Extra bounce: Aaron Finch says the n quicks are looking to make the most of the fast Perth pitch. Photo: Ryan PierseAaron Finch says deserve to be regarded as the world’s best one-day side as they look to exploit India’s perceived weakness against fast bowling on a lively Perth pitch in the opening 50-over fixture of a five-match series on Tuesday.
had their final training session – there is an optional one the day before the match – on Sunday before taking on India, who have cruised to T20 and 50-over wins in recent days against a WA XI.
Josh Hazlewood bowled with good pace and rhythm off his long run, a sure sign he will spearhead an attack light on household names as a result of retirement, rest and injury.
Newcomers Joel Paris and Scott Boland – the latter of whom is, according to Finch, in the “form of his career” – as well as eight-gamer Kane Richardson all bowled enthusiastically to ‘s top-order batsmen. It is expected one of the three will be omitted for the final XI, given James Faulkner is set to give Steve Smith another pace-bowling option to go with his lusty hitting.
Finch said he didn’t mind the nervous tension within the squad at the moment, given there were so many fresh faces since the successful World Cup campaign last year.
Much has been made of ‘s depleted bowling stocks heading into the series. Finch, however, said it would be an opportune time for a pack of keen youngsters to let rip on the most fast-bowler friendly deck in the country against a side which is unproven in n conditions.
“There’s still a bit of extra bounce and that’s something that we’ll have to adjust to and we can try and exploit that straight away in the first game of the series,” Finch said. “I think that can go a long way to winning a match. There’s a lot of youth in the group, so there’s a lot of excitement. Anytime that guys are making their debut or have been in the squad, it’s a really exciting time for everyone.”
With the World Cup in the bag and the ICC top one-day ranking covered, the ns are viewing this series against India as more or less a first chapter to future World Cup glory in 2019. They are hardly worried about being the hunted, with Finch saying the hard work of the last few years has most certainly paid off.
“It’s a great challenge and I think that when you have that tag, it means you’ve played good cricket,” Finch said. “It means you’re favourites or there’s excitement around your team because you’ve played so well in the past and I think that’s something we can hang our hat on. We deserve that tag and there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a big build-up and amount of excitement around our team.”
The sight of Mitchell Johnson anywhere near the WACA Ground is enough to strike fear into the heart of all touring batsmen, especially those from India, who in the past have been susceptible to high-quality fast bowling.
If the Indian squad saw vision of Johnson making an appearance at n training on Sunday morning, they were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they realised the retired left-armer was actually there in a social capacity, playing with daughter Rubika instead of sending down thunderbolts in the nets.
“I was pretty happy he wasn’t bowling in the nets to be honest,” Finch said with a smile. “It’s not great if you’re facing the quicks at the time because they’re all trying to impress him and rip your head off.”
Finch, who despite leaving the Renegades to join the national squad in Perth, is still among the top run-scorers in the Big Bash with 246 runs at 49.20, including three half-centuries. He said he was eager to translate his T20 form into the slightly longer limited-over format.
“I’ve played quite well,” Finch said. “I’ve adjusted a couple of things slightly [in my technique] that have helped me free up my game a bit. I’m really confident going into this series.”
Eastlake batsman Ashley Meek scored 66 to help his team beat Queanbeyan on Sunday. Photo: Jeffrey ChanWests-UC have cemented their place as the team to beat in the Cricket ACT two-day competition as they set their sights on claiming their third Douglas Cup title in four years.
The Lions made short work of Tuggeranong at Chisholm Oval, cruising to their second outright win in just the third game of the two-day season.
Still stinging from failing to make the Twenty20 and one-day grand finals, their dominance against Tuggeranong fired the first warning shot of 2016.
Former skipper Ben Oakley was the chief destroyer, claiming 4-22 and 3-21 as Tuggeranong fell three runs short of forcing Wests-UC to bat a second time.
Wests-UC have played in seven of the past nine two-day grand finals, but lost the decider to Weston Creek last season.
Captain Joe Cooke said: “Our two-day cricket has definitely been our strongest form over the past few years.
“We were disappointed to not even make the grand finals in the other formats, but you take that and use it as drive and motivation towards the two-day competition.
“The [Douglas Cup] is the one you want to win. A lot of our players are suited to two-day cricket and it requires a lot more discipline, so now the challenge is to keep playing better.”
Wests-UC sit comfortably atop the two-day ladder after three rounds with almost maximum points after beating Tuggeranong, Ginninderra and North Canberra-Gungahlin.
Oakley has claimed 18 scalps in those three matches and is the competition’s leading wicket-taker. He has taken 28 wickets across all formats this year.
“Both Oaks and Ethan [Bartlett] are carrying injuries at the moment. We’ve got Sam Skelly coming through, but it’s hard not to rely on Oaks sometimes,” Cooke said.
“It’s something we’ve worked on as a bowling unit. Oaks maybe a yard or two behind what he used to be [in pace], but he certainly hasn’t lost the knack of taking wickets.”
ACT Comets players were stood down from play on Sunday in the second day of clashes across Canberra as they prepared to play against Western in the Futures League from Monday.
Eastlake beat Queanbeyan at Kingston, while Weston Creek-Molonglo’s massive total of 4-359 off the back of a John Rogers double century was far too much for Ginninderra, who struggled to 134 and 3-131 in their second innings.
ANU was too strong for North Canberra-Gungahlin, easing its way to a first-innings triumph after rolling their opponents for just 59 on Saturday.
English import George Rhodes scored a classy century to ensure Norths avoided an outright defeat, finishing their second innings at 2-197 after ANU made 220.
Eastlake captain Michael Spaseski will take the Comets’ captaincy reins at Manuka Oval for the clash against Western , stepping up to fill the hole left by Aidan Blizzard.
The Comets will go into battle without Blizzard and Jono Dean (Big Bash duties), Blake Dean (injury) and Henry Hunt, who is on tour with the n under-19s team.
DOUGLAS CUP: Weston Creek Molonglo 4-359 dec bt Ginninderra 134 and 3-131 at Stirling Oval. Wests/UC 223 bt Tuggeranong 100 and 110 at Chisholm Oval. Eastlake 9-293 bt Queanbeyan 212 at Kingston Oval. ANU 220 bt North Canberra Gungahlin 59 and 2-197 at Harrison No 2 Oval.
Futures League: ACT Comets v Western second XI at Manuka Oval. Play starts at 10.30am.
Bloodstock tyros James Harron and Henry Field knew they had to take a different approach if they were going to survive and flourish against the big boys of the breeding world and by backing their own judgment and getting a little colt called Capitalist they have done just that.
Harron and Field are brothers-in-law and put together a syndicate to buy colts at the yearling sales last year. It turned into a $7 million investment and for that you need backers. When you’re in your early 30s, it also needs to work or you’re not going to get another chance for a while.
In four months, Capitalist has made the gamble pay off by winning Saturday’s Magic Millions Classic and assuring himself a career as a stallion at Field’s Newgate Farm.
“We are already getting his name plate ready at the farm, but he has a bit of racing to do before he gets there,” said Field, who was left in tears by the win on Saturday.
“We had to think about it differently to get a stallion because once they do it on the track, we can’t compete with the big studs. This was the dream, and we still have the Golden Slipper to go. Capitalist was the horse we were looking for when this started.”
The idea was to find a champion on the track that would go on to become a stallion, giving returns for the next 10 to 20 years. It is not a new idea and many have tried, and failed, in such schemes.
Nevertheless, the reputation of Harron and Field delivered a select group of smart cashed-up investors and they went to work finding the right horses.
Capitalist proved a conundrum for the pair last year, being from Written Tycoon, an unfashionable stallion not associated with great success at the highest level, certainly not one that would be thought of as a stallion maker.
“He was a Maserati at the sales,” Field said of Capitalist. “But he was a Written Tycoon and when you are looking for stallions he is not really the page you are looking for.
“We debated him for hours, when we were getting our list ready. He, more than any other horse, because we both loved him.
“I remember he was in the back box at Magic Millions and walking up there pulling him out to have looks at him again and again.
“We had what we were looking for on type and he was it, but you have to consider other things.”
The cost in the end was $165,000, which seems small for a horse valued at $3 million to $5 million after three starts, but the purchase wasn’t assured when the bidding started on lot 361.
“We were sitting at the table and it got over $150,000 and we were going to stop. At 160 it was over and Matthew [Sandblom, one of the investors] said “one more, you guys really like this horse” and we got him,” Field recalled.
Capitalist is a perfect three wins from three starts and after Saturday was tightened into $3.50 favourite for the Golden Slipper.
“That is the next goal,” Field said.
Field’s Saturday was rounded off by New Gate selling a $1 million filly, a product of Fastest Rock and Ten Carat Rock, which was from the Redoute’s Choice family, at the night session.
“This is the sort of day you dream about,” he said.
World No.2 Simona Halep is likely to have to topple Serena Williams to win her maiden grand slam this month, but the Romanian insists she’s not daunted by the prospect.
The 24-year-old’s trophy cabinet remains empty as she heads to Melbourne battling a niggling Achilles injury.
Barring a shock defeat for Williams, Halep will need to conquer the American for just the second time in her career to win the n Open, but she is adamant she is in the right frame of mind to repeat what she accomplished in Singapore against Williams in 2014.
“I beat Serena once in my life, so it’s really important for me,” Halep, who has won just one of seven matches against Williams, said ahead of the Sydney International.
“It’s not easy to face Serena, of course. She’s a big player, she’s the best player in the world. But I have to believe, every time when I go against her on court, because when I played in Singapore, I have great memories from there.
“When I went to the tournament, I felt I had everything to beat her. So if I believe this when I go against her on court, we’ll be OK. But if not, I have no chance. To meet Serena, it means that I have to do finals. So let’s go there in Melbourne to see if I can be there.”
But this year’s n Open is as open as it has been in recent years with top seeds Williams, Halep and Maria Sharapova heading into the tournament with injury concerns that forced them out of their respective season-opening tournaments in .
Halep said she is beginning to feel confident with the Achilles injury that has hampered her preparations.
“I’m better than Brisbane,” she said.
“It’s always difficult to treat an Achilles problem. I think it’s the toughest part. But now I feel better. I could practise two days in a row, almost full. I did some points, so I think I’m ready to start this tournament. I know that it’s going to be a difficult match, but it’s OK and I really want to have a match before Melbourne.
“The problem I think it’s still there but now I don’t feel pain any more. So I have to see during the official match, because it’s much different. It’s not easy but I have to be positive, I don’t have to be scared when I go to play the official match. We didn’t speak about surgery. The MRI is OK. It’s nothing dangerous there, but still I had an inflammation. It’s not that dangerous but it still is there.”
Halep has reached the quarter-final of the n Open the past two years, reaching the final eight in five of the past eight grand slams.
Her best result, however, is a finals appearance at the French Open in 2014, bowing out against Maria Sharapova.
”I think I have to be more confident in myself to believe that I can win it,” said Halep, who is coached by n Darren Cahill.
“If you believe that you can win it, you can do it. If not, it’s more difficult.
“I feel that I’m ready. I have the game, I have the physical training every day good. I’m practising well, I’m practising hard. So we’ll see. I know it’s difficult. I know you have to be strong. I feel that I am, but still I have to go step by step.”
n Road championship winner Jack Bobridge labelled his ride “redemption” for his disappointing 10th place in last Thursday’s men’s elite time trial. Photo: SuppliedSpratt flags Olympic selection with title win
Jack Bobridge produced arguably the most remarkable ride in n road championship history on Sunday, winning the men’s elite road race in Buninyong after spending more than 90 km on his own in front in searing heat that reached 33C degrees.
Bobridge, whose career has included successes and struggles on and off the bike, was in every key move of the day, from the very first attack that went early to the finish line.
In his first road race for the Trek World Tour team, Bobridge crossed the line after covering the 183.6km course in 4 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds. In second place to take the silver medal at 2m 52 s was West n Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data), while third for the bronze at 3:53 was Victorian Pat Lane (Avanti-Isowhey).
While Bobridge labelled his ride “redemption” for his disappointing 10th place in last Thursday’s men’s elite time trial, most who witnessed it lauded it as one of strength, guile and racing smarts.
Two such similarly impressive performances were his 2011 national road title win off the back of a 30km solo attack, followed by his 4000m individual pursuit world record ride that year.
Bobridge’s win on Sunday was not just a display of physical prowess.
It was also one of sheer intelligence as he explained about his management of effort once he got a nine-minute lead soon after half-way on the main climb of the 10.2km Buninyong circuit that the field had to race over 18 times, and was committed to a solo ride.
“I tried to break it up into sections, do the climb at threshold and all the descents I tried to ride 300 [watts] or less so I could always ride threshold on the climb,” he said.
“I knew that [for the riders] to take nine minutes [back] on the climb, if I am riding at threshold, these guys – most of the bigger guys are heavier than me – they are going to have to do stupid numbers … they were never going to pull back nine minutes.”
Bobridge was in the original 21 rider break that formed on the second lap, but on lap seven he and Bernie Sulzberger broke free while the group splintered behind them.
The lead pair worked well together and by the half-way mark their lead had grown to 9m 46s, but soon after on the climb of lap 10 Bobridge surged away from Sulzberger towards what would become of the most remarkable rides ever seen in the national titles.
Behind Bobridge, the peloton appeared reluctant to respond, although the size of it continued to diminish after Richie Porte (BMC) made a strong surge on a day that would eventually prove too hard for him as he fell off the pace two laps later.
It seemed that all were waiting for one of the two dominant forces in the peloton – the Orica-GreenEDGE and Drapac teams – to assume the chase and reel Bobridge in.
With eight laps to go, Orica-GreenEDGE put five riders on the front, the last of whom was Simon Gerrans, their main hope after losing sprinter Caleb Ewan much earlier.
But for Orica-GreenEDGE – the former team of Bobridge and Meyer – the race was over. They suffered their worst title outcome with sixth placed Gerrans their only survivor from the 15 finishers of 127 starters.
Incredibly, Bobridge still had a lead of 8m 30s after lap 13 and with 51km to go.
He even managed to increase his lap pace, bringing it down to 14m 48s on lap 14.
However, he admitted he suffered in those last laps, saying when asked how he felt in the final lap: “I won’t use the language but I was absolutely shagged.
“It’s the last lap of the national titles, if you just get over that you are going to win. So I just buried it … it wasn’t just that last lap, the last two three laps were pretty brutal.”
It was with 30km to go sparks started to fly from the peloton with Rohan Dennis (BMC) attacking, and then Gerrans and finally Meyer who attacked on lap 15.
Dennis followed Meyer, but with the gap to Bobridge still sitting at 6m 25s after lap 16 – and with 20.4km to go – it was too late to win. Meyer then soloed for second.
Hong Kong stringer Dickie Lee (left) will string racquets in his ninth n Open this year. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer Stringer Shinji Nakamura, who has been a contractor for the past seven years, re-stringing a racquet. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
Japanese company Yonex is the new string supplier for this year’s n Open, taking over from Wilson. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
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When it comes to tennis racquet strings, natural fibres are the duck’s guts. Or rather the cow’s guts, given that’s where many of the strings favoured by the top players at this month’s n Open come from.
While cost and convenience have seen synthetics replace natural fibres in many industries, in tennis the trusty cow intestine, dried and stretched, naturally, is the undisputed king of strings.
Yes, nylon has been the string of choice on suburban courts and in club competitions since the 1940s. But those at the top of the game still prefer a touch of bovine to maintain ball speed and sensitivity.
“The feeling is very good as there is no big shock on the arm,” said stringing supervisor Mark Maslowski. “You have more feeling for hitting shots like drop shots.”
American born, German-based Mr Maslowski will lead a team of 20 Yonex stringers at this month’s n Open, who between them will restring up to 5500 racquets over the three weeks of qualifying and competition.
It’s the first time the Japanese sporting goods company has been the official stringer at a Grand Slam tournament, but Mr Maslowski said their experience at the Beijing and London Olympics would stand them in good stead.
Drawn from across the globe, the Yonex stringers need to work fast, getting a tennis racquet on and off the machine in 15 minutes.
But it’s not all about speed. Consistency is crucial, given players are prone to superstition. Each stringer will work on the same machine throughout the two-week tournament and be assigned to particular players.
Stringing team manager Paul Gerdes said players, who get five free restrings per round, could even request the time of day they wanted their racquet restrung.
“If they had a good game with a racquet that was strung at 5pm the day before their match, then they could decide they want a restring at 5pm the day before each game,” he said. “A lot of them have quirky things they like.”
Expertly weaving the strings through the grommets on the rim of the racquet head, Dickie Lee from Hong Kong will clock up his ninth n Open this summer. And his 22nd Grand Slam tournament.
Even before the Open starts, thick fabric plasters cover the middle and little finger of his right hand. His skin has become so dry from all the threading and weaving it is prone to cracking.
Like a lot of stringers, he has players he works with no matter where in the globe he finds himself. And although his work keeps him indoors, he knows exactly what it is like outside for the players.
“I did Francesca Schiavone’s racquet today at 23 kilograms because of the warmer temperatures here,” he said. “Last week in Hong Kong it was 22 kilograms.”
The first Grand Slam of the season, the n Open runs for a fortnight from January 18 at Melbourne Park.
Canberra’s Aaron Ayre made his Big Bash League debut on Saturday night. Photo: Rohan ThomsonCanberra junior Aaron Ayre’s Big Bash debut was swamped and overshadowed by the Chris Gayle saga, the fireworks in front of 43,000 fans and one of the strangest run-outs in cricket history.
But the former ACT Comet says he felt at home on the big stage as the cricket world turned its attention to Etihad Stadium and Gayle’s first appearance since his infamous “don’t blush baby” interview.
Ayre was sandwiched between Gayle’s ongoing drama and Adam Zampa’s nose run-out as he fell for a first-ball duck in his first match for the Melbourne Renegades on Saturday night.
It was hardly an ideal start to Ayre’s hopes of earning a more regular spot in the star-studded Renegades line-up, and he hopes to make amends if he gets a shot at redemption against the Sydney Thunder on Monday.
Ayre was called into the Renegades squad after Matthew Wade and Aaron Finch joined the n side for the one-day international series against India.
It meant he took the giant leap from club cricket to being thrust into the middle of a Big Bash sideshow involving Gayle and his exchange with Channel Ten’s Mel McLaughlin.
So how did the 23-year-old manage to avoid getting caught up in non-cricket related matters? Simple.
“You just block it out. We just try to get on with playing with cricket,” Ayre said.
“The group has been really good, we’ve just tried to block it out and move on. I think we’ve done that well with training and concentrating on cricket. It’s one of those things you try not to think about it because there’s a game on the line that you’ve got to win. There’s a lot of hype during the week but you go through a routine on game day.”
Ayre’s BBL debut capped off a whirlwind two months after being plucked from Melbourne grade-cricket and making a mad dash across town to play his first Sheffield Shield game in November.
Playing at the MCG for Victoria was a chance for Ayre to realise a childhood dream.
But walking on to the field in front of a boisterous Big Bash crowd sent shivers down his spine as he made his way to the middle.
More than 80,000 fans watched the first Renegades derby against the Melbourne Stars and another 43,000 turned up to see Ayre play his first BBL match.
It wasn’t that long ago that Ayre was walking on to Manuka Oval or grounds around Canberra in front of a handful of friends and family.
“The buzz of Twenty20 cricket is amazing, you can’t ask for much more than playing in front of big crowds and doing something that you love,” Ayre said.
“It’s pretty much a dream come true to get a chance to do that, and hopefully it’s not my only chance.
“I’d love it if there were more chances around the corner. You get a bit nervous sitting there, but once you get over the rope you treat it like just another game. It doesn’t change how you play.”
Ayre was sent into the field instead of behind the stumps as n Test gloveman Peter Nevill took the gloves.
But rather than look at it as a missed opportunity, Ayre sees his chance as a perfect way to learn from some of the best players in the competition.
Alongside Gayle and Nevill, the Renegades also boast Dwayne Bravo, Cameron White, Xavier Doherty, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.
“Hopefully [the first-ball duck] was my one and only and I get another chance to play,” Ayre said after arriving in Sydney on Sunday.
“You try to learn as much as possible of the guys in team and have as many chats with them as you can to try to improve your game. They’ve played at the highest level and that’s what I’m aspiring to do … you try as much as you can to close the gap to play at that next level.”