CWC 2019 review: Kane Williamson and Shakib Al Hasan feature in best right-handed v left-handed teams

Alex Rea 22/07/2019
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Kane Williamson (l) and Shakib Al Hasan (r).

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It has been a week since the 2019 ICC World Cup drew to a close but the tournament continues to linger on in the minds of cricket fans around the Globe.

The tournament in England saw an even contest between bat and ball and was very much a throwback to ODI cricket of the 1990s. There was no dearth of stand-out performers in the World Cup with batsmen and bowlers alike making a mark.

Here, we compile the best possible right-handed and left-handed XIs from the tournament.

RIGHT-HAND BAT WORLD CUP XI

Rohit Sharma (India)

An unprecedented five tons in a single World Cup edition from the India opener who also finished as the top run-scorer with 648 runs at an average of 81.

Jason Roy (England)

Only twice did the England opener fail to register at least 50 runs in an innings over the course of the tournament. Registered a total of 443 runs which came at a strike-rate of more than 115.

Jason Roy.

Jason Roy.

Kane Williamson (c)

The New Zealand skipper was the tournament’s MVP with 578 runs at an average of over 82 and he led the Black Caps admirably before facing heartbreak in the final at Lord’s.

Joe Root

The England stalwart pips Virat Kohli to this slot after a stellar campaign where he registered two centuries and three fifties on his way to an aggregate of 556 runs. He finished as England’s highest run-getter in the tournament.

Babar Azam

The Pakistan stalwart would have ideally been batting much higher up the order but it is a stacked middle-order. Babar’s 474 runs at an average of 67 is the highest run tally by any Pakistan batsman in World Cup history.

Babar Azam.

Babar Azam.

Faf du Plessis

The Proteas captain should hold his head up high despite his team’s dismal display after registering one century and three fifties in the tournament.

Mushfiqur Rahim (wk)

The Bangladesh man pips Jos Buttler and MS Dhoni to the wicketkeeping gloves after a solid individual campaign for the Tigers where he averaged more than 52 with the bat.

Chris Woakes

The England all-rounder might not have set the world alight with the bat in the tournament but he was a major force with the new-ball with 16 wickets in total. He really came into his own in the business end of the tournament for the eventual champions.

Jofra Archer

It was some maiden World Cup campaign for Archer who added a new dimension to England’s bowling attack. Twenty scalps in total for the Barbados-born pacer who finished as the third-highest wicket-taker.

Jofra Archer.

Jofra Archer.

Lockie Ferguson

One of the biggest surprises of the tournament was the performance of the Kiwi pacer who finished only behind Mitchell Starc in the wicket-taking charts. 21 wickets at an average of under 20 for Ferguson.

Jasprit Bumrah

The No1 ranked ODI bowler in the world lived up to his reputation with a terrific campaign that saw him fetch 18 wickets while maintaining an outstanding economy-rate of just 4.41.

Jasprit Bumrah had a magnificent maiden World Cup campaign.

Jasprit Bumrah had a magnificent maiden World Cup campaign.

LEFT-HAND BAT WORLD CUP XI

David Warner

The Australia opener wasted no time in stamping his authority on his return to international cricket after a one-year suspension. Three tons and as many fifties saw him finish just behind Rohit Sharma.

Quinton de Kock

While he was a shade below his usual best in the tournament, the Proteas opener remained a potent threat at the top with three fifties and an average of nearly 40.

Shakib Al Hasan

The Bangladesh all-rounder became the first player in history to register more than 600 runs and 10 wickets in a single World Cup edition. He scored two tons and five fifties in eight innings while also chipping in with 11 wickets.

Shakib Al Hasan is in the form of his life.

Shakib Al Hasan is in the form of his life.

Eoin Morgan (c)

The World Cup winning skipper had a decent individual campaign as well with a total of 371 runs while slamming a record-breaking 17 sixes in his 158-run blitz against Afghanistan.

Nicholas Pooran

The Windies youngster showed why he is so highly rated with some excellent innings including a fine ton against Sri Lanka. Averaged more than 52 with the bat.

Alex Carey (wk)

The Australia wicketkeeper was arguably the revelation of the tournament with 375 runs at an average of more than 62 while also effecting 20 dismissals with the gloves.

Alex Carey

Alex Carey

Ben Stokes

The star all-rounder was England’s man of the tournament from start to finish and registered 465 runs in total with the help of five fifties. Always got stuck in for the hosts when they were in trouble while also chipping in with seven wickets and some outstanding catches in the deep.

James Neesham 

The Kiwi all-rounder had a superb tournament and made important contributions with both bat and ball. His seamers fetched 15 wickets while he registered a fine unbeaten 97 in his side’s loss to Pakistan.

Mitchell Starc 

The Australia pace spearhead broke compatriot Glenn McGrath’s record of the most wickets in a single World Cup edition and finished with 27 wickets. Starc has now finished on the top of the wicket-taking charts two World Cups in a row.

Starc broke his compatriot Glenn McGrath's record.

Starc broke his compatriot Glenn McGrath’s record.

Mohammad Amir 

The senior Pakistan pacer more than vindicated the selectors’ faith in him by picking up 17 wickets an average of nearly 21. He also registered his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs in the clash against England.

Shaheen Afridi 

The Pakistan teenager left a last impression in England after claiming 16 wickets in  just five games including a memorable Lord’s five-wicket haul in the win over Bangladesh.

Afridi was flying against Bangladesh.

Afridi was flying against Bangladesh.

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Ronaldo, Champions League pressure and other ripple effects of Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus

Matt Monaghan 22/07/2019
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A dream was made real on Sunday when Juventus fans witnessed prodigious Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt don the Bianconeri colours.

Debutant De Ligt, 19, watched on helplessly deep into injury time as the ball flew over his head for Harry Kane’s staggering first-time winner from just inside the opposition half. This stupendous strike by the Tottenham Hotspur superstar produced a frustrating footnote to a half-hour run-out for the coveted teenager at Singapore National Stadium, less than a week since his €75 million switch from Ajax was confirmed.

The cameo role in the 3-2 loss for head coach Maurizio Sarri’s first game in charge gave few solid hints for the route ahead. But here we analyse the ripple effects from Juve’s emphatic transfer coup at Allianz Stadium:

GRAND EXPECTATIONS

Juve have possessed Serie A’s meanest defence for the last seven seasons – from each one, the title has been theirs.

Domestic dominance has become quotidian. Not even the existence of combustible former tactician Antonio Conte on the Inter bench should change that for next term.

De Ligt’s capture, in the midst of intense competition, had little to do with maintaining top-flight glory. Juve and current custodian Andrea Agnelli aspire to far more.

This searing ambition is exemplified by the Allianz’s September 2011’s inauguration, 2017’s introduction of a strikingly modern new badge, 2019/20’s iconoclastic ditching of the kit’s fabled stripes and their philosophy shift from “winning isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters” to the ‘Sarri-ball’ attraction, in an effort to shamelessly appeal to North America’s mass market

De Ligt is another facet of this ceaseless drive beyond Italy’s borders.

At the heart of this scheme is the pain provided by 23 years of Champions League frustration.

De Ligt’s header deflated hopes in 2018/19’s quarter-finals, as did Portugal phenomenon Cristiano Ronaldo in the previous edition’s semis.

Both conquerors were snapped up, partly, in reaction.

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First game ??

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Recent final appearances against Barcelona and Real Madrid ended with chasings. AC Milan triumphed on penalties in 2002/03’s showpiece, Predrag Mijatovic grabbed the only goal for Los Blancos during 1997/98’s decider and Borussia Dortmund’s Lars Ricken enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame in the prior campaign’s finale.

The holistic procurement of De Ligt was a show of might, grasp for the globe’s attention and cure for continental exasperation. Pressure is already growing to see these desires fulfilled.

DEFENSIVE SHAKE-UP

Juve’s in-situ centre-backs are about to discover the ramifications of simple mathematics.

Sarri will not deviate from his dogmatic 4-3-3 formation, no matter the wealth of fresh options.

If it is taken for granted that skipper and talisman Giorgio Chiellini is a lock once declared fit, this leaves a single centre-back spot available.

Sarri demands that one of them builds from the rear. See Senegal’s imposing Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli and rejuvenated ex-Brazil international David Luiz at Chelsea.

A straight choice in Turin presents itself between the 32-year-old Leonardo Bonucci and teenage landmark addition from the Netherlands, De Ligt.

Judged by WhoScored.com statistics from the 2018/19 Champions League, the rarefied Italian boasted compared to his potential usurper; more long balls per game (6.6/3), vastly superior long-ball pass-success percentage (57.4/40.7), better overall pass-success percentage (87.6/84.7) and greater key passes per game (0.5/0.1).

Stylistically, the Chiellini/Bonucci axis should endure. But this does not tell the whole picture.

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De Ligt led in several key defensive barometers; aerials won (4.2/1.5), tackles per game (1.5/0.7), clearances per game (4.2/2.6) and interceptions past per game (1.4/1.2). The prospect of De Ligt regularly connecting with Miralem Pjanic set-pieces is also tantalising.

Sarri’s exacting and rigorous work on the training pitch can only lift De Ligt further.

“He was one of the reasons that I wanted to join here,” the defender said at his unveiling.

“I spoke to Sarri on the phone before coming just to get to know each other.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about him and I like his footballing philosophy and how he prepares his defence.”

A word must also go out to Daniele Rugani. The 24-year-old’s patience has not been rewarded.

Sarri tried to sign him at Chelsea last summer. He is, however, fourth-choice centre-back at best under his former suitor now they are together in Turin.

CHANGING TIMES

It proved to be the summer’s telling interaction.

Ronaldo’s brazen approach to De Ligt in the wake of last month’s Nations League showpiece proved both prescient and illustrative. The five-time Ballon d’Or would only do this to entice the rarest of talents.

“Agent Ronaldo”, as De Ligt would subsequently joke to the world’s media.

The Portuguese has been a centrifugal force in three of football’s grandest clubs; Manchester United, Madrid and now Juve. His actions and achievements demand top billing.

It will be intriguing to witness how the dynamic between De Ligt and his exalted new team-mate develops.

Argentina forward Paulo Dybala wilted in Ronaldo’s presence, going from 2017/18’s high-water mark of 26 goals in all competitions to last term’s miserly 10.

De Ligt became Ajax’s youngest-ever captain in March 2018. Also by the age of 18, he was unmovable in the Netherlands XI.

Will these preternatural characteristics shine through in a new environment and language?

Will a remarkable sense of responsibility need to be curbed among such lauded senior team-mates? And if so, what impact will this have on De Ligt’s game?

Scrutiny can only increase. Repeats of the costly slip against England in the Nations League semi-final, and failure to stem rampant Spurs at the same stage in Europe, will be amplified.

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De Ligt is not the only new face. Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot have been tasked with revitalising a stagnant midfield, while the lionised goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is back at his spiritual home.

None, however, come with the Dutchman’s expectancy levels.

Success, or failure, is not guaranteed.

Exalted countryman Dennis Bergkamp made the journey from Ajax to Inter Milan in 1993 and flopped. Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit became legends at AC Milan.

Significant tests of character, temperament and technique await.

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Juventus, Napoli, Barcelona, Liverpool and Real Madrid possess best centre-back pairings

Alex Rea 20/07/2019
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Football is well versed in debates over the best attacking trios, yet we all seem to be forgetting arguably the most important partnership on the pitch – the centre-backs.

If you think of a team as like the human body then the attackers are its muscle with midfield creators supplying the blood allowing them to flex.

But before any of that can happen, a team needs structure and the centre-backs are the bones of every side.

It’s a multi-layered relationship which goes beyond skillsets and moves into character traits, too.

A telepathic understanding is required to ensure supreme organisation of space and personnel, and next season could see some of the strongest centre-back partnerships.

We’ve taken a look at five of the best pairings from Europe. Bare in mind Inter and Leipzig aren’t highlighted as both Antonio Conte and Julian Nagelsmann will likely implement a three-man defence, despite the obvious individual qualities of Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar and Stefan De Vrij for Conte, and for Nagelsmann through Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban.

NAPOLI – Kalidou Koulibaly & Kostas Manolas

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Napoli not only managed to retain one of Europe’s most in-demand centre-backs this summer, but they also paired him with another.

Kostas Manolas was prised from Roma for €36 million and the Greece international will work alongside Kalidou Koulibaly as Napoli target a major trophy in 2019/20.

By fusing thunder and lightning, Carlo Ancelotti has two elements to spark a legitimate challenge.

In Manolas, Napoli have acquired a player who is absolutely electric and can genuinely claim to be one of the fastest defenders in Europe.

There’s a reason he’s called ‘Greece Lightning’. Indeed, the 28-year-old’s ability to cover vacated space in the channels is as if a bolt has struck the pitch, he just zips into position before zapping the ball away.

But those scenarios are when others are caught out of position, rather than himself, because Manolas is a classically-trained tight and attentive marker. He’s strong, too, not in a bulldozing manner but rather through stiffness. He’s both immovable and incredibly mobile, but what his profile allows is for the shackles to be released from Koulibaly.

With a dependable watchman behind him, the Senegalese is free to pick locks instead of standing guard. Aside from his obvious physical gifts, Koulibaly is outstanding on the ball and his progressive traits have largely been wrapped up.

The defence has hinged on him putting out fires with a 33-year-old Raul Albiol and an erratic Mario Rui to his left.

With superior quality next to him, Koulibaly won’t be required to physically push team-mates into position as he laughably did to Rui last season.

JUVENTUS – Matthijs de Ligt & Giorgio Chiellini

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Napoli have chosen to combine two different but complimenting personalities, but Juve’s defensive wall is clad with the rocky experience of Giorgio Chiellini and decorated by the luminous brilliance of Matthijs de Ligt.

The Dutchman is a generational talent and the Bianconeri effectively emerged from a European royal rumble which included PSG, Barcelona and Manchester United among others, to capture this centre-back jewel.

Indeed, Juve have a strong lineage when it comes to iconic defenders and De Ligt has the potential to carry on that tradition.

The 19-year-old walks into this team immediately, his financial package rumoured to be €15 million per year in wages and €75m in transfer fees dictate that, but so too does his skillset.

Leonardo Bonucci is 32 and there have been obvious signs of decline over the last two seasons. Chiellini may be two years older and will be 35 before the season begins, yet he showed in 2018/19 his quality remains undiminished, even if his body is beginning to break down.

What Bonucci does bring to the side, though, is high-quality passes with a lot of variation from the back.

De Ligt has shown at Ajax he can serve that requirement with his confident and serene ability on the ball, while also providing a significant goal threat.

There’s also, and naturally so given his age, been times when he’s needed his hand held for both club (second-half against Tottenham) and country (in the defeat of England in the Nations League).

At Ajax, Daley Blind has taken on that role, for the Netherlands it’s been Virgil van Dijk, and by shrewdly pairing him with Chiellini, De Ligt has another experienced commander to learn from before he becomes the undisputed leader.

Good luck to attackers in Italy and Europe next season because it’s difficult to find a weak spot here.

REAL MADRID – Raphael Varane & Sergio Ramos

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Reputation rather than recent form sees Varane and Ramos included.

Last season teetered toward embarrassment for Real Madrid with their unbalanced side leaking goals at one end and failing to score at the other.

Varane and Ramos are apportioned blame, but not totally because there was plenty of dysfunction around them to provide a mitigating factor.

Zinedine Zidane has addressed some of the team’s biggest issues with the energy of left-back Ferland Mendy in both directions solving the gaping hole vacated by a negligent Marcelo.

There’s genuine competition for Varane in Eder Militao and that should bring the best out of a player who has long been considered a future Los Blancos captain.

And his best is among the very best in the world. Indeed, the natural selection process would find its completion with Varane because he’s an athletic freak, blessed with pace, strength and height.

Positionally, he can be lax at times but that’s why captain Ramos is so crucial beside him.

Every defensive partnership carries with it authoritative roles of a number one and two, and there are few better leaders in world football than Ramos.

The evidence of his influence was no more clear than in Real’s second-leg collapse against Ajax in the Champions League when, without their suspended skipper, the sense of timing to know when to calm things down and when to fire the side up was lost.

Last season can be considered a rare blip for this colossal defensive pairing and a reasonable expectation is that in 2019/20, they will once again emerge as one of the outstanding partnerships in Europe.

LIVERPOOL – Virgil van Dijk & Joe Gomez

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To the outside world a perplexed reaction might greet the name of Joe Gomez inhabiting the sidekick role next to Liverpool’s own Superman, Virgil van Dijk.

From December onward, Joel Matip was outstanding alongside the Dutchman after Gomez’s equally brilliant season was punctured by a broken leg.

The Cameroonian developed into a key offensive weapon for Jurgen Klopp with his slaloms into midfield dragging players out of position while his precise passing and tackling became a massive feature.

But make no mistake, Gomez is in the same category as De Ligt in terms of being the best young defender in Europe.

The 22-year-old’s progress has been blunted by a series of unfortunate injuries, issues which don’t point to an injury-prone player breaking down due to sapping demands, but rather unlucky impact scenarios.

Before his leg fracture against Burnley, Gomez at times looked like the world’s most expensive defender as opposed to Van Dijk.

That’s praise with plenty of weight but it was justified because Gomez is the most physically gifted English centre-back since Rio Ferdinand. He’s faster than most strikers, stronger, too while being dominant in the air and a deceptively good passer.

Granted, his recent trajectory has certainly been helped by playing alongside Van Dijk, the two certainly compliment each other well, aided by their friendship off the pitch.

But there’s no denying his talent and Liverpool are looking at a centre-back partnership which will blossom over the next few years.

This is without barely mentioning Van Dijk incidentally, although enough has been written about his monstrous ability and his claim to being the world’s best centre-back.

BARCELONA – Gerard Pique & Clement Lenglet

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Barcelona are another outfit containing three world class centre-backs in their squad and because of the issues surrounding a problematic knee, Samuel Umtiti, as happened last season, drops out for his French compatriot and fellow left-footer Clement Lenglet.

The 24-year-old made Barca supporters forget about Umtiti, and that is no mean feat given the season prior he was undoubtedly one of the world’s premier defenders.

But Lenglet was quietly superb, amassing a reputation as one of the most underrated centre-backs in Europe with performances hallmarked by a cool mentality and a cold ability to freeze out attackers.

His response to danger was super quick, even the emergency services would have been impressed, and when the sirens rang with Umtiti injured, Lenglet answered the call, blanketing doubts over whether he could replicate his excellent form for Sevilla at the Camp Nou.

Crucially, an understanding with Barca’s backline captain was struck both in La Liga and in the Champions League with Pique returning to his best form following an erratic start to the season, alongside Lenglet.

The requirements for Barcelona centre-backs are much different to the combinations examined here because their high line often means they spend a lot of time in the opposition half.

Being brave under pressure is vital and that’s what Pique and Lenglet bring.

Given what Barca dictate from their defenders, these two really do have the complete package when it comes to intelligent positioning, quality on the ball and a fearless disposition.

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