The Diwali Weekend

Written by  //  November 8, 2010  //  Sport  //  Comments Off on The Diwali Weekend

The Diwali holiday weekend gave me a lot of time to watch sport, and needing no invitation I readily indulged, almost unhealthily. Here are some notes from my gluttonous viewing.

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Test-match cricket once again has once again proved to be a game of glorious uncertainties. New Zealand, lowly New Zealand, had India on the mat on day four of the first test-match at Ahmedabad. Had it not been for a fantastic partnership between Harbhajan Singh – who scored his first century – and V.V.S. Laxman – whose stock as a man for the crisis is ever-increasing – India could well have come a cropper. New Zealand’s resurgence, though, had much to do with a century each by debutant Kane Williamson, and Jesse Ryder. While they were both fine knocks, Ryder’s century offered a rare pleasure. It’s hard to imagine a man of his build taking part in any other sport of consequence, so to see him succeed gave us a glimpse of the joys that cricket can provide. His century wasn’t belligerent, as you would expect from someone his size, but was measured and methodical. Along with Williamson, Ryder ensured that ‘collectively’, the Kiwis punched well above their weight.

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Football is a great leveller. Days after their outstanding victory against European champions Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur were brought crashing back to earth by Bolton Wanderers who fashioned a 4-2 victory at the Reebok Stadium. Although, Owen Coyle has got Bolton playing some pleasant football – a sharp contrast to the days of Sam Allardyce – much of their strength remains in the aerial ability of their strikers and the bulk of their midfielders. Kevin Davies who scored twice and Fabrice Muamba who covered almost every blade of grass on the pitch were both massive for the Trotters. But amid all the physicality little Stuart Holden, anchoring the midfield for Bolton, impressed the most. The, Scotland born, U.S.A international has shown himself to be an excellent reader of the game. Although he generally keeps his passing neat and tidy, he does possess the ingenuity to cut open a defence, when required.

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Sunday’s Rome derby – widely regarded as one of the world’s feistiest football ties – failed to live up to its billing. Tactically, though, the battle did offer some elements of fascination. Both teams lined up in strangely asymmetrical formations that saw huge gaps on Lazio’s right and Roma’s left wing. But neither John Arne Riise nor Stephan Lichtsteiner – Roma’s left-fullback and Lazio’s right-fullback – could exploit this space. On the account of the football played, Roma probably deserved the win that they secured courtesy a penalty each from Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic. The victory helps keep intact Claudio Ranieri’s record of never having lost a derby in Italy as a manager. The result also sees Lazio’s lead over A.C. Milan at the top of the table trimmed by two points.

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The league leaders in England, Chelsea, also had their lead slashed to two points after Fernando Torres returned to form to score two splendid goals at Anfield. Roy Hodgson lined Liverpool in a 4-4-1-1 – a system that he had used for most of his time at Fulham – with Dirk Kuyt floating behind Torres, Raul Meireles continuing as a right midfielder, and Steven Gerrard playing as a conventional central midfielder alongside Lucas Levia, who inarguably had his best ever game in a Liverpool shirt. Torres’s first goal, as impressive as it was – a dink over Petr Cech after he had glibly controlled Kuyt’s pass – was eclipsed by his second goal that was a thing of captivating beauty. The Anfield crowd purred with delight as the Spaniard collected Meireles’s ball and curved it around a bemused Cech to find the bottom left corner. Didier Drogba reportedly suffering from a fever was brought on for the second half, but it was to no avail. Liverpool retained their shape with aplomb and controlled proceedings wonderfully well in the second period. After a turbulent start to the campaign, Liverpool are now only 5 points adrift of fourth placed Manchester City. Much work remains to be done at the club, but with Torres and Gerrard – who scored a hat-trick after coming on a substitute against Napoli on Thursday in the Europa League – returning to form, I’d expect Liverpool to secure European qualification with ease.

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Paul Scholes, remains one of the most influential midfielders in England. Manchester United were utterly awful for much of the 74 minutes they spent without Scholes on the pitch against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Although the little maestro didn’t have a direct impact on the game, the shift in United’s rhythm and tempo upon his arrival was palpable. His slight feints and changes in pace to find space in the middle of the park and the precision of his passing were a joy to behold. United have lost several players under Sir Alex Ferguson’s twenty-four-year rein and have managed to find a way around it, either by means of a straight replacement or a tweak in the system. But replacing Scholes, when he does quit, could well be Ferguson’s hardest ever task, assuming of course that the task does fall upon him and not his successor.

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