Saturday, 21 August 2010

Short Break

Polly's Pause for Sport is going on a brief holiday. Normal blogging will be resumed in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, use 'My Blog List' for all your sport blogging needs.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Tale of Two Teams... In One City

Manchester is a city of two greatly contrasting teams. United have had a quiet and understated summer whereas City have spent almost as much as the other nineteen Premiership teams put together in the current transfer window.

The Sky Blues continue to spend money while the Red Devils continue to rely on their ageing maestros. The make-up of the two teams is extremely different.

Ferguson has squad comprising largely of a core of familiar faces, bolstered by a few new signings. It is a not an eye catching squad but is one of vast experience and talent, nevertheless.

Individuals like of Darren Fletcher, Park Ji Sung and John O'Shea may not grab headlines but they are greatly under-appreciated by many. They are ideal team players. They work tirelessly for the team and are happy to leave the glory for others.

Fergie also still has the pleasure of having Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs at his disposal, quite possibly the two best players the Premiership has ever seen. Even though their games may have changed from the mid-nineties, they are still top level performers.

After the match against Newcastle, Scholes has been lavished with praise from the footballing world. It is hard to add any more compliments to the man. An extraordinary passing range, superb vision and unparalleled ability to dictate a game make him an essential element of United's plans for the season.

Giggs, meanwhile, extended his run of scoring in consecutive seasons to a phenomenal 21 in the 3-0 defeat of Newcastle. He, like Scholes, seems to radiate confidence and assurance through the rest of the team.

In their respective twenty year careers there has seldom been a bad word to say about either. Scholes and Giggs' passion and hunger for the game even at the ages of 35 and 36 respectively is sensational. The experience they bring, as I have commented in a couple of previous posts, is invaluable in a Premiership campaign. Pages could be dedicated to the praising of either of these two players but that it not the point of this post so I will move on.

The new signings of Hernandez, Smalling and Bebe (although I, like Fergie, am yet to see him play) should help add some much needed depth to the squad too. It is the combination of experience, modest hard working players and some exciting youngsters that gives United such great balance.

The balance of a team or squad is key. Look at Spain. A variety of different players, doing different things but forming a cohesive team. It is this balance that City seem to lack. On paper, their squad would be envied by all teams in the Premiership.

Mancini has, however, seemed to favour buying big name personnel over purchasing players to fit a specific system. Paying over the top for Milner and losing Ireland and letting Bellamy leave both seem like unwise decisions. Fergie called it 'kamikaze spending'. It is not, but, just buying great players in not enough.

Their tricky opening game against Tottenham revealed two key problems for me. Having three defensive midfielders was overly negative and playing Tevez upfront by himself wasted his great strength of being a perfect secondary striker, doing the donkey work for another front-man to thrive off.

The new signings of Milner and Balotelli will have solved their search for a third striker and a creative midfielder.They have also addressed some problems at the back with the signings of Boateng and Kolarov. The task is now to somehow to fit these players into a cohesive team.

How can Barry, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Johnson, Tevez, Adebayor, Silva and Balotelli, not to mention Jo, Santa Cruz and Vieira, best be played together? Who will be left on the bench? How will big players react to being left out?

These have not been 'kamikaze signings'. Quality players have arrived at Eastlands. Now, although they may not like it, the 'noisy neighbours' need to learn something from the example Fergie has set over the last two decades - great players don't win titles, great teams do.

United probably do not have as strong a squad as City. What they do have however, is a set of players picked to fit a particular system and style of football, one that has been proven to win championships.

Few would argue that if the City squad can gel and be put into a formation that brings the best out of them then they will challenge in all competitions. Whether this happens is yet to be seen. Pre-season and the season opener would suggest there is still a long way to go.

The battle between the Blue and Red halves of Manchester has become increasingly interesting over the last few years and this season may well be the most fascinating one yet. Two vastly contrasting squads with the same aim. Who will prevail?

Personally, I think this is still one season too soon for City. They have added so many new players to the squad that they will need time to come together as a team. With the league being more competitive than ever, they can ill-afford such a time for their new signings to gel.

United, as they showed in their opener, are as formidable as ever. Defensive frailties and perhaps too great a reliance on their ageing stars could hamper their chances but will always be there or thereabouts come May.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 13 August 2010

Polly's Premiership Prediction: Who will win the 2010/2011 season?

With the Premiership season set to kick-off tomorrow, I thought that rather than focus purely on the opening set of fixtures, I would offer my opinion on who I think will be lifting the trophy in May.

In a post earlier this week I said that Manchester United and Chelsea remain the teams to beat. They have dominated the league for the least five years so they have the right to be labeled 'the big two'. That being said, I would not put my money on either to continue that domination.

The chasing pack has grown and intensified and I think this season's winner may well emerge out of this second group of four teams – Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham.

United and Chelsea will always be in contention but for some reason, which I would struggle to explain, I lack the confidence to say that either will win. They are too vulnerable in certain positions and overly reliant on key players.

I think that Manchester City will do well but not win it. I would say they need time to gel but I am not even sure that time will help their current squad gel. Mancini has bought in big names from across Europe but few seem to add any extra strength to the team.

Their best players last season were Tevez and Bellamy because of their work rate. Do the new players such as David Silva or James Milner and Mario Balotelli (who seem set to sign for the club in the next 48 hours) greatly add anything to the team? Not dramatically.

Spending huge amounts of money on these players may do more harm than good in the long run. It will be an interesting to see how the dressing room full of massive egos on enormous wages coexists. The talent in the squad means City will do well but I think they will lack the unity to put together a serious title challenge.

As the case is every August, many think Liverpool could have a good season. I am almost tempted to agree. Hodgson has kept Gerrard and Torres while adding Joe Cole and Poulsen (both of whom I think are very good signings). The squad looks good and Hodgson could mobilize the team for a successful season.

For me, they still lack strength in depth. Gerrard and Torres are key. If injured Liverpool will struggle more than most teams do when their big players are absent. As such, it is hard to see them having enough quality to finally win the Premiership this time but I think they will do a lot better than they did last season.

I do not believe Tottenham will pose any threat to the bigger five teams. Redknapp has a good team but it is not nearly good enough. They should have a solid campaign but to think they can win the title seems foolishly optimistic. I believe that, with the extra factor of playing midweek Champions League games this year, they will struggle to finish in the top four this time round.

My tip for the title would be Arsenal. With Fabregas staying at the Emirates they should be able to build on last year's success and make a strong bid for the trophy. Good value at around 6/1.

It could well be a break through season for emerging star Jack Wilshire and the signings of Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny have given the squad a healthier look. It is still a young team but is improving all the time. I think this could be their year.

It is very difficult to call this year. No one team stands out. Moments of luck or misfortune could decide the title. Each team will need the likes of Rooney, Fabregas, Torres and Lampard to stay fit. Injuries to key players could prove pivotal. Ultimately, it is great that we look set for an exciting title race this year that seems certain to involve more than just 'the big two'.

My Prediction:

1. Arsenal
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Liverpool
5. Manchester City
6. Tottenham
7. Everton
8. Aston Villa
9. Stoke
10. West Ham
11. Fulham
12. Blackburn
13. Birmingham
14. Newcastle United
15. Sunderland
16. Wolves
17. Bolton
18. West Brom
19. Wigan
20. Blackpool

I would love to hear your predictions over the weekend...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Capello's squad to face Hungary is only a token gesture at the changes that need to be made

In case you missed the news, England take on Hungary in a friendly tonight. In the build up to the match the talk has been about most things other than the actual 90 minutes at Wembley.

Forty-five days since England's humiliation at the hands of the Germans, Capello is bracing himself for the inevitably hostile reception in this next match.

The reaction of the fans has received a lot of attention. It will most likely be a mixture of booing and general indifference. The spectators are well within their right to display their discontent with the national side's awful performance in the World Cup. But their booing will not be achieving anything.

The players will surely be expecting nothing less. It is not as if they are unaware of the opinions of the masses. The frustration and disappointment of South Africa ought to be put behind us. Learned from, but not dwelt upon.

What is of more interest for this match is the squad that Fabio Capello has selected. The Italian appears to have made a token gesture at progress but has not gone far enough with his changes in the eyes of many, including myself.

Look at the stance taken by Laurent Blanc and the FFF. They have banned all 23 members of their World Cup squad, selecting instead an entirely new group of players. The situation in France is, of course, very different. As poor as our World Cup was, theirs was far worse.

Nevertheless, there is still something to be taken from their radical decision. It sends the message to all the players, stars and fringe members alike, that they are not infallible. No one is bigger than the team and anyone can be dropped.

Capello's squad for tonight's friendly has been changed from South Africa but retains the same core group of under-performers. Players who featured only briefly have been axed and yet many players who should shoulder the blame remain while those who have warranted a call up are still left in the dark.

If you haven't seen it then here is the squad to face Hungary:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Scott Loach (Watford), Frankie Fielding (Blackburn).

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Bolton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea).

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Aston Villa), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).

Forwards: Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Bobby Zamora (Fulham).

Were Crouch and Defoe not good enough? Were they to blame? No. Rooney, who was dreadful, stays. Barry, Terry and Glen Johnson, some of England's worst performers, stay.

I am not necessarily saying that we should follow France's example and have a complete upheaval. I can understand why Rooney would stay in the squad, he is probably England's best player. If Capello wants to send a message, however, then it must be done by excluding the big names and not the smaller ones.

Players like Scott Parker have earned their place over someone like Gareth Barry. Moreover, the likes of Rodwell, Shawcross and Onouha should feature sooner rather than later so as to bed the new generation in.

Only through giving youngsters a chance in favour of faltering senior players will the national team become more competitive. The bigger names will still have to perform to keep their place in the side while fresh talent will be given the opportunity to prove their worth.

Capello's token exclusions will do nothing. The inclusion of Wilshere is promising but it cannot be an isolated case, more need to follow and soon.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Community Shield: Should we read anything into the season's 'Curtain Raiser'?

Check out my post on Football Corner on the news of Martin O'Neill's departure from Aston Villa.

Manchester United beat Chelsea 3-1 in yesterday's Community Shield but what can we take from this year's 'Curtain Raiser'? Was it any indication of what we should expect in the coming season?

United looked comfortable in their victory at Wembley yesterday afternoon. They were sharper, fitter and hungrier than their opponents. Each of the big teams will have players struggling to shake off a World Cup hangover, both mentally and physically, but it seems the United squad, unlike Chelsea, has managed to do so.

Chelsea have been struggling to hit their stride in their warm-up matches thus far. The loss to United extends their losing streak to five. Despite this they remain the bookies favourites to retain the Premiership title but many have been questioning their chances to do so as the season approaches.

The squad is ageing and no longer boasts the same enviable strength in depth as it once did. Yossi Benayoun is Chelsea's sole signing this summer while Ballack and Joe Cole have both departed from Stamford Bridge. The team looks flat. Perhaps it is simply a lack of effort in these ulitmately meaningless matches. Perhaps the team is in need of some fresh blood.

It would be foolish to read too much into their poor pre-season campaign. Nevertheless, Chelsea appear to be lacking form and fitness entering the season. They are fortunate to have an easy opening to the season, though, in which they can attempt to get back on track. Their first five games are against West Brom, Wigan, Stoke, West Ham and Blackpool, teams they ought to be beating even if they are not at their best.

Manchester United too have received far less attention from pundits than usual this summer. They remain the second favourites by the bookies but they, like Chelsea, are no longer seen as infallible.

Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez are the only two new additions to Ferguson's squad, both of whom having already been signed prior to the opening of the transfer window. This will mean that the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Ferdinand will all be expected and needed to play regularly. It is the lack of new talent entering Old Trafford to replace the Old Guard that has some people doubting if they will be able to regain the title once again.

Injuries plagued United's defence last season and hampered their attempts to win a fourth successive league title. Ferguson has, however, opted to once again put his faith in youth and squad players rather than spending money to insure against a potential injury crisis.

The Red Devils have won all but one of their six pre-season matches and showed yesterday that they have the quality to outclass any opponent. Hernandez looks an exciting prospect, Rooney seems to have left his woeful World Cup form well behind him and Scholes showed in the Community Shield that he can still dominate a game at the age 35.

Ultimately, picking a winner this season is going to be extremely difficult, more so than any year since the Premiership began. The chasing pack has grown in size and stature, however, and so it is no longer a two, three or even a four horse title race.

All this being said, we are only in pre-season. Regardless of current form or lack of transfers, I believe Chelsea and Manchester United remain the two teams to beat. Both teams have quality throughout their squad and, more importantly, know how to win a league title giving them invaluable experience.

I will dedicate another post to look at the 'chasing pack' but, in my opinion, that is what these teams are, chasing. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City may have gone a long way to bridge the gap between themselves and the big two but it is important to avoid the predictable pre-season optimism and unrealistic expectations surrounding these teams.

Thought, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 6 August 2010

A Football League Preview: Max Smithson looks at the potential winners and losers in the Football Leagues this season

As big of a football fan as I admit that my knowledge on the leagues below the Premiership is somewhat limited. Thankfully though, guest writer Max Smithson is on hand to give us a tour of the lower tiers of English football. He previews a Championship campaign that looks certain to fascinate and League One and Two seasons that promise to be as close and entertaining as ever...

The Football League season kicks off tonight at 7.45pm as League One champions Norwich City take on Watford in the rebranded npower Championship. It is the start of another season that, as always, is destined to provide endless drama, tension and excitement for fans up and down the country.

After an abysmal performance by England at the World Cup, I am glad that I am not watching a team full of overpaid and underperforming prima-donnas in the Premiership. Instead, I can marvel at the passion and unpredictability of the lower leagues.

Having watched Championship and League One football for the past six years following Leeds’ well documented fall from grace, I have come to appreciate the talent on offer and the down-to-earth attitude of fans at this level. Away from the unrealistic expectations, armchair fans and inflated egos that plague England’s top division, experiencing the lower leagues has been a truly refreshing experience.

Most previews of sporting events tend to offer an opinion as to who the winners and losers will be, a prediction of the varying fates of the different teams. With the Championship, this is a near impossible task, even for the most experienced Football League experts.

None of the sides relegated from the Premiership last season can be considered big clubs likely to go straight back up like Newcastle and West Brom were last season. This means that we are preparing for one of the most open Championships in recent years.

Portsmouth and Hull City may be liable to struggle this year due to their financial situations but if some of their better players stay around, they may be in with a shout. As for Burnley, they are in a great position financially and have a good squad of players; however, I feel they will struggle to achieve anything due to Brian Laws inadequacies.

The bookies favourites for the title are Middlesbrough due to heavy investment from the Teesiders but after an anonymous first season in the division after relegation in 2009, I am apprehensive towards their credentials to mount a title challenge. However, with Gordon Strachan having had a close season to make the team his own and rid the side of Gareth Southgate’s negative mindset, they should not be ruled out.

Last year’s deservedly beaten play-off finalists Cardiff City appear to have been written off by the bookies with odds of 20-1 available, probably due to their financial troubles. But after their transfer embargo was lifted yesterday, some decent signings before the window closes coupled with the retention of Michael Chopra and Peter Whittingham may put them back in the frame for promotion.

Billy Davies will be looking to recapture the winter form which saw Nottingham Forest storm into the promotion spots before losing out in the play-offs to eventual winners, Blackpool. If they can improve their side, they may well become more consistent, enabling them to return to the league that their support merits.

I feel Bristol City, Ipswich Town and Doncaster Rovers could improve on solid seasons last year to possibly push for promotion, especially a Bristol side containing the exciting Nicky Maynard and is managed by Steve Coppell who knows exactly what is required to win promotion.

Promoted pair Leeds United and Norwich also have promotion ambitions having brought very capable sides up from League One. Grant Holt, Chris Martin and Wes Hoolahan are likely to provide goals for the Canaries and a pre-season change in formation for Leeds could prove fruitful if Robert Snodgrass has a quick return to fitness and Luciano Becchio can become more prolific up front.

Many people have been talking about Neil Warnock’s QPR side as contenders with the very skilful Adel Taarabt in midfield but without some investment in a quality striker, Patrick Angyemang is unlikely to provide the necessary firepower to propel them up the table.

Having threatened at promotion in recent years, the likes of Swansea, Sheffield United, Preston and Derby, in my eyes, are destined for a season of not much more than staving off a relegation battle which is likely to include Scunthorpe, Millwall, Watford, Coventry and Barnsley. Having said all that it would be in keeping with Championship tradition for them to contradict me completely.

Looking briefly below the Championship. In League One, I believe Southampton will absolutely dominate this league with Leeds and Norwich no longer around. They have probably the best two strikers in the league with Rickie Lambert and Lee Barnard as well as a host of other quality players behind them to shoot them into the Championship. Their stars are also unlikely to leave due to what appears to be a healthy financial position after exiting administration in 2009. Other contenders are likely to be Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday, although the latter has failed to score in pre-season.

League Two should also prove interesting with Rotherham look likely to go one better than their play-off final defeat to Dagenham in last year, especially if they can keep hold of Adam le Fondre. Peter Taylor’s Bradford are being favoured by the bookies and Oxford and Stevenage will want to build on successful seasons in the Conference last year. Wycombe and Gillingham will also expect to bounce back strongly after relegation last season.

Football League fans have a huge amount to look forward to between now and the end of May. Whether it be a relegation battle, a promotion push or a visit to one of the two new grounds at Morecambe and Chesterfield, the only certainty is that we will keep coming back for more.

Thought, comments and opinions please...

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The MLS: Can it become more than a footballing retirement home?

On Monday Mexico's captain, Rafael Márquez, joined his former Barcelona team-mate Thierry Henry at the New York Red Bulls. The two are the latest in a growing line of players to cross the Atlantic to play their football in America.

As more players follow the trend I wonder if the MLS will ever be more than a footballing retirement home? Will it be able to rival the likes of the Premiership, Bundesliga, La Liga or Serie A one day? Can 'soccer' grow to compete with the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL in the hearts of American sports fans?

I am obviously getting a bit ahead of myself by even asking these questions. Although more players are being tempted to America, the MLS remains a second-rate league. The likes of Lothar Matthaus, Youri Djorkaeff, Freddie Ljungberg and David Beckham may have all chosen to go State-side to end their careers but this was most probably inspired by the lifestyle rather than the football.

A move to America may be a backwards step in their professional career but it allows players to escape from the attention and pressure on them while playing in Europe. How many people would recognise Freddie Ljungberg on the streets of Seattle? It is a chance to continue to earn big money playing football, albeit at a less competitive level, while living in places like LA or New York. The appeal is clear.

I believe, however, that the MLS could, over the next decade or two, become more than a league for mediocre Yanks and those in the twilight of their footballing lives. The quality of football continues to improving as does its lure for players in Europe.

The performance of the U.S.A in South Africa will have only helped this progress. Most of the players in their squad may have played their club football outside of America but it will have boosted the profile of the sport. Ultimately, the main obstacle that football faces in the U.S is that it struggles for recognition amongst the other sports.

The more attention on soccer, the more interest and money it will receive. Big names like Beckham and Henry playing in the MLS will only accelerate this cycle. With the fan base of the sport increasing, there may well be greater investment into the game.

Opportunities and facilities for youngsters are already improving and this should translate into a better quality of American players turning professional. This will mean that over time the MLS should become more competitive and this, in turn, will help bring in more high quality foreign players.

This is, of course, a hypothetical model. Signs of the process beginning do exist nonetheless. Since Beckham's move in 2007 interest in the sport has grown and now, with the likes of Henry and Márquez following suit, the profile of soccer is on the up.

Ticket sales, replica shirts sales and television coverage is all steadily increasing, or so I read. If the Americans can implement an infrastructure similar to those that exist for the Basketball, American Football, Baseball and athletics then the quality of soccer is sure to improve.

Soccer may never eclipse America's own sports but this is not to say that MLS players cannot become household names or that the sport cannot eventually bridge the gap in quality with Europe. Perhaps the Americans will be the footballing force to fear at World Cup 2034.

It will be interesting to see if the big names that are hopping across the pond will effect this process. Will the MLS become the new home for the hottest talent or will it just remain the home for ageing pros and ridiculous commentary?

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 2 August 2010

England's Pre-Ashes Series Against Pakistan

Yesterday lunchtime the England cricket team completed an emphatic victory in the first of a four Test series against Pakistan. Although impressive, this was a victory in a series that seems to have more in common with the Premiership teams' recent pre-season tours to America than an English summer Test series.

It has been reported that Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower had banned talk about this winter's Ashes series from England's dressing room at Trent Bridge. This would have made the squad the some of the only people in the stadium who did not already seem to be looking ahead to the trip Down-Under.

Every positive and negative from England's performance in the first Test was judged not on its bearing in the match or series but in its relevance for when we come to face Australia.

'Swing King' Jimmy Anderson stole the headlines yet again, but how will he fare in less favourable Australian conditions? Should Cook, who has such a poor batting average against the Aussies, be dropped for the next Tests to give someone else a chance to open with Strauss?

Each player is not working towards beating Pakistan but auditioning for a place in the touring squad. Pakistan represent the MLS All-stars in England's warm-up, the series just a sideshow before the real thing gets under way. It is somewhat disrespectful to Pakistan and very tedious for viewers.

I would never be as naïve as to suggest that the Ashes ought to be ignored. It is something that must be kept in mind. The coaches will, of course, use the current series to assess certain technical or tactical issues.

It seems unfair, however, that commentators, pundits and journalists are treat this summer's home series as a means to an ends rather than in an end in itself. There is a middle ground to be found.

Every series in Test match cricket is unique and can be treated in isolation. There is no league, no cup. Each series stands alone. You always want to improve your team and will have things to work towards but no series should be a prelude to another. Look too far ahead and England will risk stumbling on the challengers immediately before them.

A Test series in England against Pakistan is extremely different from an Ashes series Down-Under. Pakistan provide their own challenges and moments from these matches should not be cut from their context and fast-fowarded into hypothetical scenarios months away.

As for their performance in the first Test. England's 354 run victory in the first Test contained many positives as well some minor concerns. They may have won easily but the visitors did not prove to be too stern of a opponent.

Pakistan's fielding was woeful for large parts of the first Test. Their batting line-up, which lacks experience, quality and depth, was exposed in bowler friendly conditions. Pakistan's seam attack, Aamer and Asif in particularly, did look dangerous, however. They proved themselves against Australia at Headingly and they troubled the English batsmen too.

Paul Collingwood won't have been able to believe his luck on day one in Nottingham. A top order collapse left England in need of a man willing to dig his heels in, stick around and get ugly runs. He has made a very successful career out of excelling in adverse situations and that first innings was no difference.

He was a rock when those who went in before him had faltered and he enabled Eoin Morgan to make a superb century. Morgan, benefiting from Ian Bell's forced absence, proved why he has the potential to be such a dangerous player to prop up the middle order.

The Irishman has a great repertoire of shots, as he has demonstrated on numerous occasions in the shorter form of the game, and a cool head. He proved he could play under the pressure of a failed top order. His best strength would probably be if he were to come to the crease with runs already on the board instead. He has the ability to pile up big scores quickly and take the game away from the opposition.

Had it not been for Collingwood and Morgan's stand on that first day, and Matt Prior's second innings century, England's victory would have been far from comfortable. The lack of runs from the batting line-up proved inconsequential thanks to England's bowlers though.

Anderson's eleven wickets confirmed him as the world's premier swing bowler. The young Steve Finn continued his promising start to Test cricket with five wickets of his own while Broad, and even more so Swann, were used sparingly.

Pietersen has come under criticism for his rusty display. Having turned down the chance to play county cricket, if only at second XIs, KP looked like a man lacking from time in the middle. This is one of the few negatives to be taken from the first Test.

Perhaps if Pakistan were a more competitive Test side at the moment there would be greater attention paid to this series rather than the one still four months away. Ultimately, it would probably unrealistic for the current series not to be seen as the final preparations before the all important winter tour.

The fact remains that the best preparation would be a convincing series win over Pakistan. The focus should be firmly on that. Reflection on the series as a whole, and its impact upon this winter's Ashes, should be saved for its completion and the intervening months.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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