England Vs India Marks out of 10: England take the lead to fuel belief of number one status

What a fantastic Test match and what a great victory for England. Their slightly undercooked opponents looked a little rusty and were never quite a match for the on-song hosts of the 2,000th Test match of all time.

Below are my marks out of ten for the two sides:

India:

Abhinav Mukund – 6/10

This was a plucky first outing at Lords for the youngster filling in for the rather more illustrious figure of Virender Sehwag. A breezy knock in the forties in the first innings demonstrated confidence and a desire to show real intent at the crease even when opening in a Test match.

Gautam Gambhir – 3/10

Nothing really from Gambhir in his new found role as the senior member of India’s opening partnership in the absence of Sehwag. Two small contributions and a nasty whack on the elbow to boot. He will hope the bruising and swelling has eased up a little for Trent Bridge, and after this lacklustre showing England may want to see him fit for action too.

Rahul Dravid – 8/10

First Lords Ton for 'The Wall'

Magnificent showing amidst a real lack of support en route to a first innings hundred. It was his first at the home of cricket and boy did he deserve it. It was a typically rear-guard hundred from ‘The Wall’ and it was just what India needed at the time. Despite not following it up with an equally important knock second time out he must go down as India’s star performer of the Test.

Sachin Tendulkar – 3/10

Usually the man for a crisis but not this time out for the ‘Little Master’. Two knocks of no real note and a bout of the flu for his troubles. Maybe he will get another chance to ton-up for the first time at Lords in what has been an incredible career. If his chance does come again then he might want to score with a little more fluency than today when at one point he had gone 39 deliveries without scoring a run.

VVS Laxman – 4/10

Just when India needed an experienced head to play himself in and settle alongside Dravid in the first innings Laxman holed out in miserable fashion. A flimsy paddle down to deep-square saw him perish and with it went much of India’s optimism. He did somewhat redeem himself in the second innings in an unfamiliar role at number three in the order by making a half-century, but he didn’t hang on long enough to have a real impact upon proceedings.

Suresh Raina – 5/10

The youngster showed real character to follow up a two-baller in his first innings with a rear-guard half-century in the second. Sadly for India his efforts were cut-short when he ran out of partners in the early evening.

MS Dhoni – 3/10

His two minor showings with the bat are worth half a mark, his attempt to at least try and Captain a side ravaged with injury and illness is worth another half, his OK glove-work is worth another half and the nerve as Captain and Keeper to throw off his gloves and turn an arm is worth the rest of his 3 out of 10.

Harbhajan Singh – 2/10

‘The Turbanator’ was ineffective with the ball in both innings as the spinners toiled on the pristine Lords’s track. Add into the mix a wimpy edge outside of off to Chris Tremlett in the first innings and a remarkably poor stroke to hole out in the second and you might come to the conclusion that he had a poor game.

Praveen Kumar – 7/10

The inexperienced military medium swing bowler was the only man to step up in Zaheer Khan’s absence from the attack for most of the first innings. As such he was very deserving of his five-for and he backed this up with a confident but brief lower order knock to help India scrape past the follow-on target.

Zaheer Khan – ?

India will be hoping their attack leader returns at Trent Bridge

A spectator for the majority of the game due to a hamstring strain but his two showings with the bat yielded no runs, not that it would have been him running them anyway. For the early stage of the game when he was fit for action he was very good and he had taken the only two English wickets prior to his injury.

Ishant Sharma – 6/10

Nothing with the bat at 11 and found wanting in a wicketless first innings of bowling. Found his rhythm in the second English innings and for a brief period revelled in tearing apart their top order. However, lunch then came to England’s rescue and Sharma was inexplicably held back for around 40 minutes after this break. When he came back on the aura had gone, promising signs though.

England:

Andrew Strauss – 4/10

Coming in off the back of two top-class knocks in India’s warm-up game the England captain again faltered a little with the bat. Two scores of no great note, but decent captaincy en route to one of the finest Test wins under his guidance.

Alistair Cook – 1/10

Brought back down to earth with a bump. There simply had to be a Test match coming up where Cook wouldn’t fill his boots and this was it. Hopefully better things to come as the series progresses.

Jonathan Trott – 6/10

Important gritty knock of 70 in the first innings in the worst of the conditions but failed to match t up with another good one in the second innings.

Kevin Pietersen – 9/10

KP has described this as his best Test knock

Glorious return to form for KP on one of his most prolific stomping grounds. His third Test double-hundred was outstanding and full of determination and maturity. He went through the motions in this most magnificent of innings, starting out slow in tricky conditions and cutting loose in the sunshine. Shame he tarnished his performance with a cheap dismissal for just 1 in the second innings but still got MOM.

Ian Bell – 4/10

Just as was the case for Cook, there was bound to be a Test where Ian Bell wouldn’t score big and this was it. Fluent forty or so in the first before falling victim to Sharma’s period of destruction in the second. Bell will be hoping this duck wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Eoin Morgan – 2/10

A poor showing from Ireland’s (and England’s) finest. Nothing to speak of with the bat and dropped poorly when the pressure was on to dismiss India in their second innings.

Matt Prior – 10/10

This hundred may well be Prior's most important innings for England thus far

Not the official MOM, but certainly got my vote. Really outstanding performance from England’s wicketkeeper/batsman. A brisk and exciting 70 odd in the first innings was followed up by an incredible unbeaten hundred in the second innings. Add to this an almost flawless performance with the gloves at Lords where keeping is notoriously tough and you can see why he is fast establishing himself as the finest number seven in world cricket.

Stuart Broad – 9/10

Broad allayed any fears over a lack of form

Came into this Test under the cosh with many feeling his place should have gone to Tim Bresnan. Maybe this was the spur behind an outstanding performance with bat and ball. He took the first three wickets of India’s first innings including that of Tendulkar en route to a four-for and followed this up with two more wickets in the second innings when if it weren’t for some suspect fielding and umpiring he could have had at least another two. A golden duck in England’s first innings was less than impressive but his unbeaten 74 alongside the majestic Prior helped save England from meltdown in their second innings. If only time were on his side he might have gone on to score a second Test hundred and it was fitting that he got the match sealing wicket.

Graeme Swann – 6/10

Like Harbajhan he struggled to really impress with the ball but he did comfortably out-bowl his opposite number. In addition to his efforts with the ball he provided able assistance with the bat when KP cut loose in England’s first innings, this contribution helped them assert their authority over their opponents at an early stage of the match.

Chris Tremlett – 7/10

Never looked fully fit but strived hard for his wickets and kept charging in to the bitter end. He got his reward with the prize scalp of Dhoni after tea on the last day and that seemed to be the spark needed to topple the lower order. Hopefully his niggles are minor and he will be all guns blazing come Friday.

James Anderson – 7/10

Not vintage all the way through from Jimmy but a great showing in India’s second innings. He eventually managed five-for and got his name on the honours board again at Lords, he will be disappointed with his lacking performance with the ball in India’s first innings though.

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Will England prove themselves the new Lords of the Test arena

The world’s number one ranked side are coming to town and England must prepare for what could be their greatest challenge of recent years. India are currently rated the outstanding side in all forms of world cricket and England’s aspirations to usurp them at the top of at least the Test format rely heavily upon their forthcoming series.

Will Sachin be saluting his 100th International ton at Lords?

The challenge before them seems incredibly tough with India having unsurprisingly brought a fresh and full-strength squad after resting key names in their series against the West Indies. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan Singh and MS Dhoni will all return looking to add to their already well founded track records in English conditions.

Add to this the enthusiasm and raw talent of their younger charges such as Ishant Sharma and England’s task really does appear to be formidable.

England’s long-term goal to become the greatest Test side in the world may not be such a huge problem as India are currently have an old squad which may be superb for now, but a period of transition is surely inevitable.

Soon masters of the sport like Tendulkar and Dravid will have to retire and the baton will be passed to the younger crop of talent. We await to see if the likes of Sharma can handle the pressure and continue to achieve when the experienced heads aren’t there to support them.

Sharma will be hoping to take on England's openers

For now though England must not get ahead of themselves. They have to prepare for the challenge of facing up to the most complete side they have encountered in years. This level of opposition has probably not been seen before an English Test side since the swan song of Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ in the 2007 Ashes series Down Under. Sadly we all remember only too well how that went.

Having mentioned such dark days it is important to underline that England have come along way since then in all formats of the game. This is probably attributable to the set-up in place to support the current English sides in all forms of the game. Head Coach Andy Flower along with major back-room staff David Saker, Graham Gooch and Richard Halsall has seen major improvements across all of bowling, batting and fielding. Such improvements have seen an increase in confidence and ‘aura’ surrounding this England side, as was highlighted so much throughout the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. With an increased level of confidence in their ability, England have gone on to record back-to-back Ashes series victories both at home and abroad and have become the reigning World Twenty20 Champions. Though successes in the 50 Over format have been limited by contrast, the recent series victory against World Cup finalists Sri Lanka points towards a new and more positive approach to One-Day Internationals.

England's backroom staff watch on against Sri Lanka

At present it seems that the Test format is England’s strongest suit and that is why such emphasis has been placed upon achieving that number one ranking. The management and selectors of the Test side appeared to have invested a great deal of optimism and confidence in our current Test squad. There has been something of an epiphany regarding the depth of talent there ready and available for the selectors at present, and a realisation that we can now boast many of the world’s finest Test match cricketers.

The management appear to have aided the rise of players such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and James Anderson into the current world forces in their particular disciplines. Alongside these in-form stars England can now boast a truly matured and World-Class wicketkeeper/batsman in Matt Prior, a brooding Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad striving to recapture their finest form and an innovative, quick-scoring, middle-order run machine in Eoin Morgan.

KP and Broady will be hoping to rise to the occasion

Perhaps the most exciting part of the English game at present though is the fast-bowling department. In addition to the truly world class Anderson, England have a long queue of outstanding talent in this area. Messrs Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Graham Onions and Jade Dernbach have all represented their country within the past eighteen months and have each impressed. For now Tremlett appears to be a dead-cert in the line-up courtesy of some outstanding form after being brought in to the side halfway through the Ashes. Aside from this England could pick any one of the remaining six contenders to fill the remaining slot in their much-feared four man attack.

It seems likely that the selectors will stick with the currently out-of-form Broad, with his case strongly supported by the rewards reaped from having stuck with fellow youngster Alistair Cook in his times of trouble last summer. It seems that his ability to contribute quick and important runs down the order even if he isn’t firing with the ball may well maintain the edge he has over other potential suitors in the meantime. However, Broad must deliver and do it soon otherwise the others will start to prowl. This is the beauty of England’s current predicament, there really does appear to be a list of players able to step in to fill any non-firing members of the side. Few players are entirely safe in their position for the first time in a long time and this competition can only improve the current squad on a consistent basis.

With conditions likely to favour them, expectations of England are very high going into this series. They may be up against some of the finest players ever to play Test cricket, but they should aim high. They themselves now have really outstanding players, a mix of genuine raw talent and realised potential.

If they remain optimistic and perform to the best of their ability then I believe that they can prove the great strength of their current side and come out victorious. Having said that, it really will require their very best otherwise the series will be India’s for the taking. Both sides contain genuine match-winners and it should make for an intriguing battle, this is however dependent on whether the marvellous English summer allows some more cricket than it did against Sri Lanka.

The British Open 2011 Final Day: Darren the Darling of Sandwich Sunday

Darren Clarke the forty one year-old from Northern Ireland has today won his first major. It was the most glorious of champagne moments in golf and fittingly Clarke suggested that he will be “very, very hungover” come tomorrow morning, and quite right too.

Clarke kisses the prized Claret Jug

It was a display of class, maturity and real links skill from start to finish and ultimately Clarke more than deserved his victory, which, as it turned out came surprisingly easily by the time he reached the home stretch.

Whilst he plodded on merrily churning out par saving putts and knocking in the occasional birdie and eagle the other immediate challengers fell away and some more dramatically than others.

From start to finish the likes of Jimenez, Glover, Kaymer, McIlroy and Fowler steadily slipped further and further behind the dominant Northern Irishman. The majority of the afore mentioned had pieced together three consecutively impressive rounds, but today they all missed the mark. Conditions were in truth probably easier going than the apocalyptic coastal climate experienced in Sandwich yesterday but this didn’t seem to help the pre-round contenders.

Sadly only three men really threatened to seriously endanger Darren’s charge to Open Sunday glory. The first of these was Thomas Bjorn who until the last couple of holes maintained a score of around three-under par. Though he never made a forward charge as such he managed to just hang in there and prove a potential irritation, just about staying within striking range if anything were to go badly wrong for Clarke coming home.

The second maintained challenge came from Clarke’s final group partner Dustin Johnson. For a long time Dustin was biding his time, not shifting his score too dramatically in either direction until just after the turn where he conjured up two birdies in three holes.

Johnson again proved his talent at a major, but missed out on the title

These flashes of genius were then backed up by a fantastic drive and approach to 13 where he looked odds-on to steal another and move to six-under. At this very moment Clarke had over-cooked his approach to the same green and had a daunting up-and-down left for his par. This for many was the moment Clarke secured a grip on the Claret Jug, Clarke made his up-and-down and Johnson’s putt lagged short of the hole. From looking like they were about to have parity restored, Clarke walked to the 14th with a two shot lead still in tact. Perhaps with this missed opportunity in mind Johnson smashed his second shot on the par five 14th way out of bounds and took his challenge out of the reckoning.

The final challenge for Clarke, and perhaps the most threatening was that of Phil Mickelson. ‘Lefty’ produced a simply stunning front 9 consisting of just thirty blows. The only complaint he could possibly have had was that a couple of putts lipped out, otherwise he could have even produced something like a twenty eight.

This special nine holes of golf saw Phil level up with Clarke on five-under par. He had him in his sights and seemed ready to blow him away down the back nine also. But this was not to be.

Having lipped out another birdie putt at 10, Mickelson then missed an absolute sitter to save his par at the par three 11th. This lapse in concentration came at roughly the same time as Clarke’s majestic eagle at 7, and with it the seriousness of his challenge begun to die away.

Mickelson couldn't keep the same brilliance up coming home

These major challengers came and went and with a couple of strokes of luck Clarke saw things through. Even amidst the pressure of seeing the likes of Mickelson shooting up the leader board he remained breezy. For the majority of the final day his face was adorned with the widest of Irish grins, in the great moments he remained positive and when the bogey’s came he took them with a pinch of salt. He was calmness personified throughout.

Celebrations of triumphant Clarke

A great day for golf and golfers alike. Clarke has always been an immensely likeable character and is known to be one of the more popular players on tour. Finally twenty years of plying his trade in the upper echelons of the golfing world and several years of personal unrest must seem worth it. He has until recently endured an immense test of character following the untimely and tragic death of his wife Heather and to see him happy again is a treat. This was a victory which very few could begrudge.

The British Open Day Three: Dazzler leads, but the young Americans are prowling

The third day at a major tends to be all about surges through the field. Today only a handful of players managed this whilst the rest of the field dropped steadily back. It is entirely possible that we are set for one of the rare occasions where the leading score after round one is lower than the overall winning score. Going into the final round Darren Clarke is the outright leader on five-under par, the very same score posted by Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis on day one. With today’s foul weather forecast set for something of a repeat performance tomorrow, scoring patterns are again likely to be sliding even further backwards.

Another beautiful British summer...

Bucking today’s scoring trends were the likes of Americans Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. The pair of them carded odds-defying rounds of 68 pushing them up the leader board and right into contention. As a result of these rounds Johnson will go into day four playing alongside Clarke in the final group and just one off of the lead and Fowler has moved from level par to two-under.

Tomorrow provides the chance for these two young pretenders to really put a stamp on world golf and what better way to do so than by bagging a major title. Johnson has already won four PGA Tour titles, an impressive feat for one so young, but will forever regret the golden opportunities which have passed him by in major golf already. Two years ago he went into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in links-style conditions only to collapse to a round in the eighties and fail to even come close in the final reckoning. He followed this up at last year’s PGA Championship by going down the final hole as leader only to lose it on a club-grounding technicality.

Johnson's bitterest pill at Whistling Straights last year

The latter of these sour major experiences for Johnson must have been excruciating. He was notified en-route to the green that he was being investigated on grounds of having floored his club before firing in his approach shot. He then had his worst fears confirmed by tournament officials in the scoring hut after completing the round. His angst at this slightest little error in judgement and seeming pettiness of golf ruling was clear for all to see as the cameras gaze was placed firmly upon him when signing off his card. Few could admit to not feeling for him in this most agonising situation.

In contrast Fowler’s regrets in his budding career aren’t quite as significant. However, he is yet to have won a single professional title and people won’t stop reminding him of this until he does. He has been in contention on several occasions o the PGA already but he really does need to land a title in order to put off his doubters. Making his first tournament victory a major would surely see him heralded as the US’ most threatening young prospect and endear himself to portions of the public who are yet to have taken to him.

Fowler in 'Sunday Orange', one hopes he has this in waterproof style

Both of these young Americans have demonstrated great maturity and a real flair for links golf. Dustin Johnson’s foundation is his monstrous driving, which has unsurprisingly been on fire here so far this week. He has slowly climbed his way up the leader board and has holed several pressure puts at key moments as well as landing a magnificent hole-in-one on day one. Some might argue that Johnson has benefited from playing at times when the weather has been fairer, the same can certainly not be said of Fowler. He has in fact probably had the worst of the weather throughout as was demonstrated by playing partner Rory McIlroy’s inability to keep pace with the form man throughout the three rounds which they have played together. Where McIlroy has missed his chances to stay in touch, Rickie has taken them and he fully deserves to be considered one of the favourites going into tomorrow.

Clarke leads the pack and has plenty to smile about

As well as the youthful stars of the US there are also major European hopes heading into day four and they all seem to be names you perhaps wouldn’t have anticipated going in. First round leader Bjorn is still there or there abouts, Miguel Angel Jimenez is only three shots back in his bid to become the eldest Open champion of all time, and Darren Clarke has maintained his lead and is set to follow the rest of these boys out tomorrow. Is it possible that the old-guard of the European Tour can fend off a last day challenge from the PGA’s finest young prospects? An intriguing battle lies in wait.

The Open 2011 Day Two: Best of British Bow out as Darren Clarke surges to the top

Royal St. George’s today played host to a demise of the British golfing empire. Perhaps this is only a brief setback to the current trend of British domination in the sport, but it was a very disappointing day nonetheless for the British hopes.

Not only did the vast majority of home hopes fail to make a charge up the leader board, they actually fell back. Not only did they fall back, they collapsed in a heap.

Concerns mount as to Westwood and Donald's lack of a major victory

Hopes were high amongst British golf fans that world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, would come to the fore this week and land their first major. Having started the day at a score of one-over par they both failed to make the cut.

Sadly these two were not the only Brits that failed to meet the mark. Major winners Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington also fell below the cut mark, McDowell in particular spiralled out of control on day two. Having started the day at two-under and well in the hunt, G-Mac fell apart ending the day at five-over for the tournament. Another British hope to slip away was Ian Poulter who fell apart whilst failing to back-up an impressive opening round of 69.

Whilst two Irishmen fell by the wayside one went charging to the top. Darren Clarke produced what was one of only a few sub-70 rounds on what was a surprisingly lean day of scoring. He today made it back-to-back rounds of 68 and took the joint lead with Lucas Glover who put together a steady 70. Both men will return tomorrow in the last group out and will be hoping the worst of the conditions have come and gone by the time they step up to the tee. Clarke is in pole position not only for the overall tournament but in terms of British hopes. If he delivers his first career major in his forties come Sunday evening then perhaps the disappointing displays of fellow Brits will be somewhat forgotten.

Clarke finds some magic with the putter to birdie the 18th

Having started the day with major British hopes positioned ominously on the leader board after indifferent opening rounds today was a definite reality check. However, in addition to Clarke there are some remaining British hopes.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy remains decently placed four back at level-par and would perhaps be on terms with the leaders had his putting reached the standards it did at the US Open. Aside from the lack of chance conversion there does appear to be another worry surrounding his game this week and that is a seeming insistence to not alter his game. Links golf requires a very defined style of play and McIlroy today missed out too many times by playing the sorts of shot we would attempt any other week. In order to drive up the leader board tomorrow I believe he needs to alter his game a little. Wholesale changes are far from necessary, but it does seem that he should be aiming to feed the balls up to the green a little more rather than sending in high bombs at the flags. More often than not he missed out today when taking on these audacious efforts, but some impressive scrambling saw his way to level-par for the tournament.

McIlroy looks to handle the pressure of being a major winner and make a move on Saturday

The top of the leader board is a crowded place going into round three and the likes of McIlroy are still well in touch at four back. The weather this weekend is set to be pretty horrendous by all accounts and this should make for some very interesting scoring. If anybody manages to handle the wild winds and sheets of rain then they will have a fair chance of prospering, even if they are coming into round three at about one or two over par.

Schwartzel smiles away as he moves into contention with one of the rounds of the day

The ones to watch in round three could be Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who impressed with a 67 today and Simon Dyson (my punt for the week) who flattered to deceive today after bagging birdies at the first three holes today. Dyson ended up slipping back from the outright lead to a frustrating level par for the tournament but he is quick around the course and knows full-well how to handle links conditions. Others to keep an eye on are the ever-entertaining Sergio Garcia placed well at level-par and young Tom Lewis who backed up his miracle 65 with a battling 74. The young amateur may have relinquished his status at the top of the standings but his is still in the red and has nothing to lose. It seems unlikely that he could go on to win but stranger things have happened.

Moving day is here and Sandwich must be braced for excitement amongst the predicted awful weather conditions.

The Open 2011 Day One: Tom-Tom find their way around a tricky St.Georges

The first day of the Open has rather unsurprisingly produced some fantastic stories. Again it has become a tale of the young and old at the top of the leader board after round one, and the field is set well for great developments over the next three days.

The Great-Dane leads the way

Leading the way thru eighteen are forty year old Thomas Bjorn and twenty year old amateur Tom Lewis. Scarcely could these players be further apart in their levels of experience, but today they have produced similarly impressive returns on demonstrations of great links play.

Bjorn, who recently lost his father was looking to avenge the ghosts of his past here at Sandwich having thrown away the lead when in position to clinch the title in 2003. Having to fight with such a multitude of emotions would be hard for most, but Bjorn excelled. Add to these varied emotions the fact that he was only a sixth reserve to play the Open this time last week and the story becomes greater still. This somewhat unfamiliar and unusual situation could indeed be the reason behind the seeming ease and lack of pressure present in his first round showing of 65.

Lewis’ story if anything is more incredible. The prospective Walker Cup team member went from unknown amateur to household name in the space of four hours today. He managed to match Bjorn’s round of 65 in his first ever round of British Open golf, quite the feat for a lad who few could claim to have seen in action before this afternoon.

Lewis takes the talk of the 'Young-Guard' even further

Not only did he score extraordinarily well, but he demonstrated an incredible temperament given the circumstances. Having stormed out of the blocks going out in three-under par, he then encountered his first real sticky patch in major golf. A couple of dropped shots after the turn took him back to one-under and it seemed that the wheels may have derailed. Lewis, however, was having none of it.

A four hole birdie streak from hole fourteen took him back to the summit and there he remained. The young amateur even claimed to have been unaware of the streak he was on and where it had placed him in the standings. The focus and calmness of his first round has won him many followers including playing partner and golfing legend Tom Watson.

Lewis said it was an “honour” and “the greatest privilege” to play with the man to whom he owes his first name, and it certainly seemed that way out on the course. Watson, the seasoned campaigner that he is, allowed Lewis his own space to start with but as the round went on and the relationship developed he could be seen strolling the fairways with an arm around the shoulder of the youngster. This is what amateur participation in major events is all about, and it certainly can’t be said that Lewis didn’t deserve his place having torn apart the tricky links course at Rye over his two rounds of qualifying.

G-Mac recovered his round brilliantly

Aside from these headline acts there were performances of note from other members of Europe’s elite. Miguel Angel Jimenez further underlined his status as a crowd favourite with a blemish-free round of 66 whilst former US Open champion Graeme McDowell recovered from a double bogey start to match world number three Martin Kaymer at two-under.

Other European hopes Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood went rather under the radar with error-strewn battles round the links course, all carding one-over par rounds of 71.

Bjorn and Lewis lead the way into day two with a few players one back and in hot pursuit. Open debutant Webb Simpson is tied for third alongside Jimenez and former US open winner Lucas Glover. A slender lead makes for a great deal of competition over the forthcoming rounds.

Hard-earned cigar for Miguel after a 66

The first day has offered a range of different wind conditions where players were required to take full advantage when the lulls came. It seems likely that whoever manages these variable conditions the best will come out victorious come Sunday evening and the in contention Martin Kaymer may have played the role of prophet in saying that the winner will be whoever holes the most six-foot putts. The second day is bound to serve up some further surprises and one would hope that the golfing gods keep shining down on the talented Tom Lewis as he seeks to defy his inexperience and remain atop the leader board throughout day two.

The Open 2011: Brits amongst the favourites as they take on the world on their own turf

Written on Monday the 11th July:

This weekend’s Open Championship at Royal St.George’s looks set to live up to it’s name and be very open indeed. The field may be lacking favourites of tournaments past such as Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie, but things are looking incredibly competitive.

Royal St.Georges plays host for the first time since 2003

Home favourites and world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, will be looking to make their first major scalps. It seems that both men have a great chance of finally breaking their duck this weekend if the form book proves to be of any relevance.

World number one, Donald, looks a strong bet having put together a magnificent run in 2011. He has gone from strength to strength this year and has very rarely failed to make the top ten, picking up three tournament victories along the way. His most recent victory came just a couple of days ago with a magnificent final round of 63 taking him to a links course triumph. Nobody has ever won the Scottish Open the week before the Open, but Luke will be dreaming of breaking this tradition.

Luke looking to nail down his first major title

Having slid disappointingly down the standings at the Scottish after a classy opening round of 65, Lee Westwood will be hoping to turn the tables this week. He has consistently threatened to succeed over the past few years at the Open and will seek to silence those who have pencilled him in as the nearly man.

Aside from the major British hopes there will be a strong field of contenders seeking to land a major blow. Former champions such as Ernie Els will be looking to land a first major title in a long time, whilst nearly men of the past like Sergio Garcia are coming back into form.

In addition to Els, we should expect to see other strong South African challenges. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are both performing well at the moment and will fancy their chances of getting into contention come Sunday afternoon.

Can the South Africans follow up recent major successes?

Whoever proves triumphant will have to have successfully adapted to and met the demands of links golf at a course like St.George’s. Last time this course played host to the Championship there were many complaints about the difficulties of the course, and how the course set up was unnecessarily challenging. Though the tournament officials have sought to quash similar fears this time around it seems unlikely that someone can win this title without links preparation.

The unique-ness of links golf is the reason why players such as Rory McIlroy have been criticised for omitting the Scottish Open from their preparations. In an ideal world all players competing in the Open would try and secure some competitive links practice in advance, but of course many of the field have commitments to the PGA Tour in America. McIlroy however, was merely resting. Having bagged his first major title at Congressional just weeks ago, Rory has opted not to play any golf in the lead up to the Open. In spite of this he has remained as the bookies favourite, and we await to see if the rest has served him as well as competitive links practice would have.

Can Rory achieve back-to-back major wins?

All in all, it seems that the British challenge is set-fair for a strong attack at the Open. Beware though of the ‘Dark Horses’. Perhaps more than any other major, the Open has a tendency to conjure up some surprise champions. Could someone again come out of the golfing wilderness and strike lucky at Sandwich in order to become the new Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton or Louis Oosthuizen.

Wimbledon 2011: Players of the Tournament

10. Feliciano ‘Deliciano’ Lopez:

This long haired Spaniard has caused quite a stir at Wimbledon over the past fortnight, just ask Judy Murray… Aside from his rise to prominence amongst the attentions of the female public, he played some good tennis as well. He has often flattered to decieve, but this time around he delivered in a Grandslam event. Though he is unlikely to win such a Tournament, it was encouraging to see him put his great power in to effect, defeating the likes of fans favourite Andy Roddick along the way. It was a shame to see him sell himself a little short against Murray in the Quarters and perhaps he should have pulled out of the Doubles competition in order to focus on his Singles efforts.

Judy's favourite

9. Andy Murray:

What on earth can you say about Murray that hasn’t already been said? He is undoubtedly a fantastic talent and is undoubtedly one of the top four players in the world. Sadly this has once again proven too little to take him to a first Wimbledon final, but three semi-finals is indicative of a build in consistency and momentum and we look forward to seeing if he can go one step further next year. He demonstrated a greater level of control and maturity on and off the court throughout these championships which should serve him well.

Another close-call for Andy

8. Victoria Azarenka:

With the women’s game stuck in something of a rut at present, it is encouraging to see the likes of Azarenka coming to the fore. She is young, plucky and her movement is superb. Whether she has quite reached the level of a world number four is unclear, and this ranking may well be courtesy of a weaker generation of female players, but she is the sort of talent which the women’s game is crying out for.

Young Belarusian hope

7. Laura Robson:

The former Girl’s Champion at Wimbledon went slightly under the radar in the build-up to the tournament amidst the slightly quicker rise to professional prowess of fellow young Brit Heather Watson. However, Robson joined other British hopes Anne Keothovang and Elena Baltacha in the second round at SW19 whilst Watson succumbed to injury in her first round. The only shame for Robson was the misfortune of being drawn against former Ladies Champion Maria Sharapova. At this level Robson was still a little short, but she far exceeded many people’s expectations even going a break up in the first set before losing it to a tie-break. There are several areas of improvement in her game, most significantly her poor movement, but the way in which she fought right until the end of the defeat has impressed many.

Britain's Ladies future in safe hands

6. Sabine Lisicki:

The young German lady with the huge serve conjured up some moments of sheer magic over the first ten days of the tournament. Her recovery from career threatening injuries was timed well as she went in to the tournament high on confidence following a grass-court title win in Birmingham prior to the Championships. This confidence turned itself into huge performances knocking out high seeds Li Na and Marian Bartoli en route to the Semis. Eventually she met her demise at the hands of Sharapova and she has the right to feel a little aggrieved given Sharapova’s inconsistencies throughout the match. Despite not going all the way to Saturday’s final she has had a fantastic fortnight, and is another great sign of encouragement for the Women’s game.

Injury-plagued Lisicki comes good

5. Rafael Nadal:

It seemed for a while that not even injury could stop the Spanish ace from notching up his 11th Grandslam title. However, Rafa was eventually defeated in the final by the ludicrous form of Novak Djokovic. This defeat is his fifth straight defeat against Djokovic which will be a cause for concern, but once again Rafa displayed outstanding mental and physical strength and fought from behind against Juan Martin Del-Potro and Andy Murray. Another great campaign from the Majorcan, but this time no title.

More injury worries for the ever-impressive Nadal

4. Jo Wilfried-Tsonga:

The French’s new favourite and everyone else’s second favourite player after these past few weeks in London. Tsonga followed up his incredibly exciting and sometimes unnecessarily dramatic displays from his road to the final at Queens with a similar range of showings at SW19. He powered, dived and entertained his way to his first Wimbledon semi, and it appears that the athletic Frenchman is starting to realise his potential. His real glory moment was his outstanding comeback from two sets down against Federer, in which he demonstrated a new found maturity and some real moments of class. He has a great game for the grass courts at Wimbledon and his brave showing against Djokovic in the semi-final will also stay long in the memory. This match saw three incredible points at least, and he has gained a whole army of new fans.

3. Maria Sharapova:

Double-faults aside, Sharapova has had a fantastic tournament. It is a delight to see her injury-free and smiling again on the grass at Wimbledon. The women’s game has lacked real characters and presence in recent times, and the return to form and prominence of the talented and glamorous young Russian is so important. If she can eradicate the needless errors on serve then it seems likely that she will go one step further soon and add to her collection of three Grandslam victories.

A welcome return to form

2. Petra Kvitova:

The young Czech female Champion has proved the pick of the Ladies game this fortnight. She has played out of her skin and has demonstrated her comfort when playing on the grass at Wimbledon. Her forehand has been the key to her success as she has hammered her way to a first Grandslam success. With time on her side as well it seems likely that Kvitova is here to stay and that she can go and secure further successes at Wimbledon and in other future Grandslams. She had to see off five seeded players en route to her first Grandslam victory and made former Champion Sharapova pay for her needless errors throughout the final.

Czech-Mate

1. Novak Djokovic:

Another fortnight, another Grandslam victory for the irrepressible Serb. It has been yet another fantastic tournament for Djokovic, artfully defeating the likes of Bagdhatis, Llodra, Tomic, Tsonga and Rafael Nadal on his journey to success. A maiden victory at Wimbledon will on Monday see him deservedly assume the number one world ranking in Men’s tennis from his latest conquest Nadal. If his year continues in the same manner as it has begun up to this point, then we could well be witnessing one of, if not, the finest year of Men’s tennis ever played. At the moment he seems to have a hold over his greatest rivals and in particular Rafael Nadal, a man who has never really been matched by anyone in his career to date. Nadal conceded that Djokovic is pretty much the only player in the world who can beat him at the moment, and this is great testament to the mind-blowing form of the outstanding Djokovic. He will have to come back next year and defend his new-won title against some of the greatest players the game has ever seen, but I am sure he is already relishing the prospect.

Another magical day in 2011 for Djokovic

This time Goliath won… David Haye struggles his way to a desperate defeat

He may have lasted twelve rounds against Dr.Steelhammer, but David Haye last night succumbed to his first defeat as a Heavyweight. Furthermore, if Haye is good to his word then this could well be his final ever fight. If this is the case, then it was an uncharacteristically timid curtain call for the usually brash Londoner.

Wlad rules triumphant

The years and months of anticipation, mind games and trash talking all came down to one night. A night which Klitschko dominated from start to finish.

The general pre-fight consensus was that if David Haye lost the fight then he would look rather foolish given all of his personal hype for the bout. Add to this the benefit of hindsight, and Haye’s antics on the night also look a little foolish. To waste a lot of people’s time, effort and money by delaying his scheduled arena entrance by over ten minutes was never likely to make him many friends, win or lose. Maybe this was just one of many unwise decisions from Haye and his entourage over the course of the last two years.

One of Haye's distasteful pre-fight stunts

Another disappointing move from Haye on the night were his post-match complaints of ill-health. He appeared to be claiming that a broken little toe was at the heart of his defeat and not his inferior size, strength, nouse and Heavyweight experience. Pitiful excuses won’t make you many friends either David.

Haye's infamous broken toe

Of course a broken toe hurts, of course it will affect you, but there is no way Haye would have got in that ring if he honestly felt that it would have seriously troubled him. There was certainly no obvious expression of pain from Haye during the fight, so we may be excused for being a little sceptical about just how much the injury was playing a part in his lacklustre showing.

One mention of the toe was quite enough if not too much for most. However, Haye then decided to take his boot off to show the cameras. Not content with this, he went on to use the post-fight press conference as a homage to the toe that ruined it all for him, including further photo opportunities for the media.

Haye’s pre-fight exhibitionism can be excused as it achieved it’s end goal of a Heavyweight title fight against a Klitschko. But this reaction in the face of defeat is verging on pathetic. No matter how bigger problem his injury was during the fight, he could at least have had the good grace to accept that he was simply outboxed. The truth is that Haye and his trainer Adam Booth underestimated Wladmir Klitschko. They were correct that he is not the most entertaining Heavyweight of all time, but they simply weren’t prepared for the scale and awkwardness of the challenged posed by him.

So, hats off to Klitschko for backing up his own far more pleasant brand of confidence. He really did outclass Haye on the night and exposed the frailties which Haye possesses as a Heavyweight.

The Hayemaker's greatest night

There are no doubts about David’s ability to box. He has proven beyond any doubt that he is an outstanding Cruiserweight. It is the weight division which he is naturally suited to and many would argue that he should have stayed at the weight. To the contrary I credit Haye for his move. He is an ambitious man and has always wanted to reach what he viewed the pinnacle of the boxing world and he achieved it in a sense. He was Heavyweight champion of the world for over a year, his only downfall was aiming higher than this.

Haye in his glorious Cruiserweight days

If ambition is his major failing, then his must be considered a very good career. Sadly for Haye, if he is to retire after this defeat and over-ambition then he may be remembered as a slightly lacklustre Heavyweight rather than one of the finest ever Cruiserweights that Britain has ever had.