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Archive for March 2008

Derby goes down after poor season

After the weekend action in the English Premier League, Derby County got relegated from the premiership with 6 games to go after drawing with fellow relegation threatened Fulham.

Derby hasn't done well at all this season and they have so far managed just one win and its no surprise to me that they are going down this early. The East Midlands' team's goal difference currently stands at -51 and lets see if it can go to -60.

Surprisingly some teams tend to play better after relegation and that could be the case for Derby but Paul Jewell will now start preparing for the Championship knowing that if he retains most of his players he will have a good squad for the Championship.

Bolton who currently complete the teams lying in the relegation places had a good chance to get at least get a point against Arsenal but the last minute own-goal with the match at 2-all means that they stay on 26 points. After going two nil up by half time and against ten men, I think they should have defended that margin to get the crucial three points.

Statistically any of the teams with less than 40 points at the moment can go down but I think realistically the teams that have to get worried are Birmingham, Wigan, Reading and Sunderland and I think Newcastle and Middlesbrough will have no problems at all.

At the top end, Liverpool's derby win over Everton was crucial and they have now opened a five point gap over their Merseyside neighbours and I think they should be able to get the last champions league place.

Everton do not have Tim Cahill for the rest of the season and I think they will settle for a UEFA Cup place in a season where they have been very impressive so far.

Next weekend's match between Arsenal and Liverpool should be very interesting and Liverpool with their five point gap can go into that match without fearing for their fourth place. I still see that match as a draw though.

Zimbabwe election results delay

The 2008 Zimbabwe general election took place on Saturday the 29th of March and its nearly Monday Zimbabwean time and so far there have been no official results forthcoming.

I wonder why there has been such a delay when most of the votes have been counted and people can see the results outside the polling stations.

In the presidential election President Robert Mugabe will be trying to hold on to power for another term but this time unofficial results from the MDC seem to suggest that he could have lost the election.

Mugabe didn't only have the challenge of Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC but also of former finance minister Simba Makoni who managed to get substantial support in a short space of time. I wonder what could have happened had he launched his bid earlier.

I cant wait to see the official results because at the end of the day those are the ones that count.

Djokovic too good for Fish

Novak Djokovic proved too good for Mardy Fish as he took the Pacific Life Open in three sets.

Fish had a good run in this tournament but he did well to take the second set but Djokovic stormed back to take the third set and the title and his second for the year after the Australian Open. It seems like world number one and two Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal respectively have lots to do this year especially with so many players not having many problems with them. I think Nadal in particular will have to find a way past Djokovic.

Just last year for example, Nadal beat Djokovic in the semis of the same tournament and went on to take the title but this year he lost in semi-finals and that shows he has a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile in the women's final, Ana Ivanovic took the women’s title with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova to complete a Serbian double.

Raikkonen bounces back

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen won the second F1 grand prix of the year, the Malaysian Grand Prix when he started second on the grid to bounce from the disappointment at Albert Park.

The current world champion showed he meant business from the start where he started behind team-mate Felipe Massa who later spun out of the race whilst in second position and I think only a breakdown could have stopped him from winning.

I thought Massa was going to collect his first points for the season but he did not the finish the race again and he will now have to wait for the next race in Bahrain. Ferrari will need both drivers to finish as often as possible in order to successfully defend the constructor's title.

In second place came BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and I am actually pleased to see BMW drivers finish on the podium whereas last year they tended to finish just outside the podium places.Last week Nick Heidfeld also finished second.

To complete the podium was McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen who should be pleased with his third place and an improvement from last week when he finished fifth.

In what seems like good signs for Toyota this year, Jarno Trulli finished just outside the podium places and ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton when he took fourth place. In last week's race team-mate Kazuki Nakajima got six place but could only get 17 th at Sepang.

I think Hamilton did well to get fifth place after starting ninth on the grid. His fifth place means he still leads the championship by three points.

Heidfeld was behind Hamilton in sixth and as I have already said it looks good for BMW but I still think they lack pace to challenge the top two teams.

I thought Mark Webber should have finished fifth after a very good race but he dropped two places when he pitted but seventh place is not too bad considering that in Melbourne he didn't even complete a lap.

To complete the points places was former champion Fernando Alonso who tried everything he could take to overtake Webber but Webber held on to seventh place.

Only five cars failed to finish the race this time and this is a big improvement from last week where only seven finished. Maybe it means the drivers have now adjusted well to the lack of driver controls.

The next race will be in Bahrain in a fortnight and its interesting who will be leading the championship after that.

Fish to meet Djokovic in final

Mardy Fish's good run continued this morning at the Pacific Life Open when he beat world number one Roger Federer to reach the final where he will meet Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic easily beat world number two Rafael Nadal in the other semi and he now meets Fish who has had an amazing run.

I didn't think that Fish was going to go past Federer but he did so in straight sets and Federer didn't seem to know how to respond to his game and Federer still waits to reach the first final of this year.

After beating Federer the way he did and the other players before him I think Fish should go on and win this tournament but in Djokovic he meets a player on the rise.

I will be very surprised if Djokovic loses the final in what is turning out to be a very good year so far for the player who won the Australian Open in January.

A week to go

Its now a week to go to the 2008 Zimbabwe general elections and the most notable thing over the last week or so has been the changes to the Electoral Act that governs the elections.

Notably policemen will now be able to enter the polling stations and help the frail and elderly and also it has been reported that the presidential votes will be counted centrally.

The so called Simba Makoni backers who were supposed to be revealed nearer to the polling date as the rumour went have so far not been revealed but I don't know whether it will make much of a difference anyway.

Morgan Tsvangirai has once again proved popular with his rallies well attended in both the rural and urban areas which should give him confidence.

On the other hand Robert Mugabe continues to campaign for re-election although he is still to host a major rally in Bulawayo where both his major rivals have already done so.

Langton Towungana seems like the least active candidate and I don't think he will have much of an impact unless he comes blazing over the next seven days.

Back to the latest changes, I don't understand why policemen should be allowed to help anybody vote. That is the role of the polling officers.

Polling officers should be able to help anybody who needs any sort of help or explanation and I don't know why police in particular have to be involved.

Maybe the Zimbabwe police get training in polling but even then its better to train the polling officers or employ more of them if thats what is needed.

Counting votes centrally doesn't seem to make sense to me either. If you count the other votes at the polling station why then lift the ballot box for the one of the elections to get them counted elsewhere and by whom.

This brings a lot of questions like who will accompany the ballot boxes all the way to the central area and also why go to such a cost when the country supposedly does not have the money.

Also what about some ballot papers that could have been put inside the presidential ballot box by mistake. How are these returned especially if they have come from a far away polling station? Will they be declared as spoilt? If you count at the polling station you just place the ballot paper in the correct pile and thats it.

These kind of changes make a complex election process even more complex and I think if they should be introduced it should be done at the start of the election so that everybody knows the rules upfront.

I hope there are no more changes in the last seven days before the election and I will try to follow the events closely through the Zimbabwe Situation website.

Fish to test Federer

Surprise semi-finalist Mardy Fish will test Roger Federer's recent form when the two meet in the semis of the Pacific Life Open.

Fish beat seventh seed David Nalbandian in three sets to reach the semis and this is going to be a great test for him too after beating Lleyton Hewitt and Nikolay Davydenko in earlier rounds.

In the other semi, Rafael Nadal will meet Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic which should be an interesting match and I think Djokovic will reach the final.

I have been following events at Indian Wells over the last few days and one of the most interesting matches so far for me was the match between Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and I still can't believe that Tsonga lost that match when he had so much control of the match until the last stages of the second set.

Meanwhile Federer got a bye for his quarter-final match against Tommy Haas when Haas could not play because of illness and therefore he should be fresh against Fish.

BBC gets back F1 TV coverage

According to this BBC article and this BBC blog post BBC blog post, F1 television coverage in the UK will return to the BBC after 12 years.

ITV had two years left in its contract but F1 has decided to give those rights to the BBC which should be a good thing for British F1 fans because they will now have uninterrupted coverage.

When I used to watch F1 coverage on ITV in England I thought that was great and they would show every race live and races like the Japanese would be shown live early in the morning and then a re-run in the afternoon and then a highlights program at night all which I thought was great.

Now if you look at F1 coverage in Australia which is done by Channel 10 all you get is the wall to wall coverage of the Australian grand prix and pretty much nothing else for the rest of the season in terms of live coverage and one is expected to live by delayed coverages.

This brings the question as to why Bernie Ecclestone does not act in Australia and look for a channel that will show the bulk of the races live in Australia and also increase the F1 fan base in the country?

This weekend we have the Malaysian grand prix which will be at 6.00 pm Melbourne time but Channel 10 will show this race delayed at 11 pm and they keep their rights.

On the other hand the race will be at 7.00 am UK time and ITV will show it live and then show the full re-run at 2.45 pm and then one hour highlights program at 12:20 am and they lose rights to F1 coverage. Double standards anybody?

It would appear to me then that F1 expects higher standards for their European viewers and possibly none at all for their Australian ones.

Hamilton off to a good start

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton went off to a good start as he won the Melbourne Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park from pole.

Only seven out of the twenty two that started the race finished the race but that didn't bother Hamilton as he snatched his fifth victory and even better for him was that the Ferrari's both failed to finish the race.

Today's race started a later time of 3.30 pm and next year it will start at 5.00 pm in a bid to have the race watched at a better time for European viewers but those fans who braved the heat should have enjoyed the exciting race.

Joining Hamilton on the podium was BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld who finished ahead of Williams Nico Rosberg who recorded his first podium in what was a great result for Williams.

It was also a good result for Heidfield who finished just outside the podium in so many races last year. I also hope to see more of that from the BMW team.

Former champion Fernando Alonso finished in fourth place in his first race back at Renault but he had to fight McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen towards the end of the race to get that fourth place.

I don't think its a bad result for Alonso and he can only improve as the season progresses and as the car is fine tuned.

Sixth place went to Rubens Barrichello but he was then disqualified for leaving the pits when the lights were red in his final pit stop.

Kazuki Nakajima in his first race for Toyota finished seventh but was promoted to sixth when Barrichelo was disqualified in what is a good sign for Toyota who should improve from previous years.

Toro Rosso-Ferrari's Sebastien Bourdais failed to finish but got seventh and so did Kimi Raikkonen who got eighth.

It didn't work out again for Mark Webber who could not even complete a lap and joined Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Vettel and Giancarlo Fisichella as drivers who failed to complete a single lap.

So McLaren and Williams should be pleased as they were the only teams who had both cars finish the race and for Ferrari its back to the drawing board.

Liverpool draw Gunners in quarters

In the UEFA Champions League quarter final draw on Friday, Liverpool drew Arsenal to set up an all English quarter final match and to ensure that there will be at least one English team in the semi-finals.

On the same side of the draw, Chelsea drew Fenerbahce and in what would seem on paper to be a kind draw for Chelsea since they play the second leg at home.

But it is actually Fenerbahce that can decide whether they can be a premiership side in the final because if they were to win their quarter final match and then the semi then they would have denied Chelsea and the winner between Liverpool and Arsenal a chance to reach the final.

Fenerbahce have been so good in the Champions League this season and they played very well against Seville to force a penalty shoot out which they won and I will not be surprised to see them oust Chelsea.

On the Arsenal/Liverpool match I think that the Gunners will sail through to the semis despite playing the second leg at Anfield. The young Gunners side have been gaining confidence with each round and I think they will be able to overcome the more experienced Liverpool side.

On the other side of the draw Manchester United will play Roma for the third time in two seasons and I think its going to be two tight matches. This time Roma have to win comfortably at home and not lose like they did last season in order to reach the last four.

In their group matches this season, Roma lost 1 nil at Old Trafford and could only draw one all at home and they have to do better than that to deny Sir Alex Ferguson's team a second successive semi-final place.

In the last match Barcelona will meet Schalke 04 and I think Barca should win this one. Barcelona will play the last leg at home and that should give them a huge advantage but Schalke could cause an upset especially if they win the first leg like they did against Porto.

So there are some appetising ties for the quarters but should Liverpool and Chelsea win their respective matches I think we will have another boring Liverpool/Chelsea match which will likely have as few goals as possible. I hope that does not happen.

2008 F1 season preview

The 2008 F1 season starts with the first race in Melbourne with this year's season promising to be even more interesting than last year.

Last year the highlight of the season for me was the on going tussle between then team mates Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso but Alonso has since gone back to Renault and they will now have to fight it out from two different teams.

Unlike last season where there were a number of changes, the biggest change this year is that there is no traction control and whether that will see more overtaking we will have to wait and see.

Ferrari retained their two drivers from last year in Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa and I expect them to be the team to beat. Last season Raikkonen had a strong finish to the year and I expect him this year to be strong from the start which will make it difficult for the other drivers to catch up with him.

Massa can also help retain the constructors title by making sure both drivers finish as high as possible in the races.

Hamilton should have won in his debut year but he faltered towards the end but in the process he gained a lot of experience. That experience should handy this season as he partners newcomer to McLaren Heikki Kovalainen who also has one year experience under his belt.

I expect McLaren to at least finish in the top two and if Hamilton can have another strong start like he did last year then he could win this year. Kovalainen didn't do badly at Renault either last year and so McLaren have two very promising drivers.

Two time champion Alonso moved to Renault in the close season where he will have debutant Nelson Piquet Jr as team mate but I don't expect much from him especially at the start of the season. I also think Alonso will have a better relationship with Piquet this time because he is the number one driver and he is no stranger to Renault.

I think Renault have a lot of work to do after a disappointing season last year and I think one of their biggest challengers will be BMW Sauber.

Sauber have retained their two drivers from last year in Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica but I still expect them to finish in their usual places from fourth to sixth with podium finishes here and there.

Last year Sauber was consistent but did not bother the top two teams too much but they have a good foundation to build upon this year.

Williams had a better season last season after a disastrous season the year before. They still have Nico Rosberg who I think is a promising driver and they now also have Kazuki Nakajima.

I think Williams will just work to improve on their standing from last season without really causing any concern for the top teams. I am anxious to see what Nakajima can do for them.

Australian Mark Webber is still at Red Bull Racing with David Coulthard and for these two I think it will be a question of finishing in the points places.

Honda was one of the biggest disappointments for me last season but they retained their drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. I think going for them is the appointment of Ross Brawn who worked with Barrichello at Ferrari. Any improvement on last year will be big boost for Honda and I expect them to finish more races in the points positions.

Over the last few years Toyota have promised so much but never delivered and this year I don't see much difference to that and lets hope I am wrong. Jarno Trulli will still race for them but he will be joined by debutant Timo Glock and a lot is expected of them especially with so much funding but nothing much to show for it.

The last three teams are Toro Rosso, Super Aguri and the new Force India and I expect then to also be the last three teams come end of season.

Force India have the experience of Giancarlo Fisichella but he was so disappointing at Renault last year he will have to improve a lot to get points for Force India.

So lets see what the first race in Melbourne will show us on Sunday and I hope it will be another exciting F1 season.

Pakistan tour off for now

Cricket Australia early this week announced that the planned tour of Pakistan was being postponed to sometime next year or the year after.

This came as no surprise to anybody as there have been talk of the tour being cancelled for some time now but it would have been good had the tour gone ahead.

I think its the right decision though and I hope a slot can be found sometime next year and that the situation on the ground in Pakistan also improves so that a tour can actually take place without any fears.

Australia last toured Pakistan ten years ago in 1998 and I am sure the cricket fans in Pakistan will be looking forward to seeing the world champions in action on local soil.

Pakistan will be one of the hosts for the 2011 Cricket World Cup and I hope that all matches scheduled to be played in that country will go ahead as planned.

Baggies draw Pompey in semis

West Bromwich Albion were drawn to play Portsmouth in the the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in April whilst Chelsea conquerers Barnsely will play Cardiff.

Its been an amazing run to the semi-finals but there is no doubt that this will be the most difficult match so far in the campaign. I am just hoping that this run in the Cup will not distract the Baggies from the promotion chase where things don't seem to be going on well for the Baggies.

Its good to see that none of the so-called Top Four are out of the FA Cup and thanks to Barnsely who ousted two of them in Liverpool and then Chelsea. This will give some other teams a chance for glory.

Before the draw was made I was hoping West Brom would avoid Pompey being the only premiership side left in the competition but now it would seem that the semi would be harder than the final should the Baggies win.

Cardiff will not be able to play in the UEFA Cup and I hope that if they were to reach the final, whoever they play would automatically get a UEFA place in next season's competition.

The last match at Wembley for the Baggies was against Derby County in the Championship and we lost that one but I hope that there will be a better result this time.

But as a Baggies fan I still think that getting automatic promotion to the premiership will still the most important achievement of the season if that can happen.

Free Early bird travel extended

The free train travel before 7 am which was being trialled on the Frankston and Sydenham lines will now be extended to the rest of the Melbourne metrolitan network from the 31st of March, 2008.

As I wrote last year when the trials started, I still think this is good news to people who start work before 7 am and even those who start work up to 7.30 am for they can take advantage of the one way free travel on offer with the early bird tickets.

Having seen the problems of overcrowding on trains increase over the last few weeks on my line, I think long term what is needed are more trains and for the trains to come more frequent during peak hour.

Using overcrowded trains now seems to be the order of the day and this latest move will benefit the earlier trains which at the moment seem to be best anyway but for the rest of the passengers I think there could very little difference in terms of overcrowding.

India wrap up series

India won the Commonwealth Bank one day triangular series after beating Australia by 9 runs at the Gabba.

I think India saved their best cricket for last although I have to say that Sachin Thendulkar was once again the real difference as he fell short just nine runs to score a second successive century against Australia. But his runs helped India batting first to requires Australia to score 249 to win.

Australia had struggled with the bat for most of the series and relying on the bowlers most of the time, but this time they came close and could have forced a deciding match at the Adelaide Oval.

One consistent thing though was captain Ricky Ponting's lack of form as he only managed one run this after scoring the same in the first match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Adam Gilchrist again failed and contributed just two runs.

So the summer of cricket controversy comes to an end and I actually look forward to the next time India visits these shores maybe with a bit less controversy.

Murray dismisses Federer early

Andrew Murray beat world number one Roger Federer in three sets in the first round at the Dubai Championship.

This was the first match for Federer since January and in his last match he lost to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and I expected him to be fresher than Murray who was playing during February and also won the Open 13 final in Marseille.

This was a rare first round loss for Federer who last lost in the first round nearly four years ago in August 2004.

I think that this defeat will put some pressure on Federer but he is also such an exceptional player that he can quickly recover and do what he normally does best and win tournaments.

Interestingly Murray himself lost in the first round in his last tournament before this one when he lost to Robin Haase in the opening round of the World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

Auditing the cyclists

This morning it was Super Tuesday in Melbourne as an audit of Melbourne cyclists was done at various points around the city.

This date was announced sometime ago in January and its a good exercise that will try and and establish roughly how many people cycle to work and what can be done to improve the available infrastructure. I am keen to see the results of the audit when they are released sometime later this year.

I don't cycle to work myself but maybe I could consider cycling to the train station and then jump on the train. There has been a big debate lately in Melbourne about bicycles not being allowed on the trains during peak time but another talk for another day.

I think the results of this audit are going to help plan for more bicycle lanes where there is a greater number of cyclists. I don't know whether they will also remove those bicycle lanes where they are hardly used or maybe they will be left to encourage more people to cycle to work.

India one up as Thendulkar shines

Tonight India beat Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to go one up in the Commonwealth Bank triangular series with Sachin Tendulkar in commanding form.

There is no doubt the star of the match was Thendulkar but it was interesting to hear that the century he scored was the first one against Australia in Australia in the one day competition.

Without looking at the statistics its easy to assume that he had scored a century before against Australia in Australia and the century was his 42nd.

His unbeaten 117 made sure that India reached the target of 239 with four overs to spare.

For Australia Matthew Hayden scored an impressive 82 after a dreadful start where top order batsmen Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke all failed to reach double figures.

Tuesday will see the next match in this finals series at the Gabba in Brisbane and Australia has to win to force a third and deciding match in Adelaide but if the batting remains to be poor then Australia will fail to win the triangular series for the second year running having lost to England last year.

Dabengwa joins Makoni

Dumiso Dabengwa announced this weekend that he was backing Simba Makoni in his bid to become president and replace Robert Mugabe in the forthcoming Zimbabwe presidential elections.

Cyril Ndebele, a former speaker of parliament also came out to voice his support for Makoni but I think it is Dabengwa's support that is the most significant.

By aligning up with people like Dabengwa, I think Makoni has made sure that he will get most of the Matabeleland Zanu PF vote and that will be quite significant in his bid to become president.

However, Matebeleland has lately become more MDC than Zanu PF and that could be the only problem but he will also be counting on the Mutambara faction vote.

Dabengwa comes untainted by the corruption that has bedeviled Zanu PF and although he is in the politburo he hasn't been active in government for some time and I think that will benefit the Makoni vote.

Now that Dabengwa and Ndebele have publicly shown their support for Makoni I am wondering who else will come out in support of him as the election day draws nearer.