

Heading into Monaco, Vettel is on a run of six consecutive podium finishes in Formula One, including finishing the first five races of the season in the top two positions, including winning the Australian Grand Prix and the Bahrain Grand Prix.

He is also looking to win his second Monaco Grand Prix, and win Ferrari’s first Monaco Grand Prix since 2001, when seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher (then a three-time world champion) won in a Ferrari one-two, with teammate Rubens Barrichello coming home in second place.

Meanwhile, Hamilton, who bounced-back from his fourth place in Russia by claiming victory at the Spanish Grand Prix has finished on the podium in 16 of his last 18 races in Formula One, including winning 10 of those 16 races where he has finished on the podium.

In Monaco, Hamilton is looking to claim his 65th pole position in Formula One, which would move him level with the late-great Ayrton Senna (who secured six victories, and five pole positions in Monaco) in equal-second on the all-time pole position list. Michael Schumacher has the most pole positions in Formula One history with 68.

Hamilton will also aim to achieve his third Monaco Grand Prix victory, and become the ninth driver to win consecutive successes in Monaco.

In addition to this, Hamilton’s team, Mercedes, is looking for their fifth-straight victory on the streets of the principality, after Nico Rosberg’s three victories in 2013, 2014, and 2015, along with Hamilton’s own victory with the team in 2016.

However, there will be plenty of fierce competition from rivals in Monaco, who are looking not to allow Vettel and/or Hamilton run away with this world championship.

Both Bottas, who is looking for his second victory in Formula One, and Raikkonen, who is looking for his second Monaco Grand Prix victory, 12 years after his only success to date on the Monaco Street Circuit in 2005.

Can they challenge their teammates in Monaco?

Or, can Red Bull Racing (72 points), and either of their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo (37 points) or Max Verstappen (35 points), challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for glory on the streets of Monaco?

They head back to Monaco, one year after a bungled pit-stop cost Ricciardo an almost certain victory on the streets of the principality.

So far in 2017, Red Bull have been clearly the third-fastest car, but have been troubled by a series of reliability issues.

Ricciardo with a fuel pressure issue in Australia after starting from the pit-lane after stopping on the lap(s) to the grid with mechanical issues, compounding a horror qualifying session the day before, when Ricciardo crashed his car into the barriers after a spin at Turn 14.

Then in China, Verstappen had a misfiring issue with his engine, and could only qualify 19th (starting 16th), before fighting back to a brilliant third on the Sunday, before reliability issues struck in Bahrain, with Verstappen retiring from the race with a brake failure, with the same braking issues struck in Russia for Ricciardo.

Then in Spain, a first lap collision involving Verstappen, Raikkonen, and Bottas resulted in broken suspensions for both the cars of Verstappen and Raikkonen, forcing both of them to retire from the Spanish Grand Prix.

To add to Red Bull’s misery, Ricciardo finished the Spanish Grand Prix 75.820 seconds behind race winner Hamilton in third spot as the last car on the lead lap. This was the first time this has happened in Formula One since the 2008 British Grand Prix, when only three cars finished on the lead lap.

So can Red Bull make it a three-team, six car fight in Monaco?

My view is that it will be tough, and I expect a battle royale between Vettel and Hamilton for the victory.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on the Thursday (instead of the usual Friday) at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 78 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

 

 

 

Supercars Review: First Five Rounds of 2017

So far in 2017, the Supercars Championship has had it all. From tremendous speed and performance in Adelaide by Shane Van Gisbergen, to the dramatic Lap Two pileup and wreckage in Race Three of the championship at Symmons Plains in Tasmania.

This was before the true emergence of DJR Team Penske, and their two drivers in Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin as genuine championship contenders and challengers to Triple Eight Race Engineering, and the resurgence of Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) after their awful 2016 season.

However, after the opening five rounds of the season, only four points separates championship leader Fabian Coulthard (1060 points) and Jamie Whincup (1056 points), who hasn’t won a race so far in 2017, at the top of standings, and only 37 points separates the top four drivers with Scott McLaughlin (1032 points) and Shane Van Gisbergen (1023 points) well and truly in the championship hunt.

However, there have been some big talking points that have created great debate and intrigue, and are worth discussing in-depth.

All-round speed and performance from DJR Team Penske

The biggest revelation so far in 2017 has been the pace and consistency from DJR Team Penske.

The recruitment of aerodynamic wizard, and arguably the most intelligent person in the Supercars paddock in Ludovic “Ludo” Lacroix from Triple Eight Race Engineering has been an absolute masterstroke, making sure that their cars were fast from the very beginning, and what a car it is!

Fast through the high speed, low speed, and medium speed corners, quick on the straights, and nearly perfect on every type of circuit so far.

The drivers have also been superb, with Fabian Coulthard leading the championship, and really taking the battle to his new teammate Scott McLaughlin during the opening rounds of the season.

However, in the last two rounds, McLaughlin, combined with his race engineer Lacroix have really eliminated the small errors that crept in during the opening three rounds, and has really started to pile the pressure back onto his teammate.

And what about McLaughlin’s sheer speed over one lap?

Mind-blowing!

Given how tight the Supercars field has been in recent times, I don’t think I have seen a driver in Supercars with so much of an advantage over one lap, not just over his teammate, but over the rest of the field. Not even Jamie Whincup at his absolute best had that kind of margin consistently over either his teammate(s), or the field over one lap.

I estimate (educated) that his qualifying advantage over teammate Fabian Coulthard to being around three and a half tenths of a second over a 100 second lap.

If Scott McLaughlin can continue this trend, and convert the speed into results, he will win his first championship in 2017.

Craig Lowndes lack of one lap speed

While his teammates in Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup are in the championship hunt, Craig Lowndes has struggled to be competitive in comparison in 2017, and it is all to do with his one lap.

While Van Gisbergen and Whincup have consistently qualified on the first two rows, Lowndes has struggled to qualify inside the Top 10, and more often outside of the first five rows of the grid.

In a sport where qualifying has become a crucial part of the game, it has left Lowndes in a position where he cannot compete for race victories, caused by the new construction of the Dunlop tyres.

I feel Lowndes is struggling with his braking under pressure over one lap as he is not getting the feedback from the tyre to give him the confidence to push harder under braking over a qualifying lap, and is fearing subconsciously that he may make a mistake which could cost him dearly.

His qualifying performance in the wet at Symmons Plains, and in the dry at Phillip Island and Barbagallo were okay. However, his qualifying performances at the stop-go circuits of Adelaide and Winton were not.

Unless Lowndes adapts to the demands of the current Dunlop tyres soon, he will struggle to win races!

He is already out of championship contention in my view!

Resurgence of PRA

At the end of 2016, Prodrive Racing Australia were struggling to be competitive, and struggling to compete for podiums, let alone race victories on merit.

In 2017, it seems like they have found a better platform, and have shown better speed, especially over race distance.

Chaz Mostert has returned to his best after a winless 2016, which has taken a while after his monumental accident at Bathurst in 2015, taking a victory at Phillip Island, plus a further two podiums.

Mark Winterbottom has only got one podium so far in 2017, but is slowly starting to find form after a difficult start to the season, while Cameron Waters has improved out of sight to challenge his teammates on a more consistent basis, but Jason Bright has struggled to keep with his three teammates.

I feel PRA is a non-serious championship contender, and would have to lift if they want to seriously challenge Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske for the title.

However, PRA are in a much better position right now compared to the end of 2016.

Under-performance of Nissan Motorsport

In an article I published for The Roar in October last year, I talked about who could challenge Triple Eight in 2017.

One team I said could challenge was DJR Team Penske, and they are challenging.

The other team I said could challenge was Nissan Motorsport, and they are not in contention.

There is a genuine lack of speed, more so in qualifying than over race distance, and there also seems to be a lack of an attention to detail, both technically and in terms of the drivers.

Simona de Silvestro has performed alright so far in her first season, but given the potential of Rick Kelly, Todd Kelly, and Michael Caruso, in terms of being proven race winners, and in the case Rick, a championship winner, they and the team have completely underachieved.

Caruso’s technique behind the wheel is a bit jerky, and no one within the team has tried to mentor him as to how to have more control of himself in the car to be able to extract more performance from himself, and the car.

If he can develop more calmness behind the wheel, he would be a consistent Top 10 competitor.

However, it is the business side of Nissan Motorsport that is taking its toll on both Rick and Todd, affecting their performance on the track, and with Jack Le Brocq waiting in the wings for an opportunity, one of them could be forced to make way for someone who has the potential to be a serial race winner, and championship contender in the sport.

The disaster at Walkinshaw Racing

After a strong start from James Courtney in Adelaide to start the season, the wheels have completely fallen off at Walkinshaw Racing!

Getting caught up in incidents, such as on Lap Two at Symmons Plains, and then having a lack of genuine car pace has really hurt the chances of this once great team.

To add to this, the termination of Adrian Burgess from his role at the team has cast doubt whether Ryan Walkinshaw has the strong leadership skills to reinvent this team post the Holden Racing Team era?

The jury is still out on that one!

And, the driving performances have suffered as a result.

Scott Pye has been nowhere with his new team so far, and is struggling to match Courtney on a consistent basis, but in reality, the car has no speed, and that is the thing that must change quickly.

The problematic issue of the small team

Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport (LDM). What can I say about them?

They are so far off the pace of everyone, under-resourced on both a technical and financial level, and cannot get a stable driver lineup together, mostly due to the need of requiring more sponsorship money.

I cannot judge the performance of the drivers because they are so far off the pace.

I am surprised they have lasted five rounds, and I won’t be surprised if they don’t last the season!

 

My sports commentary (TV style): Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Sydney Roosters (NRL Round 11, 2017)

For my first post on my sports blog, I wanted to show a sample of my sports commentary.

From my home, I decided to commentate the Round 11 match in the National Rugby League (NRL) between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Sydney Roosters, which was held at ANZ Stadium.

Please note that they are sound files, and that you will need to find the footage of the game, and view it in-sync, or imagine it!

I hope you enjoy it!