Monday, March 27, 2006

Alonso confident of keeping crown

Australian GP, 2 April. Start: 0500 GMT

World champion Fernando Alonso is convinced he can retain his title after a fine start to the season by Renault.

The 24-year-old Spaniard won the opening race of the season in Bahrain and was second as Renault completed a one-two in Malaysia two weeks ago.

"Having seen what the car can do, I don't have any doubts that we can win the Championship again," he said.

"We know the car is competitive, and it gives me the conviction that we can be quick at the next 16 rounds too."

Alonso is leaving Renault at the end of the season to join McLaren but his team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella, is determined to deny him a parting success in the race for the drivers' title.

"In the winter, I said I wanted to go for the championship, and these races have shown that I have the chance to do well at every circuit, and to fight for the title," Fisichella said.

"That is my dream, and my goal this year. I think Renault will be very competitive in Australia, and I am going for the win."

Team boss Flavio Briatore, who believes Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren will provide the biggest challenges to his two drivers this season, has called for more changes to be made to qualifying.

In the latest of a series of changes, a new knockout system was introduced for this season, replacing the previous method in which each driver got one lap each.

"I think the knockout system is very good, and spectacular for the spectators, but I am still not happy with the first part of the third session," Briatore said.

"At the moment, we are going round for no reason, and it doesn't make sense for the people or for our image with the environment.

"I think the final session should be 15 minutes long and you fuel beforehand. You then qualify, and whatever load you finish the session with, then you start the race like that."

Currently, cars fuel up before the start of the final session and are topped up at the end of it according to a pre-arranged formula.

Rain prevents play in Napier Test

Third Test, Napier, day three: New Zealand v West Indies 256-4

Rain prevented any play on the third day of the third and final Test between New Zealand and West Indies in Napier.

Umpires Mark Benson and Ian Howell inspected the outfield at 1230 local time on Monday and decided no play would be possible due to waterlogging.

West Indies were on 256-4 in their first innings with Runako Morton on 70 not out and Dwayne Bravo defiant on 22.

The first two days were also interrupted by the weather with less than 80 overs completed.

New Zealand have an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the three-match series after winning the first Test in Auckland by 27 runs then the second in Wellington by 10 wickets.

Flintoff says momentum is the key

First one-day international, Delhi: India v England
Play starts Tuesday 0430 BST

England captain Andrew Flintoff wants to carry the momentum of the Mumbai Test victory into the seven-match one-day campaign against India.

Flintoff is back from a dash to England to meet newborn son Corey for the first time, and will lead the tourists in the first match in Delhi on Tuesday.

"It is very satisfying winning cricket matches out here," he said.

"The Test series was a great chance for some new players to make a start, and the one-dayers should be the same."

The continued absence of key players Marcus Trescothick and Ashley Giles will make India warm favourites for the series.

India have a good record in recent one-day internationals, and Flintoff noted: "They play to entertain and come out playing shots.

"Virender Sehwag at the top of the order comes out swinging and they have a lot of experience in their ranks."

It's just possible spin won't come into the equation so much
Paul Collingwood

England won their last one-day international in Delhi en route to a 3-3 series result, with Giles taking five wickets in that match.

England's spin options this time are the uncelebrated pair of Somerset all-rounder Ian Blackwell and Worcestershire's Gareth Batty.

But Durham all-rounder Paul Collingwood said the pitch might suit the fast bowlers more.

Collingwood said in his BBC column: "The practice nets are very close to the playing wicket and when we played on them on Monday the bowlers got a lot of carry.

"It's just possible spin won't come into the equation so much."

In his autobiography, Flintoff - the subject of plenty of abuse by Indian spectators in Mumbai - claims he was shot at by a fan while fielding in Delhi in 2001.

He said: "It is not something I am anticipating again.

"It is something that happened - but not something I want to go on about.

"We have seven one-dayers in front of full houses in India - that is something to look forward to."

For India, Sehwag has passed a fitness test on his back and is a confirmed starter.

India (from): V Sehwag, G Gambhir, R Dravid (captain), Y Singh, M Kaif, S Raina, M Dhoni (wkt), I Pathan, V Rao, M Patel, S Sreesanth, H Singh, A Agarkar, R Powar, RP Singh.

England (from): A Flintoff (capt), K Ali, J Anderson, G Batty, I Bell, I Blackwell, P Collingwood, M Hoggard, G Jones (wkt), S Mahmood, K Pietersen, L Plunkett, M Prior (wkt), O Shah, V Solanki, A Strauss.

Landis pulls out of Giro d'Italia

Tour de France hopeful Floyd Landis will not compete in May's Giro d'Italia as part of his preparation to bid for the yellow jersey in July.

Paris-Nice winner Landis, ninth overall in last year's Tour, will spend May riding some of the key stages before racing the Dauphine Libere in June.

"It's better that Floyd has a more relaxed approach to the Tour," said his Phonak team manager Lelangue.

"But we will be sending a competitive team to the Giro."