Pink balls, stress and Stokes

Updated 21 November 2017
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Pink balls, stress and Stokes

LONDON: One of the oldest battles in sport gets underway tomorrow in Brisbane. The Ashes rarely fails to serve up anything short of sporting drama and excitement at its very best. Here are the five things that will shape the series over the next month and a half.
ESCAPING THE ‘GABBATOIR’
The Woolloongabba “Fighting ground” is an Australian cricket citadel. It’s no coincidence that most high-profile series begin there. Australia’s game plan is fairly simple — ambush the opposition at the Gabba and then widen the scars opened up throughout the rest of the series. Lose at the Gabba, as England did by 381 runs in 2013, and you can almost kiss the storied urn goodbye. Only three teams have drawn a Test at the venue in the past 15 years. England (2010) and South Africa (2012) went on to win the series. India (2003) almost did, denied only by Steve Waugh’s last stand. If you discount the win in 1978, when Australia’s finest were playing in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, England have won just once at the Gabba since the days of Sir Donald Bradman. And that was in 1986.
ADELAIDE’S BRIGHT LIGHTS
Once, the picturesque Oval was where batsmen went with a spring in the step. With the harsh southern sun bleaching the pitch blonde, the surface was invariably full of runs over the first three days. Now, with the redesigned Oval being shared with Aussie rules football and a drop-in pitch being used under floodlights, it’s the bowlers that hold sway. Australia have beaten both New Zealand and South Africa in day-night Tests there, but with the pink ball very amenable to swing, their line-up will face a tough examination against Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson, in particular, can be unplayable when there’s appreciable movement in the air, or off the pitch. Josh Hazlewood has taken 15 wickets in those two pink-ball Tests though, and England’s batsmen are also unlikely to fancy a trial by swing-and-seam.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
With the exception of the old firm of Anderson and Broad, only three of the English contingent have played in Australia before. Alastair Cook has failed twice, either side of a stellar series in 2010-11 — 766 runs, with three hundreds. Joe Root managed just 192 runs in four Tests in 2013, while Jonny Bairstow’s two outings fetched him only 49 runs. The Australians won’t just be mouthy on the field. The tabloids will have their barrels trained on England, and every slip will be magnified, while the rowdy crowds will not be shy of telling the tourists what they think of them. Many have wilted under the scrutiny. Others, like Virat Kohli and Graeme Smith, used the fear and loathing to motivate themselves. England will soon discover just how many in the squad have the appetite for a scrap.
FITNESS
From the time he made his Test debut, picking up seven wickets and hitting the winning runs at The Wanderers in November 2011, it was obvious that Pat Cummins was a once-in-a-generation talent. Sadly, injuries have kept him to just four Tests since then — two in India and two in Bangladesh earlier this year. He has never taken on a workload anything like as intense as an Ashes series. Mitchell Starc, who made his debut a fortnight after Cummins, has had his share of injury woes too, featuring in only 36 of the 68 matches Australia have played since then. On the other side, Anderson, after years of being the bionic man, has had his share of niggles and serious injury during the past 12 months. Neither side has back-up options of the same quality, so the onus will very much be on the physios and trainers to earn their corn.
BEN STOKES
This week ended his Twitter hiatus to query Matthew Hayden’s description of England’s squad as a “rabble,” but there’s still no clarity on whether he will play any part in the Ashes. When Mitchell Johnson’s searing pace destroyed England in 2013-14, Stokes was one of the few silver linings, scoring a belligerent century and taking 15 wickets. Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive, has spoken of “rehabilitation,” but first the police must complete their investigation into the case of alleged assault. “We have to get that balance between censure and support absolutely right,” said Harrison. “I think cricket’s response to this will show the value of the game in the best light.” For now, Stokes is hitting the nets in Durham, waiting for his chance to influence one of sport’s oldest feuds.


Francesco Molinari looking for ‘dream’ end to season in Dubai at DP World Tour Championship

Updated 15 November 2018
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Francesco Molinari looking for ‘dream’ end to season in Dubai at DP World Tour Championship

  • 2018 has been an incredible year for Molinari
  • If Molinari wins this weekend, it would make him just the third player in history to win multiple Rolex Series events

LONDON: Francesco Molinari is looking to end a fairytale season by becoming the European No. 1 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, which starts today, and the first Italian to achieve the feat.
2018 has been an incredible year for Molinari, with a maiden Major victory in the Open Championship in July, which followed a first Rolex event victory at the BMW PGA Championship in May. He has also not missed a single cut this season, a run that extends over four years in regular European Tour events.
And in a glorious Ryder Cup for the Europeans, he became the first player from the continent to win five points out of five, while securing the winning point in his singles match against USA’s Phil Mickelson.
Speaking to journalists ahead of today’s tee-off, the Italian said: “It feels incredible, a new position for me, I’ve never been here in the past.
“I think it’s just a consequence and a sign of an incredible season. I would have never guessed that I would be here in this position if you told me in April or May this year but it’s been an incredible summer, topped by an unbelievable Ryder Cup.
“Really, it’s a dream season for me and it’s nice to be here in this position. Hopefully I’ll be able to close it out. I know it’s not going to be easy and I’m not making any assumptions but I’ll do my best on the course to do the job.
And when asked about his prospects of winning the Harry Vardon trophy this weekend, he said: “You can have the best week of your life and win one tournament but to win a competition that lasts throughout the season, with the amount of talent there is right now on the European Tour, is something really hard to do but it’s also still hard to figure out for me how I’m here in this position.”
Molinari needs to finish tied-fifth or better at the Jumeirah Golf Estates to seal the Race to Dubai crown, but Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood — the man he formed such a strong bond with in Paris — is the only man who can prevent him the perfect ending.
Victory for the Englishman on the Earth Course is the only way he can deny Molinari the title, but the Italian was full of praise for his “best friend” and would not begrudge Fleetwood if he successfully defended his Race to Dubai crown.
“I know we said this and we’re going to sound really cheesy but if I don’t win, I’d rather see him win than anyone else,” he said.
“We really are good friends and he’s had an amazing season. To think that he won last year and to come here, still with a chance to win two in a row, it’s incredible, really.
“So fair play to him. What I can say for me is that it’s been a great season and however it goes this week, I’m still going to have lots of great memories from all of what I’ve done this year, and probably the best memory is what we’ve done together with him in France.
“I can’t really be mad at him, even if he wins.”
If Molinari wins this weekend, it would make him just the third player in history to win multiple Rolex Series events and he praised the introduction of the European Tour’s prestige level of tournaments.
“There’s a few events that we target every year,” he said. “It’s great for us to have the opportunity to play in such special tournaments.
“Especially for guys like me, playing a home event in Italy that is part of the Rolex Series, just gives a completely new meaning to the Italian Open.”