Month: November 2018

England complete first ever tour whitewash of Sri Lanka

England have completed their first ever whitewash in Sri Lanka after an incredibly close 42-run victory in the third and final Test in Colombo.

It appeared as though Sri Lanka might be able to salvage a consolation win in this Test with Kusal Mendis scoring 86 and Roshen Silva reaching 65. The England bowlers struggling to make headway with the Sri Lankan batsman.

Eventually, Jack Leach continued his fantastic form with a run out of Mendis that set England back on the right track. Moeen Ali also proved himself to be one of the best spin bowlers in the world by taking four wickets, including Perera and Silva with only one run between them.

With the scorecard reading 226-9, it seemed routine for England to finish the game, the series, and the tour, however, it proved anything but. Lakmal and Pushpukumara managed a very respectable last-wicket stand of 58 before Lakmal finally succumbed by lbw to Leach, who joined Ali on a four-wicket haul.

Talking about the tour Joe Root, England’s captain, said “it has been a fabulous tour. It has been a complete team performance throughout the whole trip. Everyone has contributed in some shape or form and that is the most pleasing and impressive thing.”

England have sprung back from their own whitewashing by Australia in the Ashes by winning eight of their last nine Tests. They have just four more Tests left though, three against West Indies and a one-off against Ireland, before the Ashes comes around again on August 1st 2019.

Through the bushes: Shenzhen’s shameful half-marathon

Marathon running is a sport that is seeing an incredible explosion of popularity in China, with the Chinese Athletics Association reporting (CAA) 1,072 marathons and road races have been held so far this year, up from 22 in 2011. While this explosion could help cultivate some world-class athletes, it also seems to be cultivating some world-class cheats.

A total of 258 runners have been penalised for cheating in the Shenzhen half-marathon. Organisers of the race found that 18 runners were running with fake bib numbers, photographers even managed to snap pictures of two competitors wearing the same number.

Alongside those were three imposters and 237 others who were caught by a traffic camera taking a shortcut. Organisers said that runners were supposed to run to the end of a road, take a U-turn, then come all the way back. 237 runners decided against that and cut through some bushes, skipping two or three kilometres of the 21-kilometre race.

Here is the spot where runners cut across, skipping two or three kilometres of the race.

Thankfully the cheaters have been dealt swift retribution. The runners wearing fake bib numbers have been given a lifetime ban from the event, while the others are banned for two years.

Around 16,000 athletes run in the event, taking place in the fourth-largest city in the country. This means that an astonishing 1.5% have received bans for their actions. In the Beijing half-marathon last year, organisers used facial recognition software to combat the influx of cheaters, highlighting the growing issue in China.

The race organisers released a statement addressing the events: “we deeply regret the violations that occurred during the event. Marathon running is not simply exercise, it is a metaphor for life, and every runner is responsible for him or herself.”

England win UEFA Nations League group in a thrilling game against Croatia

England came from behind against Croatia to win both the match and their group in the thrilling final game of the UEFA Nations League Group Stage. The victory sends the Three Lions through to the Semi-Finals of the competition which take place next June. 

Croatia, the side which sent England home from the World Cup this summer, looked as though they would win yet again after Andrej Kramaric scored for the visitors in the 57th minute. Kramaric, who plays his club football with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, seemed to have an eternity to shoot. When he finally picked his spot his attempt was deflected off Eric Dier’s thigh past a diving Jordan Pickford.

The scoreline didn’t reflect the football being played as England were dominating in terms of chances but couldn’t seem to convert them into goals. Croatia, on the other hand, managed to find the back of the net with their first effort on target. If the result stayed the same England would have been relegated to Group B of the Nations League. 

Gareth Southgate was determined to make sure his side wouldn’t be lumped together with other poor international sides such as Germany, falling from the upper echelon of European football that is the Nations League Division A. He brought on Dele Alli early on in the second half before making a double substitution ten minutes later with in-form Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard coming on.

These substitutions proved pivotal in the England comeback. Jesse Lingard tapped home an equaliser with 12 minutes of ordinary time left before Harry Kane scored from a Ben Chilwell free kick. The Croatian side was stunned. In seven minutes they had gone from topping the group to being relegated.

The atmosphere around Wembley was electric. Every one of the 78,221 knew exactly what those two late goals meant. Not only did we save ourselves from embarrassing relegation, not only did we top our group and progress to the Semi-Finals next June, but we took revenge on a Croatian side that ended our World Cup dreams, relegating them in the process. It doesn’t stop the hurt, but it certainly helps.

To add insult to injury for Croatia, the now iconic ‘3 Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’ anthem rang around the ground as the final whistle blew. We may not have won the world cup be we still have a chance of winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League. The newest, and some would argue most elite, international competition there is.

Talking about the victory after the game, Southgate said “I think the most pleasing thing of the year has been the connection with the fans and being able to share brilliant experiences with them. Today was brilliant, I can’t remember the new Wembley like that. We have exciting players that give them excitement.”

“We were by far the better team in the first half and we came back from a soft goal. If you’re going to win a game that’s the way you want to win. We were playing against a very, very good side. To keep the ball, use the ball and create chances was very pleasing. And you have to keep calm, when you think the chances have gone then you have to keep believing.”

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford echoed his manager’s sentiments saying “the atmosphere is probably the best we’ve had at Wembley. This Nations League makes you want to beat the best. We’ve beaten two of the top 10 sides in the world. Now we have another semi-final, it’ll be a good summer.”

Elsewhere in Division A of the Nations League, three more teams joined England in the Semi-Finals and three more joined Croatia in Division B. Netherlands stunned everyone by taking 7 points from a possible 12 and topping a group which included France and Germany. As previously mentioned Germany, who underperformed massively at the world cup, continued their run of poor form winning none of their four games.

Switzerland took the third spot in the Semi-Finals topping their group on goal difference, Iceland finished rock bottom there on 0 points. Finally the fourth spot went to Portugal who went undefeated in their group, while Poland also failed to register a win.

So, England knows their opponents: Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. All eyes now turn to the draw that takes place in Dublin on December 3rd. There the match times, venues and fixtures will be announced. If England wants to win their first major trophy since 1966, they will need to win two more games. 

Southgate and his players will be confident that they have a good chance of lifting the inaugural Nations League trophy, an achievement that will surely cement Southgate as one of the greatest managers ever to grace the beautiful game. 

Joking aside, there is no doubt that this England side is the most promising we have seen in many, many years. We have young players, talented players, playing as a team, not as individuals. Players who want to represent their country, who are proud of what that means.

Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana draw tenth game in a row in the Chess World Championship

After nine consecutive draws, Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen have drawn yet again in the Chess World Championship in London. There are now just two games left for either player to find a win or the series will go to a best of four tiebreaker series.

World number one Carlsen came close to winning Game 9 on Wednesday but lost his advantage following a rushed decision to offer up a pawn on his 25th move. Grandmaster Hiraku Nakamura called the move “a little premature to me”, a sentiment which was echoed by Carlsen after the game concluded.

“I felt like I had a comfortable advantage and then I just blew it, I was poor,” said Carlsen, visibly disappointed by the way the game ended. That ninth draw set the record for the longest streak of games without a win in the 132-year history of the Chess World Championship.

Finally though, in Game 10, Carlsen went all in. After spending 15 minutes contemplating his 21st move he surprised everyone by sacrificing a pawn in order to remove a rook hindering his attacks. Once he made the move he jumped up from his chair and headed to the refreshment area.

The pressure ramped up on world number two Caruana. As the moves progressed the pair traded bishops and then queens before reaching time control on move 40. For Carlsen to win, he needed to do it with just his rooks and pawns.

Russian GM Peter Svidler said Caruana was in a difficult position. “My hands would be very shaky with white in this position. It’s very, very scary.” With the game in such a fine balance, one mistake could prove fatal.

An overextension of the king by Carlsen potentially opened the door for Caruana to take something from the game but Carlsen managed to retreat just in time. The game then fizzled out to a draw a few moves later as neither side had a chance of winning.

There are still two games left in the series, organised by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), with a prize fund of one million euros on the line. If the score is level after these last two games then the series will go to the tiebreakers.

In these extra games, each player will start with 25 minutes on the clock with an increment of 10 seconds after each move. Should the series reach this point, Carlsen will be the favourite to win given he is also the world number one Blitz Chess player. 

Off the board, there was major controversy early on in the series as a two-minute video was uploaded to the Saint Louis Chess Club Youtube channel before being removed shortly after. The video showed details of Caruana’s preparation for the championship. 

While the video was online several screenshots were taken and shared online. Chess fans were quick to analyse the photos, including one of a laptop screen showing openings potentially being research by Caruana. The names of three grandmasters were also contained in the video – Leinier Domínguez, Alejandro Ramírez and Ioan-Cristian Chirila – who are working as second’s to help the American prepare

The final games of the series are played on Saturday 24th and Monday 26th and are shown for free on the FIDE website. They are also streamed on Twitch.tv by Chess.com hosted by IM Daniel Rensch and GM Robert Hess with regular appearances by guests such as GM’s Hiraku Nakamura and Yifan Hou.

England seal Sri Lanka series with a win in the second Test

England won their first series away from home since beating South Africa in January 2016 by sealing a victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka. Joe Root captained the side to a 2-0 lead with the third and final Test starting on Friday 23rd November.

Going into day 5 the result was very much in the balance with Sri Lanka sitting on 226-7 needing just 75 runs to level the series. The home side started well but suffered two wickets in three balls from Moeen Ali that all but ended any hopes of a victory. First Niroshan Dickwella fell for 35 after edging to first slip where Ben Stokes made a comfortable catch and then two balls later Suranga Lakmal was bowled for a duck.

The final wicket fell as Jack Leach achieved his first Test five-wicket haul. Leach caught and bowled Malinda Pushpakmura and the celebrations from the English side quickly followed. This was their first series win in Sri Lanka since March 2001 and only their second ever. Sri Lanka finished on 243 runs, 57 short of victory.

Talking after the Test captain Joe Root said: “The guys have worked extremely hard here. We said we’re going to play in a certain manner and we’ve backed that up completely throughout the two games. That’s probably the most pleasing thing.”

“We’ve stuck to our guns, been ruthless when we’ve had our opportunities to get ahead in the games and we’ve soaked up pressure well. This team is growing all the time, looking to improve in practice and driving that standard up which is a great position to be in.”

Root stepped up in the second innings making a fantastic 124, his 15th Test century. The Yorkshireman said that he “wants to get to number one in the world” and regardless of the outcome in the third Test England will overtake South Africa to take second place in the world rankings. Only India stands in the way.

With the Cricket World Cup taking place next May in England and Wales, Root and his team will be looking to make the most of the closing Test of this series as well as the tour of the West Indies in the new year. The final Test against Sri Lanka will take place in Colombo and starts at 04:30 on Friday 23rd November.

England rescue a win against an improving Japanese side in their third Autumn International

England scored three tries in the final 20 minutes at Twickenham to beat a Japanese side that is getting better with every passing fixture. The 35-15 scoreline may deceive fans into thinking that this was a routine victory but the reality was very different with Eddie Jones’ team going into halftime 15-10 down.

Ten months out from the World Cup, hosted in Japan, the Cherry Blossoms showed that they are not far from the quality of the world’s best by playing some fantastic attacking rugby. Ryoto Nakamura scored the game’s opening try in the 22nd minute with captain Michael Leitch extending their lead nine minutes later.

With England struggling to find a way through the Japanese defence in the first half Jones needed to shake up his side if they wanted to avoid an upset. It took until the 56th minute for a George Ford penalty to really get the English firing on all cylinders.

Debut international tries came for Mark Wilson and Joe Cokansiga as well as another penalty for Ford and suddenly England were 30-15 up. A collective sigh of relief was let out around the 81,151 mostly English crowd. Substitute Dylan Hartley sealed the victory four minutes from full time but the game exposed flaws that will need to be corrected before the team head to Japan next September.

After the game, Japan’s head coach Jamie Joseph said “We gave sloppy penalties away and allowed England back in which was a little bit disappointing, but I’m proud of the players all the same. Our mentality is slowly changing, we’re starting to believe that we can take these bigger teams on and that’s going to help us next year.”

England’s final Autumn International is against Australia on Saturday 24th November. Australia has had a difficult set of fixtures with losses to both New Zealand and Wales before a comfortable win against Italy. The last five meetings between the two sides have been England victories and England will be hoping to extend that unbeaten run.

Raymond van Barneveld to retire from darts after the 2020 World Championship

 Five-time world darts champion Raymond van Barneveld has said that he will retire after the 2020 PDC World Championship. The Dutchman won four of his world titles in the British Darts Organisation (BDO) in 1998, 1999, 2003, and 2005 before moving to the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and winning his fifth title in 2007 against Phil Taylor in an incredibly dramatic final that went to a tie-breaker.

Barneveld tweeted a short statement announcing his retirement: “For over 35 years I have been competing at the top of darts. With high peaks and deep lows. With 5 beautiful World Titles and many other trophies I have won. I have seen many countries and met a lot of people.”

“This sport brought me everything I could hope for and I will always be grateful for that. But I have decided that 2019 will be my final year as professional darts player. I hope to see all my fans again next year to be able to say goodbye and then put my darts down.”

Since his move to the PDC Barneveld has won many titles including four World Cup of Darts with his teammate and world number one Michael van Gerwen. However, he has failed to win a major singles title in four years, losing in multiple semi-finals and finals, usually to Gerwen.

“I’m not winning tournaments any more. I don’t know why but a lot of things have happened in my private life and I’ve also noticed that my body isn’t feeling 100% any more. I don’t have the drive, motivation or fitness to carry on.”

“I’m a winner, that’s what I do, I lift trophies but I can’t do it any more. Maybe there are still a couple of titles left in me and that would be amazing, but I can’t do this every week. This sport brought me everything I could hope for and I will always be grateful for that.”