Thursday, 10 November 2011
At the time of writing, Australia are 21-9, 14 runs shy of their lowest score in Test cricket. This in itself is ridiculous. The fact they started the day at 214-8, and that South Africa were 49-1 compounds the lunacy. Robin Jackman, struggling to maintain his composure, announced as Australia's 9th wicket went down that the game figures were 61-18 since lunch - This, I think we will all agree, is a Rugby score. Australia vs Fiji kind of Rugby score, but a Rugby score none-the-less.
The Test to this point has had everything. At the lunch break, Robert Key was eulagising about the quality displayed during Michael Clarke's 157. There were comparisons to Atherton's great 185* in the same country and it was certainly Clarke's best innings against a fiery and accurate Dale Stein. He was patient and positive in equal measures, negating a bowler friendly pitch and a world class bowling attack.
At 49-1, Australia needed to bowl well after lunch and that they did, Shane Watson delivering with great accuracy and nouse, backed up by an able Harris and some splendid fielding. Having stumbled to 96 All out, South Africa were staring down the barrel, trailing their anti-podean rivals by 188 runs.
For all the world the game seemed Australia's for the taking. A pitch providing assistance for the seamers and a lead of 188 that may have been unassailable without addition. South Africa's only hope lay in the sublime or the ridiculous. The nature of Test cricket suggested one or the other might happen, but it is rare that both happen. It is even rarer that sublime and ridiculous are witnessed in consecutive innings.
Philander provided the Watson performance, taking his first 5 wickets for 9 runs. It must be said though that, some poor shot selection from the Australians has helped their cause. At 4-0, Watson was given out wrongly, but didn't think to review it. Philander, supported by a superb Morkel (3-9) has reopened a closed game and given South Africa unlikely hope of fashioning a result.
Australia should still win - but this game has proven once again that sometimes, we must expect the unexpected. Since I started typing, Australia's 10th pair have doubled their team's total (finishing 47 all out) which has provided a well-needed boost to their lead. Flip the coin and the South Africans will feel that if Peter Siddle can score runs on this pitch, so can Kallis, Smith et al.
To this point, this is the most bizarre and entertaining day's cricket I have witnessed. Test cricket has had a turbulent time of late. The betting scandal and the constant threat of a decline in worldwide popularity has left the longest form of the game's devotees in a state of nervous discontent.
This test match provides a timely reminder of why test match cricket is so special and why we must do everything within our power to protect it.
Friday, 13 May 2011
Every football lover will remember when they caught the footballing bug. My moment, was after my first live game, it was after my first major competition (World cup 94) and came as late as the end of the second season that I collected football stickers. It was the first time I was truly excited about a game, a goal and a player all at the same time.
During the 1996 FA cup final I was sat in the back of my mothers citroen BX (great car) with my mate Paolo, stuck in M25 traffic on the way back from Godstone farm. For those of you who haven't been, Godstone is more than just a farm - there is a first rate adventure playground with an ice cream parlour of some note.
Tired from the morning'sexcitement and a generous picnic, Paolo took tan executive decision to have a well earned snooze and left be with BBC radio 5 live's coverage of the cup final.
The game was Manchester United vs Liverpool. A rivalry I was yet to understand. The score was 1-0 and the scorer was Eric Cantona. The game is described by the history makers as an unmemorable one and perhaps I was lucky to hear it on the radio rather than watch it on tv. At 8 years old, my imagination allowed me to witness a far more vividly exciting game than any two teams could have realistically produced. I distinctly remember receiving a fairly serious reprimand for my reaction to the goal. It was a celebration of epic proportions, not because I supported United (I actually wanted Liverpool to win the game), but because of my surprise at the racket provided by the commentators.
A month later, Euro 96 kicked off on home shores and I was hooked.
Since 96, the cup final has provided many of my favourite moments in football. Di Matteos record breaking goal in 97, Owen's late brace against Arsenal in 2001 and the thrilling 2006 game between Liverpool and Wham!, Gerrard's last minute equaliser being the best I have witnessed in an FA cup final. Aside from the final, the cup has brought many exciting moments for me. The Giggs goal vs Arsenal in 99, Darren Ambrose's stunning strike against Villa last year and a Leeds side led by Jermaine Beckford turning United over at Old Trafford.
Bearing all of this in mind, it might surprise you to know that I couldn't care less about tomorrow's cup final. It even surprises me. Aside from Palace's involvement, I haven't been too bothered about the FA cup for several years. The only thing that is getting me up for tomorrow's game is the 20 squid I have on Stoke (paddy power are offering 7/2). What worries me is that I am not alone in my growing apathy towards the competition. The thing is, I want to care, and I want other people to care but the clubs, the premier league and the manager's don't take it seriously any more.
You can choose to believe the regurgitated bollocks provided by the managers, players and commentators about the relevance of the cup and the magic that is “still alive” within the competition, or you can face the facts (I'm not trying to get a job in the sun I really am that pissed off).
Last season Chelsea's top scorer in their cup-winning run was... wait for it... Daniel Sturridge. During City's game against Tottenham in midweek, the commentators told us in their infinite wisdom that City would rather finish 4th than win the cup and to top it all off nicely, the big game tomorrow isn't even the cup final. It is the game at Ewood park, where City's rivals could seal their historic 19th league title against Blackburn.
It is bad enough that the cup final is during the regular season, the Champions league obviously has to take preference, but the Premier League's refusal to move Saturday's fixtures to Sunday is a perpetuation of the attitude towards the cup which has contributed to its demise. It is possible that City will kick off the final minutes after United are presented with the league title. If City do win the cup, a United league and champions league double would take the gloss off it somewhat.
For Stoke it is a red letter day. No one would ever expect them to win the cup and even after a 5-0 drubbing of Bolton in the semi's, they are big underdogs. The FA Cup however has become a cup for the Stokes and Boltons. Not relegation candidates, but not challenging in Europe or for the title. The competition is a big anticlimax – exciting whilst Crawley are involved, then increasingly drab. It is big for the small teams. Massive for the middling team, and a bonus for the great sides. How did this all happen in the last 15 years? The answer is probably money. How do we fix it? I haven't the foggiest. All I know is, I want my Cup back.
Ps/ if you work for the sun and want to give me a job, I will obviously take it
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Saturday, 8 January 2011
Anyone who frequents the BBC website will have no doubt stumbled across the story from Brazil about the player known as Somalia (Paulo Rogerio Reis da Silva to his parents), who has sparked controversy after it emerged he faked his own kidnapping as an excuse for being late to training...
The story has more than a touch of the “Peckham Spring” about it; how on earth did he think he would get away with it?
Enthused by such idiocy I decided to delve into the murky depths of my own memory, that of Thomas Moran (son of the great Thomas Moran), and the endless information of the internet to draw up a list of the 10 worst lies and excuses provided by the Just Williams – past and present – of the sporting world.
10) Rio Ferdinand – blessed as he is with brains as well as looks – famously missed a drugs test while at Manchester United in 2003 because he was mentally preoccupied with moving house and, forgetting his obligation, went shopping instead. In comparison to some of the lies later in the list this is pretty uninspired; but for the sheer cheek of it I have included him.
9) Roberto Rojas, Chilean goalkeeper in the 1980s, was the centre of one of the most dramatic moments in sporting history when, during his side’s 1990 World Cup qualifier against Brazil, he collapsed to the floor, nursing an open wound to his head. It appeared that a smouldering firework, which lay on the field next to him and had been thrown by a Brazilian fan, had hit him on the head and had caused the bloodied noggin and associated writhing. The Chilean players refused to return to the field, believing their player to be the victim of a gross injustice. However, television replays showed that he had not been hit by the firework but had inflicted the injury upon himself with a razor blade hidden in his gloves. Why oh why I hear you cry? Chile were 1-0 down and needed to win to qualify for the world cup – had he succeeded in his charade, Chile may have been awarded the win due to the gravity of the offence. Needless to say, he was banned from football and Brazil were awarded a 2-0 win, appearing at the finals in Italy the next year. As an aside, for an extra bit of amusement, follow this link and scroll down to the section on Patricio Yanez - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Rojas.
8) Tyler Hamilton, Gold medal winning cyclist at the 2004 Olympic Games, failed a drugs test after foreign red blood cells were found in a sample he gave after the games. He refuted the claims, creating a story that Mary Shelley would have been proud of. He argued that the presence of foreign blood cells were the fault of his unborn twin brother who he had absorbed while in his mother's womb.
7) Mervyn King, East Anglian Darts playing sensation, blamed the air conditioning for his defeat at the hands of Raymond Van Barneveld in the semi-final of the BDO world championship in 2003. He declared that his darts were lighter than Barney's and that the particularly strong air conditioning had blown his darts off course. The next year, in his first round match, he requested that the length of the Ochey be measured as he believed it to be incorrect. It wasn't. He was.
6) Rosie Ruiz, Cuban born marathon runner, crossed the line in the 84th Boston marathon in a record breaking time of 2:31:56 (at this point the third fastest time by a woman in any marathon ever) until she was stripped of her title when it emerged she hadn't run the entire course. Concerns arose as her legs seemed too flabby, she couldn't remember any of her split times, and she seemed generally un-fatigued. Her carefully thought out reason for her apparent lack of exhaustion was simply “I got up with a lot of energy this morning.”
5) Dieter Baumann won the gold medal in the 5000m at the 1992 olympics in Barcelona. In 1999, he was suspended for failing a drug test for the banned substance nandrolone. Following further tests, the levels in his blood varied depending on the time of day the tests were taken at, leading Baumann to blame the presence of the drug on spiked toothpaste. The German athletic committee believed him – the IAAF were less impressed and imposed a two year ban.
4) Paulo Rogerio Reis da Silva, the inspiration for this article, told the police he was abducted at gunpoint at 7am Thursday on his way to training at Botafogo. Police Video evidence shows him leaving his apartment at 9am, thus providing the real reason for his tardiness. If he is found guilty, he may face 6 months in prison. The BBC have reported that he was on time for training on Friday...
3) Manchester United's worst ever kit is probably that grey one. Remember it? Of course you do. We all remember it, and we all remember what happened in the game against Southampton in 1996. At half time, trailing 3-0, United blamed the grey kit for the score line suggesting they couldn't pick each other out. They changed shirts, but still lost 3-1...
2) Lighton Ndefway, former Gambian tennis player produced an even more infantile excuse for his defeat at the hands of Musumba Bwayla than both Mervyn King and Manchester United combined. Asked why he lost he responded: “Bwayla is a stupid man and a hopeless player. He has a huge nose and is cross-eyed. Girls hate him. He beat me because my jockstrap was too tight and because when he serves he farts, and that made me lose my concentration, for which I am famous throughout Gambia.” What a guy.
1) Stephen Ireland, Aston Villa and Ireland Midfielder, missed the Ireland vs. Czech Republic clash – pulling out on compassionate grounds, following the passing of his maternal grandmother. However, the Irish press found that his grandmother was alive and well, at which point most folk would wave the white flag. Not Mr. Ireland. His self-dug hole deepened significantly when he claimed it was actually his paternal grandmother who had died. She too was found to be still alive. Stupid as this all seems, the most ridiculous part is that his reason for wanting to go home was that his girlfriend had miscarried which, had he informed Steve Staunton (Ireland manager at the time), would have surely been grounds enough for passionate leave...
If anyone knows of any other stories along these lines, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below!
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
England, though, were in dreamland. The fightback that had begun positively on Sunday continued unbroken through Monday, and with it a plethora of records fell faster than you can say Roy Castle and Cheryl Baker: the magnificent Alastair Cook’s 235 not out was not only the highest ever knock at the Gabba, but also the longest innings of any English batsman in Australia. On a team note, it was the first time the top three had all scored centuries in an innings since 1924, and the first time that England have ever scored 500 for the loss of only one wicket. Stunning.
Friday, 19 November 2010
Monday, 1 November 2010
For as long as I am able to recall, I have listened to the good and the great in rugby wax lyrical about the standard of the game in the southern hemisphere. In terms of style, there is a perceived gulf in class between the rugby played by New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and that of the Six Nations. After England’s success at the 2003 World Cup – a tournament they won as favourites – many pundits still criticised their tactics and suggested the best team in the competition was probably the All Black side defeated in the semi-finals.
In truth, watching Australia vs. New Zealand and England vs. France in 2003, it would be difficult to argue the case for the latter match as the more exciting. England won it (in drab conditions) thanks to the tireless endeavour of their forwards and the boot of Mr. Wilkinson. It was slow and predictable, contrasting starkly from the open encounter eventually won by the Wallabies. New Zealand further proved their credentials as rugby's most exciting side in the 3rd place play off, putting France to the sword with a string of breathtaking trys.
Exciting though, doesn't necessarily mean better. Before almost every World Cup, New Zealand are touted as one of the strong favourites (if not bookmakers favourite) arriving at tournaments on the back of impressive wins against most sides in the draw. Their flamboyance makes their games the most eagerly awaited worldwide. However, for all their attacking flair and perceived dominance, they haven't won a world cup since its inaugural year in 1987. France are another side heralded as enigmatic talents but who have also never won the most coveted trophy in Rugby.
In contrast, England's successful side of 2003, and to a certain extent South Africa's 2007 winners, won on the back of rugby's truest cliché: “Forwards win matches, backs decide by how much.” For England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, this is the basic mantra to the game. All four are built around the strength of their forwards to create opportunities to accrue points via boot or try. When correctly implemented, with a strong defence, playing this way is hugely effective.
Considering all of this, it may come as a surprise to you when I say that this will not be enough in the autumn tests starting Saturday – or at the world cup next year. I was fortunate enough to watch all 80+ minutes of Saturday's contest between New Zealand and Australia in Hong Kong. It was one of the most thrilling and evenly fought matches I have seen in any sport, with the fantastic extra-time climax. The standard of rugby on show was at times breathtaking, with neither side willing to relinquish possession by resorting to a kicking game, and keeping the ball in hand even within the confines of their own 22. The quality of handling on both sides resulted in phase after phase of attacking rugby which was only prevented from turning into a try-fest by the quality of both sides defence.
This is nothing new though. Many southern hemisphere sides have displayed such feats of excellence without converting them into world cup successes. It is worth adding that neither side was without fault: both made numerous errors in terms of turnovers, penalties conceded and wasteful kicking – particularly when the Australians kicked from hand.
The reason I fear for the northern hemisphere sides is the quality both sides showed at the breakdown. Richie McCaw has been commanding at the ruck for years but in David Pocock, Australia have their own McCaw and all eight members of both packs showed enormous levels of skill and savvy on the floor. Their backs too showed willingness and adeptness in protecting the ball and counter-rucking. The result was regular quick ball and the aforementioned turnovers and penalties.
Previously, England in particular have been able to control the breakdown and stifle the attacking threats of the more creative southern hemisphere back lines. If they play this way during the autumn, they will be embarrassed.
I don't think any of the northern hemisphere sides will beat any of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa this autumn. However, I think they can prepare for the world cup and give themselves a chance if they play attacking rugby and try to take on their southern opponents on in all areas. The only way they will force mistakes is if they compete in all areas. If they kick the ball away – they will live to regret it.
Of the northern hemisphere sides, I feel it is England who have the best chance at next year’s world cup. Their backs seem to have the right blend of youth and experience, while their forwards will be bolstered by the long awaited return of Andrew Sheridan. Will they break the mould and attack? Who knows.