The Ashes: Sudden shift in momentum - Pakistan Today

The Ashes: Sudden shift in momentum

The Boxing Day Ashes Test promises to be something special. With the series tied at a match apiece, there is everything to play for. The spectacular Melbourne Cricket Ground is set for some exceptional crowds which could threaten to fill it up to its 100, 000 capacity. How suddenly the momentum has shifted.
On the first day of the Perth Test, England were on a roll. They had wiped the floor with Australia in the previous match and had now gotten half the Australian side out for very little. But they had reckoned without the reliable Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson’s burgeoning all-round skills. Suddenly Australia were 250 plus and Johnson had carried his batting form on to his bowling.
When Johnson is on top of his bowling form, there is nobody as intimidating, not Steyn, nor Aamir. He literally muscles the ball at high speed, with a round arm action. The English batsmen were all at sea and they crumbled. The Ashes series momentum had shifted inexorably and now it was Australia who were in the driver’s seat.
England have since had plenty of time to plan a counter to Johnson as well as the powerful Ryan Harris. It is likely that their batsmen put in time on bowling machines. But machines are no substitute to facing a fast bowler with his hair on fire in front of a 100,000 people.
The sudden resurgence of Australia’s bowling would be causing sleepless nights to Andy Flower as would the sub par performance of Graeme Swann. Swann is perhaps the best spinner on the circuit today and on favourable wickets can be a match winner. Perth was a rare failure and he would be hoping for a wicket conducive to his wily ways.
Should the wicket be batsman friendly, it would give the England batsmen a chance to put up enough runs to allow Swann to ply his trade. Australia would be looking for a hard pacy track that would favour Johnson and co. Both sides have batting issues with a number of batsmen who are out of touch. Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke are Australia’s biggest concern while England will be sweating over Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood.
It is a mystery as to why the brilliant Eoin Morgan is being overlooked. Morgan has exceptional skills and has proven that he can bring his ODI form to the longer form of the game. He could be a match winner. Pietersen, although he did make a double hundred in the second Test, has not inspired confidence in his other outings. Neither has Collingwood, although his bowling can be an asset.
Ponting has a broken little finger but is expected to play. In case he does not, his standby is Islamabad’s own Usman Khwaja. But the Ponting currently on display is but a pale shadow of the master who was considered by some to be Australia’s best post-War batsman. It could be a run of poor form but at his age, even a slight deterioration in the hand-eye coordination could signal the end of the Ponting era. The next two Tests will tell.
The International tennis tour will resume after its break with the Qatar Open ATP event. This lead up to the first Grand Slam of the year has evolved into a major tournament on the ATP calendar. Rafael Nadal finished 2010 on a high, winning the last three majors. Should he win the Australian, he would have the distinction of winning all four majors in a row.
Although not technically a Grand Slam, it would put him in the exalted company of Rod Laver, Donald Budge and perhaps Fred Perry. It would also rank him very high among the all time greats. Roger Federer has revamped his game, and with the onset of years, has decided to shorten the points by being more aggressive with the return of serve as well as by serving and volleying on occasion. He was playing at an unprecedented level at the end of season Masters Finals. Should he carry his game forward to the next season, he could win a couple of Majors.
Nadal and Federer have dominated the past four years, winning almost all the Grand Slams. There have been some challengers but none have yet made an extended run. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are snapping at their heels but in the big events have failed to make an impression. Berdych threatened for a while, but lacks the mental toughness. Davydenko is coming back from injury, while Soderling shows glimpses of greatness. Long shots for next year, in this scribe’s reckoning could be the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and the Kazakh Andrey Golubev.
Dimitrov had a stellar junior career and started his senior career with a win over Berdych and a three set match against Nadal. He then slipped a little and has only recently started on his way back. He was coached by Peter Lundgren who also coached Federer and in Lundgren’s view, the youngster has more talent.
Dimitrov plays a similar game to Federer’s, with a sweeping one handed backhand. 2010 could be his breakthrough year. Golubev has already made his mark and has a ranking of around thirty. He has exceptional racquet skills and should he stay healthy, could be a top ten challenger. But the hardest part is to get to the very top. That space is reserved for the champions and champions as we all know are born and not made.
The Pakistan Tennis Federation held a reception at a local Islamabad Hotel to dine out the old PTF office bearers and to introduce the newly elected ones. There was considerable bonhomie and nice speeches. The former President Dilawar Abbas then made his farewell speech. He recounted his achievements over the eight years, the centerpiece being the PTF complex that he so graciously named after himself.
He conveniently forgot to tell the audience that the center collapses every time a strong wind blows through. That the synthetic court that he has made is unplayable. But the real laugher was his statement that every country develops only one tennis player at a time. That would come as a huge surprise to countries like Spain, Argentina, France, USA or Australia, who have thirty or forty players in the ATP top 1000. Serbia a country the size of Lahore Division, is the Davis Cup Champion and has several players in the top fifty.
So, Mr.Abbas, what do you have to show for your eight years in power? Do you have any player in the ATP top 2000? How many players do you have in the top 1000 in the junior’s rankings? The only one is a British citizen who comes to Pakistan to play. There is no one else. Tennis in Pakistan is on life support. It is a huge challenge for Kaleem Imam. Imam is a doer and go getter and has taken some bold steps. Tennis may finally be coming out of its doldrums.

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