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Goodbye To A Legend

November 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Cricket has come to that period where a generation says goodbye to the legends they grew up with. A few years back the world said farewell, albeit a little later than they expected, to Sanath Jayasuriya. Last year India’s most underrated batsman, Rahul Dravid, bowed out of international cricket; and today the world prepares to say goodbye to Ricky Ponting.

Ponting has been in an up-and-down patch in his career for the past year. Averaging less than 15, he had a superb summer against India which included a double hundred before being shored up against the West Indies and now South Africa. While most supporters of the man have called for his inclusion, many others (including himself) knew that time was running out.

He did what all great sportsman do and called time on a career that was reaching its end.

Ponting can leave international cricket behind with his head held high knowing he was only second to Sachin Tendulkar in both runs and centuries, while he also has the mantle of having won three successive World Cups leading his team in two of those. He was also one of the most successful captains in test and one day cricket, and while people argue it was the team that gave him this, his record as captain speaks for itself.

Of course his career will be pockmarked with the three Ashes losses, including one at home, while a couple of hiccups against India and South Africa also surfaced in his time at the helm. His last bout as captain came in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup against eventual winners India. Ponting shrugged off the criticism to play a great hundred, but was unfortunately unable to deliver his team to a fifth consecutive final.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ricky Ponting a couple of times and from a personal point of view was certainly impressed with him. Despite having a hectic schedule Ponting took time off to get a game of golf in during their World Cup campaign in Sri Lanka. Even better was the fact that I got to play with him. The game gave me an insight in to the man off the field and away from the public spotlight.

Friday will be his last test match, and ironically it is Australia’s opportunity to regain the number 1 mantle (a spot Ponting did a great deal to secure for Australia in the first place). I will certainly be watching the match, and no doubt be hoping to see him produce that great last innings (similar to Greg Chappell) to help his team take the series and the number one spot.

Test Cricket Is The Ultimate Test

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

He stood at the top of his mark, barely able to hold himself upright. A deep breath was taken and he came charging down, an in-swinging yorker upended middle stump and suddenly the crowd was brought to its feet. There was a sense that he had got something out of nothing.

On the other end a man stood on his own fighting off cramps and back pains, he had been a wall blocking everything that was thrown at him. He too felt a sense that the improbable was now within his grasp.

As with all sports there had to be a loser, and on this occasion for Peter Siddle, Australia being unable to draw the match would have felt like one.

Australia-South Africa encounters have always produced nail-biting matches (a clash of the titans if you would). It was around this time last year that these two teams were locked in another struggle, on that occasion Australia walked away victorious (with only two wickets in hand and time not on their side). In Adelaide, once again it was not until the last ball of the match that a result was confirmed.

Australia dominated the first day of the test match, South Africa fought back on the second day before the hosts wrestled the initiative back on the third. The forth was a see-saw affair before the fifth was a display of test cricket at its best.

The cricket audience around the world have been “treated” to an overdose of twenty-twenty cricket, so much so that even the players have found it hard to readjust. Over in Bangladesh, last week, Chris Gayle decided to start a test match by hitting a six, on Thursday in Adelaide David Warner and Michael Clarke chose to rack up nearly 500 runs in the first day.

By the fifth day of this match all of that was forgotten, the big shots had been shelved and a solid defense was being employed by those in the middle. The bowlers knew wickets would not be easy to come by, they stuck to their plans and ran in every ball until they had none left. To add a little more spice to the game, both sides were a player down (South Africa without their star batsman Jaques Kallis and Australia without their key bowler James Pattinson). It was a game of attrition, both sides looked to etch away at the other’s mental make up.

Australia knew a win would go a long way in regaining the number one position, South Africa was out to show they deserved to hold on to that label.

As the day went on the weariness of both sides showed on their players’ faces, but ever so once in awhile a a deep breath was taken and they plunged back into battle. Faf du Plessis showed immense concentration, something that has abandoned most modern day players, while Peter Siddle brought out that trademark Aussie grit as he never gave up.

Fittingly it was these two who would see off the end of the day (and match). Siddle looked a spent force, yet he found the energy to produce two more probing and fiery overs. Du Plessis was close to collapsing from exhaustion, but, as he had done all day he continued to fight through the pain to ensure the Proteas walked away with a hard fought draw.

In four days’ time these two teams will be back out on the park in Perth ready to battle once more for the mantle of the number one team. Their clothes will be be clean, their energy back and possibly a few new faces in the lineups. Yet they will know that five days are before them, five days for them to suck in deep breaths, five days to run in hard and ignore the pain and at the end of those five days the number one side will be crowned.

Twenty-twenty cricket has the glitz and glamour, but for all of its dazzle it lacks the heart and fight which is shown in test cricket.

The Failing Revolution of Cricket

October 19, 2012 4 comments

When one day cricket was first seen in the late 1970s, in the form of the controversial “World Series Cricket”, supporters of the game described it as a “game played in pyjamas”. Now, 20/20 is here and it can only be likened to a fancy dress party whose hosts have never been to a party before.

The World T20, which concluded in Sri Lanka two weeks ago, is a shining example of how this format has failed to live up to its billing in all aspects.
Of the 27 games which had been packed in to three weeks, the audiences were treated to only four nail-biters. When this format was first introduced to the world, it was promoted as an arena of explosive cricket that would keep the spectators on the edge of their seats.

Two ties, a win off the last ball and a win in the last over was all that it could muster; on the other hand the remaining 23 games were so heavily one sided that audiences were found to be turning off their televisions even before the game was over.

Entertainment had been promised both on and off the field; the ICC did not fall short in that avenue. The cheerleaders, who had been rounded up five days before the tournament, were an amusing sideshow. Out-of-sync, dressed in absurd outfits and clearly cursed with two left feet these cheerleaders were nothing short of a joke. I do feel sorry for them, with such bad choreography and so little preparation time nothing better could be expected.

Twenty-twenty cricket on the international stage has proven to be a joke, what about domestically? The “Champions League T20” is being held in South Africa and while the crowds have been impressive the games have been once again one-sided affairs. It only serves to highlight the gaping difference that exists between the domestic structures.

So why is this format, which has all the ingredients of being an exciting venture, falling short of its hype?

To the purists, ODIs were not accepted until the mid-80s. But this transition from test cricket was made easier due to the fact that it had the colourful characters of Caribbean cricket to help it through.

The 70s and 80s saw world cricket dominated by the West Indians, who had come along and challenged the old powers of England and Australia. The rest of the world jumped behind these men who defied all odds and swaggered on to the field with an air of arrogance that could never be emulated by their opponents.

Their “calypso” brand of cricket was unique in that it could not be taught but rather it was in their blood. Their tall lanky fast bowlers intimidated all that stood before them, while their batsmen dispatched bowlers as though they were swatting flies.

This arrogance, which resonated from their pure talent, can no longer by reproduced in the shortest format. Glimpses of it have been seen in Chris Gayle, but like the format it is fleeting.

Players that would have otherwise been found out in international cricket are now able to fly below the radar and still be considered class acts.
Prior to this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) Ravindra Jadeja was purchased for a whopping $2 million in the auction. A player who has never performed, and still couldn’t perform after being branded with such a price tag is just one such example of how 20/20 cricket overshadows the talented.

Test cricket, in its purest form, will separate the true greats who go down history from those who will soon be forgotten.
The battles between bat and ball no longer exist. The sight of a batsman dancing down the wicket to a spinner and clipping him through the leg-side have now been replaced by the ungainly image of a batsman closing his eyes and trying to flick the bowler over the keeper’s head.

Technique has been replaced by brute strength, patience by dumb luck and a day of cricket by 3 hours of mayhem that will often leave the spectator disappointed. 20/20 cricket has certainly cornered the commercial aspect of the game, but whether it grabs the attention of the lovers of the sport remains to be seen.

Technique has been replaced by brute strength

The “Myths of Cricket”

For all those who have sat down to a broadcast of a game of cricket, you would have at some point or another been exposed to what I like to call the “Myths Of Cricket”. These in reality are simply comments or ideas that commentators and the media have instilled in the viewers of the game. Below are the top six myths (I chose six to change it up from the traditional 10 or 5) as I see them.

6. “20/20 cricket is the new format that is being rapidly accepted by all those in the cricketing world”. This is a false assumption on the part of many people. while the format has brought about some exciting match-ups it has been unable to truly challenge test cricket. While many people use the example of its popularity in India, we should remember that Indians are not fans of test cricket. Prior to T20s One Day Cricket was their favourite, this is true for the entire sub-continent. Back in England, Australia or South Africa Test Cricket continues to prove that is the pinnacle sport with sellout crowds turning up at every game (take a look at the ongoing West Indies-England series).

5. “Left handers are the more stylish batsmen”. Another false theory; Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid. All three of those players are not only the best in the business, but also the most stylish to watch. On the other hand; Shiv Chanderpaul, Simon Katich and Graeme Smith are all highly accomplished left handers, but you would not want youngster mirroring them when batting

4. “A spinner needs variations”. The verdict on this argument has not come in yet, but personally I disagree with this theory. Graeme Swann (and to a lesser extent Nathan Lyon) have proven that a spinner with an orthodox delivery and good control is capable of being a match-winner. In fact Muralithan, prior to the introduction of his doosara, was considered a more lethal bowler. In this case less mean more.

3. “Fast bowlers do not make good fielders”. Ten years ago this comment would not have drawn a second glance, however, in today’s modern game more and more fast bowlers are doubling as excellent fielders. Jame Anderson for England is one such example, in fact his safe hands often see him employed in the gully or slip region. Brett Lee of Australia is another example of a fielder who is a brilliant catcher with a rocket arm.

2. “Tailenders coming out and slogging is entertaining”. This is by far one of the worst told lies I continue to hear from commentators. Gone are the days when cricketers could get away with throwing their wicket away. Muralitharan was one such player who never put any effort into his batting and more often than not swung wildly across the line. Today, apart from the iconic Christ Martin, no team possess what you would call a traditional number eleven. That being all eleven players are capable of holding a bat and contributing in way or another. In fact solid defending and grafting of runs by the tailenders are far more satisfying for the supporters, seeing a tailender play a loose shot often brings about a groan of frustration.

1. “Cricket is a batsman’s game”. This, in my view, is a blatant lie and one which must be called out every time it is mentioned. Yes the spectators love to see centuries and boundaries hit, but it is wickets that will draw a crowd to its feet, and it is wickets that will reignite a lazy Sunday at a test match. A game could be dragging on with the batsmen dominating the bowlers, when suddenly that elusive wicket comes about, the crowd is drawn to its feet and all eleven players converging on the bowler in celebrations. Low scoring games dominated by bowlers have more often than not produced a far more exciting contest than one which is dominated by the bat.

Wickets bring both the players and crowds to their feet faster than runs” 

Cricket Australia and its future of change

November 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Australia’s ongoing test series in South Africa has been far from what Michael Clarke would have been hoping for. Coming off a series win in Sri Lanka, being one-nil down and struggling to win the second test is not a step up. The one thing this series has shown is that Australia is still a team in transition, and that means changes are necessary. The team and spectators are now faced with the likelihood of axing Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson. A sad thought, but ultimately one which would benefit the team in the long run.
Below is a possible 12 man team for the upcoming series against New Zealand, fitness permitting of course.
1) Philip Hughes: A batsman who has promised much but failed to produce consistently with the bat, his first innings at the Wanderers and his last innings in Colombo showed that he has the class to play at this level. Now all Hughes needs is the temperament, something that will hopefully develop over time and a prolonged run in the team.
2) Usman Khawaja: An exciting prospect, this left hander has also shown he has a rock solid technique and the maturity to play long innings. His disrupted run in the team so far has not allowed him to show off his class just yet in the international arena
3) Shaun Marsh: This left hander has all but made the number 3 spot his own. Coming in to the side in Kandy Marsh made an innings, and ultimately, test series winning knock. Since then he has not looked back. His absence in the the second test has been keenly missed and will no doubt remain an integral part of the test side.
4) Shane Watson: The all-rounder’s importance with the ball is continually being highlighted as his test career grows. Unfortunately his role with the bat is of equal importance. Yet due to his history of injuries, it would be best to see him drop down the order from the opening position and adopt a role in the middle order. This will give Michael Clarke the freedom to bowl him and not worry about him following it up straight away with the bat as was see last week.
5) Michael Clarke: No doubt the skipper is much happier batting at the number 5 position and will enjoy coming down the order, his century in Cape Town showed that he can marshal the tail well, something that may be necessary as Australia continues to go through its transitional phase. It will also give him peace of mind as he will not have to worry too much about his captaincy and continually building a team innings.
6) Michael Hussey: With the team looking to the future, Hussey’s spot will come under more and more scrutiny. His lean run in South Africa would not help his cause. However, his sublime form in Sri Lanka will be enough, for now, to warrant his selection in the team. Mr. Cricket will not doubt look to bow out on his own terms.
7) Mathew Wade/Tim Paine: These two young wicket-keeper batsmen have shown that they can perform at the top level. Their glove work is probably better than their predecessor, and thankfully for the two of them their form with the bat cannot be any worse than Haddin’s.
8)Peter Siddle: The right arm fast bowler has not had the best tour with the ball, however, his continual hard work and never die attitude should be enough to see him enjoy an extended run in the team. Certainly with better backup his performances will improve.
9) Doug Bollinger/Ryan Harris: These two seam bowlers have had promising careers continually disrupted by injury. Ideally if they can get their workload under control either one of the two would be a mainstay in the team. One possibility is to see a rotation policy used in regard to these two players.
10)Pat Cummins: No doubt the star of the JoBurg test for Australia, this 18 year old has shown class and maturity beyond his age. The only worry that comes with the continued use of the youngster is a possibility of burnout. Luckily for Australia, a growing rank of fast bowlers in the country means a rotation policy with other youngsters is on the cards.
11) Nathan Lyon: The offspinner continues to grow in his role , with little first class experience his performances are even more impressive. He has not picked up wickets by the bucket load, but has shown that he can be a handful. It would be unwise to keep chopping and changing the spinners.
12)David Warner: This left hander has shown that he is continuing to grow as a batsman. From being a player who walked out looking to hit every ball for six, Warner has matured and shown that he can build a long innings. His continued presence around the test side will ultimately benefit him.

So with this potentially new and younger line up Australia will be heralding in a new era, the dominant team of nineties and earl 2000s will die out completely with the bowing out of Ricky Ponting. Of course for such a great batsman he should be allowed an opportunity to have a farewell test, a strong possibility for the upcoming series.

The Indian Grand Prix; A less than satisfactory debut

October 30, 2011 1 comment

The Indian Grand Prix was held today, and as an F1 fan I can promise you it was the last race I would want to see on my calender. For those who do not I am biased when it comes to India and their sporting events. This grand prix lived up to its expectations, and those expectations were pretty low.

When India was finally given the go ahead for the race a few years back, it was not an announcement that had been welcomed in the highly selective world of Formula 1 racing. Looking at the tradition and European influence on the sport, you can understand why the followers were not all too impressed.

In the recent years, the sport of racing has seen a greater emphasis placed on money ahead of tradition, this was seen through the increased races in the Middle East and Singapore. It has now moved to what is being described as the largest market possible, India.

After controversy and problems existing in the construction of the track, the race weekend was finally upon us. For most people, the interest in the season has dropped with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull securing the driver championship and the constructor championship. The only real interest in the race stood with how India will handle this glamour filled sporting event.

So what did India have planned for the race weekend? They were certainly going all out, similar to Singapore they were going to have a concert including the performance of rock legends Metallica. The event was being built up all over the city with vendors getting in to the mood.

Unfortunately the race did not go according to plan, the first big incident was the cancellation of the Metallica concert, which enraged thousands of fans. True to Indian tradition, disappointment was followed by vandalism as the fans ransacked the stadium. A sad showing for Indians, the world’s attention was on them and they certainly slipped up.

The situation only got worse when the first practice session was delayed due to non-other than a stray dog running on to the track. A situation that is common in cricket matches seems to have transferred to the racing track. Apart from the funny side, the dangers of such an incident seems to have been missed.

We’re only lucky know drivers were on that stretch of the track. For all you animal lovers the dog was safe, probably the biggest relief for me this whole weekend.

The track itself was a state of the art affair, certainly India can be complimented on that. Just make sure you do not look outside of the stadium, a barren wasteland lies in view. The dust and sand was so intense that on TV the race was at times difficult to see. Of course, to maintain the tradition Indian ticket prices were on the slightly higher side, but that was too be expected. Whether or not that will keep the standards remain to be seen. India ended the weekend in a fashion that was both embarrassing and sums up their mentality. Sachin Tendulkar was given the opportunity to wave the chequered flag, I mean why would he be given it? Yes he is a sporting god in that country, but he has no connection with the sport nor is he from New Delhi. Its a shame such a emphasis was placed on this man in a sport where few will know his name.

So the race is over, and the event was not as exciting as many of the other tracks. I guess now it waits to be seen how its following seasons go. Of course one thing we are assured of is that money rules all things sporting.

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The Game of Life

October 6, 2010 2 comments

I played a game of golf today after a few weeks and it did not take me long to remember why I love this game. Golf, unlike so many other sports, is an opportunity for you to escape into your own little world. While you are on the course it is just you and the field, the seclusion and peaceful nature of a golf course helps you escape the madness.

Yesterday was no different, the weather was overcast and the place was empty. It was just me and the green grasses of the fairways. It was not long before I was drifting in and out of the real world. My mind ran free until it came upon a trend of thought which I decided I wanted to share with my readers.

Whilst playing it struck me that a game of golf mirrors that of the game of life. In golf for many players they follow a routine before each shot. You line up your shot with the flag, this is your goal. You then choose the club which will be the route you will pursue to reach your goal. You take a few practice swings adjusting your grip and ensuring your body movement is correct. All the coaching over the years are now being perfected to ensure everything goes smoothly. You then position yourself and swing. You leap into the real world.

Now how does this mirror life? Well look back at the stages a person follows to get ready to play a shot. The lining up of your shot is the planning of your life. You set yourself a goal. Going straight over the rough maybe entering the workforce straight out, following the fairway maybe pursuing the norm of college and then a job. Choosing the club is deciding finally what path you are going to choose and how you will follow it. You begin practice swings adjusting your grip and body position, this is your life through either college or learning the ropes of your trade at the bottom rungs of the working world. Finally the swing is the work you take on to reach the goal you have set yourself.

So is life that simple? Can it be so easily summed up? No, we have left out the sand traps on a golf course which are the hurdles and the problems you will encounter in your life. The rough on either side of the fairway is the problems that can exist for you if your life fails to follow the path you have set out for yourself. A dog legged hole is often a person facing an unsure future. In these situations you simply choose what club (method) feels best and take your best swing.

Now after playing my second tee shot I realised that my best game comes out when I do not over-think. I line my shot up, I select the club and I just swing. What does this mean for life? Has my theory been thrown out the window? I do not think so, rather this is showing another approach. You set your sights on that goal in life and you approach it the way you feel comfortable. Do not concern yourself with what has been taught throughout life. If I was to do what would be considered the norm I would most likely have done a degree and entered a job in the commercial sector. Worked my way up the ladder and lived my life. Instead I took the decision to set my eyes on a goal and then follow the path I felt most comfortable with. I have landed in the sand trap on more than one occasion, I may have chosen the wrong club at certain holes. Yet would I have been closer to the green had I practiced my swing before the shot? That is a possibility, it is also a possibility that thoughts would have flooded my mind and I would have found myself unable to play confidently. Confidence is key in life.

I finished the game in the dying light, the hole was ended well and I felt that I had played a natural game. All that the caddies and coaches have told me over the years had left my mind. I kept my eye on the ball and swung. The next time I play I will find myself swamped with ideas on my grip and my stance and won’t play as well. For some people they find the routine and following  instructions they have been given the correct path. For me it is the opposite. All the advice is left on the driving range, once I am out on that course I play the natural game. Life is that journey that everyone has to take. I want to take all that it has to throw at me and not feel it has been mapped out. I want to play the shot and not look back in regret.

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