Retrospective #18: Edwin van der Sar becomes ‘King of the Nil’

They say that the Premier League is no country for old men, that its dash and intensity are too much for the over-30s.

The year is still in its infancy, but already 2012 has proved the nay-sayers wrong. With the broad shouldered Phil Jones losing impulsive cult followers with every passing game, English football is turning to tried and tested players.

In its perpetual quest to destabilize the English national team, club football has sent a resounding message. The returns of Paul Scholes to Manchester United and Thierry Henry to Arsenal are reminders that the Premier League lacks faith in the youth game, and that its cynical commercialism trumps all. Fancy a Paul Scholes No. 22 shirt?

However, 2011/12 will never seduce the Premier League’s most recent retiree. Edwin van der Sar’s career ended in May, without an asterisk. But United fans remember him, with throbbing temples every time David De Gea leaps for a corner, or Anders Lindegaard’s complacent feet encourage an opposing striker to press high-up the pitch. The ghost of van der Sar still haunts the United penalty area, undermining its youthful commanders.

It’s unsurprising that De Gea and Lindegaard are struggling to emulate the man who Rio Ferdinand still calls “the best I’ve ever played with”. Van der Sar set incomparable standards, refining his on-field presence through years of experience and incessant success. United’s defensive struggles this season are a tribute not only to their former goalkeeper’s shot stopping ability, but also to his encouraging yet aggressive attitude; van der Sar was able to unite ever-changing back fours, and to ride calmly through the worst of injury crises.

His poise was admirable. He saved Nicolas Anelka’s weak penalty to win Manchester United the Champions League. Van der Sar, glistening in the Moscow rain, his arms raised high in the air is an iconic image; as famous as Ole Solskjaer sliding across the Camp Nou turf.

Van der Sar’s calm confidence facilitated his record-breaking run of clean sheets in December and January of 2008/2009. From Samir Nasri’s lash at the Emirates to Peter Lovenkrands’ prod at St. James’ (a total of 20 hours of football) the Dutchman didn’t concede a single goal. Against West Brom, he broke Petr Cech’s record run of clean sheets in the Premier League; a game later he toppled Steve Death’s British record. He smashed Danny Vanderlinen’s European total at home to Fulham*.

“His calming influence goes right through the team,” Giggs said after the West Brom game. “He is getting better with age. Yes, he has great players in front of him but, when he is called upon, he never makes a mistake.” From the beginning of his streak Van Der Sar maintained that numbers were not what mattered, that Manchester United’s quest for an 18th title was more important than any statistical milestones. Yet, 3-0 up and with just minutes left against Fulham, a Bobby Zamora shot bounced inches wide of the United goal, and van der Sar grinned – a slightly mischievous half smile. That was about as close as he ever came to self-indulgence.

Henry Winter lucidly described Manchester United’s frightening confidence during van der Sar’s record tilt. “These are memorable days and nights for Sir Alex Ferguson’s players,” he wrote. “From San Siro to St James’, they gleam with conviction… An aura of invincibility surrounds them.”

When Peter Lovenkrands slotted home after just eight minutes at St. James’ Park to end van der Sar’s record run of clean sheets, the Geordies behind the goal began chanting “dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper.” The humor, however, failed to ruffle van der Sar. His focus and composure over the last eighty minutes helped United to a 2-1 win.

Van der Sar’s run ended at 1311 minutes, but the resolve it instilled never left Manchester United that season. Even in Rome, where United’s Dutch No. 1 was denied a third career European Cup, fans left convinced of United’s potential.

“When we go 1-0 up, other teams think ‘Oh no, here we go, it’s going to be hard,’” van der Sar said that year, after one of his many clean sheets. “That’s what we want, we want to create fear in the opposition.”

Van der Sar placed his record-breaking ach

De Gea’s indifferent start can be put down to many things; not just his apparent ineptness

De Gea’s indifferent start can be put down to many things; not just his apparent ineptness

It’s all looking pear shaped for Monty Panesar

It seems that Monty Panesar’s signature celebration where he jumps around lets out all his joy and excitement may be a thing of the past as his decline in form could spell the end of his Ashes hopes this year.

Whether he makes the England squad or not, he is under serious pressure from Adil Rashid, who’s performances in the World Twenty20 were impressive, as both fight out to be England’s second spinner. Panesar is no longer England’s premier spinner as Nottinghamshire’s Graeme Swann, has overtook him in the last six months.

Panesar’s form in this year’s county season has been awful. For Northamptonshire this year, he has taken just five wickets from six matches, with an average of over 90. His fielding is still a concern, while his batting is improving but not international standard.

His lack of variation is a concern, and compared to the leg spin of Rashid and his batting ability, the Yorkshire all rounder may be the selectors choice with the Ashes series only three weeks away…

England vs India: Preview

Date: Sunday, June 14
Time: 17:30 GMT
Venue: The Oval

England hopes of World Twenty20 success are on the line, but who would have felt that defending champions India are in a similiar state of mind. For both teams, this is a must win game.

If India lose this game, then they are out. Simple as that. Not even net run rate will help the champions as the winner of the England v West Indies game will join South Africa.

England, on the other hand, the case is not the same. A loss would not mean the hosts being knocked out but it seriously dents their hopes. Net run rate will decide the fate if England manage to beat West Indies and South Africa beat India. Now, this is going to be a close one.

Group E
Teams Mat Won Lost Tied N/R Pts Net RR
South Africa 2 2 0 0 0 4 +0.898
West Indies 2 1 1 0 0 2 -0.150
England 1 0 1 0 0 0 -0.668
India 1 0 1 0 0 0 -0.707

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Focusing on just the game now, India will be strong favourites. Of course they would, as England are on the back of a humbling against the mighty South Africans. But, after they’re embarrassing loss against the Netherlands, they recovered fantastically well as they demolished a unbalanced Pakistan side.

India looked good before they were well beaten by the West Indies but remember the two wins were against minnows Banglandesh and Ireland.

How is the game going to go? Who’s going to shine on the day? Either Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright and Kevin Pietersen will have to have a really good innings as the trio are key to England’s performance with the bat.

Meanwhile, India will always look to big hitter Yuvraj Singh to come up with the goods, and their spinners will always be a threat as the likes of Harbajhan Singh and Pragyan Ojha are always economical and are frequent wicket takers.

England: Luke Wright, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood (c), Dimitri Mascarenhas,  James Foster (wk), Graeme Swann, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson,

India: Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (c/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha

Here’s a team capable of beating the mighty South Africans

As South Africa head into their second Super Eight game against West Indies today, after comprehensively beating England a couple of days ago, they look pretty unbeatable. Many wonder who can beat them in this form, and surprisingly today’s opponents West Indies may spring into mind.

How can a team that has suffered a mauling against England earlier this year, beat, no, thrash Australia before coming back from a tough position to beat defending champions India with 8 balls to spare.

Chris Gayle is no doubt the threat at the top of the Windies order, but Dwayne Bravo with both bat and ball can single handedly win games, just like he did yesterday. He took 4-38 with the ball, before clubbing 66 off 36 balls. Shiv Chanderpaul hit some good shots yesterday, while Ramnaresh Sarwan is always handy with the bat.

Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor are good bowlers too, and with the team work and unity they showed against the Indians they can beat the South Africans. Expect more upsets, thrills and spills from this team as the dark horses make a charge for the World Twenty20 cup…

Blog: David Lloyd flourishes with the mic

Blog: Off the pitch

When David Lloyd was on the cricket field, he was able to do everything well. Bat or bowl, he managed to succeed. Now as one of official World Twenty20 commentators he can do that as good as anyone.

Enthusiasm is what you need as a commentator and Lloyd has got it. Last year in England’s domestic Twenty20 cup he even sang a little song when a Middlesex player hit a huge six.

It doesn’t have an impact of what’s going on on the pitch, but it sure does liven the game up a bit for those watching at home. Shame you can’t say the same about Pakistan legend Wasim Akram’s commentating…

England’s team effort inspires huge win

(Group B, The Oval):
England 185-5 beat Pakistan 137-7 by 48 runs

This was the real England. The scoreboard may have read England won by 48 runs but England’s was much more convincing than that.

Pakistan bowled poorly, Kevin Pietersen getting an easy 50, and was not once troubled by the Pakistani bowlers, until one really good ball by Saeed Ajmal found an edge.

The batting was truly awful. After about 12 overs, around 100 short of the total they bought on big hitter Shahid Afridi. Now he was awful. He just tried to slog it out of the park. He failed. 5 off 12 balls. Then with five overs to go, 80 or so required, it seemed that they just packed their bags.

You’ve read the Pakistani story. Now the England. The unity and belief that was on display as soon as wicket one, it was almost like the Netherlands game didn’t even happen. Younis Khan and Salman Butt did decent with the bat but wickets fell at a regular pace. Anderson, Broad and Luke Wright enjoyed successful spells, with Graeme Swann and Adil Rashid forming an formidable spin partnership which was nothing short of economical.

The win was wrapped up quite comprehensively. Now the Super Eights. Can England take it all the way? If they play like this, then sure…

England vs Pakistan: Preview

Date: Sunday, June 7
Time: 17:30 GMT
Venue: The Oval

England came into the tournament as dark horses but that could all change today as a loss against Pakistan will mean the hosts will crash out of the tournament.

Surely, the scripts weren’t written this way. Who would have thought that the minnows that is Netherlands would beat England in the competition opener? Now, as England prepare for a crucial, must win game against Pakistan they could be without Kevin Pietersen.

In the opening game, the performance was poor. They didn’t up and were deservedly beaten. In they play like they did on Friday, then England can say goodbye to the Twenty20 trophy.

Today, they take on a team that’s Twenty20 record is pretty impressive, this was the team that ended up runners up in the inaugural tournament in 2007.

They have the Twenty20 top wicket-takers in Umar Gul and Shaid Afridi, and although their batting is rather hit and miss, the likes of Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq are dangerous.

But Pakistan have only played two games in seven months in this format, and the conditions will favour England. The conditions will also be more suited to England, what with the swing, so this could James Anderson’s game. Another question is who will England play in this crucial game? Below, we think this is the team that England will put out in the Oval.

England: Luke Wright, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood (c), Dimitri Mascarenhas,  James Foster (wk), Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom.

Prediction: The swinging conditions could prove vital in this game. Both Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara are in top form while Pakistan stumbled in both their warm up games. I think England could just sneak it.

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